Archive for March, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, we posted a few letters that Tom Sedlacek gave us that his father, Joe, had sent home in 1944 and 1945. When Linda Campbell, Roland Unangst’s daughter, saw them, she recalled that long ago she had saved a letter her dad had sent home (from Blumenthal, near Bremen, Germany) two weeks after the war in Europe had ended — V-E Day was May 8, 1945. After that date, the Army had stopped censoring letters and photos.

So, finally, Roland was able to tell his wife in a nutshell what the 111th had been through in the 18 months since they left New York City in November 1943. (If you recall, the 1944 letters Joe Sedlacek sent home were very carefully phrased.) Those of you who have already read Unangst’s memories of the war (see the link at top of the home page) on this site will find  additional information and observations in this letter.

Here it is — the war in Europe as experienced by the 111th — in just three pages:

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Among the many photos we’ve received over the past several months, there was one of Lt. Frederick Kent demonstrating a rifle to a young woman. We puzzled over this photo for quite a while, until we finally pieced together the story behind it.

Lt. Fred Kent demonstrates his design for a carbine rifle to Red Cross girl, Heerlen, Holland            Lt Kent and M1

Lt. Kent was the platoon leader for the small arms repair platoon of the 111th. Art Brooks, the unit’s former commanding officer, told us in January that Fred had developed a device to turn the M1 Carbine rifle into an automatic weapon. A little more research led us to the Army caption (shown above) for the photo. The young woman was an actress, probably touring with the USO, by the name of Betty Brewer.

Lt. Kent had demonstrated his innovation to General Bradley sometime in 1944. Evidently impressed, General Bradley sent Kent to England to help get the system perfected. Kent’s device became the basis for the new M2 Carbine, which was first used extensively in the Korean War.

Art Brooks recalled that Fred was awarded a Legion of Merit for his efforts; he even remembers attending the ceremony. We checked with the Army Awards Division at Fort Knox, KY, and these great folks were able to find a copy of Headquarters, European Theater of Operations, General Order 10, dated February 4, 1945, that awarded Lt. Kent the Legion of Merit, an honor usually bestowed on much higher-ranking officers. Fred Kent was originally from New Jersey and died in Florida in 1995.

Tom Sedlacek, son of 111th soldier Joe Sedlacek, has provided us with a treasure trove of artifacts and information about the unit—including the panorama photo of the company taken in 1943 and the European itinerary we posted recently, not to mention many photos. Now Tom has sent us copies of a few letters his dad wrote home to the family in Illinois, and he has agreed to let us share some sections of them here. If Joe’s wording sounds a little guarded, it is because the men’s mail was read and censored; see the stamp and signature (Lt. Errington, one of the 111th’s officers] on the envelope.

Tom dad Joe Sedlacek          sedlacek envelope

The first two letters were mailed from Normandy, France:

“Wednesday [June] 14 [1944], Somewhere in France

“Dearest Mother and Bros., Am very sorry I didn’t write sooner but I just didn’t have time. As now we are over here in France. I guess you all know what has taken place and I hope it doesn’t last long. Am just fine and tell Mother not to worry as I’ll take good care of myself. Hope you’re fine and in good health as I wouldn’t care or want to hear of anyone being ill.

“The weather is okay but nothing like back home….By the way, how are all of the boys and their families? Give them my regards and not to get mad if they don’t hear from me often….I haven’t received the package you sent me which contained the toilet articles. Sure hope I receive them as I’d  like to get some American articles. Boy, I could really go for some good meats and some good old beer. Tell everyone I said hello and please don’t worry too much, Mother. Good-bye, answer soon. Always love, Joe”

The next one is about three weeks later:

“Somewhere in France, Wednesday, July 5 [1944]

“Dear Mother and Bros., Sure good to hear from you as I received your letter yesterday (of June 19th).The first time I heard from you for over a month….We’re rather damp as it rains almost every day; otherwise I am just fine as much as possible. We get strafed nearly every day and have been also shelled. Have been over here for quite some time and the boys are doing just fine. We didn’t get over here for the fireworks, but we didn’t miss it by very far. The people seem to be okay but you just can’t trust any of them ‘cause some of them may be German as they have been over here for four years.

“We left [New York] about the first of November on a freighter and arrived in Liverpool about the 17th of November. Then we were stationed near Cardiff (largest city) till about the middle of February. We moved from there to Cardigan, Wales (western part) until we came over here.

“Guess what? Today at dinner we had white bread. The first time since we got off the boat on Nov. 17th; and what I mean is it really surprised us. In England all we had was rye bread. The rations aren’t good but we’ll make it. This country isn’t so bad for scenery but it’s no place for me as I can’t understand their language.

“Our artillery is still firing and the timber just rocks. The people have quite a few orchards and the crops aren’t so bad. Some [people] dress fairly nice while others are in rags and even wear wooden shoes. We give the kids our spare gum or candy if we have any. They held up our mail in England almost the whole month of May. That’s why you hadn’t heard sooner from me.” Joe ends the letter with the usual questions about weather and friends back home.

