Saturday, October 27, 2012

Two veterans talking tanks: Walter Galbraith, Part 2

I don't have a picture of Walter Galbraith. Dale Albee, above, was his tank commander and platoon leader.

   Here's the second half of my conversation with Walter Galbraith and Cesar Tucci, two veterans of D Company of the 712th Tank Battalion, back in 1991 or perhaps 1992 at the battalion's annual Florida mini-reunion in Bradenton. The first part was in my previous entry.

Aaron Elson: Where were you from?

Walter Galbraith: Boston. I was in the 101st Engineers, with my brother and some buddies, and then I got out because I had two kids. Then the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor. I got out, and my brother had to go overseas, so I joined the Army, and I got in the 10th Armored Division. Then the 10th Armored Division became the 712th Tank Battalion [the 712th was broken out of the 10th Armored as an independent tank battalion], so that's how I got into it

Aaron Elson: What happened to your brother?

Walter Galbraith: He got malaria, but outside of that he was okay. I was glad that I joined, because I wouldn't feel right, with him being over there. I had two kids, but I couldn't help it, I just felt I had to go. As a matter of fact, I tried to get drafted and they wouldn't draft me. They even brought my wife up, and they said, "Do you love your wife?" And I said, "Of course I love my wife." Then I said, "But I want to go in." Then they said, "Well, we won't put you in this draft, but we'll put you in the next one," and I couldn't wait, so I volunteered.

Aaron Elson: What was it like inside the light tank?

Walter Galbraith: It was hot. That's why you had that helmet on. If you ever forget, sometimes you would lean your face and just bump it, and you'd never take your helmet off again. And I always wore my helmet up this way, I couldn't stand it over my ears, so I've got pictures of me, no matter where I was, I looked like a Viking. But they were fast, and they were cold in the wintertime.

Aaron Elson: What was it like your first day in combat?

Walter Galbraith: Oh, God. The first day that we went across, we had just landed and I was talking to a lieutenant. We saw some dead GIs, and then some dead horses and cows, they were all puffed up like a balloon. I was more ascared of the dead Germans than I was of the live ones. You'd see them with their eyes, grotesque looking. So I'm talking to the lieutenant, he's dead now, Lieutenant Coe. He was my tank commander, and we're standing talking, and phwee, a bullet went by us, so we both went down. And then one night, the German plane came over, we called it Bedcheck Charlie, and when the tracer would go up, it was like it was raining upside down. So I'm on my tank, and we slept in our tank, and I'm watching these infantry guys. They dug a hole this way and that way, a slit trench, and they put hay down there. I thought, they've got it made. So they moved out, and when they did, I jumped out of my tank and went down there, and it was so nice, for about two minutes, when our artillery let go. The whole ground vibrated, and I jumped out of that gosh darn trench and went back around on the other side of my tank.

Aaron Elson: Going back to the first day in combat...

