John Dikun (Daken)After 60 years, the sister and niece of John Dikun located his grave, with some help from her Second Life friends. This is his story.
How he was finally located is in Part 1, John Dikun.
Charcoal sketch of John Dikun.
Of the fifteen U.S. armored divisions in Europe in World War II, the 3AD saw the most combat, inflicted the most damage, and took the most casualties. Under legendary commander Maj. Gen. Maurice Rose, it became known as the "Spearhead" Division of the American First Army.
TrainingJohn's division was activated and trained in Louisiana; maneuvered widely over California's Mojave Desert, the hills of Virginia, and the mountainous terrain of Pennsylvania, before sailing for England.
John sailed to England on one of the Divisions 3 ships: the John Errickson, the Capetown Castle, or the Shawnee on September 5th, 1943. Upon arrival in England, the regiment was stationed at Codford, Wiltshire, and trained over Britain's Salisbury Plain during the nine month period before invasion. John ended up at Stockton House, near Codford.
John's unit then shipped out to Normandy and landed on Omaha 'White' beach on June 24th, 1944.
On 29 June 1944, 0900 hours John entered combat as part of Combat Command A at Isigny-sur-Mer in France. This is just south of the famous Ponte-du-Hoc cliffs and just west of the beaches. His unit, the Combat Command "A", was a light and medium tank company. From this jumping off point, his division "spearheaded" the US First Army through Normandy, taking part in a number of engagements.
St Jean de Daye
Combat Command "A" was ordered to protect the right flank of XIX Corps and to attack in the direction of Les Lendes and Le Perry. Combat Command "A" made some slow progress toward its objective, and, on 10 July, was attached to the 9th Infantry Division of the VII Corps. On 11 July, John was moved to the vicinity of St. Jean de Daye to counter an enemy tank threat.
In the area of St. Jean de Daye, men of the command fought bitter small scale actions against parachutists and SS panzer elements. CC "A" had occupied the terrain overlooking Le Desert, in which German forces were strongly entrenched. Here, a tank scare on July 11 upset division forward elements and caused some confusion.The tank companies were parceled out to infantry regiments, and, in conjunction with elements of the 9th Division, CCA fought a stiff and successful defensive action against some choice elements of the Wehrmacht, principally paratroops strongly supported by tanks.
The next battle was at Villiers-Fossard, where an enemy concentration by the Fusilier Battalion of the 353rd Infantry Division was some three thousands yards deep. Eventually, thanks to John and his fellow soldiers, the 353rd Infantry Division was forced south and was caught in the Falais pocket in August 1944. John played a key role in creating that pocket, which ultimately led to the collapse of an entire German Army Group, as you will see later.
Johns division lost 31 tanks and over 350 men were killed that day.
Saint-LoIt took three days of intense fighting to go 5 kilometers from Villiers-Fossard to Saint-Lo.
This was the height of the bocage fighting, in the hedgerows. Teams of riflemen had to learn to work with engineers and with tanks from Johns group to blast through the hedgerows. The fighting was as hard as the first days on the beaches, one dispatch says. It added that the whole story of the bloody battle could be summed up in one report which reached a command post outside Saint-Lo which said: 'Advanced three hedgerows' - a sizeable, bitterly contested advance in this kind of fighting.
After hard fighting, St Lo was captured. The city was so torn up it was even questioned whether it should be left destroyed and serve as a monument to the war.
You could write a book about the battle for St Lo. There are many of them actually. John Dikun survived the battle for Saint Lo.
Breakout!The army broke out of St Lo in what is today called Operation Cobra.
Almost the entire western half of the German front in Normandy collapsed. Patton's Army sped south and the First Army and Johns unit moved quickly alongside protecting the flanks.
Montpinchon and GavrayHis unit was then ordered to attack south toward Montpinchon on the 27th. After that battle, on July 29, he was ordered to turn south and seize a crossing of the Siene River, at Gavray. John's unit moved toward southwest, as they raced across the country in a major breakout.
