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30 December 2012

Monday, December 13, 1943, 386th Bomb Group Mission Number 55

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Monday, December 13, 1943 - 386th B.G. Mission Number 55: Captain Ray Sandford's ship, "Hell's Fury" 131625 YA-R going down on a mission to Amsterdam Schiphol Airdrome in Holland. Right side of photo shows the left engine and nacelle on fire after blowing off the left wing. Seconds later the entire ship blew up. This photo taken by Tech. Sergeant Willaim Lynch while flying with Flight Officer Barney Wasowicz.

The afternoon briefing continued, your target will be the Schiphol Airdrome, it is located four miles southwest of Amsterdam, Holland. Enemy flak batteries on the Dutch Coast will be able to fire at the formation, both going in and coming out. Heavy and accurate flak is to be expected on the bomb run, and in the target area.

This will be a multi group raid. The 323rd will lead, followed by the 387th, and 322nd Groups. Our 386th bunch will be the last formation to attack. Each group will supply eighteen planes plus two spares. Major Beaty will lead our effort, Captain Sands will head the high flight, with Captain Boyd White leading the low flight. All ships will carry four 1,000 pound general purpose demolition bombs.

You will rendezvous with the 322nd Group at 1407 hours over splasher beacon number seven. The 322nd will lead you to splasher beacon number six for a rendezvous with the 323rd formation, which will be accompanied by the 387th Bomb Group. The formation will proceed out over the North Sea to a point 52 degrees 10 minutes north, and 03 degrees 30 minutes east where you will rendezvous with your Spitfire fighter escort at 1445 hours.

All emergency airfields, air-sea rescue radio information remains the same as the earlier briefing with these exceptions. Bomber to fighters on VHF Channel A, bomber call sign is Northview Two. Fighter call sign is Beagle, and Ground Sector call sign is Marsbeam. Two to three squadrons of Spitfires will make strafing sweeps of the target area ahead of the bomber attack, with the hope the Jerries will be pinned down when you make your bomb run.

You will encounter cloud build up near the English Coast and extending to mid point over the North Sea with a base of 2,000 feet and tops to 4,000 feet. Visibility will be ten miles with patches of stratocumulus at 2,000 feet along the coast of Holland. The target will have ceiling unlimited, visibility six miles or better with a chance of light haze.

Flight crews left the briefing room at 1220 hours, within five minutes they arrived at their assigned aircraft. The Group started engines at 1255 hours. All eighteen ships were from the 555th Squadron, however they had came up one crew short prior to briefing time. At that point Captain Sandford and crew although not scheduled, volunteered to fill in the vacancy. Flight Officer R.C. Roberts would serve as co-pilot because regular co-pilot Lieutenant W.E. Ruple was grounded for the day with a cold.

Captain Sanford was in the process of running up his engines when his airplane was approached by a man from Group, he was waving a handful of papers. The pilot pulled his throttles back and slid open the side cockpit window to find out what this was all about! The man said, "These are your court-martial papers." The pilot waved the man away as he released his brakes—it was time to taxi out. The man shouted, "Just wait until you get back!"

Major Beaty was moving down the perimeter track with his ship "SON OF SATAN" 131613 YA-Y, followed by Lieutenant J.E. Miller in "Xterminator" 131618 YA-V, and Lieutenant Blackburn in "HELL’S BELLE" 131623 YA-T. Captain Sanford followed as deputy leader with his ship named "HELL’S FURY" 131625 YA-R.

Major Beaty was into the air at 1310 hours, the formation of eighteen planes plus two spares left over base at 1404 hours on a course of 93 degrees true, for rendezvous with the 322nd Group over splasher beacon number seven. They reached there exactly as scheduled at 1407 hours, but no other group was in sight! They set a course for splasher beacon number six; Major Beaty saw a formation far ahead, so he cut to the right in an effort to catch up with them. He was pulling thirty-eight inches of mercury and was indicating 205 m.p.h., but could not close the gap. The others left the rendezvous point fully two minutes ahead of schedule.

The English Coast was reached at 1424 hours over Southwold as the Group took up a heading of 98 degrees out over the North Sea. Captain Sanford had a few brief moments to reflect upon his predicament. The previous month an order came down requiring all flight personnel to turn in their American type parachute equipment. In return they would receive British quick release type harnesses with detachable chute packs. He had refused to obey that order, and was now the subject of court-martial action! A few other pilots had also retained their American back pack chutes—it was a fact the twenty-six foot diameter canopy parachute he was wearing at this very moment had been borrowed from Major Donald Weiss, while the Captain’s own twenty-eight footer was repacked.

Is this what is meant by the fortunes of war? Just nineteen days ago he was spirited away from base by a bird colonel and two M.P.’s—with an envelope marked "SECRET!" His destination was Buckingham Palace to meet the King and Queen who were honoring the three hundred top award airmen. Captain Sanford had previously received our nation’s third highest award, the "SILVER STAR MEDAL" for, "Gallantry in action!" Two squadrons of Spitfire escort met the bombers at the appointed time and place in the sky at 11,000 feet. The lead box of eighteen was approaching the Dutch Coast twelve miles south of landfall, a left dogleg was made and the coast followed for two miles south of Katwijk Aan Zee. A right turn was taken and landfall made at 1458 hours amid flak bursts. Evasive action was commenced and continued all the way to the Initial Point, (I. P.). A barrage balloon was seen, and a heavy flak gun position observed one half mile in from the coast at Noordwijk Aan Zee. A large rectangular excavation near Noordwijk was spotted, a large mound with a railroad track leading into the dunes from Katwijk.

