Monday, April 29, 2013
Saturday, April 27, 2013
Thanks to David Arnett of the 492nd Bomb Group Association for the information that Bob Cash passed away on April 23. Bob was a radio operator on a B-24 and a former prisoner of war. Ray Lemons of the Kassel Mission Historical Association set me up with an interview with Bob when I visited Ray in Dallas in 2010. Here's an audio excerpt from that interview with a transcript of that section:
Bob Cash: We had marched, as I say, to the little community of Mehlbech and were starting back east again, and most of our guards, most all of them had abandoned us. And we were in a barn, and I couldn't go another mile. I was, my stomach was just killing me, and it was a combination of eating sugar beets and raw potatoes and everything raw, and I guess if I hadn't been so damn young, most of us would have died. But we marched out, three sets of German guards, and most of those old boys were older than we and maybe in their forties, up in their fifties, they were conscripts, they were just suiting up anybody, kids from 15 years old up, but we had marched to Mehlbech, and I told Ed, I said, "I can't go any further. I'm gonna just have to take my chances and if they push us on, they're just gonna have to shoot me, because I can't go any more."
Well, he was, this was the day, about the day before we were liberated, and he was out foraging for food. And he'd gone to a farmhouse and they'd given him a little bread and turned him out, and he saw a chicken hatch over there and he went over there and thought maybe he could get some eggs or something like that, and he heard this tank fire. It was Monty's 11th Armored Division coming over the hill and they lowered that 88, you know, and he managed to jump out of that chicken shack just in time because they leveled it, they just blew it to pieces. And he rushed back and told me about that and I said, "My god, I wasn't that hungry." He was looking for something to eat. But when they did come over the hill and down into this little village, that was a second coming. I don't know how, how the guys spent five, six, seven years in the Pacific, there weren't any that long too in Europe, but I don't know how in the hell they stood that. Of course they were stationary most of the time, and if you're not, if you're dormant, you can last a long time. But put you out on a 800-mile march ... I'm sorry, it's been 64 years ago ... 65 years ago ...
Aaron Elson: It's got to be like yesterday when you think about it.
Bob Cash: Well, the thing that, the thing that got me, you wondered how come you got through something like that, and why the Lord allowed you to come home and get to your family and start your family and so forth, and so many of those kids never had a chance to do that.
Aaron Elson: You must think about that ...
Bob Cash: I think about it every day. Every day. And mainly my crew. A couple of years ago we were in, someplace up in Ohio, close to Trotwood, where my gunner that I saw laying there dead, his sister, he had two sisters and a brother that came to this, I invited them to come over and have dinner with us and so forth, I got their names, and we had a nice chat with them, you know. I couldn't tell them anything about Bill except that he was in the back end of the plane and that I did see him and that he must have died quick. And he rests in Liège.
Aaron Elson: And his name was ...
Bob Cash: His name was Bill Mendenhall. He was from Trotwood, Ohio, I think it was. We were in Dayton, that's where we had our, he wasn't too far from there, it was on the outskirts of Dayton, Ohio.
Aaron Elson: Who else was on the crew?
Bob Cash: My crew members were Bill ... lord ... my tail gunner, the reason I think that plane blew up because it was hard for him to get out of that, he was a pretty chunky guy anyway, and when he got in that tail turret, you almost had to help him out. But he was from Denver, and his body was recovered almost three months after we were shot down, he had washed ashore in Osterdorp, Sweden, and he was identified and buried over there. And Osterdorp is right on the Baltic coast there. The other gunner, my nose turret gunner, he was a boy from Myrt, Mississippi, he was a country boy, too, and he's unaccounted for. My co-pilot's name was John Bronson, he was buried over there on the island north of, he was recovered and was buried over there on the island of not Rugen, but it was out off the north coast of Germany. This is between, an island, pretty good size island, that we had to fly over, it's not on that map, it's off the map, but it's a pretty good size island out there by itself and then you've got Sweden to the north.
