Archive for the ‘Men of the 111th Ordnance Company’ Category

Harold Goerges and John Andrews left their mark, as they left for Omaha Beach, Normandy, June 6, 1944

Seventy-seven years ago today, two 111h Ordnance Company soldiers left a good-bye note on the wall of their room in Albro Castle, St. Dogmaels, Wales. They and my dad and 160 other GIs who were billeted there packed up and left the next day for Omaha Beach in Normandy.

Harold Goerges and John Andrews, lifelong friends of my dad, could have never imagined that their graffiti would be revealed decades later, thanks to Tracy and Peter Newland, current owners of Albro Castle, which was originally a 19th-century workhouse. Tracy noticed some pencil marks on the wall as she was removing wallpaper in the early 2000s and spent several years trying to find out more about the American men who had lived there for five months in 1944.

Then, as fate would have it, eight years ago today, Ed and I showed up uninvited to Albro Castle and met Tracy, who excitedly showed us the wall. This blog was the direct result. Over the next few years, we found five survivors and nearly 60 families of the 111th men, letting us knit together a fairly complete picture of their time in the war. And the search continues.

We will always be grateful to Tracy Newland for preserving this piece of history.

The strange coincidences we’ve encountered while doing this blog continue.

Earlier this month, a man by the name of Henny in Maastricht, Netherlands, found us and sent an email. He was trying to find the family of an American WWII soldier who was the father of his older half-sister. Uh-oh, I thought—this hasn’t come up so far!

Henny explained that the soldier and his mother had a relationship in Heerlen, Netherlands, in the winter of 1944-45 (the same period when the 111th was there), and that although his sister knew her father was a GI, her mother would never reveal his name—until she was on her deathbed: it was Charles Fargo, from Texas.

I had to tell Henny that we didn’t have a soldier by that name in the 111th, and although Ed and I tried various ways to find more about the man, we were unsuccessful. But that wasn’t the end of this story.

Henny mentioned in passing that he had retired after 44 years as a manager in a tile factory in Maastricht. Aha, I thought. I wonder if he would know anything about the beautiful ceramic tiles of Dutch girls in local costumes that my father and at least three other men of the 111th sent home while billeted in the Societe Ceramique tile factory in Maastricht in the fall of 1944. (See the blog post from March 2014, https://wwiitracings.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/a-french-orphan-and-the-tiles-of-war/)

The inscription on the back of each tile is “Societe Ceramique, Maestricht”

Henny replied that he would send my photos of the tiles to a colleague who knows a lot about the history of tile industry in Maastricht. It turns out they are rather rare. They were designed by well-known artist Henri Verstijnen in the 1930s but never put into full production.

I told Henny that I would like to donate my tiles to a museum or archives in Maastricht. He contacted the senior curator of the museum at the Centre Ceramique, a modern cultural complex built on the grounds of the factory where the tiles were made, to see if he would like them for his collection. He said yes, and I carefully packed them up and sent them off today.

Thank you, Henny!

Update May 21, 2021: You may recall that a few other men of the 111th had sent home these tiles. One of them was Ray Goodhart (see the previous post). We just learned that Kimberley, Ray’s loving granddaughter, has mailed off to the museum the two remaining tiles in the set created by artist Henri Verstijnen in Maastricht in the 1930s (see below). Mr. Wim Dijkman, Senior Curator, wrote in his thanks to Kimberley, “I can promise as the senior curator responsible for the ceramic collections made in Maastricht that these objects will be kept permanently in Centre Céramique and that I will write an article about all six tiles for the Bulletin of the Vereniging Maastrichts Aardewerk recognizing the background information you and Andrea Sutcliffe gave me about the fascinating story behind these tiles!”

Ray and my father, Edward Johnson, were good friends during the war; below is a photo of the two of them taken in Maastricht in 1944. We don’t know the circumstances of how the men obtained these tiles, but I’m guessing that when the 111th arrived in Maastricht shortly after the liberation of the city by the American troops, they may have been presented as gifts of appreciation by the managers of the tile factory.

