Posts Tagged ‘Men of the 111th Ordnance Co.’

This past weekend, Ed and I drove up to Hudson, NY, to spend more time with our favorite 111th officer, Arthur Brooks, who was the unit’s company commander in the last eight months of WWII.

Art Brooks, outside quarters, Brake, Germany, summer 1945

Art Brooks, outside quarters, Brake, Germany, summer 1945

Seated, Art and Judy Brooks with Bob, Lori, and Louise, at their home overlooking the Hudson River

Seated, Art and Judy Brooks, with Bob, Lori, and Louise, at the family  home overlooking the Hudson River

We had first spent time with Art, his wife Judy, and their daughter Louise last January at their winter home in Florida. Art’s 97th birthday is next month, and he is as sharp as ever, as is Judy, who is 95. Art is one of four surviving members of the unit.

On the way, we stopped in Northern Virginia and had a nice long lunch with Pat Raymer Macchiarolo and her husband, Mike. Pat found us last June via this blog. She had brought along many photos and war mementos of her dad, Sgt. Bob Raymer of Pennsylvania, to share with us.

Pat (Raymer) and Mike Macchiarolo

Pat (Raymer) and Mike Macchiarolo

The New York weekend was a family affair—Art and Judy’s daughters Louise and Lori and their son-in-law, Bob, were also there. Bob had been going through file cabinets and drawers in Art’s basement office and uncovered a treasure trove of all sorts of 111th documents and photos, including about 150 or so letters Art had written home during the war.  Of course, I immediately began snapping photographs, a project that continued that day almost until midnight and again the next morning. We will share new information on this blog as we wade through this new and interesting information.

We had a wonderful time with Art, of course asking endless questions. Between that and the materials we found, we learned so much more about the 111th’s time in the war. Here a few tidbits:

— Lt. Fred Kent, who was the inventor of the M2 semi-automatic carbine, came up with the idea while the unit was based in St. Dogmaels, Wales, prior to Normandy. One night at the officers’ mess, Warrant Officer Bill Hall (a new name for us) mentioned that it was shame that “the Army hadn’t specified the M1 carbine to be designed as an automatic weapon.” Lt. Kent countered that the gun had all the necessary components to adapt it into such a rifle, at which point WO Hall bet him $10 that he couldn’t make an automatic weapon out of the carbine.  Of course, he did, and later Gen. Omar Bradley sent him to England to help lead the design team to produce it, as we described in a previous post (https://wwiitracings.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/the-111ths-inventor-lt-kent-and-the-m2-carbine/). Near the end of the war, Lt. Kent said that his parents in New Jersey wrote to tell him they had picked up a hitchhiking soldier outside New York City, and when they told him their son’s name, he asked if he was any relation to the inventor of the “Kent automatic carbine.” They said yes, and he told them it had been used extensively in the Pacific and had saved many American lives.

— One of Art’s letters home, dated August 6, 1945, contained a paragraph mentioning that he had authorized leave for a soldier to go to Wales to marry his fiancée; the soldier was my father, and the bride was my mother! They were married on August 22 in Cardiff. He mentioned that the men had taken up a collection amounting to $135 and given it to my dad to help cover honeymoon expenses. What a thrill it was to see that letter—and Art insisted I keep it.

Bremer Voll Kammerai plant, Blumenthal, Germany, on the Weser River

Bremer Voll Kammerai plant, Blumenthal, Germany, on the Weser River

— Art had a large photo of the woollen plant, the Bremer Voll Kammerai, that served as the unit’s base in Blumenthal, Germany, for a short time in May 1945.

— Here is a list of vehicles the unit had in February 1945; it is interesting to see some of the men’s names listed. (Click to enlarge the image.)111ths vehicle list

 

 

 

 

—We also found a nice 8×10 glossy photo of a small picture we had found in my dad’s things. This time, we could see the face much better—and guess who it was? Bob Raymer, father of the woman we met when we started this trip last Friday!

Bob Raymer

 

 

 

 

 

Early next month we head to St. Louis, MO, to spend a couple of days in the Personnel Records Center, where we will view the 111th’s morning reports on microfilm. We hope to learn much from this visit. It is now obvious that the book on the unit I did last spring will have to be revised and expanded.

