Archive for September, 2013

The unit may have stayed in Heerlen until perhaps February 1945. By early spring, they had moved a little farther east, across the German border, to Munchen-Gladbach (known today as Monchengladbach). The picture of John Andrews and Bill Johnson,below, was their way of celebrating that they had made it into Germany without being injured. David Andrews wrote about this photo: “This one is priceless! It looks like they single-handedly won the war!

John Andrews and Dad celebrate arriving in Germany alive!

John Andrews and Dad celebrate arriving in Germany alive!

"Our home in Munchen-Gladback, Germany"

“Our home in Munchen-Gladbach, Germany”

img047  Edward Johnson

John Andrews and Dad

John Andrews and Dad

George Legg and his D-Day beard, Munchen-Gladbach, Germany

George Legg and his D-Day beard, Munchen-Gladbach, Germany

Lieutenants Brooks, Errington, and Kent in a captured enemy trailer converted to mobile quarters

Lieutenants Brooks, Errington, and Kent in a captured enemy trailer converted to mobile quarters

Frank Gomez; his mother promised 13 quarts of habenero sauce ready to celebrate with on the unit's return home

Frank Gomez; his mother promised 13 quarts of habenero sauce ready to celebrate with on the unit’s return home

The 111th crosses the Rhine near Krefeld, Germany

The 111th crosses the Rhine near Krefeld, Germany

Haff and Johnson crosing the Rhine

Haff and Johnson crossing the Rhine

First stopping place after crossing the Rhine

First stopping place after crossing the Rhine

On VE Day, May 8, 1945, the men celebrated the end of the war in Europe in many interesting ways.

 Celebrating VE Day, May 8, 1945, somewhere in Germany

Celebrating VE Day, May 8, 1945, in Salzwedel, northern Germany, near the Elbe River

The unit continued duty in northern Germany,  based in Brake, on the Weser River near Bremen. They spent the summer there, with all of the men gone by October and shipped home.

Prisoners from the Elbe being processed, northern Germany

Prisoners from the Elbe being processed, northern Germany

Dad was able to take leave to go back to Britain for his wedding in late August; when he returned in early October–nice honeymoon, Dad!– he discovered his unit had been shipped home without him. He hooked up with another unit, which didn’t get shipped back to the States until that fall. He and his adopted unit left for their hometowns from New York in October.

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By late fall 1944, the unit had arrived in Heerlen, Netherlands, just east of Maastricht and practically on the German border. It was a very bad winter. While the officers took over an abandoned house that had belonged to a Dutch Nazi, the rest of the men were billeted in private homes in town. Two of the men who are alive today—Ray Cross and Roger Rickon—told us that they were staying for a while in a glass factory—until someone reminded them that if the building was hit by the Germans, flying glass would be harmful to their health.

Sergeants Hunie and Ottea, Heerlen, Holland, 1945

Sergeants Hueni and Ottea, Heerlen, Holland, 1945

Shop area, Heerlen, 1945

Shop area, Heerlen, 1945

Part of the group, Heerlen, Holland: Tindall, patrick, Bodiford, Mason, Faehling, Dickson, Ottea, and Grady.

Part of the group in Heerlen: Tindall, Patrick, Bodiford, Mason, Faehling, Dickson, Ottea, and Grady.

img043 Part of the small arms crew taken at Heerlen, Holland

Dad and Donald McGowan, bottom row, last two men on right; others unidentified

Doing business in Heerlen; names of men not known

Doing business in Heerlen; names of men not known

Dad wrote on the back of the photo below, “Christmas Eve in Heerlen, Holland, 1944.  Some tree, eh what? Inside small arms repair truck, Sergeants Johnson and Andrews. Last year, darling!” They thought, correctly, that the war was nearing an end.

Dad and John Andrews, and their Christmas tree

Dad and John Andrews, and their Christmas tree

The Battle of the Bulge, at Ardennes–directly south of them in Heerlen–took place in December and January. Wikipedia says, “The surprise attack caught the Allied forces completely off guard and became the costliest battle in terms of casualties for the United States, whose forces bore the brunt of the attack, during all of World War II. It also severely depleted Germany’s war-making resources.”

Omaha Beach, Normandy, D+5

Posted: September 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

The men of the 111th split into two groups, one led by Cpt. Goode, the other by Lt. Brooks, and formed two convoys to make the 250-mile road journey from St. Dogmaels to the D-Day departure ports of southern England. Leaving by boat from near Southampton, the 111th crossed the English Channel and arrived on Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, on June 11, 1944–D+5. David Andrews said, “My brother Bobby reminded me that our father’s company was originally supposed to be in the Third Wave of the D-Day invasion, but the Army lost track of them in Wales, and they were ultimately sent in a few days later.”

