Technician Fifth Grade Joseph Briggeman
- Unit: 342nd Engineer General Service Regiment
- Service Number: 36222765
- Date of Birth: November 30, 1910
- Entered the Military: April 21, 1942
- Date of Death: November 10, 1944
- Hometown: Cashton, Wisconsin
- Place of Death: Saint-Hilaire-Petitville, France
- Cemetery: Plot J, Row 15, Grave 11. Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, France
Mentored by Mr. Matthew Bayens
Kohler High School
Joseph Briggeman was born in 1911 in Cashton, Monroe County, Wisconsin to second-generation German immigrants Henry and Agnes Briggeman. Joseph had three older brothers; Matt, Herman, and Edward; and one younger sister; Cecilia.
Joseph Briggeman attended grammar school until the age of 14 when he was forced to drop out to work on the Briggeman family farm. It is probable that Joseph’s primary occupation was tending to the farm for 16 years, from 1926 to 1942. During the Great Depression Wisconsin farmers were primarily low income wage earners.
The Briggeman family was devoutly religious. They were members of St. Peter and St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Cashton, Wisconsin and regularly attended weekend mass.
Joseph Briggeman never married. However, his sister Cecilia went on to marry. Cecilia and her husband moved to Massachusetts and bore Joseph’s two nephews and a niece.
Cashton is a rural town in Wisconsin, in which the majority of inhabitants are farmers by occupation. Farmers suffered from low income during the Great Depression. The Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) of the New Deal was implemented to raise the prices of crops by destroying excess. In the 1930s, Wisconsin farmers were paid to decrease acreage of crops.
Upon entering World War II in the early 1940s, farmers were forced to rapidly increase crop production to meet the demands of soldiers and civilians. However, as the demand for production increased, the number of laborers decreased. Over 20% of the pre-war agricultural workforce in Wisconsin was drafted into the military. As the draft continued, farm deferments were granted to young men whose families felt “their boys were accomplishing more good for them at home than if they went into the service.”
In August 1940 Fort McCoy, a U.S. Army installation in Sparta, Monroe County, Wisconsin, was assigned as the site of the Second Army Maneuvers of World War II. In April 1942, Fort McCoy expanded so that it would be able to house, train, and supply over 65,000 troops of the Second Army. Approximately 8,000 local workers in Monroe County were employed to construct 1,500 buildings on 45 acres of land.
The southern portion of Fort McCoy became a relocation center for Japanese Americans and a Prisoner of War (POW) Camp in mid-1944. It housed several thousand POWs from Japan, Germany, and Korea. Because of the labor shortage, POWs housed at Fort McCoy were forced to participate in agricultural tasks, including picking corn, bailing hemp, and working in dairies. A guard at Fort McCoy, Arthur Hotvedt, recalls that “by November of 1945, some of the German POWs at McCoy had the run of the place”. A tense environment developed in Monroe County as locals encountered POWs.
Joseph Briggeman enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army in Madison, Wisconsin on April 21, 1942. Briggeman was assigned to Company D of the 342nd Engineer General Service Regiment. Company D was sent to train in Camp Claiborne, Louisiana and Camp Dix, New Jersey through early July 1942.
On July 12, 1942, Company D of the 342nd Engineer General Service Regiment sailed from the New York port of embarkation to Liverpool on the SS Duchess of Bedford. Corporal Briggeman then trained in England until June 26, 1944, during which he was promoted to the rank of Technician Fifth Grade. On June 26, 1944, Company D of the 342nd Engineer General Service Regiment began their journey to Normandy on the SS Empire Broadsword.
Corporal Briggeman landed on Utah Beach on June 28, 1944. Company D moved inland to a strip of land between Isignay and Carentan. Corporal Briggeman was assigned to repair train engines and railroad tracks that “the Germans damaged or removed some of the parts of to make unusable.”
