Monthly Archives: July 2017

Intermission Story (11) – 54th Troop Carrier Wing and the 11th Airborne Division

The 54th Troop Carrier Wing was established on 26 February 1943 [one day after the 11th A/B Div. at Camp MacKall] and commenced air transport and medical air evacuation operations in support of Fifth Air Force on 26 May 1943. advancing as battle lines permitted.

The unit took part in the airborne invasion of Nadzab, New Guinea in September 1943 by dropping the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, as well as Australian engineers and heavy equipment.

The wing employed C-47’s almost exclusively, but during late 1943 and much of 1944 also used 13 converted B-17E’s for armed transport missions in enemy-held territory. The 54th supported every major advance made by the allies in the Southwest Pacific Theater operating from primitive airstrips carved from jungles and air-dropping cargo where airstrips unavailable.

In July 1944, the wing dropped 1,418 paratroopers on Noemfoor Island to aid the allied invasion forces. Then assumed the task of handling all freight and personnel moving in troop carrier aircraft in the Southwest Pacific, in addition to scheduled and unscheduled air movement of cargo and troops, and air evacuation of wounded personnel.

In preparation for airborne operations in the Philippines, the 54th TCW conducted joint training with the 11th Airborne Division.  August and September 1944 were held in Nadzab.  Due to the demands of transport resources in building up Allied strength in Netherlands, New Guinea, the wing rotated the squadrons in Doboduru where they received refresher training in paradrops and aerial supply.  The training proved to be of great value at Tagatay Ridge, Corregidor and in the Cagayan Valley, Luzon, when the 11th A/B need a lift for their paratroopers and gliders.

Early December 1944, the 5th Air Force HQ was attacked as well as the 44th Station Hospital.  The 187th HQ Company [Smitty was there], set up a perimeter.  They stood there through the night, rifles ready.  By morning there were 19 dead enemy soldiers.  Col. Pearson sent out patrols that located another 17 Japanese hiding out in the rice paddies..

Okinawa

By late 1944 and during the early months of 1945, most wing missions were flown to the Philippines.  In February 1945, the wing flew three more airborne operations, all in the Philippines, to help encircle Japanese concentrations.   For the 11th A/B Division’s jump on Aparri in north Luzon, the first plane off the ground was piloted by Col. John Lackey. Wing C-47s dropped napalm on Caraboa Island in Manila Bay in March 1945.

11th-airborne-paradrop-june-45-luzon-8x10 (800x640)

11th Airborne Division paradrop, June 1945

When hostilities ended on Luzon, the wing moved the entire 11th Airborne Division (11,300 personnel) from the Philippines to Okinawa on short notice.  It would take the 54th Troop Carrier Wing two days to transport the 11th Airborne using 351 C-46s, 151 C-47s and 99 B-24s; with their bombs removed and crammed with troopers. The planes had carted the men; 1,161,000 pounds of equipment and 120 special-purpose jeeps for communication and supply.

Glider training

The 54th then began transporting occupation forces into Japan, beginning with General Swing, the 187th Regiment (and Smitty).  On the first day, 123 aircraft brought 4,200 troopers to Atsugi Airfield.  During September 1945, the wing also evacuated over 17,000 former prisoners of war from Japan to the Philippines.

The wing served as part of the occupation forces in Japan from 25 September 1945 to about 26 January 1946, while continuing routine air transport operations and a scheduled courier service. Beginning in December 1945 and continuing into mid-1946, most of the wing’s components were reassigned to other units or inactivated, and on 15 January 1946 the wing became a component of the Far East (soon, Pacific) Air Service Command.

Towing a glider.

Moving to the Philippines, the wing gained new components and flew scheduled routes between Japan, the Philippines, Australia, and the Hawaiian Islands.  Replaced by the 403rd Troop Carrier Group on 31 May 1946 and was inactivated.

Further, more detailed information can be found in the publications by the IHRA.

This article incorporates material from the US Air Force Historical Research Agency, “The Angels: The History of the 11th Airborne Division” & “Rakassans”, both by Gen. E.M. Flanagan; Wikipedia and US Airborne Commando Operations.

  Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

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Farewell Salutes – 

John Bettridge – Denver, CO; US Army, WWII & Korea

Gerard Caporaso – Chatham, NJ; US Army Air Corps, WWII, (author: “From the Top Turret: A Memoir of WW2 and the American Dream”)

Daniel Cooney – Plandome, NY; US Army, WWII, ETO

Prosper “Trapper” Couronne – Whitewood, CAN; RC Army, Korea, Warrant Officer (Ret. 24 yrs.), 1st PPCLI

Bruce Goff – Elmwood, NZ; RNZ Air Force # 4214914, WWII

Fred Hartman Sr. – Horsehead, NY; US Army, WWII & Korea

Myron Hollman – Wausau, WI; US Navy, WWII/ US Army, Korea/ US Air Force, Vietnam

Theodore Matula – Lantana, FL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, P-47 pilot

Lloyd Urbine – Ft. Wayne, IN; US Army Air Corps, WWII

Robert Winton – Bowie, TX; US Army Air Corps, WWII

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4. juli – Flyvergrav Jack D. Hodge

Intermission Story (10) – George Watson

 

George Watson

During the course of a war gallant actions are not bound by race, nationality, or cause. Wherever men fight, some will distinguish themselves from the others. In WWII, when the Allies were engaged in battle against the Axis powers it could be assumed that on both sides men were heroes.

