Archive for April, 2014

Last week we heard from the son and daughter-in-law of 111th Sergeant Frank Sossi: Phyllis and Frank Sossi, Jr. The other day, Frank Jr., opened up an old trunk of his dad’s and unearthed a treasure–a set of copies of the unit’s monthly history reports from January 1944 (when they were in Wales, UK) until the end of the war in May 1945 in Germany, covering almost all of the 111th’s time in Europe. Ed and I had searched but never could find the unit’s monthly reports in military archives, so we are quite excited to have them at last. They are a terrific supplement to the memoirs of Perry Witt and Roland Unangst, which we published on this site earlier. Thanks, Frank and Phyllis!

You will find images of each month’s report at the top of the home page, right next to the little box that says “HOME.”

Frank and Phyllis also sent us more photos. Remember, you can click on a photo to enlarge it:

Frank Sossi in Brake, Germany, summer 1945, giving Hildegard Schirmbeck a piggyback ride

Frank Sossi in Brake, Germany, summer 1945, giving Hildegard Schirmbeck a piggyback ride

Frank Sossi, Alsdorf, Germany, 1945

Frank Sossi, Alsdorf, Germany, 1945

Service section, right to left, Goessel, Cole, Hendon, Gardner, Apple, Dowling, Beckhusen, July 1944

Service section, right to left, Goessel, Cole, Hendon, Gardner, Apple, Dowling, Beckhusen, July 1944

Curt Vosz, Dragon's Teeth outside Aachen, Germany, Nov. 1944

Curt Vosz, Dragon’s Teeth outside Aachen, Germany, Nov. 1944

Matt Ottea, Maastricht, Oct. 1944

Matt Ottea, Maastricht, Oct. 1944

George Legg in Paris Aug 1944

George Legg in Paris Aug 1944

Bodiford, Driscoll, Ottea on VJ Day, Brake, Germany, August 1945

Bodiford, Driscoll, Ottea on VJ Day, Brake, Germany, August 1945

John Andrews and Pinky Johnson, Luchow, Germany, near Salzwedal, April 1945

John Andrews and Pinky Johnson, Luchow, Germany, near Salzwedal, April 1945

Lynn Adams and Alvin Hamburger, March 1945 in Germany

Lynn Adams and Alvin Hamburger, March 1945 in Germany

Matt Ottea, Alsdorf, Germany, March 1945

Matt Ottea, Alsdorf, Germany, March 1945

Walter Bradley next 88mm overlooking autobahn, April 1945

Walter Bradley next 88mm overlooking autobahn, April 1945

Walter Bradley in Flak Valley, Germany, April 1945

Walter Bradley in Flak Valley, Germany, April 1945

Murvel Saucier, Chiene, April 1945

Murvel Saucier, Chiene, April 1945

Loy Knasel, Alsdorf, Germany, March 1945

Loy Knasel, Alsdorf, Germany, March 1945

Cleveland Roy, working in the mud, Heerlen, Holland Feb 1945

Cleveland Roy, working in the mud, Heerlen, Holland Feb 1945

Andrew Schultz and Ray Buggert, Alsdorf, Germany Feb 1945

Andrew Schultz and Ray Buggert, Alsdorf, Germany Feb 1945

Pinky Johnson and Frank Sossi, in Paris, Aug. 1945

Pinky Johnson and Frank Sossi, in Paris, Aug. 1944

Hubert Mathis, Maastricht, 1944

Hubert Mathis, Maastricht, 1944

 

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This blog has been a wonderful way to find and connect the families of the men of the 111th Ordnance Company, as well as to share everyone’s stories and photos and information. But I began to think we needed to tell the story chronologically, and perhaps more permanently.

So I have rewritten and reproduced much of the blog content (including 250 photos, the roster, and the itinerary) as a book (138 pages), adding four maps showing some of the European towns and villages the men passed through. I have quoted heavily from the wartime memoirs of Roland Unangst and Perry Witt–they are truly the co-authors. It is available from Amazon.com: Only the Best: The WWII Story of the 111th Ordnance Company, U.S. Army  (It is also available on Amazon’s five European websites.)

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000425_00009]

The price is $6 (it may sometimes be less when Amazon decides to discount it). Since I figured the primary audience for this book would be the families of the men, I wanted to keep the price as low as possible, just to cover printing costs and Amazon’s cut.

By the way, the title comes from the 111th’s official motto from 1937, which we happened to find in a program my dad had saved from the unit’s 1941 Organization Day in Camp Bowie, Texas. The full motto was “Only the best shall be acceptable.” We thought it was a perfect description for the men–our fathers and grandfathers.

In case you’re interested, I used an Amazon company called CreateSpace to produce the book. It is a wonderful online self-publishing tool that allows paper-bound books to be published at  no cost to the writer, so long as the writer can slog through the production process. It has its drawbacks–for example, I had to use MS Word and Adobe PhotoShop as my “publishing” software–but I think it still came out okay.

The other catch is that Amazon becomes the publisher and the only place online the book can be sold is on Amazon. Of course, I can sell copies as well, so if anyone would like this book but would rather not order online, I can mail a copy or copies to you. Just send a note to me via the comment section of the blog, which won’t be published, and I will get back to you.

Of course, the blog will continue, with upcoming postings about the 70th anniversary of D-Day in St. Dogmaels, Wales, where the men were in the months before leaving for Omaha Beach. We are still finding new family members, and several have promised to send us new photos and stories.

 

Linda Campbell, daughter of 111th memoir-writer Roland Unangst, discovered another batch of photos her father had taken, which her husband Ken scanned and sent on to us. They are interesting because they are the first photos we have seen of the ship that some of the men came home on: the SS Sea Robin, a Type 3 Class cargo ship like the one the men came over on two years earlier. It was similar to a Liberty ship. The men left from Marseilles, France, on November 13 and landed 11 days later in Newport News, Virginia.

