Archive for January, 2014

We just received an email from Perkins P. Cochran, Jr., son of 111th member Perkins P. Cochran, who died in 1983. He sent the following photo and notes to share. His report is interesting because although it contains a few dates we have not known previously, it also raises more questions about two other dates—when the unit arrived in St. Dogmaels, West Wales, and when they landed on Omaha Beach after D-Day. If all reports so far from men and family members are correct, the unit left Wales in two (or more) conveys late on the night of June 6, destined for two different embarkation points—Plymouth, England, and a port near Southampton, England—and arrived on Omaha Beach on three different dates: June 9, June 11, and June 12. Then somehow they found one another and regrouped. Is this possible? We would love to hear any other accounts.

We were also sorry to learn that Perkins Cochran was wounded in late 1944 and was sent back to the States for hospitalization. (This is a first; does anyone else know of injuries sustained among the men? Let us know.) Here is what his son sent us:

“My father, Perkins P. Cochran, was drafted and entered the U.S. Army in July 1942 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. He went from there to Fort Warren, Wyoming, in August 1942, then to Fort Crook, Nebraska, from November 1942 to January 1943 for Auto Mechanic Training Course. He went to Pomona Ordnance Motor Base, California, for further training until April 1943. Then he was sent to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, for four days, and on April 10, 1943, to Fort Dix, New Jersey. It was probably around this time that he became a member of the 111th Ordnance Medium Maintenance Company. In July 1943 he arrived at A.P. Hill, Virginia, and in November 1943 he arrived at Camp Shanks, New York. He was a mechanic and truck driver in the Army.

Cpl Perkins P. Cochran of Senatobia, Mississippi

Cpl Perkins P. Cochran of Senatobia, Mississippi

“I found some notes that my father had written after he left Camp A.P. Hill, Virginia. I have summarized what he wrote in these notes as follows: He tells about leaving Camp Shanks November 5, 1943, crossing the Atlantic on a ship named the S.S. Examiner. The journey began smoothly, but soon they faced rough seas with hard wind and rain. One day they received word that four German submarines had been spotted about fifty miles away, so they changed course. They continued in the North Atlantic and saw a whale and some sharks following the ship even though the seas were still rough. At one point it was so rough that they lost one of the ship’s life boats. As they got closer to England, they saw patrol planes flying over them. On November 19, 1943, they arrived at Liverpool, England.

“They left Liverpool and rode all night by train to Barry, Wales, then traveled by trucks to Brynhill golf course at the edge of Barry to help build the camp up. They stayed there a few days and then on December 3, 1943, went to Sully, Wales G-40, where Dad was a truck driver at the S.O.S. Depot near Cardiff. Later in February 1944 they moved to Albro Castle near St. Dogmaels. He tells about a Captain Goode taking command of the 111th in February 1944. They left there on June 4, 1944 [we believe this date is off by two days], for Southampton, England, arrived the next day, waterproofed their trucks, loaded on the LST’s and left for France June 8, 1944. They landed on Omaha beachhead on June 9, 1944. He didn’t go into detail but wrote that they saw terrible things even three days after D-Day. They took the waterproofing off their trucks and moved up behind the Second Division about 10 miles from the coast and just over a mile from the front lines.

“He wrote about the constant artillery shelling back and forth and the enemy planes strafing almost every day. He also wrote about it raining almost every day for three weeks after they arrived in France. They had to watch out for booby traps, snipers, and land mines, and as they moved forward, most of the towns had been destroyed. They moved from Cherbourg up past St. Lo, Vire and on into the spearhead toward Paris in July and August 1944.

“They moved on to Belgium, then to Holland after this. His notes did not show the months (probably September and October 1944), but he wrote about many of the dykes, canals, and bridges that had been destroyed in Holland. He wrote that they lived in an old factory building that had been used to make pottery and tile for roofing. He mentioned that they had a nice shop and were doing a lot of work. He wrote about dreaming that the war would be over by the end of October 1944 and was waiting to see if his dream would come true. They began to see many German prisoners of war in those days.

“My father’s notes ended after the above information. I don’t know what happened, but sometime around November 1944 he was wounded and was in the hospital. I don’t know how or where he was wounded or where he was in the hospital. He never talked about this. He left Europe on December 30, 1944, and arrived in the U.S. in January 1945 at Brooke General and Convalescent Hospital, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He remained there until April 30, 1945, when he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army.”

Our search for the men of the 111th continues to run across odd little connections. The night before we left for Florida to meet Arthur Brooks (see previous posting), we received a phone call from Melissa Boaz of Austin, Texas. Melissa’s mother is the daughter of 111th member Joseph B. Apple, Jr., and she had received one of our letters. Melissa told us that her grandmother, Margaret Apple—Joseph’s widow—had passed away at the age of 95 just days before our letter arrived.

Sgt. Joseph B. Apple, Jr., and his wife, Margaret, 1941

Sgt. Joseph B. Apple, Jr., and his wife, Margaret, 1941

One of the things Melissa told us was that her grandfather was proud of the fact he was involved in the Allied effort to weld “prongs” onto the fronts of Sherman tanks in Normandy. (More on those in a minute.) After the war, Apple continued working as a welder in civilian life. He died in Texas in 1984.

