Posts Tagged ‘Heerlen’

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.

 

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, Dannenberg, 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

 

Two wonderful “gifts” to report: We have received word from Kaye Ross that her father, Osborne L. Eastwood, age 93, a veteran of the 111th, is alive and doing pretty well in Redfield, Arkansas. That makes five men still living so far, and we are still looking. As of today, Ed and I have mailed 46 letters to possible family members of the men, and we have heard from several children in just the past week or so.

The gift we received late last week is more than we ever hoped for. Linda Campbell, a daughter of 111th soldier Roland Unangst, has sent us a copy of her father’s memoir of the war years. With her kind permission, I have placed it in its own section at the top of the website, “Story of the 111th:  Memories of Roland Unangst.” This wonderful document answers so many questions Ed and I have been asking for months now. A few years ago, Linda and her husband, Ken, went to Heerlen, Holland, to visit the Baggen family; these were the Dutch people who had taken Roland in when the 111th was there during that frigid winter of 1944-45. (Many of the soldiers lived with local families in Heerlen.) The whole story is in his memoir; don’t miss it. Roland also tells about the Normandy landings, the scary times in Normandy, Holland, and Germany, and much more.

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.

Wait a Minute!

Posted: October 26, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

We were there, but didn’t realize we were THERE!

At the last minute, Ed got answers to two of our remaining questions this morning, just after we checked out of our hotel in Heerlen. He had a hunch to go back and ask the desk clerk the same question he had asked another clerk yesterday. The difference was, he thought to himself, that this nice woman was in her fifties.Old enough to know there was this big war in the 1940s.

At first she gave the usual response: No, I didn’t even know the U.S. Army was in Heerlen during the war. But she said she had an 87-year-old aunt who might know. A few minutes later, we had the answer as to exactly where the 111th spent that cold winter here in 1944–right in the center of Heerlen! Any buildings they used are probably gone today, the aunt said.

With one exception, however. A large multi-story glass structure called the Glaspaleis (signed “Schunck”) dominates the town’s main square. We thought it was really new. But it is the building and the main square the clerk’s aunt mentioned. It was built in 1935 as a department store and is quite famous in architecture circles. Imagine how Dad and his buddies must have marveled at it! (It was suffered bombing dmage three times earlier in the war, and each time glass panels were replaced.) I have since learned that the building was used as a headquarters in late 1944 by Generals Patton and Simpson. Heerlen was in the thick of things during the winter months the 111th was here, as the Allies pushed into Germany.

Two ironies: First, the public library where we first sought information, unsuccessfully, is located in this building. We had walked all over that square the first day we were here, looking for an information office. Second irony: We thought the building was so recent that we didn’t bother to take a picture. But we were intrigued by a nearby sculpture, unlabeled, of a man in a plaid jacket taking a picture of the building! Now we think we understand the sculpture.

Glaspaleis-1    20131026-154057.jpg

Main square, Heerlen, today

Main square, Heerlen, today (the rear of the Glaspaleis building is on the left)

Then we showed our helpful hotel clerk Dad’s photos of the unit’s time in Heerlen, and she became very interested. When she saw the photo labeled “Windmill near Sittard,” she said, “That’s still there!” The previous day we had driven all over the Sittard area looking for a windmill, any windmill, but never saw a one. She gave us directions to Oirsheek, and we found it easily, sitting above the road between Heerlen and Sittard. A sign noted that the windmill was built in 1879 and has since been restored, but due to its location on a hill next to the road, we think it could have been the very one Dad saw.

img182 Near Sittard, Holland  20131026-154543.jpg

So thanks to Ed’s persistence and an old woman’s memories, we left Holland satisfied with our quest.

We left France after spending a night in St. Quentin, and drove into Brussels, Belgium. I don’t think the 111th took this route, but we had never seen Brussels so we decided to arrive early, spend the night, and take a look at the city. Dad’s photos (and later confirmation from Arthur Brooks) indicate they took a more southern route through Belgium, through Charleroi and Liege, then crossing the border into Holland near Maastricht. This was probably in September  of 1944.

We stopped for a look at Fort Eben-Emael, on the Belgian border near Maastricht, Netherlands, just as the 111th did. This fort took seven years to build, yet the Germans took it in one day, in May 1940. By the time the 111th men saw it in 1944, this part of Belgium had been liberated and the Germans had left. When the fort, which lies along the Albert Canal, was completed after 5 years, in 1935, it was considered to be one of the strongest in the world, complete with 2-1/2 miles of underground galleries.

img153 Main entrance to Fort Eban Emmanuel, Belgium       20131024-161218.jpg

But it was a prime target for the Germans at the beginning of the war. Hitler himself approved the plan to take it using gliders. The Germans built a full-scale mock-up in occupied Czechoslovakia so they could practice the attack. In May 1940, the fort was taken by surprise when paratroopers in gliders landed silently on the roof of the fort, taking the troops within by surprise–the first time gliders were used in this way. The gliders were also fitted with hollow charge devices, used here–also for the first time–to destroy the gun cupolas. The Belgians surrendered within a day, a huge loss for them.

The fort is open to the public during the summer months most days, but only one weekend a month in the off season, so we were not able to go inside.

We arrived in Heerlen, Holland, this afternoon but had no luck finding any information about US military activities here in WW II. In fact, the city has no information office, and the library has nothing about the war. It is a large, traffic-filled, modern city these days.