The strange coincidences we’ve encountered while doing this blog continue.

Earlier this month, a man by the name of Henny in Maastricht, Netherlands, found us and sent an email. He was trying to find the family of an American WWII soldier who was the father of his older half-sister. Uh-oh, I thought—this hasn’t come up so far!

Henny explained that the soldier and his mother had a relationship in Heerlen, Netherlands, in the winter of 1944-45 (the same period when the 111th was there), and that although his sister knew her father was a GI, her mother would never reveal his name—until she was on her deathbed: it was Charles Fargo, from Texas.

I had to tell Henny that we didn’t have a soldier by that name in the 111th, and although Ed and I tried various ways to find more about the man, we were unsuccessful. But that wasn’t the end of this story.

Henny mentioned in passing that he had retired after 44 years as a manager in a tile factory in Maastricht. Aha, I thought. I wonder if he would know anything about the beautiful ceramic tiles of Dutch girls in local costumes that my father and at least three other men of the 111th sent home while billeted in the Societe Ceramique tile factory in Maastricht in the fall of 1944. (See the blog post from March 2014, https://wwiitracings.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/a-french-orphan-and-the-tiles-of-war/)

The inscription on the back of each tile is “Societe Ceramique, Maestricht”

Henny replied that he would send my photos of the tiles to a colleague who knows a lot about the history of tile industry in Maastricht. It turns out they are rather rare. They were designed by well-known artist Henri Verstijnen in the 1930s but never put into full production.

I told Henny that I would like to donate my tiles to a museum or archives in Maastricht. He contacted the senior curator of the museum at the Centre Ceramique, a modern cultural complex built on the grounds of the factory where the tiles were made, to see if he would like them for his collection. He said yes, and I carefully packed them up and sent them off today.

Thank you, Henny!

We are thrilled to tell you that another 111th soldier’s family has been found. With lots of help from our Spanish sleuth and blog friend Fano Suarez, we located and sent a letter to the daughter of Ray Goodhart, one of my dad’s best buddies during the war.

Most unfortunately, though, we learned that Sandra, Ray’s daughter, had passed away just a few weeks earlier. But her husband, Leo, her granddaughter Kim, and great-grandson Stephen have sent us photos. We’ve had several nice phone conversations with Leo about Ray and what a great guy he was. Some of the photos are duplicates of ones my dad and some other men had—confirming that the men shared prints. Ray also had some Dutch tiles, one of which Leo says featured a Dutch girl like some others some families have found. They no doubt came from the tile factory in Maastricht where the men stayed for a while during their advance into Germany in spring 1945.

Ray was an armorer during the war. From St. Louis, he joined the unit at Camp Bowie, Texas, in 1942 and was with one of the last groups to be sent home from Brake, Germany, in September 1945. Ray passed away in 1999.

Ray visiting USS Carl Vinson in the 1980s or 1990s
At Camp Shanks, NY, waiting to go home, fall 1945; Ray is in the back row, third from left. Next to him on the left is Don McGowan, and on the right is Ray Buggert.
Ray had his portrait taken in Brownwood, TX, 1942 while at Camp Bowie.
Ray at left in Brake, Germany, summer 1945. That’s Ed Ziemba next to him.
At Camp Bowie, TX. Ray is second from left. I think that may be my dad, Bill Johnson, on the right next to him. Ray Buggert is on the far right.
Ray with his cousin in Paris, August 1944; he happened to run into to him on the street on the day he was there!

We received an email from our blog friend Peter Pauwels in Heerlen, Netherlands, in late April asking us to find another American from 75 years ago. (You may recall how last year Ed and our blog friend in Spain, Fano, located the son of the woman who was director of the American Red Cross Rest Center in Heerlen during the war.)

A friend of Peter’s had come across a pocket Bible that had been given to his father, Gerrit van Dort, in WWII by an American Army chaplain. Gerrit had been a Dutch telephone lineman who had helped a U.S. Army signal company set up phone lines in Heerlen during the war. (Heerlen was where the 111th spent the winter of 1944-45.) The friend wanted to send the Bible to the family of the soldier whose name was written inside.

