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#54 Jack Lee, Class of 1942, and the “Last Battle”

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, Military Milestones

54-photo---Lee-001Jack Lee, Class of 1942, commanded US troops during the Battle for Castle Itter, a battle fought in the Austrian Alps in May 1945 just days after Hitler’s suicide and before the German surrender. The mission was to rescue French prisoners who were being held by S.S. troops in the remote and imposing Castle Itter. It has been called the “strangest” battle of World War II because Jack Lee’s American troops were joined in the fighting by German troops who, as the war waned, had thrown in their lot with the local Austrian resistance movement.

Captain Lee’s experience was described in thrilling detail in a June 1945 issue of the Norwich Record:

This story resembles that of a modern movie thriller. Its plot has the thrill-packed drama of modern fiction. Imagine the mad dash of two tanks 17 miles behind enemy lines to effect the rescue of some of France’s most prominent people who at one time were regarded as the backbone of the French government! G.I. and Wehrmacht fighting shoulder to shoulder against the most deadly, hated foe of the age, the S.S. troops!

54 photo - Lee Football NorwichLee attended Norwich during the tense period of 1938-1942, and was a star of the football team. By the time he graduated, nearly all of his classmates were headed off to war. Lee received the Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart, and Bronze Star for his service in the European Theater and his leading role in this astonishing battle.

Still a young man, he went on to play for the New York Giants football team in the late 1940s, and also coached the Sidney Cardinals, a now-defunct team in upstate New York.

You can learn a great deal about Jack Lee’s unique experience from the book The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Solders Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe by Stephen Harding. The book is under development to become a major motion picture. For the Norwich perspective on Lee’s accomplishments, you can ask to read his biographical file in the University Archives or look up his name in the Archives’ Serial Publications Index.