Dietz, George J. (601st)

George J. Dietz 1George J. Dietz

Biography:  George Joseph Dietz was born on February 2, 1924, in Carver, Minnesota. He was the son of George and Anna Dietz and graduated from Chaska High School. While still in high school, George worked in his father’s store and meat market, Dietz and Riesgraf, stocking shelves and helping with the processing of meats into sausage.

George continued his education at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN, for a year and then, because he knew he would be drafted soon, applied for a job at the Chaska Sugar Factory. He landed a job in their laboratory, testing samples of beet juices. George and his best friend, Rich, were hoping they could get into the Army Band.

Service Time:  He entered the Army on February 20, 1943, at Fort Snelling, MN, when he was 19 years old. He was then sent to Camp Campbell, Kentucky, where he received his basic training. He was also given training as a radio operator. From there, George and the other men were loaded onto trains and moved to Norfolk, Virginia. They were then loaded on Liberty ships and were at sea for 22 days before arriving in Oran, Algeria, North Africa.

George J. Dietz 2From Oran, they were loaded in box cars en-route to Bizerte and then onto LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry) which would  take them to Naples, Italy. George spent Thanksgiving and Christmas in a replacement depot, waiting for his next assignment. He was picked to join the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion and would travel by boat to Nettuno and then by 6 x 6 truck, finally meeting Cpt. Richardson at C Company Headquarters. He was assigned to a tank destroyer commanded by SSgt Clyde L. Choate who would later receive the Medal of Honor.

George became the TD’s radio operator with Jay Shively as driver. The five man crew moved with the unit, preparing for the push to Rome. The action started on May 23rd with a continuous barrage for the next two days. There were many mines and booby traps and George’s TD hit a mine, blowing off a track. Oil and dirt blew up into his face, thankfully it wasn’t blood. They were disabled and SSgt Choate traveled back to headquarters to get a replacement unit. George and a second man were left to guard the TD.

A maintenance crew finally showed up and replaced the track. It wasn’t long until they were back up to the front and firing at German tanks. On May 30th, a mortar shell landed a few yards from George and two pieces of shrapnel hit him in the neck and left shoulder. After some intense searching, he found some medics and they bandaged him up, loading him into an ambulance, which then took him to Anzio and the 9th Evacuation Hospital. From there he was moved to an English hospital ship, which took him back to Naples. He remained in the 182nd General Hospital until he had healed, and on June 16th he was discharged and sent back to his unit. George had only missed five days of combat.

The 601st was stationed in a rest area just outside of Naples, participating in amphibious training preparing for the invasion of Southern France.  Rome had fallen on June 4th and and the D-Day invasion of Normandy had happened on the 6th. On August 8th the unit was loaded on LCTs (Landing Ship Tank) and waited for sundown on the 12th to set sail. On the 15th, the 601st conducted an assault landing in southern France near Marseilles.

The men were resting in the TD along a road when a German vehicle drove toward them. They had been spotted and attempted a U-turn but George”s TD was able to fire at them and disabled it. Another enemy vehicle was close behind and Sgt. Harper manned the 50 caliber machine gun and started firing. He accidentally hit the 30 caliber machine gun which was mounted on the front of their TD’s turret. Its ammunition started to explode like popcorn and ricocheted around the inside of the TD. George felt a burning sensation on his upper left arm. He recalled that it felt like his arm was “on fire”.

Medics took George back to the beachhead where he was taken out to a hospital ship. They did not remove the shrapnel due to its position near the nerve. The ship set sail back to Naples, arriving there on August 22nd. He was then sent to the 21st General Hospital and left there on September 16th for a Combat Conditioning Company. He was still in pain and went before a medical board for evaluation. They determined that he needed additional surgery but again they left the shrapnel in place. He still couldn’t move his arm over his shoulder and was in constant pain. He eventually went through a third operation before they finally removed the shrapnel and George was able to recuperate and rejoin his unit near Strasbourg, France. 

The 601st participated in the reduction of the Colmar Pocket in February, 1945, and then converted to the M36 tank destroyer. They battled along the Siegfried Line until crossing the Rhine on March 22nd. The unit then helped capture Nürnberg in April and ended the war occupying Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden in Bavaria.

In addition to the circumstances described above, George went on to have a number of additional experiences, which he detailed in a self-written description of his service time. You can read the entire story at the following link:

My Army Days – by George J. Dietz

The war was over and George and the 601st began occupational duty. George had accumulated 135 points and was one of the first from the unit to ship home. He received the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star and Croix de Guerre. He also received the EAME, WWII Victory, American Theater and the Good Conduct Medals.

Bronze Star Citation

In mid-September, 1945, George traveled to Camp Lucky Strike in France and remined there until a ship was available to take them home. He arrived on October 8th and was then taken to Camp Shanks, New York. After a few days of leave in New York City, he was sent to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, and discharged on October 27, 1945, at the rank of Sergeant.

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Now back home, George went back to school at the Minneapolis Business College. In 1948, he married the former Ann Rose Notermann, who had grown up in Victoria, MN and was the daughter of Frank and Gertrude Notermann. George graduated in 1953, with a degree in accounting and then purchased a small Fairway grocery store, in Elk River, MN. The business became very successful but George contracted polio, he was one of only two cases in Sherburne County. His six employees kept the store going while he recuperated and the business continued to grow. George eventually purchased a second store in Rogers, MN. The stores were one of the first grocery stores in Minnesota to be open 24 hours a day. At the time George sold both stores in 1980, they had more than 150 employees.

George attributed his success to his strong faith in God and to providing the best possible product for the least amount of money. In 1977, Forbes Business Magazine carried a story of his success.

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In addition to his business success, George and Ann had seven children, John, Mary, Georgia, Joan, Fran, Susan and RosemaryGeorge was also very involved in the community of Elk River. He served as president of the Elk River Chamber of Commerce and was a member of the Board of Directors for the Bank of Elk River. He was the Lions Club President, a member of the Elk River VFW, and a faithful member of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church.

After selling the stores, George and Ann moved 30 miles south to Wayzata, MN. He then began a new career working for Fortis Financial as a financial planner selling mutual funds. George was only 56 but decided to help young couples by encouraging them to save for their future.

George passed away on October 16, 2014, at the age of 90. I want to thank George’s son, John, for providing the information and photos for this tribute. I want to thank Find A Grave contributor Lleeah for the use of the grave marker photo.