Bucket List: Take WWII Tour of Europe– Done!

My husband and I just returned from a 2-week World War II tour of Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany! The photo of my husband and me is on the patio of the ‘Eagle’s Nest’, Hitler’s retreat center, above the village of Berchtesgaden, Germany.

Mardasson_Memorial_Bastogne 6-17

We went with a group of 29 Americans and 3 Australians and one Chinese woman as part of World War II Tours of Europe. This photo is at the Mardasson Memorial at Bastogne, Belgium.

Talk about a whirlwind trip! Our guide, Dennis Ross, was experienced and so organized which made the trip enjoyable. We covered 2,000 km and five countries via a luxurious motor coach with a great driver named Gundolph.

It was exhausting, but so informational and fascinating. My husband has been interested in World War II for decades. I’ve only become interested since I started interviewing veterans in 2012. Put us together and we can usually spout some piece of knowledge about events in Europe and even the Pacific.

BUT…

This trip showed us how much we didn’t know. We soaked it all in, despite minds/bodies that were recovering from a six-hour time difference and 12-hour days on the road.

La Fiere bridge (8)

This photo was taken on June 6, 2017, at La Fiere Bridge in Normandy (France) region as a tribute from French people to the efforts of American troops 70+ years ago. These and other memorials showed us how much the European Allied countries continue to demonstrate their appreciation for our efforts on their behalf during their occupation by Nazis.

Compeigne For (2)

Photo: Museum at Compiegne Forest (France) where armistice was signed 1918, ending WWI with Germany’s defeat.

We visited the usual tourist sites like museums and had guided tours of Paris, Dachau, Nuremberg, Luxembourg, all of which was just up our alley (I was usually near the front to be sure to hear every word!)

Bastogne foxhole (4)

We stood in an actual foxhole in a woods in Bastogne where troops would have sought shelter from freezing weather and enemy troops.

We stood in the war room of Bastogne where in December 1944 General Anthony McAuliffe declared “Nuts!” to the Nazis’ demands that he surrender the 101st Airborne and its attached troops. Gen. McAuliffe and his troops held off the siege until reinforcements arrived from Allied troops.

Many of these and other examples of courage and determination during that mighty war that raged from 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland until 1945 when Axis forces surrendered were new to me. It was a pleasure to learn more about them in person!

 

Pegasus (18)

One of my favorite events was thanking British World War II veterans for their service. This photo was shot during an event honoring these vets on June 5 at Pegasus Bridge. I’ll save details for a later post.

It was great to get home and realize yet again what a great country we have – not perfect but pretty close in terms of helping oppressed countries in so many ways for decades.

I’ll be sharing more information about the trip here in future posts with photos (I shot 800+ and my husband took 350+).

I plan to give PowerPoint presentations on what we saw and learned, implementing quotes from veterans I’ve interviewed where appropriate. Many stories about these sites can be found in my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans.

If you know of a group that would be interested in having me speak on this topic, please contact me via this site’s Contact form.

And if you’ve not already done so, please subscribe to this blog to continue to receive my posts that cover WWII and other stories about American military vets.

Remember to thank a veteran today for his/her service. They deserve our appreciation!

Vets Describe D-Day

D-Day. June 6, 1944.

Possibly only a handful of dates in our nation’s military history are more well- known other than Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941).

D-Day was a top secret event that had been planned for months. Every branch was involved in storming the beaches of Normandy France to overcome Hitler’s forces.

Here are a few comments from veterans of various branches whom I’ve interviewed about their involvement with D-Day:

Despite months of training, nothing went according to plan.

As Leo Scheer’s boat neared the shore of Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, it hit two mines, igniting it. “We were told to strip our gear and abandon ship,” he said.

The weight of life vests, layers of clothing and combat boots dragged many soldiers into the frigid waters. “Drowned bodies floated in those waters for weeks,” said Scheer. “Many washed up against the sea wall with not a scratch on them.”

Those who made it to shore were ordered to the west end. Scheer was almost killed twice from gunfire. Finally he arrived, only to find the squadron doctor missing.

Wearing the Red Cross arm band and helmet, Leo worked on injured soldiers, removing medical supplies from bodies of dead soldiers to treat the wounded. “Bandages were packaged in waterproof tins which also contained morphine shots,” he said. “It was all we had.”

The first course of action was to stop the bleeding. “We tried to prevent shock and used morphine when necessary,” he added. Artillery fire continued non-stop for days. Soldiers were treated on the sand. “We eventually got a spot in front of a house and put the casualties there,” said Scheer.

