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.

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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!

 

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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!

WWII Soldier Pens Memories of Ohrdruf’s Liberation

I regret missing the opportunity to post on Holocaust Remembrance Day, observed around the world on April 24, 2017. Hopefully, this special essay written by a soldier who was one of the first to liberate Ohrdruf, one of the first death camps discovered in Germany, will make up for the lateness.

I met Edward Thomas Bradley a few years ago. It was a privilege to talk with him, although the story was sorrowful. I wrote the story of his military career at the beginning but his essay at the end is worth reading in its entirety. Mr. Bradley is now deceased.

Please pass on his story in this post to teachers, parents, students who need to be aware of what can happen when a government is out of control. God bless America!

**

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“The camp smelled like death,” said Ed Bradley of Fort Wayne.

He was part General Patton’s Third Army marching with the 89th Infantry division during World War II. In April 1945 he was part of a combat group that was the first to drive Sherman tanks through the locked gates of a concentration camp at Ohrdruf, Germany.

Unfortunately, Bradley’s group was too late to save thousands of slave laborers, civilians and most German women whom the Germans had starved ill-used. “We were dismayed to see heaps of emaciated dead bodies, some shot and others just charred remains,” he said. “We was told most of the surviving women had some type of venereal disease.”

The Allied medical personnel helped the sick as much as they could.

Born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, in 1925, Bradley graduated from Altoona Catholic High School in 1943 and was drafted into the United States Army in February 1944.

Bradley completed 17 weeks of basic training at Camp Wheeler, GA, before being assigned to the 89th division stationed at Camp Butner in NC.

In December 1944 Private first class Bradley and other soldiers debarked from Camp Miles Standish in Boston across the Atlantic. “We were never told where we were going,” he said. “We assumed the   destination was England.”

Bradley’s ship landed at Le Havre, France, in January 1945. A fierce battle that became known as the Battle of the Bulge had begun there on December 16, 1944. It acquired that name because when Hitler ordered a massive attack against American forces, it created a bulge in the Allied front line.

A foot of snow lay on the beach. “We held rifles over our heads to keep them dry,” said Bradley.

The Americans GI’s (‘government issue’) stayed at Camp Lucky Strike, a military tent city named after a cigarette company.

They then discovered to their horror the camp at Ohrdruf.

After liberating Ohrdruf, Bradley’s unit was involved in a battle with the Germans in Luxembourg at the Moselle River. Though often scared, Bradley refused to give in to his fear. The end of the war was in sight.

“The Germans’ Tiger 88-millimeter cannons were superior to that of any other nations’ artillery,” he said. “But their tanks needed much fuel and they were running low. Plus we had more tanks in number.”

The war in Europe ended in May 1945. Not all of the five million American troops could return home right away. Bradley was assigned as a military policeman guarding WAC nurses dormitory in England.

Bradley was discharged May 19, 1946. He returned to Altoona, where he earned a degree in economics at Pennsylvania State University. He lived with his Wife Pauline and three sons in Bedford, OH, for 32 years, while working at Ford Motor Company for 32 years. He is now deceased.

Fifty years after the gruesome discovery of Ohrdruf, Bradley wrote an essay about his perception of that day and how it affected his life.

Note: The details listed here can be upsetting. Please read with caution.

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“Throughout each person’s life there may be an experience or incident that is so overwhelming, so momentous, that it is forever indelibly impressed in our memory.

Such was an experience for me during World War II while serving as an infantry soldier in General Patton’s Third Army marching and fighting through Central Germany with the 89th infantry division.

Ohrdruf was the name of a small town approximately 15 miles south of the ancient city of Gotha. We found out later that five months prior to our arrival it had been a Germany OCS training camp.

Then it was closed and it became a camp for slave laborers mostly from Eastern Europe.

As our tanks and infantry approached this camp, we had no idea what to expect.

We were prepared for fighting enemy soldiers. But German soldiers had abandoned the camp because they heard we Americans were near and fast approaching.

I was among the first American soldiers to enter this camp, being part of a combat team approaching this unknown objective in super readiness prepared for the worst.

