John Orval Sutter
US Army, 9th Armored Division, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion,
C Company – Staff Sergeant
World War II (1944-1946)
European Theater and Battle at Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany
John Orval Sutter, a resident of San Rafael, California, and a World War II veteran, is on a mission for peace. After being wounded in the Battle at Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, and through his later work in military government in Germany, Sutter came to the realization that world peace is a necessity. It became his passion and mission in life. After the military, Sutter continued his career with the Foreign Service, the National Academy of Sciences, and The Asia Foundation where he became a specialist in Indonesia, in addition to working in China, Malaysia, Pakistan and Vietnam. Sutter’s true passion was finally discovered in 1987 when he joined the World Federalist Association to further his mission of world peace and democratic global governance. Sutter has worked tirelessly for the global World Federalist Movement, the right of people to self-government, and the restructuring of the United Nations. After years of service on behalf of our country, John Orval Sutter can still sound his battle cry – Peace!
John Orval Sutter was born on January 13, 1926 in University City, Missouri. He grew up in University City, attended University City Senior High School, and graduated at age 16 in 1942. His father was an attorney, active in local politics, and elected as Public Administrator of St. Louis County. His mother was a local businesswoman and the manager of a small, family owned bus company. Sutter’s family had some military history. His uncle was a major in the medical corps during World War II in the European Theater, and a younger brother joined the Army for a few years after him. In addition, Sutter’s son is currently a Colonel serving with the Defense Intelligence Agency.
In 1942, Sutter enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis where he studied political science and international relations. He also joined the ROTC his freshman year and studied coast artillery training. The Coast Artillery had existed as a combatant “line” arm and its mission was to protect fleet bases, defeat naval and air attacks against cities and harbors, undertake beach defense while acting as army reserve artillery, and provide a mine-planter service. Given the location of St Louis, there was no real opportunity to practice this training since St. Louis was not on a coast. Sutter felt that this training was not taken very seriously, was not effective and it was obsolete. In his second year of college, Sutter was allowed to take the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) exam, which he passed. The focus was on training persons to serve in the military governments of territories that were occupied. Little did he know, Sutter would later benefit from this training while he served in Northern Bavaria at the end of World War II. Despite passing this exam and his involvement with ROTC, Sutter chose to stay in school. Although he was surprised by the attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and aware of the U.S. involvement in the war, he was focused on his studies.
On March 31, 1944, at the age of 18, Sutter was drafted into the Army. Sutter was initially sent for anti-aircraft artillery training at Fort Bliss in Texas for 4-5 months. Sutter trained in the dessert, took a special map reading course, and learned to fire the 90 mm anti-aircraft gun and smaller, shorter artillery. He learned to identify U.S., Japanese and German aircraft which would later come in very handy while in the field in Europe. His living conditions at Fort Bliss consisted of dusty hutlets that housed four double bunks and eight men. He spent a lot of his time cleaning the dust off the equipment, the living quarters and the floor. Sutter felt fortunate to have leave before he left for Europe and toured Juarez, Mexico which he found very exciting.
By mid 1944, the Army Air Corps began to dominate the skies in both theaters of war, and the need for more anti-aircraft trainees had declined. In late 1944, Sutter was sent for infantry training at Camp Stewart and Camp Gordon in Georgia. Sutter recalls that Camp Stewart was in a swamp area and the living conditions were difficult due to the high humidity. He learned to dig foxholes in swamp water. At Camp Gordon, Sutter received winter training, learned to crawl on the ground, shoot different firearms, and to invade different areas. This winter training was different from his earlier anti aircraft training because it was less defensive and you were always moving forward. According to Sutter, the infantry is always the “head of the battle”. At Camp Gordon, the weather was cold and he learned to cope with the training. Overall, the morale was ok during infantry training. Sutter never had a sense of fear or worry in his training or even in combat. He felt very level headed about his service and training and really did not have much time to think about it. During his training, Sutter was surprised to learn that some of the men were uneducated and illiterate.