Major Beaty’s formation reached the I. P. and took up a heading of 285 degrees, a huge gap of some four or five miles existed between him and the other groups ahead. His Bombardier Lieutenant William Leirevaag called for a five degree correction to the left, and the 280 degree bomb run was underway as he hunched over his Norden Bomb Sight! The 88mm flak was all about them, very intense and extremely accurate. It could be heard exploding nearby—Shoomp, Whooph, Whooph! Bomb bay doors were open, air speed 190 m.p.h. Captain Sanford pulled "HELL’S FURY" up close behind his leader so close he was looking straight up at Beaty’s tail gunner. Both of Sandford’s wingmen moved in closer. Lieutenant Albert Burger flying "YANKEE DOODLE DANDY" 131947 YA-D on right and Lieutenant Roy Voorhees flying "LADY FROM HADES" 131685 YA-J on the left. An unusual number of large persistent pink bursts preceded a heavy concentration of both white and black bursts. A piece of flak sheared off the pitot tube on "STAR DUST" 134937 YA-N in number two position of the low flight flown by Lieutenant R.D. Wilson.

Number four ship was hit—as noted by number six man Lieutenant Voorhees. Captain Sanford’s airplane sustained a direct hit which appeared to be on the left main fuel tank, the plane burst into flames immediately! Lieutenant Burger, number five man stated, Sanford ship had a direct hit on a wing, and lost wing when it folded over fuselage and burning. It went straight down and exploded. Staff Sergeant E.O. Stensrud was tail gunner on the lead ship and looking down on the Sanford plane. He related—direct hit, the plane nosed up and the left engine burst into flame. Then it nosed down with a half twist to the left, and headed straight to the deck!

The stricken aircraft made a Split-S and was on a reciprocal heading when aerial photographer Tech Sergeant Edward H. Lynch caught sight of it. He was flying in a plane named "MISS MURIEL" 131796 YA-H piloted by Flight Officer Wasowicz. They were in number six position of the low flight. With one wing off "HELL’S FURY" rolled over on its back just as the photographer got off a shot. He cocked the shutter and fired off another shot as the ship tucked its nose under and went into a dive!

Sanford, pilot of the doomed aircraft picks up the narration, "The ground gunners all concentrated on our box. They already had altitude and speed from the first boxes. The flak was so thick you could have walked on it! All I really remember was the hit and immediate loss of control. I think I radioed, "We’re going down, but I’m not sure, it all happened so fast.

I was knocked out apparently, so I don’t know if Jackson had time to hit the salvo button. We were so close to bomb release point, everyone was eager to get the hell out of there! I revived in mid air still strapped in my seat, with my right arm just floating free; I had no use of it. I didn’t know then but my right shoulder must have struck the airplane structure that separates the pilot and co-pilot hatches—my collarbone was broken.

Discipline is a strange thing, I wasn’t scared. The first thing I thought of was some jump instructor telling the class, if you turn your head you roll—put out your legs for control, etc. I was going to try it out until I could see the ground closing in. I tried to drop the seat left handed but my jacket was over the belt, so I had to pull the rip cord left handed, some trick! I leaned forward in the seat so the back pack would open, it did and the seat really put a jerk on my legs. While dropping I released the seat and I just seemed to hang there after the sudden loss of the extra 300 plus pounds of pilot seat and armor plate.

Some Dutch were outside the fence with a car, but I couldn’t control the chute with only the use of one hand. I landed on the target airdrome about 200 feet from the fence and about 150 feet in front of a German barracks, then the occupants in the Dutch car sped off! I became an instant POW. I wasn’t hit by flak but co-pilot Roberts must have been, my whole right side was flecked with white. I think we must have had two simultaneous flak hits—the left wing and also the fuselage under the waist or turret, but I am not sure. During the explosion the aircraft broke up into several large pieces.

I was taken to a Dutch hospital, after a time I was transferred to Dulag for interrogation, eighteen days of solitary and a lot of name rank and serial number. They showed me their intelligence book on the 386th Bomb Group. Everything was there except where we were stationed, which I never told them. All they wanted to do they said, "Was show me that I wasn’t so smart because they had all that information anyway!" They needed my cell so I was shipped off to Barth, Germany via the Berlin marshalling yards—during an air raid!

I heard later through the Geneva Representative that Lieutenant Charles Jackson came down in the wreckage of the nose section and had lived until December 23, 1943. Staff Sergeant Herbert King also lost his chute pack during the break up of the aircraft and rode down in the tail cone section. He died of injuries on Christmas Day 1943. Captain Sanford survived because he was wearing an illegal parachute when his aircraft, "HELL’S Fury" blew to pieces!

The Sandford Crew: Captain R.P. Sanford, Flight Officer R.C. Roberts, Lieutenant C.A. Jackson, Tech Sergeant S.B. Peterson, and Staff Sergeants H.M. King, W.E. Turner, and F.J. Becker.