After a brief search of the area, it was determined there were no German soldiers in the area but still we had to make an in-depth search.

After moving along a short distance, I found myself in sort of a courtyard. To my right was a heap of riddled bodies, the mortal remains of perhaps 30 inmates who apparently had been machine-gunned shortly before our arrival by the German army after they knew the American army was closely approaching.

All of the inmates were lying there just as they fell, emaciated, starved, barely skin and bones. Among them was an American Air Force Lieutenant who had been wounded but had been callously shot while lying on a stretcher.

I moved forward past some loathsome buildings down a path to an open shed. Inside was a heap of 40 bodies, stripped of all clothing, piled up like logs—all dead having been massacred and then covered with chlorinated lime with a terrible stench emanating from the pile.

These deaths were reportedly the result of beatings with a shovel- 115 strokes on the naked body which was standard punishment for minor infractions of the rules. Naturally nobody ever survived these beatings.

I entered a building that turned out to be a crematory– huge steel doors at each end with neat little tracks entering from each direction so the victims could be rolled in and out.

I moved out of the crematory building and up the roadway some distance where I approached a ditch probably 10 x 20 feet with charred logs.

As I got closer, I realized human remains were mixed in with the charred logs.

Visible were victims’ heads, backbones, ribs, legs, etc, all blackened and charred.

Further down the road, I encountered a huge pit where reportedly 1000s of bodies were buried. Later, estimates numbered around 9,000 bodies were buried in this common pit. These were not soldiers but non-combatant civilian slave laborers.

At this point my company was recalled to the front gate area where we assembled and exited this ghastly horrible place to continue our drive through Germany. All of us were stunned in disbelief as to the horror we had just witnessed. We left the sorting out to near echelon troops.

The next day it was reported that General Eisenhower, General Bradley, General Patton and all of their staffs visited this camp and viewed these atrocities. General Patton’s reaction to what he viewed was reportedly to run behind one of the buildings and violently throw up.

Eisenhower was to have said that it was the first time in his life that he was actually ashamed that his ancestry was Germany.

Army photographers took photos as evidence to the world of the horrors that took place behind these fences. Copies of these photos were promptly forwarded to both the US and Britain’s top government officials.

This camp at Ohrdruf — this death, or killing, camp –was the first camp to be liberated that provided indisputable factual evidence of what was actually happening in these German so-called labor camps.

It proved to be just the tip of the iceberg as shortly many other and larger death camps would be liberated, including Dachau, Auschwitz.

Before this experience, I thought this type of barbarism happened only in history under the likes of Attila the Hun. Maybe because I have some German blood in my ancestry I thought we were fighting an enemy with some resemblance to Roman civilization which might remotely be compared to ours.

Those feelings were destroyed completely that day.

Probably a relative minority of the German people knew about it or had any connection with this monstrosity. However, the people as a whole must bear the blame for allowing such fiends to rule their nation.

Before the experiences of this day I had some personal reservations and questions about what we were really fighting for in that war.

That day I received the answer.

It gave me increased motivation to get that horrible war over with.

I also lost any compassion I might have had for the German soldiers.

It has now been 50 years since these events occurred. In some people’s minds the German Holocaust never took place. Some others are working to distort the facts by downplaying its magnitude.

I want my children, grandchildren and any other person who reads this narrative to know that it actually did occur in all its horror as I was a firsthand witness to this hideous, barbaric experience in this ugly page of human history.

This was Germany in 1945. Welcome to Hell.”

Edward Bradley

February 1995

**

Please remember to thank a veteran today for his/her military service. We have no idea what they go through, but we need to assure them we appreciate it.

WWII Soldier Fought Japanese; Liberated Prisoners

 

Paul Rider of Fort Wayne is an interviewer’s dream. He could recite his story during World War II in clear fashion, had a scrapbook full of memories, a diary and many photos – and a story that had a peaceful resolution decades after the war. Remember to thank a veteran today for his/her service to our country!

Listen to a 1-min telling by Rider about liberating internees at University of St. Tomas in Manila here.

