Up close to the enemy – Pfc. Maurice Forgotson was forward observer in WW II

This is Maurice Forgotson’s mortar platoon taken immediately after VE Day, probably somewhere near Hannover, Germany. He isn’t in the picture. Photo provided by Maurice Forgotson

Maurice Forgotson, of Gulf View mobile home park on Burnt Store Road, south of Punta Gorda, Fla. was a forward observer with a mortar platoon. It was part of the 84th Infantry Division, attached to Gen. Bernard Montgomery’s army in Europe during World War II.

“My baptism of fire came at Aachen, Germany late in 1944,” the 81-year-old local man explained. “I was a corporal with a heavy radio on my back out front of everyone spotting for an 81-mm mortar outfit.”

He got the job after a lieutenant and a sergeant were killed doing the same job he would continue to do for the remainder of the war.

“A tiger tank killed two fellows from my outfit the day before. It was coming after us again across an open field as we were exiting this small town near Aachen.”

Forgotson was possibly 200 yards away from the advancing German tank when he gave his mortar team the coordinates on the massive 68-ton enemy leviathan.

“I put one mortar round over the tank, the second round went under it and the third was right on. We knocked off its tread. That immobilized the tank,” he recalled with satisfaction 60 years later.

Forgotson had little time to savor the hit. German forces were about to attack the Americans with the largest assault on the West Front during the World War II. The Battle of the Bulge began in mid-December 1944. Before the massive enemy assault, allied commanders thought the Third Reich was almost ready to throw in the towel.

Thousands of American soldiers, including Cpl. Maurice Forgotson in the 84th Infantry Division, were about to get surprised by the Fuhrer’s troops.

“We were quickly trucked back to Belgium from Aachen in Army trucks. There was snow up to our hips, it was cold as hell and we were freezing our butts off,” he said. “My feet were so badly frozen, because I couldn’t move them in the truck, I fell on my butt when I jumped out.

“I was carried into a Belgium farm house. The lady of the house repeatedly stuck my feet in a warm fire then put them in snow. She repeated the procedure for half day until my toes recovered enough so I could walk again.”

He survived The Bulge. Allied forces finally got the Germans on the run. The Wehrmacht was in full retreat toward the Rhine River after a month of deadly fighting in the show, during which the German’s westward advance was stopped.

“We forced marched for two days after crossing the Ruhr River toward the Rhine. Just before we reached the bridge at Remagen, our unit fell out and immediately went to sleep. We were all dead tired from all the marching.

“I had trouble sleeping, lucky for everyone else in the outfit. I heard a bunch of Germans sneaking up on us. I jumped up and pulled the pin on a grenade in hand,” he recalled.

His first Silver Star citation takes it from there:

“4 March, 1945: Finding himself surrounded by approximately 20 German soldiers … armed only with a grenade, he coolly accomplished his demand for the surrender of the group with a warning to throw a grenade. As a result of his ingenuity, Pfc. Forgotson captured 12 Germans and throwing the grenade killed three and wounded two enemy soldiers who refused to surrender.”

“The German soldiers were only 15 or 20-feet from us when I stopped them. If I hadn’t heard them creeping up on us we would have been obliterated,” Forgotson said.

After receiving the Silver Star he got a week of R & R on the French Riviera.

“It was glorious. It was a wonderful week,” he said with a smile.

The downside of his week off was Forgotson wasn’t allowed to go back to his buddies in the 84th Division. He was sent to a replacement depot to become a replacement soldier in another unit.

“I was a bit of a nonconformist. I stole a Jeep and drove back to the 84th to be with my friends. I can’t say I was a good soldier,” he said.

By this time his division had crossed the Rhine. His unit was on the outskirts of Hannover slogging its way through the beet fields outside the major German city.

“I moved up front once more and used the attic of a farm house as an observation post. My company commander and platoon lieutenant were hiding in the basement trying to protect themselves from enemy fire.

“We hadn’t been there long when the roof of the house was hit by a German rocket. It took off much of the roof and knocked me to the first floor with the radio pack still on my back,” he said. “What we didn’t know until then was that the Germans had surround the field where the farmhouse was located. When I regained my bearings I began calling coordinates back to our mortar team.”

His second Silver Star citation picks up the story from there:

“10 April, 1945: Forgotson though knocked down and temporarily blinded in one eye, quickly recovered his position and killed the German who fired the rocket. Coolly, he continued adjusting the fire of his mortar platoon. He killed 27 Germans, forced the remainder to withdraw and enabled his company to press forward and successfully complete its mission.”

Maurice Forgotson of Gulf View mobile home park looks at some of his World War II memorabilia. He was a forward observer for a mortar unit in the 84th Infantry Division in Europe. Sun photo by Don Moore

“As we advanced along a hedgerow after leaving the farmhouse a German aimed his rifle at me. Fortunately for me I shot first,” he said. “Then I discovered I had killed a German woman who was fighting alongside the enemy. It was a tragedy, but I had no way of knowing,” Forgotson said with tears in his eyes all these years later.

His unit captured Hannover as it continued pushing eastward. Eventually they reached the Elbe River where the 3rd Army waited for the Russian forces advancing by the millions from the east.

For a short while, he and his buddies were part of the occupation forces after VE-Day, the German surrender, May 8, 1945.

The soldiers went fishing in the Main River near Hockenheim, Germany on their time off. They took aluminum belly tanks out of bombers, cut them in half and made kayaks. Hand grenades were used to fish with. Forgotson and his friends were quite successful with their innovative angling techniques.

“We did crazy things. We were just a bunch of young kids,” he said.


This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Sunday, May 1, 2005 and is republished with permission.

All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be republished without permission. Links are encouraged.

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Comments

  1. The second gentleman from the left sure looks like my Grandfather. Are there any names provided with this photo? Thank you.

  2. The 84th Infantry Division was not part of Patton’s Army. We were the northern most US Division and were under Montgomery in a British Corp. We were also under Montgomery during the Bulge. Doug Harvey 1st Bn. Hq. 334 Regiment 84th Infantry Division.

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