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Trip to Netherlands honors well-known local war hero

Thu., Nov. 5, 2009

A group of Inland Northwest residents, including family members of a local war hero, gathered in Best, Netherlands, earlier this fall to mark the 65th anniversary of the Allied liberation of the Low Countries in World War II.

Pfc. Joe E. Mann, who was born in Reardan, was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for his valor along a Dutch canal during the operation in September 1944.

He became a hero in Best and has been widely honored over the years in the U.S.

The liberation is observed every year in Best, and the Inland Northwest delegation joined the Dutch in ceremonies last September.

Sue Walker, a local historian who went on the trip, said the Mann story is significant with Veterans Day on Wednesday.

“I think it’s really important we remind ourselves to tell these stories to our younger generation so they will know our veterans and the price they paid for our freedoms,” she said last week.

Mann was among the Army’s 101st Airborne Division that was dropped into Holland in an operation to cross the Rhine River and breach German western defenses.

Mann single-handedly destroyed an enemy artillery emplacement by crawling within rocket launcher range of the gun. He was pinned in an exposed position next to a canal bridge and continued to fire on the enemy, suffering wounds to both shoulders.

He was subsequently moved to a protected position, but insisted on returning to a forward position despite having both of his arms bandaged to his body to stop bleeding. During a counterattack, he intentionally fell backward onto a grenade to protect six other wounded soldiers, and was killed.

Two monuments have been erected in his honor in Best.

The Joe E. Mann Army Reserve Center in Hillyard was named for him. In addition, his name was given to a ballroom in South Carolina, a theater at Fort Campbell, Ky., a street at Fort Lewis and the former USS Private Joe E. Mann cargo and missile instrumentation ship.

A memorial was erected at his gravesite at Greenwood Memorial Terrace cemetery in west Spokane a year ago.

Walker and an associate, Rae Anna Victor, were involved in the memorial project and traveled together to Best this year through an anonymous gift, Walker said.

Also traveling to the observance in Holland were Mann family members Irene Mann Bennett, a sister of Joe Mann, and Rena Bennett Brown, a niece, both of Ritzville; Mary Mann, a sister-in-law, of Redmond, Wash.; and Byrne Bennett, a nephew, and his wife, Denise, both of Medical Lake.

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