Archive for December, 2013

One last post for 2013—and what a year it has been! Since Ed and I started our search for the men of the 111th Ordnance Company in November, I am happy to report that we are now in touch with five surviving members—Arthur Brooks, John Raisler, Raymond Cross, Roger Rickon, and Osborne Eastwood.

And we have also heard from one or more family members of 1men of the 111th: John Andrews, Alton Bailey, Fallis Carson, Perkins P. Cochran, Stanley Errington, Leroy Faehling, Harold Goerges, Frank Gomez, Kenneth Ladd Hancher, William Kirkmeyer, Zygmunt Masiak, Donald McGowan, Matthew Ottea, Joseph Sedlacek, James Tindall, Marcus Frank Turner, Roland Unangst, Charles Whisenhunt, and Perry Witt.

When we started this, we never dreamed we would find so many people. There are many we still hope to hear from. Some have promised to look for and send photos, writings, and other memories of the men’s time in the war, and we will be posting those as they come in. Today I added four terrific photos of Cpl. Marcus Frank Turner to the section at the top of the website, “The Men of the 111th: Photos.” Thanks to Dan Turner for sending them.

Thanks to all of you for making this year a very special one, as we fondly remember our fathers and their buddies in the war, and the sacrifices they made for us.

More than 68 years after Lt. Eugene L. Lewenthal, Jr., an officer of the 111th, first recommended it, my father’s Bronze Star was awarded posthumously yesterday. The award is the second highest war-time service award (as opposed to awards for valor).

Thanks to Ed’s efforts over the past few months, what had been a faded piece of paper in my father’s files turned into a memorable and touching presentation last evening at U.S. Congressman Bob Goodlatte’s (Virginia Sixth District) local office.

Ed, Andrea, and U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (VA-6)

Ed, Andrea, and U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte

Last fall, Ed inquired and learned that the Army had no record of the recommendation, so he set about to make it happen. (If any of you come across such a recommendation in your father’s file, let us know, and Ed can tell you how to resubmit it.) We almost said forget it when we learned the request had to start with our Congressman—but it turned out he was happy to help.

When we learned last week that the award had been approved, Ed emailed the staffer in the Army Awards and Decorations Branch to thank him for his help, and he got this nice reply: “I was told of the Board outcome the moment it went final, and along with some of my historians on staff, we all broke out into big grins! I will pass along your words to my Commander and to the staff that worked the case. . . . I love talking to the Vets from WW2. They are always the most humble men, and have some of the best stories. “

Two wonderful “gifts” to report: We have received word from Kaye Ross that her father, Osborne L. Eastwood, age 93, a veteran of the 111th, is alive and doing pretty well in Redfield, Arkansas. That makes five men still living so far, and we are still looking. As of today, Ed and I have mailed 46 letters to possible family members of the men, and we have heard from several children in just the past week or so.

The gift we received late last week is more than we ever hoped for. Linda Campbell, a daughter of 111th soldier Roland Unangst, has sent us a copy of her father’s memoir of the war years. With her kind permission, I have placed it in its own section at the top of the website, “Story of the 111th:  Memories of Roland Unangst.” This wonderful document answers so many questions Ed and I have been asking for months now. A few years ago, Linda and her husband, Ken, went to Heerlen, Holland, to visit the Baggen family; these were the Dutch people who had taken Roland in when the 111th was there during that frigid winter of 1944-45. (Many of the soldiers lived with local families in Heerlen.) The whole story is in his memoir; don’t miss it. Roland also tells about the Normandy landings, the scary times in Normandy, Holland, and Germany, and much more.

In the past couple of weeks, Ed has found two more men of the 111th alive and well, and we have also located several children of some of the men. It’s been a good month, with many hours of research finally paying off.

In early December, we spoke by phone to Roger Rickon, who lives near Cleveland. He is 89 and happy to have three of his four sons nearby. Roger was one of the youngest men in the unit—he was only 19 when he accepted Uncle Sam’s invitation in 1943.  He spent three months training in San Antonio before joining the 111th at Camp A.P. Hill, Virginia, in the summer of 1943. His memories of the war, especially of the Normandy landing and the frigid and scary winter of 1944-45 in Heerlen, Holland, gave us new insights. He and several other mechanics from the 111th were sent from Heerlen that winter to be closer to the Battle of Bulge to repair trucks and tanks. He said they were attached to the 155th Field Artillery and returned to the 111th after the battle.

A few days after to talking with Roger, Ed found and phoned Raymond Cross, who is 94 and lives with his wife of 67 years in northern Michigan. He joined up with the 111th just as they arrived in Wales in late 1943, coming directly from a 39-month-long stint with the Army in Iceland. He was probably the only man in Wales that winter who thought the weather was warm. He also shared with us his memories of tough times in Normandy and Heerlen.

These two men, along with John Raisler and Arthur Brooks (the 111th’s company commander in Germany), make up the four “survivors” of WWII we have found to date. Ed has just completed his search of all 183 names on the 1948 roster we have. He has combed through military and death records on Ancestry.com, an amazing website called Findagrave.com, online newspaper obituaries, and online phone directories to obtain names, addresses and phone numbers. We have called and mailed letters to more than two dozen people, mostly children of the men, and we are still waiting to hear back from most of them.

In the past week or so we have talked to or heard from the children of Roland Unangst, Perry Witt, Leroy Faehling, William Kirkmeyer, and Joseph Sedlacek. We have talked to the widow of Fallis “Tex” Carson. We will be sharing their stories in future posts. In January, Ed and I will travel to Florida to meet John Raisler and Arthur Brooks, visits we are really looking forward to.