Walter Galbraith: I remember going into an area, and Lieutenant Bellows getting out of there to find out where we were, because we never knew anything, all we knew is we're here. So he got out of the tank, and while he got out of the tank, he left us in a wide open space. I could see for miles. A hedgerow, you couldn't see from here to there, and all of a sudden we're in the open, and then the Germans started shelling us. So we stood there for a couple of seconds, with the shells coming over, and I said, "Let me get out of here!" So I said, what the hell platoon I am, "Third platoon, move out." I grabbed the mike. And we moved out, and down the road we met the lieutenant. He said, "What happened?"
   I said, "We were being shelled. We were wide open." And then I felt like I was being a coward or something. So anyway, we moved into an area, I guess it was the next day, we get in the area, there was a big ditch, and there was like a little bridge going across, and then we broke into this hedgerow, and went down this way. And when we were there for a while, we heard guys calling "Medics!" and guys kept seeing snipers. All of a sudden, my tank was the lead tank, so the shells start hitting all around our tank. So what I did was I took -- and I held myself down, I wouldn't go out -- the lieutenant was gone again, I wasn't about to leave this time because I felt that if I do, he'd probably say I'm chicken or something. So the shells come over and the tank would vibrate, and then I don't know why I did this, I reached outside the tank and I got my steel helmet, because we had the tank helmet, and on the inside of the helmet is a liner, and we had morphine (morphine syrettes were taped inside the helmet for use when someone was badly wounded). So I took the helmet, and I raised the breech of my gun to hold it; because the lieutenant was gone there was the open hatch, and I was always afraid of a shell coming in there. So I put that there and the shells would come over, and all of a sudden this shell came over, and I don't know whether it exploded on top of the deal there, anyway, I look at my finger and my finger's bleeding, and my helmet's on the floor. So I pick my helmet up, there's a big hole in the helmet, and it's like spaghetti, where the shrapnel had gone in and went maybe a thousand different ways, just like spaghetti, just shredded. So I climbed up on top of the tank, and the driver and assistant driver jumped out, and I climbed up on top, and another shell came over, and I went flying through the air and I landed on my back, and I was trying to catch my breath. I wasn't sure I was wounded because I felt this pang, like someone smacked me in the ass. I had o.d.'s [olive drab] on, and long underwear, the fatigues, and then this combat thing on, so there was a lot of stuff. So I found out that I couldn't move my butt, and they were hollering "Medics! Medics!" So they said try to get down the road a little. I was pulling myself on the ground, and then the lieutenant came back, and in the meantime the medics came by, and so he says, "Are you wounded?"
   I said, "I don't know." All I know is I couldn't move myself. So he started cutting, and cutting through all those different clothes. I was afraid he was gonna find nothing. So they opened it up and found I was wounded., I had shrapnel in me. But I also had some British coins, and I didn't know it until later, but it twisted the hell out of the coins. So the shrapnel had hit the coins. But anyway, they said "Get down the road as fast as you can."
   My tank was on fire, by the way, I forgot about that. Our tank caught on fire, so the lieutenant had to get onto another tank, and they went out through that hedgerow down a way. So while they were gone, I'm dragging myself along, to try to get down the road, and then the medics, the doctor came. So I looked over at the whole thing in the hedgerow, and how the hedgerow goes where I was, then this big mound, and then the road. And I said, "Oh, shit, I can't go over that." I was going to go down to where the tanks, the tanks took that fence down, they had to get out of there fast. So I looked up, and then more shells came over, and when they did I just flew up, and I landed on a couple of GIs, and I forget what the hell it was they said.
   I said, "I'm okay. I've got to get down the road." So I got down the road, and this jeep with places to put stretchers came, and they said "Hey, a guy's wounded here," so they picked me up, and they put me on this thing, and then after a while I couldn't hear any more fireworks. The first medics camp I came to was on fire, where a German shell had just hit it, and so I said "Oh, shit, what a hell of a place to be," but I was only there about fifteen minutes. Then I was on a jeep, and I went off, and the next thing I know they put me in a duck [an amphibious DUKW], and they took me across the channel.
   And over there they said, "Can you count to ten?" I said, well shit, I figured they were telling the truth, because we had guys who couldn't read or write. So anyway, they put me in a duck, and from there to a hospital ship, and I went to England, to a hospital.

Cesar Tucci: We had just moved into the hedgerows, and we were waiting for our first combat assignment, so Sergeant Heckler, one of the tank commanders, was called to receive some combat orders. He received them, and then he went back to his tank to tell his tank crew about what they had to do. And his tank crew was preparing the tank for combat, so the guns were loaded, the machine guns, the tank cannon made ready. The machine guns were loaded and ready to go, and the bow gunner, I don't remember his name, the bow gunner for Heckler...

 Walter Galbraith: He was killed later, too...

Cesar Tucci: Yeah. This all happened at once. The bow gunner was turning to get on his knees to check the ammunition stowed behind his seat in the bow position. Just as he did that, he reached back and leaned on the back plate and handle and trigger of the bow machine gun. And at that time Sergeant Heckler reached up and grabbed the 37 cannon and started to mount the tank, like it was customary to do. He grabbed the tank and started up. And just as he did that and got up there, the bow gunner accidentally set off a burst of machine gun fire, and caught Sergeant Heckler right across the middle, and he was the first casualty of our company. He was killed before we ever got into action, and was killed by his own man in the tank.
   Later on, there was a replacement made, Sergeant McNulty took over his tank, and they're on a mission, and went up a road, and they hit a mine, I think it was, and the whole tank crew was killed. It flipped the tank right over. [editor:s note: actually, Sergeant Everett McNulty and Harold Heckler's crew were killed in a different incident, when their tank was struck by an 88 and burst into flames]. Sergeant Heckler was our first casualty. That kind of hit hard, you know, this is for real. A great guy, a redhead, Harold Heckler.