The Group was now in the final seconds of the bomb run when number two ship in the lead flight received a near burst of flak. "Xterminator" 131618 YA-V which was flown by Lieutenant John E. Miller was buoyed up by the blast, flak fragments short circuited bomb release wiring which in turn accidentally released the bomb load. Bombardiers in lead flight’s ships number five and six saw the bombs go, and released theirs as well. All the planes in the high flight released on that aircraft’s bombs think they came from the lead plane. Lead Bombardier Lieutenant Leirevaag saw his aiming point and it was bombs away at 1509 hours. Ships in the low flight dropped on his cue. Bomb hits were scored on the runway intersection and hangar area. A few landed in a nearby canal. In spite of the problems, bombing results were rated good.

Flak pounded the formation during a left turn off the target as Lead Navigator Lieutenant Edward O’Neill, Jr. gave Major Beaty a new course of 270 degrees. The lead aircraft had received flak hits in the nose, fuselage, tail assembly, in both wings including the right side fuel tank. In number three position of the lead flight. Lieutenant Blackburn flying "HELL’S BELLE" 131623 YA-T had taken many hits. The windshields of both pilot and co-pilot were cracked, flak holes in wings, right engine nacelle, fuselage and the horizontal stabilizer.

"INCENDIARY MARY" 131768 YA-W flown by Lieutenant Eldridge in number two spot of the high flight took ten major hits. Captain B.B. White leader of the low flight flying: "HELL’S ANGELS" 131615 YA-G received some twenty flak holes. Another ship flown by Lieutenant Aberson, "HELL’S-A-POPPIN II" 131987 YA-G in number four position low flight had his windshield struck, and one hit in the right propeller, dents in the right wing, two hits in the tail, and the lower left package gun was damaged.

More flak came up as the Group exited the enemy coast. It was identified as coming from Haarlem and Zandvoort. Lieutenant John E. Miller had to feather the right engine on "XTERMINATOR" directly over the coast. At 15517 hours Lieutenant C.A. Miller flying "SPAM BERGER" 131970 YA-F in number six position of the high flight was also forced to feather his right engine. A bank of seven-tenths stratocumulus running from northeast to southeast over Holland hid an undetermined number of enemy aircraft, perhaps as many as twenty to thirty reacting to the Marauder raid. The rear guard escort engaged them in a dogfight which was brief. Two FW-190’s were damaged and one of the Spitfires was shot down!

Major Beaty continued on his heading of 270 degrees across the North Sea, en route to landfall at Southwold. A flying boat was observed at low altitude heading toward the enemy coast. The formation crossed the English Coast at 1542 hours and took up a course for home base where they arrived at 1559 hours.

Emotionally drained flight crews filed into the briefing room for mission interrogation. Many crews reported seeing Captain Sanford go down on the bomb run. Captain White’s crew reported one chute in the air after the ship exploded. The Lieutenant Elling crew flying "LORETTA YOUNG" 131624 YA-S observed three B-26’s flying on single engine as Spits dropped back to cover them.

An airdrome location was noted two miles north of Leiden with five large buildings and having green camouflaged runways. Major Beaty stated, "The 322nd Group did not show at splasher beacon number seven. First eighteen too far ahead—all other eighteens left the rendezvous point too soon, all strung out! No more runs into the sun." Lieutenant Burger said, "Idea of sending third box of eighteen not very practical, but was very dangerous. Allows gun positions on ground to benefit by earlier mistakes in aiming and firing.

The 323rd Group had six men wounded, the 387th Group had three men wounded. The 386th Group had one man wounded and six men missing in action. Lieutenant C.A. Miller took "SPAM-BURGER" into Attlebridge on single engine. Captain James Wilson was number four in the high flight, he made a belly landing at Stansted with his ship "MAN-O-WAR" 131619 YA-U.

The following excerpts are taken from the mission diary of Pilot Roy Voorhees. His feelings echo the emotions of any airman who has ever flown through a heavy type flak barrage in a bomber. "This was by far our toughest raid, I’d never seen such flak before. Ray Sanford got hit and exploded. We were on his left wing, he almost cart wheeled into us. We had quite a few holes in our ship. I’ve never been so scared, and will always be able to see Sandford’s airplane. It was hell, only one got out! We were the last eighteen planes over the target, and tonight there is not one ship in this squadron in commission. A post flight inspection revealed that fire from Sandfords’s aircraft scorched paint on my right wing and the right side fuselage. I think this was the turning point, I’ll always be scared now and feel about half flak happy! I never want to go there again!"

Today Major Beaty was promoted to Lt. Colonel and transferred to 386th Headquarters. He had been the Squadron Commander of the 555th Squadron since it was activated. Major Charles V. Thornton became the new Commander of the 555th Squadron. He had been the Operations Officer in the 552nd Squadron. His aircraft, "CRESCENDO" 131644 RG-C along with his flight crew were transferred with him. The squadron letters on the fuselage of his aircraft were changed from RG to YA. He is twenty-four years old and came from Texas. One final word about the target name: "Schiphol" translated it means, "Ships Graveyard!"

Selected portions of Lt. Colonel Beaty’s talk on the role of the Martin B-26 in the ETO. "Even in 1943 softening up of the Germans for the invasion had begun, and the job of helping destroy the German Air Force, and driving fighter defenses back to Germany was given to the Marauders. Our job was to pound every German airfield from Cherbourg to Paris to Amsterdam. Proof of just how thorough a job the Marauders did lies in the fact that within three months the heavies did not begin to encounter any appreciable amount of enemy fighters until they crossed into Germany proper.

This job was not done without some loss to us, and before you get the impression that this was all a big picnic, I would like to give you as an example an account of the Amsterdam Schiphol mission on December 13, 1943.

