County loses Regnier, another WWII hero
By Gene Kemmeter
Portage County has lost another hero of World War II. John Regnier, Whiting, who died at his home Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, wasn’t a battlefield hero. He was a hero because he spoke out about the atrocities he experienced while helping to liberate a Nazi concentration camp in Ohrdruf, Germany, at the end of World War II.
Regnier was a supply sergeant for the 182nd Medical Battalion, a mobile army surgical-type hospital which was supporting the 4th Armored Division during the Third Army’s drive across France and Germany. He had been at the Battle of the Bulge and then the unit moved quickly eastward.
The battalion headquarters was in a convoy on April 12, 1945, when it was stopped by a group of soldiers gathering alongside the road. That group included Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Allied supreme commander, Gen. Omar Bradley, 12th Army Group commander, and Gen. George Patton, Third Army commander, who were about to take part in the Allied high command’s first tour of a concentration camp, which was the first camp liberated by Americans.
The officers wanted any soldiers with cameras to come along on the tour and take all the pictures they could of the camp and its conditions because they wanted to get the pictures distributed to everyone as fast as they could, and as far as they could. Regnier had a camera.
He went into the camp and said American forces found about 3,500 bodies strewn around the camp and in a shed by a crematorium. There were probably 100 to 200 people still living before the camp was liberated, but he learned later only a few of those survived because of the conditions they had been forced to live in.
Ohrdruf is a small city just west of Buchenwald, the site of a larger concentration camp. The Ohrdruf camp was one of the smaller of about 180 slave labor and concentration camps the Nazis had, used mainly for Jews and political prisoners who resisted the Nazis.
Like most war veterans, Regnier spoke little about his war experiences after his discharge until he retired in 1984 as director of human resources at Sentry Insurance. Then he began speaking about his experiences with the concentration camp while others were gaining attention by claiming the Holocaust never occurred.
Regnier was one of 18 veterans to appear on the Wisconsin Public Television program, “Wisconsin WWII Stories Part II: Europe,” in 2003, relating his experiences. He spoke at countless programs in the area, displaying photos he took of the concentration camp, as well as photos taken by other soldiers.
He wrote a book about his World War II experiences titled “Denying the Deniers, a Soldier’s Intersection with the Holocaust.” He didn’t want the public to deny a black period of history ever occurred and wanted to point out discrimination and anti-Semitism.
Heroism comes in many forms. A hero is someone who exhibits actions that fulfill a high standard or attain a noble end. People need to know and repeat Regnier’s story about discrimination. The world should never forget what occurred.