Edward Johnson and Ray Goodhart, Maastricht, fall 1944

We are thrilled to tell you that another 111th soldier’s family has been found. With lots of help from our Spanish sleuth and blog friend Fano Suarez, we located and sent a letter to the daughter of Ray Goodhart, one of my dad’s best buddies during the war.

Most unfortunately, though, we learned that Sandra, Ray’s daughter, had passed away just a few weeks earlier. But her husband, Leo, her granddaughter Kim, and great-grandson Stephen have sent us photos. We’ve had several nice phone conversations with Leo about Ray and what a great guy he was. Some of the photos are duplicates of ones my dad and some other men had—confirming that the men shared prints. Ray also had some Dutch tiles, one of which Leo says featured a Dutch girl like some others some families have found. They no doubt came from the tile factory in Maastricht where the men stayed for a while during their advance into Germany in spring 1945.

Ray was an armorer during the war. From St. Louis, he joined the unit at Camp Bowie, Texas, in 1942 and was with one of the last groups to be sent home from Brake, Germany, in September 1945. Ray passed away in 1999.

Ray visiting USS Carl Vinson in the 1980s or 1990s
At Camp Shanks, NY, waiting to go home, fall 1945; Ray is in the back row, third from left. Next to him on the left is Don McGowan, and on the right is Ray Buggert.
Ray had his portrait taken in Brownwood, TX, 1942 while at Camp Bowie.
Ray at left in Brake, Germany, summer 1945. That’s Ed Ziemba next to him.
At Camp Bowie, TX. Ray is second from left. I think that may be my dad, Bill Johnson, on the right next to him. Ray Buggert is on the far right.
Ray with his cousin in Paris, August 1944; he happened to run into to him on the street on the day he was there!

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.

We’ve been thinking about what the men of the 111th were doing 75 years ago this month. This was when the unit finally crossed into Germany. They must have felt optimistic — the end of the war was in sight. On the other hand, there were still dangerous days ahead.

“After our three months’ stay in Heerlen [Holland], we moved [about 15 miles east] to Alsdorf [Germany],” Lt. Perry Witt wrote. This was February 6, 1945, and they traveled along the Siegfried Line, through Herzogenrath, noting destroyed German pillboxes along the side of the road.

Pillbox between Herzogenrath and Alsdorf, Germany

German pillbox along the Siegfried line

“Here we had more excitement; besides all of the air activity, this was the first time that I had actually seen a V-bomb in flight. There were plenty of them going over but they were not falling near us.” They also witnessed an Me 262 [Messerschmitt] shot down, many buzz bombs, and heard the biggest artillery barrage of the war as the Army prepared to cross the Roer River.

On February 9, the 111th’s commanding officer, Cpt. James Goode, was transferred to the 79th Ordnance Group, and Lt. Art Brooks was promoted to captain and took over as commanding officer. Things remained relatively quiet during most of the month in Alsdorf, where the men stayed at a gas works (see 1945 and 2019 photos below).

Lt. Witt continued, “A few days passed, then one afternoon late, all of the amphibian equipment rolled out towards the lines. It was the next morning, about 3 a.m. [February 23], that the biggest artillery barrage of the war broke out of the quietness of the night. The crossing of the Roer River was underway. Fifty-caliber machine gun barrels were brought back to our Company that had been completely burned out. They’d been fired so long without cooling that they had almost melted.”

Lt. Fred Kent recalled, “One afternoon while we were still in Alsdorf, I happened to be outdoors when the sound of aircraft in the sky drew my attention to a dogfight between two planes, one being ours and the other a German plane. Suddenly the German plane gave of this puff of smoke and took off like a rocket, making our plane appear to be standing still in comparison. It wasn’t until some time later that I realized what I had observed: a German jet-propelled plane, the first I had ever seen.”

“With the Roer River crossing success and the troops forging ahead at a rapid pace, it was obvious that we would soon be following in the footsteps of the doughboys,” 111th company clerk Frank Sossi (in Alsdorf in photo on left, above) wrote in his monthly history report. “Actuality practically preceded the anticipation, for on the 4th of March the company pulled its stakes in Alsdorf and moved 36 miles northwest to Munchen-Gladbach, a city that had been taken only 3 days previously.”