Archive for the ‘1944’ Category

The 111th Makes French History!

Posted: October 30, 2016 in 1944, Normandy 1944

We had a lovely surprise via email this past week from our blog friend in Paris, Tristan Rondeau. You may recall that Tristan, a history student, had found our blog not long after we started it and had asked for any and all information and photos of the 111th’s time in Normandy, France. (The unit was there from June 11 until late August 1944.) I knew he was working on some sort of paper, but I had no idea its entire focus WAS the 111th!

His article is being published in the November issue of Normandie 1944, and he sent me a preview copy. Of course, it is in French, but as Tristan said in his email to me, ” I don’t think you need to read it, for you won’t learn much from it!” It goes on for eleven pages and is full of photos taken by the men themselves. Wouldn’t our fathers be blown away to know their unit’s work there is being read about in France, 72 years later? We wish the best of luck to Tristan, who received his master’s degree in history earlier this year and is preparing to go on for his PhD.

 

Of course, I’ve sent copies to our three survivors–Art Brooks, John Raisler, and Osborne Eastwood. In a perfect bit of timing, Tristan’s article arrived just in time to send it to Art Brooks, the unit’s company commander, on the occasion of his 99th birthday yesterday. We wish you a very happy and healthy year ahead, Captain Brooks!

edited Art Brooks taken outside quarters Brake Germany summer 1945

Art Brooks during the war

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Art Brooks in 2014

The strange coincidences that have marked our 111th journey from the start continue to occur.

Ed and I took a spur-of-the-moment day trip over the mountains a couple of weeks ago. While poking around an antiques/gift shop in a little town in West Virginia, two old books caught my eye. There were only four books in the entire shop. I walked over for a closer look, and this is what I saw:two wwii books

They were published in the 1960s. Of course, we bought both.

Although the 111th isn’t mentioned by name in these books, the ordnance battalions they were assigned to are noted. It was truly an orphan unit, belonging at various times in 1944 and 1945 to the 48th, the 177th, the 320th, the 185th, the 187th, and the 54th and 55th.

One chapter in the second volume is very interesting: “On the Far Shore in Normandy.” We learned that several ordnance units landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day and more continued to come ashore in the following days and weeks, including, of course, the 111th on D+5 (which left Southampton for Omaha Beach on the night of June 10) and D+6.

On page 244, we read a paragraph that sent a chill down our spine:

“Shortly after midnight on 11 June, the headquarters of the 177th Ordnance Battalion…was ashore at Dog Green Beach [eastern side of Omaha]. When the commanding officer was able to get in touch with the command posts of V Corps and First Army Ordnance, he learned that he had lost an entire medium automotive maintenance company, the 342nd, and twenty-seven men of Detachment B of the 526th Heavy Maintenance Company (Tank) when LST 1006 was sunk in the English Channel by a German torpedo in the early hours of June 9.”

As most of you have told me, our fathers did not talk much about the war. My own father, when I asked about the dangers he faced, told me he had a desk job behind the lines and was never really worried. Of course, we have since learned that they had quite a few close calls during their time in Europe. But the unit never lost a man until the week after V-E Day, in May 1945, when two young enlisted men drowned in a boat accident on the Weser River in Germany.

This holiday season, let’s think about that for a minute and thank our lucky stars that our fathers made it safely through that horrible war. In fact, most of the men were finally back home in the States by 70 years ago this month. How thankful and happy they must have been.

Note: I just did a little research and learned that from December 1941 through December 1946, the Army Ordnance Department had 214 battle casualties (including 101 deaths) among its officers, and 3,030 battle casualties (including 1,121 deaths) among its enlisted men. (http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/ref/Casualties/Casualties-1.html#month) This was out of a total of 24,000 officers and 325,000 enlisted men in the Ordnance Department in that period. (http://www.goordnance.army.mil/history/ORDhistory.html)

 

 

 

Last month, while visiting Albro Castle in St. Dogmaels, Wales—where the 111th men were billeted during the four months preceding D-Day—the gracious current owners, Tracy and Pete Newland, showed us a dusty old box containing automotive parts, which the men apparently left behind, perhaps in their rush to leave for Normandy at midnight on June 6-7, 1944. We thought they had forgotten to pack the items. But maybe not.

Box of left behind parts at Albro Castle

Box of left behind parts at Albro Castle

One of the parts

One of the parts

A master switch, encased in wax

A master switch, encased in wax

Pete gave us one of the parts to take home as a souvenir. It says “Master Switch, T-17-E-1 Armored Car G-103, Chevrolet.” Inside the box, the part is encased in a thick coating of wax, to protect it from rust and dirt. It is no doubt still good as new.