A few days later, Art Brooks told us that  one of their biggest jobs in Normandy was to fashion and sharpen pieces of scrap metal–left over from the destructive devices the Germans had placed on the beaches–into blades and weld them to bars on the front of tanks. This innovation allowed the tanks to plow through Normandy’s infamous hedgerows, “an important factor in achieving the St. Lo breakthrough,” Brooks added.

We interrupted and said, “We just learned all about that! One of your welders was Joseph Apple!” Brooks went on to say the job kept them busy day and night for a few weeks. They had to do their work under layers of camouflage netting so the Germans couldn’t see what they were doing.

In fact, Ed and I first learned about those cleverly adapted tanks while visiting the D-Day Museum in Caen, France, a few months ago. As you may know, the challenge for the Allies after they had secured the Normandy beaches was to continue to push the Germans inland. But they soon ran into the problem of bocage—the high, thick hedgerows surrounding the farm fields. The website explains it well:

“In this environment, tanks and infantry became separated from one another. Axis soldiers would hide in the hedges and shoot Allied infantry with machine guns. The Allied infantry soldiers did not have tanks to protect them.

If a Sherman tank tried to ram through a hedge, it would become stuck in the hedge and the tank’s bow would get pushed up, making it the perfect target for a Panzerfaust anti-tank weapon.

“The Allies developed ram bumpers and hedgerow cutters to enable tanks to get through the hedgerows safely. The most famous of these is probably the Culin hedgerow cutter, which was invented by American Sergeant Curtis Grubb Culin III. The Culin Hedgerow Cutter was made up of sharp steel spikes that were fitted to the front of a tank. The cutter would cut through a hedgerow, creating an opening for the tank and the troops that followed.  The steel for the Culin Hedgerow Cutter came from metal obstacles that the Germans had left on the beaches.”

A Culin Hedgerow Cutter

A Culin Hedgerow Cutter

The 111th, along with other Army ordnance units in Normandy in July 1944, were put to work fabricating and welding cutters onto Sherman tanks. Generals Eisenhower and Bradley later said that these modified tanks, also known as “Rhinos,” saved many Allied lives.

Ed and I had the pleasure of spending several fascinating hours this past weekend in Florida with Arthur T. Brooks, one of the five surviving members of the 111th Ordnance Company. He joined the unit as a lieutenant in late 1942 and was promoted to captain and commanding officer in late January 1945. He is a vibrant man of 96 years old, and he regaled us with many stories of his time in WWII. We also enjoyed talking with his lovely wife of 67 years, Judy, and their daughter Louise. It was a wonderful weekend.

Art Brooks and Andrea, Judy Brooks, seated

Art Brooks and Andrea,
Judy Brooks, seated

Ed video-recorded nearly three hours of interviews with Art, which we will edit and send to the Library of Congress for its Veterans History Project. We learned so many new things about the 111th that it will take days to absorb it all, so in this posting I will share one of the stories, relating to their time in Normandy, France, shortly after D-Day. (In the next posting, I will describe how the 111th played a role in helping the U.S. defeat the German troops during the Battle of Normandy.)

This story is about the near-disastrous landing on Omaha Beach of the serial led by Lt. Brooks. His was the slower convey leaving Wales because he was leading the unit’s larger vehicles. Their LCT crossed the English Channel a day later than the rest of the unit.

The 111th unloading on Omaha Beach

The 111th unloading on Omaha Beach

The 111th officers: Goessel, Kent, Witt, Brooks, Goode, Lewenthal, Errington, in Normandy summer 1944

The 111th officers: left to right, Goessel, Kent, Witt, Brooks (center), Goode, Lewenthal, Errington, in Normandy, June 1944

On D+6 (June 12, 1944), as Brooks’ LCT approached Omaha Beach, the Navy man in charge of their LCT stopped it and told them to unload. Brooks was in the lead jeep, and he and his driver were sure they still were too far from shore. They found a pole to check the depth. Sure enough, they were in 10 feet of water. Had they followed instructions, the first vehicles off their LCT would have sunk and men may have drowned. Brooks recalls that he and his driver yelled “No way!” to the sailor and told him they needed to move to a better spot. The spot was found and all went ashore safely.

The best part of this story is that two days before Art Brooks told it to us, I had talked by phone with another 111th veteran, Roger Rickon, from his home near Cleveland. He had told me the very same story, except that he couldn’t recall the name of the officer he was with. And Art couldn’t recall the name of his driver. So we were able to match up the two men! They talked by phone after our visit and relived that memory of nearly 70 years ago. How we would have loved to listen in!

Update, Jan.25: We received a note from John Raisler, a 111th surviving member, saying that he recalled the same landing experience:

“The account of Capt. Brooks’ landing in France sounds very familiar. You see, I was supposed to be the first to load [the LCT], which would have me last one off. No way, there was room for my small truck to fit, so my assistant and I would be first off [presumably after Brooks’ jeep]. The deep water bit, then moving over…well, needless to say we made it, got a little wet but up and away on the beach.”

