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David E. Pergrin
Born26 July, 1917[1]
Elizabeth, Pennsylvania
Died7 April, 2012 (aged 94)[2]
Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1940 - 1945
RankColonel
Commands held291st Engineer Combat Battalion
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsPresidential Unit Citation
Belgian Croix de Guerre
French Croix de Guerre
Silver Star
Bronze Star Medal
Purple Heart
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
Silver de Fleury Medal[2]

Colonel David E. Pergrin (26 July, 1917 – 7 April, 2012) was commanding officer of the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion during World War II. Before the war he earned an engineering degree at Pennsylvania State University, graduating in 1940. While at Penn State he participated in the ROTC program. In addition, Pergrin played on the university's football team, was elected to the Tau Beta Pi and Chi Epsilon engineering honor societies, and was senior class president. Before graduation he was voted Outstanding Non-Fraternity senior. In his role as senior class president, he presented the university with the Class of 1940 gift - the Nittany Lion Shrine, a 14-ton limestone monument symbolizing the Penn State tradition. However, the monument was not officially dedicated until 1942.[3]

Military serviceEdit

Pergrin was called to active duty in April 1941, with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. After helping train numerous engineering platoons and companies, he was transferred to the new 291st Engineer Combat Battalion in April, 1943 to assist in its training. In August, he was given command of the battalion when it completed its states-side training. During training in the United States and Britain, then Major, later Lt. Colonel, Pergrin emphasized individual leadership which he credited as the main reason for the unit's success in completing its missions, especially while under enemy fire.[3]

The battalion served in France, Belgium and Germany. It was particularly effective as the engineer unit that primarily caused the delay of the advance elements of the Sixth Panzer Army, especially the Kampfgruppe under command of Joachim Peiper, during the Battle of the Bulge. Individual squads and platoons blew bridges, planted mines, and defended roadblocks in the face of oncoming tank columns, causing further confusion in German plans. Upon seeing another bridge blown up just as his tanks reached it, Peiper is said to have uttered the words, "Those damned engineers! Those damned engineers!" Kampfgruppe Peiper was eventually contained and the Waffen-SS tankers had to abandon their vehicles.

Elements of the 291st were the first American soldiers to contact and rescue wounded survivors of the Malmedy massacre, and it was Pergrin who initially reported the massacre to higher headquarters. Later, toward the end of the Battle of the Bulge, the 291st was assigned responsibility to uncover the bodies of soldiers massacred at Malmedy for Graves Registration Service troops and documenting officers.

The 291st received the Presidential Unit Citation and other awards for its performance during the Battle of the Bulge. For his leadership during this period, Colonel Pergrin was awarded the Croix de guerre.[3]

Due to its stellar reputation for working under enemy fire, the battalion was selected to build a treadway bridge at Remagen. This was the longest (1,100 foot) tactical bridge ever built under continuous enemy fire. The battalion accomplished this in 32 hours. It was also the first allied bridge built across the Rhine and was intended to replace the Ludendorff railway bridge, just a few hundred yards away, which was in danger of collapse.[3]

File:Col David E Pergrin.jpg

Post warEdit

In 1988, Pergin received Penn State University's Outstanding Engineer Award.

He also took up woodcarving as a hobby and published several books intended as guides for carving animals.

FootnotesEdit

ReferencesEdit

  • Pergrin, D.E, and E. Hammel. 1989. First Across the Rhine: The 291st Engineer Combat Battalion in France, Belgium and Germany. Zenith Press. St. Paul, Minnesota. ISBN 0-7603-2408-5
  • Pergrin, D.E. 2000. Engineering the Victory: The Battle of the Bulge: A History. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 0-7643-0163-2
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