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!

WWII Army Soldier ‘Heard’ Radioactivity from Hiroshima Bomb

Bill Yaney was born on March 7, 1925. To honor his date of birth, I’m highlighting his World War II time of service in this post. I’m glad to say this nice man and his wife were friends of my grandparents when they all lived as neighbors in their country homes.

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For most soldiers of World War II the declaration of surrender by Japan in August 1945 signaled the end of their time of service. For Bill Yaney of Ossian it was the beginning of his military service.

Yaney graduated from Ossian High School (IN) in 1943. He was immediately drafted, but as he helped his father work the family farm, he received an agricultural deferment. As the war progressed, the need for replacement soldiers increased and in April 1945 Yaney was called to active duty.

By then Yaney was married. When he was sent to Camp Robinson at Little Rock, Arkansas, for basic training, his wife Betty, 18, followed. She and another Army wife rented rooms in a house so they could be close to their husbands who were required to stay at the base.

Assigned to the Infantry, Bill was in a field on bivouac (a military encampment exercise) in August 1945 when his company received word that the Japanese emperor had surrendered. “We were 18 miles from camp with 80-pound packs on our backs,” he said. “I was so excited I walked back to camp to celebrate.”

Yaney received a weekend pass but somehow got stuck with KP (kitchen police) duty. He spent the first weekend of America’s release from the 4-year war in the Army kitchen.

The war was officially over as Allies established occupation forces to ensure the Axis powers did not resume fighting.

In fall 1945, Yaney and hundreds of other American soldiers sailed on a ship for Japan. Yaney traveled to Kobi where he boarded an electric train which sped underwater through Hiroshima. “I could hear radioactive activity from the bomb which had been dropped on the city on August 6,” he said.

At Yokohama Yaney performed the duties of a military policeman for 14 months. “My job was to search for weapons hidden by the Japanese,” he said. Wearing a shoulder holster for his .45 semi-automatic pistol, he scouted for mines, swords, guns. “Thankfully, I never found any,” he said.

He also was instructed to guard former Japanese soldiers who were not allowed to take up arms again on conditions of their surrender. “I never believed they’d do us harm,” he said, “but it was frightening.”

It was a long year for Yaney. He didn’t eat much other than Spam which was served often. When snow fell in the winter he felt sorry for the Japanese people. “They didn’t have warm or sanitary living conditions,” he said.

Yaney Bill good

A year later, Yaney received orders to return home. In November 1946 he was on a ship floating under the Golden Gate Bridge in Oakland, California. By the end of his time of service, he was a Corporal. Souvenirs he brought home included a statue of Buddha, Japanese money, Japanese military knives and a M1 Rifle.

Back in Ossian, Yaney worked at General Electric in Fort Wayne before starting a business, Ossian Ceramic Tile, which he owned for 40 years. He and Betty became parents to four children.

Yaney bore no ill will toward the Japanese. “One of our sons is a missionary near Hiroshima,” he said. “I wish the best for the people of that country.”

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Bill Yaney died on February 1, 2016. He and Betty were married for nearly 71 years.

 

 

Soldier Fought with Patton’s Third in Battle of the Bulge

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For seven days in December 1944 Allied forces fought with German forces at Bastogne, as part of the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans wanted to control the crossroads and the battle was hard fought. By December 27, Patton’s Third Army arrived and the besieged American forces were relieved.

Beresford Clarke of Fort Wayne, Indiana, spent his 21st birthday fighting the battle. “It was a tough fight,” he said. When Patton’s 3rd Army was relieved by another division, it returned to the town of Wadgassen on the Saar River.

Eight inches of snow didn’t lessen the fighting. For a week Allies hid in buildings, shooting at the enemy stationed behind fortified structures called pillboxes.

Each morning someone from Clarke’s unit drove a jeep back to the rear where Head Quarters was stationed. There the driver picked up food, ammunition, and orders of the day. Enemy snipers hid out in elevated locales, such as church steeples, so it was a risky venture. Clarke was often the jeep driver. “If I drove fast, I had a better chance of escaping!” he said.

Sleeping in foxholes under several inches of snow was the norm. Clarke saw many casualties. “It was difficult seeing people go down,” he said.

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Clarke was born in 1923 in Evansville, IN. He graduated from Reitz High School in 1941 and completed two years as a mechanical engineering student at Purdue University when he enlisted in the US Army in 1943. “Every male who was my age would be drafted if not enlisted,” he said. “I could not swim so I didn’t want to go into the Navy.”

Clarke completed basic training at Fort Eustis, VA. “We trained on 120-mm antiaircraft guns, which were large cannons,” he said. “We also worked with rifles.”

After basic training, Clarke was sent to Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) in Burlington, Vermont, for two months. It was a short-lived program based on the premise that the war might outlast the available number of college trained men needed to provide technical information. High school graduates who had tested at a certain level of intelligence were set aside for this program. By early 1944, the program was disbanded and the men re-assigned.

Clarke was assigned to the 26th Division, 328th Infantry anti-tank unit of Patton’s 3rd Army. After training in Columbus, SC, Clarke boarded a ship in New York City for Europe.