- - -
Please subscribe to the Oral History Audiobooks email newsletter:
Please subscribe to the Oral History Audiobooks email newsletter:
...Priceless (actually $17.69 at Amazon)
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
The interview is with Dr. John T. "Jack" Prior, whom I met while I was teaching journalism during a one-semester fellowship at Syracuse University in 2005.
The book is currently available for Kindle and will soon be available in a print edition.
It also includes a new preface.
Preface to the D-Day Dozen: Conversations With Veterans of the Longest Day, the Huertgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge
“You’d think we were going on a three-day pass,” Chuck Hurlbut said. “Guys start shaving, combing their hair. One guy’s putting on cologne. I and a lot of my buddies had a goatee, so we spent several minutes making sure that was just right.”
The men of the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion were not going on a three-day pass. They were getting ready to be sent down the cargo netting draped over the side of the Princess Maude, a converted channel steamer, into landing crafts destined for Omaha Beach in the predawn hours of June 6, 1944.
Hurlbut, a young Pfc. from upstate Auburn, New York, took out some photographs of his family and looked at them. And he re-read General Eisenhower’s letter to the troops, the one that begins “You are about to embark on the Great Crusade.”
“I’m looking at this stuff,” Hurlbut said, “and my buddy comes up behind me. He had on the ugliest, gaudiest, most outlandish necktie I ever saw in my life, and he was going to wear it on D-Day. We chuckled a bit, and we thought about all the things we went through, and what we’re gonna go through together. We planned a trip, what we’re gonna do when we hit Paris.”
Jack Prior was a 28-year-old battalion surgeon in the 10th Armored Division. When the Battle of the Bulge broke out, he was in Noville, Luxembourg, about five miles northeast of Bastogne.
“It was like an old-time Western,” he said when I interviewed him in Manlius, New York, in 2005. “They were fighting in the streets. All of a sudden I began to see head wounds, I saw belly wounds, chest wounds, lots of fractures. We were overwhelmed with casualties. I began sending them back, but all of a sudden we had no transportation. My halftrack was hit, so I had no way to get people back to the hospital. And the casualties kept increasing. They blew the second story off the building. We were crawling on the floor to treat the patients.”
Soon the 101st Airborne Division arrived in trucks, rather than by parachute, and they were able to get Dr. Prior and his staff, along with the wounded, into Bastogne.
Prior set up an aid station in a garage, but was unable to heat it during the brutal cold of the European winter.
“I kept getting casualties,” he said, “so I went to a three-story building. I had maybe 80 patients. I took two buildings. In one building I had the most severely injured cases, and in the other I had the walking wounded, the fractures, and the psycho cases, which we called combat fatigue in those days. And at this time, I’ve told the story many times, two Belgian nurses appeared. They were in their twenties, and they asked if they could help. And I want to tell you, we needed help. They were welcomed. One was Renee Lemaire, and the other was Augusta Chiwy.”
“My dear good Ewald,” the letter begins, “It is Friday morning, half past eight. I want to hurry and write you a nice letter. I received your dear letter yesterday and was very happy to hear from you my love, and to have heard what you did Easter Day. But now I know that you have seen the great lovers on the screen and yet you didn’t mention a bit about love in your letter. What do you do in your visits to the movies? Do you sleep while the picture is on? With whom do you usually go out, or do you go out alone? Dear Ewald, when you write, please don’t complain about your food openly. Just because your officers receive better food than you do, remember, you’re the dumb one when you start to get hotheaded. Therefore, my sweetheart, don’t write about these matters openly. ...”
The letter was found in a German gun emplacement during a trip to Cherbourg by the captain of the USS Butler, a destroyer that took part in the D-Day invasion. It was translated by a member of the Butler’s crew and a copy was given to Felix Podolak of Garfield, New Jersey, one of the veterans I interviewed in 1994.
