Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Some pictures from the archives

Lisa Keithley and Dale Albee
   In 1999, Lisa Keithley of Vancouver, Washington, contacted me via email after finding a story by her great-grandfather, Walter Galbraith, on my web site, She said that after her great-grandmother passed away, she inherited Walter's memorabilia from World War II, including his uniform, and she was doing a school project on his service.
   I immediately remembered Walter Galbraith. He was one of the most upbeat, humorous veterans I'd interviewed, even though he was in remission from cancer and would pass away only a year or two after the interview. I used a couple of his stories in my first book, "Tanks for the Memories." Like the story about the time he went to check on "Little Joe." Little Joe was the generator in the tank, which was parked near the side of a building during what likely was the Battle of the Bulge. It was early in the morning and the rest of his crew was inside the building.
   A 75-millimeter round was in the chamber of the tank's cannon, and as Walter climbed into the tank, his foot accidentally hit the solenoid that fired the gun. There was an explosion in the ground in front of the tank, and Walter immediately feared that he might have killed somebody. As he climbed out of the tank prepared to "face the music," as he said, the sergeant came running out of the building, nobody had been injured, and the sergeant muttered an expletive and said something like "I drove over that spot three times last night and didn't go over that mine!"
   Relieved, Walter then heard Andy Schiffler, the driver of another tank in his platoon, begin to say "That was no mine ..." so Walter grabbed Andy and told him to shut up.
   I also remembered Dale Albee, who was Galbreath's tank commander, telling me how he teared up when he heard that Walter had died. Galbreath was Albee's gunner during a particularly harrowing incident during the Battle of the Bulge when the platoon stopped a counterattack in the middle of the night, as well as through many other incidents.
   Lisa mentioned in her email that she lived in Vancouver, Washington. I had traveled to Prospect, Oregon, to interview Albee, and I thought, heck, northern Washington, southern Oregon, heck, they're practically neighbors, how far could that be? (279 miles, thank you, Mapquest). So I asked Lisa if she'd like to meet her great-grandfather's lieutenant.
   Dale said he had a daughter he was going to visit in Vancouver over the holidays that year, so he visited with Lisa, resulting in the above meeting, which was covered by the Vancouver Sun.

A Company officers, 712th Tank Battalion, Amberg, Germany, 1945

   I used this picture on the cover of the first edition of "Tanks for the Memories." It shows six officers from A Company -- five lieutenants and a captain -- in Amberg, Germany, where the 712th Tank Battalion was stationed after the war in Europe was over.
   Because my father was in A Company, I took a special interest in the veterans of A Company, and although none of the men in the photo are alive today, I was able to meet all six of them, interview four of them at length, and one of them briefly a couple of times during reunions.
   The two men standing are Morse Johnson, on the left, and Sam MacFarland. I wrote an earlier blog entry about Johnson, although I failed to mention that there are only two statues that I know of dedicated to veterans of the 712th. One is of Tullio Micaloni, a sergeant who was killed at Seves Island in Normandy and who is one of four soldiers on the 90th Infantry Division monument in Perier, France. The other is Morse Johnson, and it stands near the Playhouse in the Park in Cincinnati's Mount Adams district. Unlike most statues dedicated to heroes, Johnson isn't riding a horse or sticking his head out of a tank, in fact you likely wouldn't know it was him unless you read the plaque, as the statue is an abstract figure of a human form. After the war, Johnson was a patron of the arts, and was a founder of the Playhouse in the Park, which even today has a Morse Johnson Society for donors.

The Morse Johnson Memorial
   Johnson entered the horse cavalry and became a sergeant, later receiving a battlefield commission with the 712th. His platoon withstood nine counterattacks at Oberwampach during the Battle of the Bulge. When I interviewed Morse in 1992 during a trip to Cincinnati, he apparently was in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, which would claim his life a few years later.
   Standing to Morse's right is Sam MacFarland, who introduced me to the 712th Tank Battalion Association, and helped me find three veterans who remembered my dad (who was wounded twice but survived the war, and passed away in 1980). I would love to have interviewed Sam, but he died of cancer before I attended another reunion. Shortly before passing away, Sam wrote in a letter to Ray Griffin, then the battalion association president, that "Time is succeeding where Adolf Hitler failed."
   I heard many stories about Sam, including one where he learned while in combat that his wife, Harriet, had given birth to a daughter. He was a sergeant at the time, and conferred with the members of his crew as to what she should be named. They came up with Lucky. Sam was one of 14 members of the battalion to receive battlefield commissions.
   If a picture is worth a thousand words, I'd better post this before the rest of the day flies by, and I'll get to the four men sitting in the front row, from left, Bob Hagerty, Ellsworth Howard, Howard Olsen and Jule Braatz, in my next post.

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