By now, it was early July 1944. The infamous invasion on Utah Beach at Normandy had occurred a few weeks earlier so Clarke and other troops went over the side of their LCI at Normandy with no opposition, though there was some trepidation. “The beach supposedly had routes cleared for mines which the Germans had put there,” said Clarke. “We hoped they got them all.”

Clarke’s unit camped in the fields of Normandy where cattle roamed and joined the fight in the liberation of the nearby town of St Lo. The city had already suffered an extensive attack by American troops during the Battle of Normandy. The city was bombed again by Germans in July. Gaining St. Lo would give Allied forces access to the opening of the Falaise Gap, a foothold to expel German forces from northern France.

Once St. Lo was secure, Allied troops proceeded along the Saar River in northeastern France. Clarke was driving a jeep with his platoon commander and a sergeant sat in the back seat using a 50-cal machine gun. Other soldiers walked along the road when Clarke saw one soldier take a direct hit. “His body was splattered across the road,” he said. “I vomited and my platoon leader did, too, but we kept going.”

 

The 3rd Army’s objective was to stop the German tanks. “There was a lot of fire from German tanks,” he said. “When their 88s came at us, they went by you or through you.”

The battle was made more difficult by the fact that the Allies often didn’t know their way. “The Germans reversed road signs so we could not depend on the signs to tell us where to go,” said Clarke. “Our military didn’t have good maps of Germany when the war started so we used some from National Geographic.”

At Metz, a city in northeastern France soldiers bunked down for the night, but were awakened and told to prepare to leave. Some troops boarded trucks while others prepared to walk to the small Belgian town of Bastogne. “We walked for two days in snow,” said Clarke.

During the spring of 1945, Allies prevailed along the Saar River, taking over towns along the way. “We told the Burgermeister (mayor) in each that they must hand over all weapons and all uniformed soldiers must surrender,” said Clarke.

In one village the Allies smelled something strange. Upon being questioned, one Burgermeister admitted to working with a Jewish concentration camp in the area. “We saw stacks of bodies,” said Clarke. “I couldn’t believe anyone could do what Hitler did and that other people could follow him.” The 3rd Army liberated the camp and left other Americans in charge.

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That was not the end of surprises. As the 3rd Army bedded in a nearby hay loft, soldiers felt lumps under the straw. When they pulled out parts of a Messerschmitt Bf 109, a German fighter aircraft, they discovered the barn was part of an underground aircraft assembly plant. Again, members of the Third Army remained behind to control the discovery while others proceeded through the area.

Clarke was at Hitler’s birth place in Linz, Austria, on May 8, 1945, when he heard the war was over (May 8/ VE Day). That was when Clarke’s real work began.

Having worked in a camera store before the war, he had applied to join the Signal Corps at the beginning of the war, but was not accepted.

After VE Day, the Army confiscated hundreds of rolls of film soldiers had shot during the war. Clarke’s interest in photography was honed when he received orders to join the 165th Signal Corps in May 1945.

Since the Civil War when it was first organized, the US Army Signal Corps had developed, tested and managed communications support for the command and control of combined arms forces.

While stationed in Czechoslovakia, Clarke and another soldier set up a dark room with chemicals and an enlarger. “Our job was to develop photos from 500 rolls of film,” said Clarke. The signal corps had been made up of men, mostly middle-aged, with experience in photography, even some from Hollywood. Clarke also shot photos of troops awaiting discharge.

When Clarke received his discharge a few months later, he was shipped from Marseilles, France, to the East Coast of the US, then Camp Atterbury in Indiana where he was discharged at the rank of T5 corporal. He returned home with several items from the war, including a German flag, German daggers, rifles, shotgun, pistol, knives.

Clarke graduated from Purdue in 1948 as a mechanical engineer. He worked in Fort Wayne. In 1953 he married and he and wife Lucy became parents to three children.

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Clarke and family members have returned to Europe to trace his path as a soldier during World War II. Clarke participated in the Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana in 2013.

“It was an amazing experience to be a soldier during World War II,” said Clarke. “It was scary and challenging to watch those poor people being released from prison camps. I made it through the war without injuries. I feel very fortunate.”

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This article first appeared in News-Sentinel.

Beresford Clarke died 10/23/15. I feel privileged to have had the chance to meet and interview him. Stories like this are available in my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans which can be purchased on this site’s home page and Amazon.

Please thank a veteran today!

Funeral of a Soldier

Thx to all who served sign

Ever attend the funeral of someone you don’t know? Yesterday I did so and it affected me greatly.

I don’t mean it was a long-ago friend of my husband’s or one of my kids’ teachers. This person was not related to me or acquainted with anyone I know.

Why would I attend a funeral for someone so distant from me? Because he was a Vietnam-era veteran with no family.