Walter Galbraith: I'll tell you another one I just happened to think about. I was thinking about the funny ones, I just thought of this. This is in the Ardennes. We had come to this open, you could see for miles. And this is the forest over here, I could see these Krauts going back and forth. I was admiring them for a minute. All of a sudden they stopped. They were Germans, and they saw us. And so they started firing like hell at us. So the best thing for us to do was to get the hell out of there. So we come right around, we're still facing those guys, we had these panels on the back so you could see us for miles, our airplanes won't bomb us, we had these pink, orange. So we came around that forest like this and then we turned into the forest. In the meantime they're shooting at us and they're knocking the branches off the trees, and not hitting us. I guess they couldn't get down far enough. So we finally get in, and we lost a couple of tracks, and we had to stay there all night because our tanks wouldn't move. So that night, they kept shelling, and I heard tanks moving, and I said, "Well, we can't fight anybody in the dark, you know, some kid with a throwing stick [panzerfaust] could knock the hell out of you in the dark. And I said, "I can hear the medium tanks, I guess they're leaving." And all of a sudden I saw a flame go up. I said, "There's a tank on fire," and I says, "Shit, they hit one of our tanks."
   So we had turns sleeping, and I happened to be awake. Lieutenant Albee was sleeping, and I didn't know where the other guys were. So I'm looking out, and I see somebody run across in front of the tanks, a silhouette, and I said Jesus, and I looked again, and the Germans had a different helmet, there was something about the hook or something on the helmet that got my eye, and I said "Albee, Albee," and I woke him up. I said "I think those are Germans running across the flaming tank." And so he got his binoculars out, and in the meantime I got my turret turned facing right at that tank, and he said "Yah, they are." And so we started shooting. And I was firing the machine gun and the cannon, and he's firing the 50-caliber machine gun on top. And we heard, "For God's sake, stop firing, you're killing your own men!" And Jesus, my head shrank. I said oh my God. And then Albee got his binoculars out again, he said, "No, they're Heinies," and he started firing again. And I started shooting like hell at them. And even then they kept hollering, "No, you're killing your own men." And then all of a sudden we saw our pink tracer go this way, and then we saw a white tracer come back, and then we knew that that was the Germans. Because we had a pink tracer, and they had white ones. And when that came back, boy we just "bbbrrroom." Then everything was quiet for a while. I kept my machine gun ready for anybody who might come across. I'm in the tank, and someone starts climbing up the side of the tank. "Who's there?"
  He says, "Who's in charge here?"
  So I said Albee. I said, "Albee, wake up."
   So he says, "I'm Sergeant so-and-so." I wish I could remember his name. He said, "I just got out of the hospital. He said, "I'm not worth shit." That's how he talked. And he says, "You know what happened? You see that tank over there that's on fire? That's a German tank." I thought it was our tank that was knocked out. So he said, "You know how we are in the dark. You can't see shit." He said "I had to climb out of the tank," and he says, "This German tank is coming up the road. I had to tap the guy on the back to tell him to turn the turret," and then when he got lined up, through his eye, he just kept firing, and knocked the shit out of that tank.
   So that was over, and he got off. A few minutes later, somebody else started climbing up on the side of the tank. And I don't know what the hell, I was scared. Anyway, I'm ready to throw a hand grenade back or anything they had. I had it all in my mind what I was gonna do. Anyway, it was a colonel. Now goshdammit, he gave us his name, I'm Colonel So and So, I don't know today whether it was our colonel, Kadrovsky, or whether it was an infantry colonel. And he says, you know what happened, he said, had they gone by, he says this would have cut the whole advance. And that was it. And then he left. The next morning, we left the tank there I guess, and we got in a truck. The next day we got in another tank.