They took Gavray, France. and the Army turned east to take advantage of the collapse of the German forces. The other half of the Army, the 30th, sped south and headed for Avranches.
Juvigny Le Tertre and Refuvielle
Severe actions occurred at Juvigny Le Tertre and Refuvielle where the Germans managed to organize very well. For two hard-fought days the enemy attempted to retake the high ground around Juvigny, but John's unit, Combat Command "A" held its gains.
R&R in MortainThen, what must have been seen as good news came: His group was assigned to relieve the area around Mortain, a "quiet spot" for a much needed rest.
The Phone Call
John's unit, Combat Command A , was transferred from the Third to the 1st Infantry Division on 30 July 1944. Splitting an Army into two groups in the middle of war is an unusual move.
It turns out it was because of because of a phone call.
On the 30th of June, Major General Leroy H. Watson called General Collins, awakening him in the process, to discuss the next days attacks. When he made the call, he was a Major General commanding a division, and when he hung up, he was a permanent Colonel without command. He had been demoted on the spot. And as a result, John's unit was switched. Combat Command A was transferred from Third Army, to the First Army.
Look at the map below, and this symbol.
That's Johns unit. The Circle is for Armor, the X at the top means Command
Company, and the A is Combat Command "A" , and the 3 is Johns 3rd Armor Group.
Combat Command B, the other half, was just to the side on the green line.
That group peeled off and went to Mortain for some R&R.
Johns group was right in front of the 1st Army HQ, which is the .
Now look at the map below, and you will see a Green arrow. That is the line where the Johns Combat Command went. The Third and First Division went side by side, and John was on the left of a line with the Third Army Group.
Because of that call you will see his unit move across that line on the left, to a line on the right.
The next day. on 1 August, American forces captured Avranches. While there, they founded the Brittany American Cemetery in St. James, France, near Avranches, near the circle and green arrow key at the bottom left. We'll come back to that, later.
John's unit took 5 more days to get to the little village of Passais, France. He was just 4 km (2.5) miles from Hill 314, the dominant position in the area. John could easily see this hill as it towered over the area.
One of the main reasons for taking Hill 314 was of course the sight. Here is a photo to give you an idea how far you can look. The hill-like object on the photo is Mont St. Michel, a chapel build on a hill more than 40 km to the west. John was 1/10 that distance in the other direction, 4 km from where this photo was taken.
They climbed into the foxholes, and settled in for some rest. Tired because of the preceding month of combat, fatigued by the road march from Mortain that day, manning unfamiliar positions in unfamiliar terrain, the unit settled in.
Hitler and von Kluge
But Hitler had other plans. The breakout threatened all of Germany. If a continuous defensive line could be re-established in Normandy, the shortest conceivable line in western Europe, the Germans might yet hold. To attain this goal, the Germans had to close the breach on their left.
Hitler ordered General von Kluge to start Operation Lüttich, to send his Panzer divisions to stop the breech. Hitler demanded that eight of the nine Panzer Divisions in Normandy be used in the attack, and that they commit its entire reserve, including 1,000 fighters.. The XLVII Panzer Corps, with 2nd SS, and the 116th Panzer Divisions and the 1st SS Panzer Division was to attack to the west after dark on 6 August, without artillery preparation, and seize and secure Avranches, on the far left side of the map above.
The last Day
The Germans had to recapture Avranches, and the only way to do it was to go through Mortain. Into the path of this scheduled effort, and on the very day the attack was to start, came John 's unit. Only a few hours after he arrived, on the evening of the 6th, the Germans attacked and overran the village with somewhere between 120 and 190 tanks. A day later it was reported that 700 German soldiers were in this area.
John died two months to the day from D-Day, on August 6th, 1944, as the major attack began. A soldier from his unit came to see his parents after the war and told them that he had been shot as he got out of his tank that fateful day.
But his efforts, and the efforts of all of his unit, were not in vain.
