Posts Tagged ‘Battle of Bulge’

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.

 

In the past couple of weeks, Ed has found two more men of the 111th alive and well, and we have also located several children of some of the men. It’s been a good month, with many hours of research finally paying off.

In early December, we spoke by phone to Roger Rickon, who lives near Cleveland. He is 89 and happy to have three of his four sons nearby. Roger was one of the youngest men in the unit—he was only 19 when he accepted Uncle Sam’s invitation in 1943.  He spent three months training in San Antonio before joining the 111th at Camp A.P. Hill, Virginia, in the summer of 1943. His memories of the war, especially of the Normandy landing and the frigid and scary winter of 1944-45 in Heerlen, Holland, gave us new insights. He and several other mechanics from the 111th were sent from Heerlen that winter to be closer to the Battle of Bulge to repair trucks and tanks. He said they were attached to the 155th Field Artillery and returned to the 111th after the battle.

A few days after to talking with Roger, Ed found and phoned Raymond Cross, who is 94 and lives with his wife of 67 years in northern Michigan. He joined up with the 111th just as they arrived in Wales in late 1943, coming directly from a 39-month-long stint with the Army in Iceland. He was probably the only man in Wales that winter who thought the weather was warm. He also shared with us his memories of tough times in Normandy and Heerlen.

These two men, along with John Raisler and Arthur Brooks (the 111th’s company commander in Germany), make up the four “survivors” of WWII we have found to date. Ed has just completed his search of all 183 names on the 1948 roster we have. He has combed through military and death records on Ancestry.com, an amazing website called Findagrave.com, online newspaper obituaries, and online phone directories to obtain names, addresses and phone numbers. We have called and mailed letters to more than two dozen people, mostly children of the men, and we are still waiting to hear back from most of them.

In the past week or so we have talked to or heard from the children of Roland Unangst, Perry Witt, Leroy Faehling, William Kirkmeyer, and Joseph Sedlacek. We have talked to the widow of Fallis “Tex” Carson. We will be sharing their stories in future posts. In January, Ed and I will travel to Florida to meet John Raisler and Arthur Brooks, visits we are really looking forward to.

And in other exciting news, we have recently learned that the history and heritage group in St. Dogmaels, Wales, has received a grant to carry out a celebration of remembrance of the 111th Ordnance Company’s six months in their village in the months before D-Day. Ed and I have offered to help, and we plan to be there on June 6, 2014, to participate.