James Beavers served 1963-1966– it was not in Vietnam but the specs of where he served are unknown. Here is the obit from D.O. McComb & Sons Lakeside Park Funeral Home:

James Beavers , 74, passed away Monday, November 23, 2015 in Fort Wayne. He was a US Army Vietnam-era War Veteran. He has no surviving family. Funeral Service is 2:00 pm, December 17, 2015 at – D.O. McComb & Sons Lakeside Park Funeral Home, 1140 Lake Avenue with calling from noon until service time. Burial in Riverview Cemetery, Churubusco, Indiana with military honors.

Reporters uncovered other tidbits of information about Mr. Beavers:

He was a disabled Vietnam War Veteran, who held the rank of Private. He was an orphan, originally from Marion, Ind. He was never married, and never had children. He was honorably discharged. Where he worked (if he worked) after the war is a mystery. As the Brits say, ‘He kept himself to himself.’

After 3 weeks of searching for family to claim Mr. Beavers’ body for burial, no one came forward.

The Allen County coroner finally gave up. Thankfully, a local funeral home offered to conduct a funeral for Mr. Beavers and invited the public to attend to show their respect for him and his service.

Estimates of possibly (I’d say probably) more than 1,000 people – many from out of state—were there.

People of all ages attended the funeral. A woman I would suspect was close to 90 years old sat in front of me. A family with a baby sat beside me. Lots of teens were there, which was refreshing, as well as dozens of law enforcement and military groups. It was crowded but everyone was patient and kind.

The funeral lasted about 45 minutes. People prayed and a woman sang a beautiful rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’. There were even bagpipes.

The internment with military burial was in a town about 45 minutes away. From news reports apparently many people attended that as well.

Keep in mind it was the middle of a weekday a week before Christmas. Everyone there, including me, probably still has shopping to complete for next week.

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Obviously, we all felt it was worth our time to show respect for this veteran that had no social connections. None of us had anything to gain by being there.

As part of a military family, it was a privilege to honor Mr. Beavers by attending his funeral. I don’t know how he would have felt about it, had he known thousands of complete strangers would walk past his casket, most stopping for a moment and many adding a salute.

Hopefully, he would have been okay with that.

Still, it bothers me to think we may still have vets forgotten and feeling they are unappreciated. It may have been the way Mr. Beavers wanted to live, though it could not have been healthy for him to be behind doors much of his later years of life.

Perhaps people did try to reach out and were rebuffed. Perhaps things happened to Mr. Beavers while in military service that disturbed him so much he could not deal with people after the war.

Having had the privilege of interviewing a few Vietnam vets, I’ll say that I wish that period of American history could be re-written.

I wish we would have treated our vets more respectfully. As one Vietnam veteran I stood next to in line for viewing told me, “When I got off the boat in San Francisco, I didn’t know Americans protested our part in the war. That changed as soon as a man spit on me.”

This veteran went on to say he made it easier for the spitter to spit in the future (draw your own conclusions).

But he added that he went to Vietnam because in this country people are allowed to protest.

That’s freedom.

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It was not prudent or, in my opinion American, for the protester to spit on a soldier, but he was afforded the opportunity to stand on the street and publicly acknowledge something about our government he didn’t agree with because our government allows him to do so.

I repeat, that’s freedom. It’s not something every country offers in this world and I’m proud of our nation for still offering that freedom today 50 years later. I don’t take that for granted and hope you don’t either.

I just wish all of our vets could find peace with our responses to their service.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep repeating it. Thank a veteran. Better yet, go see him/her and make an effort to be their friend or at least someone who shows respect for their military service.

If any veteran reads this, please know the family of this writer appreciates what you have done for our country.

Thank you.

 

Bob Batchelder’s Unusual WWII Surrender

Bob Batchelder in uniform.

Bob Batchelder in uniform.

Robert ‘Bob’ Batchelder of Fort Wayne landed on Omaha Beach at Normandy on June 6, 1944, as part of the D-Day invasion. “I crawled down the side of our landing craft with medical supplies into the cold water while guns strafed the water around us,” he said. “Thankfully, I knew how to swim.”

He was a member of the 457th Medical Collecting Company. “We collected injured and dead bodies on the battlefield,” he said. (excerpt from World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans)

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Bob Batchelder served with 457th Medical Collecting Company at D Day.

Bob Batchelder served with 457th Medical Collecting Company at D Day.

It was a privilege to meet Bob Batchelder through an acquaintance, John Homrig. John had heard me speak to his Rotary club about my project of interviewing WWII vets. He recommended I talk with his friend, Bob. I am so glad I did so!

Mr. Batchelder’s story is remarkable first of all because he served at Omaha Beach. The tales various soldiers, sailors and airmen have told me about that conflict are harrowing.

Second, he was involved with an unusual surrender. Since his story is in my new book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans, I won’t give it away here. Hint: The man who surrendered to Mr. Batchelder one night when he was on guard duty was highly sought after by the Americans.

Sadly, Mr. Batchelder passed from this life on January 10, 2015. I appreciate his service to our country and hope he has found rest and peace with his wife and son who proceeded him in death.

You can read more about Mr. Batchelder and 27 other WWII veterans in my book WWII Legacies: Stories of NE IN Veterans. Click Buy Now button at top of my home page. And don’t forget to thank a veteran for his/her service!