We’ve been thinking about what the men of the 111th were doing 75 years ago this month. This was when the unit finally crossed into Germany. They must have felt optimistic — the end of the war was in sight. On the other hand, there were still dangerous days ahead.

“After our three months’ stay in Heerlen [Holland], we moved [about 15 miles east] to Alsdorf [Germany],” Lt. Perry Witt wrote. This was February 6, 1945, and they traveled along the Siegfried Line, through Herzogenrath, noting destroyed German pillboxes along the side of the road.

Pillbox between Herzogenrath and Alsdorf, Germany

German pillbox along the Siegfried line

“Here we had more excitement; besides all of the air activity, this was the first time that I had actually seen a V-bomb in flight. There were plenty of them going over but they were not falling near us.” They also witnessed an Me 262 [Messerschmitt] shot down, many buzz bombs, and heard the biggest artillery barrage of the war as the Army prepared to cross the Roer River.

On February 9, the 111th’s commanding officer, Cpt. James Goode, was transferred to the 79th Ordnance Group, and Lt. Art Brooks was promoted to captain and took over as commanding officer. Things remained relatively quiet during most of the month in Alsdorf, where the men stayed at a gas works (see 1945 and 2019 photos below).

Lt. Witt continued, “A few days passed, then one afternoon late, all of the amphibian equipment rolled out towards the lines. It was the next morning, about 3 a.m. [February 23], that the biggest artillery barrage of the war broke out of the quietness of the night. The crossing of the Roer River was underway. Fifty-caliber machine gun barrels were brought back to our Company that had been completely burned out. They’d been fired so long without cooling that they had almost melted.”

Lt. Fred Kent recalled, “One afternoon while we were still in Alsdorf, I happened to be outdoors when the sound of aircraft in the sky drew my attention to a dogfight between two planes, one being ours and the other a German plane. Suddenly the German plane gave of this puff of smoke and took off like a rocket, making our plane appear to be standing still in comparison. It wasn’t until some time later that I realized what I had observed: a German jet-propelled plane, the first I had ever seen.”

“With the Roer River crossing success and the troops forging ahead at a rapid pace, it was obvious that we would soon be following in the footsteps of the doughboys,” 111th company clerk Frank Sossi (in Alsdorf in photo on left, above) wrote in his monthly history report. “Actuality practically preceded the anticipation, for on the 4th of March the company pulled its stakes in Alsdorf and moved 36 miles northwest to Munchen-Gladbach, a city that had been taken only 3 days previously.”

 

Surprisingly, this blog has attracted readers from nearly every country in the world over the past six years. And a few times, we’ve connected people who share a common interest. Probably the most rewarding of these connections began last year, with a simple request from our Heerlen friend, Peter Pauwels. He wanted to know if we could locate an American woman who had been director of the American Red Cross (ARC) Rest Center in Heerlen, Netherlands, during the last year of WWII.

Back in May, Peter had us around to the places in Heerlen where the 111th soldiers lived and worked during the fall and winter of 1944-45. But his real interest in WWII involved another aspect of the war in his city during that time: the ARC Rest Center in downtown Heerlen. Peter had listened to the stories of a few elderly local residents who had volunteered there as teenagers during the war. And they all fondly remembered the center’s American director, a young woman named Patricia Park. Could we find her or any surviving family members, Peter asked? His goal was to mount a memorial plaque on the building in Heerlen, still there, that the Rest Center occupied.

Ed called the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, DC, but they no longer kept personnel records from that era. An Internet search turned up many women with that name but not the one we were looking for. Without any other pertinent information, like date and place of birth, married name, places lived, and so on, we were stumped.

Then I recalled that a few months earlier, a blog reader in Spain named Fano had sent us the names of some Red Cross volunteers shown in a blog photograph of the 111th in Normandy. It turned out that Fano is a big fan of the Red Cross and its Clubmobiles during the war and knows a lot about them. So on a whim, I wrote to him to see if he could help us find Patricia Park.