This ship was built earlier in 1945, as were many others like it. Imagine the job the U.S. military had to bring everyone home from Europe that fall. (In the 1950s, we learned, this ship was sold to a commercial transport company, and many years later was involved in an accident in San Francisco Bay, where it sank and leaked fuel for several years.) Here are a few of Roland’s photos. Thanks, Linda and Ken!

Loading the Sea Robin, November 13, 1945, France

Loading the Sea Robin, November 13, 1945, France

On the Atlantic, the SS Sea Robin heading home

On the Atlantic, the SS Sea Robin heading home

Alvin Hamburger on the SS Sea Robin

Alvin Hamburger on the SS Sea Robin

Bunks on the SS Sea Robin, November 1945

Bunks on the SS Sea Robin, November 1945

Barton Keeler and John Andrews, on their way home on the SS Sea Robin, November 1945

Barton Keeler and John Andrews, on their way home on the SS Sea Robin, November 1945

On the train to Marseilles

On the train to Marseilles

Marseilles docks, perhaps?

Marseilles docks, perhaps?

The fantail of the ship

The fantail of the ship

The harbor in Marseilles, France, the port they left from

The harbor in Marseilles, France, the port they left from

seasick

A rough crossing on the SS Sea Robin, November 1945

A rough crossing on the SS Sea Robin, November 1945

The SS Sea Robin, 1945

The SS Sea Robin, 1945

A couple of weeks ago–when it was still too cold to play golf here in Virginia–my husband and devoted partner in this project, Ed, decided to try to locate more family members of the men of the 111th. He sent out letters to about thirty children of the men, their names and locations obtained largely through their parents’ online obituaries. We have started to hear back from some of them.

Constantino Navarra, Jr.–known as Tino–is the youngest of his father’s eight children. He called us one evening and we had a great chat. He recalled that his dad had done some photography work–such as photographing a bullet coming out of a rifle and a bullet hitting a target, probably while they were in Canada. He said his father talked about being part of the group that left Heerlen, Holland, for a few weeks in 1945 to support the Battle of the Bulge. We told him that 111th survivor Roger Rickon was also with that group, so Tino called Roger; he also phoned another survivor who knew his dad, John Raisler. Raisler told us he will never forget that before the unit shipped off to Europe from New York City,  Navarra took several of the men to an Italian restaurant, where they were treated to a 12-course meal. That was the last time those men had good (or any) Italian food for at least two years.

Constantino Navarra in Wales, 1944

Constantino Navarra in Wales, 1944

Then we heard from Ian Creswell, grandson of 111th member Patrick Creswell. He told us that his grandfather had been sent to do ordnance inspection work for the U.S. Army at the Westinghouse plant in Springfield, MA, in the months before the unit left for Europe. He met a girl while working at the plant and later married her. Patrick was from Texas and was with the 111th while they were at Camp Bowie. Ian said that his grandfather did not talk much about his war years but recalled that he worked as a jeep mechanic.

Patrick Creswell and his accordion at Camp Bowie, Texas, 1942

Patrick Creswell and his accordion at Camp Bowie, Texas, 1942

Patrick Creswell in Cardigan, Wales, 1944

Patrick Creswell in Cardigan, Wales, 1944

The other night we had a call from Phyllis Sossi, wife of Frank Sossi, Jr, whose father was 111th member Frank Sossi. Frank Jr. was away on a business trip, so we talked to Phyllis for a while and learned that her husband has an old trunk full of his father’s wartime memorabilia, including letters, photos, patches, etc. When he returns from his trip, he will go through the contents and scan in items for this blog. Frank Sr. talked very little about his wartime experiences with his children. Phyllis said that her husband remembers that his father was an assistant to Lt. Fred Kent.

Frank Sossi, Heerlen, Holland, 1945

Frank Sossi, Heerlen, Holland, 1945

Today we got a call from Judith Vale, whose father was 111th member Russell Willman. When she has a chance, she will go through the many photos he had of the war and send some to us.

 

We are beginning to get details of the planning going on right now for a week-long (May 31-June 6) celebration of WWII and the 111th Ordnance Company in St. Dogmaels, Wales (next to the town of Cardigan), the village where the men of the 111th were billeted in the months preceding D-Day, 1944. They tell us that they would love to have family members of the men attend; they understand that the five surviving members who were there in 1944 are all in their 90s now and don’t travel that far any more, unfortunately. Ed and I will be there for sure. Please contact me via the comments section of this blog if you are thinking of coming, and I can give you more information about getting there, etc.

Here is the latest word I have from the organizer of the events there:

“Heather and I aren’t in a position to completely confirm everything we have planned as we are awaiting confirmation on one or two ideas and I wouldn’t want to give you any misinformation at this stage.

“What I can confirm however is that the community of St Dogmaels are planning a series of events during the week [May 31-June 6] commemorating the anniversary of the D-day landings including a special evening (dinner/dance supper) in one of our village halls to welcome the friends and families of the GI’s and if the GI’s themselves cannot make the long journey, we intend to video conference on that evening if this is something they would like.

“During the week we will programme in tours by minibus of certain sites of interest including: Some of the beaches that were re-created to be similar to the Normandy beaches that were used for practice prior to the invasion, e.g. Freshwater Beach; Carew airfield; Henllan Prisoner of War camp.

“When possible (no immediate rush) could you give us an indication of numbers that are interested in coming over.
It would be fantastic to have you here.

“As I say there a couple of other ideas in the pipeline, but we are awaiting confirmation on these. As soon as we know more, one of us will keep you in the loop.”