Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Surprisingly, this blog has attracted readers from nearly every country in the world over the past six years. And a few times, we’ve connected people who share a common interest. Probably the most rewarding of these connections began last year, with a simple request from our Heerlen friend, Peter Pauwels. He wanted to know if we could locate an American woman who had been director of the American Red Cross (ARC) Rest Center in Heerlen, Netherlands, during the last year of WWII.

Back in May, Peter had us around to the places in Heerlen where the 111th soldiers lived and worked during the fall and winter of 1944-45. But his real interest in WWII involved another aspect of the war in his city during that time: the ARC Rest Center in downtown Heerlen. Peter had listened to the stories of a few elderly local residents who had volunteered there as teenagers during the war. And they all fondly remembered the center’s American director, a young woman named Patricia Park. Could we find her or any surviving family members, Peter asked? His goal was to mount a memorial plaque on the building in Heerlen, still there, that the Rest Center occupied.

Ed called the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, DC, but they no longer kept personnel records from that era. An Internet search turned up many women with that name but not the one we were looking for. Without any other pertinent information, like date and place of birth, married name, places lived, and so on, we were stumped.

Then I recalled that a few months earlier, a blog reader in Spain named Fano had sent us the names of some Red Cross volunteers shown in a blog photograph of the 111th in Normandy. It turned out that Fano is a big fan of the Red Cross and its Clubmobiles during the war and knows a lot about them. So on a whim, I wrote to him to see if he could help us find Patricia Park.

Well, he did. Fano is an Internet wizard, and to describe how he found her with nothing to go on but her name and her Red Cross service would take a small book. From the records and newspaper articles he uncovered and sent to us, we found her obituary–she died in 1995–and from that we were able to locate her son, Al Spoler.

So to cut to the chase, we are pleased to tell you that yesterday Al joined Peter in Heerlen to dedicate the plaque to the memory of his mother and all the Red Cross workers in Heerlen — both American and Dutch — who worked to provide war-weary U.S. soldiers a respite from the fighting during those final months of the war. Peter wrote to us earlier to say that yesterday was an incredibly wonderful occasion. The event was covered by a regional television station, and Al even gave an interview. Peter sent these photos:

In the left photo, Al and 93-year-old Heerlen resident Alice Michielsen, who served under Al’s mother at the ARC Rest Center during the war, unveil the plaque. In the right photo, Al is interviewed by the regional Dutch television station.

It is heart-warming to know that so many Europeans still remember and honor the Americans who gave so much during WWII. Thank you, Peter.

A final sad loss

Posted: September 17, 2019 in Uncategorized

We are sad to have to tell you that the last living member of the 111th, Arthur T. Brooks, passed away last week in Hudson, NY, at the age of 101, a month short of his 102nd birthday.

We got to know Art and his wife and their two daughters and son-in-law (all of whom survive him) quite well over the past six years, visiting them in Florida and New York State several times. Art was a remarkable man, a true representative of the Greatest Generation. His intelligence, strong character, and kindness endeared us to him from the start.

Art was an Army captain who had been with the 111th since its time at Camp Bowie, Texas, in 1942. By the time the company crossed over into Germany in early spring of 1945, he had been made company commander. Our fathers could not have asked for a better leader.

Ed and I will miss him very much.

On March 4, 1945, the 111th left Alsdorf, Germany, and headed 36 miles northeast to the town known then as Munchen-Gladbach. The Roer River had been crossed at last and things were moving fast. The Allies had taken Munchen-Gladbach only three days before the 111th arrived. the 111th stayed here until the last day of March.

The company clerk, Frank Sossi, wrote about their arrival: “Unless my eyes deceived me, the so-called super-race must have established a new national emblem, for all the homes along the route were fluttering snow-white flags in the wind.” He continued, We shared a pretty good area with the 29th Division QM Company. It had formerly been the city police headquarters.” There they waited for the big push and the crossing of the Rhine River on March 25. They followed the infantry further into Germany and moved steadily east and north for the next month.

We already knew that the apartment building where they lived was still standing, and we had the address in this large city, thanks to two blog friends. Here are the then-and-now photos:

img210 Our home at Munchen Gladbach, Germany, Spring 1945 

Their shop yard was in a police academy quadrangle “that took up an entire city block” and looked like this in March 1945:

img226 Small arms set up in Munchen Gladbach, Germany

It turns out that the quadrangle is directly across the street from the apartment building and is still being used by the police! It was locked up, so we couldn’t get in. For that reason, we couldn’t see the exact same spots as ones in the men’s 1945 photos. But the windows and other building details match so closely that we are sure this is the same place our men worked in for a month in March 1945.

