John Mathew Gerdovick (also referred to by some family members as Gerdovich) was born in LaSalle, Illinois, on 22 June 1918, while the United States was engaged in the first World War. His parents were John and Christine Krizel Gerdovick—both immigrants from Jugoslavia who married In LaSalle on 16 November 1913. Their first child had been a daughter who they named Christine. Four more children followed John’s birth: William (Frank), Joseph (Frank), Marie, and Richard.
John’s father, John Gerdovick Sr., worked in the quarry at the cement company. He had purchased a home in the southwest part of LaSalle on First street across from the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad Passenger Station. Unfortunately for the family this was a busy location. And in the summer of 1927, John’s two-year-old sister Marie was trampled to death by frightened truck horses while she was playing in a wagon on the sidewalk in front of her home. Nine-year-old John may have witnessed this tragedy as it was reported her brothers saw what happened and ran to tell their mother and the driver of the wagon who was delivering ice to the family.
In the early to mid-1930s John spent at least three years at the LaSalle-Peru Township High School. He then left school, apparently without graduating, to start a job at Westclox—a local clock factory in Peru, Illinois. His sister Christine had been working there as a press operator since the early 1930s.
On 16 October 1940, John Gerdovick registered for the draft along with many other young men in the LaSalle area. He was 22 years old, five feet 10 inches tall and weighed 138 pounds with brown eyes and hair. By 1942, he was married to Frances Pirch, and they had a baby daughter. The young family was living in an apartment on Walnut street in Oglesby; John was most likely still working at Westclox when he entered the U.S. Army, although his exact date of enlistment was not found. His younger brother William Gerdovich enlisted on 8 October 1942 in the U.S. Army, and another younger brother Joseph Gerdovich enlisted on 2 December 1942 in the U.S. Marine Corps.
John was assigned to the 115th Infantry Regiment in the 29th Infantry Division. Quite possibly John was with his regiment when they sailed for Europe in mid-September in 1942. After crossing the Atlantic, the regiment landed in Scotland then moved to England eventually ending up in Tidworth Barracks on Salisbury Plain. They trained at this location for five months and then marched over four days to Cornwall. Training continued there until November 1943 when the regiment next moved to Woolacombe near the north coast of Devon. With each move the training challenges increased to ensure the troops were ready and physically fit for battle.
On 6 June 1944, the time arrived for the regiment to leverage all that training when they sailed as part the D-Day forces. The 115th was assigned to the V Corps, a large Allied assault launched on the coast of France. The regiment’s specific mission was to land on Omaha Beach behind the 116th, move to secure Longueville, and then push on to the Aure River. However, in the execution of the assault, the 116th was not able to clear the beach as quickly as had been anticipated. Therefore the 115th was detoured to Fox Green Beach. After landing and navigating the beach and terrain, mines, and enemy fire, the battalions managed to make their way to their initial targets.
Communication between the battalions of the 115th Regiment was challenging because much of the radio equipment was rendered unusable by the wet landing. So each moved on throughout June 7th on their own through the French countryside. By June 8th, all battalions managed to converge with the mission of clearing “the enemy from the area north of the Aure River” and crossing a “barrier of marshy wasteland stretching some 2,200 yards from the town of Canchy on the north to Colombieres on the south.” This marsh was referred to by the Army as the “Inundated Area.” Over the next day all battalions made it across. And once on the other side each dispersed with a different objective. Without knowing which battalion John Gerdovick was in, it’s difficult to say for sure how and where he lost his life. However, only the 2nd Battalion was involved in a major attack on the day of 10 June 1944—the day John was killed in battle. The day before on June 9th, the troops of that battalion had fought enemy resistance through a forest near Bois de Calette and decided to stop for a while around 1 am on the day of June 10th near Le Carretour in a large field. Many of the men were exhausted after marching for almost a full day and laid down to rest soon after stopping.
An hour or so later, according to reports of survivors, the battalion was attacked by a German field artillery battalion reinforced by infantry and tanks. The enemy troops had been in the process of moving between positions when they caught sight of the U.S. troops and took advantage of the situation to ambush them. The unexpected attack caused chaos as the American troops were hit by machine gun and tank fire. Many lives were lost as men tried to make their escape from the field, and perhaps John Gerdovick had been one of those killed.
Private John Gerdovick was buried in Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer in France in Block J Row 3 Grave 15. For his service, he would have received the Combat Infantryman Badge and the following medals: Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, Europe/African/Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.
This story is part of the Stories Behind the Stars project (see www.storiesbehindthestars.org). This is a national effort of volunteers to write the stories of all 421,000+ of the US WWII fallen saved on Together We Served and Fold3. Can you help write these stories? These stories will be accessible via smartphone app at any war memorial or cemetery.
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SBTS Historian Pam Broviak
You can also access this story at the following sites:
- 1920 U.S. Census, John Gardovg, Ancestry.
- 1930 U.S. Census, John Gerdovick, Ancestry.
- 1940 U.S. Census, John Gerdovich, Ancestry.
- U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995, LaSalle, 1935, Gerdovich entries, p. 96, Ancestry.
- U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995, LaSalle, 1932, Gerdovich entries, p. 98, Ancestry.
- U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995, LaSalle, 1942, Gerdovich entries, p. 76, Ancestry.
- Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from La Salle, La Salle County, Illinois, 1911, Library of Congress.
- U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999, LaSalle-Peru Township High School, 1933, John Gerdovich, p. 63, Ancestry.
- “Untitled,” DePue Leader, 14 July 1944, p. 5, NewspaperArchive.
- U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947, John Mathew Gerdovick, Ancestry.
- U.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, William F. Gerdovich, Ancestry.
- U.S., Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1798-1958, Joseph F. Gerdovich, 1943, Ancestry.
- U.S., Headstone and Interment Records for U.S., Military Cemeteries on Foreign Soil, 1942-1949, John M. Gerdovick, Ancestry.
- The 115th Infantry Regiment in World War II, Joseph Binkoski and Arthur Plaut, Washington Infantry Journal Press, 1948, Hathi Trust.