A quick Internet search turned up this Wikipedia entry: “The T17 and the T17E1 were two American armored car designs produced during the Second World War. Neither saw service with frontline US forces but the latter was supplied, via the United Kingdom, to British and Commonwealth forces during the war and received the service name Staghound. A number of countries used the Staghound after the war, with some of the vehicles continuing to serve into the 1980s.” You can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T17_Armored_Car.

T17E1 Staghound Armored Car

T17E1 Staghound Armored Car

So it looks like the 111th mechanics didn’t need these parts for their vehicles and so left them behind, creating a bit of a mystery for 70 years.

Ed and I have been back home for more than two weeks now, and it is time to play catch-up on the blog. We have some good news—while we were in Wales, we heard from four more 111th family members.

Lillian Brannon called us after receiving Ed’s letter, not long after we left on our trip. She is the widow of Leroy Brannon and is 95 and doing well. I called her last week and had a nice chat. She said Leroy never talked about the war, so she was looking forward to seeing our book and sharing it with her daughter and grandchildren. I asked her to send any photos she has of Leroy so we can post them.

While were were away, Donna Leitzke called, also in response to Ed’s letter. She is the daughter of Gene Karl, who was one of Roland Unangst’s good buddies, as we learned in his memoirs posted on this site. We have not yet connected with Donna, but while we were gone we gave her number to Roland’s daughter, Linda Campbell, and the two had a good phone visit.

Around the D-Day timeframe, we heard from Laura Sass, who found her grandfather, Peter Patrick, Jr., on this blog while googling his name.

Peter Patrick, Jr.

Peter Patrick, Jr.

Bob Nelson, Peter Patrick Jr, James 'Doc' Mason, Everett Auten

Bob Nelson, Peter Patrick Jr, James ‘Doc’ Mason, Everett Auten

He appears in several of the blog photos, the most memorable, perhaps, being the one of him in his foxhole in Normandy. We had been trying to find one of his children or grandchildren since last December, so it was wonderful that she found us. Laura’s grandmother, Peter’s widow, will be 89 years old this year and still lives in the same house she and Peter bought in the 1950s. Laura sent her a copy of our book. Mrs. Patrick said that her husband talked about being in Wales and Holland but not much else. Laura will be visiting her next month.

Finally, in mid-June, we heard from Pat Macchiarolo, the daughter of Robert Raymer. 

Bob Raymer, Maastricht, Holland

Bob Raymer, Maastricht, Holland

She also found us through this blog. She told us she recalls that he told her a story about repairing a tank on a beach somewhere—Normandy? Wales? She says he was a mechanic on cars, jeeps, and trucks. She sent us these photos of her dad and promises to send more. She also sent us some she found in her father’s collection of a few of his 111th friends.

Bob Hax, Bill Stadler, Herbert Hyde

Bob Hax, Bill Stadler, Herbert Hyde

Bob Raymer and possibly Floyd Wterrburg

Floyd Wetterburg and Bill Strickland

 

Bob Raymer in front of the 111th building, January 1944, probably Barry, Wales

Bob Raymer in front of the 111th building, January 1944, probably Barry, Wales

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jim Roush, Basil Dixon, Bob Raymer Jan 1944

Jim Roush, Basil Dixon, Bob Raymer, Jan 1944

Bob Hax, Bill Stadler, Julius Turner

Bob Hax, Bill Stadler, Julius Turner

Bob Raymer and others in Paris, August 1944

Bob Raymer and others in Paris, August 1944

Paul Glynn, Roy E. 'Pop' Bower, Joe Kelly

Paul Glynn, Roy E. ‘Pop’ Bower, Joe Kelly

 

 

 

 

So, as of July 1, our 111th “family” now includes five survivors, seven widows, and children or grandchildren of 37 of the men. That means we have “found” (or been found by) nearly 30 percent of the approximately 180 soldiers in the unit since we began this quest last December.

 

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Angharad Stobbs, left, manager for the Hanes Llandoch world wars project, welcomes guests to tea at the Coach House, St Dogmaels, yesterday

Hanes Llandoch, the heritage group in St Dogmaels, hosted a special tea yesterday so Ed and I could meet the village residents who have memories of our GIs at Albro Castle. All but one, who is 94, were children or teenagers in the spring of 1944. Everyone had a great time, talking with us and with each other, remembering that important era in history. The event caught the attention of BBC Wales television, which sent a reporter and cameraman to interview me and the guests. The story was aired throughout Wales at the end of its news show last night. Here are snippets of what we were told yesterday, along with the usual memories of cadging chocolates and gum from the soldiers: “I always remember seeing the men come down from Albro to go into the village. They saluted us kids, and we always returned the salute!”