Cesar Tucci: Around the first of December, we went out on the Saar River, the village of Dillingen, and they requested volunteers to man gun positions on the Saar River to kind of make a fake for the Germans, to make them feel that we were coming across in strength at that point. So there was a lot of firing to be built up at that point, and I volunteered to go down there. They said this would be a mission of two or three days. So I went down and manned a 50-caliber machine gun at that position.
   On the way down, a sergeant from I think headquarters company was in charge. We had 50-caliber machine guns and mortars that we were going to set up inside the houses and various areas on this side of the Saar River to fire across and fire at the forts of the Siegfried Line. So I volunteered for one of those positions. So we go down there, and to get there we had to reach the top of a hill, and then the halftrack had to make a mad dash to go down because it was exposed to direct fire from the Germans on the other side. And it was like going through a gauntlet. We went down there just as fast as we could go and they were firing at us, but we beat it, we got down into the town and then we were out of their view. When we were in the town, we were only subjected to mortar fire and machine gun fire.
   We set up our headquarters in a brick apartment building on the opposite side of the street from the river from where we had set out. My partner and I sandbagged the machine gun in a kitchen in a German home on a porcelain kitchen table and had it fixed to shoot out the back window of their kitchen across the river.
   These fire missions would be announced to us on the radio, start a fire mission, we would go, run across the street, put the back plate on the machine gun, we'd never leave the back plate there because patrols would come through the town, and when they gave us the word to fire, everybody, mortars, 50-calibers, everything they'd fire across that river, to give a real show of force. That would go on for four or five minutes, and the gun would get real hot, the barrel would, so when the fire mission stopped, I had to reach out with an asbestos glove, take the barrel off, ram an oil patch through it right away, and then take the back plate off the machine gun and beat it across the street back into the middle portion of that building. Our room was in the middle portion. It was built like a court, like, a square, and in the middle of that square were the outhouses, and we were in the middle portion of that. And as soon as we got back, the Germans would start returning fire with mortars and machine guns. And one of the mortar shells I remember hit the craphouse, right in that square it went right in and demolished that outhouse there. And I'd stand guard in the hall, it was a long hall, and they told us, watch for German patrols, they come through the town at night. I'd stand just inside the doorway where they couldn't see in but I could see out, and I'd see the German tracers coming across the river, and they'd be hitting high, because, there again, if the trajectory was high, they couldn't hit very low, but I could watch them way up in the building. I was doing that one night when this was happening, when all of a sudden we got that zhooom, a damn mortar hit, you know those outdoor cellar exits, it was beside the door, it hit down there, and the concussion of that damn thing pushed me all the way back ten feet in the door. But that's all it was, no shrapnel or anything but the concussion pushed me back there.

Walter Galbraith: At the time you're talking about, if you ever wanted to see anything so beautiful, the river was there, and our pink tracers was right across, and then you'd see the white phosphorous from the Germans, with all the beautiful colors and all. So anyway, we're coming down that road to get to the river, and they had these lights shining up against the clouds to give it a light effect, and all those beautiful lights would just shine up into the clouds so we could see where we were going.
   So anyway, we're not allowed to wear our helmet straps, because the concussion would break your neck, so we had to put the damn things around, and your helmet's going like this on your head. So every time a shell would come over as we were going down the road, we'd fall, we'd hit the ground, and our helmets would come off. It looked like spittoons bouncing all over the road. But the colors were so beautiful, the pink tracer, the red tracer coming back.

Cesar Tucci: That shelling that night was rough as I remember. It hadn't been that rough, but what it wound up being is this: We weren't there for three days. We got relieved from that position on my birthday, the 16th of December. But one time we had a fire mission, and I had to go through all the rigamarole, I got the barrel off, the back plate, and didn't make it in time. So the only thing I could figure out then, on one end of the living room of this German home, and they had all ultramodern furniture in there, mahogany tables and everything. So I took a wall from where the shelling was coming from, there was a buffet under there, I dove under that buffet and watched the shrapnel come bouncing in through the window while they were shelling. So right after that was all over, I got the hell back across the street, and got out of that.
   When we got out of that, we stayed in that area. Then we celebrated New Year's Eve there, and this French family baked a lot of sweet cakes, pastries, so they invited us to participate. We were sleeping in the schoolhouse on the floor, and the French family was upstairs in it also, they were living there as refugees. So they invited us, and we had a combination of Calvados and pastries, and boy, there were a lot of sick guys. I never in my life got drunk, but that night I got sicker than a dog. And I got through and I went to bed, I went to my blanket and lay down, and geez, I got woke by Joe Masser, he said "Tooch! Tooch! It's your turn, come on, get up!" I sat up like a zombie, oh, my God, I said, what an awful feeling. And I went out to stand guard, my head spinning, sick to my stomach, the longest three hours I ever spent. Oh, my God, I felt terrible.
   This is the time that our battalion was ordered to move up to the Bulge area. So everybody packed up and we started up that way. This was the worst trip of my life, honest to God. After that night, I had what they called the GI shits, and what I was wearing, I got my underwear, my o.d.'s, and on top of that I had my combat suit, you know, like a ski suit. So the convoy was so slow going up, it was bumper to bumper. So they'd stop periodically, and they'd have a few minutes, and every time they stopped I was out the back end of a truck heading for the side of the road, pulling all those clothes off I had to get rid of my problem. Unfortunately I couldn't go fast enough and the convoy would start up again and I was chasing after it trying to pull up my pants and everything else, it was a circus. Oh, it was an awful trip I had, I said never again would I do any kind of drinking like that. What a diarrhea case I had.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Walter Galbraith, Part I, "The Professor"