As the C-47 carrying 18 members of Company I of the 101st Airborne Division’s 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment droned toward the coast of Normandy, Pfc. Leonard Goodgal looked out the open door. “I could see the coast,” he said as we sat in the Heritage Diner in Hackensack, N.J., where we talked for more than two hours amid the clinking of coffee cups one afternoon in 1994. “It was a beautiful night. We went over the coast. All of a sudden, Christ, all hell broke loose. There was anti-aircraft fire, and fire. We could see it on the ground, in the air. And the plane got hit. It got hit in the tail and went into a dive. I just stood there hanging onto my static line thinking I was gonna get killed. And it pulled out.”
The plane was hit again, and one of its wings was on fire. Goodgal was one of only four men to make it out of the plane before it plummeted to the ground and crashed. Two of the four men landed on top of the cliffs. Of those two, one was captured and spent ten months as a prisoner of war; the other, a lieutenant, was injured but eventually made it back to the 101st and was evacuated. Goodgal and Raymond Crouch of Richmond, Virginia, landed in the water.
“I started to swim, but when I stood up I was in less than a foot of water,” Goodgal said. “The other guy was calling me, he was saying ‘Is that you, Sam?’ Samuel is my middle name. I said, ‘Yeah, that’s me.’
“He said, ‘Where are we at?’
“I said ‘I hope this is the White Cliffs of Dover,’ because I saw those cliffs.”
Goodgal and Crouch were not at the White Cliffs of Dover. They were at the base of Pointe du Hoc.
All night long, Goodgal recalled, “the bombers were dropping 2,000-pound bombs on the cliffs. And the Navy was shelling the cliffs.”
As dawn began to break, he said, “we see these boats coming along the cliffs. I said, ‘Hey, maybe they’ll come in and get us.’”
Leonard Lomell, a sergeant at the time, was in one of those boats, which were full of Rangers whose mission was to scale the 80-foot cliffs and silence the big guns that were supposed to be on the top, but which were actually some distance inland.
As the Rangers began climbing the ropes that they fired to the top of the cliffs with grappling hooks, with Germans shooting down at them and tossing hand grenades over the side, they were joined by Goodgal and Crouch, who would fight with the Rangers for the next three days until the battle stabilized and they were able to look for their own unit. Lomell, meanwhile, and a fellow sergeant would lead a patrol that discovered four large coastal artillery guns, which they were able to sabotage with superheated thermite grenades while the gun crews were receiving instructions at the far edge of the field.
Subsequently wounded, Lomell was in the hospital when he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest military honor. Goodgal said he had a hand-written note from the Rangers’ commander, James Rudder, recommending him for a Silver Star, but when he found his unit, his officer tore it up and asked him where the hell he’d been. In retrospect, Goodgal said, he couldn’t blame the officer because his company suffered heavy casualties in the first few days of the invasion.
As Chuck Hurlbut stepped out of the landing craft, he took his rifle, aimed it at a pillbox overlooking Omaha Beach, and fired. It was the only shot he fired all day. He grabbed a rope attached to a rubber raft filled with explosives and began pulling it toward the beach. The explosives were to be used to demolish obstacles. As he pulled, the raft seemed to get heavier. He looked around, and saw three bodies on the raft, two of which he recognized as members of his company. He resumed pulling when suddenly there was an explosion that knocked him senseless. The raft had taken a direct hit. When he came to, probably no more than a few moments later, he saw a badly wounded member of his company, Joe Milkovic, laying on the beach, at risk of being overtaken by the incoming tide. Milkovic was bigger and heavier than Hurlbut, so he planted his feet in the sand, grabbed the wounded man by the shoulders – engineers know these things, after all – and pushed himself backward with his feet. He was making slow progress when he saw a tank on the beach. A tanker jumped off and helped him pull the wounded man to the relative safety of a dune.
