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The prisoners at Stalag 13C are freed.

Charles Pensyl of Biglersville answered a knock on his door on December 1944 and saw a soldier standing in front of him. The man asked to see the Logan children. The five children of Otis Edward Logan were staying with their Aunt Maude and Uncle Charles. Maude Pensyl was Logan’s sister. The army officer told the children that their father was missing in action and believed captured during the first day of the Battle of the Bulge in Europe.

 

Logan was among the millions of Americans who either joined or were drafted into the Armed Forces during World War II. Despite the fact that he was a married father of five children, he entered the U.S. Army on December 1, 1942.

He trained for nine months at Camp Van Dorn in Mississippi and Camp Maxey in Texas before he was shipped overseas to fight as a “mortar gun operator” with the 99th Infantry, 393rd Division, Company B.

The Logan family waited anxiously in the following weeks wondering whether Logan was alive or not. Then on February 17, 1945, Logan’s father, Otis A. Logan, received a card that Logan had written from a German prison camp. He had been captured and was now a prisoner of war.

Logan was sent to Stalag 13C in Hammelburg, Bavaria. The camp had been created in the summer of 1940 when short, wooden barracks were built to house POWs. The first prisoners housed there Belgian and French soldiers captured during the Blitzkrieg of 1940. Serbian, Polish, Italian, British, Russian and American POWs were also eventually housed in the Stalag 13C. Each nationality was housed in separate barracks.

Enlisted men, corporal and below, were required to work while in the camp. They were assigned work groups at nearby farms and factories. After the war, Logan told the Gettysburg Times that the food and treatment he received at the camp were “pretty bad.”

The Red Cross agreed about the camp conditions. A Swiss delegation from the Red Cross reported in March 1945 that prisoners consumed only 1050 calories a day about half of what the average person needs. The average temperature in the barracks was 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Men were sick and malnourished. Morale and discipline were low. “No Red Cross packages had reached the Americans since they started arriving in January. They only reason they didn’t starve was the generosity of the Serbian officers, who shared their packages,” according to the web site, Uncommon Travel Germany.

In 1945 as the Third Reich crumbled, Gen. George Patton sent a tank force to penetrate the German lines and free the prisoners in Stalag 13. “The men of Task Force Baum, as it was called, ran into heavy resistance coming in but they reached the camp on March 24, 1945. The tanks knocked down the fences, but they also started firing at the Serbian officers, mistaking them for Germans,” Uncommon Travel Germany reports.

Things were quickly straightened out and the tanks eventually left with many of the prisoners who were fit to march. “On the way back, the Task Force was ambushed and forced to surrender. Out of the 314 men in the unit, 26 were killed and most of the rest were captured. Most of the POW’s returned to the camp as well,” according to Uncommon Travel Germany.

The 47th U.S. Tank Battalion ultimately liberated the camp for good on April 6, 1945. Logan finally left the camp on April 29.

“At the time of his liberation the prisoners from Stalag 13C were being evacuated to the rear. Yankee tanks took the guard completely by surprise and they laid down their arms without a fight,” the Gettysburg Times reported. “Pfc. Logan said that he had his first decent meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes, peas and gravy after liberation, and that he had no personal belongs when he was freed. All had been taken from his by the Germans.”

Once freed, Logan received a 60-day furlough and returned to Biglerville to reunite with his family in early June 1945.

Because he had also been injured before being taken a prisoner, Logan also received the Purple Heart for his service.

Logan died on March 16, 1986, at the age of 77. He was living on Middle Street in Gettysburg and died at home. His service was held at the Peters Funeral Home and he was buried in the Biglerville Cemetery.

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One of the aircraft spotting stations in Adams County during WWII. This one was located in Biglerville, PA. Gettysburg had one station located on the roof of the First National Bank building in downtown Gettysburg.

Early in the morning of June 22, 1943, air raid sirens blared throughout Adams County. People stumbled out of their beds, tripping in the dark because they couldn’t turn on any lights. Within an hour, it was obvious that the county had bombed.

The county hadn’t been bombed. It had bombed as in “failed.”

“If the surprise air raid test early Tuesday morning had been the real thing the amount of damage done in Adams County would have been terrible,” a member of the County Council of Defense told the Gettysburg Times.

Adams County had been staging air raid drills since the United States had entered World War II, but the U.S. Army had taken over running them in mid-June 1943 and within a week, ran its first drill. The army sent the alert at 4:10 a.m. and the yellow alarm was sounded 15 minutes later. In Gettysburg, the alarm was the undulating sound of the siren on the Gettysburg Fire Hall.

