Posts Tagged ‘Normandy landings’

We received a packet of about 60 photos in the mail the other day from 111th surviving member John Raisler. John is 93 and lives in Florida; he is originally from Clarendon Hills, Illinois. We have enjoyed talking to him many times since the blog began–he was our first “find,” although it must be said that he found us back in November when he asked his granddaughter to Google “111th Ordnance Company.”

John Raisler in Hawaii a few years ago

John Raisler in Hawaii a few years ago

Last week, John enjoyed a great conversation with his former commanding officer, Art Brooks.  Art told John that he didn’t have to call him “Captain” any more. They talked about their Normandy landing experiences, and although they were in different LCTs, they had very similar experiences. Raisler recalls how Brooks described how “he checked the water depth, it was too deep, so they moved and then came in, where he was the first jeep off [with another of the 111th survivors as his driver, Roger Rickon] with no trouble. My experience was very similar. First we were too deep so we moved, and my assistant and I went off into the water that was too deep for a jeep, but we floated long enough for the churning wheels to get caught [in the sand] and we pulled right out. The MPs guided us to a large field, where we all assembled. Then we moved to Cerisy Forest. I think we were all there until St. Lo opened up.”

Several of the photos were taken in October 1945, as a group of about 15 of the 111th headed to LeHavre, France, for the ship journey home to the States. John says he will always remember the date he got home: October 17, 1945. He married the girl who waited four years for him exactly one month to the day later.

Aboard the LCT headed toward Omaha. John R was on lead boat

Aboard the LCT headed toward Omaha Beach, Normandy. John Raisler was on the lead boat.

Here are some of the photos; thankfully, John wrote names and places on the backs so we know who and where they are. We will  also place them on the “photos” pages at the top of the blog.

Pyaday at Canp Shiloh, Canada: L to R: First Sgt. Mayo,  Sgt. Nelson, Lt. Brooks, Cpt. Malsberry

Payday at Canp Shiloh, Canada: L to R: First Sgt. Mayo, Sgt. Nelson, Lt. Brooks, Cpt. Malsbury

Going home. sign at port in Le Havre, France

Going home sign at port in Le Havre, France

Going home, convoy break on way to port

Going home, October 1945, convoy break on way to port

John Raisler at German pub

John Raisler at German pub

John Raisler  Apt in Fridenhorst, Germany, last stop on way home

John Raisler at their apartment in Fridenhorst, Germany, last stop on way home

Just before crossing Rhine, Driver Matt Ottea, Ass't Frank Sossi, backseat L- Sedlacek, R -  Raisler, standing 1Sgt Mayo and company clerk

Just before crossing Rhine, driver Matt Ottea, Ass’t Frank Sossi, backseat L- Sedlacek, R – Raisler, standing First Sgt Mayo and company clerk

Gun is German 88, L to R Raisler, Goerges (section chief), Lt from 83rd Div, We fired against Germans with this gun, Along the Rhine

Gun is German 88, L to R Raisler, Goerges (section chief), a Lt from 83rd Div. We fired against Germans with this gun, along the Rhine

While in quarantine, we got beer. L-R unknown, 2 . Stanhouse, 3. Railser, 4 Ray Ludwigson

While in quarantine, we got beer. L-R 1. unknown, 2 . Stanhouse, 3. Raisler, 4 Ray Ludwigson

Matt Ottea in his foxhole in Normandy

Matt Ottea in his foxhole in Normandy

John Raisler, Munchen-Gladbach GE

John Raisler, Munchen-Gladbach, Germany

Focker Wolf 190 at Salzwedel Airport, their location on V-E Day. Cliffie Graham, John Andrews, E De La Garza

Focker Wolf 190 at Salzwedel Airport, Germany, their location on V-E Day. Cliffie Graham, John Andrews, Leo De La Garza

Swimming at pool in Brake, GE. Occupation time after V-E Day

Swimming at pool in Brake, Germany, near Bremen. Occupation time after V-E Day

Chow break in Belgium

Chow break in Belgium

Leroy Faehling, (John Raisler and Leroy went to Brussels together)

Leroy Faehling enjoying the pool at Brake, Germany, summer 1945 (John Raisler and Leroy went to Brussels together)

Barracks 17, Room 2 Rear Row - Webber, Gomez, Clawson, Kent, Goerges. Front row Vaughn, Raisler, Tyler, Boufford, Savage

Barracks 17, Room 2. Rear Row – Webber, Gomez, Clauson, Kent, Goerges. Front row: Vaughn, Raisler, Tyler, Boufford, Savage

With pipe Matt Ottea from Instrumentation section, drilling is John Andrews, 3rd guy is Bob Hammer  Gun is 105 Howitzer, Munchen-Gladbach GE

