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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

“Fear Has an Odor”

One of the strongest quotes I was ever given during an interview was by a World War II veteran was by Simeon Hain, Naval Aviator in the Pacific.

“Fear has an odor,” he said. “It permeates your clothes and stinks. After getting back from a mission, I couldn’t wait to take a shower.”

In honor of Mr. Hain’s military service and birthday, I’m presenting part of his story from my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans:

For eight months between 1944 and 1945 Hain flew 40 missions in a B-24, dropping bombs on selected locations in the Pacific. “On the day of a mission someone would wake me for patrol at 2 a.m. with a flashlight in my eyes,” he said. “He pushed a clipboard under my nose telling me to sign that I had received my orders. Then I’d be given a briefcase filled with codes for the day, maps, charts, and other items pertinent for navigation.”

Hain didn’t have a college degree, which was required at the time for aviators. In fact, he had not even ridden in a plane or driven a car. Still, he was intrigued at the thought of flying.

After enlisting in 1942, Hain made it through basic training and was admitted to the Civilian Pilots Training program. At Ball State University Teacher’s College in Muncie, IN, he attended flight school in the morning, then had flight time in the afternoon.

Training in a Piper two-seater Cub was a challenge for Hain who battled motion sickness. “I didn’t want to wash out of the program so I bought Mother Sill’s Seasick Pills,” he said. He studied math and physics to pass the academic sections of the training, then spent three months in a PBY airplane (patrol bomber aircraft) before entering flight training in Corpus Christi, Texas. He received his wings on September 25, 1943.

Believing the Germans were planning to attack the United States mainland, the Navy assigned Hain the task of patrolling the St. John’s area near Jacksonville, Florida, for submarines.

Later, he was transferred to Norfolk, Virginia, for B-24 training. The B-24 was equipped not only with bombs but also with machine guns.

By early 1944, Hain was flying combat missions in the Pacific Theater. “If we encountered enemy fire, I’d fly the plane at 200 knots (230 miles per hour), and the gunner would man the machine gun so it blazed,” he said.

Hain’s crew had a secret way of detecting the location of the enemy. “During a flight, we could hear Japanese music in our radios,” he said. “When the music went off, we knew they had us on their radar.”

One consolation of being pursued was the multitude of Chinese fishing junks in the ocean. “We knew if we crashed into the ocean, they would help us,” he said.

Later that summer, Hain flew over Port Lyautey in Morocco and the Bay of Biscay in Spain. “Our mission was to watch on radar for enemy subs and eliminate them if possible,” he said. He also flew for the Battle of the Philippines in October 1944 and across Saipan and Tinian.

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In December 1944 Hain flew over the Bonin Islands, 500 miles southeast of Japan. He bombed Iwo Jima during the terrible battle there in February 1945.

When Hain was discharged on November 1, 1945, he held the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade. He was presented with several medals and two Distinguished Flying crosses.

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This is one of 28 stories in my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans. It contains stories from men/women who served in our nation’s military forces during 1941-1945. You can purchase it here at this site at a discount price of $15.00. It is also available on Amazon.

The stories are designed to enhance each reader’s appreciation of what our ancestors did for us and people around the world during that terrible time of war.

Please remember to thank a veteran today!

Coast Guard Seaman Sailed on USS Wakefield

James ‘Jim’ Joseph Meyer was my first introduction to a member of the US Coast Guard. It’s hard to find Coast Guard members in the Midwest! I’ve since interviewed two others who served during WWII. I salute all of our branches and thank each vet for his/her service!

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Upon graduating from Central Catholic High School in 1943, Jim Meyer of Fort Wayne enlisted in the US Coast Guard.

He spent 16 weeks in basic training at Brooklyn, NY. Meyer already knew how swim, but the Coast Guard had a special challenge. “We had to swim in water with oil in it to simulate a possible accident at sea,” he said.

At Providence, RI, Meyer learned to shoot rifles, 38-caliber pistols, and 20-mm gun. “We learned how to take apart our gun and reassemble it while blindfolded,” he said.

Meyer was transferred to Portland, ME, where he had lighthouse duty. “We reported ships coming in or going out and planes in the area,” he said.

In late 1943 Meyer boarded a ship, the USS Manhattan. In 1941 the Manhattan had been leased by the US Navy and commissioned as the troopship USS Wakefield. The Wakefield was assigned a Coast Guard crew and became the largest vessel ever operated by the Coast Guard.

