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08 May 2013

Irish Government apologises to WWII veterans

by Tim O'Brien

The passing of legislation providing an apology for the way the State treated members of the Defence Forces who deserted to join the fight against Nazi Germany is “a tribute to how far we have come as a society”, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said.

In his closing statement on the Defence Forces (Second World War Amnesty and Immunity Bill 2012) to the Dáil, Mr Shatter said the Bill was an acknowledgement of the harsh treatment such individuals received after World War II and an acceptance of the special circumstances that existed at the time.

The Bill offers an immunity from prosecution to those who served on the Allied side and were subsequently found guilty of desertion by a military tribunal. The same applies to soldiers still liable to be prosecuted for desertion or being absent without leave and to those dismissed from the Defence Forces.

About 7,000 people were deemed to have deserted the Defence Forces during the war, with some 5,000 of those leaving to fight with the Allied forces. About 100 of these people are still alive.

Under legislation enacted in 1949 these poeple were considered to have deserted the Defence Forces and were dismissed without pension and barred from future State employment and welfare. The names of those who deserted were also published.

“These individuals contributed in no small part to the allied victory against tyranny and totalitarianism,” Mr Shatter said.

“Their efforts, in an indirect way, also contributed to the safety of their home country. If the United Kingdom had fallen to the forces of Nazi Germany, the same fate would almost certainly have been visited on this island, with all of the consequences that would have gone with it.”

Opening the mystery of 250 WWII letters found in old hat box

The soldier in this photograph, included with one of the letters, may or may not be Eural Harvill, who wrote most of them to his parents in Drumright.
By Berenice Garcia

A hatbox found in Oklahoma that contains more than 200 letters from World War II.

Purchased for just $1 at an Oklahoma estate sale 15 years ago, an old hatbox contained a mystery decades in the making: an estimated 250 letters from two brothers during their time as soldiers in WWII.

Pamela Gilliland, who was unaware of the letters when she first bought the hatbox, just last week enlisted the help of a history buff, Doug Eaton, to find out more about them.

Written by sibling soldiers Eural and Robert Harvill, the letters were addressed to their parents, a "Mr. and Mrs. E.H. Harvill, Box 7, Drumright, OK," according to the Tulsa World .

The letters span from October 1940 to October 1946 with homesickness being the common theme.

Eaton estimates that there are about 250 letters in the collection, along with postcards, photographs, Christmas cards, and even an insurance policy.

The ages of the men remains unknown and the letters provide little context as to who they were beyond faithful sons.

"It's like putting together pieces of a puzzle," Eaton told NBC News on Monday.

One mystery of the letters revolves around the mention of a woman. "I don't know if she was his girlfriend or his wife," Eaton said.

Eaton hopes that someone who knew the family will reach out and provide some background.

But rediscovering the lives of World War II soldiers isn't new territory for Eaton.

He was drawn a few years ago to the story of a woman, Wilma Connely, who received long-lost letters from her brother when he served in World War II. With the help of Connely, Eaton published a book, "Letters from Walter."

The book caught the attention of Gilliland, who had stored the Harvill's letters in her closet for 15 years.

Now Eaton is carefully sifting through them.

Eaton's interest in these soldiers was fueled by his involvement with the Oklahoma Honor Flights, a program that flies veterans to visit memorials.

Still employed as an accountant, Eaton says that this is just a hobby. He doubts if he decides to write a book on the Harvills, he hopes to use the profits to help veterans.

"If I can donate money to the Honor Flights, that's just icing on the cake," he says. But his first priority is finding a person who may know more. "I really hope to find somebody with the family who knows these two soldiers."

Author soldiers on to get story of WWII's Monuments Men 

by Bob Minzesheimer

May 6, 2013 

Robert Edsel, a former Texas oilman, wrote 'Saving Italy' about the rescue of artwork from the Nazis.

When Robert Edsel was 42 — having sold his Texas oil- and gas-exploration business for $37 million — he, his wife and their 3-year-old son moved to Florence, Italy, in search of "something different."

Now 56, Edsel recalls thinking, "There's got to be more to life than just more — more money, more work. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to get off the merry-go-round after 23 years of putting 110% of myself into my business."

Thanks to his own curiosity and the beauty of Florence, Edsel found a new passion and obsession: telling a little-known story from World War II about how a small group of "soldier/scholars" — mostly Americans — rescued the great art of Europe looted by the Nazis.

Edsel's third book, Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures From the Nazis (Norton), is being released this week. His second book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazis Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History (2009), is being adapted for a movie directed by and starring George Clooney.

"It's a dream come true," says Edsel, who's a consultant on the Monuments Men movie, which is scheduled to be released Dec. 18. "From the start, I thought the story of the Monuments Men deserved a global audience. A book is great, but there's nothing like a major feature film to reach people, especially one with George Clooney." (The cast also includes Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon and Bill Murray.)

The Monuments Men (which included a few women and civilians) were assigned to what the Allied forces called the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section. Their job: to save Europe's art and architecture from the ravages of war and find the stolen artwork and return it to its rightful owners.

Edsel says that by 1951, the Monuments Men had found and returned more than 5 million stolen objects, although thousands remain missing, including works by Raphael, Botticelli and El Greco.