This airdrome was (I say was because it hasn’t been completely repaired yet) the largest and most important airdrome in Europe. It had six runways, six to eight dispersal areas, and dozens of hangars and workshops. German bomber staffels as well as fighters were based there. Our plan was to use the 1,000 pounder with a short delay fuse to penetrate and destroy the elaborate tile drainage system which kept the field from being flooded in that marshy country. If we could destroy this drainage system, we believed the field would be of no use to the Germans for months.

Intelligence briefed us on the number of flak guns, believed to be approximately 128, the field was entirely surrounded by them. We had only one choice of attack and that was down-wind, which would give us a little extra speed. I was leading the last formation with eighteen planes from my Group. As I turned from the I.P. to the bomb run I could see a large black cloud over the airfield. Flak was being fired at the formation ahead of us, and I began to get a hard lumpy feeling in my stomach, my throat was dry as a piece of cotton, and my heart was pounding like a rabbit’s. We went on in, taking evasive action. About five miles from the field they put their sights on us and let go with just about everything they had. Of all the missions I have been on that is the only one in which I felt sure I was going to get it. The flak was coming so thick and fast we were bouncing around like a canoe at sea. Shells were exploding all around us with mighty woffs and so many pieces of shell fragments were hitting us it felt as though a giant were throwing handfuls of rocks against the sides of the ship.

My deputy leader received a direct hit and blew up right under me. The heat from the burning plane was so intense the controls and paint on his wing men’s ships were warped and blistered, even my gunners felt the heat on their backs. My Bombardier, Captain Willie Lieravaag from Chicago, incidentally one of the best in the business was blown back out of the nose by a close burst, but crawled back to his bomb sight in time to pick up our aiming point and release bombs on the target.

Flak was getting so thick you could hardly see through the big black puffs, but we had to continue on and hope we would make it out of there. Well, we did get out with the loss of only one ship, but we suffered quite a bit of damage to the other ships’ and several people were severely wounded. Of those eighteen ships from our Group that took off that day, we had five single engine landings, two crash landings, and the remaining eleven were out of commission for one week due to flak damage. All this entailed a flight of 125 miles over open sea back to our Home Base.

I honestly believe no other plane could have come through such a barrage of fire with such a low loss ratio as those Marauders. Personally I owe the lives of my crew and myself to the ability of the B-26 to take such terrific punishment and still keep flying. We did knock out the field, and we later learned that more than 100 officers were killed, including the Base Commander, so we felt pretty good about the job we did, in spite of all that flak!"  

World War II veteran received numerous honors for valor

 Photo: Donald Dawkins

One of the last remaining World War II veterans, Donald Dawkins feared he'd one day forget about some of the most arduous experiences of his life. So he started to dictate his war experiences onto a recorder a half-century after serving in the Army.

The Winter Park man eventually transcribed them, creating a memoir of sorts for his family to hang onto for generations to come. He was among the troops who landed in France in 1944 to drive out the Germans and saw some of the bloodiest battles of the war.

Dawkins, who was inducted three years ago into the famed Knights of the French Legion of Honor, the highest honor France bestows on non-citizens, for his role in the liberation died Monday.The 88-year-old man was battling lung cancer.

Within weeks of combat, he was the sole soldier from his original 38-men platoon to remain. The others were killed or wounded, said his son, Chris Dawkins, 50.

"He didn't think he was particularly heroic," the Orlando man said. "He just wanted to stay alive."

The elder Dawkins enlisted at 18. However, he never wanted to wind up in the infantry. He had signed up for a specialized training program, which would allow him to go to college and study engineering, according to his short memoir.

"The army realized they were not going to win the war with people in college…," wrote Dawkins, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. "It was my fate to end up in the infantry, the place I dreaded."

But he soldiered on, his son said.

Dawkins witnessed mortar shells land in foxholes, killing men in his platoon. Some lost limbs to the "bouncing Bettys," or German mines that popped into the air and detonated. And soldiers broke down in tears, unable to carry on, he wrote.

He remained in combat despite being shot in the left arm. Luckily, it had just scraped his arm. But he was pulled off the front lines in the winter of 1944 due to frostbite and gangrene, said his daughter, Pam Grabe, 48, of Orlando. All his toes had to be amputated and he was forced to wear special shoes for the rest of his life.

"He got frostbite from tramping through the fields," Grabe said. "They didn't have good boots."

Like a true Army man, her father never complained.

"He never had any bitterness about having them [amputated]," she said. "He was a soldier."

Dawkins, the eldest of three children, enrolled into school after the service. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Rutgers University and a master's in public administration at New York University.

He later went to work for the Internal Revenue Service in Washington, serving as assistant to the deputy commissioner, his son said. Part of his father's duties, he added, was to write speeches for the commissioner, Treasury secretary and presidents who dropped by to address the IRS such as John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

"He was an excellent writer. He taught all of us children how to write," Grabe said. He also helped his grandchildren with their school essays.

In the early 1970s, he retired after 18 years of service and eventually moved to Florida, where he liked to go fishing on boats with his sons. Chris Dawkins said over the years his father's war injury made it more difficult for him to move around on the boat, so he started spending more time at home doing the next best thing: reading.

He also liked to attend Dixieland jazz concerts, his daughter added. Dawkins, who received a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and other numerous honors, never let his disability stop him from living life to the fullest, she explained.

"He was always telling us 'you can do anything you want in life,'" she said. "He achieved a lot of his goals."