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We have located three more 111th family members this July: two sons of Ed Newmeyer, the daughter of Evert “Red” Clauson, and the daughter of Harrison “Mac” Gardner. But before we tell you about them, we have some sad news to report. One of our five surviving 111th veterans, Roger Rickon, passed away on July 7. We will miss talking to Roger; he was a great guy and a wonderful source of information.

Roger Rickon

Roger Rickon

You can read some of Roger’s memories of the war by entering his name in the “Search” feature of this blog; we also told some of his stories in our book about the 111th. He had turned 90 years old on V-E Day this past May. I know you will share in sending our condolences to his sons David, Russell, Glenn, and James. He was very proud of his four boys.

After listening to our favorite 111th company commander, Art Brooks, tell us last winter about the 111th’s terrific “artist-in residence,” we had been hoping to locate family members of Ed Newmeyer, who died in 1967. Then last month, when Pat Macchiarolo, daughter of 111th soldier Robert Raymer, sent us a couple of images of V-mail letters her dad had sent to her mom, we were thrilled to finally see examples of Newmeyer’s talents—Newmeyer had illustrated them! (Click on the images to enlarge them.)

Newmeyer V mail 1 Newmeyer Vmail 2

By the way, V-mail was used to save valuable space on cargo ships during the latter years of the war. Soldiers and families were urged to use this free service, which involved writing letters on specially designed forms, which were then opened, photographed, and put on microfilm. When the film reached its destination, the letters were printed out and delivered. One mail bag of film canisters took the place of 37 bags filled with regular mail, a huge savings in space and weight. You can read more about V-mail here: http://postalmuseum.si.edu/exhibits/2d2a_vmail.html

In early July, we talked with both Mike and Ed Newmeyer and made an interesting discovery: their mother, Patricia, was from Cardiff, Wales. She met their father in the fall of 1943 at a USO dance in Cardiff; the couple was married in February 1944, just as the 111th was leaving the Cardiff area for St. Dogmaels, in West Wales.

Ed Newmeyer Valentine

Ed Newmeyer Valentine

Ed Newmeyer's Christmas V-mail

Ed Newmeyer’s Christmas V-mail

Ed Newmeyer

Ed Newmeyer

Their son Ed was born in Cardiff in 1945, while Newmeyer was still with the unit in Europe, making Ed Jr. a dual citizen of the U.S. and the U.K. So now we know that there was at least one other war bride from the unit in addition to my mother, whom Dad (Bill “Pinky” Johnson) met in March 1944 at a YMCA dance in Cilgerran, Wales, not far from St. Dogmaels.

In mid-July, we heard from Bev Albright, whose father was Evert “Red” Clauson. Ed had tried to find a Clauson family member late last year, since we had a great photo of my dad’s taken in Barry, Wales, in 1943 with Clauson—he titled it “The Three Redheads”, showing Dad, Evert, and Charles Burns.

Evert Clauson, Charles Burns, Bill "Pinky" Johnson

L-R: Evert Clauson, Charles Burns, Bill “Pinky” Johnson

The reason we had no luck was because my father had spelled Clauson’s name wrong on the back of the photo, with a ‘w’ rather than a ‘u.’ Clauson died in 1984.

Mac Gardner

Mac Gardner

Mac Gardner

Mac Gardner

Finally, we heard from Nita Cross, whose father was Harrison “Mac” Gardner. We figure Mac must have known my Dad, since they both were from Macomb, Illinois. Sadly, Mac died in 1961, when Nita was only 8 years old. She then told us she lost her son in the Iraq war in 2004; his daughter was only 6 years old. When she saw our photo of the 111th men taken at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in 1943, she was a bit taken aback: her son was deployed from Fort Dix to Camp Ashraf, near Baghdad. Her father and her son left for war from the same place, 61 years apart.

In other news, by chance we learned a couple of weeks ago that the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO, which is part of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, holds what appears to be the entire set of morning reports for the 111th Ordnance Company. We were amazed that these have been kept. So in our effort to leave no stone unturned, Ed and I will travel to St. Louis in early October and spend two days in front of microfilm readers, gleaning whatever details we can about the unit’s day-to-day activities. We will start by focusing on the reports from late 1943 until the end of the war, then go to reports from the time of the unit’s beginnings in late 1940 if we have time. You can be sure we will let you know what we find! Here is an article about the place, in case you are interested: http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2011/fall/nprc.html

 

 

 

 

Over the past couple of weeks, we have heard from several more family members of the men of the 111th. But before we give their reports, Ed and I want to ask for your help. We are traveling to Florida in mid-January to visit with two of the 111th survivors, Arthur Brooks and John Raisler. We plan to ask them lots of questions and listen to (and record) their stories. If you have any questions you would like us to ask, please send them to me using this blog’s “Comments” section.