A barrage of artillery file forced Scheer to administer medical attention while lying on the ground. “Even getting on your knees was risky,” he said.

“You slept fully clothed with your helmet on,” said Scheer. “Shells came in close. I buried myself under the sand and in the morning crawled out, glad to be alive.”

Note: The photo depicts the web belt Scheer used at D-Day, now a donated item on display at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.

**

Wolfe Don-FW-Air Corps

After flying from the US to an Allied air base outside the town of Muching Green in England in spring 1944, Donald Wolfe had only two weeks of training before he flew his first combat mission, called a ‘sortie’. “During the next several weeks, I flew missions over France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany,” he said.

His 44th mission occurred on D-Day as he flew over Normandy lending support to the Allies.

**

Anderson James -Indy-Army

At Omaha Beach Andy Anderson carried penicillin, bandages, iodine and sulpha packets in his supply packet. As a medic on the battlefield he wore an arm band with a Red Cross, signifying his status. Although he didn’t carry a weapon, Anderson felt safe. “I depended on our American infantry to protect me,” he said.

**

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Alfred Edwards of Fort Wayne, IN, was operating a rhino barge on June 6, 1944. Such vessels carried tanks and troops as part of the first wave of troops to approach the shore of Omaha Beach in France. “We had no protection from enemy fire as we guided it in,” he said.

When boats and troops reached the shore and put ramps down, the site was grim. “Dead GIs lay everywhere on the beach,” said Edwards. “We dodged shooting from German soldiers while searching for mines embedded in the sand that could blow us up as we neared the shore.”

Despite incredible odds, Allied forces continued to arrive at the beach for weeks, slowly pushing German forces back into France. Code name of the secret invasion: Operation Overlord, though it was more commonly known as D-Day.

**

These are excerpts of stories in my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans (available for purchase on this site) and in my soon-to-be-released book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans.

It will be released in Summer 2017. Stay tuned for more details on how to obtain a copy!

Honor a veteran today by thanking him/ her for their service to our country.

WWII Soldier Shocked by Graves at Guadalcanal

(This is an excerpt of a story from my soon-to-be-released book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans)

Gaylord Conrad’s most vivid memories of the Pacific during World War II was not that of a bloody battle field but what came after it.

In late 1943 Conrad from Leo, IN, was attached to the US Infantry at Guadalcanal. The dreadful battle that had occurred there from August 1942 through February 1943 was evidenced by a graveyard for Allied forces.

Approximately 7,000 small crosses on graves dotted the vista as far as Conrad could see.

It was a sobering sight for the farm boy from northern Indiana. “Thinking of the number of lives lost in that battle was overwhelming to me,” he said. “The sight of that quiet field became a permanent picture in my mind.”

Conrad Gaylord kneel uni

After graduating from Leo High School in May 1943, Conrad had immediately been drafted. He completed nine weeks of basic training at Camp Wheeler near Macon, GA, before being assigned to the Infantry. Soon, he was aboard a ship sailing with thousands of troops through the Panama Canal to the Pacific.

The troops were not told where they were headed, though the mostly 18- and 19-year-olds probably would not have recognized the name, had they heard it. New Caledonia was part of an archipelago of islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean, 750 miles east of Australia.

In March 1942, the territory had become an important Allied base. The capital of New Caledonia — Nouméa — was headquarters of the United States Navy and Army in the South Pacific. At one point during the war, the island held as many as 50,000 American troops.

Several attempts by the Japanese Army and Navy to recapture the airfield were staged over the next several months. In addition to the thousands of American lives lost, approximately 19,000 Japanese soldiers died in what was a hard-fought Allied victory. Conrad and other American soldiers went in as replacements.

In an attempt to honor the fallen military chaplains conducted a sunrise service on Guadalcanal’s beach on Easter 1944. Just before the service’s commencement, Conrad was shocked to see someone he knew. “Ralph Rineholt and I had graduated from Leo High School together,” he said. The two young soldiers sat together during the service, then separated for duties. Conrad never saw his friend again. “I always wondered if Ralph returned home,” he said.

**

I missed posting this tribute on Memorial Day because I was working on the book this and 33 other stories will be published in by late Summer 2017. But I did have 2 stories of WWII soldiers who died in action published in area newspapers. We can all do our part to support our military.

Stay tuned for more details about the book.

Remember to thank a veteran today for his/her service!