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Pelican Laker at the Battle of the Bulge

Photo of wall of honor at Oneida County Courthouse showing David Rice name.
Kerry Bloedorn
Photo of wall of honor at Oneida County Courthouse showing David Rice name.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas 1944, Americans were tuned into newspaper headlines about a German offensive in the Ardennes forest of Belgium between Germany and France. One young soldier from Pelican Lake, would earn a bronze star in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge.

On December 16th, 1944, the German military launched a last-ditch effort to confront the allied powers on the Western front. A 40-mile push into the Ardennes forest created a bulge in the Allied lines.

General Eisenhower and allied forces pushed back and set up defensive positions in the forest setting up one of the best-known battles, and a turning point in the war. The war series Band of Brothers did a great job depicting the harsh fighting in extremely cold weather and undersupplied conditions. One of the young men fighting in the Bulge was Private First Class David Rice.

US Signal Corps photo printed in Rhinelander Daily News January 22, 1944 showing David P. Rice assisting fellow soldier
US Signal Corps photo printed in Rhinelander Daily News January 22, 1944 showing David P. Rice assisting fellow soldier

Two years earlier, in April 1942, 18-year-old David P. Rice of Pelican Lake enlisted in the Army. He was rejected for an unknown medical condition the first time, but he wouldn’t give up the desire to fight for his country. In January 1943, he went through the army physical again, and this time was accepted.

Less then a month into his training, Private Rice would return home to attend his father Dennis Rice's funeral in Pelican Lake. The Rice family was large, and had been in the Pelican Lake area, homesteading since its earliest days.

Sixteen months later, 20-year-old Private Rice would drop into Normandy with the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the famous 82nd Airborne division, and survive D-Day in June of 1944. He received the Combat Infantryman Badge, and European Theater Ribbon with stars for his role.

That winter, David found himself on the front lines of another great Battle with the 508th, the Battle of the Bulge, attached to headquarters company.

As a soldier in the communications section, it was his job to patrol lines that kept units in contact with headquarters, over the inhospitable terrain of the Ardennes. After wires were destroyed during a German artillery barrage, Private Rice immediately went to work following, and repairing the lines.

While out making repairs, he found nearby Company G was under heavy attack, and cut off from headquarters. Understanding the importance communications were to the isolated unit, David crawled through snow and ice, under heavy enemy and friendly machine gun fire, providing first aid to wounded soldiers along the way. Private Rice reached Company G and was the first to provide information about the entrenched company. He remained at his posting until the attack abated, and the Germans were pushed back. For these actions, Private David Rice earned the Bronze Star, the fourth highest commendation given out during the war.

While in Belgium, Private Rice was photographed by the US Army Signal Corps helping a fellow soldier, and the photo was printed in the Rhinelander Daily News on January 22nd 1944, just days before the Battle of the Bulge ended on January 28th.

Afterward, David was promoted to Sergeant Rice and later stationed at Frankfurt, Germany after Germany surrendered May 7, 1945. Sadly, Sergeant Rice wouldn’t make it home, dying in Germany in a vehicle accident on September 10th, 1945.

It was due to heroic actions such as those by a young man from Pelican Lake, Wisconsin, during the great battles of WW2, that Nazi Germany was defeated. Illustrating the importance that young men from rural Wisconsin could have in a world war.

As we enjoy the warmth of our homes and love of our families this holiday season, may we take a few moments to remember men like David P Rice from Pelican Lake, and the sacrifice they made for our country.

Sources: David P. Rice Bronze Star Citation 1944, Rhinelander Daily News Articles 1942-1945

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Kerry Bloedorn joined WXPR in 2022 as the host of A Northwoods Moment in History. A local historian, Director of Pioneer Park Historical Complex for the City of Rhinelander and writer for The New North Magazine, he loves digging into the past and sharing his passion for history with the Northwoods community.
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