Paul M. Hiegel
Biography: Paul Martin Hiegel was born on August 13, 1919, in Erie, Pennsylvania. He was the son of Carl L. Hiegel and Dorothy E. Schadley. He attended Erie Technical High School through the 11th grade and then, according to his enlistment record, went to work in some type of machinery lubrication occupation. his discharge says that his occuation was refrigerator frame assembler.
Service Time: Paul enlisted in the Army at Erie on December 19, 1942, but entered the service at New Cumberland, PA, on the 26th. After his basic training he was assigned to Company A of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion and trained with them at various military facilities within the U.S.
The unit shipped out from the New York port on January 2, 1944, and arrived at Gourock, Scotland, on the 11th. After six additional months of training and preparations, they boarded transports and landed at Utah Beach on July 11th and 12th, equipped with M10 tank destroyers.
The 644th was committed to battle south of Le Haye Du Puits with the 8th Infantry Division on July 15th and participated in the Cobra breakout beginning July 26th. Advancing into Brittany in August, they helped capture Brest in early September and moved to Luxembourg in late September. Fighting in the Hürtgen Forest in November, companies A and C moved to the northern Ardennes sector by early December and participated in the Battle of the Bulge, with Company B arriving late in the game.
On December 6th, Paul earned the British Military Medal for gallantry in combat during the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest in Western Germany. The citation for the award states:
“During a powerful enemy counterattack upon Bergstein, Germany, on 6 December 1944, Private First Class Hiegel, from a position within his tank destroyer, observed a comrade hit by rifle fire while manning a machine gun. Because of the gun’s hazardous position, other troops in the vicinity were reluctant to man the weapon. Private First Class Hiegel, sensing the situation, voluntarily left his tank destroyer, and dashed through a hail of enemy machine gun and small arms fire to reach the position. Courageously, he remained at the post and assisted the gunner throughout the entire engagement. By his gallant actions, Private First Class Hiegel aided materially in beating back the enemy with disastrous casualties.”
On left is an example image of the award he received, which was engraved on the edge with his name. The back of the medal says “For Bravery in the Field”. It is believed that only 341 U.S. servicemen received the award during WWII.
The 644th joined in elimination of the Bulge in early 1945, and the Roer River offensive in February. The unit reached the Rhine south of Cologne in March and crossed at Remagen, supporting the reduction of the Ruhr Pocket in April. They then swung eastward to the Elbe River and rolled toward the Baltic coast with the 82d Airborne Division, finally stopping in Schwerin.
In addition to the British Medal, Paul also received the EAME Medal, American Campaign Medal, WWII Victory Medal and credit for campaigns in Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, the Ardennes and Central Europe and was discharged on November 18, 1945, at the Indiantown Gap Military Reservation in PA. He left the service at the rank of Technician 5th Grade.
Little is known about Paul’s life after the war but he married Ruth and was living in California when he passed away on April 8, 2003.
Thank you to Colby Kenyon for providing the photos of Paul and information used in this tribute. Thank you also to an unknown military dealer who shared the discharge documents and to Paul Stevens for providing them to us.