Lisa Keithley, left, and Dale Albee. Lisa's great-grandfather, Walter Galbraith, was Albee's gunner in World War II.
   My new book is finished, with a projected publication date of April 2013, so watch for an announcement. While writing it, I pored through transcripts of conversations I hadn't looked at in years.
   One of the first veterans I interviewed was Walter Galbraith, of Boston, probably in 1991 or '92. I think it was at the first Florida "mini-reunion" of the battalion I attended. I spoke with Walter and Caesar Tucci, both veterans of the battalion's D Company, which comprised the 17 1/2 ton "light" tanks.
   Walter passed away in 1994. It was not until the following year that I met Dale Albee, who'd been Walter's tank commander and platoon leader. Walter was the gunner in Albee's tank.
   In 2001 I received an email from Lisa Keithley, then 15 years old. Her great-grandmother had recently passed away and Lisa inherited the war memorabilia of her great-grandfather, Walter Galbraith.
   I immediately remembered how Albee told me how broken up he was when he learned that Galbraith, his gunner, passed away. So I wrote to Lisa and asked her if she'd like to get in touch with her great-grandfather's lieutenant. Albee had a daughter living in Vancouver and visited her during the Holidays. While there, he paid a visit to Lisa, who was doing a school project on her great-grandfather's experiences.
   I used a couple of Walter Galbraith's stories in my first book, "Tanks for the Memories," but as I read through the transcript I realized that there was so much more of his story to tell. Here, then, is my conversation with Walter and Caesar Tucci, circa 1991:
Walter Galbraith