With pipe, Matt Ottea from instrumentation section, drilling is John Andrews, man on right is Bob Hammer. Gun is 105 Howitzer, Munchen-Gladbach, Germany

Showering in Cerisy Forest - John Raisler at pump, Louie Soutier showering

Showering in Cerisy Forest, Normandy: John Raisler at pump, Louie Soutier showering

105 Howitzer torn down - guys from the section

105 Howitzer torn down – guys from the section

L-R Sgt Nelson, Cpl Raisler, Sgt Ottea, Kneeling. Sgt Sedlacek

L-R: Sgt Robert Nelson, Cpl John Raisler, Sgt Matthew Ottea, Kneeling. Sgt Joe Sedlacek

John Raisler crawling into ME109. Salzwedel Airport GE around V-E Day

John Raisler crawling into ME109. Salzwedel Airport, Germany, around V-E Day

Half track combat vehicle with 75 mm howitzer. That is a 155mm howitzer in front of it.

Half track combat vehicle with 75 mm howitzer. That is a 155mm howitzer in front of it.

Farmer getting in the way in France

Farmer getting in the way in France

German wrecked tanks in Falaise Gap FR

German wrecked tanks in Falaise Gap, France, August 1945

Pete Patrick in foxhole, Normandy

Pete Patrick in foxhole, Normandy

John Raisler in unfinished German Submarine

John Raisler in unfinished German submarine

Street Scene, Munchen-Gladbach Germany, 1945

Street scene, Munchen-Gladbach Germany, early 1945

Wrecked vehicles, Heerlen, Holland, winter 1944-45

Wrecked vehicles, Heerlen, Holland, winter 1944-45

8 inch railway gun, they really roar when they go off

8 inch railway gun; they really roar when they go off

Bus used to carry German soldiers, now kaput, France

Bus used to carry German soldiers, now kaput, France

Advertisements

We just received an email from Perkins P. Cochran, Jr., son of 111th member Perkins P. Cochran, who died in 1983. He sent the following photo and notes to share. His report is interesting because although it contains a few dates we have not known previously, it also raises more questions about two other dates—when the unit arrived in St. Dogmaels, West Wales, and when they landed on Omaha Beach after D-Day. If all reports so far from men and family members are correct, the unit left Wales in two (or more) conveys late on the night of June 6, destined for two different embarkation points—Plymouth, England, and a port near Southampton, England—and arrived on Omaha Beach on three different dates: June 9, June 11, and June 12. Then somehow they found one another and regrouped. Is this possible? We would love to hear any other accounts.

We were also sorry to learn that Perkins Cochran was wounded in late 1944 and was sent back to the States for hospitalization. (This is a first; does anyone else know of injuries sustained among the men? Let us know.) Here is what his son sent us:

“My father, Perkins P. Cochran, was drafted and entered the U.S. Army in July 1942 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. He went from there to Fort Warren, Wyoming, in August 1942, then to Fort Crook, Nebraska, from November 1942 to January 1943 for Auto Mechanic Training Course. He went to Pomona Ordnance Motor Base, California, for further training until April 1943. Then he was sent to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, for four days, and on April 10, 1943, to Fort Dix, New Jersey. It was probably around this time that he became a member of the 111th Ordnance Medium Maintenance Company. In July 1943 he arrived at A.P. Hill, Virginia, and in November 1943 he arrived at Camp Shanks, New York. He was a mechanic and truck driver in the Army.

Cpl Perkins P. Cochran of Senatobia, Mississippi

Cpl Perkins P. Cochran of Senatobia, Mississippi

“I found some notes that my father had written after he left Camp A.P. Hill, Virginia. I have summarized what he wrote in these notes as follows: He tells about leaving Camp Shanks November 5, 1943, crossing the Atlantic on a ship named the S.S. Examiner. The journey began smoothly, but soon they faced rough seas with hard wind and rain. One day they received word that four German submarines had been spotted about fifty miles away, so they changed course. They continued in the North Atlantic and saw a whale and some sharks following the ship even though the seas were still rough. At one point it was so rough that they lost one of the ship’s life boats. As they got closer to England, they saw patrol planes flying over them. On November 19, 1943, they arrived at Liverpool, England.