**

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In February 1944 Paul Rider of Fort Wayne, IN, was part of the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division preparing to leave Australia for an invasion of New Guinea. “New Guinea was a final staging area for the Admiralty Island invasion,” said Rider.

When the invasion began a few weeks later, the Allies nearly didn’t get a foothold according to Rider. “The Japanese almost pushed us off the first night,” he said. “Our 75-mm Howitzer was not too powerful.”

Rider was born in 1920 in Scott, OH, but moved with his family to Fort Wayne when he was four years old. Rider graduated from Southside High School in 1938.

Upon being drafted into the Army in March 1942, Rider was sent to Fort Sill in OK for basic training. He received training of a different sort at Fort Bliss near El Paso, TX when he was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division, A Battery, 82nd Field Artillery.

As the name implies, the cavalry division was comprised of horses. Rider and other soldiers selected for the division were expected to ride them. The problem was, they didn’t know how to ride and there were no official lessons. “I had never been on a horse,” said Rider. “The Army chose you to be in the cavalry if you could stand up. We just got on the horse and tried to manage.”

Horses and soldiers participated in Louisiana Maneuvers, a series of U.S. Army exercises. “Two horses pulled a 75-mm Howitzer, while four horses pulled the Howitzer with the additional weight of ammunition,” he said.

In the hot, sticky environment Rider and other soldiers learned the horses’ needs came first. “After a day of riding, we wanted to rest but couldn’t because we had to care for our horses,” he said. They had to take off the saddle, comb, feed and water the animals, a process that usually took about an hour. The tired soldiers slept on pine needles and ticks.

Once his commander discovered he could type, Rider was transferred to an office job. Later, he transferred to Supply where he became Supply Sergeant for his battery of 250 men.

In July 1943 Rider’s division zigzagged unescorted for 25 days on the USS George Washington through waters where Japanese submarines were known to patrol.

After securing it and other Admiralty Islands in mid-May 1944, the Allies constructed a major air and naval base which became an integral launching point for campaigns in the Pacific.

Rider was also part of a flying column (small, military land unit capable of moving quickly) of 700 soldiers that battled first in Leyte, then Luzon in the Philippines. “We landed on the north shore and were under attack, but carried M1 carbines and kept moving,” he said.

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In February 1945 Rider and others in the U.S. Army helped to liberate Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila. Located on the campus of the University of Santo Tomas, it was the largest of several camps in the Philippines in which the Japanese had interned enemy civilians, many American, beginning January 1942.

More than 3,000 internees suffered from poor living conditions and lack of food, including children. Many internees were near death. “The internees looked like a bunch of bones moving around,” said Rider. “It was a sad situation.”

In August 1945 Rider’s division was preparing to head to Japan for a major invasion when they heard about the dropping of a bomb on Hiroshima. The news of Japan’s surrender was exciting and the First Cavalry boarded the USS Talladega to sail for Yokohama. They arrived in time to witness the signing of the surrender on September 2, 1945, a date that would become known as ‘VJ Day’ (Victory in Japan). “Our ship moved next to the USS Missouri where the signing of the surrender took place,” he said. “I could see the Japanese officials with their top hats.”

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Master Sergeant Rider remained in Yokohama with other Allied troops until September 25 to maintain order. Then, due to his length of time in service and participation in battles, he sailed home on the Talladega. He was discharged on October 19, 1945.

Rider worked most of his life in the banking industry. He and his wife Patricia are parents to seven children. “I was glad to do what I could to serve our country,” he said.

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An unusual story that would not be resolved for more than 30 years had begun during the war when Rider and two other soldiers patrolled the jungle on Manus Island. They didn’t find the enemy, but Rider discovered something else — a case lying on the ground. It contained a Japanese flag with writing on it. Rider he suspected it had been dropped by a Japanese soldier and shipped it home as a souvenir.

In 1978 Rider was at a Lions Club meeting that hosted Japanese Lions Club members. He took the flag and a female Japanese guest read names on it. “She said the flag had probably been signed by members of a particular unit,” he said.