Sutter received his 1st assignment in January 1945. He was sent to Europe to be a replacement for a casualty of the Battle of the Bulge. His family was stoic about his service, but later his mother became emotional when Sutter shipped off for Europe. Sutter left for Europe via Fort Dix, New Jersey and was transported with 13,000 other men aboard the Queen Elizabeth. The trip took about one week and Sutter’s duties involved peeling potatoes. By the end of the voyage, he was an expert. The living conditions were crowded and he received two meals a day. On this trip, he learned about class division of the British and the privileges of being an officer. His initial landing was in Scotland where he was immediately transported via train across England to France. In France, he had the distinct honor of being transported by a “40 and 8” transport boxcar intended to house 8 horses or 40 soldiers. According to Sutter, the horses had more room and comfort than he ever experienced. It was very cold and he only had an overcoat and blanket to keep warm. After traveling 2 weeks in very uncomfortable conditions, Sutter finally arrived near Metz in Lorraine, France, the locale of his first assignment. In Lorraine, Sutter was assigned to the 9th Armored Division of the US Army, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion, C Company. The 9th Engineer Battalion conducted combat and stability operations in support of a combat command (equivalent to a brigade in an infantry division). It was a divisional mechanized combat engineer unit, composed of three line companies (A, B & C) and a headquarters company. Its mission was to provide assured mobility, counter-mobility, general engineering and survivability support for the armored infantry battalions with trained combat engineers ready to deploy anywhere at any time. Sutter knew nothing about this Division or engineering and he believes he was just randomly assigned. According to Sutter, although it fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the 9th Armored Division was not that well known. It would later prove to be an important Division in the European Theater.
His 1st weeks in Lorraine involved specific training on repairing bridges, building bridge equipment, how to lay and pick up mines, and making roadways using gravel. Sutter had no real opinions of this Division and he did not have a full understanding of how he fit within this group. At this time, Sutter was a private and he had no real feelings as he learned his assignment other than that it was very cold. While in Lorraine, the supplies were plentiful as the Division had been refitted after the Battle of the Bulge. Sutter even received wine and chocolate rations. Initially, he lived in a small village, surrounded by snow-covered fields, with no heat. Later, he spent most of his time traveling and living with his squad in a half track. In general, Sutter’s meals consisted of canned C rations that could be heated, or K rations that came in a box. For the most part, he and the Division were isolated as they trained in preparation for the invasion of Germany. The majority of Sutter’s training involved how to be an effective engineer. He also served as guard on the back of the half track as it traveled across France into Belgium. According to Sutter, things were going as expected and he didn’t have many adventures other than getting covered in mud. Overall, the morale of the Division was very high. Sutter felt fortunate to be assigned to this Division and his opinion of his fellow soldiers and superiors was good. He felt accepted by the Division despite joining them later in their European campaign as a replacement.
From Lorraine, the 9th Armored Division moved through France, Belgium and into West Germany. Sutter traveled in the half track across Europe passing through areas that had been previously conquered by other units. According to Sutter, “the half track served as his armored home.” The primary concern at this time was getting across the snow covered terrain to Germany. It wasn’t until Sutter arrived in Aachen, Germany that he experienced combat when his Division joined the 1st Army. There were no big battles at this time. The conflicts usually settled quickly. For the most part, Sutter noticed that as they traveled through these regions, the locals would waive white flags in the windows to avoid any shooting. Occasionally, Sutter would experience some sniper fire as they traveled through, but it was not usually significant. In addition to sleeping in the half track, the Division also slept in bombed out buildings or on frozen ground. One of the rudest awakenings of the war for Sutter was being woken from a sound sleep, on the frozen ground in the middle of the night, by artillery going off nearby.
The Division then moved through Rhineland and east along the Rhine to Remagen. The Division captured many prisoners of war. It took about a week to reach Remagen and along the way, Sutter saw bombed out towns and villages. It was the first time he saw the results and devastation of the war. On March 7, 1945, during the Allied offensive to the Rhine River, Combat Command B of the 9th Armored Division arrived at the town of Remagen, discovering that the Ludendorff Bridge over the Rhine was intact. There was much discussion by General Bradley and General Eisenhower on how to proceed. The usual thing was that the Germans usually destroyed their bridges after their last troops had retreated across them. The United States had no expectation of ever capturing a bridge. A battle plan was drawn up to take the bridge and a detachment from B Company of the 9th Armored Engineers dismantled explosive charges set to destroy the bridge. Although several charges were detonated, the Ludendorff Bridge was not destroyed. B Company was among the forces able to secure the far side of the bridgehead and the next day, C Company kept the bridge open despite an intense artillery and aircraft attack. While Sutter worked with the C Company in keeping the bridge open, the Germans tried bombing the bridge from overhead. The German Stuka dive bombers were shot down and the efforts of high flying bombers to bomb the bridge were hindered by poor weather, which also prevented American fighter planes from defending the bridge. Sutter and C Company spent the majority of their time trying to fill holes on the bridge and worked 8 to 11 hour shifts only stopping to eat. They worked in the dark and used special yellow tape to help guide the infantry, trucks and tanks across the bridge. Sutter claimed that they acted as military police escorts.