Matt Ottea, John Andrews (drilling), and Bob Hammer working on a 105 Howitzer in Munchen-Gladbach

Lt. Kent recalled that in his role as special services officer, he was responsible for the men’s morale. “Before leaving Holland, I made a deal with a brewery in Maastricht–whereby because of the shortage of wooden kegs—for every four empty kegs I brought them, they would give me one filled with beer….I had my men search through the bombed-out cafes in the area to search for empty kegs. We finally accumulated eight of them, and the second day we were in Munchen-Gladbach, I send a truck back with the empties to return that afternoon with two kegs filled with beer.” The men must have truly appreciated Lt. Kent.

The men of the 111th landed on Omaha Beach over two days, June 11 and June 12, 1944. Somehow they were able to meet up and begin making their way, with their 80 vehicles, inland.

On June 13, the unit found an orchard and spent the night; the next day they settled on a large wooded area in the forêt de Cerisy, the Cerisy Forest, and set up camp. Lt. Perry Witt said, “After a few nights in the area we were given our baptism of fire from the enemy… I think that I remembered everything wrong that I had ever done and started to pray.” They remained in this general area until early August.

Today the Cerisy Forest is a 5,260-acre nature reserve. Our blog friend and B&B host Michael Doherty has studied the history of the forest during WWII and has found the approximate area (see the red map point) where the 111th camped in 1944, using grid information from the unit’s morning reports. (See the previous posting on this blog for more details.) By the way, if you come to Normandy, be sure to stay at the wonderful B&B Michael and his wife own near the village of Litteau, Le Manoir de Herouville. Michael is also a D-Day guide.

Cerisy location

He took us to the area in the Cerisy Forest on Saturday. We watched while he scanned the forest floor with his metal detector. He hoped to find C ration containers, but that day only a few bullet casings and some odd pieces of what looked to me like automotive parts turned up.

Michael using his metal detector in the Cerisy Forest

Later that day, Ed and I paid a return visit to Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery there, which is located just above the beach where the 111th came ashore.

Omaha Beach

The American Cemetery above Omaha Beach

Michael and Andrea near Cerisy la Foret

On Sunday, Ed and I drove the route of the men after the St. Lo breakthrough, in early August 1944. They headed south to Campeaux, where they stayed for about ten days, and then continued to follow the advancing troops to Vire. They drove 82 miles in one day and set up camp in the town of Mortree, near Falaise, when they began supporting the 90th Infantry Division. We were surprised to realize we were seeing much of what they had seen on their route, because so many structures had survived the war and in fact were already quite old 75 years ago!

They were in Mortree for one week, while the last battle of Normandy took place near Falaise. On August 27, they began their longest journey so far, as their convoy traversed the 113 miles to Saint Remy des Chevreuse, south of Versailles. More about this stop in the next posting.

We ended the day with a return visit to the Abbaye de Cerisy-la-Foret, which we had discovered in 2013 because of a photo taken in 1944 of my father and his buddy, Donald McGowan, in front of the ruins of the abbey.

The church at the Abbaye la Cerisy-la-Foret

Again, we were struck by the simple beauty of this ancient abbey (founded in 1032) and church. Certainly my father and his fellow soldiers had never seen anything quite so old and so lovely. I imagine they might have stopped in to say a prayer.

Nearby is the last area the unit camped, not far from the Cerisy Forest, near the village of Tournieres, which in August 1944 became the temporary location of Gen. Eisenhower’s SHAEF command post. The 111th moved to three open fields here on July 4, where Frank Sossi, the company clerk, wrote that they were much happier here than they had been in the damp forest. The photo of the farm field below may have been one of the fields; Michael will be checking the coordinates given on the unit morning reports for that period and letting us know for sure. Thank you Michael, for all your help! We had a great time with you this past weekend.

Could this be the three fields area where they spent the month of July?

Happy 101st, Captain Brooks!

Posted: October 29, 2018 in Uncategorized

Please join us in wishing Art Brooks, the 111th’s company commander in 1945, a wonderful 101st birthday today. Daughters Lori and Louise took their father and mother (Judy, who will be 100 in February) out for a celebratory dinner last evening.

We wish Art and his wonderful family a very happy and healthy year ahead.

