On September 20, 1944 Leo boarded the USAT Thomas H. Barry (USAT = United States Army Troopship), in the port of Brooklyn, along with his comrades of 334 Infantry Regiment.
In his youth, Leo had played there and had earned extra money doing odd jobs. Now he was traveling to Southampton, or rather to the war.
On November 9 the 84 Infantry Division arrived near Gulpen in Limburg. On November 17 the division was tranferred to the front just east of the Dutch-German border, where the allies were confronted by the the Siegfried Line. The military leadership had decided to deploy the 84 Infantry Division during Operation Clipper, with the aim of breaking through the Siegfried Line.
Leo and his comrades would be deployed in driving the Germans from the part of the line around Geilenkirchen and the surrounding area.
On the eve of their participation in the war, the 84 Infantry Division stopped in the German village of Palenberg. There the soldiers were provided with coffee and refreshments by Red Cross girls of a Clubmobile. This can be seen on a drawing that survived the war. On November 18, the battle began.
On November 20, on the third day of the fight, Leo's company was ordered to take a number of German bunkers at Mahogany Hill.
The soldiers of 84 Infantry Division attacked at 8 a.m. but the German soldiers responded immediately to the attack with deadly machine gun fire. The Americans called in artillery support and advanced 100 meters further.
Somewhere in this fight Leo Lichten was fatally
hit by enemy bullets. He died in the fields near Prummern, only 19 years old.
Later that day, the British Churchill 'Crocodile' flamethrower tanks managed to destroy the bunkers. Lieutenant Theodore Draper was there and remembers it this way: “The bunker walls seemed to burn like wood. Our men who were fortunate enough to see the spectacle, forgot for a moment the mud and the danger of Mahogany Hill. It was such a terrible, yet amazing sight to see in wartime.”
Leo was one of the 169 soldiers killed during Operation Clipper, a joint Anglo-American attack on the Siegfried Line at Geilenkirchen. His comrades of the 84 Infantry Division would return shortly after Operation Clipper to Limburg and then be deployed in the Battle of the Bulge, the Ardennes Offensive.
From the recruits in the ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) about 20% died. This was 10 times as much as in the rest of the army.
It is thus hard to deny that Leo and his comrades served as cannon fodder. They were poorly trained and absolutely not ready for the difficult task that awaited them as infantrymen.
Leo was buried in Margraten after he died and found his final resting place in Block E, Row 7, Grave 13. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart medal. For several years now his grave has been adopted by Frans Timmermans originally from Heerlen and currently Commissioner of the European Parliament.