A few of the ladies who remember our "lads."

A few of the ladies who remember our “lads.”

“My friend and I–we were only five years old–once went to the old quarry near Albro where some of the Army trucks were parked. We started one up and it began moving, but it soon got stuck in the mud. The American lads heard the noise and came running down from Albro, and we two boys made a quick disappearance into the woods!” “I remember going up to Albro to try to get more chewing gum. We never had gum before the GIs came. One of soldiers, his name was Joe, always made sure I got my gum. I will never forget him.” (The 111th had several Joes; wish we knew which one this was.)

More of the ladies

More of the ladies

“The older girls who lived along the Poppit road [toward Albro Castle] had a better chance of meeting the soldiers. They would sit on the bridge and wait for them to pass by.”

The BBC interviewing one of the guests yesterday

The BBC interviewing one of the guests yesterday

“Me and my friends were only about 10 years old, and we would see the soldiers go by every day. They were so handsome and friendly. We wished we weren’t so young, we really envied the older girls.” “I attended the Baptist chapel in the village, and I can remember seeing some of the soldiers there in their uniforms on Sundays. My father asked one of the officers to come to our house for tea or supper once, maybe more than once. He had been in the military himself and knew what it felt like to be so far away from home.” (We have heard other stories of the men being invited into homes for tea and supper.) “My father was a baker in town. Since his drivers had to leave for the war, I had to take over driving the delivery truck. I made deliveries to shops all over the area. The soldiers called me the girl driving the cracker box! I was about 22 at the time. Sometimes I would give the GIs [from other Army units in the vicinity as well as Albro, presumably] rides in the back of the van. Since gas was rationed, the police would often stop vehicles to make sure their trips were essential. I always carried five loaves of bread on the front seat so it looked like I was making deliveries. The police never checked for the men in the back of the van. The Albro GIs loved my father’s cakes.” The same woman also told us, “My friends and I went to all the dances for the soldiers in the area–here, in Cilgerran, in Cardigan. But we were told to be careful. We would meet up and ride our bikes to the dance together. It was always a fun time. The bands were from the military units, Army and RAF. When the dance was over, we all rode home together in a group. The soldiers were driven to the dances in their trucks.”

Andrea talks to Trevor Griffiths, who remembers the GIs

Andrea talks to Trevor Griffiths, who remembers the GIs

“We were always so happy to be given chocolates by the GIs. We had been under severe rationing for several years by then, and sweets were really rare. But the American chocolate bars were dark and very hard. You couldn’t bite into it easily. I had to go home and grate it in order to eat it.”

Ed and I arrived in Wales last week. Our first stop, like that of the men of the 111th, was the town of Barry, not far from the Welsh capital city of Cardiff in South Wales.

Glenn Booker

Glenn Booker

There we met a loyal follower of this blog, Glenn Booker, who has been instrumental in creating the Barry at War Museum here and who publishes magazines about the U.S. military stationed in South Wales during WWII. Glenn told us he would pick up us at our hotel, and when I asked how we would know him, he said, “Don’t worry, you’ll recognize us.”

We certainly did. He arrived in a vintage U.S. army jeep, driven by its proud owner, Wayne. Glenn was wearing the uniform of a WWII U.S. Army infantry colonel. “Hop in,” he said, and we set off on a guided tour of the areas our 111th men lived and worked in for three months during the winter of 1943-44. The ride was, shall we say, quite exhilarating, and resulted in a less-than-best hair day for me.

Wayne and Glenn and the jeep

Wayne and Glenn and the jeep

Our first stop was the Brynhill Golf Club in Barry, which was busy on this lovely warm day. It was here the 111th men were “guests” of the 115th Field Artillery unit for their first two weeks in Wales. They slept in tents here, arriving on November 17, 1943.

Glenn showing us Brynhill Golf Club

Glenn showing us Brynhill Golf Club

Then we drove a few miles to the area where the U.S. Army had built Camp G-40, a major supply depot for Operation Bolero, the code name for the buildup for the invasion of Normandy. Perhaps as many as 200,000 American troops were working in Wales during the year or two before June 6, 1944.image

Many old buildings still stand there today, rusting and falling apart. We arrived at the scene of the officers housing area, only to find bulldozers on the scene tearing down the remaining buildings.

Camp G-40

Camp G-40

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That evening, we attended a talk that Glenn gave at the Barry at War Museum about Operation Bolero. We learned a lot and had the chance to chat with others who have a real interest in the war and the American troops who served in the area.

Thanks, Glenn, for a fun and informative day! You can read more about the Americans in Wales at his website, https://sites.google.com/site/usmilitaryinsouthwales/

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