Old Soldiers Never Die…

Posted: June 13, 2018 in Uncategorized

We are saddened to have to report that 111th veteran Osborne Eastwood passed away two days ago in Arkansas. His niece Carolyn sent us this message:

“I wanted to let you know that Uncle Osborne passed yesterday at 8:05. He was clear and speaking to us until the end. His caregivers loved him and repeatedly told me how sweet he was. It is such a huge feeling of loss at this moment, however I know he is no longer in pain. He will be having a military service on Thursday at a private cemetery. All of his family will be present, as they were in his final days.”

Carolyn, many thanks for letting us know. Please pass along our sincere sympathy to his friends and family. He was part of an amazing WWII ordnance company and will be long remembered.

The unit’s commanding officer, Art Brooks, is the last surviving 111th member of the original five men we found in 2013-14. He is 100 years old and doing well. In April, he and Osborne spoke by phone on Osborne’s birthday, as we reported in our last posting.

My sister, Marcia, was cleaning out some things the other day and came across a packet of WWII correspondence in a box she had brought from our parents’ home in Texas—our father was 111th  soldier Bill (aka Pinky) Johnson, the inspiration for this blog. He passed away in 2001. We were so excited! We had never found a single letter or card of theirs from the war.

Our mother, Nesta, met our dad at a dance held in her village for the 111th soldiers billeted at Albro Castle, which was about eight miles away. She was working as a nurse in Cardiff during the war and came home in March 1944 on one of her rare breaks. It had taken her most of the day to travel the 100 miles to West Wales. She had barely walked in the front door when her mother and a friend pushed her to go the dance that night. The friend said, “You must go, Nesta! You never know—you might meet your fate tonight!”

Truer words were never spoken.

We don’t know how much time they were able to spend together that March, but we do know that she had to return to work; then on June 7, the 111th left Wales for Normandy. It seems almost certain that the next time they saw each other was the following summer–more than a year later–when Dad was granted leave (by Capt. Art Brooks—thanks, Art!) to go from Germany to Wales to get married in late August 1945. (The unit took up a collection of $130 for their wedding present!) It appears Bill and Nesta had a only week for their wedding in Cardiff and a brief honeymoon in London before he had to return to Germany.  He shipped back to the States in October 1945. Then they faced another long separation–they wouldn’t see each other again until May 1946.

Mom and Dad wedding photo

Nesta and Bill, wedding portrait

The reason was that the “war brides” had to wait until all the U.S. troops got home before transport ships were available to take the wives to America. About 70,000 British women married American soldiers and sailors. There was only one other 111th soldier who married a Welsh girl, so far as we know: Edward Newmeyer, who met his wife while the unit was stationed in Barry, Wales.

For those interested in learning more about British war brides and American troops in South Wales during the war, please visit the website of our friend Glenn Booker, who has spent years researching and documenting the subject, at

Below are transcriptions of the two letters our mother wrote to her mother while on the brides’ ship. We think she did a good job of capturing the sights and sounds and emotions of those women as they slowly traveled across the Atlantic to a new and very different life; we thought you might find them interesting too. (This posting is quite a bit longer than my usual report, so please forgive the length.) Mom's ship to US

SS Jarrett M. Huddleston

At Sea, April 27th, 1946

My Dear Mamma,

Today we have been a week at sea. I hope you got all the letters and postcards I sent from camp and also the one I managed to get out from Southampton—I gave it to a WAC on Friday night. I sent 10 shillings and the points from camp too. I hope you get them okay. The reason why we’re taking so long to get there is that this ship is a hospital ship and can’t do more than 10 knots an hour, though we’re well past halfway now and hope to get there by Thursday or Friday.

Everyone is grand here. There are 500 brides aboard and hundreds of babies. We have to be up early each morning to look after the babies while the mothers are at breakfast. The food is wonderful—plenty of ices, chicken, etc., and jellies and loads of fruit each day. We’re getting used to three meals a day now and all the rich food. Bet our stomachs got a shock at first!

Sunday was the only day I was seasick—was better by evening though. We were all over the rail that day and some have been sick up to yesterday! Don’t think I’ll be seasick any more as I’ve got my sea legs okay now and am enjoying every minute of it. Lovely sunshine every day since we left. Isabel has been up on top deck since yesterday—I’ve been up every day.

We had two stowaways on board—they got on in Southampton, young kids about 17. They were put on a ship bound for England on Tuesday—we were all out watching the whole performance. It was breath-taking seeing them get into the little boats and go towards the other ship, which was just on the horizon—sometimes it disappeared from sight altogether in the waves! That day we saw three more ships. We heard the other night that a bride ship has passed us and is now in New York! That was the one Megan Evans was on, but they had a week’s stay at Tidworth. I’d rather be on the ship than still there. [Tidworth was a British Army camp near Salisbury, England, where many of the war brides received physicals, lectures on life in the U.S. and travel instructions.]

