Bucket List: Take WWII Tour of Europe– Done!

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

Mardasson_Memorial_Bastogne 6-17

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

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

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

BUT…

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

La Fiere bridge (8)

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

Compeigne For (2)

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

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

Bastogne foxhole (4)

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

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

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

 

Pegasus (18)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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.

Hain headshot

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!

Army Soldier Built Radar Unit in the Line of Fire

I read today about the death of another veteran from my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans. Arnold Keuneke served with the US Army in Africa and Europe. He was the first veteran I interviewed who had served in Africa and with radar.

Here are excerpts from his story in my book:

“In February 1942 Keuneke was drafted into the U.S. Army. After completing basic training at Camp Crowder in Joplin, Missouri, Keuneke was sent to Midland Radio School in Kansas City, Missouri and radar school at Camp Murphy in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Drew Field in Tampa.

In January 1943, he and other American troops left on a boat from New York City for the African country of Ouran.

Tech Sergeant Keuneke was attached to the 12th Air Force in the Signal Corps. “We were in charge of maintaining a 588- radar unit,” he said. Radar systems used 300-foot steel masts to emit radio signals. The radar helped Allied pilots receive signals to alert them about enemy aircraft in the area. Located on a hill over the Mediterranean Sea in the South Tibesa desert, the unit operated solely under Keuneke’s expertise.

Part of his tasks required climbing the unit for repairs and working around wiring for bombs. “I had no fear of heights,” he said. “We were careful.”

Keuneke was often in the line of fire on the front line but miraculously always escaped injury. “Those bullets didn’t have my name on them,” he said.

Malaria was a constant threat for the troops in Africa. When Keuneke and his assistant were advised to swallow pills to prevent the dreaded illness, they did so but within hours, Keuneke felt sick. He quit taking the medicine and felt better, never contracting the dreaded disease. Unfortunately, his assistant developed malaria. As there was no hospital around Constantine where they were stationed, the assistant had to endure the illness on his own. Though he survived, he died of malarial symptoms five years after the war.

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From Africa, Keuneke was sent to Pisa and Corsica in Italy. While there, he befriended an Italian family. When he offered candy to their two little boys, the parents begged Keuneke to adopt the boys. “They were so poor and hungry and they thought I could provide a better home for their sons in America,” he said. Keuneke had to refuse the offer but was moved by their plight.

When the war was over, Keuneke, who had served his country for three years, returned to Indiana. He farmed and raised a family while working at Dana Corporation in Fort Wayne as an electrician.”

**

Arnold Keuneke was proud of his work while serving as a soldier. Rest in peace Mr. Keuneke and thanks for your service.

I’m proud of all of our vets. Thank a veteran today!

This is 1 of 28 stories in my book which is available for purchase at this site on the home page.

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!

WWII vet Bob Foster Served Family, Friends, Country

Front row: Bob Foster, Don Shady. Back row: Nelson Price, Kayleen Reusser

On the air! Front row: Bob Foster, Don Shady. Back row: Nelson Price, Kayleen Reusser

I was saddened to hear of the death of a World War II vet featured in my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans.

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

Robert ‘Bob’ E. Foster, 92, of Fort Wayne, passed away on Monday, July 20, 2015. I met Bob through a friend a couple of years ago. He was friendly and excited to tell me his story of being a soldier in the US Army during World War II. I included his account in my book. An excerpt is included here:

The fighting at Cherbourg continued for two weeks with an Allied victory. Six months later, Foster was involved in another brutal conflict at the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium. The conflict, which began on December 16, 1944, took place during one of the coldest winters on record. For three months the soldiers fought while sleeping in foxholes filled with snow. Many soldiers froze to death. “Dead soldiers were stacked 20 feet high,” said Foster.

Struggle against the elements was only part of the challenge to survive. When Foster’s captain put him in charge of the platoon for a raid on a town in Belgium, he handed Foster a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) with 15 clips of 30-caliber shells, weighing approximately 15 pounds. “Our other BAR man had been killed,” said Foster.

Bob Foster fought with the US Army in WWII.

Bob Foster fought with the US Army in WWII.

The BAR could shoot like a machine gun, but was little protection against German tanks, which shot 88-millimeter shells, the biggest in the world. When the Germans opened fire on Foster’s platoon, a shell critically damaged his captain’s leg. Foster was also injured in the knee and head but tried to help his captain, pressing his hand against the wound to staunch the flow. Sadly, the captain died.

Foster, weak from his own blood loss, collapsed and medics rushed him to an aid station. Later, he was transferred to hospitals in Paris and England where he recovered and returned to his unit in Germany.

**

Bob Foster & Reusser fam Dec '14

Bob Foster & Reusser fam Dec ’14

Our family visited Bob last Christmas. It was a sweet visit but not the last time we saw Bob. In Feb 2015 we drove him and another vet from my book, Don Shady, to Indianapolis to appear on a live radio station at the University of Indianapolis. Our host was Nelson Price. Our subject, of course, was WWII. The guys, neither of which had ever been interviewed on radio, did swell!

Bob Foster -- today good

Bob Foster on his Honor Flight of Northeast IN

This excerpt from the tribute given at Bob’s funeral by Ted Linn of WANE-TV gives a behind-the-scenes look at what happens on an Honor Flight:

“I met Bob on October 23, 2013 for Honor Flight 11 out of Fort Wayne. We at WANE-TV had recently partnered with Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana. My boss and I went as guardians. I was assigned to Bob Foster.

“Who’s he?” “Oh, you’ll like Bob. He’s a Purple Heart veteran with a couple of Bronze Stars.” “Wow!” I said.

That day he told me how his wife Phyllis, who had died in 2013, and others at their church had prayed him through the worst days of World War II and the war in Europe.  Afterward, he came home to raise a family and work for the USPS.

Bob Foster was a spiritual man. I was, too. We were kindred spirits.  Lovers of God, lovers of His Son, lovers of God’s people, lovers of the Word. Bob loved Psalm 84:11, “No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.”

I knew I’d stay in touch with Bob Foster.  Not every day, not even every month, but when we did talk, he’d mention how wonderful Honor Flight was and how good of care I took of him that day.

I just read this week Isaiah 40, verse 8: “The grass withers and the flowers fall (that’s Bob today), but the word of our God endures forever.”

Bob struck me as a classic World War II veteran who insisted on doing his duty. He ended up in some incredibly dangerous, life-threatening situations in the European Theatre.

He survived to return to his wife in Indiana, work and support his family, and center his life around his God.

He never lost his God-given pride for all of that and his good nature, but he never let any of it get the best of him or make him vain, at least not in the 21 precious months that I had the privilege of knowing this fine man.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about a hero of mine, Bob Foster.

**

Every day World War II vets are dying. In today’s newspaper I read of another vet who died this week and whom I interviewed last year for a local newspaper. Another vet also died this week from my area whom I didn’t know and didn’t get to interview. I consider that a loss for our American heritage.

Our World War II vets are our nation’s oldest vets. I’m trying to interview as many of them as possible to preserve our heritage. I can’t do it alone. Please, if you know a veteran of any era, ask him/her to tell the story of their life and record it. You’ll be glad you did.