Note:  During times of war, the Coast Guard transfers from the Department of Homeland Security to the US Navy.

In 1942, the Wakefield caught fire. It was rebuilt as a troop ship with a crew of 600 including 20 Marines as guards. “Every morning we had general quarters. That meant every seaman manned his guns,” said Meyer. “My duties were with the 20-mm gun. We also washed the decks and painted the ship every time it was in port.”

Seaman 1st class Meyer suffered seasickness on his first trip, but thankfully it never recurred on his 43 other trips across both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Meyer’s first ocean crossing was in 1944 to Liverpool, England. “We hauled 5000-6000 mostly injured Americans troops and German POWs to the US on each trip,” he said.

According to Meyer. German POWs had cleaning duties on the ship. Meyer thought he detected a certain attitude among them.  “The German POWs acted as though our ship would not make it to the US because German forces would destroy us,” he said.

There was a possibility of danger from German subs in the Atlantic. “We zig-zagged during our route so they would not find us,” he said. “We also posted lookouts on the top of the ship to look for torpedoes.”

Despite their status as enemy forces, German POWs were treated civilly. “When a German soldier died at sea aboard our ship, he was given the same funeral ceremony as if an American seaman had died,” said Meyer.

The Wakefield sailed to LeHavre, Marseilles, Pearl Harbor, Panama Canal, Guam and Naples, Italy, China and Japan. Meyer traded for two Japanese rifles which he took home as souvenirs.

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Meyer recalled one time encountering particularly rough weather while at sea. “We were hit by a 50-foot typhoon,” he said. “We lost three guns and life rafts. We were scared because the typhoon raised our ship out of the water several times.”

The storm slowed the ship by two knots, which caused the Wakefield to arrive late in Boston. German forces spread propaganda that the ship had been sunk. Damage to the ship necessitated it be in dry dock for repairs for 30 days. (Listen to Meyer tell about the storm in a live video here.)

Among the 215,000 passengers carried on the Wakefield was at least one Coast Guard member whose name was well-known.

Jack Dempsey had already attained fame as a boxer when he joined the Coast Guard during World War II. In 1944 he was assigned to the transport USS Wakefield. Dempsey remained in the Coast Guard and later joined the Coast Guard Reserve.

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Meyer and other Allied soldiers around the world thrilled to hear the announcement of VE Day (Victory in Europe) on May 8, 1945. That marked the formal acceptance by the Allies of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces. “I was tickled at the thought of going home,” said Meyer. The battle with Japan, marking the official end to the war, concluded on September 2, 1945, when a formal surrender ceremony was held in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri.

However, like many soldiers, Meyer had to await his turn to return to US soil. He had one last momentous event yet to experience before going home.

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On December 26, 1945, Meyer became a member of the Domain of the Golden Dragon. “It is an unofficial award given to crew members of ships which cross the International Date Line,” he said.

In February 1946 Meyer arrived at San Diego and by April 1946 he had earned enough points to be discharged. He married Barbara Gase from Decatur in 1948 and they became parents to two sons. Meyer later worked at Porter Tire Company in Decatur and as a diesel mechanic for Kroger for 37 years. Meyer has participated with Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana.

He thinks about his time in World War II often via photos, his uniform and other souvenirs from the war. “Somebody had to fight,” he said. “I liked being in the Coast Guard. It gave me the chance to go to a lot of places I’d never hoped to see and meet people from around the world. It was a good experience.”

The End

 

Pearl Harbor Naval Survivor Recounts December 7, 1941 — Pt 1

 

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Today I’m posting a story from a sailor who was on the USS St Louis stationed at Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

You can hear a brief account of his experience here. Thanks to Bryan Lineberry, teacher at Bellmont High School in Decatur, IN, for inviting me to meet Mr. Garrett.

I’ll post a second account from another sailor I’ve interviewed tomorrow on December 7, to commemorate this significant day in our nation’s history.

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These are 2 of the nearly 150 interviews I’ve conducted with WWII vets.

Other World War II stories can be found in my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans. It can be purchased through this site or at Amazon. Thanks for your interest in the stories of these great men and women who served our country so well!

Thank a veteran!

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Jack Garrett — Navy /Pearl Harbor Survivor

At 7:56 a.m. on Sunday, December 7, 1941, Jack Garrett of Rome City, Indiana, was stationed aboard the St. Louis, a light cruiser moored at the pier in the southeast lock of Pearl Harbor.