There are heaps of Welsh girls here. I’ve talked to dozens. But this Irish girl and I are together still. We’re on the lower deck—I sleep on the top bunk. We do have some fun in the nights with the girls. Some, though, are not very nice to know—have been caught flirting with the crew! So our room-mates went snooping last night to see things for themselves. Still, one can’t believe all the rumours we hear.

It’s lovely in the evenings—a soft breeze blowing and we can sit around on the top listening to the radio. Requests are played every night at 6-8 pm. I put one in yesterday for “Serenade for Strings.” The cinema is held in the mess room every night—some shows are quite good. Plenty of books to be had in the lounge and there’s also a library if we care to go.

We saw about a dozen swordfish jump out of the water the other day as they followed the ship along.

The mothers get the first chances and best of everything here and they are in the two top decks. They were selling lots of things we hadn’t seen for ages and of course less than half price to us at the P.X. There were beautiful compacts for $1.90 and numerous other things. The next day we queued up but they had all gone, although we had quite a few things—clips and powder and cream, the best for very little money. I think I know the money now because when I went yesterday I handed the right amount without hesitation—we’ve got to be quick here when there’s such a queue!

I’ll send you the ship’s paper when I reach there—we have one every day—the brides type and trace it—Clare Hamill is one of our gang and Eunice does the tracing—you’ll see their names on it when you get them. We are already 4 hours back now and right now it’s nearly 2 pm by me—that means 6 pm home. Been doing the garden?

I’m looking forward so much to arriving there now—I know how lucky I’ve been and by the talk I hear going around with these girls worrying, etc. about their husbands I know I’m lucky—and a very few are. Isabel is going to Oklahoma, on a farm. So was Megan (the one at Cardiff Infirmary), going farming to Nebraska.

April 29th

We were told today that we will be in N. York harbour at 7 am on Friday. Those going furthest will have to remain on board for three days—that will be the worst part of it. We’re just off Newfoundland today. It was very rough yesterday—a few got sick again but I managed to keep it all down. We had a smashing turkey dinner and fruit salad too. Ice cream each evening. There are four of us going to San Antonio. I met one yesterday from Liverpool. We passed another ship yesterday. Yesterday most of us gathered on the deck towards evening and had a sing-song. We were there to have some air because it’s no use staying down there when one feels sick. While we were there we sighted two sharks not far from the boat—they were monsters!

We’ll be glad to see a bit of land after all these days of nothing but sea and ship. Most of the days are sunny and right now we’re in our favourite spot on top deck again listening to the radio. We like watching the sunset. At times it’s really beautiful—pink and blue sky and the sun pops down and out of sight while we’re watching it—takes only about 5 minutes. We are already 5 hours back by today. Twilight doesn’t last long—gets dark around 6:30 pm.

I hope this isn’t too small for you to read—I don’t want it to weigh too much. The sea breezes and sunlight are giving us a tan—yesterday I washed my hair and dried it in the sun—quire blonde now! This is all for today—6 pm at home and 1 pm here. Been up to Grandma’s today? More later.

May 2nd

Nothing much has happened since I wrote last. We’ve been to some shows—the brides put on a talent show last night—was good, too—about 12-14 Welsh girls sang “Hen Wlad fy Nhadau” [the Welsh national anthem]” and “Ar hyd y nos.” There are about 30 Welsh girls here altogether.

Tomorrow is the day—we will be in the harbour at 7 am. Those going to New York will be off immediately but we go on Monday—the husbands have been notified by the Army not to meet us if they come from a distance, but they keep them informed of our arrival and we can’t phone them. On Saturday buses will take us who are left on the ship on a tour around New York and we will be seeing all the interesting places.

They are very good to us here and have been all along. Lovely food and plenty of it, all the best of everything and we’ll be going first class all the way. There’s a very nice girl in our berth—or ward—as there are 32 of us sleeping down here. She’s going to Dallas, Tex. And just now she gave me a book on San Antonio with all pictures and wants us to call on them whenever we can. She has a friend in San Antonio and will be going there often. She is extremely nice.

They are all busy here packing and hair dressing etc. etc. All very excited—quite a lot going off tomorrow. We’re getting up at 4:30 am to see the Statue of Liberty—the girls have asked me to put the alarm on!