At first we thought all three men might have been on the same LCT, but after Brooks and Raisler talked by phone a few days later, they sorted it out and determined they were on different LCTs.

And more photos!

Posted: January 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

Thanks to Linda Campbell, daughter of 111th veteran Roland Unangst, and her husband, Ken, we have just added many more photos to the “photos” pages that are accessed via the headings at the top of the blog’s main page. Linda recently located rolls of film containing nearly 100 images, and Ken scanned them and emailed them to me. Here are a few; click on the images to enlarge them. According to Unangst’s “Story,” permanently posted at the top of this blog, he and others left from Bremen, Germany, in October 1945 on train boxcars, which traveled through the Bavarian Alps and then to Marseille, France, where Roland boarded a ship back to the States. Again, if you can identify people or places, please let us know.

boxcar with place names

looking down on bridge and town 7th army recreation hotel roland German or French house tile roof r voire and car maybe France fctory boxcars at railway station waiting city river dock better their home in northern Germany parked convoy roland castle working in the shop sleepy bye time keeping warm at the rail station soldier driving truck another soldier roland car man in truck reading the insturctions, uh-oh soldier at desk same fellow soldier with several locals

Raymond Cross is one of the five known living members of the 111th Ordnance Company we have found. He is 94 years old and lives with his wife of 67 years in Michigan. Ed and I had the pleasure of talking with him by phone last month. Over Christmas, his son, Terry Cross, visited him and shared some of the photos and information from this blog. Terry posted the following “Comment” last night, but I would like to re-post it here, along with some photos Terry just sent, so viewers won’t miss it:

“I have heard so many stories that Dad never shared before–all because these photos triggered some long-held memories. Thanks to you and all the others for sharing. While many of the men were with the 111th Ordnance from Texas, my father was stationed in Iceland for almost 2 years with the 66th Ordnance. That group (the 66th) met for years in PA or OH and so dad went to their reunions, but didn’t have the money to make it to Texas for the 111th reunions. Dad came from Iceland to St. Dogmaels, Wales, and joined the 111th there.

Ray Cross at Miller Field, before he joined up with the 111th

Ray Cross at Miller Field, before he joined up with the 111th

“Dad was in the automotive section, repairing jeeps and light trucks. He was in charge of three or four other men (he was a T-3, I think–equivalent to a staff sergeant with a “T” inside it). I will try to write down some of the stories and the men he knew. Unfortunately, it appears that your father [Edward “Pinky” Johnson] and a number of men in the pictures were in the small-arms repair unit, which Dad said was in the same general area but the men usually didn’t cross paths that much. So, he’s not in the photos but he does recognize a number of folks, including the captain, the lieutenant, and especially Sergeant Gomez. He kept telling me that Gomez was a wonderful man and a master sergeant. I told him that I really doubted he was that high in rank and then the next picture proved me wrong! There he was in all his stripes!

Ray Cross, probably 1942

Ray Cross, probably 1942

“One of the photos the men sent was of a tank sitting by the side of a road. Dad remembers that very well. He thinks it was somewhere in Belgium (his memory was Liege, but I think the photo had a different label). Its gun seems to be sagging, but the German tank is actually unharmed. It simply ran out of gas. The German operator was a half-mile from the largest fuel depot in Belgium or Holland at that time (Dad described it as having barrels and barrels of gasoline) and if he had made it there he could have blown things sky high–and had more petrol to boot!

“For years I tried to get Dad to retrace his route through France, Belgium, and Holland and into Germany, but regardless of both of our efforts, we simply could not figure it out.

“Dad especially had trouble remembering the name of the little town in Holland quite close to the German border. We were thrilled when Heerlen appeared on some of the stories and photos since that was the very place Dad couldn’t recall! He said the German liked to lob artillery shells into the town and sometimes quite near their outpost. There was an old factory or mine (seems like he thought it was a glass factory, but I may be confusing my stories) that the men would sometimes use to take showers since there was still hot water and showers there. Dad said one of his most vivid memories (and he can’t tell it without bending over in laughter) was when the German lobbed a shell that hit the mine/factory and especially struck the hot steam lines. There was a sergeant from their unit in there (I think his name was Hamburg) who was taking a shower. Dad said he ran out of there across the street 90 mph and buck naked! They laughed about that for weeks, he said. I suppose the laughter was okay since the sergeant was uninjured.

“Well, I’ll share more later. Thanks again for helping me to learn more about Dad’s life and the guys he spent these years with.”

Terry told me that Ray had three brothers, and all served in WWII as well. Poor Mrs. Cross, what she went through. Sadly, one son, Doit, suffered injuries in France and did not come home, though the other three did. Here is a newspaper clipping from the hometown paper at the time (click on the image to enlarge it):

Ray Cross newspaper clipping

Margaret and Ray Cross, wedding picture, 1946

Margaret and Ray Cross, wedding picture, 1946

For Christmas, Terry created a shadowbox as a gift for his father, made up of WWII mementos and photos (some from this blog)–what a great idea! Here it is:

Ray Cross shadow box from Terry Cross