Joseph Michael Coughlin was born on Christmas Eve in 1911 in Cantrall, Illinois, to Mary Ann (Brennan) Coughlin and Irish-born Thomas Patrick Coughlin, a miner, who arrived in the U.S. in 1882.1 At the time of the 1930 census in Springfield, Illinois, Joseph was 18, out of school, and not working; his father was retired; and he had five siblings – three brothers and two sisters.2 His father died eight years later. At age 30 and unemployed in Springfield, Illinois, Joseph registered for the draft on January 26, 1942.
In October of 1942, the unmarried Joseph enlisted in the Army in Peoria. He served in Co. L, 331st Infantry in WWII. His mother was involved in a car crash and died while he was serving in September of 1943. In June of 1944, while in France, Joseph was injured in the line of duty, taking a bullet in his wrist.3 He was admitted to a hospital and discharged the same month back to regular duty. In August of 1944, Joseph was injured in the line of duty again, this time after a rifle bullet pierced his shoulder.4 He was treated in the hospital with penicillin and after recovery was discharged in September back to his regular duty in France. At that time, he had been in service for one year and ten months.
The 331st Infantry was advancing through Europe under the command of the 83rd Infantry Division. From the 83rd Infantry Division Distinguished Unit Citation Outline April 3-18, 1945:5 “With the 331st across the Weser, the two regiments (331st & 329th of the 83rd Infantry Division) sped eastward, regardless of a dangerously exposed right flank, to capture bridges intact across the Leine River. Thus, after five days and nights of relentless fighting and advancing, the 83rd Infantry Division had crossed two mountainous ridges, two rivers, gained some 70 miles against discontinuous but dogged resistance, and captured countless prisoners of war and equipment, to reach what was then the XIX Corps “Limit of Advance Line” east of the Leine River.”
“April 5, 1945 – No resistance was encountered by “L” Company until the high ground on the edge of the woods northeast of Brakel was occupied. At this point between two and three hundred Germans were observed on the main road from Brakel and Vorden. Since the presence of our Task Force was unknown to the Germans, Captain Windsor was able to get his tanks, machine guns, mortars, and multiple .50 calibers in position to open fire simultaneously on the enemy. For 30 minutes there was a constant rattle of the machine guns, tanks, and mortars, firing into one concentrated area. It was slaughter. Out of the estimated 200 – 300, over 150 were killed in the 30 minutes and less than ten shots were fired back at us.”
As the fighting continued for Joseph, back at home, President Franklin D. Roosevelt died on April 12 at the age of 63. It was during his fourth term and after 12 years of recovery from the Great Depression and heading up the wartime coalition to defeat the Germans, Japanese, and their allies.6 He died less than a month before Germany surrendered.
VE-Day and peace officially came to Europe on Wednesday, May 9, 1945.7 The 331st ended 10 consecutive months of fighting and would now assume the role of occupation troops. The 331st had advanced with the 83rd Division through the Reich to establish the only bridgehead across the Elbe.
Joseph was discharged from the Army December 19, 1945. For his service, he was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster.8 An Oak Leaf Cluster is granted to a member of the U.S. Army or Air Force who has been previously wounded and who already has a Purple Heart.9 He died in Chicago in 1961. His next of kin was unknown at the time of his burial.
2 Fifteenth Census of the United States, Springfield, IL, Sangamon County, April 18, 1930