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The WWII POW camp at Gettysburg. Courtesy of the Adams County Historical Society.

Gunter Habock was imprisoned in Gettysburg, but rather than considering it a trial, he enjoyed his time here as a prisoner. It was so enjoyable, in fact, that he returned to Gettysburg in 1970 to show his wife and son where he had spent part of World War II.

 

“He was a boy of 15 in 1939 when Hitler’s Brown Shirts demonstrated for possession of the Polish Corridor and remembers the Polish army in the city,” The Gettysburg Times reported.

An 18-year-old Habock was in Danzig in 1943. He was studying architecture when he was drafted into the German Army.

Habock had served in the war as a paratrooper in the German army, but he had been transferred to infantry when the Germans lost all of their planes at St. Lo, Normandy, after the Allies strafed the location. He was sent to fight in July 12, 1944, and captured along with 24 other paratroopers on July 28.

The captured Germans were taken to Le Havre, where 42 ships waited to sail to the U.S. These ships were loaded with 2,000 German prisoners.

The ships docked at New York and the prisoners were off loaded onto trains to be transported to various prisoner of war camps in the U.S. Several hundred were put on a train to Carlisle. At Carlisle, trucks were waiting to take about 100 of the prisoners to Gettysburg.

Gettysburg housed German prisoners of war from May 31, 1944 until February 1945. It was one of hundreds of POW camps throughout the country during the war.

The early POWs had to build their own camp at Gettysburg. They constructed a 400-foot by 600-foot stockade surrounding the camp along Emmitsburg Road next to the old Home Sweet Home Motel. During this construction phase, the prisoners were housed at the National Guard Armory on Confederate Avenue.

They were primarily put to work supplementing the work force at nearby orchards and canneries. Habock spent a lot of his time working at Peach Glen.

“I ran the cider press and drank lots of apple juice!” Habock told The Gettysburg Times.

Later, he would work at a fertilizer plant in York and loading pulpwood onto trucks and railroad cars in Ortanna.

For their efforts, the prisoners received 80 cents a day. The remaining amount of their daily earnings, which was usually between 50 and 60 cents an hour, was sent to the federal government. According to the National Park Service, the federal government received $138,000 from the Gettysburg POW camp from June 8 through November 1, 1944. On days that a prisoner didn’t work, he received 10 cents a day. The prisoners were paid in coupons, which they could use as cash in the camp exchange.

Habock left Camp Sharpe in February 1946 and was sent to Indiantown Gap, then to Ft. Meade, Md., and finally to Camp Shank, N.Y. From there, he was returned to LaHavre in June 1946 and discharged in Babenhausin, Germany.

He returned to his hometown of Danzig, but found that the Russians had expelled all Germans from it so he and his family had to be relocated to Hanover, Germany.

He earned his degree and became a contractor building apartments and homes. The married in 1947 and went on to have three children.

The Habocks flew into Ontario on vacation and visited Niagara Falls before visiting the sites where Habock had been as prisoner.

“They visited the Peach Glen plant today, where Habock found many changes,” The Gettysburg Times reported.

While in Gettysburg, he met with Eugene Clapper who had also been captured at St. Lo. However, Clapper had been captured by the Germans and sent to a German POW camp. As the two compared notes on their POW experiences, Habock told Clapper, “It was much worse for you than for me. I had enough to eat and the work was not like that.”

At its peak in July 1944, the Gettysburg POW camp held 932 prisoners of war, some of whom, like Habock returned after the war to visit Gettysburg as guests.

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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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WAR & CONFLICT BOOKERA:  WORLD WAR II/WAR IN THE EAST/THE PHILIPPINES

Three Japanese snipers who got into a shoot out with U.S. troops and lost during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf is considered by many to be largest naval battle during World War II, so it is often forgotten that troops were sent ashore to capture Leyte Island once the gulf was won.

The United States’ victory in October 1944 secured the seas around the islands in the Leyte Gulf, but the Japanese still held the islands. On December 7, the 77th Infantry Division, under the command of Major General Andrew Bruce, made an amphibious landing at Albuera, a city on Leyte Island. The 305th, 306th, and 307th Infantry Regiments came ashore without incident, but that peace wouldn’t last.

Kamikaze attacks sunk U.S. destroyers. Japanese troops on the island regrouped and began fighting back against the Americans. Private Denver C. Sharpless of Deer Park, Md., was among the U.S. troops taking fire.

He had been overseas for a year after having gone through basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. He had enlisted in the army at Fort Meade in April 1942 for the “duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months,” which was a standard enlistment for WWII.

The 30-year-old infantryman had just taken cover in a ditch during a firefight when he saw a Japanese soldier emerge from his cover.

“He was the biggest Jap I ever saw,” Sharpless told an interviewer while he was in the hospital recovering from a nerve ailment in his right leg. “Must have been more than six feet and I’m not exaggerating when I say that his head was as big as one of our helmets.”

The average height of Japanese soldiers during the war was under five feet five inches. Sharpless himself was only five feet eight inches tall and weighed 152 pounds.

Sharpless wasn’t too scared of the Japanese solider. Sharpless had found cover and he had his rifle. And that big, hulking soldier made an easy target.

Then the Japanese soldier saw Sharpless and dropped out of sight. The Japanese soldier began crawling and Sharpless saw him again when he passed through an open area 25 yards away.

“Then I began to get frightened because, when I pulled the trigger, my M1 wouldn’t fire,” Sharpless said. “I yanked open the bolt and saw that the firing pin was broken.”

Sharpless was considering scurrying away so he didn’t fall within the soldier’s sights. Then Sharpless saw another American with a Browning Automatic Rifle coming toward him. The American soldier had also seen the Japanese soldier.

Sharpless asked to borrow the man’s rifle, but the soldier told him that he wanted to take out the Japanese soldier. He fired a couple shots and the Japanese soldier went down.

“I wished at the time that I had a camera to take his picture,” Sharpless said. “He looked like one of those oversize freaks you see in comic strips.”

Besides fighting at Leyte, Sharpless also fought on Guam. He earned the Combat Infantry Badge for exemplary conduct under fire and the Philippines Liberation campaign ribbon. Despite surviving enemy fire, the nerve ailment manifested itself a few months later. It severity required that he be sent to a California hospital for treatment.

He was the son of Robert and Bertha Sharpless. His parents had divorced at a young age, though, and he had been raised by his mother in Deer Park. His father was a coal miner who lived in Swanton and had remarried.

Denver died in Ohio in 1991.

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Note: As the publication of my new book, Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy draws closer, I thought that I would give you a preview of the book by publishing the first chapter over the next few weeks. The story is a biography of Chuck Caldwell, a WWII Marine who fought at Tarawa and Guadalcanal. He also worked in Nevada with the above-ground atomic bomb tests, attended the 75th, 100th, 125th and 150th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg, and is a sculptor of miniature figures that are highly sought after. If you are interested in pre-ordering a copy of the book at a 25% discount off the cover price and free shipping in the U.S., contact me at jimrada@yahoo.com. As always, let me know what you think.

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Chuck Caldwell at age 14, posing for a picture with Stephen Howe, a Confederate Civil War veteran, at the 75th reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1938.

When the Caldwells finished their vacation in Gettysburg, they drove further east through York, Pennsylvania[i], which had served as the national capital in 1777 when the British drove the politicians from Philadelphia, and then through the heart of Amish country in Lancaster County. They finally stopped at Valley Forge. Oddly enough, the Revolutionary War site where Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army had encamped for the winter and suffered through starvation, disease, and malnutrition brought back memories of Chuck’s paper route in Orrville.

Chuck delivered the Courier-Crescent, Orrville’s daily newspaper, tossing papers to front stoops as he pedaled his bicycle through his hometown. On one section of his route, though, he had to dismount his bike and hike up a steep hill past the Crown Hill Cemetery at the intersection of Crown Hill Road and West High Street.

“On winter days, I was always imagining myself at Valley Forge, climbing up this hill in the deep snow and then having the person I was going to see not pay me for the week,” Chuck recalled.[ii]

He enjoyed the visit to Valley Forge, but it was the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg that stuck in his memory. Part of the reason for his interest in history, and in particular, the Civil War, was that his great-grandfather had fought in the war.

Private Isaac Caldwell had served in the First Tennessee Volunteers as part of Archer’s Brigade.[iii] A Union cavalry officers is believed to have fired the first shot in the Battle of Gettysburg at 7:30 a.m. on July 1, 1863. When the Confederate Army was still three miles west of Gettysburg. The Confederate Army halted and sent out skirmishers. Confederate General James Archer’s brigade encountered little resistance at first. Union infantry flanked Archer and caught him by surprise. Archer started a retreat through the woods and across Willoughby Run. Archer and 300 of his men were surrounded and captured.[iv] Private Caldwell’s company had marched near the front of the Confederate Army as it approached Gettysburg. Isaac was also one of the early casualties in the battle when he was wounded at Willoughby Run.[v] He had survived the battle and the war, though, unlike thousands of other men.