Suddenly, a message come over the base’s PA system. More than 70 years later, Garrett can recall the bone-chilling words he heard that morning. “The guy said we were being attacked and it was not a drill!” he said.

Garrett was standing on the second deck of the St. Louis. Within minutes, the crew had scrambled to their assigned battle stations (general quarters).

Later Garrett and the rest of the crew learned that other seamen aboard the St. Louis had sighted Japanese planes approaching the base minutes before the alarm sounded.

At first the St. Louis with its 100,000-horsepower engines had no power. By the time the second wave of Japanese planes came in for attack, the ship had begun moving into the channel entrance for a strategic battle position.

“As the St. Louis began to back away, other battleships pulled out to allow us to get into place,” said Garrett. “At first it took a while as we were slow and heavy, but we were the first ship to leave the harbor.”

Earlier that year, the St. Louis, moored at Berth B-21 in the Navy Yard, had sailed west with other cruisers of the Battle Force, patrolling the waters of Wake Island, Midway, Guam and Manila.

It returned to Hawaii that fall and was at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard for upkeep.

As the St. Louis moved away from the harbor, its operable anti-aircraft guns were manned and fired on the Japanese attackers. A two-man Japanese sub fired two torpedoes on the ship, but they hit the reef and did no damage to the ship.

Incensed, the crew aboard the St. Louis searched two days for the Japanese seamen inside the subs. “We never found them,” said Garrett.

As members of the ship’s crew fired 5-inch guns at Japanese enemies, the crew realized the St. Louis, while sustaining minor bullet hits, was not a principal target for attack.

Eight battleships moored next to Ford Island, nicknamed ‘battleship row’, bore the brunt of the Japanese assault. They were the USS Arizona, USS California, USS Maryland, USS Nevada, USS Oklahoma, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee, and USS West Virginia.

 Within minutes, the Japanese aircraft had sunk or heavily damaged six of the eight ships. “I could see survivors who had been aboard the damaged ships swimming to shore,” said Garrett.

The St. Louis continued out to sea where she joined the USS Detroit and Phoenix, both of which joined Garrett’s crew in searching the waters around Pearl Harbor. “We wanted to find the Japanese naval fleet,” said Garrett. After searching three days, the St. Louis’ crew was unable to locate any part of the Japanese strike force.

The ships and their frustrated crews returned to Pearl Harbor on December 10. In the days following the St. Louis escorted transports carrying casualties to San Francisco.

Garrett had never dreamed of such dramatic action when he dropped out of high school in 1939 at age 17 in northern Indiana to enlist in the US Navy. “I joined because my cousin was in the Navy and he thought I’d like it,” he said.

By 1941 he was serving aboard the USS St. Louis stationed at an island in the Pacific he had never heard of prior to joining the Navy — Pearl Harbor.

“It was a two-ocean war,” Garrett said. “At the beginning of the war our naval fleet was too small to accommodate the demands. Those in charge decided to fight Europe first. We tried to make the Japanese think we were all over the Pacific when in reality we had few ships there.”

The St. Louis was involved in other battles during the war, including the Battle of Dutch Harbor in June 1942. Fought on Amaknak Island in Unalaska, Alaska, it was one of the few sites on American territory, besides the attack on Pearl Harbor, to be bombed by the Japanese during World War II.

In mid-1942 the crew sailed to the Solomon Islands and fought a ferocious battle on the island of Guadalcanal that waged until 1943. “The Japanese brought ships in through the night,” said Garrett. “We had seven ships as part of a convoy. The USS Helena was our sister ship.”

USS Helena (CL-50), a light cruiser, was damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbor. She continued to fight in several battles in the Pacific War before being sunk by three surface-fired torpedoes at the Battle of Kula Gulf in 1943. Garrett recalled the sinking.

“When we contacted the crew of the Helena, we got no answer,” he said. “We shone the spotlight in her direction and saw the bow had been struck. We saw the ‘50’ and knew it was Helena. We found out later torpedoes had gotten it.”

In fall 1942 the St. Louis sailed to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska which was still a territory. The enemy had overtaken the island of Attu in June 1942 but American Navy won it back after a two-week battle in May 1943.

In July 1944, Garrett was on the St. Louis as it patrolled near Surigao Strait and was attacked by kamikazes. The Japanese planes bombed and rammed into the ship, causing it to list to port. By the time the cruiser was back on an even keel with all major fires out, dozens of crewmen were wounded, killed, or missing.

The crew managed to sail to Mare Island Navy Yard in San Francisco for repairs. They thought they would have a couple of weeks to wait for the ship’s new bow to be built. Half of the crew got a 10-day leave and the other half was scheduled to go after the first group returned.

Garrett was selected with the first half. “I took a train to Chicago, then Fort Wayne for a visit home,” he said. “It took 2.5 days to go each way so I had five days at home.”

By the time he returned, the bow was in place and the ship was ready to go. The other half of the ship’s personnel was forced to forgo their leave.

By the time the war ended, the St. Louis had participated in 11 sea battles. “Our nickname was ‘Lucky Lou’,” he said. Even Tokyo Rose, the infamous Japanese propagandist who gave radio talks designed to deaden the morale of Allied troops, talked about the St. Louis. “She said the St. Louis had been sunk three times,” said Garrett, who only returned to the US once during his four years of military service.

Another interesting experience happened to Garrett prior to his leaving the ship. A PT (Patrol Torpedo) boat approached the side of the St. Louis. “It was protocol for the boat’s officer to approach the quarter deck to ask permission to come aboard,” said Garrett. “He asked to see Lieutenant White and an orderly took him to Lieutenant White’s state room.”

After the visit concluded, the PT officer asked Garrett and others aboard the St. Louis if they’d like to ride in the PT boat. “I had always wanted to ride in one so I got permission,” said Garrett. “We rode for 30 minutes and went about 60 miles per hour. It was fun.”

Garrett never forgot the PT boat or its number – 109. The number would later become famous as would its commander – future US President John F. Kennedy. As a Lieutenant in the US Navy in August 1943, Kennedy commandeered his boat’s crew through a hazardous rescue after their boat was attacked by a Japanese destroyer.

After the war, Garrett worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. He retired in 1984. A grandson has served in the Air Force. Garrett has participated in Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana.

In the 1980s Garrett and others tried to save the St. Louis from the scrap yard to no avail. Today, all that’s left of the ship, which traveled a quarter of a million miles around the world and fired 38,000 rounds of ammunition, is its wheel which hangs in a museum in the city of St. Louis, Missouri.

The End

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WWII Seaman Al LeFevra Served Aboard USS Gemsbok in South Pacific

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“From everyday small feats to undeniably heroic efforts, the accomplishments and achievements of America’s Navy are vast and significant. Since its birth on October 13, 1775, the Navy has been involved with more than ten major wars and countless battles in the effort to bring security, democracy and prosperity to the American people and to the international community.” from US Navy Ball website.

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I didn’t know sailors could wear facial hair until my interview with Al LeFevra. When he showed me a photo of himself dancing in a hula skirt and wearing a beard, I could hardly believe my eyes! Here is Al’s story as published in the News-Sentinel on Oct 12, 2015. All of these photo materials are printed with permission from the newspaper and the veteran.

 

They were provided by Al LeFevra from his collection of war mementos.

HEADLINE: Dad’s advice, hula skirt, asbestos helped make Navy life bearable

Believing his son Al would soon be drafted during WWII, Rene LeFevra, a WWI veteran, shared information about his own time in the Army with his son. “He told me how he lived in fox holes, had little to eat and bathed rarely,” said Al. “He thought it would be an advantage for me to be in the Navy because I’d have good food and a clean place to sleep. That was all he needed to say!”

Al LeFevra was born in Woodburn in 1922. After graduating from Central High School in Fort Wayne in May 1942, he enlisted in the Navy in Indianapolis in November.

After completing basic training at Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago, he was sent to Treasure Island Naval Base in CA. LeFevra signed up for sea duty and was assigned to the USS Gemsbok (means ‘African antelope’).

The Gemsbok, which held a crew of approximately 100, was a supply ship converted to a tanker. “The conversion was to fool the Japanese,” he said. “During combat, they dropped bombs on tankers to destroy fuel. Many of our tankers carrying oil were getting sunk. Regular fuel ships measured approximately 900 feet in length and held about 100,000 barrels of fuel. Supply ships were half that length and carried half the fuel.”

On January 12, 1944, LeFevra’s ship received orders to head for Hawaii and then the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific. There they would join the US fighting fleet under the Vice Admiral William Halsey.

Although a destroyer escort surrounded the Gemsbok for protection, LeFevra was not afraid of the enemy. He had more to deal with. “The water between the US and Hawaii was rough so many of us were seasick,” he said. Crackers helped LeFevra’s stomach.

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At Pearl Harbor LeFevra saw sunken ships from Japan’s December 7, 1941, invasion. He also grew a beard, which was allowed in the Navy, and paraded in a hula skirt he purchased when not on watch. Al still has this skirt today and uses it during talks at schools about the war. He said kids love it! Please excuse the photo’s quality which has deteriorated over the years.

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Notice how this bill is stamped ‘Hawaii’ on the right. It was issued by the US government after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

At the Marshall Islands the crew had permission to go ashore. It was LeFevra’s first experience on a beach. “Other sailors from battleships, airplane carriers, destroyers and escorts had landed and cleared the area of Japanese soldiers,” he said.

Two months later the crew of the Gemsbok received orders to go to the island of Eniwetok. It was also deserted and served as the crew’s home base. “During our six months at Eniwetok, we furnished oil for fighting ships from Mariana, Majuro and Kwajalein islands,” said LeFevra.

A passing British ship appreciated when the crew of the Gemsbok shared fuel and food. One sailor pointed out his ship’s ‘head’ (toilet). “It overhung the water off the fantail (stern/back) of the ship,” said LeFevra. “It looked like an outhouse. I suppose that way they didn’t require a flushing system.”

The chief of the Gemsbok’s engine room was transferred and LeFevra tested for the position of water tender first class petty officer. He passed the exam and being the next highest sailor on board to a chief, LeFevra became acting chief of the fire and engine room.

He no longer had to stand watch and could eat in the chow room separate from the rest of the crew, but he had to be available in case of emergency. “I had to see all of the men under me did their job and report to the executive officer daily,” he said.

Fresh water was in short supply until LeFevra devised a solution. The Navy had a unit that processed salt water into drinkable water, though the water tasted salty. LeFevra took loose asbestos, mixed it with water and pressed it around a jug. After the solution dried, it formed an insulation. “We poured cold water from our ship into it and it stayed fairly cool with no salty aftertaste. When others found out about my water, they drank all of it. I made no more fresh water!”

In their spare time the sailors played sports. LeFevra was good at boxing, having learned it in high school. “When other sailors challenged me, we didn’t try to knock the other out, but had fun,” he said. “No one came out of it too bruised.”

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Al LeFevra served on the USS Gemsbok during WWII.

In July 1944 the crew received orders to head for Saipan and Tinian. “As we anchored off Saipan, we saw fighting on Tinian four miles away as Japanese soldiers hid in caves.” The Marines bulldozed rocks and tons of dirt to fill in caves. When no one wanted a Japanese rifle that had been found, LeFevra claimed it. “I was told not to load it with our ammunition because our ammunition was too powerful for that gun,” he said.

A new officer came on board who had seen much action in fighting. When planes flew over the Gemsbok, he hit the deck. “I learned this officer had seen stress conditions,” said LeFevra. Two weeks later the officer was transferred to a hospital in Hawaii.

In January 1945 the crew received word that Admiral Chester Nimitz was the new commander of the fleet. In the following days, B29 bombers flew toward Tinian, which was now secured and provided air support for B29s. “We didn’t know until much later that the atomic bomb used to bomb Nagasaki and Hiroshima called Little Boy was unloaded there in July 1945,” said LeFevra.

Soon the Philippines were liberated and the Gemsbok sailed to Leyte Gulf and was there with many other ships in September 1945 when the war finally ended.

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“Ships shot flares into the air like a Fourth of July celebration,” said LeFevra. When the celebration was over, the Gemsbok headed to Guam but ran into a hurricane that lasted three days and four nights. No one was allowed on deck. “Surprisingly, I didn’t get seasick, probably due to the excitement,” said LeFevra. Eating utensils had disappeared so the sailors ate sandwiches for four days.

At Kure Bay the crew went ashore to see the destruction to the city from the Allies’ recent bombing. “Everything was destroyed, so it was surprising how friendly the people were,” said LeFevra.

After the treaty of surrender was signed by the Japanese emperor and the Allies, the Gemsbok sailed for Hawaii. LeFevra had earned enough points to be discharged, but when his skipper asked him to stay aboard until the ship sailed to Alabama where it would be decommissioned, he agreed.

They sailed through the Panama Canal, then through the Gulf of Mexico to Mobile. On April 30, 1946, the sailors of the USS Gemsbok were called to order on deck under the US flag and the ship’s pennant. Each US Navy ship flies a pennant at the top of the US flag.

As they stood at attention and saluted, the US flag was lowered. The pennant was twisted, so LeFevra climbed a rope 12 feet to retrieve it.

The Captain presented it to him. “I was the only original sailor remaining from the ship’s commissioning,” said LeFevra. “He said I was one of the most honest men who had ever worked for him and gave me a letter of commendation.” LeFevra still has the pennant today.

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LeFevra takes his military mementos to schools for talks to students about his part in WWII.

When LeFevra was discharged, he held the rank of First Class Water Tender earning $100/month. He took home his Japanese rifle, camera, and ship’s log (diary) among other items.

After arriving in Fort Wayne, LeFevra was thrilled to see his brother Don, who had enlisted in the Navy with parental permission at age 16, to serve aboard a submarine tender, USS Prairie.

Al LeFevra worked at General Electric as a sand blaster. Adept at math, he attended Purdue University in Fort Wayne for drafting and later worked as a Senior Designer at BAE in Fort Wayne. He retired in 1987.

In 1947 LeFevra married Betty Elizabeth Willey from Marion. She and a son are deceased.

In 2013 LeFevra accompanied the Honor Flight for Northeast Indiana to Washington DC. “I feel everything went good for me while I was in the Navy,” he said.  “People from our church wrote to us and people sent cookies. We put them on the table and shared them. That meant a lot to us. We didn’t have much time to be homesick. Dad was right.”

The End

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More than two dozen stories like these are available in my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans. It features stories based on personal interviews from men/women in nearly every branch about their military service.

This would make a unique gift for a history, military lover or a person who loves America! It is written in easy-to-understand language so non-military people can understand, include students in middle/ high school. It would be a great addition to a school library.

The book can be purchased at this Amazon link.

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

 

Jeannette & Bruce Kenline Serving God and Country

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This story is the result of interviews with a couple I met while working at a retirement home. They were the first couple I had met who had both served in the military. I admire them both.  I didn’t have photos of them in uniform but the helmet is pretty awesome!

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Jeannette and Bruce Kenline spent their lives in service, first as American soldiers, then ministering in churches.

A native of South Bend, Jeannette was a student at Indiana University for two years, majoring in business, when she enlisted as a Navy WAVES in 1944. (WAVES stands for “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service”)

According to the Naval Historical Center, 27,000 women were recruited as WAVES within the first year of the war. By the end of the war, 80,000 WAVES were serving the US.

“You had to be 20 years old to enlist as a WAVE,” said Jeannette. Why did she want to join the Navy? “I had flown in a friend’s plane a couple of times and thought it was great,” she said. At that time the Army Air Corps, later known as the Air Force, was still in its infancy.

Unfortunately, Jeannette’s dreams of going up in a Navy plane didn’t materialize. She was stationed first at a base in Norman, Oklahoma, then at a naval station in Jacksonville, Florida, where she was assigned the duties of an Aviation Machinist Mate. As soon as she could, Jeannette transferred to an office job. “I discovered I didn’t like taking apart carburetors,” she said.

Bruce graduated from East Rockcreek High School in Markle in 1939. Following graduation, he enrolled at Indiana University as a pre-med major. When he enlisted in the Navy in 1942, his pharmaceutical training from college qualified him to serve as a medic.

Bruce participated in fighting at some of the fiercest battles of the war, including the Omaha Beach invasion at Normandy.

Between June 1940 and May 1945, Normandy was part of the German occupied zone of France. During the War, the Allies coordinated a massive build-up of troops and supplies to support a large-scale invasion of Normandy. This included amphibious landings by troops on Landing Ship Tanks (LST). “The front end extended into the water, and then dropped open, allowing soldiers easy access to the beach,” said Bruce, who rode on an LST.

His job as a medic was to mend wounded soldiers. It was a gruesome task with Germans dug into fortified locations above the beaches and shooting steadily at the Allied forces. “Bruce saw a man running without legs as they portrayed in the movie Saving Private Ryan,” said Jeannette.

Bruce survived Normandy only to be shot by a sniper at a later assignment in Okinawa. As a result of his injury, Bruce was sent home. During one of his stops to the island of Guam, he and other wounded Allied soldiers heard about the US dropping of the atom bomb on Japan in August 1945.

It was a momentous occasion for the battle-weary soldiers. “We knew the US had been working on an atom bomb,” said Bruce. “We hoped the war would end soon.”

Back in the US and honorably discharged from military service, Bruce returned to Indiana University where he met Jeannette who had been discharged in 1946. They married in 1947.

After graduating from IU with a business degree, Jeannette obtained her teaching license from the University of St Francis in Ft Wayne, later earning a Masters degree in Education from the same institution. Jeannette taught business and social studies classes at Norwell High School.

Bruce didn’t finish his pre-med degree, but began working with his father in the Ft Wayne area in a home decorating business. Following a trip to Africa 1965 with Dr. LeRoy Kinzer of the Markle Medical Center and Reverend Ernie Shoemaker, Bruce changed his vocation to that of a minister. He enrolled as a student at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, and obtained his license to preach in 1970.

Bruce began preaching at the Tocsin United Methodist Church and later Greentown, IN.

Over the course of their lives the Kenlines traveled to China and Russia and raised three sons. In summing up her life in service to God and country Jeannette said, “It is full of amazing grace!”

Note: Jeannette and Bruce Kenline died in 2011 in May and November, respectively.

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Veteran’s Day–Opportunity to Recognize Military Service People

This week we have the official opportunity to recognize military service people! Veteran’s Day will be celebrated on Wed, November 11. Remember to thank a veteran!

My wonderful husband John retired after 21 years of serving in the  Air Force and Air National Guard. We're proud of him!

My wonderful husband John retired after 21 years of serving in the Air Force and Air National Guard. We’re proud of him!

On a personal note, my husband will celebrate his birthday on November 10. He is retired with 21 years of service in the Air Force, Grissom Air Reserve Base  in Peru, Indiana in Peru, Indiana and finally at the 122nd Fighter Wing at Fort Wayne Indiana

We are proud of him and the effort and commitment he has always had to our nation’s security. Happy birthday, John!

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Marine poster

November 10 is also the birthday of the US Marine Corps. You can read a nice blog post about the Marines at GP Cox’s Pacific Paratrooper blog. I subscribe to this informative and well put-together blog which frequently sends out information about our nation’s vets and their experiences.

Carl Mankey earned two Purple Hearts while fighting in World War II.

Carl Mankey earned two Purple Hearts while fighting in World War II.

In honor of the Marines I’ve included an excerpt of the story from the sole Marine in my book—Carl Mankey.

“On June 22, 1944, Marine Private First Class Carl Mankey led 20 men from his squadron up a mountain in Saipan in the Mariana Islands. Mankey’s goal was to destroy a Japanese machine gun nest that had fired for hours on Allied troops.

Disregarding heavy fire from the enemy, Mankey moved into the open to shoot at the nest with his rifle, tthrowing grenades and hoping to disrupt the firing. Failing to hit the target, Mankey refused to give up. He returned to the machine gun nest, repeating his brave actions. This time he completely destroyed it.”

The story goes on to relate this Marine’s being awarded two Purple Hearts for valor in service in World War II.

This story is one of 28 in my book which is available for $20 at this site and Amazon. It would make a great Christmas gift for military/history lover.

front aud

This season I’m speaking at several locales about my World War II book and project of interviewing more than 100 (now 103 to be precise) vets from that era.

Last week the Fort Wayne History Center hosted a lecture featuring my book. A crowd of 60 people listened attentively and later expressed support of the subject.

Roger Myers served as a bombardier during WWII.

Roger Myers served as a bombardier during WWII.

Pelfrey Wyall K

I was thrilled to see two of the vets from my book in the audience—Roger Myers (Army Air Corps) and Marty Wyall (WASP).

Thanks to the staff of the Fort Wayne History Center and Director Todd Pelfrey for allowing me to have this unique opportunity!

John and I also participated in the Fort Wayne (IN) Veteran’s Day parade. He rode in the 122nd’s nice bus. I walked with the Blue Star Mothers—women whose children are or have been in the military.

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Finally, these vets are among those I’ve interviewed who have November birthdays. Some have passed on– Richard Willey, Wallace Avey, Richard Block. We remember them all for their courage and selflessness.

Wallace Avey-Army

Wallace Avey-Army

Richard Block-Navy

Richard Block-Navy

Robert Kiester - Army Air Corps

Robert Kiester – Army Air Corps

Wayne Sauers- Army

Wayne Sauers- Army

Albert Silk-Army

Albert Silk-Army

Richard Willey-Army

Richard Willey-Army

If you know a veteran, please make an effort to honor them on Veteran’s Day, Christmas, their birthdays, any day.