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!

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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Anderson James -Indy-Army

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.

WWII Soldier Shocked by Graves at Guadalcanal

(This is an excerpt of a story from my soon-to-be-released book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans)

Gaylord Conrad’s most vivid memories of the Pacific during World War II was not that of a bloody battle field but what came after it.

In late 1943 Conrad from Leo, IN, was attached to the US Infantry at Guadalcanal. The dreadful battle that had occurred there from August 1942 through February 1943 was evidenced by a graveyard for Allied forces.

Approximately 7,000 small crosses on graves dotted the vista as far as Conrad could see.

It was a sobering sight for the farm boy from northern Indiana. “Thinking of the number of lives lost in that battle was overwhelming to me,” he said. “The sight of that quiet field became a permanent picture in my mind.”

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After graduating from Leo High School in May 1943, Conrad had immediately been drafted. He completed nine weeks of basic training at Camp Wheeler near Macon, GA, before being assigned to the Infantry. Soon, he was aboard a ship sailing with thousands of troops through the Panama Canal to the Pacific.

The troops were not told where they were headed, though the mostly 18- and 19-year-olds probably would not have recognized the name, had they heard it. New Caledonia was part of an archipelago of islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean, 750 miles east of Australia.

In March 1942, the territory had become an important Allied base. The capital of New Caledonia — Nouméa — was headquarters of the United States Navy and Army in the South Pacific. At one point during the war, the island held as many as 50,000 American troops.

Several attempts by the Japanese Army and Navy to recapture the airfield were staged over the next several months. In addition to the thousands of American lives lost, approximately 19,000 Japanese soldiers died in what was a hard-fought Allied victory. Conrad and other American soldiers went in as replacements.

In an attempt to honor the fallen military chaplains conducted a sunrise service on Guadalcanal’s beach on Easter 1944. Just before the service’s commencement, Conrad was shocked to see someone he knew. “Ralph Rineholt and I had graduated from Leo High School together,” he said. The two young soldiers sat together during the service, then separated for duties. Conrad never saw his friend again. “I always wondered if Ralph returned home,” he said.

**

I missed posting this tribute on Memorial Day because I was working on the book this and 33 other stories will be published in by late Summer 2017. But I did have 2 stories of WWII soldiers who died in action published in area newspapers. We can all do our part to support our military.

Stay tuned for more details about the book.

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

 

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.

Rider Yank mag surrender

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.”

aRider Jap surr newsp

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.

aRider Jap flag

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.

 

 

“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!

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.”

**

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