OGDEN — A tank commander from Ogden who led the first American capture of a German town during World War II is being memorialized on the 75th anniversary of the feat.
Relatives of Lt. Richard Spencer Burrows are traveling to Roetgen, Germany, for ceremonies marking the U.S. 7th Army’s milestone breakthrough into the Nazi homeland.
Burrows commanded the 3rd Armored Division tank platoon that burst into the small town on the Belgian border at 2:51 p.m. Sept. 12, 1944, according to a division history written by Capt. A. Eaton Roberts in 1949.
His daughter, Patricia Burrows Larson of Ogden, last saw her dad before he shipped out to train for the European war. She was 8 years old.
After the American forces moved past Roetgen, Burrows became apparently the first American ground casualty on German soil, felled by a German sniper after he stepped down from his tank to examine a road obstruction.
Burrows already had been wounded in France. He was posthumously awarded two Purple Hearts and the Silver Star.
Before the war, the Ogden native was produce manager at Stimpson’s Market at 26th Street and Monroe Boulevard.
Then, before joining the Army, “Spence” Burrows was an ordnance specialist at the Ogden Arsenal in Clearfield, Larson said.
“It was crucial to the war effort,” Larson said. “He didn’t have to go, but he enlisted.”
Burrows, already 32, had graduated from Weber Junior College and the Army sent him to officer training school. He went into combat in France after D-Day in June 1944.
“The last time I saw him, my mom and I went down to the railroad station in Ogden,” Larson said. “We were on the platform of the train and told him goodbye.”
In the push into Germany, Burrows was part of Operation Spearhead, commanded by Lt. Col. William B. Lovelady. Burrows’ platoon was part of the 83rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.
“What a great guy,” Larson said of her father. “He was a really nice dad.”
She remembers that on a family outing before he shipped out, Burrows was in his lieutenant’s uniform.
“I was amazed that the soldiers all over had to salute him,” she said.
George Vogel of Ogden, Burrows’ great-nephew, said the community of Roetgen — “a little town exactly the size of Tremonton” — is holding a memorial ceremony on Thursday and the local history society is hosting an event two days later.
He said the ceremonies commemorate Burrows and his fellow soldiers, as well as the first German soldier who was killed there in the ground invasion. A monument to Burrows and his men will be unveiled and the town will dedicate a memorial park.
“I think it is so nice that the German people want to do this,” Larson said.
Vogel said he learned of the town’s plans only after he began researching his great-uncle’s history a few years ago.
“I had heard the story growing up and just wanted to kind of figure out more about it,” Vogel said. “To be honest, I was into military vehicles and knew he was a tank commander.”
He asked about Roetgen and Burrows in online forums and learned that organizers had been trying to find relatives of Lt. “Burroughs.”
Apparently some records of the conflict used the English spelling of Burrows, Vogel said.
Vogel, 53, and his wife visited the town a few years ago. They also went to the nearby Henri-Chapelle cemetery that holds the remains of Burrows and 10,000 other U.S. soldiers.
Vogel said he had mixed feelings about telling Larson of the Roetgen commemoration.
“It was a significant event in history, but it was where her dad died, and in that way it was a tragedy,” Vogel said.
“I’m happy that her dad is getting a little notoriety,” he said.
Larson, who is an 85-year-old former state legislator, said her father wrote a “sad” letter home in June 1944.
“He told my mother he was so concerned about his men — he called them his boys,” she said. “Everyone was so tired, sleeping in trenches with the beetles and bugs.”
He also wrote about what he wanted to do when he got home and told his wife how much he loved her and their daughter. Plus, he hoped the couple would have more children.
“He told my mom she should get married again if he didn’t come back,” Larson said. “She never did.”