The Next Day
The Germans managed to penetrate several miles into the American lines, before being stopped only 2 mi (3.2 km) short of Avranches. If they had reached the town, then Patton's Army would have been cut off from resupply.
By noon the next day, the early morning fog had dispersed, and large numbers of Allied aircraft appeared over the battlefield. With the advance knowledge of the attack provided by Ultra, the U.S. 9th Air Force had been reinforced by the RAF Second Tactical Air Force.
The Lost Battalion
The unit just to the north of John on Hill 314 was cut off and surrounded. The 2nd Battalion of the120th Infantry Regiment commanded Hill 314, the dominant feature around Mortain. Although cut off, they were supplied by parachute drops. Of the 700 men who defended the position until 12 August, over 300 were killed and only 376 were fit for duty. The Lost Division held on with one radio with dying batteries.
Destroyed German Tank in Operation Lüttich, 7 August, 1944. John was KIA the night before this picture was taken.
The men that had been thrown out of Mortain sealed off the area in heavy fighting, and held the Germans from advancing. Over a period of six nights the they continued to fight valiantly against the German Panzer counter-attack of Operation Lüttich, to preserve the breakout established in Operation Cobra.
It took them 6 more days to take the town again, and rescue the Lost Battalion.
10 days later
To get an idea how important this one battle over one small town was, just take a look at the map around Mortain.
Look at this red dotted line, which is the German front line. The German breakout hit the town of Mortain head-on. If they had succeeded in taking Avramches, then the US Army would have been cut off from resupply. But that's where they were stopped cold, by John Dikun and his band of brothers. The ultimate sacrifice that John and others made there, and the spirit and effort that they had, came through for the people of France, and in just a few more days, they would turn the tables on the German Army.
Photo credit from the Brittany American Cemetery
In less than a week, by 13 August, the offensive had fully halted, with German forces being driven out of Mortain. The Panzer Divisions involved in the attack lost over 150 of their tanks to Allied counterattacks and air strikes, nearly ½ of those originally deployed.
As Hitler ordered German forces in Normandy to hold their positions, the rest of John's unit in the U.S. VII and XV Corps were swinging east and north toward Argentan.
The fighting held the town long enough for General Montgomery to plan and activate a maneuver that squeezed the Germans at Argentan and Falaise, which turned the war against Germany, led to the capture of an entire German Army, and forced the Germans back across the Seine. This battle threw Germany back to their borders, and France was liberated.
The attack left their 7th Army in danger of being encircled by Allied forces. As American forces advanced on Argentan, British and Canadian forces advanced on Falaise, threatening to cut off both armies in the newly-formed Falaise Pocket.
10 days later
In just 10 days, the German Seventh Army was surrounded. Johns unit, the VII Corps, was still at Mortain, holding the Germans back from splitting the Armies in two. In less than 15 days, Paris was liberated.
To quote the official history from his unit: "In repelling at Mortain the first large scale German counterattack launched after the Allied invasion of Normandy, two months to the day, brave men, though outnumbered, stood and outfought an enemy who had surrounded part of them, who threatened to isolate the rest of them, and who almost destroyed them all."
This is the monument in Mortain - note the August 6th, the day John died, through August 14, 1944.
Where John Dikun rests.
The day before John lost his life and only a few miles away, the cemetery where he is today had been founded just near Avranches, the destination for the German counterattack.
John now lies Plot J, Row 7, Grave 13 in the Brittany American Cemetery in St. James, France, along with 4,409 others, in an area liberated just 5 days before he was killed in action, and just a few miles down the road from Mortain. In less than 2 weeks from the day the cemetery was founded, the tables had been turned from being surrounded, to surrounding the enemy.
It is because of John Dikun, and others who fought with him, that we are free today.
Don't let people like John Dikun fade away. Let's remember them this Memorial Day.
The cemetery where John lies is decorated with American Flags every Memorial Day:
You should fly one, too. And don't let our veterans ever fade away.
How we found John Dikun, in Second Life
How he was finally located is in Part 1, John Dikun.
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