Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘WWII’

 

ENHS1020J

Eisenhower in front of one of the camp’s training tanks. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

More than 8,700 Confederate Army veterans lived to attend the 50th anniversary reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913. They camped on the field where General George Pickett and his men had made their brave charge more than mile across an open field into the cannons on the Union Army in July 1863.

 

Veterans of that charge would have been among the old men attending the reunion. They would have looked at the field covered with tents where the veterans camped during the reunion and remembered that the ground had been covered with bodies 50 years earlier. In that desperate charge, many of the unprotected soldiers had been felled by bullets.

Had the veterans returned five years later, they still would have seen tents on the field where so much Confederate blood had been shed. They would have also seen something that would have given them pause, for had Pickett’s men had it in 1863 rumbling across that open field as it was in 1918, Pickett’s Charge would have succeeded.

Tanks in War

Though the idea of a tank had been around since Leonardo da Vinci conceived of an armored wagon, the idea of using a tank in war didn’t come about until 1903, and then, it still took until 1915 to develop a practical model. With the start of World War I and the United States’ entry into the conflict, the U.S. Army began to look for a way to integrate tanks into the service.

The Camp with No Name

ENHS3802J

Camp Colt. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

 

An unnamed U.S. Army camp was first established on the Gettysburg battlefield in May 1917. The reason it had no name, according to the 1918 Report of the National Military Park Commission, was because “we believe it is the practice when the location is at a conspicuous place on United States land, notably battle fields, such as Gettysburg.” The initial location was part of the Codori farm and land where the Round Top branch of the Gettysburg and Harrisburg Railroad was located. The railroad was one of the reasons the army chose the location. It made it easy to move men and equipment directly into and out of the camp.

The camp soon grew as more and more soldiers and supplies were shipped to the camp. Each regiment had 15 or 16 wooden barracks that needed to be constructed. These were not insulated barracks or even fully completed. This temporariness of the construction showed that the camp would not be suitable as a winter quarters for men.

Even though the land where General Pickett had charged would soon be trampled by soldiers once again, the U.S. Army was not ignorant of the historical significance of the park land. In a letter to the Gettysburg Battlefield Commission, the commander of the 61st U.S. Infantry wrote, “…every effort will be made by myself to see that the enlisted men of the 61st infantry do not molest in any way, the monuments, trees, shrubbery, woods, etc. of the Gettysburg National Park.’”

As the soldiers were shipped into the camp, three regiments of infantry were housed on the east side of Emmitsburg Road and one regiment was on the west side. An additional regiment was housed on the west side of the road along with a bakery, hospital and motor ambulance pool. Two more regiments were housed near where the Gettysburg Recreation Park is located.

Water and sewer lines were constructed to deal with the sanitary issues thousands of men would cause. The number of men at the camp grew to 8,000 at its peak, which was roughly the same population as Gettysburg at the time. The men trained through the summer, but by the end of November only a small detachment of men remained because the camp was not suitable to house soldiers through the cold Pennsylvania winters.

 

ENHS3742J

Passing Camp Colt on Emmitsburg Road. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

Camp Colt

 

The army camp didn’t stay deserted for too long. It was re-established on March 6, 1918, with Capt. Dwight Eisenhower commanding. However, this wasn’t going to be the same camp that had been run in 1917. It was going to be a training site for America’s newest weapon, the tank.

“The Tank Corps was new. There were no precedents except in basic training and I was the only officer in the command. Now I really began to learn about responsibility,” Eisenhower wrote in At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends.

Running the camp was Eisenhower’s first independent command. He was given the job of training soldiers to run a piece of equipment that hadn’t been tested in battle yet and to make matters worse, he had to conduct this training without any tanks.

The new camp was named for Samuel Colt, the inventor of the Colt Peacemaker, and the camp was called Camp Colt. Equipment for tank training was moved from Camp Meade in Maryland to Gettysburg where Camp Colt occupied 176 acres of the Codori farm, 10 acres of the Smith farm and 6 acres of Bryan House place. Much of the current Colt Park housing development was also part of the camp.

The training program Eisenhower developed had soldiers practicing with machine guns mounted on flatbed trucks instead of tanks. They learned to repair engines and to use Morse Code. “At times, HQ entertained English officers who had early war experience with the first English constructed tanks on French battle fields. They came to advise on training. Then again, a few members of Congress would arrive to get a peep at the one and only tin can of a tank which was used for partial training of tankers, especially those small men, who could easily climb into its interior. A 200-pound man just couldn’t,” recalled George Goshaw in a 1954 Gettysburg Times article. He had served at the camp under Eisenhower.

Each time a call for tankers to join the fighting in Europe came, battalions of men were moved to Hoboken, New Jersey, where they boarded transports to Europe. There, they joined the fighting climbing inside of real tanks and facing real bullets and mortars.

The camp did manage to get two Renault tanks to use by the time that summer arrived. Over the nine months the camp existed more than 9,000 men were trained to fight in the war.

By October, many of the men had been transferred elsewhere because there were no suitable winter quarters. However, worse than winter happened in the fall of 1918. Spanish Flu swept across the world killing an estimated 50 million people, including 160 at Camp Colt, according to the Gettysburg Star and Sentinel. At one point during the month, the bodies literally began to pile up. The dead soldiers were taken to the Grand Army of the Republic Hall in town until arrangements could be made to ship their bodies home. As each body was taken to the depot, it was given a military escort through Gettysburg.

Closing the Camp

As the flu abated, so did the war. The armistice ending World War I was signed on November 11, 1918. “When November 11th came upon us, Ike and his entire staff were saddened, knowing full well that they were cheated out of actual battle service,” Goshaw recalled. “From then on, there was a let down on training and the necessary daily duties.”

