Archive for June, 2020

We received an email from our blog friend Peter Pauwels in Heerlen, Netherlands, in late April asking us to find another American from 75 years ago. (You may recall how last year Ed and our blog friend in Spain, Fano, located the son of the woman who was director of the American Red Cross Rest Center in Heerlen during the war.)

Gerrit van Dort

A friend of Peter’s had come across a pocket Bible that had been given to his father, Gerrit van Dort, in WWII by an American Army chaplain. Gerrit had been a Dutch telephone lineman who had helped a U.S. Army signal company set up phone lines in Heerlen during the war. (Heerlen was where the 111th spent the winter of 1944-45.) The friend wanted to send the Bible to the family of the soldier whose name was written inside.

Peter emailed us photos of the Bible and its inscriptions. So of course Ed went right to work. Using an online phone directory, he started by looking for Nagelis in Pennsylvania. On his second call, he talked to a woman in her 90s who said her husband’s father was Alfred Nageli, also the name of her husband’s uncle.

She and Ed figured out that the name and address inscribed in the Bible was that of the uncle, who had served with the U.S. Army in Europe. Apparently Gerrit had wanted to stay in touch with Alfred after the war. Because Alfred had no children, Mrs. Nageli told Ed that her son, Gary, who was close to the uncle, would love to have this special family memento. The next day, Gary, somewhat astonished, called Ed. Gary later told us that all six of his grandfather’s children served in WWII.

It took about seven weeks for the Bible to arrive, due to delays in international mail because of the pandemic. Here is Gary holding the Bible last week. Known as the FDR Bible, this printing of the New Testament was given to soldiers and sailors in 1943.

We were thrilled to hear last week from Justin, grandson of a 111th soldier. Justin found our blog and wrote to us right away, saying he was close to his grandfather and heard many stories of his time with the unit during the war.

Justin wrote, “His name was George Thomas Vaughan.  (The Army misspelled his name originally and listed it as Vaughn).  I was hoping to be added as a contact as I’m very interested in locating any photos of my grandad.  He passed away in 2008.  I helped him retrieve his lost medals from the war and he was my hero growing up.  I really wish he had been alive to see the book and this blog.  It is fascinating.”

One of the stories he told Justin involved the challenges of night driving during blackout conditions, which first we heard about from Capt. Art Brooks. Justin recalls, “Being a driver of one of the diesel supply trucks, he talked many times of having to travel at night.  They would tape up the headlights to prevent any German planes from seeing them in transport.  They would cut little holes in the tape just big enough to allow them to see where they were driving.

George T. Vaughan

“On one occasion, driving at night, they parked off the road and set up some hammocks for a quick rest before the morning. When they arose, one of my grandfather’s comrades rushed back to the trucks and told them they had made a wrong turn and there was a German garrison/camp just down the road from them. They jumped in their trucks and headed back really quick.

“Another story he told several times was when he was invited by some soldiers one afternoon to head down to the local watering hole to swim, shave, and clean up. For some reason he told them to go on without him.  Later that afternoon the watering hole was shelled and all of those soldiers were killed.” To clarify, the soldiers who died must have been from another unit because no one from the 111th died during the hostilities. (However, two of the men drowned in a sailboat accident on the Weser River just a few days after VE Day.) Vaughan joined the 111th in 1942 in Texas (he was from Farmersville, TX) and was in the last group of men to come home from Germany in October 1945.

We are so happy to have another family member join the group and hope to hear more from Justin in the weeks ahead.

George Vaughan at the wheel of one of the boats the men appropriated while waiting in Brake, Germany, to be sent home after the war.

George Vaughan is in the front row, second from left, next to John Raisler (center), possibly taken when the men were at Camp Shilo in Canada during the winter of 1942-43.