It was once said that “Engineers must be at one and the same time both specialists and all-around soldiers.” Corporal Briggeman most certainly embodied both of these roles. Corporal Briggeman’s “courageous actions permitted vehicles and armor to move out in support of the infantry.” They were crucial to the success of the Allied push through France.
Corporal Briggeman wrote to his family often throughout his time in England and France. He communicated most often with his mother and brother Herman. In his letters, Corporal Briggeman spoke of the Norman countryside, which reminded him of his home in Wisconsin, the repair and construction tasks to which his engineering regiment was assigned, and of the age-old chapels in the Norman cities his regiment passed through.
On the October 22, 1944, Corporal Briggeman fell from a tower. Although the type of tower was unspecified in the hospital report, it is reasonable to speculate it was an electrical tower, which were often situated near railroad tracks for communication purposes. Corporal Briggeman was admitted to the 5th General Hospital in Saint-Hilaire-Petitville, France, a few miles east of Carentan. Corporal Briggeman contracted pneumonia during his stay at the hospital. On November 11, 1944, Corporal Briggeman passed away.
Although in the months following the initial invasion, Corporal Joseph Briggeman was over 4,000 miles away from Cashton, Wisconsin, and the family farm, in many ways, Corporal Briggeman felt at home. He saw himself in the Normans – in the farmers, in the land, in the “barns and cow sheds,” in the harvests of hay that he discussed in his letters home to his brother Herman. Perhaps this connection to the region and his strong Catholic faith is what made him so vehemently intent on “freeing a people burdened by the hell of war” and genuinely “optimistic in his overlook of peace.” Whatever fueled this intent, while Corporal Briggeman was in Normandy, he served not only for Americans back home, but for the life and the beauty which surrounded him.
It was six years after the first official celebration of Veterans Day in America that Corporal Joseph Briggeman, Technician Fifth Grade of the 342nd Engineer General Service Regiment, perished in Normandy, France.
Corporal Briggeman was temporarily buried at La Cambe Cemetery in La Cambe, France from November 1944 to November 13, 1947. Agnes Briggeman, Corporal Briggeman’s mother, chose to permanently bury him in Normandy, and he was buried at the Normandy American Cemetery on February 2, 1949. In Cashton, Wisconsin, a memorial marker for Corporal Briggeman stands at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Cemetery next to the graves of his mother and three brothers.
Corporal Briggeman died with the intent on serving the civilians and fellow soldiers around him. When preserving the lives of others, Corporal Briggeman’s own life was lost. But it was not lost in vain. We remember and honor Corporal Briggeman and others who have died in service knowing that they gave their lives to protect our liberties as Americans and in preserving peace for all those of the world. As we move forward from this recognition, we must too look upon the world with optimism and keep Corporal Briggeman’s message of positivity vibrant in our hearts.
Before I had the opportunity to attend the Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom® Albert H. Small Student and Teacher Institute, I took much of the freedom and opportunity I have been given as a United States citizen for granted. As in many history books, I had regarded soldiers who had died fighting in the U.S. military as mere statistics.
The opportunity to research a young soldier from Wisconsin has changed my perspective. The similarities that I have come to see between myself and Corporal Briggeman, and between his family and others in Wisconsin today, have enhanced my understanding of wartime sacrifice for a soldier and their family. Corporal Briggeman has led me to realize that single men who perish in war suffer from a loss of opportunity – their curiosity unexplored, their passions untouched, their dreams just that. For the family, the promises that coincide with having a son are lost. Pride, honor, a bond of love, grandchildren. It is as if a branch of the family tree is cut off one day and will never grow back. Ultimately, single men in the military are often forgotten. They deserve recognition for sacrificing their lives for us. I am proud to have given him the recognition that he deserves.
I have found that since my return from Normandy, I have looked upon my life with immense gratitude. The opportunity to spend everyday with family and friends, amongst the Wisconsin countryside, is a blessing.
I thank Joseph Briggeman for his courage to stand and fight when his country called upon him. I commend his great bravery. I thank him for sacrificing his life so that we are able to live ours.
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