James & Frank Nagy – Easton Brothers Gone To War

Part of the Historical Society of Easton’s year-long series: Easton in the Service.

Immigrants aboard the SS Kroonland heading from Antwerp to New York for a new and better life in the early 20th Century

It was cold and raining when a 20-year-old Hungarian by the name of Gabor Nagy disembarked the SS Kroonland on February 13, 1906 at the port of New York. The crossing from Antwerp had taken ten days. The ship’s manifest listed his final destination as Perth Amboy, New Jersey where he would reside with a “friend” until he found employment. After being examined at Ellis Island and answering a battery of questions, he stood in line with the others to exchange his money for US dollars. He was given exactly $9.23.

The Money Exchange at Ellis Island in 1906

Welcome to America, Gabor!

The RMS Caronia docked in New York on the evening of February 28, 1911. It had taken her eleven days to sail from Naples. The Caronia had the distinction of being the only ship in the Cunard fleet to be named after an American: Caro Brown, the granddaughter of Cunard’s New York agent. She would also be the first ship to transmit an ice warning to the RMS Titanic at 09:00 on April 14, 1912.

Departing the ship at New York on March 1, 1911, was 17-year-old Hungarian Gizella Peto. Her final destination was listed as Bridgeport, Connecticut where she would join her father, Imre. Perhaps strangely coincidental though was the listing of her hometown in Hungary: Patroha, a village in Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County in the northeast corner of Hungary, about half the size of Easton, Connecticut, and the very same village that Gabor Nagy had been born in.

By 1912, Gabor was living and working in Bridgeport. During the early 20th century, cities such as Bridgeport almost always had neighborhoods that were made up of like speaking immigrants. Most immigrants who came to the United States spoke no English upon arrival. Economic survival of recent immigrants required living and working with others who had come here a few years before they had arrived and who were proficient enough in the English language to translate their needs while they learned to speak, read, and write in English. For the Hungarians in Bridgeport, that neighborhood consisted of much of the city’s West End.

Gabor Nagy and Gizella Peto likely met each other for the first time in the Hungarian West End neighborhood off Howard Avenue in Bridgeport. Family lore has it that an aunt arranged for them to wed. After marrying and having their first two sons:  Gabriel in 1914 and James in 1916, Gabor gave up his job working in a foundry and in May of 1918, the family moved to their newly purchased 55-acre farm at 5 Sherwood Road in Easton. That was shortly before the birth of their third son, Frank in November of that year. In Easton they became dairy farmers.  In addition to milk, they also sold vegetables and eggs. In 1920, a fourth son, John was born. After WWII, the Nagy’s would move to another farm in Monroe that was a bit flatter and had less rocks to deal with. They sold off only the house on the Easton farm to Charles & Florence Rudolph, while maintaining the remaining Easton lands for future use. Eventually, the remaining farmland acreage was developed, and homes built on Graceview Drive and Tatetuck Trail. 

The Nagy boys – Gabriel, Frank, James, and John in 1924

The three eldest Nagy boys all registered for the draft on October 16, 1940. At the time of their registration, Gabe was working the Easton farm alongside his father, while James was employed as a carpenter in Newtown and Frank as an electrician in Monroe.

James was called to active military duty first. He reported for duty at Hartford on April 15, 1941, some seven months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. By 1941, the United States was expanding its military capabilities in anticipation of being forced into a growing war that was already raging in Europe while the U.S. was dealing with the ever-growing threat of Japanese aggression in the Pacific. While American armed forces were not yet in combat, few people thought the United States could remain neutral for much longer.

Easter at Sherwood Road in Easton. Before being shipped overseas, Frank and James are home on leave with their mother Gizella in the center and brothers John and Gabriel kneeling.

James’ first post was at Camp Devens in Massachusetts, the main rallying point in New England for new inductees as they awaited assignments for basic training.

James was stationed at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, NY for much of 1942 and 1943.  From there, he would have then been sent to England where thousands of troops gathered and waited as the Allies planned a precise series of air attacks that would soften the German response to an invasion upon the continent that would commence in June of 1944.

James Nagy ID for Fort Hamilton 1942-1943

As a member of the 512th Field Artillery Battalion, James would have moved quickly through much of France during the summer of 1944 before much of the Third Army was temporarily stranded when they outpaced their rear supply units and ran out of fuel.

In September, the 512th and the 802nd, both 105 mm Howitzer battalions were used as reinforcements during the Battle of Nancy in France. It was a 10-day battle in which the Third Army defeated German forces defending the approaches to Nancy and crossings over the Moselle River to the north and south of the city. The battle resulted in U.S. forces fighting their way across the Moselle and liberating Nancy.

Unfortunately, additional military records on James’ time of duty during the war are difficult to locate.  United States Military records were stored at the National Archives Records and Administration Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Sadly, a fire at that facility on July 12, 1973, destroyed approximately 16-18 million official military personnel files. The affected record collections are described below:

Branch Personnel and Period Affected Estimated Loss
Army Personnel discharged November 1, 1912, to January 1, 1960 80%
Air Force Personnel discharged, September 25, 1947, to January 1, 1964 (with names alphabetically after Hubbard, James E.) 75%

According to RootsWeb.com: “No duplicate copies of the records that were destroyed in the fire were maintained, nor was a microfilm copy ever produced. There were no indexes created prior to the fire. In addition, millions of documents had been lent to the Department of Veterans Affairs before the fire occurred. Therefore, a complete listing of the records that were lost is not available.”