With Rider’s permission the Japanese visitor took information printed on the flag back to Japan and upon doing research, found the flag’s original owner who was still alive. Rider mailed the flag to him and the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel published a photo and story about the incident in March 4, 1978.

 

 

Marine felt “lucky to make it out alive” from Vietnam, Cuban Missile Crisis

At this site I mostly post stories I’ve written from interviews with World War II vets. Many people think those are the only vets I interview. Due to my association with another military-related publication, I have interviewed dozens of vets of all eras/branches, including Korean War, Vietnam War, post-911 and everything in between.

This publication is issued three times a year with 10 stories of mine in each. I’m always seeking vets to interview. If you are a veteran who would like to tell me your story, please contact me using the form at this site. I believe every veteran has a story that is part of our national heritage and deserves to be recorded.

This is a story I wrote about a Marine—I’ve only interviewed a handle from this branch. Not sure why as I’m interested in everything they do. If you have a request for a certain military era/ branch, let me know. I’ll post non-WWII stories occasionally.

Thanks to every veteran from my family for your service to our country!

**

For the 13 months of his tour of duty in Vietnam, R.D. ‘Skip’ Esmond of Bluffton, Indiana, helped maintain American forces with the American Marine Corps Combat Base at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). North Vietnamese soldiers camped along the other edge of the demilitarized zone.

The DMZ served as an unofficial dividing line between North and South Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, it separated northern and southern Vietnamese territories.

“The enemy hit us with a lot of mortars,” he said. “Artillery and rockets blew up a lot. I felt lucky to make it out alive.”

Esmond was born in 1931. After graduating from Petroleum High School in 1949, he enlisted in the US Marine Corps.

Esmond was part of a patriotic family. His father, Richard James Esmond, had been a soldier in the Army after WWI, while other relatives served in World War II.

Esmond was sent to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, SC, for basic training. “I was rated a Sharpshooter with the rifle and Expert with the .45 pistol,” he said. He also learned to shoot an M1 Garand, though he had some problems with his drill instructor. “He liked to punch me,” he said.

At the airfield at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock, North Carolina, Esmond was taught how to be an aircraft mechanic. “We worked on F4’s, F9s, and F2s,” he said. In 1952 Esmond transferred to a duty station in Erie, Pennsylvania, for independent duties.

Staff Sergeant Esmond could then have transferred to Miami, but he had met the woman who would become his wife. Skip and Mary married in 1953.

The Marines kept Skip Esmond in Erie until 1956 when he was transferred to the 3rd Engineer Battalion in Okinawa. By then, the Esmonds were parents to a baby son, so Mary and Baby Tim stayed in Erie close to her family. “During this time, I was paid $147 a month and Mary received $96 each month,” he said.

Esmond stayed in Okinawa with no leave through November 1957. In early 1958 he was transferred to Jacksonville, FL, where he served as an administrative chief in the squadron office until 1960.

At Camp Lejuene, today referred to as Marine Corps Base Camp, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, Esmond joined the 2nd Marines in the Infantry. In 1962 Esmond saw more than the US when he participated in a six-month Mediterranean cruise.

While aboard ship in October of that year, Esmond and other sailors were made aware of events happening around the world surrounding President Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis.

An American spy plane had secretly discovered nuclear missile sites being built by the Soviet Union on the island of Cuba, 90 miles south of the US.

After discussions with political advisors, Kennedy placed a blockade of ships around Cuba, effectively preventing the Soviets from bringing in more military supplies. He also demanded the removal of missiles on the island and the destruction of the sites.

For 13 days the world waited to see how Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev would respond to the American aggression. Thankfully, he agreed to dismantle the weapon sites and the US agreed not to invade Cuba.

It was a tense time in our nation’s history, but Esmond said he was not scared. “Mary was nervous, but she knew where I was,” he said.

Esmond left Marine Head Quarters to accept a transfer in Washington DC where he worked with joints chief of staff in Intelligence. During this time, Esmond was promoted to gunny sergeant, then received a commission to 2nd Lieutenant.