And in other exciting news, we have recently learned that the history and heritage group in St. Dogmaels, Wales, has received a grant to carry out a celebration of remembrance of the 111th Ordnance Company’s six months in their village in the months before D-Day. Ed and I have offered to help, and we plan to be there on June 6, 2014, to participate.

In late 1942, thousands of American soldiers and sailors began “invading” Great Britain. Perhaps as many as three million had arrived by early 1944, all in preparation for the D-Day invasion of France.

It was a friendly takeover, and most British citizens were grateful to have America’s help in the war. Nevertheless, two groups of British men had mixed feelings about the GIs’ arrival: young British soldiers, who were away fighting the war and feared the loss of their sweethearts to the charming foreign soldiers; and the fathers of those girls, who didn’t trust the intentions of those same charming foreign soldiers.

It was hard to find places to put them all. The GIs were billeted in private homes, in tents on castle grounds and ancient abbey ruins, and—in the case of the 111th—an abandoned “workhouse,” or poorhouse, built in the 1830s. This time-worn place had a grand name: Albro Castle, and it sat on a hill above St. Dogmaels, West Wales. From December 1943 to June 6, 1944, it was home to the 185 men of the 111th Ordnance Company, U.S. Army. (It is still there.)

St. Dogmaels is an attractive Pembrokeshire village located above the Irish Sea, across the Teifi River estuary from the larger town of Cardigan. It traces its beginnings to 1115 when Norman monks built a Benedictine abbey there; the ruins of the abbey stand in the center of the village today.

I have been able to find a few Welsh people who still remember the men of the 111th, 70 years later. They are all in their 80s today and so were children in 1944. Their memories have a common theme:

From Barbara: “As a ten-year-old, I and my school friends would gather in the early evening at the end of a lane from Albro Castle…to see the GIs on their walk into Cardigan and cajole them for chewing gum or a badge, many of who would oblige immediately.”

From Sadie, who knew my mother in Cilgerran: “I can remember the ‘Yanks’ coming, and your mother getting married and leaving for Texas! To us, trading Nesta [my mother] for chocolate and gum was a good deal!”

They all remember the candy and gum and the kindnesses of the men. For children born in the Depression years and then hit by war shortages, such treats were rare.

A woman who grew up in St. Dogmaels wrote to me with these memories of the GIs of the 111th Ordnance Company:

“They sent quite a lot of [Americans] to St. Dogmaels. It caused a lot of excitement for us young ones, as we’d never seen anyone from America before, and we all thought that they were cowboys! They were a grand lot of lads, always polite and cheerful. We helped them with the money, as they didn’t understand our pounds, shillings, and pence.”

She continues, “Mum was never happier than inviting them in for a “cuppa” and we always had some of them popping in. We had a piano, and one of the men was a really good pianist, and he liked to come to play for us, so we had quite a few sing-songs around it. And they always gave us chocolates or chewing gum (YUM).”

She goes on, “All the people in the village got on well with them (especially the girls!). We’d organize concerts and dances, and try to make them feel at home.

“It was a very sad time when they left. It was very unexpected. I woke up early one morning, and I heard quite a lot of noise outside, so I looked out of the window to see a convoy of trucks passing, also motorcycles and jeeps. They seemed never-ending, and the next morning we were told that they’d all left. The village was very quiet and empty afterwards, as we really missed them.” That morning would have been June 7, 1944, as the men convoyed to Southampton, England, to board their LSTs for Normandy.

My cousin in Wales, Viv Thomas, who was about ten or eleven at the time, recalls hitting up the soldiers for cigarettes, which he and his young friends would smoke behind buildings and in the woods around the village of Cilgerran, about four miles from St. Dogmaels. He told me, “There was an American tank corps based at the old Twrch quarry at Mynachlog-ddu [a small village south of Cardigan], and on Thursdays and Fridays they attended dances in Cilgerran’s village hall; they also frequented the three local pubs, the most popular being the Cardiff Arms in Cilgerran.”

Once Viv and his friend found a large cigar, which had been given to his father by one of the GIs based in Mynachlog-ddu in thanks for his “taxi service” to the dances. They ducked behind Cilgerran Castle with it, and after many unsuccessful attempts, finally got it lit. But later they both became so ill that they could not go to school the next day.

He goes on: “One of my favorite stories is about a Captain Stewart, of the tank corps. He used to date a local girl, Eirwen, and his driver used to take him to Cilgerran in a jeep. After parking the vehicle, the driver was sent up to the pub and the captain went over to Eirwen’s home.

“After 30 minutes or so, the couple would go for a walk. Result: jeep unattended for at least 2 hours. Now we knew the coast was clear, so my friend Dilwyn and I used to start up the jeep and take turns driving it about 50 yards back and 50 yards forward. It was great fun for us, but many times since then I’ve often wondered if they ever ran out of gas on their way back to camp. Wicked kids, I’d call us today.”

As this Thanksgiving holiday weekend comes to a close, I have one more thing to be thankful for, something totally unexpected. Last night, I had the great privilege of speaking to another member of the 111th Ordnance Company, the second survivor Ed and I have found in our search so far.

Arthur Brooks, who is 96, was a captain and the unit’s commander in 1945, the last year of the war, in Germany. He had been assigned to the 111th as a young lieutenant in late 1942, when they began their winter training at Camp Shiloh, Canada. He told me he remembered my dad, which meant so much to me.

I kept the poor man on the phone for quite a while last night. He answered all of my questions and told me much more. I have just revised some previous postings; in future postings I will share more of Captain Brooks’ stories. In the meantime, I am so grateful we can talk to him.