Rohloff, William P. (602nd)

William P. Rohloff 1William P. Rohloff

Biography:  William Peter Rohloff, “Bill”‘ was born on October 22, 1922’ in Dubuque, Iowa. He is the son of Henry Rohloff and Emma Elizabeth Mootz and attended school in Bellevue, Iowa, graduating in 1940. After school, Bill worked at a number of jobs including grocery clerk, truck driver and bookkeeper. He eventually worked at the Savanna Ordinance Depot, located north of Savanna, Illinois. He built bombs at the facility until he showed signs of TNT (Trinitrotoluene) exposure, which is harmful to blood, liver and the immune system, among other things. He was then moved into the office and worked as a typist. His enlistment record also identifies that he had experience as a welder.

On July 21, 1942, Bill married the former Helma Steines. The couple made their residence in Clinton, Iowa.

Service Time:  Late in 1942, Bill and two other men from Clinton, Wilber Jorgenson and Howard Koon, were inducted into the Army on December 30th. Bill entered active service a week later on January 6, 1943, at Camp Dodge, Iowa. All three of the men were sent to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, and assigned to Company B of the 602nd Tank Destroyer Battalion. At some point, Bill qualified as a Marksman with the Rifle and 30 Cal. Machine Gun. The trio was trained as TD drivers, and late that summer, they were all sent to North Dakota to assist with the grain harvest. They were tasked with shocking the oats, which is stacking them in manageable bundles. Some of the other men had never done this type of work and they stacked them all upside down, seed end down, which required an entire day to correct the error. 

While the unit was stationed at Camp McCoy, Bill was only 90 miles from home so he was able to go there whenever he was granted leave. The unit was shipped to Camp Forest, Tennessee, in November of 1943. While there, they were re-equipped with M18s, and took part in maneuvers, which allowed them to field test their new equipment. They left Camp Forest on March 29, 1944, by rail car, headed for their next station, Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. It was there that made final preparations before shipping overseas. Their departure was delayed while the ship was retrofitted with new radar, electronics and other equipment. The unit left aboard the S.S. Bergensfjord on July 18th. While on ship, Bill couldn’t sleep below deck so he found a hidden area under a set of steps above deck where he slept for three nights. When he was finally found, they put him in a hammock, which kept his body straight and allowed him to sleep. Additionally, like many of the men, he wasn’t able to eat the stewed liver they served.

William P. Rohloff 3In the photo at left, you can see Bill standing at far right with the TD’s main driver, Roberto Martinez, second from right.

The 602nd arrived in Scotland on the 29th and moved to England to meet up with their TDs. It took them two weeks to clean the protectant off of the TDs, which were coated both inside and out. It was less than a month later that they were loaded on transports and crossed the English Channel, landing at Omaha Beach on August 26th. They were committed to battle along the Moselle River on September 9th and supported operations leading to the capture of Metz, France, in November.

They were then transferred to Belgium during the Ardennes Offensive and arrived at Neufchateau on December 21st. They supported operations against the Bulge in January, 1945. Bill recalled seeing a Tiger tank through some trees, moving in the distance. The commander had him move to the top of a hill to see where the tank was going. As soon as they reached the top, the enemy started firing and they immediately tried to move downhill to a safer position. As they turned, one the the TD’s tracks came off, disabling them. It was snowing and their was already a foot of snow on the ground. it took five hours to repair the track but the snow and their white coveralls helped camouflage them until they could move again.

On another occasion, Bill and his TD Commander, Blackie, walked out onto a bridge over a number of railroad tracks. Their TD was parked just off the bridge on guard. They watched the blue sky above as a group of U.S. planes passed over, headed toward Berlin. While still standing there, the men saw a single German plane fly toward the bridge and drop a bomb. When Bill saw the bomb, he yelled for Blackie to hit the deck. The bomb just missed the bridge, landing below it. The blast threw the men some distance and, although they weren’t seriously hurt, they both ended up in a hospital suffering from shell shock.

They 602nd continued to fight through the Siegfried Line in February and then returned to the Moselle River area in March. They crossed the Rhine River at Boppard on March 26th and advanced through Gotha, Eisenach, and Zwickau in April. Bill stayed in a home where the owners had been asked to stay elsewhere. The family’s 10 year old daughter would come to the house each day to get food. The family didn’t have much so the soldiers gave her some of their rations. When they finally left, they gave the girl a ride into town on their TD which she truly enjoyed.

Honorable Discharge

Bill left the service on December 11, 1945, at Camp Grant, Illinois. He received the WWII Victory medal, the American Campaign medal, the Good Conduct medal and the EAME Medal with credit for the campaigns of Northern France, Ardennes-Alsace, Rhineland and Central Europe. He had reached the rank of Technician 5th Grade.

William P. Rohloff 2After the war, Bill had various occupations including managing a co-op grain elevator. He also owned a bar and restaurant. He and Helma had four children, three sons, William, Dennis and Daniel and a daughter, Joan. The family moved to Arizona where Bill became a Real Estate Broker and again bought a restaurant and bar. He retired in 1984, and he and Helma purchased a motor home and traveled all over the U.S.. visiting their children, other family and friends.

In his spare time, he enjoyed playing golf and cards. He was a member of the American Legion and the VFW.

Bill passed away in February of 2018, at the age of 93. He was buried in the All Souls Cemetery in Cottonwood Arizona. I want to thank his daughter Joan, for providing the photos and information for this tribute.