Lights should have been doused and blackout shades drawn all around the county. Instead, people stumbled around in a sleepy daze as the siren became an annoying alarm.

“So realistic was the test, the first sprung by the army, that a number of persons were fearful it was a real raid after they had discovered that the test was in progress,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

The blue alarm was sent at 4:35 a.m., though it didn’t sound until 4:42 because of the volume of telephone calls being made. The only operator on duty at the Gettysburg phone exchange began fielding lots of calls from firemen who wanted to know where the fire was. One of the members of the County Council of Defense said, “The magnificent work of the single operator on duty prevented complete collapse of the local system and allowed the air raid calls to go through.”

The hundreds of air raid wardens throughout the county (Gettysburg alone had 179 wardens and 35 highway entrance police) should have been outside by then walking along their streets to make sure no lights could be seen and people had taken cover. Spotters should have been at their station of the roof of the First National Bank looking for enemy aircraft. That wasn’t the case. Only a small portion had heeded the alarm.

“A number of county communities did not receive the alarms apparently because sleeping wardens did not hear their phones or failed to distinguish their ring on the party lines,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

Early morning defense workers had to dress in the dark and couldn’t leave their homes in time to get to work.

The all-clear alarm finally sounded at 5:02 a.m., less than an hour after the original alarm had been sounded.

People took a deep breath and began assessing what had happened. New Oxford and McSherrystown hadn’t even staged a blackout. When the army took over the air raid drills, the phrasing of how the drill alerts were made was changed. Though it was supposed to be simpler, it turned out to be confusing and so those communities hadn’t even realized that they were in the midst of an air raid drill. The county switched back to using the original phraseology a few weeks later.

In Gettysburg, Texas Hot Weiners, Dr. Bruce N. Wolff and the Sweetland Plaza Restaurant were all fined $5 and court costs for not adhering to blackout conditions.

“The test was the most unsuccessful held so far in regards to performance, but it was the most successful in revealing flaws in the system,” a Defense Council official told the Gettysburg Times.

Another change that was found to be necessary was a new alarm at the fire hall so that the air raid signals wouldn’t be mistaken for a fire alarm. On the east side of Gettysburg, the alarm had been confused with factory whistles, adding to residents’ confusion.

“That the present differentiation is not distinct enough to make everyone understand immediately that is an air raid alarm was proved all too well this morning. If they raid had been real, the result would have been tragic,” the Defense Council official said.

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A young boy has his first experience using ration cards. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

During 1942, the people of Cumberland were worried about things. The Nazis were on the move and their sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers were being drafted. However, as summer turned to fall, a new worry entered their daily conversations.

 

Coffee was going to be rationed.

“Judging from the talk we have heard for several weeks past, there are those in this community – and the same is likely true elsewhere – who consider coffee, rather than bread, the real staff of life and have been in mortal terror lest this so-called necessity would be completely taken from them,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

Coffee wasn’t the only thing or even the first thing to be rationed in order to make sure American servicemen didn’t have to go without, but it seemed to be the one raising the most concern.

Rationing began with tires in January 1942 because the Japanese had interrupted the supply of rubber used in making them. Gasoline soon followed. By the summer, plans were in the works to ration food items. By the following year, coffee, sugar, meat, cheese, butter, lard, margarine, canned foods, dried fruits, jam, gasoline, bicycles, fuel oil, clothing, silk or nylon stockings and shoes had also been added to the list of rationed items.

Early in November 1942, the Cumberland War Price and Rationing Board, a volunteer three-person board, announced that coffee would begin being rationed on November 26. To prepare for it, not coffee would be sold during the week prior to the rationing.

This quickly led to hoarding, particularly when it was announced that the allotment would be one pound of coffee every five weeks for everyone over 15 year old. The board stressed that overall this should only represent a small reduction in a coffee drinker’s usual intake.

“In virtually every large family there is somebody who does not drink coffee at all or who drinks it sparingly. These persons, provided they are more than 15 years old, will, of course, be entitled to a ration book and there is no reason why their share of the coffee shall not go to other members of the family,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

It was estimated that a pound of coffee could be used to make 50 cups. Some estimates were even higher, but the more coffee each pound made, the weaker the coffee. For a stronger cup of coffee, newspaper articles recommended coffee essence, which had no coffee in it. When mixed into a cup of coffee, it made it stronger.