My sister told me her husband recalls talking to Dad about his unit’s arrival in Normandy: “Mike remembers a conversation he had with Dad about D+5.  Mike had asked him what it looked like when he landed; Dad said that Omaha beach had been totally sanitized by the time they got there.”  

Two of the ships the 111th crossed the Channel on

Two of the ships the 111th crossed the Channel on

Our trucks unload on Omaha Beach

Our trucks unload on Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach, D+5, when the 111th Ordnance arrived.

Omaha Beach, D+5, when the 111th Ordnance arrived

Fighting was fierce as they headed inland. They spent a month or two in the area of Cerisy le Foret, the town where an abbey has stood for centuries. A watercolor of the abbey church long had a spot on our living room wall; we never knew what memories it must have held for Dad. Here is one report of activity there that June:

“Opposition on this move was chiefly confined to harassing snipers, a hazard throughout the Normandy campaign for the wooded thickets were well suited to the camouflaged hidden enemy. Here at Cerisy the battalion set up an all-around defensive position; the town was to be held at all costs. It lay on the path to the strategic St. Lo toward which we were steadily forging. Cerisy will always be remembered as the place where the battalion learned what tragedies can grow out of “trigger happiness.”

Evidence of the price the 2nd Division paid for Hill 192, Normandy

Evidence of the price the 2nd Division paid for Hill 192, Normandy

Cherbourg, the day of the 3,000-plane raid for the st. Lo breakthrough, July 25, 1944

Cherbourg, the day of the 3,000-plane raid for the St. Lo breakthrough, July 25, 1944

Gus Welty, satisfied with his foxhole, France.

Gus Welty, satisfied with his foxhole, France.

The Red Cross on the ball in Normandy

The Red Cross on the ball in Normandy

The girls of the Red Cross donut wagon

The girls of the Red Cross donut wagon

Joe Sedlacek and Louis Soutier try for a little fresh milk, Normandy

Joe Sedlacek and Louis Soutier try for a little fresh milk, Normandy

Dad with kids and pets, France

Dad with kids and pets, France

John Andrews (on top left, in truck) and Dad, France

John Andrews (on top left, in truck) and Dad, France

Tank near Charleroi, FranceTank near Charleroi, Belgium

Falaise Gap, France, five days after the decisive battle thereFalaise Gap, France

After passing through the Falaise Gap five days after the battle there, the unit spent about a week in Versailles and went into Paris for Liberation Day celebrations. They then traveled into northern France in September 1944, northeast of Paris, and joined the Allied movement east, toward Germany. Passing Charleroi and Liege, Belgium, into Holland near Fort Eben Emael, they arrived in Maastricht, Netherlands–near the Belgian border–sometime after the Market Garden battle that took place in Germany and the Netherlands in late September 1944. Maastricht had been taken by the Nazis in 1940 and was the first Dutch city to be liberated by the Allies, in early September 1944.

Belgium, Septemebr 1944

Belgium, September 1944

The convoy takes a lunch break, Belgium, Sept. 1944

The convoy takes a lunch break, Belgium, Sept. 1944

The ever-present poker game, while on convoy from France into Belgium

The ever-present poker game, while on convoy from France into Belgium

The failure of Market Garden ended Allied expectations of finishing the war by Christmas 1944. According to Wikipedia, “A tragic consequence of the operation’s failure was the Hongerwinter (Hungerwinter). During the battle Dutch railway workers, incited by the Dutch government in London, went on strike in order to aid the Allied assault. In retribution, Germany forbade food transportation, and in the following winter more than twenty thousand Dutch citizens starved to death.”

In November 1943, the 111th Ordnance Company crossed the Atlantic. It was a difficult crossing–just the 111th in a convoy of boats accompanied by a destroyer.  Lt. Arthur Brooks recalls the stormy seas and dangerous conditions, as the unit zig-zagged across the ocean, through the Azores, and as they headed for Liverpool, England. From there, they were sent to Cardiff, South Wales, staying there for about a month. The number of U.S. troops living in and around Cardiff grew massively over the next several months. as the build up for the D-Day invasion of Normandy began. (By the spring of 1944, some two million American soldiers were based in southwest Britain.)

In December 1943, the 111th proceeded to their base for the next six months, the  West Wales village of St. Dogmaels, above the Irish sea and across the Teifi River from Cardigan.