He knew none of that when he moved to Florence and started to study art. One day, on a tour of the Ponte Vecchio, he learned that the bridge was actually a reconstruction. The original medieval one had been destroyed by the retreating German army in 1944.

That, in turn, led him to discover how badly the war damaged Florence. He began to ask, "How had all the paintings in the museums escaped the destruction of the war?"

He says, "I thought most of the major stories from World War II had already been told, but no one seemed to be able to answer my questions."

He found one book on the subject, Lynn Nicholas' The Rape of Europa (1994), which chronicled how the Nazis looted art during the war. But Edsel wanted to know more about the soldier/scholars who had rescued it.

He ended up co-producing a documentary based on The Rape of Europa. After getting divorced and moving back to Dallas, he self-published a book of photographs on the subject, Rescuing da Vinci, in 2006. A year later, he founded the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art to recognize the wartime heroes and focus on the art that's still missing.

Edsel visited the film set of The Monuments Men in Berlin last month and says, "The first moment that I heard an actor recite a line that I had written in the book sent a shiver up my spine."

From what he's seen so far, he says that Cooney and co-producer Grant Heslov "are doing justice to both the book and the people in it."

His last book focused on France and Northern Europe. His new book is about what happened in Italy and focuses on two American officers, Capt. Deane Keller, a former Yale art professor, and Lt. Fred Hartt, a former art cataloguer at Yale, as well as Nazi Gen. Karl Wolff, who risked his life to arrange a secret Nazi surrender of stolen artwork.

Edsel says that "Wolff is the kind of character that people who write books or make movies love: a bad guy doing extraordinarily good things."

By the time Edsel began researching Saving Italy, all but one of 48 men and women who served in the Monuments Men effort in Italy had died. But he relied on scores of letters they had written home.

"The Monuments Men had an average age of 40. A few had even fought in World War I," he notes. "For the most part, they were not the fearless young men who went to war before their adult lives had really begun. ... Reading their letters always reminds me that so many of them walked away from great careers — as educators, artists, architects and museum curators — to go into harm's way. (That) makes their contribution to winning the war even more stunning."

Edsel says four men and one woman who served with the Monuments Men in Northern Europe are still alive and hopes they'll be able to attend the premiere of the movie in December. "They deserve the recognition and our thanks."

World War II: Then and Now: Aboard ship

Robert Gantz sailed the Pacific


Posted May 06, 2013

Machinist Mate 3rd Class Robert “Bob” Gantz of Lexington Township supplied the water that the Navy needed during World War II.

He produced it for the Army, too, if the infantry was aboard the U.S.S. President Polk, a troop ship. And the Marines partook, as well, when they were being carried to an invasion.

“My job was water changer,” said Gantz. “I changed salt water into drinking water.”

Gantz worked below deck, for the most part, except when the war beckoned him topside.

“I also had the job, when we were on alert, of running the smoke machine,” he explained. “The captain would come on and say, ‘Make smoke! Make smoke!’ And we’d make smoke, so the enemy couldn’t see us.”

Once, during a convoy on the Pacific, the captain’s call came.

“We were going to the Philippines for an invasion, when all of a sudden they saw an enemy plane coming in. Two other planes were chasing it, trying to shoot it down. I don’t know if they hit it, but the plane hit the ship in front of us and knocked six people off the deck.”

Shrapnel exploded onto the President Polk, which then passed two men floating in the water. Safety gear was cut loose and dropped to them, but the convoy kept moving.

“A smaller ship had to have gone back to pick them up.”


Gantz enlisted in the Navy before he was 18 and was given a deferment until he graduated from high school. He boarded the President Polk on Sept. 8, 1944, to sail for Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Gantz would travel tens of thousands of miles aboard the troop ship during the remainder of World War II, stopping at dozens of islands. Mostly, the movement was to transport troops to invasions. Iwo Jima. Okinawa. Men would be loaded onto landing craft and sent to shore.

“I often thought of the troops,” he said. “I’d wonder how many of them were going to make it.”

Rough seas followed the sailors.

“We were in a lot of tough water. When that ship came up and down it would shake. I’d be in my bunk wondering what way I was going to run if it broke in half.”

Hydration of the men aboard was critical and the fresh water supply was finite, making Gantz’s job a critical one.

“Don’t waste fresh water,” said an order that went out to the men aboard the President Polk on Christmas 1944. “We make it and it amounts to three gallons per person per day, including drinking and cooking.”

The end of the war came quickly for those aboard the President Polk. In fact, it was simply a notation at the end of the ship’s “Plan of the Day” in August 1945.

“To the men and women of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Coast Guard: The day of final victory has at last arrived. Japan has surrendered. Her fleet, which once boasted that it would drive us from the seas, has been destroyed.”


Gantz worked at McCaskey Register in Alliance immediately following his time in service. There he met his wife, Gay, to whom he was married in May 1949. The couple raised two children, Bill Gantz and Bruce Gantz. A third son, David, died at the age of 6 months. They have 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

After leaving McCaskey, Gantz worked as a union carpenter for several contractors until he retired in 1988. In retirement, Gantz and his wife traveled frequently in a motor home.

Travel is something that the former sailor knows about from his days in the war.