It’s a long way from Reardan to Best, The Netherlands, but the two places are connected by a 22-year-old soldier.
Pfc. Joe E. Mann was born in Reardan in 1922. He graduated from the high school there before joining the U.S. Army. During a battle near the Dutch town, Mann threw his body on top of a hand grenade before it exploded – killing him, but saving the lives of those around him.
It was an act that people would talk about for many years to come.
A new memorial to Mann will be dedicated at 2 p.m. Oct. 14 at Greenwood Memorial Terrace, 211 N. Government Way, by the Fairmount Memorial Association, the Spokane Police Department History Book Committee, the Spokane Law Enforcement Museum and Mann’s family.
Mann’s story has become something of a legend, both in Spokane and in Best.
A member of Company H, 502nd Parachute Infantry, 101st Airborne Division – the Screaming Eagles – Mann parachuted into the area south of Best during Operation Market-Garden.
He was shot twice in one shoulder during the fighting after blowing up an enemy encampment with a bazooka and shooting six enemy fighters. A medic wrapped a sling around his arm and shoulder, and Mann went back to fighting.
He was soon shot in the other shoulder, and the medic wrapped that arm in another sling.
With both of his arms wrapped and bound to his body, Mann still insisted to serve as sentry that night.
The next morning, Sept. 19, 1944, the enemy began pelting the soldiers with hand grenades. Two of the American soldiers caught grenades and threw them back at the enemy before they exploded. A third grenade was thrown too far from the soldiers. A fourth grenade hit a machine gun and blinded its operator. A fifth grenade bounced off the knee of the blinded soldier who found the grenade on the ground and threw it back. It exploded in the air.
The sixth grenade was meant for Mann. It flew over his head and landed behind him, but with his arms bound, he couldn’t throw it back. He threw is body on top of the grenade and it exploded, killing him.
In the years since that fateful day, Mann has been honored many times. He received posthumously the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
The people of Best erected a monument to Mann that stands to this day. The people also made a small replica of the monument and sent it to his family in Reardan.
In Spokane, the Joe E. Mann Army Reserve Center on Market Street was named for him.
On Oct. 14, 1972, the city of Reardan declared the day Pfc. Joe E. Mann Day. Many of the residents of the city attended a ceremony at the high school in which a journalist from The Netherlands presented the Mann family with a replica of the larger monument.
“He is a national hero in Best, Holland,” said Duane Broyles, president of the Fairmount Memorial Association, one of the groups involved in putting together monuments in several cemeteries to honor local history.
In the last few years, the groups have honored Levi and May Hutton; Francis Cook, publisher of the first newspaper in Spokane; Eugene B. Hyde, Spokane’s first marshal; Dr. Mary Latham, the first female doctor in Spokane; and several other people and events.
Broyles said the Mann family asked him if they could put a different marker on Mann’s grave, which is near the site where the new memorial will stand. Broyles realized that Mann was on his list of future projects and told the family he could install a memorial at no charge to the family.
“They thought that was really neat,” he said.
Broyles chose the date of the memorial, the same day the city of Reardan celebrated Mann in 1972. Scheduled speakers at the ceremony include Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Reardan Mayor Sherman Johnson, Spokane Mayor Mary Verner and retired history teacher Emily Sue Pike.
Other guests at the ceremony will include officers from Fort Campbell, Ky., where the 101st Airborne is based, and the surviving members of Mann’s family.