The trip on the whole hasn’t been too bad—only of course we were rather unfortunate in having a slow ship, but it has gone by fairly quickly really. There’s too much noise going on here now between the girls and the radio to write much. They’re broadcasting some of the girls who took part in the talent show—some of one crooning!! Sounds awful over the radio.

Excuse this ending so scrappy. My love to Grandma and James and tell them I’ll write soon. Also Betty and kindest regards to Mr. Howells.

So until next time, cheerio! And fondest love,


Mom and Tilla cropped

Nesta and her mother a few years earlier

S.S. J.M. Huddleston

New York Harbour, May 4th, 1946

My Dear Mamma,

I had already sealed the last letter before we entered New York but failed to get it mailed today as we had no stamps. Hope you got the cable okay. It has all been very exciting. We saw land first on Thursday night and were up at 5 am Friday to see the harbour—quite a size and sight to see at dawn. It was a beautiful sunny morning—the skyscrapers were very impressive although at a distance you couldn’t really judge how tall they actually were—as we found out today on a tour all around the city. We passed the Statue of Liberty, which is quite a few stories high and about 97 steps up to the arm that holds the torch. The statue itself was a greenish colour. We stared at it for ages.

Yesterday was a busy day—for those getting off and for us onlookers—we had a busy time just looking on! And watching the husbands coming to meet them. There was one poor girl in tears. Her husband couldn’t be found. The Red Cross couldn’t trace him, then she let out that she hadn’t heard a word from him since November—don’t know what happened to her. One from our camp at Tidworth left for home before we left for Southampton—we all think how silly she was—she’s really going to miss a lot. We just heard on the radio that the husband was suing for divorce from her, serves her right, too.

Today was a great day. We were taken on a tour of New York City and it really was a sight worth seeing. We had five buses. Among the places we saw were Broadway, Manhattan, Times Square, The White Way, a part of Harlem, all those Fifth Avenue stores, etc., etc. and the Columbia University—some size, 32,00 students—and the Empire State Building. We put our heads on the floor of the bus but still couldn’t see the top! But I had a good look at it from a distance, whew! What a height!

Plenty of everything in the shops. All the people stood watching and some smiled and waved at us in the streets. We saw the Hudson River and suspension bridge—the next largest to San Francisco— and New Jersey on the other side of the river. We saw all the select parts—Park Ave., etc. The women were all very smart. Most wore boxy coats and were very colourful and all had flowers in the hair or flowery hats, apparently because of Easter time, lovely shoes and stockings. The streets were not as crowded as London or Cardiff to that extent—only shoppers. No queues and plenty of fruit and eggs etc.—eggs 2shillings a dozen.

Looking through the front of the bus, what struck me the most was the colours—yellow, red, green and orange taxi cabs, all colour cars—green and yellow buses. Times Square was all twinkling with various lights in the big theatres and cinemas this afternoon—would have liked to have seen them at night. I think Broadway runs into the same street but we saw so much. Along one street there were cafes opening on the pavements like Paris. All the hotels (select ones) had a coverway leading up—green canvas tops.

Although all this was new to me, I didn’t feel as if I were in a strange country at all—just seemed like any English town only bigger. Something like London only the buildings taller. It’s funny but I feel just as I did at Tidworth. It was new and strange there and I seem to be quite as near to Wales here as I did when I was in England!! Sounds silly I know, but that’s how one feels away from Kilgerran. There everywhere seems far and hard to get to, but here it’s just the opposite!

We haven’t been able to cable or ring anyone up in the States except in emergency cases. Only yesterday we were allowed visitors—quite a few came. We haven’t been allowed off the ship at all—only this afternoon of course. There are a lot of civilian officers on board dealing with our transportation. Everything is so well organized down to the last safety pin. It really is wonderful the way they do things here. We got our labels just now. I leave at 11:15 am Monday and board the train at 1:30 pm. Will probably be in San Antonio on Wednesday. I’m longing to get there now and to see Bill. It’s getting more empty here now, quite a lot have left. We saw one bride with her husband in the city this afternoon! Isabel and Betty (Dallas) are on the same train as I am.

We all get along well with one another—it’s just like being in the army! The Americans we have seen have really been wonderful to us. They are all so nice and a grand people. No class or petty snobbery here, everyone cheerful and plenty of wisecracks.

Well, I must finish this now, but there will be more later. This radio is on with all the adverts before news and everything! There was a plane writing Pepsi-Cola in the sky.

My love to Grandma and James and all at home.

Cheerio! Fondest love,