Standing: James Mason, LeRoy Faehling, Matthew Ottea. Seated: James Tindall, Bill Johnson, Charles Burns in Sully, Wales

Standing: James Mason, LeRoy Faehling, Matthew Ottea. Seated: James Tindall, Bill Johnson, Charles Burns, in Wales

"A bunch of the boys." Seated right, Matthew Ottea from San Antonio

“A bunch of the boys,” in Wales.  Standing: unidentified so far. Seated: Frank Gomez and Matthew Ottea, both from San Antonio

Dad, near Caerphilly Castle, Wales, 1943
Dad, near Caerphilly Castle, Wales, 1943

They took over the local workhouse,  abandoned as such since the mid-1930s. It housed British Army soldiers in the the early 1940s. The complex was built in 1839 to house the destitute of the area, and for reasons unclear it was called Albro Castle. Dad climbed up a nearby hill and took this photo:

Albro Castle, St. Dogmael's, Wales

Albro Castle, St. Dogmaels, Wales, 1944

Albro Castle today

Albro Castle today (photo by Glen Johnson)

The story of the men’s time at this place was partly told in the first blog post on this site, in September 2013. It was at a YMCA dance for the American soldiers in nearby Cilgerran where my father met my mother in March 1944.

One of the recollections of the soldiers’ time at this place is that the local school children would gather every evening as the troops marched into Cardigan to take their showers–there were no such facilities at Albro–and plead for candy and gum, which was always given, of course.

The unit left here in a hurry at midnight on June 6/7, 1944, leaving behind ammunition and supplies.

The Story Unfolds

Posted: September 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

My sister, Marcia, began the arduous task of scanning in the photos, front and back, whenever she had time. She estimated there were about 300, and when I finally told her she could stop for a while, she had sent me about 150, almost all with information on the backs. Bit by bit, we were able to develop a timeline and the route the 111th took through Europe. Thankfully my dad had noted names and places on the backs of many of the photos. (Like so many other WWII veterans, he hardly talked about the war.)

We came up with this timeline (see the page at the top of this blog, “Short History of the 111th Ordnance Company,” for a more detailed timeline):

  • Sept. 1940: Dad joins the Texas National Guard in San Antonio, Texas
  • Nov. 25, 1940: The Guard unit was federalized, as the 111th Ordnance Company, Medium Maintenance, 36th Infantry Division
  • Dec. 28, 1940: the unit is sent to Camp Bowie, near Brownwood, Texas
  • 1941-September 1942: Camp Bowie, Texas
  • October 1942-March 1943: Camp Shiloh, Manitoba, Canada
  • Spring 1943: Fort Dix, NJ
  • Summer 1943: Camp A.P. Hill, Virginia
  • Early fall 1943: Fort Dix, New Jersey
  • November 1943: Cardiff, Wales
  • December 1943-June 6, 1944: St. Dogmaels, Pembrokeshire, Wales
  • 1944: Normandy and Northern France June/July/August) (by then attached to the 29th Infantry Division and/or the 2nd Division)
  • Fall/winter 1944-45: Holland (fall/winter) (we think here they were attached to the Ninth Army)
  • 1945: Germany (spring/summer/fall) (Ninth Army; 29th Infantry Division in Bremen enclave)
  • 1945: Left Germany for the US (October) (some men left earlier)

While Dad was stationed at Camp Bowie, Texas, in 1941, he became friendly with several other San Antonio young men who had been in the National Guard unit with him, including his best friends for life, John B. Andrews and Harold A. Goerges. Little did they know they would be spending the next five years together—the entire duration of World War II, and then some.

My dad, Edward (Bill) Johnson, 1941

My dad, Edward (Bill) Johnson, 1941

After the war, the three men returned to San Antonio to settle down and raise their families. My father had married a young nurse from Wales (they met at a YMCA dance in her village near St. Dogmaels). John Andrews had married a girl he met in Michigan; and Harold Georges married a local Texas girl. We grew up in the 1950s and 1960s with their kids: David, Bobby, and Glenn Andrews; and Zane, Sue, Rose Ann, and Greg Goerges. Thanks to the Internet, I was able to locate them after nearly forty years, and with their help, we are in the process of piecing together the remarkable  story of a true “band of brothers.”

Bobby told me, “I recall Dad [John Andrews] saying he was sitting watching a movie at the theater when the lights came on and the usher said that all service men from Camp Bowie should return to base ASAP. The date was Sunday December 7, 1941. Dad said he got five more years in the service.”

Once war was declared, the intensive training began. Probably by early 1942,  Dad, John, and Harold were sent to Camp A.P., Virginia, for infantry training. We have not found any photos of their time there.