The orders to close Camp Colt came on November 17. Then remaining men were sent to Camp Dix in New Jersey for their final discharge.

Veterans of the camp soon began organizing reunions in Gettysburg, although there was no longer a camp to visit. The first reunion in the 1940’s was marked with the planting of the large pine tree on the east side of Emmitsburg Road south of the entrance to the old visitor’s center. The tree was planted in remembrance of the tankers’ fallen comrades. You can still see it today along with a commemorative plaque summarizing the history of Camp Colt.

You might also enjoy these posts:

 

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

 

83801_Baum_Hammelberg_Wiki-USArchives_c.jpg

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.

You might also enjoy these posts:

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

1009131120

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.

Read Full Post »

wwii-propaganda-posters-500-65When Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, it was not only a date that has lived in infamy, it was a wake-up call for all Americans. World War II became not just an effort undertaken by soldiers but everyone in the country.

Everyone—soldier and civilian alike—had a role to play in the war effort. Children collected scrap materials, women planted victory gardens, and men served as air raid wardens. Sometimes it was hard to know if their hard work did any good as they watched map boards anxiously to track troop movements and battles and checked whether someone they knew was listed as wounded, captured or killed. Of the nearly 4,000 Adams County residents who served in the war, 118 gave their lives and many more were wounded.

Poster powerthe-girl-he-left-behind

As soldiers were shipped overseas, families left behind worried over whether they would ever see their loved ones again. That worry translated into a need to do something to help in the war effort. Seeking to direct this energy, the federal government and some private companies produced posters encouraging people to buy war bonds, plant victory gardens, be careful about what they said and more.

“They showed people that things done at home were helping over there,” says Benjamin Neely, executive director of the Adams County Historical Society.

The Adams County Historical Society has a collection of more than two dozen of these posters that show the messages that county residents were being bombarded with. They are a mix of paintings and photographs emblazoned with short messages. One image that sticks with Neely is that of a sailor’s hand sticking above the water. The message of the image is that the sailor is drowning.  The poster warns, “Someone talked.”

The WWII propaganda posters were carefully planned by the U.S. Government, which tried to identify the most-effective way to not only communicate a message to Americans but to influence their behavior.

we-can-do-it“One government-commissioned study concluded that the best posters were those that made a direct, emotional appeal and presented realistic pictures in photographic detail. The study found that symbolic or humorous posters attracted less attention, made a less favorable impression, and did not inspire enthusiasm. Nevertheless, many symbolic and humorous posters were judged to be outstanding in national poster competitions during the war,” according to the National Archives web site.

The posters were created by some of the leading illustrators and photographers of the day, including Norman Rockwell.

“They encouraged the country to pull together and sacrifice,” Neely says. “I would think that they were really effective because they still survive today.”

The messages encouraged Americans to recycle materials and conserve their usage of materials needed in the war effort. They promote buying war bonds to help fund the war. They warn people to be careful of what they say because it might reach the wrong ears.

“These posters really raised awareness about different things,” says Erik Dorr, curator of the Gettysburg Museum of History. “They were the government’s way of communicating with the masses.”

The posters appeared at a time when Americans needed some direction. They were angry that the U.S. had been attacked. They wanted to help, although many of them were not eligible for military service. These posters served as a constant reminder of what they were fighting for. It helped them believe that the changes they were experiencing were worth it.

For the causeATT00001

“World War II was a unique time in the history of the country where we were really, really united in one cause,” says Dorr.

Things like gasoline, rubber, kitchen fats, and meat were rationed. Families had to register in order to receive ration books. The coupons in the book allowed the families to be able to purchase different items during certain periods of time and in specified quantities. So strict was rationing that the Gettysburg Times noted that newborn babies needed to be registered at the ration board so that the family would receive additional coupons in order to be able to get needed food items for the child.

Robert Bloom noted is his book, A History of Adams County, Pennsylvania 1700-1990, that Fairfield doctor Ira Henderson dealt with the restrictions rationing caused to driving by using a bicycle to get to his patients’ homes.

Draft boards were set up in New Oxford and Gettysburg to evaluate males for eligibility into the military. As more males went into the military, it created labor shortages at area businesses. Because of this women were encouraged through the propaganda posters to join the workforce. “Poster and film images glorified and glamorized the roles of working women and suggested that a woman`s femininity need not be sacrificed. Whether fulfilling their duty in the home, factory, office, or military, women were portrayed as attractive confident, and resolved to do their part to win the war,” the National Archives web site notes.

The posters encouraged the men and women stateside to become a part of the Civilian Defense Corps. They could serve as air raid warden, nurse’s aides, fire watchers and more. More than 4,000 Adams County residents participated in these war time roles.

Gettysburg even had a POW camp for German prisoners during the war. The prisoners were used to offset some of the labor shortages, but they also needed to be guarded. Dorr’s grandfather, Fred Pfeffer, was Gettysburg’s mayor during the war. Not only did he serve as an air raid warden, he deputized a group of men, including a hunter with a bloodhound, to track down any prisoners who escaped from the camp.

When the war was finally won in 1945 and the country celebrated its victory, they were celebrating not only the return of their loved ones but the fact that their sacrifices at home had paid off.

fight4.jpg

You might also enjoy these posts:

Read Full Post »

 

 

7432052

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.

Read Full Post »

 

 

an_eager_school_boy_gets_his_first_experience_in_using_war_ration_book_two-_with_many_parents_engaged_in_war_work_chil_-_nara_-_535567-tif

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.

 

wwii_usa_ration_book_3_front

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.

You might also enjoy this posts:

 

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: