We’re Headed to Europe for WWII Tour

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Hopefully our trip to Europe will be easier than for these troops on the USS Wakefield!

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My husband and I have decided to complete a huge item on our combined Bucket List of Things to do Together– Take a tour of Europe, based on World War II events.

Yes, there are actual groups who go to Europe just to learn more about what happened during WWII. We’re going with World War II Tours of Europe (worldwar2toursofeurope.com). Our itinerary includes visiting four countries—Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and France. We’ll visit Dachau, Paris, Munich, Eagles’ Nest (Hitler’s retreat), Normandy and others.

With my research and writing about World War II in recent as the result of 160+ interviews with World War II vets, combined with my husband’s lifelong interest in the subject (he knows 10 times more than I do!), we should find it all pretty interesting.

We’re months away and yet it is now all we talk about!

I plan to take thousands of photos and put many of them into a PowerPoint presentation for talks after the tour in June (not all of them of course!).

If you’d like me to talk with your group about our 12-day tour, please contact me. I’m already booking for Veteran’s Day so plan early.

It should be a great presentation with shots of re-enactors on Omaha Beach on D-Day, Paris, a concentration camp, and more!

I’ll post more about the trip in upcoming weeks AND as a bonus, I’ll include snippets of stories from my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans, that pertain to places we’ll visit.

This is from Gene Dettmer who fought with the US Army at Utah Beach on D-Day:

 

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“I saw men who had been blown up,” said Fort Wayne native Eugene Dettmer. “If I had been on the first wave that landed on Utah Beach, I would have been killed.”

Dettmer was part of the landing of Allied soldiers on the three-mile stretch of French land that comprised the westernmost flank of Normandy on June 6, 1944. The invasion’s code name was Operation Overlord. The battle was more commonly known as D-Day.

Dettmer was attached to the Third Army with the 468th AAA Battery C. He was assigned to drive jeeps for officers and half-track 468s, armored anti-aircraft vehicles used heavily by U.S. troops during the war. “Dad had taught me basic auto mechanics so that gave me skills in that area,” he said.

In March 1944 Dettmer and thousands of other young American soldiers had disembarked ships from the US to Scotland, then France. Only told they should prepare for battle, little could they imagine they would be involved in one of the deadliest battles in the history of the world.

Dettmer was one of 20,000 soldiers who landed on Utah Beach on June 18, 1944. An estimated 1,700 motorized vehicles, including half-tracks, were used to fight that day. P51 and P47 aircraft seized beach exits, captured key transportation and communication points and blocked German counterattacks. C47 planes carried wounded soldiers to safety.

American troops were not the only soldiers at Normandy. “British forces shot their cannons and their pilots helped with the airborne assault,” said Dettmer.

Although surrounded by violence and destruction, Allied casualties numbered fewer there (300) than those on nearby Omaha Beach (5,000). “Our timing was off by a day due to weather,” said Dettmer. “That may have confused the Germans, but they still put up a good fight.”

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Please consider purchasing a copy of my book for $15.00. It contains 28 stories of men/women who served at home and abroad from 1941-1945 in American military forces. It’s easy to understand and full of quotes during interviews I did with vets in their homes. You can purchase it at this site or at Amazon for $20.00 (we dropped the price here to thank you for visiting this site!).

Remember to thank a vet today for his/her military service!

Au revoir!

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