A Soldier's Soldier Gets His Reward

For most American soldiers in WWII, service in the Army was a way station in the greater scheme of things; the most sought after reward was returning home, victorious and in one piece, and getting on with life.

This was not the case for all of them, however, For Rudolph Steinman, the Army had been a fickle mistress, and combat itself was a sought-after calling.

Born in Switzerland in 1898, Steinman was the son and grandson of soldiers who had served in the French Army. At the age of 16, he ran away from a Swiss cadet school, got himself smuggled across the border into France, and passed himself off as 18 so he could join his father's old outfit -- the Foreign Legion.

After training in Algeria, he was sent as a replacement to a Legion battalion engaged in combat against the Germans in Flanders. After seeing considerable action, Steinman was discharged after the French Army discovered his true age as a result of his father's intervention. Shortly thereafter, the Steinman family emigrated to the United States.

After working in his brother's Swiss cheese factory and as a lumberjack in Wisconsin, Steinman enlisted in the US Army in 1923. He served 14 years as an infantryman at various posts in the States and in Panama. In 1937, a law went into effect that barred non-US citizens from serving in the Army, and Steinman was discharged.

Rudolph Steinman worked some odd jobs in New York City after his separation, but tried to reenlist immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was rejected as being overage, but was somehow drafted in 1943.

After reporting to Company D, 399th Infantry, Steinman was promoted quickly as his expertise and natural leadership skills became obvious. Although offered a discharge under the Army-wide program that allowed enlisted men over the age of 38 to leave the service if they would take war-industry jobs, Steinman had no intention of doing so. Shortly before the 100th Infantry Division was deployed to Europe, Steinman was told by the Company D First Sergeant that due to his advanced age, he was going to be assigned to limited duties stateside; Steinman immediately requested an audience with the Commanding General, Major General Withers A. Burress. The CG assured him he could go overseas with the Division if he wanted to.

After receiving the Silver Star for valor during the repulse of the NORDWIND counteroffensive, and a battlefield commission later, the 46-year old Lieutenant Steinman was to be honored yet again. As Lieutenant Colonel Byron C. DelaMater, Adjutant General of the 100th Infantry Division read the orders, Steinman received the Distinguished Service Cross from the hands of Major General Wade Haislip, Commanding General of XV Corps, in early March of 1945 for actions in the very first days of the Division's combat near Raon L'Etape.

In this, the Division's baptism of fire, Steinman set an example that did not slacken or falter throughout the next six months of combat. While leading his heavy machinegun platoon in support of B/399 on 16 November 1944, then-Technical Sergeant Steinman and his men were caught in the same murderous crossfire by two German machineguns that had pinned down all of Baker Company on Hill 409. Sending one of his squads to the right to fix the enemy by fire, Steinman circled left and crawled toward the machinegun nest on that side. With 8mm slugs plowing up the soggy turf all around him, he opened fire with his carbine, killed the German gunner, and continued to fire so accurately that the other members of the German crew could not man their gun.

Leaping to his feet, Steinman single-handedly assaulted the German position, firing his carbine as he ran. Not only did this action completely break up the ambush, but it utterly routed the German unit conducting it. The former Legionnaire -- who may have fought against some of his prey's fathers thirty years before -- captured 16 German soldiers as they threw their hands in the air.

-- From The Century Sentinel, 17 March 1945

and The Story of the Century, 1946