This one was written just three days after the war in Europe was over, from Germany:

“Tuesday, 11 May [1945]

“Dear Mother and Bros., Was sure glad to hear from you as I received three letters in the past five days. You all know about the good news so there’s no use in discussing it. Almost all of the company was on a jag for a day or so. Hello to Mother and all the rest and am in fine shape. Will be on the lookout for the package you sent….

“Guess you heard about the point system over the radio, well, I’ve only got 76 and you need 85 to get out. Got 22 months overseas, 39 months in the service, and three battle stars. Imagine by now you’ve got the place in fairly nice shape and only wish I could be there to help you….

“About ten days ago a few of us were up on the Elbe River and ran into a few Russians. Those Krauts are sure scared of the Russians. And almost all of them made for our lines. Those Russians don’t fool with them.

“Sent you two boxes today so be on the lookout. Good-bye, Love to all, Joe”

The discovery of the 111th’s European itinerary has already answered two questions we have had. The first involves the French boy the men picked up in Normandy–presumably an orphan. Last week, when we heard from the French student, Tristan, concerning the Falaise Gap, I asked him in an email if he had any idea as to how we might find out more about this lad of 1944. His first question was, “Do you know when and where the 111th picked him up?” And of course, I had no idea–just somewhere in Normandy.

Unidentified French boy the unit picked up in Normandy and took with them for six months.

Unidentified French boy the unit picked up in Normandy

Well, as luck would have it, the very next day Tom Sedlacek found his dad’s copy of the itinerary, and he faxed it to us. One line in it says “Picked up French kid 8-14-44”; they were camped in Vire, Normandy on that date. So I wrote back to Tristan with that information, and he has offered to sent the boy’s photo (I was able to send a better one than the one above) and this information to newspapers in Vire for us. Wouldn’t be amazing if the boy–now a man in his 80’s–is alive and we could find him? A long shot for sure, but stranger things have happened on this quest. Such as…

In my father’s stash of things, I found a box containing four painted Dutch tiles. I never could figure out where they came from or why he kept them or what to do with them, so I put them in a closet. In January, we got a phone call from Melissa Boaz, the granddaughter of 111th member Joseph Apple, Jr., and for some reason she brought up the fact that she had some Dutch tiles he had mailed home to her grandmother during the war–they were still in the original shipping box. I pulled out my tiles, took a picture of them with my iPad, and emailed it to her. Sure enough, same tiles, except for one. We laughed at the thought of the two men shopping for tiles while a war was going on. Here is one:

photo (37)

Then the other day we saw this on the itinerary: “…Maastricht (first inside quarters in tile factory” 9-27-44. Look carefully at the company (Ste Ceramique) and location (Maestricht) on the back of this tile:

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I checked and it seems the company no longer exists. “Groningen” seems to refer to the girl’s village or perhaps her costume.

So, it looks like the men helped themselves to some souvenirs, something to send home to their wives and mothers. Have any other 111th families come across similar tiles?

Thanks to 111th veteran John Raisler’s persistence and Tom Sedlacek’s willingness to go back up into the attic to search through his father’s papers, we now have a copy of the elusive European itinerary of the 111th that Raisler and another veteran, Roger Rickon, remembered seeing. In fact, Raisler had found his copy a few years ago, but when he picked it up, it crumbled into little pieces. We will post a new “page” dedicated to this itinerary at the top of the home page, a newly typed (thanks, Ed!) version for ease of reading; you can also double-click or tap each image to enlarge it. It has already answered many questions for us.  Here are its three pages:

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The other day we received a comment on this blog from a Paris university student who is interested in the battle of the Falaise Gap, in Normandy, which was a victory for the Allies in pushing the Germans out of the region. Five days after the battle in August 1944, the 111th passed through the area and my dad took three photos of scene—he was obviously trying to create a panorama. It then took 70 years for Photoshop to come along and simplify the process of turning his three old photos into one; see below:Image

Our new friend Tristan in France found our blog; he is from Argentan, south of Falaise, Here is what he told us: “The encirclement of the German troops by Allied forces took place between Argentan and Falaise, near Chambois, Trun, and so on (you can check these towns on Google maps). I have managed to locate one photograph your father took in the Gap: it shows destruction scenes with a large angle. He took the picture on the road from TOURNAI SUR DIVES to AUBRY EN EXMES (see the shape of the road and the horizon line). He had probably climbed on a vehicle to take this picture.”

He then attached a recent photograph taken from almost EXACTLY the same spot:Image

So if any of you are in Normandy and wish to stand exactly where the 111th Ordnance Co. passed through on their way to Paris 70 years ago, you can use Tristan’s information to find the spot.

Tristan told me that he is 20 years old and in his third year of university; his major is history, “of course!” He said, “I have always been interested in history, but as I grew up I ‘specialized’ in contemporary warfare, especially WWII. I have a special interest in the Normandy Campaign and in the Falaise Gap, since everything occurred near my hometown.”

He noticed our photo of the destroyed tank at the battle for Hill 192 near St. Lo, Normandy, and told us he did a bit of research. He learned that “the Sherman tank shown in the photo was an M4 from the 741st Tank Battalion, destroyed on July 11th, 1944, while supporting the 2nd Infantry Division. The battalion lost about a dozen tanks during the attack.”

Merci, Tristan! Keep in touch.