These are some of the people you’ll meet in the pages of this book as they tell their stories to me. Some of them you may be familiar with. Leonard Lomell was interviewed by Tom Brokaw in “The Greatest Generation.” Chuck Hurlbut was interviewed by Dan Rather for a documentary on CBS about D-Day. The Belgian nurse Renee Lemaire was portrayed in “Band of Brothers,” although in the mini-series she has a romantic attachment to a medic in the 101st Airborne Division when in actuality she was in the aid station of the 10th Armored Division, and she was already engaged. In an account of his experiences in Bastogne, Dr. Prior describes how when supplies were dropped by parachute, Renee would leave her duties and run into the back yard hoping to retrieve a parachute so she could use the silk to make her wedding dress, only to find that a soldier had beaten her to the prize. On Christmas Eve of 1944, a German plane bombed the building in which the two nurses were tending to the most severely wounded patients. Augusta Chiwy was blown through the plate glass of a window in the kitchen and survived. Renee ran into the basement and the building collapsed around her. After finding her body, Dr. Prior wrapped it in the white parachute she had hoped to use for a wedding dress.
“I’ve made the dune now,” Hurlbut said. “I’m in one piece. And then you sit there and you look at all the chaos and the devastation. Guys floating in the surf, dead, wounded. The wounded screaming. And you’re sitting in the dune and you’re looking back at it, out into the water, and there are ships burning, smoking. This must be the day of doom, Armageddon. If this is war, I don’t like it. All the beautiful plans we had made and practiced, all gone for naught. All confused, chaos. This is not the way it was supposed to be, so you had no way of coping with it. This isn’t the way we trained, or scheduled. So that affected you. You didn’t know what to do. You had no leaders, no nothing. Just pure chaos. And then you see all these dead guys, buddies. That’s hard to cope with, the first time, to see death. I don’t care who you are. And when you’re a close personal friend, boy, it hurts. You thought you were tough, brave and gung-ho, boy, it gets you.
“I said to myself, ‘I’m all alone now,’ at the dune. We may have been the first ones to have reached that far. There was nobody around. I had a hell of a time getting a medic for Joe. They were all out in the distance.
“A lot of guys would be okay, then they’d see a wounded buddy, they’d run down in the tide, they’d get it. So once I got the medic and I felt he was taken care of, I said this is no good, I’ve got to try to find some of my people.
“While I’m sitting there, about 60 yards away comes a guy staggering along the beach, staggering, foundering. His backpack is tattered, his clothes are in shreds. One arm is dangling. He turns and half his head is blown away. And something told me I know that guy, something about his stature, his walk, I know this guy. And he turned toward me and looked at me, and through all that gore and all that tattered clothing, I saw the tie.
“I don’t think he knew who I was or anything. I wanted to cry out to him; I couldn’t. I didn’t have any voice. I was frozen. I couldn’t move out. He just staggered away.
“Aw, Jesus. I never wanted to be a soldier. It was the last thing in my life I would have wanted to be. But like I told you, Pearl Harbor changed my opinion. It was a lot of fun, these exercises, these hikes. Hey, a great bunch of guys, having fun. I didn’t know what being a soldier was until that day.”
Order "The D-Day Dozen" for Kindle for only $2.99
- - -
|Priceless. (Well, actually it's $19.95 at amazon)|
Please subscribe to the Oral History Audiobooks email newsletter to keep up with the latest developments and specials.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
|Elian Gonzalez is taken from his protectors so he can be returned to Cuba.|
One of the stops on the Yahoo carousel -- that series of news pictures that cross your computer screen, stopping barely long enough to hook you into reading the story before moving on to the next news story, so that you become conditioned to slamming your hand down on the keyboard like a contestant in a game show, but I digress -- there was a news story related in an odd sort of way to one of the main story lines in my new book "The Armored Fist."
The story was about some drug addled couple who lost their two little boys to the wife's parents in a custody battle, funny the news media should use the word battle because it doesn't sound like much of a fight, the kids were simply taken away and placed with the grandparents instead of foster care. But anyway, this father with a couple of drug related convictions ties up his in-laws, kidnaps his own kids, and flees with his wife and the two little boys via boat to Cuba, which agrees to send the reprobates -- that term applies only to the parents, not the little boys, although they were included in the deal -- back to the United States.