Other survivors include Yvonne Dawkins, his wife of nearly 60 years; sons Paul Dawkins of Malabar and Robert Dawkins of Ponte Vedra Beach; daughter Maria Garriott of Baltimore; sister Dorothy Smith of South Florida; 14 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Newcomer Family Funeral Home, East Orlando Chapel, is in charge of arrangements.

Challenges of entering WWII examined

Betty Reid Soskin is proud that "after all these years, 91 of them, I'm considered a primary source." As a young black woman in the late 1930s, she had two career choices, she told attendees of the International Conference on World War II: "agriculture or domestic servant."

World War II soon intervened, and she was put to work as a civilian file clerk for the military, "changing addresses to save the world," she says. Her parents, she added, were very proud that she had not been forced into the only other career paths available at the time for black women in America. In the years and decades that followed, she witnessed profound changes in equality for minorities and women, changes she believes can be traced to the home-front effort during World War II, when men and women, regardless of ethnicity, were summoned to prepare the nation for a massive military strike against Axis forces in the European and Pacific theaters.

The civil rights movement, she says, began when black and white home-front civilians were brought together more than 20 years before they could share drinking fountains, schools or hospitals. "There was no time for encounter groups or diversity training," she said of the wartime effort.

Soskin's Friday presentation followed the conference's theme – “Stemming the Nazi Tide: The End of the Beginning 1942-43” – presented by the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Her talk gave personal and sociological context to the over-arching discussion of how America could retool its economy and culture to fight a two-front war on the heels of the Great Depression.

That mystery was unraveled by historians Mark Stoler, Conrad Cane and Keith Huxen, who focused on the complexities of convincing U.S. industrialists and defense authorities to join the war effort and put American mass-production ingenuity to work against Adolf Hitler as he was advancing across Europe and around the world.

Friday's presentations also included an "oral history showcase" from the National World War II Museum that told the story of the U.S. Merchant Marines and the perils they faced transporting goods and personnel through enemy-infested waters. Merchant Mariner John Drayton described in a video interview what it was like to see German submarines surface after his ship was torpedoed.

There was no panic," he said. After it was known the ship was taking on water, however, the men aboard were ordered to abandon. "Those are words sailors don't want to hear... there were 24 of us on a crowded life boat."

The Germans continued firing into the sinking ship as the Merchant Mariners drifted by. "In the evening, we looked around," Drayton said. "There were no other life boats. No other survivors. We were adrift for 30 days."

Canadian historian J. Marc Milner told the crowd of more than 450 that German U-boats harassed or sank hundreds of U.S., British and Canadian trade and troop-transport vessels throughout 1942. "The U-boat scourge, it seemed, was unstoppable," he said. "Historians have tried to portray the battle of the Atlantic in shooting terms. It was much more than that."

Milner said organizational and tracking systems had to advance quickly to avoid contact with the German subs. But it wasn't until the late winter of early 1943 when progress was finally made. Allied forces poured military assets into the problem, depending largely on radar and air power, along with increased involvement of escort ships, and improved spring weather. "The defeat of U-boats couldn't be a single event," he said. "It had to be a process."

The process worked. By May of 1943, Allied forces had sunk more than 100 German subs and forced the U-boat program into the middle Atlantic, well below the surface, opening routes from the U.S. eastern seaboard to Europe. By that time, the Allies were starting to build up for the crossing of the English Channel and the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France. That it took until June 6, 1944, to make the crossing was largely a function of the need to manufacture and transport the weapons, equipment and supplies necessary to invade.

One of the war's most essential ingredients was the Higgins boat. New Orleans resident Jerry Strahan, an author and businessman, told the story of the colorful Andrew Higgins, who defied Washington bureaucracy to bring into existence the landing crafts necessary to deliver assault forces to the war in both theaters.

At first dismissed by the Navy, Higgins persisted with his proposal to manufacture vessels capable of landing personnel and heavy equipment – even tanks – on beaches rather than wait for ports to be secured. In time, the Higgins military boat-building business was accepted and employed more than 20,000 workers who produced more than 60 lines of military-support products. His company built more than 20,000 boats for the Allies during the war.

"He was definitely the right person at the right time in the right place," Strahan said, noting that Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower once said Andrew Higgins "was the man who won the war for us."

At 91, Betty Reid Soskin still works full time for the National Park Service as a ranger at the Rosie the Riveter World War II/Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, Calif. She was a businesswoman in California after her home-front efforts during the war and went on to hold many high-level staff positions in her city, county and state. She was California's "Woman of the Year" in 1995 and has received an honorary doctorate degree.

More important than that, she says, is the progress she has witnessed in civil rights. Her great-grandmother, who lived until Soskin was 19, was born into slavery. Her parents had limited opportunities. But she and her family witnessed massive changes during the 20th century, from desegregation to the election of America's first black president in 2009. World War II, and the home-front effort necessary to build strength and fight it, eventually transcended gender and ethnicity, driving the civil rights movement forward. “This was where change was happening,” she said, adding that after all she has experienced, “it's pretty good being a primary source.”

World War II US amphibious jeep that led assault on Benito Mussolini found

Wreckage of an American amphibious jeep [sic] that sunk along with 24 US Army men in World War II during assault on Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's lakeside home has been discovered after 67 years.

Video footage released by the Voluntary Association of Lake Garda shows what appears to be the wreck of the amphibious DUKW US truck which sunk 600-feet to the bottom of the picturesque lake on April 30, 1945 during the operation.

Located using state of the art sonar systems to search the lake bed along with a unmanned submersible, the finding could lead to the recovery of the mens' bodies and their possible repatriation to the US, the 'Daily Mail' reported.

The servicemen were lost traversing the famed lake as they crossed to Gargnano, where Mussolini had operated as the "puppet" ruler of Italy under German control during 1945 before he fled to his eventual capture and death at the hands of Communist partisans at the Swiss border.

They were members of the US Army's 10th Mountain Division and in particular the 85th Infantry Regiment who fought in some of the roughest terrain in Northern Italy as they wrestled the occupying German troops for control.

It was during the course of these operations on the night of April 29 and 30 that the K Company and a MG platoon of the 10th Mountain Division crossed the lake to reach Mussolini's Vila Feltrinelli.

This was where the fallen despot had operated his 600 day long Fascist Italian Social Republic, a dictatorship only made possible by Adolf Hitler and the German troops occupying Italy from 1943-45, the report said. 

The villa was occupied without a fight but that night a violent storm hit one of the crossing amphibious DUKW which contained 25 servicemen and sank, with the loss of all but one person.

The servicemen who were aboard are still listed as missing in action.

Swiss TV crew reports on WWII hero in Saranac Lake

A television news crew from the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation was here Tuesday to gather footage for a story about a Swiss-born man who won top honors for valor in World War II, lived in Saranac Lake for the last 25 years of his life and will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

The Washington-based crew of reporter Tomas Miglierina and freelance cameraman Markus Zeffler interviewed Suzanne Joyeuse, the widow of the late Dr. Rene Joyeuse, and village Mayor Clyde Rabideau, who's written about Joyeuse's life in the Enterprise. The footage they gathered will be part of a two- to three-minute story about Joyeuse, Miglierina said.

"Our interest is that it's a Swiss story, as Rene Joyeuse was born in Switzerland, and as far as we know it's the first time a Swiss man is going to be buried in Arlington," Miglierina told the Enterprise.

During World War II, Joyeuse worked with the French resistance for the United States Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency. He parachuted behind German lines before D-Day with orders to gather crucial intelligence about German military installations, supply depots and troop movements so the allies could bombard them before the invasion.

Joyeuse was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, second in magnitude only to the Congressional Medal of Honor in the United States, for his heroism. France gave him its highest military honor, the Legion D'Honneur-Chevalier.

Joyeuse, a noted surgeon, lived in Saranac Lake for the last 25 years of his life, working for the state prison system until he retired. When he died June 12 at the age of 92, his family hoped he could be buried at Arlington. They were initially turned down because Joyeuse was not an American citizen during World War II.

The family, along with Rabideau and U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, then lobbied the Department of the Army and were recently notified by Army Secretary John McHugh, who had been Owens' predecessor as a North Country congressman, that Joyeuse's remains could be buried at Arlington. McHugh cited Joyeuse's "extraordinary heroism, lifetime scientific contributions and civilian service in support of the U.S. military."

Miglierina and Zeffler spent several hours at the Joyeuse home on Tuesday, interviewing Suzanne Joyeuse and gathering footage of her house and old pictures of the Joyeuse family.

"She told us about what her late husband did in the war and how important it was for her family that he her husband gets a place in Arlington," Miglierina said. "She mentioned the efforts of the mayor, the elected officials and the community here. She gratefully acknowledged all the support."

Later in the day, the Swiss TV crew interviewed Rabideau in front of the Harrietstown Town Hall.

Miglierina said he and Zeffler also plan to gather footage in Arlington, including an interview with a local historian, for the story. They planned to return to Washington today.

The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, funded by the nation's government, broadcasts in the three main languages spoken in Switzerland: French, German and Italian. Miglierina reports in Italian and said he and the corporation's French and German U.S. reporters often pool their efforts.

WWII bombardier’s son cherishes memories of dad

Son of WWII veteran.jpg


Randy Wells is proud of his family’s military history.
His father and five of his dad’s brothers served in various branches of the armed forces during World War II. His father was a bombardier whose B-17 was escorted by the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

“I’m around because of the Tuskegee Airmen,” Wells said. “He told me a lot of stories about them. I feel like I’m around here because of them. I have a lot of respect for them.”

Wells, who works at building 5250 as an electrician for Henshaw Electric, bought the DVD “Red Tails,” which is about the Tuskegee Airmen, after the movie was released this year.

“I’ve seen it about 15 times now. I keep watching it,” he said. “It’s a good movie.”

He keeps photos of his father during World War II and he wears his dad’s Army Air Forces wings on a leather vest. His father, Carrol David Wells, died Sept. 20, 2007 at age 83.

In 2008 a retired veteran noticed the wings on Wells’ vest during a motorcycle rally in Shelbyville, Tenn.

“There were probably a thousand people there,” Wells, 55, of Meridianville, recalled. “He said ‘Excuse me, bud, I was just admiring your wings right there. Those are original.’ I said it’s my dad’s. I was pretty impressed, especially since he could tell they were original.”

On June 1, 1943, his father joined the Army Air Forces, a predecessor of the Air Force which was established in 1947. His father was a bombardier on 38 missions and his plane was shot down over Belgium on his 24th mission. Wells is unsure how many of these bombing runs were escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen but believes it was 12 or more. “He’s not around to ask him anymore,” Wells said.

The Tuskegee Airmen initially were equipped with Curtis P-40 Warhawks fighter-bomber aircraft, briefly with Bell P-39 Airacobras (March 1944) and later with Republic P-47 Thunderbolts (June-July 1944) and finally with the aircraft with which they became most commonly associated, the North American P-51 Mustang (July 1944). When the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group painted the tails of their P-47s – and later, P-51s – red, the nickname “Red Tails” was coined.

“When they came up there to escort you, you could take a nap,” Wells said. “I feel like I’m here because of them. You think about it: They didn’t lose anybody. They didn’t lose a B-17. I hold a special place in my heart for those guys right there.”

Wells and his wife, Debbie, have three grown children. His stepson, Michael Howard, is a Redstone police officer.

Wells’ father was among 13 children, including 11 boys and two girls, of William R. and Roberta Wells of Monrovia. He was the third oldest son. The other five who joined the military during the war included Charles, who joined the Navy and lives in Meridianville; Arthur, who entered the Navy and was killed on the USS Hoel during the Battle of Leyte in the Philippines on Oct. 25, 1944; Joseph, the second oldest son, who entered the Army; Perry, the oldest son, who was an Army staff sergeant; and Robert, the youngest son, who entered the Army and resides in Meridianville. A brother-in-law, John Hofues, also served in the Army during the war.

His father left the service in 1945 as a staff sergeant. During the Korean War, he joined the Army National Guard in August 1950, served in Korea and was discharged in December 1952 as a sergeant first class.

“I’m kind of proud of Pop,” Wells said.

World War II POW survivor dies at 91 in Manitowoc

Manitowoc's Lester Ruzek, 91, spent more than three years in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp during World War II. He died last week.

by Charlie Matthews

With a fighting spirit and luck, Lester Ruzek was able to survive 31/21/2 horrific years as a Prisoner of War in Japanese work camps and prisons during World War II.

The Manitowoc native eventually was liberated by fellow Americans taking back the Philippines in January 1945. He came back to his hometown, married, raised a family, enjoyed work in the construction industry, recreational pursuits and, eventually, retirement.

Ruzek, 91, died Thursday.

At 11 a.m. Saturday at the St. Francis of Assisi Grand Avenue site, his life will be celebrated at a Mass of Christian Burial with full military honors to be held afterward at Evergreen Cemetery.

“He was in a dress uniform and very good looking,” his wife of 66 years, the former Betty Cherney, said Monday of her first look at the U.S. Marine in late 1945 at her parents’ tavern near Maribel Caves.

A movie date was followed by more courtship. After about eight months they married and over the next 13 years had three daughters and a son, with Ruzek also survived by eight grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

In talking with HTR Media, Betty and her son, Steve, recalled fun family picnics while daughter, Sandra, remembered a road trip to Disneyland in 1961, their one big excursion outside Wisconsin.

For much of his post-military years — although once a Marine, always a Marine and many will be involved in Saturday’s burial ceremony — Ruzek was a heavy equipment operator with Adolph Cherney Construction, working for his father-in-law.

After the business ceased operations, Ruzek worked for Lunda Construction helping to build bridges around the state until his retirement in 1986.
WWII Marine

Steve Ruzek said his father didn’t much like talking about his years as a POW but he did share life and death experiences of his fellow Semper Fi band of brothers with author John Maino for his book, “Frontlines World War II — Personal Accounts of Wisconsin Veterans.”

Ruzek’s military career started out innocently enough, enlisting in 1940 hoping to earn some money to share with his mother and four siblings, after his father, a Manitowoc County Highway worker, had died in an accident several years earlier.

He told Maino, “I liked the discipline, the spit and polish. I was proud to wear the Marine insignia.”

Ruzek’s first overseas assignment was in Shanghai, making $20.80 per month and sending $10 back to his mother in Wisconsin, as he and other Marines protected U.S. businesses operating in that part of the Far East.

By Dec. 8, 1941 — the day after Pearl Harbor and “A day which will live in infamy,” said President Roosevelt — Ruzek was in the Philippines with his base bombed by Japanese with many U.S. Marines killed.

For the next 16 months, he was part of fierce battles waged between U.S. and Japanese troops. By May 1942, Ruzek told Maino, “Food-wise we were down to just about nothing. We were eating anything we could get our hands on ... monkeys, lizards, horses ... when you’re that hungry, anything tastes pretty good.”

Eventually, his unit surrendered and life as a POW began. “One tin of rice twice per day,” recalled Ruzek, who went into the service weighing 160 pounds and was down to 90 pounds when liberated. “I dreamed of pork chops with sauerkraut and dumplings, chocolate cake and cold milk.”

Maino’s chapter on Ruzek includes his retelling of various experiences that resulted in some POW’s, in Ruzek’s words, becoming “broken down mentally, the ‘walking dead’ we called them.”

He recalled one day at a POW camp, “The Japanese commanders had a rule: everyone was placed in a 10-person squad. If one tried to escape, the other nine would be executed. Well, one time a guy escaped but the guards had screwed up the numbers and weren’t sure which unit he was from.”

After an American commander refused to pick nine guys to be executed, Ruzek and the other POWs were forced to take a number and drop it in a bucket. “Then with everyone standing in line, (a Japanese officer) drew out nine numbers ... I remember how stoic how they were, how bravely they faced it.

“The Japs lined those nine guys up in front of a firing squad and killed them right there in front of us. “It took five volleys before they were done,” Ruzek told the author.