   When we were in Germany, I forget what part of Germany it was in, but some of the houses only had just a wall up, so the GIs put their bedrolls against the walls. It was in wintertime, to keep the wind from ... anyway, the last man on guard, in the tank, had to make sure that you pulled the ammunition off the tank. So I climbed up on my tank in the morning, and my eye caught the brass. Who the hell did that? So I pulled it down. What I first went up there for was to check Little Joe. Little Joe is the motor that turns the turret. If you press your thumb on one side you start the machine gun, if you hit the other side you hit the cannon. So I got in and I saw that brass, I pulled it down and I cleaned out the chamber, I cleaned out the ammunition, and I threw it back in, and the breach came up. Now, if that fired, it comes back 18 inches. I had my hand on the guard, and if that had come back ... I remembered when I came in there it was to check on Little Joe, so I reached over and when I did my hand came up, and I hit the damn cannon. The periscope was in front of me, and I saw the road blow up. I blew the whole goddamn road up. And I thought, "Oh, my God, did I kill somebody?" That's the first thing I thought about. So I reached up, I raised my seat, and I looked out. I didn't see anybody walking around with no head on, and I felt good, I didn't care what they did to me, I hadn't killed anybody. And all of a sudden the company commander, the first sergeant, all the guys are walking up to that big hole that I made in the road, and I figured, well, I'd better go face the music. So I walked up there, and I was just gonna say, "Well, that's the way the cookie crumbles," and the first sergeant says, "Jesus. I drove over this road three times this morning and that goddamn mine didn't blow up."
   So Andy Schiffler says, "That was no goddamn mine," and I grabbed him by the back of the neck, I said, "You shut up."
   But anyway, what happened after that, at the same time, when the cannon flew out, some plaster from the side of the wall fell down on the poor guys who were laying there, and they thought the Germans had counterattacked, so they jumped up and they were scared like hell.
   Another thing that happened, while we were in basic training, we had to learn how to ride a motorcycle, the tank, cars, so after we got familiar with it, it was the old tank, and when you shift, that's with the rivets in them, you know, the old type, that was our practice, so you shift into first, second, third, fourth. By that time you're looking that way and the tank is going this way. The only directions that the driver would have is that the tank commander would press him on the shoulder, right shoulder turn right, left shoulder turn left. We had to go through this obstacle course with the tanks, and each had turns. I went through it, and then somebody else went through it.
   There were two huge trees, great big trees, with just enough room for a tank to go between them. When you're driving, they said don't stay in first all day, which some guys would do. As soon as that tachometer went so many thousand rpms, you had to shift.
   The instructor's sitting beside the bow gunner, and the driver's going, and so he'd tell you "Keep your eye on the tachometer."
   So my turn came and I went through the trees, and I'm looking through the periscope, it looks like the trees are moving. So I see these trees, and I come like that, and go right between them.
   Then this fellow got in, and we called him the Professor. I can't think of his name, but it was his turn, and he, if you asked him a question, he'd say, "Well, uh," it took him all day to tell you, but when he finally came up with an answer, he had a vocabulary that big. But anyway, it was his turn, so we get in the tank, and he's driving, and we're going, and the instructor said "Keep your eye on the tachometer."
   "Ow-kay." He talked like Mortimer Snerd, so he'd go like that, and again the instructor said "Keep your eye on the tachometer." So we went down through the course and we finally come to those two trees. I saw the tree move in front, and I thought at the last second he's gonna pull on the lever and go right between the trees. Then "Bang!" He hit that goddamn tree, and ruined the tank's transmission and everything, and all the tree's branches came down on top of us. I landed on top of the bow gunner, the tank commander landed on top of the driver, and everything got quiet for a second. And the instructor said something like "God damn you," I can't think of his name.
   And he said, "Well, you told me to keep my eye on the tachometer, didn't you?"
   That's about the funniest thing I can tell you, but those are the two things I can think of right now.
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Monday, October 15, 2012

Shipmates Lou Putnoky and Yogi Berra

Lou Putnoky and Yogi Berra at the Berra museum

   Every now and then I get a call from Lou Putnoky of Carteret, N.J. He gets nostalgic, usually on a Sunday, especially since his wife, Olga, passed away two years ago. We chat for a while and he tells me what a wonderful thing it is that I'm preserving all these veterans' memories, and I try to tell him without the veterans themselves and their courage and experiences, there would be nothing to preserve, all I do is poke a little tape recorder microphone in their face and ask a couple of questions. I try to tell him that, but he wants no part of it.
   Lou is a World War II Coast Guard veteran, and was a radio operator on the USS Bayfield, the flagship of the Utah Beach invasion fleet. The Bayfield also took part in the invasion of Southern France, as well as the battles in the Pacific for Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and he is one of the many veterans who witnessed, albeit from a distance, the raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi.
  One of the highlights of Lou's time in the service was having served on the same ship as Yogi Berra, which leads me to a story that is kind of sad in a way. Lou lives in New Jersey and expressed a desire to meet Berra again, so about a decade ago, when I was still working for a newspaper in New Jersey and there was some kind of publicity event at the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, I invited Lou to come with me, and he got to chat with and have his picture taken with Berra. That isn't the kind of sad story, and I can't find the story in the transcript of my conversation with Lou that I used in my book "A Mile in Their Shoes: Conversations With Veterans of World War II," which means I must have edited it out because it was kind of sad, although in retrospect I should have left it in, which is why I'm relating it now, secondhand.
   After the war was over, Lou was a big fan of Yogi Berra, and regaled his son with tales of their shenanigans on the stern of the Bayfield, the stern being, in Lou's words, "where all the action was." One day, when his son was perhaps seven, Lou decided to take him to Yankee Stadium to see if he could introduce him to Berra. They arrived early and were watching batting practice. Lou took his son down to the railing and told an usher he'd been a shipmate of Yogi Berra's, and asked if he could give Yogi a note. Lou said the usher must have been a veteran, because he nodded understandingly.
   He saw the usher walk over to Berra and hand him the note, and he thought he saw Yogi nod. Then Yogi began walking in his direction, and Lou was going to get the chance to introduce him to his son.
   Just then Lou saw Casey Stengel come out of the dugout and walk over to Berra, and the two of them turned and went into the dugout.
   End of story. Now tell me that isn't a little bit sad. But Lou's face lit up when I brought him to see Berra at the museum.
   Here's an excerpt from my interview with Lou, in which he talks about Berra on the ship, and rationalizes the fact that Berra never attended a reunion of the Bayfield crew:

Aaron Elson: What can you recall about Yogi Berra?

Lou Putnoky: Yogi Berra is a very, very bighearted, very nice, quiet individual. I reluctantly use the term simple, good. If he wasn't that way, he would be the first one to be at the reunion, I'm a hundred percent certain he would go. Because he would feel uncomfortable being there, especially being a celebrity.  He was a coxswain on one of the rocket boats. He was attached to the admiral's staff, so we had, maybe the staff brought, let's figure they brought maybe a hundred men to supplement the crew of our 500 crew with them, and Yogi Berra was attached to Admiral Moon's staff. And Yogi latched onto our particular group because that's where the action was, on the stern of our ship. There was always something going on, and he said to us that the admiral was such a nice man. He said that when he was in England, he would be able to recognize, with thousands of sailors, he was able to recognize men and he would stop his car, his jeep with the two stars, because he knew that they were going back to the ship, and he would pick up seamen that were part of his ship. He didn't know them by name but he knew them by looks, and he would pick them up in the staff car, which was very unusual. But this was the kind of man he was, very well-liked. It upset everyone of course when they found out he committed suicide, it really shook us to the core, at the time.

But Yogi was very personable. And of course it always comes up in conversation when you had new people, "What did you do? What are you gonna do after the war? What did you do before the war, whatnot," and he said "Oh, I played ball, at Norfolk, in the minors." And we looked at him, with his bandy legs, and of course that shit-eating grin that he had, what the hell kind of ballplayer, are you pulling our leg? Were you a batboy or something, just like we're talking now. And of course we never paid much attention. He skipped over it, he didn't elaborate on it too much. It would come up every now and then, and we would kid him about it. Nothing serious. And then after the war I'm looking through Life magazine and I see his picture. I recognize his picture. I knew him as Larry Berra, not as Yogi Berra, and I said, "Larry, good God, he did play ball," and he was a fantastic, phenomenal ballplayer. He could hit any kind of wild, crazy wild pitch, you never knew what the hell he was gonna hit.

Other than that, during Normandy I remember him pulling alongside our ship with his rocket boat, and I know, like everyone else, he was deathly scared. Once they let go all their rockets, and they come back and any other assignment that they might have for his craft.

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   Got Kindle? Or the free downloadable Kindle reading app for PC, Tablet or Smartphone from Amazon? "A Mile in Their Shoes" is available today and tomorrow, Oct. 15 and 16, for a free download of its Kindle edition, and it's only $2.99 after that. Or read my full interview with Lou Putnoky here.

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From Oral History Audiobooks:
From Chi Chi Press:
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Monday, October 8, 2012

This one's for Father Joe

   If you're a Goodreads member, I need your help. A Goodreads member recently gave Connell Maguire's book "Follies of a Navy Chaplain" a one-star review. Short but very negative. It brought the average review down to three stars. If anybody reading this blog has read "Follies of a Navy Chaplain," like it or not -- and I'm betting you enjoyed it -- puh-LEEZE post a comment or a brief review at Goodreads. Father Joe passed away at age 93 earlier this year and I'm sure if he were still here, he'd have kind words for the person who posted the negative review.
   If you haven't read it and have a Kindle, or have downloaded the free Kindle reading app to your computer or tablet, I'll make "Follies of a Navy Chaplain" available for a one-day free download tomorrow, Oct. 10.
   If you have neither, but would be willing to read a copy and post a review at goodreads, email me your address at, and I'll send a free print copy to the first ten readers who request one.
   Following is a brief excerpt from "Follies of a Navy Chaplain" in which Connell Maguire describes his last day in Ireland, which he left with his family to emigrate to the United States at age 11.
   My own book "Tanks for the Memories" recently got a very short one-star review of its own at, c'est la vie, that doesn't bother me. But Father Joe deserves way better.


(Excerpted from "Follies of a Navy Chaplain," by Connell J. Maguire, (c) 2012 Chi Chi Press
   My parents had a shop and a good business in Glenties town at the time of the Irish war for independence from England. However, there was not much opportunity for young people. My mother had witnessed her four brothers leave for America, never to return to their grieving parents. She dreaded that fate. She saw boys, fresh from school, sitting on the corner smoking. Something had to be done and soon. There were four children then and taking us to America would be a chore and expensive. They had relatives in Scotland so there we went to Greenock, the Brooklyn of Scotland. I was just a year and a half so I do not remember the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond. The expedition to Scotland did not work out so back we came to Mam’s grandparents. Dad left for America to make a living for us. He went back and forth over a period of nine years. In 1923, he built a house in Ireland and tried to find work there. Kathleen was born in December in that house. We went to Yeats County where Dad had some friends but no luck. Dad had to leave again. Finally in 1928, Mam took Kathleen and went to check out the possibility of taking the whole family to America. She left Barney, Pat, and me with Aunt Bridget in the new house. Anne was in boarding school in County Monaghan.

   Mam returned in 1929. Teresa was born in June and varicose veins laid Mam up for days. Later she sold the house for the fare to America, and hired a car and driver to take the six children to Dublin to the American Embassy for physical exams and processing. I remember a stenographer asking another should she describe my hair as black or brown. What’s left is neither now. We sailed from Belfast. The ship was a day late so they put us up in a hotel. I don’t recall street cars in Dublin. I do remember being stunned to think how expensive concrete roads and streets must be as we approached Dublin. In Belfast we watched the trolleys together until I was scornfully excluded when I remarked I hadn’t yet seen any trolleys on the middle two tracks. We landed in New York just after the ominous stock market crash, soon to affect us. My father was on the pier to meet us. Then and for many years, I took for granted all my parents did for us.

   Almost all the news about the United States that made the Irish, English and Scottish papers was about gangsters and kidnapping. I had the impression that other than the Irish and the rich Americans who hired the Irish, all Americans were gangsters and kidnappers. I promptly received a scare. I had lagged behind the others carrying a suitcase. A man grabbed me by the arm. My God, I didn’t last five minutes in this country. I shouted “Mam! Mam!” I still wonder why he stopped me.

   So much had happened in a short time. That independent recorder within me was at work all the while, clicking some moments into memory’s file and erasing others.

   For our last months in Ireland, we had moved from my grandmother’s house to a house on a rise in a field in Meenahalla. Perhaps there was friction with five children, my mother expecting, my uncle and grandmother all in one house. We had a grand time in the rented house, kicking a football around the field and exploring the huge stone remains of a rath, a prehistoric burial mound. A row house in Philadelphia would be quite different. So would plumbing and electricity and an instant gas “fire” in the morning that saved so much time.

   My mother did not go down to Mullantboyle that morning of our departure to say goodbye to her mother. She was busy with a five-month-old baby, luggage and checking on the  other four of us. Besides, the Irish do not like to say goodbye.

   The night before many neighbors came to say farewell, to try to enliven the traditional “American wake” the night before emigrants departed forever. How different all this is now!

   Of that morning, a few things are etched clearly in memory. I was delegated to take a hammer back to Uncle Barney at my grandmother’s. I don’t remember whether I saw either one of them. I never saw Grandma again. I had to walk the equivalent of a block on the main road on my way with the hammer. I met the McNamees going into town to our school, this time without us. We didn’t hug or say goodbye. We took the meeting in stride as just another happening. But that something in me wrote it down indelibly. Our worlds were separating. We would never see each other again. I did not feel it then.

   I remember combing my hair in front of a little brown framed mirror. I forget how we got to the station. Rose Kennedy in a khaki raincoat was the only one to see us off. She said she too would emigrate. She never did. My mother and sister were crying as the train pulled out. My brothers were sad. I wasn’t. To me it was an adventure.
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P.S.: Here's a link to the Goodreads page, although you may have to log in:

Follies of a Navy Chaplain
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