The Rationing Board also tried to discourage hoarding by writing that a count of coffee on hand would need to be taken before anyone was issued a war ration coupon book and for each pound over the first pound, a coffee ration coupon would be removed from the book.

Each person in the country was issued a war ration coupon book with a set of coupon stamps in them. The OPA then set what each coupon could be used to purchase, how much of the product could be purchased with it, and when the coupon was valid.

 

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A WWII  ration book.

Cumberlanders adjusted to drinking little or no coffee. It was the least they could do for the war effort.

 

Then at the end of July 1943, the Cumberland Evening Times announced that due to ships being built with more cargo space and the success of Allied forces against German U-boats, coffee rationing would be lifted. When President Franklin Roosevelt made the announcement, he also hinted that the war ration of sugar would soon be increased. That was certainly good news to people who liked their coffee sweet.

Almost as soon as people started celebrating that their coffee was back, rumors started around town that coffee would soon be rationed once again. Some people started hoarding their roasted coffee.

The Cumberland Evening Times ran a story saying, “While it is true that the forthcoming Ration Book No. 4 contains coffee stamps, these will be removed before the book is issued, or else made applicable to some other commodity.”

The lifting of coffee rationing could be considered an early victory in WWII. It showed progress was being made in the war and it lifted people’s spirits. All rationing was finally ended in 1946.

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1280px-Approaching_OmahaDonald Lewis stood crammed among a group of friends and fellow soldiers trying not to lose his balance. The landing craft they were on was pushing toward its destination on Omaha Beach at Normandy, France. A strong current threatened to pull them away from their destination.

Lewis was a long way from his hometown of Thurmont, but he along with millions of other young men had been drafted to serve in the armed forces during World War II. Though he had entered the army as a private, he had risen to the rank of staff sergeant.

Lewis stood at the front of the landing craft hanging onto the edge of the wall. Around him, he could hear the explosion of artillery and see the explosions on the water or beach. Things seemed a mass of confusion, but it was all part of the largest seaborne invasion ever undertaken. The coordinated D-Day attack on German forces at Normandy, France. The invasion involved 156,000 Allied troops. Amphibious landings along 50 miles of the Normandy Coast were supported by naval and air assaults.

Lewis’s job in the invasion seemed simple. He was to go ashore first and mark paths across the irrigation ditches that crossed the beach.

However, the landing craft couldn’t make it to the beach. It grounded on a sandbar.

Lewis and the other men were still expected to take the beach, though. The front ramp of the landing craft was lowered and Lewis ran into the water. He suddenly found himself in water over his head, weighed down by a heavy backpack.

“I just had to hold my breath and walk part of the way underwater until my head was above water,” Lewis said.

The Germans started firing on the beach and the landing craft. Lewis focused on his job and began marking the paths where troops could cross.

“When I looked back, men were laying everywhere,” Lewis said. “Just about everyone on the boat was dead.”

After the war, when he was invited back to Normandy for the anniversary of the D-Day invasion, Lewis always turned down the invitations. Now 96 years old, he has never returned to Omaha Beach.

“I’ve seen all I wanted to,” he said.

Though amazingly not wounded during that invasion, he was later wounded in the leg during an artillery barrage. He wound was near his groin and barely missed his groin. Lewis remembers laying in a hospital in England waiting to be taken into surgery.

“A big, ol’ English nurse comes walking up and she pulls back the sheet and looks at the wound,” Lewis said. “Then she said to me, ‘Almost got your pride and joy, didn’t they?’”

1010141238Another time, Lewis barely escaped being killed. He and other soldiers were up in trees along a road, waiting to ambush the Germans. However, the Germans were being careful that day.

“A sniper must have spotted me up there,” Lewis said. “I knew he hit my helmet. I started down that tree as fast as I could grabbing limbs and dropping.”

When he got to the ground, he took off his helmet and saw that there was a hole through the front of it and a matching one through the back of it. Only the fact that his helmet had been sitting high on his head saved his life.

“People wondered why I didn’t bring the helmet home as a souvenir, but I didn’t want anything to do with it,” Lewis said.

Perhaps his most-pleasant memory from the war was when he was discharged from the army. He was in line with other soldiers being discharged after the end of the war. The soldier at the front of the line would walk up to the officer at the front of the room, receive his discharge papers, salute, and walk away.

