Wednesday, September 6, 2023, was a very emotional and special day. For my brother Jack, and I, it was definitely the highlight of our trip to retrace our father’s routes as a Medical Officer during WWII. But my brother and I had another important mission on our Italy trip agenda. If possible, we wanted to find the location where our Uncle Jack (John V.) Hoyer, my mother’s beloved younger brother and my brother’s namesake, was killed on his first day of combat, May 27, 1944, while serving with the 752nd Tank Bn.
A few weeks prior to our trip, I stumbled upon the “752nd Tank Battalion in WWII” website of Bob Holt, whose father also served in the 752nd during the war and who has been writing a history of the tank battalion: http://www.752tank.com/?fbclid=IwAR0ZUOwLlNhGQGXYvlscBLpPPa_L2U6zSf5-t7T0kIIe9yFfx45Y6SlpK4Y
I was thrilled to make this serendipity connection, and Bob seemed pleased, as well. He was very helpful in providing valuable information about the movements of the 752nd on that fateful day, through a lot of his own sleuthing. There are no official military records of that day and exactly where the tank battalion came under fire (no GPS back then or any digitalized records), but Bob pieced together his best guess from the unit’s previous “training” location near Eboli, knowing they had finally been deployed and were headed towards Rome. He sent me the GPS coordinates, and even a photo of the road and adjacent field where the fatal battle most likely occurred, after zooming in via Google maps. (the miracles of technology!!!)
Towards the end of our stay in Cassino, our new friend, historian, and fellow WWII enthusiast, Pino Valente, along with his helpful assistant, “Alex,” generously agreed to drive us an hour and a half to pinpoint where our Uncle Jack was lost, near Maenza. With Pino and Alex’s excellent navigation skills, patience, and personal contacts, we eventually found the GPS location in question. We are forever grateful for and indebted to Pino and Alex’s assistance, without which, we would never have found “the spot” where our Uncle Jack had his last view of this world.
In the book, you can read two very touching letters sent to Jack Hoyer’s parents, my grandparents, from his commanding officer and best friend in the unit. The letters are heart-wrenching and provide the circumstances and details of Jack's death, which I think provided some closure for the family.
The photos of that day’s extraordinary mission, tell the story.
Posted January 07, 2024
Jack Hoyer, Eboli Italy, April 1944; 2+ weeks before he was killed on his first day of combat, May 27, 1944, in the fields below Maenza, Italy. This photo was taken by his brother-in-law, my father, Major Arthur L. Ludwick Jr, M.D., while visiting him one afternoon in April. Jack had adopted this little dog in North Africa.
Pino Valente, of the Cassino Red Poppy Assoc., driving us to find the location of where our uncle, Jack Hoyer, with the 752nd Tank Bn, was killed on his first day of combat, May 27, 1944.
Pino's assistant, Alessio “Alex” Accardi, helps with navigation on our quest to find where Jack Hoyer was killed.
The village of Maenza in the distant hills, (white group of buildings on lower left), from where the high velocity '88 artillery shells were fired, targeting Jack Hoyer’s 752nd Tank Bn.
I had found this reddish slightly heart-shaped rock in a friend's garden, and had it painted to commemorate where Jack Hoyer was lost.
The back of Jack's rock. There are 3 generations in our family named John/Jack. Even though none of us had ever met Jack, our hope is that other family members may visit this "shrine" and pay tribute to a courageous young soldier who paid the ultimate price while serving his country.
We used the stone field marker to designate where Jack's rock was placed, as the surrounding field was still being tilled, and any family member looking for Jack's rock could more easily find it. We didn't bury it, but placed it at the base of the stone marker where it would be somewhat protected. I hope that if anyone other than family finds it, they'll leave it there and reflect on a young soldier's bravery and ultimate sacrifice in war.
Brother and sister, Jack and Jean Hoyer, ~ 1921. They were very close and grew up together sharing many adventures in Minnesota.
Ben and Jack Hoyer, father and son, were avid hunters, fishermen, and sportsmen. This was their last time together before Jack joined the Army, Aug 24 - 29, 1942, and he was off to war.
Don't know the date of this photo, but it was obviously before Jack joined the Army in 1942. He was a star basketball player for his Virginia, MN high school team and an all-around good guy. I so wish I had known him.