By March 9th, the Germans had not succeeded in blowing up the bridge. On this day, however, the Germans began to shell the bridge with a 60 cm Karl, or self propelled howitzer, two miles upstream that fired 4,850 pound shells. Sutter could see the big muzzle blasts. He recalls that the approaching shells sounded like a combination freight train and fire engine. Sutter could see the shells falling as if they were large rain barrels. Throughout the day, he ran for the protection of a tunnel at the end of the bridge on the right bank. Once the shelling ceased, Sutter would return to work filling the holes on the bridge. It continued like this through the day; filling holes and running for cover in the tunnel, claimed Sutter. In one fatal instant, however, he was not able to run for cover. Sutter heard a shell coming in and he hit the deck. He claims it felt like a sledge hammer hit him in the side of his face. The shell hit the bridge and 13 were wounded from the shrapnel. Fortunately, someone had parked a half track halfway across the bridge and it took the brunt of the explosion. According to Sutter, “but for the half track, he wouldn’t be here today.” Although Sutter was nearest the explosion, the half track protected him and he received fewer injuries than others. Despite being wounded, Sutter was able to escape to the tunnel and eventually safety. He was not bothered much by his wound. His jaw was pinned shut at the time by shrapnel, he could not talk, and could only drink through a straw.
The outcome of the Battle at Ludendorff Bridge was success. The United States was able to send several Divisions across the bridge and established bridgeheads on the far side. Although the bridge finally collapsed, the Army Engineers were able to build pontoon bridges down stream and the Army was able to get many units across the river. According to later statements by General Eisenhower, the capture of this bridge broke the will of the Germans. It was a major turning point in the war and the Germans realized that they were losing. Sutter claimed that if the bridge had not been captured, the war most likely would have continued for 3 more months and would have lasted longer than the war in the Pacific. As a result of the Battle at Ludendorff Bridge, C Company of the Engineers and other parts of the Division were awarded a Presidential Unit Citation. The 9th Armored Division was instrumental in establishing the first bridgehead across the Rhine River since Napoleon crossed unopposed and Caesar first crossed in 55 B.C., in the face of opposition by Germanic tribes.
Sutter and the other wounded soldiers had to wait until nightfall to be evacuated across the bridge back to the American side. They were transported to a nearby American field hospital where the shrapnel in Sutter’s jaw was removed. He felt perfectly comfortable because the surgeon was from his alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis. As more casualties came in, Sutter was relocated to Paris to the American Hospital for recuperation. Sutter claimed that the treatment in the hospital was like “being in a 5 star hotel”. Sutter’s recuperation lasted about 2 weeks. He did not feel hindered in any way by his wound and his attitude did not change. His family didn’t receive notice that he had been wounded until the Army notified them that he was recovering well.
While Sutter and the other wounded soldiers received medical treatment, the 9th Armored Division moved south across the Lahn River toward Limburg, where thousands of Allied prisoners were liberated. The Division drove on to Giessen and then on to Warburg assisting in closing of the Ruhr Pocket. On rejoining his old Division in late March, Sutter recalls seeing thousands of prisoners of war. He also remembered going into the tower of a high school where he discovered a wind up victrola and records. He played Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz and it was one of the most eerie feelings listening to the music at sunset. This was one of the most emotional moments of the war for Sutter. The Division sped across Germany, encircling Leipzig. At this time, Leipzig was well defended and ringed by the German artillery. As a result, the United States decided not to have a frontal attack and surrounded the city and cut it off. The attack was a success. By this point, the Germans knew that the war was basically over. The United States was able to cover lots of ground without any resistance and captured tens of thousands of prisoners of war, including old men from local defense units and the Hitler Youth. There were basically no more battles after that and it was quite peaceful. The Division was prepared, however, for anything and moved to the banks of the Mulde River until early April 1945, when it was stopped, for it was far beyond the line where Roosevelt and Stalin had divided Germany at Yalta in February. At this time, the decision was made to move from Saxony into Bavaria. Sutter recalls the sadness of the German population when they learned the Americans would not occupy this area and it was to be run by the Russians.