“When I got my papers, I let out a war whoop and woke that place up,” Lewis said.

Once back in Thurmont, Lewis went to work on the family farm. He met his wife, Freda, who was a farm girl also from Thurmont and they married in a double ceremony with a couple they were friends with.

Lewis also had a political career. He served two terms as Mayor of Thurmont and one term as a Frederick County Commissioner. He said a group of people tried to talk him into running for governor, but he turned them down, saying, “I’m too honest for that.”

He is now 96 years old and still living on his own. “I want to live to be 100,” he said. “After that, I’ll take what I can get.”

Veterans’ Day is on Nov. 11. Make sure to thank any veterans you know for their service and attend one of the special Veterans’ Day activities going on in the area.

 

 

 

 

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The U.S.S. Princeton burning after she was hit by a Japanese bomb during the Battle of Leyte in WWII.

Before Francis J. Menchey could fight for his country amid the islands of the Pacific Ocean during World War II, he first had the win the battles against the draft boards at home that didn’t want him to fight.

When Menchey graduated from Gettysburg High School in 1943, the U.S. had been at war with the Axis Powers for about 18 months. Like many Americans, the young man wanted to do his part to help his country. Shortly before his graduation, he traveled to Baltimore to try and enlist in the U.S. Navy.

The U.S. Navy rejected him because the physician at the enlistment center said Menchey had a hernia. That was news to Menchey who felt perfectly fine and had never had any indication that he had a hernia.

“Returning to Gettysburg, Menchey consulted his family physician who declared that he was physically fit for service,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

He tried to enlist locally and was told the same thing. He was unfit because he had a hernia. Then the local draft board called for him to enlist, but he was again rejected for a third time as being unfit.

After graduation, Menchey took a job with Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y., but he didn’t give up on his hope of serving in the military. He had the plant’s physician examine him.

“There just isn’t anything wrong with you,” the doctor told him.

So Menchey tried to enlist in Buffalo, N.Y., and was turned down for a fourth time.

When he returned to Gettysburg for Christmas with his family in 1943, he was called up for induction by his draft board again. He traveled to Harrisburg where he was examined and finally, on this fifth attempt to join the military, he was accepted. However, he was told that he would be leaving on January 4, 1944, for army boot camp. Menchey wanted to join the navy. He asked to be reassigned to the navy but he was turned down.

“He then appealed to a Navy Commander who ‘changed’ the induction paper after he confirmed Menchey’s statements that his Navy enlistment papers of several months previous were still on file,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

Menchey reported to boot camp at Great Lakes and was then sent to corpsmen’s school in San Diego and onto Radium Plaque Adaptomter’s school on Treasure Island off San Francisco.

“Six months after his induction Menchey was at Pearl Harbor and a few weeks later he was aboard a task force flagship en route to his first engagement at Angar in the Peleliu group,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

He also participated in the battles of Leyte, Luzon and Iwo Jima. One time a Japanese bomber strafed Menchey’s ship, wounding 17 men and barely missed crashing into the ship.

The Battle of Leyte was a two-month-long battle against the Japanese in the Philippines. It was the first battle in which the U.S. forces faced Japanese kamikaze pilots. Menchey’s ship was the acting general communications ship for the attack force. It was under an air attack 85 times in 30 days and general quarters was sounded 149 times during that month. Menchey was part of a medical group of six doctors and 27 corpsmen who took care of the wounded and dying who were brought aboard the ship. At one point, they were caring for 215 men with serious injuries and 375 ambulatory wounded. When the fighting was finished, nearly 53,000 soldiers had been killed.

Menchey was given a month-long leave in early 1945 and returned home to visit his family.

“Rejected three time by the navy and turned down once by draft board examiners Francis J. ‘Dick’ Menchey, Pharmacist Mate Third Class, is home from the Pacific wars with four battle stars and an extra star for having survived 85 air attacks in thirty days while his ship was laying off Leyte Island, 13 of his 18 months were spent in the Pacific war zone,” the Gettysburg Times noted.

He was discharged from the Navy in in February 1946. When he returned home, he brought his new wife, Della C. de Baca, whom he had met in San Francisco.

This local hero died in 2002.

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WWII veteran Guy Stern returns to Fort Ritchie to speak about his experiences there. Photo courtesy of the author.

Cascade may be a small community nestled in the mountains, but what happened there 75 years ago helped changed the world.

