Edward Joseph Nilges

Edward Joseph Nilges
442nd Regimental Combat Team
3rd Battalion, Headquarters Company

(As written by his brother Richard G. Nilges)

“My brother, Edward J. Nilges, was born on September 10, 1915, in Cleveland, Ohio. He was killed in action, Italy, April 6, 1945, at the age of 29. He was the first-born (of eight) to William H. and Josephine J. Nilges. His mother remembered, always regretfully, of how she used to dress him in a sailor’s uniform so that he could wave an American flag at the parading servicemen returning from the First World War in 1919. He attended St. James primary school, Lakewood, Ohio, graduating in 1929. He studied at Cathedral Latin High School, Cleveland, from 1929 to 1933. He developed a serious interest in history during his high school years. While in his senior year, he wrote a brilliant and prizewinning essay on the spread of the bubonic plague in Europe during the Fourteenth Century. His evocative description of a plague- infested rat ‘its beady eyes watchful’ as it crept down a rope from a ship docked at Constantinople sticks in my memory. He went on to study history and liberal arts at John Carroll University, Cleveland, graduating with a BA degree in 1937.

“He worked in a junior management position for the A&P grocery chain, then at a similar level at Otis Steel Company in Cleveland, Ohio. He had a low draft number and because he was unmarried (though I think engaged to Virginia Hoeffler), he was drafted into the army in 1940, before our involvement in the Second World War.

“He was the quintessential oldest son of a large family, leader of our play activities when we were children, helping his father in residential construction during the very difficult years of the Great Depression. He was serious and steady, a good worker, handy with tools, tall and strong. He mentored the younger children, often acting as a second father to his siblings. (He was 19 when the youngest son was born in 1934.) I distinctly recall that both he and my father jointly approved my going on to medical school and becoming a doctor. He was a stabilizing influence on a large family during the troubled years of the 1930s. In what little spare time he had, he read extensively, history mainly, making copious notes. I think he planned to take graduate studies in history and become a historian had he survived the war. With all his love of history, instead of historian he became a part of history, of our family, of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, of the Second World War. In my dreams he is still alive, advising and leading me as he did when we were children. As our mother said after his death, he will be forever in our memories, never growing older, always 29.”

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” Richard G. Nilges.

Captain Edward Joseph Nilges died on April 6, 1945, on the second day of the final drive in the Po Valley Campaign in Italy during the attack on the Nazi Gothic Line at Mt. Folgorito. 

For his military service, he was awarded the Silver Star Medal, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four bronze stars, WWII Victory Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Distinguished Unit Badge.  He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on October 25, 2010, along with the other veterans of the 100h/442 Regimental Combat Team.  This is the highest Congressional Civilian Medal.

Captain Edward Joseph Nilges is buried in the Catholic cemetery in Valley City, Ohio.

Katherine Baishiki/Richard G. Nilges/Richard K. Nilges

1/3/2000 (revised 1/12/05)

Original Biography prepared by Americans of Japanese Ancestry World War II Memorial Alliance, and provided courtesy of Japanese American Living Legacy (http://www.jalivinglegacy.org/)


I do not merely wish to engage in a nostalgic trip back 56 years, but the haunting and endearing photo of a platoon leader in a rifle company prompts me to do some recalling and pen a postscript to it.

I do this for several reasons. Foremost among them is the fact that Capt. Edward Nilges, (Lt. to me always), stands out as one of the many haole (Caucasian) officers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team whose rare character, spirit, disposition and understanding made the 442nd experiment possible, and the rest is history. It must have been quite a shocking experience for him at the beginning to be sent to a totally new and strange unit with faces far from ordinary and told to mold it into a fighting unit. We can only speculate and surmise on what went through his mind during the initial months of training. Since fraternization between officers and men was at a bare minimum, we will probably never know the whole story.

Lt. Nilges was given command of the 1st platoon, probably out of deference to his age and experience since the other platoon leaders were, to my recollection, younger and fresh out of Officers Candidate School. He impressed me from the beginning as the epitome of a professional soldier. He was always strict, disciplined, upright and uncompromising. In brief, he was a stern but patient leader. So, early on, we dubbed him “G.I. Nilges” for his meticulous care and execution of rules as written in government printed manuals.  I recall an incident in a field trip to the woods to dig foxholes with certain dimensions and time limit. I dug my hole quickly and since there were a few minutes left, I went over to my fellow squad member to help him. Immediately I heard a thundering voice: “Sergeant! Leave that man alone!” Lt. Nilges had reprimanded me, saying clearly to the whole platoon that no one does that in combat. He was indeed an imposing tall figure, six feet and more. And I noticed that where we normally wore size 5, 6 or 7 boots, he wore a forbidding size 15. None of us got close to him, but we later learned that he came from Cleveland and had last worked as a salesman in a haberdasher.

After training for a whole year, the 442nd RCT shaped up to become an efficient fighting unit.  It was time to go overseas. Meanwhile, since the 100th Infantry Battalion had already left for North Africa and Italy, and there were plans to incorporate it as part of the 442nd RCT, the 1st Battalion was disbanded and remnants of it were dispersed to comparable segments in both the 2nd and 3rd Battalions. These were sad days for members of the 1st Battalion. After living together in the same barracks and training on familiar grounds for a year, the closeness and camaraderie developed in that period were abruptly disrupted and disappeared. Now, each member had to start afresh, to acquaint oneself with the new situation and condition for building up rapport and finding his place in the newly assigned units. This was not an easy task and I for one could not completely assimilate myself in the new situation and so, honestly speaking, the psychological strains still continue to this day even as a very fortunate survivor of the carnage of war.  Going overseas and engaging in combat within a few months made us into a cohesive unit, to be sure, but the strains and stresses felt at the disrupted time remain a part of our lives.

During the fierce battle in the Vosges Mountains, I learned by chance that Lt. Nilges, was with the Headquarters Unit, 3rd Battalion, as an intelligence officer (G2). Our lives never crossed since Camp Shelby days and thus I have no idea how he felt transferred from being an infantry platoon leader to a G2 officer in battalion headquarters. Apparently he did well professionally since he was elevated to a 1st lieutenant and later in combat to a captain.

On March 24, 2000, I received the Memorial Dedication brochure of the Americans of Japanese Ancestry World War II Memorial Alliance, which carried the photo and article on Capt. Edward J. Nilges.  I stared at the photo with total disbelief. Momentarily, our lives at Camp Shelby came together in rapid succession.

For a week now I have wondered about the strange confluence of forces that brought this photo into this memorable brochure. Perhaps, someone at the Memorial Alliance could enlighten me on this matter. But I wish to close this letter by saying that Capt. Ed Nilges was indeed one of the unsung heroes in the making of the 442nd storied history. He taught us how to fight, led us in combat and died with us. His effort, deed and spirit transcend anything ordinary. He will be remembered by us who have survived but more so by future generations in the cause of perpetuating freedom, equality and security. He rests in eternal peace!

Sincerely yours,

Kenneth K. Inada
Original member of 442nd RCT:
1st Battalion, C  Company, 1st Platoon,1st Squad

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