By May of 1945, Sutter was transferred to the 9th Armored Engineers Battalion Headquarters located in Bayreuth, Bavaria. Living quarters consisted of office buildings or abandoned houses. There were little shortages as the Division had moved so quickly south. Overall, Sutter’s morale was pretty good at this time. News of the surrender on May 9th arrived when he was in Bayreuth. Sutter’s reaction to the war ending was positive and he and the men in the Division felt good to be on the winning side. In general, Bayreuth had been destroyed and Battalion Headquarters were established in one of the surviving buildings. The Battalion Headquarters was divided into 5 sections and Sutter worked in the Administrative section (S-1) for the Administrative Officer, as an administrative clerk. In addition, he also was the aide–de-camp for the Major or Executive Officer. His duties were to type Battalion and Division orders and drive the Major around, as needed. He also manned the Communication Centers and learned to operate the switch boards. By July of 1945, Sutter was promoted to Private First Class. Life in general in Bayreuth was very pleasant and Sutter was even able to attend special events at the famous Wagner Festspielhaus including a performance by Jack Benny. Fortunately for Sutter, he was able to live in a house in Bayreuth despite many buildings having been destroyed. He dined on rations and enjoyed meals in the newly reopened rathskellars. Sutter also enjoyed fishing in the countryside with the Major for whom he worked. While in Bayreuth, Sutter learned that the secret to catching fish in the local rivers was to drop in grenades.
The occupation duties ended in 1945 in Bayreuth, and the 9th Armored Division left West Germany and was eventually deactivated in October 1945. By this time, Sutter had received a double promotion and was elevated from a Technician 5th Grade to a Technician 4th Grade, which is the equivalent to a Corporal and Sergeant. Sutter remained in Northern Bavaria because he did not have enough points to be discharged. Several officers in his unit were being brought together to go to a newly formed military government unit. He was sent to Ansbach, the administrative capital of Northern Bavaria near Nuremberg. Sutter was part of the Engineer Production Control Unit which also included civilian Germans. His Unit was given the task of visiting German manufacturing facilities to determine which factories could survive and produce civilian goods. This information would be used to license new factories to reopen. Sutter traveled around Northern Bavaria working with the military government from August of 1945 to April 1946. His highest rank was Staff Sergeant. In April 1946, Sutter was sent to the Army Headquarters in Munich and attached to the 4th Armored Division. Eventually, Sutter was sent back to the United States and transported in a Victory ship. Sutter was required to perform guard duties and recalled experiencing a terrible storm in the Atlantic that blew the ship back closer to Europe by the end of the day. He was eventually discharged on April 25, 1946 at the Jefferson Barracks in Missouri.
While in Germany, Sutter was aware of the existence of concentration camps. He never saw a camp, but was aware due to films shown during his time in Germany. Sutter saw tens of thousands of refugees from Eastern Europe and prisoners of war as he traveled around Northern Bavaria and was well aware of their plight. Sutter was able to help 6 refugees immigrate to America after returning to the United States. Despite his close working relations with Germans in Northern Bavaria, he was unaware of the feelings and sentiments of locals toward Hitler and the Nazi regime. It wasn’t until Sutter attended the 50th Anniversary of the capture of the Ludendorff Bridge in Remagen that he heard that locals did not support Hitler. Sutter recalled the speech of the local Burgermeister who stated, “We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were most thankful that you liberated us from Hitler”. For Sutter, this particular speech and sentiment was very moving.
Sutter received awards for his service during World War II including: the Bronze Star Medal with “V” for valor in combat, a Purple Heart, battle ribbons for service in Europe, and a Good Conduct Medal. His C Company also received a Presidential Unit Citation for the Battle at Ludendorff Bridge in Remagen. In general, Sutter was so impressed with the chaos during World War II, that he decided to write a dissertation on the need for a United States of Europe. Although Sutter was encouraged to apply to West Point after his discharge, he no longer wished to seek a future in the military and sought a future in ways of overcoming wars. His goal was to join the Department of State and pursue a career in the Foreign Service which he later did. Upon his discharge, Sutter felt he was received well and his family was happy to see him. Sutter did not continue in the Army Reserves after his discharge.