By the winter of 1942-43, they were sent for cold-weather training at Camp Shiloh, Manitoba, Canada, across the border from North Dakota. This came in handy two years later, during the frigid winter of 1944-45 in Holland.

Dad, John Andrews, and Raymond Buggert, Winnipeg, Canada, 1942

Dad, John Andrews, and Raymond Buggert, Winnipeg, Canada, 1942

 Bobby recalls, “They were in Canada on a cold weather expedition to test field artillery in extreme cold weather.  I recall Dad saying that the temp would get down to about 30 or 40 degrees below zero, and that when the temp got above 32 degrees they would wear tee shirts outside.”

John Andrews in his zootsuit, Camp Shiloh

John Andrews in his zootsuit, Camp Shiloh, Canada

Harold Goerges

Harold Goerges

The Search Begins

Posted: September 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

The next day, my head was still spinning from the discovery at Albro Castle. But we had to leave Wales to continue on our planned holiday. When we reached our next cottage rental, in Cornwall, England, I put my iPad to work searching for the children–now all of us certainly in our 50s and 60s–of Harold and John. I found David right away, in New York City, and through him and his brother Bobby in San Antonio, I was able to begin communicating with the Andrews and Goerges “children” about our find in Wales. Emails flew back and forth, and general excitement ensued.

My sister, Marcia, in Washington State, went to work scanning in all the war photos of our dad’s–she found almost 300 black and whites taken from the men’s first days of duty in Camp Bowie, TX, until their discharge more than five years later at Camp Shanks, NY. About half had writing on the back, so she started with those.

Our next bit of amazement was the discovery of this photo:

Image

Dad had written on the back:

“6 June 44, out taking rifle practice at Mwnt near Cardigan, Wales.  It was here we learned of the invasion of France that day. We hurried back to Albro and immediately packed, were soon on our way to the  Channel and France on D+1.”

Once again, we were flabbergasted. Our Welsh rental cottage for the week before was about a mile from this place. In fact, the day before we discovered the writing on the wall at Albro Castle, we had visited the Mwnt Church, and my cousin Kay happened to take  this picture of me and my husband, Ed:

Image

We had been walking at almost the same spot where the men of the 111th learned of D-Day almost exactly 69 years earlier.

As Marcia began emailing the photos, the story began to unwind.

Names on a Welsh “Castle” wall

Posted: September 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

Albro Castle: John and Harold's building

It was our last day of a wonderful five-week spring holiday in West Wales. My husband, Ed, and I (accompanied by my cousin, Chris Hudspeth) decided to find the “castle” where my father’s WW II unit was billeted in the six months preceding the Normandy Invasion. It took searching in Google maps, then asking various delivery truck drivers in the village of St. Dogmael’s, but we finally found the place: Albro Castle. It was not a real castle, but an ironically named mid-1800s workhouse, where the destitute people of the Cardigan area were once sent to live. It had served as an old-folks home in the 20th century, and when we found it, one of the buildings had been renovated to serve as a holiday rental.

I was ready to leave once we made our way to the top of a unpaved drive and spotted the old stone buildings. There was no signage, and it seemed obvious to me that we were trespassing. But Ed noticed a young woman a ways down the lane and went to talk to her.

Her name was Tracy Newland, and she and her husband, Peter, were the owners of Albro Castle. When Ed explained why we were there, she became quite excited and told us to follow her into the first building and up a flight of stairs. We walked down a high-ceilinged hallway and turned into a small bedroom–with a lovely view of Cardigan Bay–that contained two metal twin beds and a sink with mirror above. Tracy pointed to some graffiti on the plaster wall, which she had carefully covered with a small sheet of clear plastic. I walked over to take a closer look.

I could hardly believe what I saw. On the wall, scrawled in pencil, were the names of two men I had once known very well. They were H.A. Goerges (Harold) and J.B. Andrews (John)–my father’s best friends from Texas. They had written their service numbers, their APO number, San Antonio, Texas–and the date:  June 6, 1944. D-Day. Tracy said we were the first Americans to come to Albro. She and Peter had been waiting for us!

Harold Goerges and John Andrews left their mark, as they left for Omaha Beach, Normandy, June 6, 1944

Chris reads the names

My father served with John and Harold from 1940 until they all returned home to San Antonio in the fall of 1945. They had surely been through hell together. My sister and I grew up with their children: David, Bobby, and Glenn Andrews; and Zane, Sue, Rose Ann, and Greg Goerges.

It took a day for us all to realize that the date we saw the graffiti was June 6, 2013.