Gerrit van Dort, 1940

Peter emailed us photos of the Bible and its inscriptions. So of course Ed went right to work. Using an online phone directory, he started by looking for Nagelis in Pennsylvania. On his second call, he talked to a woman in her 90s who said her husband’s father was Alfred Nageli, also the name of her husband’s uncle.

She and Ed figured out that the name and address inscribed in the Bible was that of the uncle, who had served with the U.S. Army in Europe. Apparently Gerrit had wanted to stay in touch with Alfred after the war. Because Alfred had no children, Mrs. Nageli told Ed that her son, Gary, who was close to the uncle, would love to have this special family memento. The next day, Gary, somewhat astonished, called Ed. Gary later told us that all six of his grandfather’s children served in WWII.

It took about seven weeks for the Bible to arrive, due to delays in international mail because of the pandemic. Here is Gary holding the Bible last week. Known as the FDR Bible, this printing of the New Testament was given to soldiers and sailors in 1943.

We were thrilled to hear last week from Justin, grandson of a 111th soldier. Justin found our blog and wrote to us right away, saying he was close to his grandfather and heard many stories of his time with the unit during the war.

Justin wrote, “His name was George Thomas Vaughan.  (The Army misspelled his name originally and listed it as Vaughn).  I was hoping to be added as a contact as I’m very interested in locating any photos of my grandad.  He passed away in 2008.  I helped him retrieve his lost medals from the war and he was my hero growing up.  I really wish he had been alive to see the book and this blog.  It is fascinating.”

One of the stories he told Justin involved the challenges of night driving during blackout conditions, which first we heard about from Capt. Art Brooks. Justin recalls, “Being a driver of one of the diesel supply trucks, he talked many times of having to travel at night.  They would tape up the headlights to prevent any German planes from seeing them in transport.  They would cut little holes in the tape just big enough to allow them to see where they were driving.

George T. Vaughan

“On one occasion, driving at night, they parked off the road and set up some hammocks for a quick rest before the morning. When they arose, one of my grandfather’s comrades rushed back to the trucks and told them they had made a wrong turn and there was a German garrison/camp just down the road from them. They jumped in their trucks and headed back really quick.

“Another story he told several times was when he was invited by some soldiers one afternoon to head down to the local watering hole to swim, shave, and clean up. For some reason he told them to go on without him.  Later that afternoon the watering hole was shelled and all of those soldiers were killed.” To clarify, the soldiers who died must have been from another unit because no one from the 111th died during the hostilities. (However, two of the men drowned in a sailboat accident on the Weser River just a few days after VE Day.) Vaughan joined the 111th in 1942 in Texas (he was from Farmersville, TX) and was in the last group of men to come home from Germany in October 1945.

We are so happy to have another family member join the group and hope to hear more from Justin in the weeks ahead.

George Vaughan at the wheel of one of the boats the men appropriated while waiting in Brake, Germany, to be sent home after the war.

George Vaughan is in the front row, second from left, next to John Raisler (center), possibly taken when the men were at Camp Shilo in Canada during the winter of 1942-43.

Seventy-five years ago tonight, the men of the 111th could wait no longer. The news was out that the war was over, and the official declaration would be made the next day.  On orders from Captain Art Brooks, Lt. Fred Kent had managed to procure the necessary ingredients for their cooks to make a potent alcoholic beverage. The night of May 7, 1945, was a wild and crazy night, as we have described in previous VE Day posts.

In his monthly report, company clerk Frank Sossi described it like this:

“By 7 May it was quite apparent that the war was over. After being on the Continent for 11 months and during that time only 31 men and 1 officer out of the whole company receiving official rest passes, the company was really ready to let itself go in an all-out celebration. The men couldn’t wait any longer for the official announcement of cessation of hostilities, so they broke out the 50 gallons of whiskey that had been acquired for the occasion and started celebrating on 7 May, the night before official VE Day. It will be an occasion the men of this organization shall never forget.”

They were camped out in a cement plant in Freidrichshorst, Germany (near Neubeckum), at the time. They had arrived there the day before, after a long’s day’s convoy of 194 miles from Salzwedel. img_2178-1

As we remember our fathers, grandfathers, and uncles on this VE Day 75 years later, we should vow to pass on their story to our children and grandchildren and to never forget the sacrifices they made for us.