After three years, four months and 22 days, his POW ordeal was finally over. He recalled his voyage home to America and heading into port at San Diego.

“When I started down the gangplank, the band on the dock started playing, ‘It’s Been a Long, Long Time.’ When I hit the ground, I did like a lot of guys. I bent down and kissed it,” stated Ruzek, one of 21,000 Americans captured by the Japanese who survived, with 12,000 dying in captivity.

Ruzek served as president of the Northeast Wisconsin ex-POWs, marched annually in Manitowoc’s Memorial Day Parade, as well as took part in “empty chair” POW-MIA ceremonies.

Steven said his father was a Packers fan, becoming a season ticket holder even before the NFL team moved to Lambeau Field, was crazy about golf, a member of the Elks Club, and enjoyed fellow retirees in Golden K Kiwanis.

One of them, Bob Rosinsky, also served in the South Pacific, was aware of his POW experiences and had great respect for Ruzek’s mental and physical toughness contributing to his survival.

“I didn’t know him prior to Golden K but I can tell you he truly was such a gentleman. I very much enjoyed his friendship,” Rosinsky said.

Solving a WWII mystery 

Submitted photo
Capt. Walter Francis Duke of Leonardtown was shot down over Burma on June 6, 1944,, and was never heard from again. The Army believes it has found his remains in the cleared jungle of today’s Myanmar and his next of kin are being notified.

Capt. Walter Francis Duke, an ace Army pilot from St. Mary’s, was shot down over Burma in 1944. Now, his remains may have been recovered after jungle was cleared

The remains of Capt. Walter Francis Duke, shot down in combat over the jungles of Burma in World War II, may have been located, his kin were advised last weekend.

Family members are hoping that a 68-year-old mystery has been solved.

A forensic genealogist working as a contractor for the U.S. Army said it’s premature to say Duke has in fact been found in recently cleared jungle in the country today called Myanmar, but the Army doesn’t put her to work to locate survivors if a loved one hasn’t been found. A P-38 aircraft with numbers matching Duke’s plane was discovered with the remains, the genealogist said.

“When they give me a case to do, there’s a reason,” she said, asking to remain anonymous as it is the Army’s responsibility to make the official notification to the family.

Duke went missing in action, reported shot down over Burma, on June 6, 1944. That was also D-Day, the day half a world away when U.S. forces and their allies crossed the English Channel to push back the Nazi German forces.

The family was left wondering what happened to Duke ever since.

“I don’t know how I feel about it,” said Eleanor Ann Fearns, 88, after learning Duke’s remains may have been found.

“All the memories come back now. I was in high school when he was reported MIA,” she said from her Leonardtown home.

Fearns is one of two sisters still living among Duke’s many siblings.

Fearns said she was contacted by the genealogist. “They didn’t tell me what they had found, but they asked about DNA” to verify if the remains are Duke’s.

“If it’s a match, then a casualty officer physically visits the family,” the genealogist said.

The Duke family burial plot is at the old St. Aloysius Cemetery off Cemetery Road in Leonardtown. Fearns said as the next of kin, she would request his remains be buried there as well.

“My brother, George, I wish so he was still alive. [Walter] was his idol,” Fearns said.

George Duke was 12 when his older brother went missing.

George Duke researched his brother’s service over the years, trying to find out what happened to him in combat. George Duke even found the pilot who shot his brother down with the help of the Japanese Embassy, his sister said, and began a written correspondence.

Capt. Duke signed up to be a combat pilot before Japan attacked the United States in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941. Before the Pearl Harbor attack, most Americans wanted to stay out of the war.

Capt. Duke signed up with the Royal Canadian Air Force in July 1941, after Germany had invaded France and launched an aerial attack of England. He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in May 1942 after the United States was pulled into the war.

By the age of 21, Duke was a captain and an ace fighter pilot. In March 1943, the Allies began pushing the Japanese Air Force out of Burma, George Duke told the St. Mary’s County commissioners in a 1999 letter.

From March to May that year, Capt. Duke scored 10 confirmed kills, eight probable kills, 13 damaged aircraft, plus more destroyed or damaged on the ground.

The (Baltimore) Sun called him “Maryland’s leading air ace of World War II” on May 20, 1944.

In wartime letters back home, the newspaper reported, Capt. Duke shared few details of his combat missions. “I am getting my share … I get a little scared in the tough spots but I am doing okay,” he wrote March 30, 1944.

Capt. Duke, on leave back home in St. Mary’s, married Verja Graham in March 1943, a girl he had known since childhood, The Sun reported on June 23, 1944.

His P-38 plane had “Miss V” painted on the nose after his wife.

The genealogist found Verja still living in Florida. She remarried so she is no longer next of kin.

Capt. Duke told his family he was expecting to come back home for a visit so a celebration was planned in his hometown of Leonardtown. However, the news came on June 21, 1944, that he was reported as missing as of June 6.

The celebration plans were not canceled, The Sun reported. “St. Mary’s countians plan to honor their ace by buying war bonds,” an article said.

Sen. Millard Tydings told the audience on June 22 he believed that Capt. Duke was captured by the Japanese or was making his way through the jungle.

Now more than 68 years later, the question of what happened to Capt. Duke may have been answered.

George Duke said his brother shot down three enemy planes before they got him.

The county’s airport was once named after Capt. Duke, but is now called the St. Mary’s County Regional Airport. The terminal building bears Duke’s name.