After Sutter’s discharge, he returned to Washington University in St. Louis and received his BS in Public Administration in January 1948 and an MA in History and Economics in June of 1948. Sutter next began to work on a doctorate at Washington University on the United States of Europe. While working on his dissertation, he passed the Foreign Service Officer exams, but learned that the quota for Foreign Service Officers had been filled. He was interested in serving, so he went to the Foreign Service staff Section and joined the Foreign Service as a staff person and was sent to the American Consulate General in Shanghai. Within a month of being posted to Shanghai, he experienced the 3 day battle of Shanghai, as the Communist Army drove out the Nationalist Army. Sutter worked at the Consulate General for a year and was made a Vice Consul. As Assistant Administrative Officer he played an instrumental role in the evacuation of the consulate’s personnel. Sutter was then sent to Indonesia to help reopen the American Consulate in Surabaya. “He liked the Indonesians, but the post-revolutionary period was a time of much difficulty in Indonesia”, claimed Sutter. Sutter was then sent to Yale for specialized Indonesian language and area training and then came back to Indonesia where he was made an Economic Officer at the American Embassy in Jakarta. He had the opportunity to travel around much of Indonesia and by then, he could speak fluent Indonesian.
By this time, Sutter was less interested in Europe and more focused on Indonesia. He changed his dissertation to the “Political Influences in the Indonesian Economy.” He received the support of the American Ambassador in Indonesia and obtained a Ford Foundation Fellowship for his research. The Ambassador allowed Sutter to take copies of the research he had done in Indonesia for his dissertation. Sutter used his fellowship to attend Cornell University where he studied comparative government and international relations from 1955 to 1959. His dissertation ended up being 4 volumes and covered the end of the Dutch colonial period, the Japanese occupation, the revolutionary period and the first six years of Indonesian independence. He finally received his PhD in June of 1959. While completing his PhD, Sutter also served for several months as a National Academy of Sciences Consultant in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaya and Vietnam.
After the completion of his PhD in 1959, Sutter took a position with The Asia Foundation and worked with the people and governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Pakistan. He served with this Foundation for 31 years and traveled around Asia, in addition to serving in the San Francisco home office. In 1987, simultaneous with his service with The Asia Foundation, Sutter joined the U.S. World Federalist Association. The goals of world federalists are the abolition of war and all crimes against humanity, the preservation of a livable global environment, and the promotion of a world community that utilizes an enforceable world law. The mission and goals of Sutter for a United States of Europe and world peace finally came to fruition when he joined the World Federalists. Since joining the World Federalists, Sutter has served in many capacities to support the organization. He has served as Editor of the Northern California World Federalists and then of Toward Democratic World Federation; Treasurer, Vice President and President of the World Federalists Association of Northern California; and subsequently, of the Democratic World Federalists. In addition, Sutter has served on the Board of the World Federalist Association from 1989 to 2003, its policy committee, and headed its liaison committee for the World Federalist Movement. Sutter also served on the World Federalist Movement Council from 1991 to 2007 and in 1995 organized the World Congress symposium In San Francisco on “Restructuring the United Nations: Achieving Democratic Governance for the 21st Century.” Sutter retired from The Asia Foundation in 1991 and stepped down as President of the Democratic World Federalists in 2012. Sutter now enjoys his retirement in San Rafael, California after a long and active international career.
Upon reflection on his service, there was nothing really too tough about his service. Sutter found digging foxholes in a swamp and sleeping on frozen ground in Germany was unpleasant, but not really difficult or too tough to bear. It was really more of an adventure for him rather than a problem to overcome. For Sutter, the scariest moment should have been when he was hit in the face with shrapnel. However, he wasn’t scared, just merely surprised. World War II made Sutter more determined to help the world move to a place where there would no longer be wars. In addition, he was interested in a democratic form of government where there were civil rights and equal rights for everyone. According to Sutter, the most memorable experience of his service was working on the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen. He thought this was “a fairly unique experience.” Sutter also believes that “we as Americans should be spending time and money on training and educating young people for working toward a peaceful world instead of throwing trillions of dollars toward war.” “We are wasting money, as well as lives”, stated Sutter. Sutter would like to see the United States play a more constructive role in its leadership in the world. Sutter feels that young men and women should join the Peace Corps or other non-profit organizations working with the local people in other countries in making things better, as opposed to entering the military.
Based on his experiences in life, Sutter would like everyone to remember that we are all part of the human family and although we have cultural, religious and philosophical differences, we would be better off if we worked and cooperated together. Sutter would like people to remember that we have to work together to form government organizations that serve all the people of the world, not just our country, or our current allies. After all of these years, John Sutter’s mission in life is still world peace and democratic global governance.
Interview by Nicholas W. Elsbree on June 9, 2012.