Now to share recent family member comments: Jo Ann Vosz writes, “My husband received your letter questioning whether his father [Curtis Vosz] belonged to the 111th. I just took a look at your blog and am certain that Dad was part of this group of men! I am printing and taking home the information you have posted and will see if Greg can share some of Dad’s memories.” Readers of Roland Unangst’s “Story” at the top of this blog will recall that Vosz was one of his two best buddies during the war. It’s nice to see them together again.

Charles Ziemba, whose father was Edmund Ziemba, wrote that he recalls his dad telling a story of standing guard after midnight in the Black Forest in Germany on a moonless night. “He said it was pitch black and he could not even see his hand in front of his face…. He was very scared the Germans would sneak up on him in the darkness and stab him. He said he stayed very alert as a result, but obviously that duty stayed with him…. My dad had war medals, a German Luger, a really striking German dagger with German lettering and other WWII artifacts. His uniforms were donated to charity in the 1980s…. I surmise from the WWII pictures that your dad and mine were good friends during the war. He often said he had several ‘good buddies’ during the war.” Yes, those San Antonio boys spent a long time together, some of them for five years straight: Johnson, Ziemba, Goerges, Andrews, Gomez, Ottea, DeLaGarza, Apple, and others.

Edward "Pinky" Johnson and Edmund Ziemba, Camp Shanks, NY

Edward “Pinky” Johnson and Edmund Ziemba, Camp Shanks, NY

Perkins Cochran, Jr., wrote, “My father, Perkins P. Cochran, was a member of this unit in WWII and I was glad to see the information on the blog that you have made available. I am still looking through the blog and finding many things that I did not know about the 111th. I will see if I have any pictures or information that I can send. “

Kaye Ross, daughter of living 111th member Osborne Eastwood, sent this email: “We went to see him tonight and took it [the blog printout] to him. We read him the roster of some of the names of the men from Texas, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Wish you could have seen his face as the names came back to him. He remembered something about them when he heard their names. He always said he couldn’t remember much it had been so long, but he actually remembered a lot. He’s not in great health and cannot see to read due to an eye injury from the war.”

She continued, “My sister and I did not know much about his time in the war as we grew up. He just didn’t talk about it. We knew he was in the war and was gone for five years. We saw his pictures, we saw his Purple Heart, Bronze Star and other pins, but until the last few years we just didn’t know the extent of his service. He still to this day has dreams that put him back there. He was a tank driver in a three-man crew on a medium-size tank. He is beginning to recall a lot of things he thought he had forgotten.”

Osborne Eastwood, in Germany, 1945

Osborne Eastwood, in Germany, 1945

I talked with Sergio Gomez by phone before Christmas. His father was Frank Gomez, who was a good friend of my father’s. Frank’s widow, Carmen is 94 and was thrilled to receive the blog printout I had mailed to her. Sergio told me that he had always wanted to trace his father’s steps in Europe but had no idea where he had been. He said his dad never talked about the war, and his five sons had to drag out what little they could in bits and pieces from him. Sergio also said that a buddy of his dad’s who was in the 36th Division once told him that Frank was the highest ranking master sergeant in the Army during WWII, but that he is not sure how to confirm that. If anyone can help, let me know.

Frank Gomez

Frank Gomez

Daniel Turner made a comment on the blog before Christmas regarding his father, Marcus Frank Turner, and then we corresponded by email. He wrote, “I have several pictures on the computer I’ll send you. I have others I will scan and also documents and a history Dad and his Commanding Officer wrote. At least I think it was his CO. The pics I send today are of Dad, but not completely sure of the other gentlemen in them, nor of the exact date.” [I have posted them on the page at the top of the website called “The Men: Photos.”]

Cpl. Marcus Frank Turner

Cpl. Marcus Frank Turner

And Charlie Ottea, son of Matthew Ottea, wrote to me with a promise to find photos to send along; he said he is sharing the blog with his entire family, including Matthew’s grandchildren. Here’s a photo of Matthew from my dad’s collection:

Matthew Ottea, in Wales, 1944

Matthew Ottea, in Wales, 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.