This is part two of an ongoing series about Ricks College and BYU-Idaho alumni who made the ultimate sacrifice serving in the United States Military.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” -John 15:13
The Battle of the Bulge
One of the most critical battles of World War II, The Battle of the Bulge was the last major offensive launched by the German army before they began their retreat, pulling the bulk of their resources to the Eastern Front to defend against the incoming Soviet army. Three known Ricks College alumni lost their lives in this battle.
Pvt. First Class Joseph Arnold Ricks
Joseph Ricks’ selfless sacrifice made resounding waves across the Atlantic Ocean from far-away Belgium. His family’s dogs in his hometown of Rexburg, Idaho howled all night long. His parents knew what happened even before the official news came.
That is how the late Gerald Johnson, a fellow Rexburg native and soldier in the 526th Armored Infantry Battalion, described the 21-year-old Joe.
They, along with a few other Madison County men, were called into service in March 1943. Upon completing basic training, Joe and his battalion trained in secret with tanks mounted with new British Canal Defense Lights. Joe, who didn’t like carrying a weapon, became a medic.
The battalion was the first to enter and defend the city of Malmedy, Belgium. At Houyire Hill, south of the city, Joe, an unarmed medic, could no longer stand the cries for help from a wounded soldier on the other side of a wired fence.
His commanding officer told him it was too dangerous, but Joe went anyway and carried the man back and got him over the fence. Joe wore an armband and a helmet with a red cross that indicated his status as a medic. Nevertheless, before he could cross back into safety, German machine gun fire struck him.
Sergeant Muhley, Joe’s commanding officer, would visit his family after the war and tell them how he loved and regarded their son.
The man whom Joe rescued also visited the Ricks and thanked them.
Decades after the fact, Joe’s comrades continued to honor and pay respect to him for his bravery and high moral standards. This included a Memorial Day service the 526th Armored Infantry Battalion Association held for him in 2003, which began their tradition of honoring a fallen member each Memorial Day until they disbanded in 2015.
Special thanks to the late Mark and Evelyn Ricks, the late Gerald Johnson and an unknown nephew or niece for their written histories and memories of Joe that contributed greatly to this article.
Pvt. Carl Lee Barrett
At the close of 1944, the Germans were intent on capturing the harbor in Antwerp, Belgium — a critical strategic point. The roads in Eastern Belgium made their best path, but to take control they would need the city of Bastogne, where the seven main roads crossed. Upon surrounding the city on Dec. 21, the 101st Airborne Division and Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division were ready to meet them.
Part of the 101st Airborne was 20-year-old Carl Barrett of Salem, Idaho. A student at Ricks College when the military drafted him, Carl initially spent six weeks with the glider infantry before he transferred to the Air Corps. When the program fell through, he was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia and became a paratrooper.
Outnumbered five to one and short-supplied, Carl and the other soldiers defending Bastogne still managed to hold onto the city until other units broke through the German encirclement a few days later. Unfortunately, Carl was killed on Dec. 23. His contributions, however, helped weaken the German offensive, prevent its capture of Antwerp and push it back to its previous lines.
Pvt 1st Class Frank Norman Kelley
Frank was born in Iona — outside Idaho Falls — on Jan. 21, 1913. He died at the age of 31 on Jan. 16, 1945, in Belgium. He is buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California.