Well, he did. Fano is an Internet wizard, and to describe how he found her with nothing to go on but her name and her Red Cross service would take a small book. From the records and newspaper articles he uncovered and sent to us, we found her obituary–she died in 1995–and from that we were able to locate her son, Al Spoler.

So to cut to the chase, we are pleased to tell you that yesterday Al joined Peter in Heerlen to dedicate the plaque to the memory of his mother and all the Red Cross workers in Heerlen — both American and Dutch — who worked to provide war-weary U.S. soldiers a respite from the fighting during those final months of the war. Peter wrote to us earlier to say that yesterday was an incredibly wonderful occasion. The event was covered by a regional television station, and Al even gave an interview. Peter sent these photos:

In the left photo, Al and 93-year-old Heerlen resident Alice Michielsen, who served under Al’s mother at the ARC Rest Center during the war, unveil the plaque. In the right photo, Al is interviewed by the regional Dutch television station.

It is heart-warming to know that so many Europeans still remember and honor the Americans who gave so much during WWII. Thank you, Peter.

With many thanks to 111th son Sergio Gomez, we now have a new-to-us panorama photo of the 111th, taken at Camp Bowie, Texas. Sergio’s father was 111th Master Sergeant Frank Gomez, of San Antonio.

The photo is undated, but we had a clue from the name of the commanding officer on the photo, Capt. George Rhine. A roster that my father kept showed that Rhine was CO of the unit at Camp Bowie between March 15 and December 21, 1941. (Based on the number of men pictured, the photo was probably taken in the latter part of the year). Note that we had to cut the photo in two to fit the page, so there is some overlap.1941 panorama 111th left side1941 panorama 111th right side

There are no other names given, but we’ve spotted a few familiar faces, including Bill Johnson (my father),  Frank Gomez, John Andrews, Harold Goerges, Matt Ottea, and Pat Osborn.

The five officers are sitting in the front row, wearing tan pants. Capt. Rhine is in the center. On the far left is Lt. William V. Crossman; second from the right is Lt. Lionel A. Malsbury. Both Crossman and Malsbury were later company commanders of the 111th. The other two officers shown were Frederick Goodenough and Frederick B. Becker; both men left the unit early on, so we do not have any later photos to match them up to.

Some other men listed on the 1941 roster who are probably in this photo include Joseph P. Apple, Patrick Creswell, Elias L. (Leo) de la Garza, Stanley Karger, Daniel A. Rangel, William B. Strickland, William A. Welty, and Perry C. Witt (later an officer). We are guessing that it is Master Sergeant Eugene Egle who is sitting next to Lt. Crossman (on his left as you look at the photo).

Many of the men in this photo, possibly more than half of them, were reassigned to other ordnance units after the war was declared in December 1941.

A final sad loss

Posted: September 17, 2019 in Uncategorized

We are sad to have to tell you that the last living member of the 111th, Arthur T. Brooks, passed away last week in Hudson, NY, at the age of 101, a month short of his 102nd birthday.

We got to know Art and his wife and their two daughters and son-in-law (all of whom survive him) quite well over the past six years, visiting them in Florida and New York State several times. Art was a remarkable man, a true representative of the Greatest Generation. His intelligence, strong character, and kindness endeared us to him from the start.

Art was an Army captain who had been with the 111th since its time at Camp Bowie, Texas, in 1942. By the time the company crossed over into Germany in early spring of 1945, he had been made company commander. Our fathers could not have asked for a better leader.

Ed and I will miss him very much.

Linda Jackson, a daughter of 111th soldier Tec 5 Louis B. Soutier, has found our blog and has been sending us information about her father. We are thrilled to be able to add another soldier’s family to the fold! Linda and her two sisters, Cindy and Carol, are the 55th family we have found, or who have found us, since we started this project nearly six years ago.

