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The Sergeant John W. Gabersek Jr. Memorial Scholarship

Long Lost Cousins Reunite While Honoring
 Family Heroes of WWII
Part Two - Lt. James E Meena


Upon arrival in France, the cousins will also visit the American Cemetery at Lorraine, St Avold, France where lies Ameen’s Great Uncle Lt. James E. Meena.  Lt. Meena, a former opera singer from Cleveland Ohio, was a tank platoon leader of Company B of the 8th Tank Battalion, 4th Armored Division.  He was killed in action during a tank battle near Delme France.


With the great success Jim Ameen and Eric Montgomery had in finding information on Amin Isbir, Ameen began research on his Great Uncle James.  During a trip home to Cleveland in 2006, Ameen visited Lt. Meena’s sister in law Ruth Meena.  Mrs. Meena handed him numerous photographs sent home by Lt. Meena while he was stationed in England.   On the rear of one picture were the names of each crewman in Meena’s tank platoon.  Eventually, Ameen was able to deduct that his great uncle was with B Company of the 8th Tank Battalion.


Lt. Meena was a big man for a tanker, at 5 foot 10 inches tall and weighing in at 218 pounds he must have been one of the largest men in the tank corps.  He was single but engaged to be married.  He had 3 years of college and had a passion for music, especially opera, of which he excelled, singing with his angelic voice.


Meena was commissioned to 1st Lieutenant in October of 1942 and like a lot of WWII veterans, his military records were destroyed in the 1973 fire at the St. Louis records center.  The cousins are working towards obtaining more information on his early career in the Army.  Newly discovered information reveals that Lt. Meena’s first tour was in North Africa serving under General Patton.  While training in England, his command tank was named “Bessie” and the platoon he commanded was nicknamed “The Lost Platoon”.  The 8th Tank Battalion trained under the 4th Armored Division in England in early 1944.  The unit was sent to France in July.  The 8th was then attached to Patton’s 3rd Army and fought towards the northeast into Germany.


As previously mentioned, Ameen too is a living historian of the WWII era.  He began to collect artifacts and information on the 4th Armored Division in the late 1980’s.  After some research, Ameen could not believe that Lt. Meena was assigned to a unit that he too had strong connections to.  General Irzyk, an officer with the 4th Armored’s Combat Command B lived only an hour north of Ameen’s Florida home.  The General is an avid supporter of local reenacting and veteran groups.  Ameen had met the General on a few occasions.  A personal friend of Ameen, Colonel Mike Roberts, contacted the General and inquired if he might have known Lt. Meena.  Unknown to Ameen, General Irzyk was Lt. Meena’s commanding officer on the day of Meena’s death. 


Patton’s winter offensive began on the 8th of November in the vicinity of Manhoue to the east.  The 4th Armored Division attacked in two waves; Combat Command “A” Task Force Maybach on the right and Combat Command “B” Task Force Churchill to the left. (Lt. Meena was in Task Force Churchill.) 


Three days later, on November 11th, 1944, Task Force Maybach was held up outside a German strong hold near the city of Fontney.  With Fontney still in German hands, Task Force Churchill was ordered to stay in the area of Hannocourt. The Germans started to lay in artillery on their new position so Task Force Churchill moved into the Boise de Serres less than a half mile to the Southeast.  When the Germans located their new position they fired deadly tree bursts and Task Force Churchill moved their force back out in the open terrain close to HannocourtSoon after this relocation, the Germans launched a counter attack from the vicinity of the town of Oron.  With the supporting artillery from the division and corps level the attack was repulsed.  German tanks then attacked Lt. Meena’s position.



A then Major Albin Irzyk was the Advance Guard Commander in command of and employer of the forces in the battle around Delme, France.  In the letter to Ameen’s friend Col. Roberts, General Irzyk relays that he was an eyewitness to Lt. Meena’s death.  General Irzyk describes the moment, “Meena’s tank was moving and came up over a little rise in the field and was hit by an enemy tank.   Within seconds, another tank near his was also hit.  I still remember that the 11th was one of our very bad days of the war.  We all knew that Lt. Meena had an operatic voice.  He received a lot of good natured kidding about it.  Every now and then when exuberant, at top voice he would belch out a brief, quick, deep aria.”   On page 176 of his book, “He Rode Up Front for Patton” the General mentions Lt. Meena’s death.


General Irzyk also sent Ameen a copy of his personal battle map on which he identified the exact location of Lt. Meena’s death.  The cousins, with the help of Gitzhofer, will use the map to make their way to the site.  Undoubtedly, tears of pride will fill the cousin’s eyes once the site is reached.  “It’s so important that we document every part of our journey for our families that can't be here” says Ameen.  “We are so very fortunate to have Mat and Frances, our French hosts and resident experts, to lead the way.  We certainly could not have made this trip possible without their generosity and compassion.”


James Elias Meena was born in 1916 and enlisted into the U.S. Army from Ohio in May of 1941.  He attended Julliard in New York City and majored in Music; voice performance.  Admirers of his talent supported him in his educational endeavors until the advent of the war.  His father, Elias, was a priest of an Orthodox Church.  Also serving during WWII was a brother Camal, who fought in Italy with the U.S. Army Infantry.  (Cpl Camal Meena is mentioned in Ernie Pyle’s book, “Brave Men”, page 190)  Both brothers were Purple Heart recipients.   After the war, Camal changed his name to James to honor his older brother’s supreme sacrifice.  He also became a priest of the Orthodox Church like his father before him. 


Greeting Ameen, Gitzhofer and Montgomery at the American Cemetery at Lorraine will be Walter Benjamin, Assistant Superintendent of the cemetery.  The cemetery is the final resting place of 10,489 Americans.  Also interred near to Lt. Meena is a member of his crew, Staff Sergeant Raymond D. Stout.


Ameen and Montgomery wish to express their many thanks to the following:


Mrs. Ruth Meena – Mr. John Meena

Col. Michael A. Roberts – General Albin Irzyk

Mr. Mathieu Gitzhofer – 95th Division Historian, Metz, France

Mrs. Frances Nicolas – Associate Member of the 6th Naval Beach Battalion, Bayeux France

Mr. Walter Benjamin - Assistant Superintendent - Lorraine American Cemetery


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