Guy Stern fled Nazi Germany in 1937 as a young man of 15. He left behind his parents and two siblings.

“I made efforts to get the papers for my family to emigrate and I almost succeeded, but in the end it did not work,” said Stern in an interview with the Waynesboro Record Herald. Stern’s family eventually perished in the Holocaust.

Meanwhile, Stern attended St. Louis University and was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942. Only a few months after his basic training in Texas, he received secret orders to transfer to Camp Ritchie in 1943.

Because of his German heritage, he had been selected as part of a military intelligence training program. Using the knowledge of the German language and culture that men like Stern had, they were trained in interrogation, psychological warfare, and counter-intelligence. About 9,000 mostly Jewish soldiers went through the training and became known as The Ritchie Boys.

Stern was trained in interrogation techniques, the evaluation of enemy documents, psychological warfare, German propaganda and ancillary skills that every soldier needs. The training could also be physically demanding with long, nighttime marches.

“I earned by Ph.D. at college, but nothing I had done at college was as difficult or intense as training at Camp Ritchie,” Stern told the Catoctin Banner.

However, Stern was also able to appreciate the beautiful mountain setting. He enjoyed swimming and canoeing in the lake.

The training at Camp Ritchie lasted for three months. His group was then sent to Louisiana for maneuvers that tested whether they had learned the skills they would need in Europe. Stern and other Ritche Boys were then shipped across the Atlantic. They initially landed in Birmingham, England.

While in England, the Ritchie Boys participated marginally in the D-Day invasion planning. Stern said that they were in charge of how prisoners captured in the invasion would be handled. Once the invasion began, the Ritchie Boys landed three days later to begin their prisoner interrogations.

“Within the first half-hour of being on the beach we began interrogating people and tinkering with psychological warfare,” Stern told the Record Herald.

One of their tactics was to play on the fears of German prisoners. When the Ritchie Boys discovered that German soldiers feared being turned over to Russians, Stern began dressing up in the uniform of a Russian officer. Another Ritchie Boy would lead the prisoner into a tent decorated with Russian posters and mementos. Stern would then interrogate the prison in character as a German.

One of Stern’s coups was when an Austrian deserter gave him a diary that the deserter had kept from the Battle of the Bulge to his capture at the Rhine River. Stern said that between his interrogations and the diary, he believed that the information was correct and useful. It contained information on German morale, plans for troop retreats and hints to the dispersion of other units.

“We could use the information to form the basis of how we directed our propaganda,” Stern told the Catoctin Banner.

Stern returned to Camp Ritchie on Sept. 21, 2013, and found it very different at least until sunset. At that time, Lakeside Hall returned to look very much the way it had when it had been an officer’s club during World War II.

As part of the Sunset on the Mountain event, the hall was given a period makeover. USO Canteen style food was served and 1940’s music played. Sunset on the Mountain also featured an auction with Fort Ritchie and World War II experiences including a ride in an open-cockpit PT-19 trainer aircraft courtesy of the Hagerstown Aviation Museum, a catered dinner at Fort Ritchie’s famed Castle, and autographed memorabilia.

The proceeds from the event benefitted the Fort Ritchie Community Center, which is seeking to get a permanent exhibit in the center that features the Ritchie Boys and Camp Ritchie’s history.

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Last To Fall CoverIt can be said that the last deaths at the Battle of Gettysburg were two marines who fell from the sky in an airplane in 1922.

Confused? Are you starting to type a comment to tell me that the Battle of Gettysburg was fought in 1863 and there weren’t any marines there?

You would be right on both counts. However, during the first week of July 1922, nearly a quarter of the U.S. Marine Corps re-enacted Pickett’s Charge in a historical way and also using modern equipment, such as tanks and airplanes.

Think about that for a second. There’s a whole sub-genre of science fiction based on alternative history. One of the standards of the genre is Harry Turtledove’s “Guns of the South.” In it, time travelers give the Confederacy Uzis to use in their Civil War battles.

That is fiction, though. This training exercise was like having an alternative history come to life on the battlefield as planes dropped bombs and shot down an observation balloon and tanks rolled across the fields impervious to bullets. And while it may have only been a training exercise, two marines died during the re-enactments.

It’s a little-known and written of event in Gettysburg history, but now you can find out the whole story along with more than 150 pictures in “The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg.” The book will retail for $24.95 when it is released in early April, but you can purchase autographed copies for $20 as a pre-order on my web site.

Marines in action, Gettysburg 1922

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