John Kolling left his family’s North Dakota farm and joined the Army at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, when he was 20 years old. He traveled by ship from New York to Scotland aboard the Queen Mary to fight in the war with duty in Central Europe, Rhineland and the Ardennes. He was an armored car driver leading the way for the tanks in the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive campaign.
Describing his unit’s wartime experiences, he says, “My squadron saved the bridge of Remagen and were the first to cross it. My squadron then posted a sign that read ‘Cross the Rhine with dry feet courtesy of the 9th Armored Division.’” Kolling earned a Purple Heart during the war.
After the war ended, since he spoke German, he was reassigned to the 387th Military Police Battalion in Berlin and worked out-processing the prisoners of war for their return home.
He faced a number of challenges during his service, the toughest of which was battling the unusually bitter winter cold weather without the proper clothing and gear while fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. He sadly recalls many soldiers suffering severely frozen hands and feet and other cold-weather injuries, eventually taking their lives.
“It was a great honor for me to be part of World War II,” he says, “and I’m thankful that we have a Veterans Day to honor those who did not make it back home.” Kolling and his son traveled on the Honor Flight from Phoenix to Washington, D.C., a few years ago to see the World War II Monument. “Every veteran should go, so that we never forget,” he says.
Learning that he had been selected as a Phoenix Veterans Day Parade Grand Marshal, Kolling said, “It was a special honor that I had never expected. I’ve been going to my squadron reunions for years and there are only three of us left now.” Kolling celebrated his 94th birthday this year on April 15.
Kolling said that the most important lessons he learned during his wartime service were “following orders and how to get along with people.” These lessons served him well after he returned to the U.S., moved to Arizona in 1958 and became a successful businessman, owner of Kolling’s Auto Service, a 13-bay automotive garage in Mesa, Arizona. He retired from the automotive business in 1990.
After the war, Kolling married and raised four children.
We hope you will join us at the 20th Annual Phoenix Veterans Day Parade on November 11, 2016, to see Celebrity Grand Marshal Pete Hegseth and all eight Veteran Grand Marshals. This year’s parade theme is “Welcome Home Vietnam Heroes.” The parade typically boasts more than 100 entries, and this year will have a special float with nearly 20 Vietnam Veterans riding on it. The parade will also feature patriotic floats, high school marching bands, JROTC marching units, color guards, Veterans Service Organizations, animals, novelty units and much, much more.
For more information on the parade and the parade route, click HERE.