Linda told us, “My dad lived in Salem, Illinois, most of his life. He lived in small towns close to Salem in his younger years. After he married my mother, they moved to Patoka, Illinois, and he later bought a hardware store there.”

soutier portrait

Linda told me that all the family photos were lost in a fire of their home in the 1950s, but that fortunately Louis’s sister had some photos of his time in the war and gave them to one of Linda’s sisters. Here are a few, probably taken at Fort Robinson, Arkansas, just before Louis was transferred to the 111th at Camp Bowie, Texas, in the spring of 1942 (he is standing on the far left in the second photo):

Another photo shows what I am fairly sure is the artillery work area at Camp Bowie in 1942; we have another similar photo from another family member. The funny thing is that it shows my own father’s car parked off to the right, his beloved Ford “Woodie.” (I knew he had the car while the unit was still in Texas, as the smaller photo shows.)

soutier trucks and artillery USAscan0024

Linda said, “After the fire he sold the hardware store and moved to Salem, Illinois, where he bought a farm and named it Soutier Stock Farm. He farmed 250 acres and raised show cattle until he retired. He was an active VFW lifetime member.” Louis was with the 111th until September 1945, when he was finally sent back to the States from Brake, Germany. He passed away in 2003 at the age of 87.

Louis was an artillery mechanic, along with 111th men Joe Sedlacek, John Andrews, Harold Goerges, Leo De La Garza, and John Raisler, who was from a town near Chicago. We are sad that John (one of our original survivors from 2013) is no longer with us because I’m sure he would have remembered Louis. Perhaps they reconnected long after the war—Linda said, “My sister told me he did visit someone in Chicago, on his way to meet a tour group.” Louis took two farm bureau tours in the late ’70s and early ’80s and visited Pearl Harbor, Wales, Germany, China, Japan and several other places. Below is a photo of Louis in front of General Patton’s grave in Luxembourg:

souiter patton grave luxembourg

Thank you, Linda, for finding us. We are so happy to be able to add your father to our blog.

 

Last week we were excited to hear from yet another Frenchman. Nicolas used to live in Cherbourg and is quite familiar with the city. He wrote to say that he knows the location of one of our photos, taken on July 17, 1944, during the Normandy Campaign.

One of the 111th men took several pictures of Cherbourg that day, and one in particular caught Nicolas’s eye.

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“The location of this picture was easy to find, as there is only one mountain around Cherbourg: La Montagne du Roule,” he wrote. “Plus, my former high school was located a bit further from the house (which I circled in red). I used to walk this very street every morning, and every evening … the sight looked familiar.” Merci beaucoup, Nicolas!

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The day that photo was taken in 1944, some of the unit had left their camp in the Cerisy Forest, Normandy, for a trip that took them through Isigny-sur-Mer, Carentan, St. Mere Eglise, Monteburg and Cherbourg. The Allies had taken Cherbourg, an important port, in late June. Twelve days after their trip, Operation Cobra was launched—the Allied operation to break out of Normandy.

Five years ago, we first came to Barry to have a look at where the 111th called home here—Brynhill golf course (in tents) and what was left of Camp G-40, places where the 111th began their European journey in November 1943. Our guide was Barry at War Museum member Glenn Booker, and our driver/U.S. Army Jeep owner was Wayne.

This past week we returned to Barry to give a presentation at the museum and have another ride in Wayne’s Jeep. We had a great time meeting all the museum’s volunteers at a supper prepared by Rose, one of the volunteers, and seeing Glenn again.

In front of the museum; that’s Glenn second from left

The American and Welsh flags flying outside the museum on Wednesday night.

Neal, me, and Wayne

We didn’t have any “then and now” photos in mind for this trip, mostly because the structures the men lived in are long gone and we weren’t able to identify locations of the area photos we had. But the next day, Terry, one of the museum volunteers, spotted one of the places:

Penarth Road, Cardiff, the eastern end of Cardiff General Station, 1943 or 1944

Same location today

Many thanks to the folks at the Barry War Museum for putting on a memorable evening for us Yanks!