Esmond spent three years in the nation’s capital before receiving orders to go to Vietnam. Esmond joined the 4th Battalion, 12th Marine Artillery at the DMZ at Dong Ha.

Esmond’s last tour was at Camp Smith in HI as a casualty reporting officer. His family, which now included two sons, joined him until May 1970 when Skip Esmond, who had been promoted to Captain, chose to leave the marines.

“I had put in 21 years and done well with promotions,” he said. “But the boys were starting high school and Mary and I wanted them to be in a stable environment.”

The Esmonds moved to his hometown of Bluffton and purchased a home where they continue to live. Skip worked for city utilities for 43 years, retiring as manager in 2013. Son Tim graduated from Bluffton High School in 1974, while another son Hank graduated from the school in 1976.

Today, Skip Esmond is thankful for his adventurous life as a Marine. “I saw a lot of the world, including the Asia, Europe, Hawaii, and countries we visited on our Mediterranean cruise,” he said. “I loved it and thought I had it made. I think everyone should join the Marines because they are so well trained.”

The End

 

Cutline: First Lieutenant Skip Esmond of Bluffton holds a photo taken of him in 1968 receiving a commendation medal for serving in the American military as a Marine. Esmond served from 1949-1970.

 

 

 

 

 

“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.

**

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

 

B-29 Gunner Flew 33 Missions; Met FDR

Homer Bates 1943

Homer Bates flew B-29s during WWII

In 1942, after enlisting with the Army Air Corps and testing high for skills needed to work with aircraft, Homer Bates of Markle, IN, was assigned to the 20th Air Force 58th Bomber Wing. His assigned duties would be manning a gun turret on a B29. As B29s were still in production, gunners practiced on B17 simulators since they had similar controls. When it came time to practice shooting, the gunners experienced a problem.

“Several of us were told to shoot painted ammo simultaneously at a banner flying behind a tow plane,” he said. “It served as a moving target and we were judged on our shooting abilities. At first the judges could not tell whose shots went where. So we were given ammo painted different colors. The judges could then tell by colors of holes which gunners needed more practice.”

His first mission over Japan took place June 1944. “For more than a year it was a steady routine of dropping bombs and encountering enemy fighters and heavy accurate flak,” he said. His longest mission to Nagoya lasted 18 hours. During the war, Bates flew 33 missions over Japan in B29s.

In February 1944 Bates’ crew was ordered to fly a B29 Typhoon McGoon III to Washington D.C. No reason was given for the special trip. Upon landing at Bolling Field, the crew commander was met by General Hap Arnold and his staff. Each of the crew members was greeted and asked to explain the aircraft so he could brief the president. The following morning the crew was completing their pre-flight check of equipment when they saw a limousine pull up beside the plane, along with an official-looking motorcade. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had arrived!

He and members of his family began questioning the crew about the aircraft. Anna Roosevelt Boettiger and her two teenaged children, Eleanor and Curtis, went into the nose section and asked questions of the crew. “It was obvious she was well versed about the plane,” said Bates.

The president remained in the vehicle but appeared pleased with the aircraft. “That was perhaps the only time the President ever saw a B29,” said Bates. Considering that the B29 project cost $3 billion and the A-bomb $2 billion, the president’s approval was a relief to the crew. The president ended the session by shaking hands with each crew member.

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Staff sergeant Bates was discharged November 2, 1945. For his bravery and contribution to the war effort he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and several other medals. In 1990 the Chinese Air Force recognized Bates’ efforts and sent him a certificate of appreciation.

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Military life had gotten into Bates’ blood. He joined the Indiana Air National Guard from 1954-1961. He re-joined the Air Force, spent a year in France during the Berlin Wall Crisis, then re-joined the Air National Guard full time until 1982, retiring as a Master Sergeant.

I was privileged to include Homer’s story in my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans. Homer is my husband’s uncle and in recent years we became good friends. Sadly, Uncle Homer passed away in Nov. 2016. We often thanked him for his service. As my husband and son have both served in the Air Force, they always had lots to talk about!