In the 1930s, those whom the Civil War had not taken were slowly being picked off by time. Isaac Caldwell had died in 1885 and by 1938, only an estimated 8,000 Civil War veterans were still alive out of the more than 3.2 million men who had served in the armed forces.[vi] Chuck wished that he could have met all of them. He certainly gave it his best effort, but there was only so much that a fourteen-year old could do.

His father, George, who was the pastor at the Orrville Presbyterian Church, often spoke at other churches or meetings of pastors that were held outside of Orrville. Whenever he did, George would pour through the local newspapers and ask about whether there were any Civil War veterans living in the towns he visited. If there were, George would call them and make an appointment to stop by and get a picture, autograph, and some biographical information about them. Then he would give Chuck the mementos when he returned home.[vii]

Family members who knew of Chuck’s interest would save stories about Civil War veterans that popped up in their hometown newspapers from time to time. They would clip them carefully and mail them off to Chuck. He would open the envelopes like they were Christmas presents and read the stories looking for new information and names. Then he would paste the clippings into a scrapbook.

Chuck would often write to the veterans whose addresses he could find. He would pepper them with questions about their service in the Civil War, the battles they had fought, the hardships they had endured, and the training they had received. A good number of the veterans wrote him back. Chuck corresponded with some of them right up until they died.[viii]

Clay Soldiers

Here are the links to the other parts of “The Last Reunion”:

Endnotes

[i] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

[ii] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

[iii] Diana Loski, “A World War II Veteran Remembers,” The Gettysburg Experience, July 2014, 25.

[iv] Tim Smith, “The First Day at Gettysburg: Then and Now,” Civil War Trust (http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/gettysburg/gettysburg-2011/gettysburg-then-and-now.html?referrer=https://www.mypoints.com/) accessed October 16, 2015.

[v] Diana Loski, “A World War II Veteran Remembers,” The Gettysburg Experience, July 2014, 25.

[vi] Frank N. Britchner Collection scrapbook. Unsigned article. “Camp Aftermath.” The Frank N. Britchner Collection scrapbook is part of the Adams County (Pa.) Historical Society collection. It is part of a donation by a pharmacist who lived in Gettysburg at the time of the fiftieth reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg. The scrapbook is a collection of articles written during the 1913 and 1938 reunions. Many come from the Baltimore American, but many others have been clipped from the newspaper and so the origin is uncertain.

[vii] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

[viii] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

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Note: As the publication of my new book, Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy draws closer, I thought that I would give you a preview of the book by publishing the first chapter over the next few weeks. The story is a biography of Chuck Caldwell, a WWII Marine who fought at Tarawa and Guadalcanal. He also worked in Nevada with the above-ground atomic bomb tests, attended the 75th, 100th, 125th and 150th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg, and is a sculptor of miniature figures that are highly sought after. If you are interested in pre-ordering a copy of the book at a 25% discount off the cover price and free shipping in the U.S., contact me at jimrada@yahoo.com. As always, let me know what you think.

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One of the more than four dozen Civil War veterans whom Chuck Caldwell met at the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. He had each one sign his autograph book and have his picture taken with Chuck.

Chuck Caldwell woke in the morning and wondered if he should cluck. The fourteen-year old boy had spent the night sleeping in a chicken coop with his father.[i] Not that the chickens were sharing the drafty wooden building with them. The roosts and nest boxes were empty, but the smell of feathers and feces hung in the air to remind him that clucking hens had once called the building home.

 

The chickens could have it back as far as Chuck was concerned. The low, wooden building with rows of wooden boxes mounted on three walls might be a fine home for chickens, but it hadn’t been the most-comfortable place for Chuck to sleep. Throwing a mattress into a chick coop hadn’t turned it into a bedroom, either. Whenever Chuck had shifted on the thin mattress, he could feel the wire-mesh that served as a floor sink under him.[ii] If he looked over the edge of the mattress, he could stare through the mesh to the hard-packed earth two feet below him. He actually hadn’t minded the open floor too much. It had provided ventilation to keep it from getting too hot in the small building during the warm July night. The gentle draft from below also kept the smell from becoming overwhelming. However, it had also allowed mosquitoes and other flying insects into the coop to disturb their sleep.

Chuck’s mother and older sister would be glad that they hadn’t come along on this trip. He didn’t think that they all could have fit into the cramped eight-foot-by-eight-foot building, and Chuck couldn’t imagine them sleeping here. When Barbara heard about this, his sister would probably start calling him some stupid name like “Chuck the Chicken” or “Cluck Cluck Chuck.” The taunts would be worth it, though. He and his father were here. He was in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where the tide of the Civil War had shifted.