James Nagy was discharged from the Army January 11, 1946 at Fort Devens, Mass. as a Technician Third Grade-Service Battery, 512th Field Artillery Battalion.

Frank Nagy in 1943

Younger brother, Frank was called to duty on February 17, 1942. Also entering the service at Fort Devens, Frank then underwent stateside training at several Army bases in the south. Frank was first at Camp Blanding, Starke, Florida in 1942.  He trained as Army Support (moving equipment), but then transferred into Infantry as they needed replacements.  He was at Fort McClellan in Alabama between May of 1943 and April or May of 1944.  By June of 1944 he was at Camp Wheeler Pioneer school in Georgia. 

Camp Wheeler has long been well-known for its training in the use of the bayonet – a skill that Frank would put to good use in mid-December of 1944.  Instead of being used to train entire units, Camp Wheeler had become an Infantry Replacement Training Center (IRTC) where soldiers in the infantry received advanced individual training to replace combat casualties during the war.

Frank Nagy at the left and his buddies jousting with their bayonets before being deployed overseas.

During the autumn of 1944, Frank was a platoon sergeant in the 60th Infantry Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division.  As part of the Siegfried Line Campaign, in mid-September, the 9th Infantry under the command of Major General Louis Craig began a series of attacks deep within the Hurtgen Forest just east of the Belgium border. Facing brutally rough ridges with steep slopes heavily populated with trees, the objective was to seize the ridge behind Vosenack overlooking a dammed-up river in an effort to prevent the Germans from blowing the dams and flooding the advancing Allied troops.

In Chapter twenty-five of his book, The U.S. Army in World War II: The Siegfried Line Campaign, Charles B. McDonald writes on pages 585-586 about the 60th Infantry’s taking of Mariaweiler:

On the first morning, 10 December, after the armor had run into trouble from a combination of mines and mud, General Craig sent a battalion of his 60th Infantry to assist. Together this battalion and a contingent of the 33d Armored Infantry Regiment pushed into the first objective of Obergeich. The same infantry battalion assisted the tanks and armored infantry in subduing the next village of Geich while General Craig sent another battalion of infantry to help a second contingent of armor take Echtz. By nightfall of the first day, all three initial objectives had fallen.

On 11 December, as General Collins decided on a definite plan for taking the two remaining villages west of the Roer, he varied from his arrangement of command by co-ordination to attach a battalion of the 60th Infantry to CCR (Col. Robert L. Howze, Jr.). The combined force was to take Hoven, northernmost of the two villages. The rest of the 60th Infantry was to take the other village of Mariaweiler.

As troops of the XIII and XIX Corps earlier had discovered, pinning the enemy to a small toehold west of the Roer was no guarantee of his collapse. During the night of 11 December, for example, the Germans reinforced their garrisons in Hoven and Mariaweiler with two refitted companies of the 47th Volks Grenadier Division. The troops of the VII Corps also learned, as had others before them, that German observation from higher ground east of the Roer could be deadly. A first attack against Hoven on 11 December recoiled in the face of German artillery fire that reduced the attacking infantry by a third. On 12 December a battalion of the 60th Infantry moving on Mariaweiler took more than a hundred casualties from shellfire before gaining protection of the first buildings. On the same day a smoke screen enabled the armor and infantry to make good on a second try at taking Hoven.

By nightfall of 12 December, despite a sharp counterattack supported by self-propelled guns at Mariaweiler, CCR and the 60th Infantry could claim control of most of the west bank of the Roer northwest and west of Dueren.

The Ninth Infantry was known as “The Notorious Ninth.”  They were fierce fighters and Frank Nagy’s unit certainly lived up to that reputation. On December 12, 1944, Sergeant Nagy led his platoon in an assault on a building outside of Mariaweiler where the Germans were stationed with a machine gun to fend off the American troops. Surrounding the building and then exposing himself to heavy enemy fire, Frank led his men as they rushed the building using grenades and bayonets to kill several German soldiers and then capture twenty more who surrendered. Frank was hit in the back by enemy fire before he went down.

Less than one month later, Frank Nagy was awarded the Silver Star for his display of “gallantry in action”. His “aggressive leadership, devotion to duty and courageous actions were a credit to himself and the armed forces of the United States.” The award was approved by Major General Louis Craig in command of the 9th Infantry. Along with his Silver Star, Sergeant Nagy was also awarded the Purple Heart. Frank spent the next five months recovering from his wounds at Camp Edwards in Massachusetts before he was honorably discharged as a Sergeant First Class from the 60th Infantry Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division and sent home to Easton on May 31, 1945.

The letter awarding Frank Nagy the Silver Star in January of 1945

Upon their return to civilian life after the war, James, Frank, and younger brother John formed the Nagy Brothers Construction Company on Main Street in Monroe in 1946. The company remains in operation today, still run by family members of the founding brothers. Frank’s eldest son, Norman, heads the organization today.

In 1950 Frank married Lois Hurd of Monroe and they built their home at 616 North Park Avenue, Easton, on part of the family farmland. There they raised their four children:  Norman, Sue (Heckert), Ed, and Marion (Osborne). Frank lived in that house for the remainder of his life, passing away in 1992 at the age of only 73. Many readers know Frank’s son Ed, the current and long-time Director of Public Works in Easton.

July of 1956. Frank Nagy

James married, and he and his wife Queenie raised their two children in Monroe. He passed away in 2013 at the age of 97.

A special thanks to Marion Nagy Osborne for her contributions of family knowledge and many of the photographs shown in this article.