Arthur Makholm Sr.

Army officer commanded combat troops in WW II, then re-enlisted to fight in Korea and Vietnam

April 04, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Lt. Col. Arthur Edward Makholm Sr., a career Army officer who fought in three wars, died of a heart attack March 26 at his Ellicott City home. He was 94.

Colonel Makholm was born in Jersey City, N.J., and raised in Kearny, N.J., where he graduated from Kearny High School.

He was working as a salesman in the linen and towel department of Macy's Herald Square store in New York City when he was drafted into the Army in early 1943.

After graduating from Officer Candidate School and being commissioned a lieutenant, he was sent to Fort Devens, Mass., where he joined the 150th Engineer Combat Battalion, largely composed of soldiers from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, that was then in training.

"We'd go out into the forest, cut trees, build a bridge, drive a truck across it, and then had to dismantle it before we could go home for supper," said Richard "Cutty" Cuttcliff of Rochester, Mass., a longtime friend who had served as a sergeant with Colonel Makholm.

After being transported aboard the RMS Queen Mary, the 150th spent four months doing additional training in England before landing at Omaha Beach four days after the June 6, 1944, landing of Allied forces in Normandy.

When German forces gathered in the Ardennes for their final Western offensive in late 1944, Colonel Makholm and the 150th, under the command of Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army, fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

"I remember when we got to Luxembourg, we saw signs that said, 'Welcome Liberators,' " Mr. Cuttcliff, 85, recalled in a choked voice.

After the unit's commander suffered a nervous breakdown, Colonel Makholm was promoted to lead the group.

"He was a thorough soldier before we left Fort Devens, and by the time he was promoted, he was a total commander. Combat made us all grow up, and he was always very visible," Mr. Cuttcliff said.

The 150th - which fought in France, Luxembourg, Germany and Czechoslovakia - suffered tremendous casualties.

"We lost half of our men - more than 200 - because we were always at the front," Mr. Cuttcliff said.

During the war, the 150th bridged many rivers in Europe, including the Seine, Rhine, Saar, Moselle and Danube, which kept the 3rd Army rolling toward the German heartland.

"We were always wet and standing in mud building bridges," said Jack H. Copley of Kittery, Maine, who also served with the 150th.

"I was a private first class and a truck driver, and my truck was always the first one in a convoy. He was always out front, and I remember one night when he was walking right alongside my truck, which of course had no doors," said Mr. Copley, 84.

"Makholm did a great job for the 150th. We owe our lives to his caring," Mr. Copley said. "He kept us from harm's way during those battles we fought together. We shall never forget him."

Colonel Makholm was wounded twice during World War II.

After the war, he left the Army and returned to Macy's while earning an accounting degree from Pace University.

Three years later, he dropped out of college and re-enlisted in the Army. With the outbreak of the Korean War, he was once again sent to the front, where he was promoted to major and assigned as executive officer to the 378th Engineer Combat Battalion.

"He distinguished himself there as well, and led a group of African-American soldiers who were responsible for clearing mines on the battlefield," said his daughter, Lani E. Makholm of Ellicott City. "He never lost a man."

After the Korean War ended, he trained troops in Turkey and held the position of post engineer at numerous Army installations in Georgia, Alaska and Maryland.

He completed one tour of duty in Vietnam, where he was involved in counter-insurgency efforts in the mid-1960s. He was discharged in 1967.

His numerous decorations included two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, a World War II Victory Medal and a Korean Service Medal.

"He loved the Army more than anything," said his sister-in-law, Elizabeth P. "Betsy" McIntosh of Woodbridge, Va., a retired CIA operative and former Scripps Howard reporter who had served in China with the Office of Strategic Services during World War II.

"He didn't talk about the war very much and, considering what he had seen and been through, was a very happy man," she said.

The longtime Ellicott City resident was a volunteer caregiver to ill family members and neighbors. He was an avid golfer.

He enjoyed traveling and attending yearly reunions in Falmouth, Mass., of his old World War II comrades.

His wife of more than 50 years, the former Marjorie Cunningham Peet, died in 1995.

Colonel Makholm was an active member of Chapelgate Presbyterian Church, 2600 Marriottsville Road, where services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday. He will be buried at 1:30 p.m. June 23 with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Also surviving are a son, Arthur E. Makholm Jr. of Clinton; and two grandchildren.

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