“They left Liverpool and rode all night by train to Barry, Wales, then traveled by trucks to Brynhill golf course at the edge of Barry to help build the camp up. They stayed there a few days and then on December 3, 1943, went to Sully, Wales G-40, where Dad was a truck driver at the S.O.S. Depot near Cardiff. Later in February 1944 they moved to Albro Castle near St. Dogmaels. He tells about a Captain Goode taking command of the 111th in February 1944. They left there on June 4, 1944 [we believe this date is off by two days], for Southampton, England, arrived the next day, waterproofed their trucks, loaded on the LST’s and left for France June 8, 1944. They landed on Omaha beachhead on June 9, 1944. He didn’t go into detail but wrote that they saw terrible things even three days after D-Day. They took the waterproofing off their trucks and moved up behind the Second Division about 10 miles from the coast and just over a mile from the front lines.

“He wrote about the constant artillery shelling back and forth and the enemy planes strafing almost every day. He also wrote about it raining almost every day for three weeks after they arrived in France. They had to watch out for booby traps, snipers, and land mines, and as they moved forward, most of the towns had been destroyed. They moved from Cherbourg up past St. Lo, Vire and on into the spearhead toward Paris in July and August 1944.

“They moved on to Belgium, then to Holland after this. His notes did not show the months (probably September and October 1944), but he wrote about many of the dykes, canals, and bridges that had been destroyed in Holland. He wrote that they lived in an old factory building that had been used to make pottery and tile for roofing. He mentioned that they had a nice shop and were doing a lot of work. He wrote about dreaming that the war would be over by the end of October 1944 and was waiting to see if his dream would come true. They began to see many German prisoners of war in those days.

“My father’s notes ended after the above information. I don’t know what happened, but sometime around November 1944 he was wounded and was in the hospital. I don’t know how or where he was wounded or where he was in the hospital. He never talked about this. He left Europe on December 30, 1944, and arrived in the U.S. in January 1945 at Brooke General and Convalescent Hospital, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He remained there until April 30, 1945, when he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army.”

Ed and I had the pleasure of spending several fascinating hours this past weekend in Florida with Arthur T. Brooks, one of the five surviving members of the 111th Ordnance Company. He joined the unit as a lieutenant in late 1942 and was promoted to captain and commanding officer in late January 1945. He is a vibrant man of 96 years old, and he regaled us with many stories of his time in WWII. We also enjoyed talking with his lovely wife of 67 years, Judy, and their daughter Louise. It was a wonderful weekend.

Art Brooks and Andrea, Judy Brooks, seated

Art Brooks and Andrea,
Judy Brooks, seated

Ed video-recorded nearly three hours of interviews with Art, which we will edit and send to the Library of Congress for its Veterans History Project. We learned so many new things about the 111th that it will take days to absorb it all, so in this posting I will share one of the stories, relating to their time in Normandy, France, shortly after D-Day. (In the next posting, I will describe how the 111th played a role in helping the U.S. defeat the German troops during the Battle of Normandy.)

This story is about the near-disastrous landing on Omaha Beach of the serial led by Lt. Brooks. His was the slower convey leaving Wales because he was leading the unit’s larger vehicles. Their LCT crossed the English Channel a day later than the rest of the unit.

The 111th unloading on Omaha Beach

The 111th unloading on Omaha Beach

The 111th officers: Goessel, Kent, Witt, Brooks, Goode, Lewenthal, Errington, in Normandy summer 1944

The 111th officers: left to right, Goessel, Kent, Witt, Brooks (center), Goode, Lewenthal, Errington, in Normandy, June 1944

On D+6 (June 12, 1944), as Brooks’ LCT approached Omaha Beach, the Navy man in charge of their LCT stopped it and told them to unload. Brooks was in the lead jeep, and he and his driver were sure they still were too far from shore. They found a pole to check the depth. Sure enough, they were in 10 feet of water. Had they followed instructions, the first vehicles off their LCT would have sunk and men may have drowned. Brooks recalls that he and his driver yelled “No way!” to the sailor and told him they needed to move to a better spot. The spot was found and all went ashore safely.

The best part of this story is that two days before Art Brooks told it to us, I had talked by phone with another 111th veteran, Roger Rickon, from his home near Cleveland. He had told me the very same story, except that he couldn’t recall the name of the officer he was with. And Art couldn’t recall the name of his driver. So we were able to match up the two men! They talked by phone after our visit and relived that memory of nearly 70 years ago. How we would have loved to listen in!

Update, Jan.25: We received a note from John Raisler, a 111th surviving member, saying that he recalled the same landing experience:

“The account of Capt. Brooks’ landing in France sounds very familiar. You see, I was supposed to be the first to load [the LCT], which would have me last one off. No way, there was room for my small truck to fit, so my assistant and I would be first off [presumably after Brooks’ jeep]. The deep water bit, then moving over…well, needless to say we made it, got a little wet but up and away on the beach.”

At first we thought all three men might have been on the same LCT, but after Brooks and Raisler talked by phone a few days later, they sorted it out and determined they were on different LCTs.

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.