End of story. Not. I rarely use the word "lunkhead" but I feel obligated to apply it to the alleged journalist who compared this situation to that of little Elian Gonzalez, who survived a disastrous boat trip which claimed the life of his mother and wound up in Miami and in the center of a political firestorm.
Now Elian's mother was not some drug addled good for nothing, all she wanted was freedom and a better life for herself, I guess she had a boyfriend too, and her son, and she headed toward America on an overcrowded, rickety boat with more leaks than the CIA, while the couple that fled to Cuba with their kids had a decent, uncrowded boat, even if the father didn't have both oars in the water. This the Yahoo correspondent called a "reverse Elian Gonzalez," like it was some kind of football play, although I suppose it does have a bit of legitimacy since purely in terms of the voyage it was like Elian's journey in reverse.
By now, you are no doubt asking yoursef, what on earth does all this blabbering have to do with Aaron's new book, "The Armored Fist."
Which brings me to the diary entry of the Rev. Edmund Randolph Laine of Stockbridge, Mass., for April 3, 1945.
As you can see, the diary entry begins with a thick black cross, which actually in this case is both a cross and a symbol referring to a footnote. The day begins cool and gray, with some sun in the afternoon. It was Easter Tuesday, and Reverend Laine notes that he is "not feeling too well." The diary entry ends with the footnote, or actually it was simply a late addition, underlined, "Eddie killed this day in action in Germany, at about 12 p.m. our time." I say it was a late addition because in the pre-Twitter era, it would be 13 days before a telegram arrived informing Reverend Laine that Lieutenant Edward L. Forrest was killed.
When I first attended a reunion of the 712th Tank Battalion, in 1987, Ed Forrest was the only name from my father's stories that I remembered, which is why I took a special interest in his life.
So wait, what about Cuba and Elian Gonzalez and the drug addled reprobate kidnapper of his own two kids, you might ask.
For this you have to glance once again at the diary entry, and back up just a smidgin from the late addition. At 11 p.m., Reverend Laine listened to the news on the radio, which included commentary by Fred Vandeventer.
I'll be damned. Forgive me while I digress again. It never occurred to me to look up Fred Vandeventer, but I just did, and according to imdb, Vandeventer was the "Mutual Broadcasting System radio newsman and columnist who originated the game "Twenty Questions" for radio and, later, television. Based on the "Animal, Vegetable or Mineral" parlor game, it was one of the first shows to transcend radio into the new medium of television, and was extremely popular. He was a "printer's devil" for his high school newspaper ..."
So that's who Fred Vandeventer was, and that's who Reverend Laine was listening to on the radio at 11 p.m. on April 3, 1945. Now, back to Cuba.
Right after listening to the news, Reverend Laine notes in his journal, immediately prior to the footnote, that he finished reading "When the French Were Here."
"When the French Were Here" was a book by historian and diplomat Stephen Bonsal about the role of the French in the American Revolution. It was the middle of 1781 and George Washington's proverbial credit cards were maxed out. His troops were like "What MREs again?" and ready to pack it in if they didn't get paid.
Enter the "Ladies of Havana," who, according to Bonsal, responded to a plea from a French admiral with jewels and furs and cash worth about 1.2 million pounds, which financial analysts might tell you would be worth $28 million today. George Washington was overjoyed, the troops got paid, and the rest is history. American history.
When Elian Gonzalez was unceremoniously returned to Cuba, the Latino press was all over it. I looked this up years ago when I first started researching the material in Reverend Laine's diary, and I've been unable to find it again, but a columnist in the Miami Herald wrote "...and this is how we pay them [the Ladies of Havana] back."
One of these days I'm going to transcribe more of Reverend Laine's diary, which is filled with cultural references of the day, often shortened due to a lack of space, like "Air mail letter from E. in p.m. mail. Walked around back lawn." Come to think of it, you might say he was born to tweet.
- - -
|Priceless. (Well, actually it's $17.69 at amazon)|
|Animal, vegetable, or mineral? Hmm ... you decide|