Albin C. Ragner: Mostest First-Line Infantryman – by Benjamin Goldring

September 24, 2016

Blast from the Past is an ongoing series of posts reprinting articles from historical issues of The Volunteer.

Albin C. Ragner: Mostest First-Line Infantryman by Benjamin Goldring

The Volunteer, Volume 5, Number 2, June 1983.

Albin C. Ragner, Lincoln Battalion Veteran, does not appear to have made it into any books or any print on the Lincolns.  Yet he is unique among the Veterans. (His passport name was Albin Ragawskas; in Spain, generally he was called Ragowsky.)

It is near-certain that, of all the US Veterans, he had both the most, and the most continuous, number of days in the first lines of the front lines as a rank-and-file infantryman.  By the first line, I mean the line between which and the enemy was no-man’s land, generally. I learned from long experience that each few yards back from the first line was material for the probability of death or wounding.

Albin was a uniquely sturdy, reliable, indestructible, infantryman. Also, he was quiet, uncomplaining, modest and shy, without contacts at headquarters, high or low. These latter qualities were not the kind to get him into the history books.  He was Veteran with the most direct combat experience in all likelihood.

He started as a Washington Battalion runner (together with myself, and Thomas Danek, a Canadian) during Villanueva de la Cañada and the beginning of Brunete. Right after Brunete’s Mesquite [Mosquito] Ridge disaster, the three of us were transferred into the decimated 3d Company  [Lincoln-Washington Battalion] as first-line infantrymen. (Later, before Teruel, the three of us were put into the 1st Company; Danek, also was a distinctly effective first-line combat soldier, with much combat experience.)

From that transfer to the 3d Company on, Ragner was and remained continuously a first-line infantryman: to the end of Brunete, during all of Quinto, all of Belchite, all of Fuentes del Ebro, all of Teruel, and Segura de los Baños, all through the first retreat, all through Batea and the 2d retreat, and through the crossing of the Ebro and the combat after the crossing.

Albin was a consistently solid soldier. All during the above period from July 1937 into Sept. 1938, he never missed a day of combat service that his Company was engaged in. That is – until a leg was very badly wounded at Sierra Caballs in Sept. 1938, while in the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, after having come all through [the] Sierra de Pandols and Hill 666.

It took two years for him to get back on his feet. Not long after, he suffered a physical breakdown. I would put the cause down to the contrast of (wounded) civilian life, with the tremendous physical development (or overdevelopment) while a mechanized-foot soldier for so long in Spain. Fortunately, although it took a long time, he recovered, but not without after-effects.

Obviously, I cannot categorically assert that Albin had more first-line exposure than any and every other Veteran. It may be that his one of a unique very-few. But I knew well in Spain what Happened to first-line infantrymen who fought in campaign after campaign. (I should add that the many Americans who fought in the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion were, during such period, pretty much outside of my ken.)

Ragner after Spain. After recuperating from his leg wound, he sailed for two years. Thereafter, came the physical collapse for more than two years. Then he was advised not to work in a shop or any dusty plant. He became a draftsman in engineering, attending night school for this purpose. In 1950, he got the job from which he retired as of Sept. 1982 (he was 18 years old in 1937). Mainly, he has been in structural and piping line in hydraulics. He is married 40 years; wife Claudine; three children. Wisconsin Vet John Rody and Ragner have been in occasional contact over the years.