Alvin Koch

By Marty Batera

Not all soldiers were Generals.

Private Alvin Koch, 82nd Airborne; Buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery Brownstown

Alvin Koch was born in River Rouge on November 27, 1921; because of the early death of his father and the onset of the great depression, he lived with his Grandparents and mother in River Rouge until 1940.  Al, as he was known to friends and family, was employed at The Great Lakes Engineering Works before his military service. At the time, the company was a  leading national shipbuilder with a shipyard in Ecorse, Michigan, that operated between 1902 and 1960.

The Great Lakes Engineering Works, Ecorse, Michigan

With the United States entering World War II, Koch was drafted into the Army in 1942 and was sent to medical school in Chicago to be trained as a medic but he found this not to be his calling, asking to be transferred to paratrooper school; the idea intrigued him of jumping out of planes, and there was also extra pay as an airborne soldier. While training to his great joy, his younger brother had also joined the 101st Paratroopers, one of only a few brothers serving together in the Airborne Paratroopers. He would do four jumps stateside before eventually being shipped to England in 1943 to prepare for the inevitable invasion of Europe, later to be known as D-day kicked off on June 6, 1944. He and his brother would see action in Normandy and Holland.

Private Alvin Koch 1942

Picture Jason Bertera 

Without winter clothing, an Airborne soldier showing the wintry conditions during what was a typical entrenchment in the Ardennes area in December 1944. Photo

Without winter clothing, an Airborne soldier showing the wintry conditions during what was a typical entrenchment in the Ardennes area in December 1944. Photo Mid-December 1944, in the portion of the battlefront where he was located, there was not much occurring except for falling snow and the steady advancement of Allied Armies; at the time, he was in a snow-covered camp behind the front lines in what all military men thought was a safe non-combat area, to rest and refit when Koch said: “We received urgent orders to pack up and head to Bastogne.” Just a small town like another small town where a great battle in American history was fought, Gettysburg, it found its importance because all the roads pointed there. The Germans had smashed a hole through the American lines it was Hitler’s last gamble on a surprise offensive through the wooded Ardennes Forest; Koch and his comrades, in the freezing cold, were piled in trucks with not much more than what they had on their backs and raced to Bastogne to bolster the town’s defenses as it sat at an important crossroads. He didn’t have to wait long before his unit was fighting several SS Divisions. Koch declared he was lacking in supplies and ammunition, including winter uniforms. Bastogne was surrounded but the advance of the Nazis had been stopped. He was cold and wet; he said it was the coldest he had ever been, with no fire to keep him warm and dry while sitting in his foxhole. This would be his home for the next week. The Allies’ planes controlled the air but unfortunately for Koch and his comrades, the skies were overcast, so the air support was grounded.

Within a few days, the Germans had surrounded the town, and lying siege to it, the Nazi General asked for its surrender, to which Commander General McAuliffe gave his caustic answer with the reply, “NUTS.” The Germans would renew their assault, at which time Koch was wounded being unable to keep warm; frostbite had set in on his feet, turning them black and swollen; the paratroopers were short on soldiers as every man was needed at the front; he would have to crawl back over a mile to the medical area as he could not walk. On Christmas day, the skies were blue as blue could be, planes now dropped supplies from the air to the defenders of Bastogne., while raining down bombs on German positions, and soon General George Patton’s Third Army linked up with the defenders of the encircled town. Within a month, the Germans had been pushed back to their starting position and would never make another major offensive action during the rest of the war.

Private Alvin Koch 1942

Picture Jason Bertera 

Another image of not being attired for winter conditions on the way to the front in the Ardennes area in December 1944. Photo XVIII Airborne Corps & Fort Liberty.

Koch was taken by truck to Paris and eventually flown to London to have his frostbite feet treated; he traveled; back to America on the Queen Mary in February 1945 on Valentine’s Day; the ship was caught in a terrible winter storm, which caused him much pain to his frostbite limbs from the rocking and rolling of the ship. He would be sent to Salt Lake City, Utah, for re-habitation. With rehab, he was able to walk again and was discharged on October 29, 1945, and returned home and rejoined his brother. Koch was married shortly after his return to Michigan; he found employment at J. L. Hudson’s Department Store in downtown Detroit where he would work for the next 40 years until his death on October 29, 1992. He is buried at the south side of Oak Ridge Cemetery Brownstown.