The last day of June 1938, Chuck and his father had driven from their home in Orrville, Ohio, east along the Lincoln Highway.[iii] It was the first paved highway in the country and ran from New York to California.[iv] It made for a smooth ride in their Essex sedan, but it didn’t make the 315-mile trip any shorter. They had traveled over the Appalachian Mountains, through small towns with interesting names like Freedom, Turtle Creek, and Ligonier, and the big city of Pittsburgh, which was 150 times larger than Orrville.

The drive had taken most of the day. They had stopped for food and gas along the way, but the breaks were as short as Chuck could make them. He urged his father on, and they arrived in Gettysburg late in the evening, although it was still light out. When the sedan parked along Chambersburg Street, both Chuck and his father were anxious to get out of the car. George Caldwell had needed to stretch his cramped body, but Chuck had wanted out because they were in Gettysburg. The Gettysburg.

It was a legendary, almost mythical, place to the young teenager. Gettysburg was a town that was forever stuck in its past because of its connection with the pivotal battle of the Civil War. It had been a town of around 2,000 residents in 1863 when 150,000 troops fought on the fields around the town and in the streets of Gettysburg.[v] Chuck knew the names of the generals and officers who had fought there as well as he knew the names of his favorite baseball players. Lee. Meade. Chamberlain and so many others. Some were considered heroes, others villains, but they were all legends in Chuck’s mind.

Seventy-five years after the famous battle, the population was around 5,800 and that’s only if you counted permanent residents. In the summers, the population was at least double that as tourists visited the battlefield driving across the field where armies had once fought and thousands of soldiers died. Now hundreds of monuments had sprung up across the land like lonely sentinels to remind those visitors that they were on hallowed ground.

It wasn’t the Caldwells first visit to Gettysburg. That had been two years earlier in 1936 when Chuck had been twelve years old.[vi] That summer, the entire Caldwell Family, including Chuck’s mother, Ellen, and sister, Barbara, had arrived in Gettysburg for a family vacation. For Chuck, it had been a dream come true. There’d been no chicken coops for a bedroom then. The family had stayed at a tourist court in town and had hired a guide to lead them on a tour of the Gettysburg battlefield.

During the driving tour of the battlefield, Chuck marveled at the open, green fields interrupted occasionally with large stone monuments. The largest of them was the 110-foot-tall Pennsylvania State Memorial. It commemorated the 34,530 Pennsylvania soldiers who fought at Gettysburg, and it had been dedicated just in time for the last great reunion at Gettysburg in 1913. The 100-foot-square pedestal made from North Carolina granite had four corner towers connected by arches that support a dome and observation deck. The deck could be reached by a spiral staircase in the tower. Besides the panels with soldiers’ names, the walls also hold bas-relief sculptures. The memorial contained more than 1,400 tons of broken stone, more than 1,250 tons of granite, 740 tons of sand, more than 360 tons of cement, 50 tons of steel bars and 22 tons of marble.[vii]

Chuck had climbed one of the staircases in the towers to reach the deck. From the top of the monument, he had a commanding 360-degree view of the battlefield. He could see miles in any direction. He imagined soldiers dressed in blue or gray on foot and on horseback charging and firing rifles at each other. He looked at the tree lines, searching for cannons. He would have stopped at every gray stone monument if he had been able to in order to read what had been inscribed in stone.

For most of the tour, the guide sat in the front of the old Essex describing how the three-day battle in 1863 had progressed.

“As we would drive by the Peach Orchard, he’d tell us about it and then say, ‘And the fighting was mighty, mighty severe.’ Then we’d drive by the Wheatfield and he would tell us about what happened there and then say, ‘And the fighting was mighty, mighty severe,” Chuck recalled.[viii]

By the time the Caldwells reached their third or fourth stop on the tour where “the fighting was mighty, mighty severe”, Chuck and his sister were hiding their faces behind their hands, giggling and trying not to laugh out loud from the backseat of the car.[ix]

Clay Soldiers

The cover of Clay Soldiers, which will be available this spring.

Here are the links to the other parts of “The Last Reunion”:

Endnotes

[i] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell. Because of the number of interviews conducted with Chuck Caldwell between 2015 and 2016, they will be referred to as if they were a single interview.

[ii] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

[iii] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

[iv] Nebraska Tourism Commission, “History,” LincolnHighwayNebraskaByway.com (http://lincolnhighwaynebraskabyway.com/history) accessed August 26, 2015.

[v] Civil War Trust, “Ten Facts About Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863,” http://www.civilwar.org (http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/gettysburg/assets/ten-facts-about/ten-facts-about-gettysburg.html) accessed August 26, 2015.

[vi] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

[vii] Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, Report of the Pennsylvania Commission (Harrisburg, PA: William Stanley Ray, State Printer, 1913) p. 24.

[viii] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

[ix] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

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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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