In the case of George Watson, it was his race that limited him from achieving his country’s highest military honor. When his ship was sunk by enemy bombers he assisted several of his wounded comrades to reach life rafts. However, it would be over 50 years before the story of George Watson finally received its due honor and its rightful place in military history.

George Watson was born in 1915 Birmingham, Alabama.  Apart from his birth, little is known about his early life. He attended school in Colorado and graduated in 1942. Like many men that year, Watson then accepted the call to arms in defense of his nation.

Jacob survivors clinging to debris and waiting for rescue from the HMAS Bendigo

As an African-American, the career opportunities in the Army were extremely limited. Consequently, Watson joined the 29th Quartermaster Regiment after basic training. With the war in full swing, Watson’s unit was immediately transported to the Pacific on board the American controlled Dutch Steamer USAT Jacob. They arrived on March 8, 1943.

As Watson and his unit waited to disembark the Japanese attacked the Jacob while she was moored near Porlock Harbor, New Guinea. With little defense against the devastating assault, the Jacob took several direct hits and the order to abandon ship was issued. Troops threw themselves into the sea, many of whom had been severely wounded. Fortunately, Watson had avoided injury and being a competent swimmer was able to head towards the few life rafts that were available. As he did so, he looked back to see many of his comrades were not so lucky.

The sinking Jacob only shows her bow

The wounded soldiers and those who could not swim flailed about in the sea in need of help. Watson turned from the rafts and headed towards the men. The Japanese continued to rake the sea with gunfire making it all the riskier. Time and time again he swam back to rescue troops and bring them to safety. Watson continued saving his comrades until he reached the point of exhaustion. As he swam towards the steamer once more, she slipped beneath the waves. The subsequent drag proved too strong for the exhausted Watson to escape and he was sucked to the bottom with her.

Distinguished Service Cross

As news of his gallantry spread, it was evident to the Army that a heroic and distinguished act had taken place. However, for African-Americans of that era, the Medal of Honor was too far out of reach despite the inexplicable gallantry they consistently displayed. Watson was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and was the first African-American to receive that award during WWII.

However, as the decades passed the US military realized such men had been overlooked. They instituted a review in the early 1990’s to determine those that might have been excluded due to race. In 1997, George Watson was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. With no family to receive Watson’s medals, they are on display at the US Army Quartermaster Museum in Fort Lee, Virginia. Also, the ship USNS Watson was named in his honor.

USNS Watson

USNS Watson (T-AKR-310) is one of Military Sealift Command’s nineteen Large, Medium-Speed Roll-on/Roll-off Ships and is part of the 33 ships in the Prepositioning Program. She is the lead ship of her class of vehicle cargo ships.

Laid down on 23 May 1996 and launched on 26 July 1997, Watson was put into service in the Pacific Ocean on 23 June 1998.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Willard Blankenship – Burdine, KY; US Army, WWII, eto / Korea, 187th RCT, (Ret. 22 years)

William Devitt – St. Paul, MN; US Army, WWII, ETO, (author: “Shavetail: The Odyssey of an Infantry Lieutenant”)

Pedro Escobedo – Harlingen, TX; US Army, WWII, Korea & Vietnam, Sgt. Major (Ret. 24 yrs.)

Horace Harned – Starville, MS; US Army Air Corps, WWII, CBI

Robert Lyons – Susquehanna, PA; US Army, WWII, ETO, Signal Corps

Bertrand Morrill – So.Portland, ME; US Army, Chief Warrant Officer (Ret. 28 yrs.)

Joseph Okulicz – Belmar, NJ; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 11th Airborne Division

Teddy Saiki – Stockton, CA; US Army, WWII,  Intelligence MISer

John Tuttle – Oneida, NY; British Army, WWII, King’s Royal Rifle Corps

Thelma Worboys – Palmerston North, NZ; RNZ Women’s Air Force, WWII

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Intermission Story (9) – A Special Woman

Last December the world lost a very special person, Florence Ebersole Smith Finch, (101).

Florence Ebersole Smith Finch, USCGR 

Coast Guard SPAR decorated for combat operations during World War II

By William H. Thiesen, Ph.D.
U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area Historian


Of the thousands of women who have served with honor in the United States Coast Guard, one stands out for her bravery and devotion to duty. Florence Smith Finch, the daughter of a U.S. Army veteran and Filipino mother, was born on the island of Luzon, north of Manila, in Santiago City. She married navy PT boat crewman Charles E. Smith while working for an army intelligence unit located in Manila. In 1942, after the Japanese invaded the Philippines, her young husband died trying to re-supply American and Filipino troops trapped by the enemy on Corregidor Island and the Bataan Peninsula.

After the Japanese occupied Manila, Finch avoided internment by claiming her Philippine citizenship. She received a note from her imprisoned army intelligence boss regarding shortages of food and medicine in the POW camps. Finch began assisting with locating and providing smuggled supplies to American POWs and helping provide fuel to Filipino guerrillas. In October 1944, the Japanese arrested Finch, beating, torturing and interrogating her during her initial confinement. Through it all, she never revealed information regarding her underground operations or fellow resisters.

When American forces liberated her prison camp in February 1945, Finch weighed only eighty pounds. She boarded a Coast Guard-manned transport returning to the United States and moved to her late father’s hometown of Buffalo, New York. In July 1945, she enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, eager to continue the struggle against an enemy that had killed her husband. Finch served through the end of the war and was among the first Pacific-Island American women to don a Coast Guard uniform.

After the war, she met U.S. Army veteran Robert Finch. They married and moved to Ithaca, New York, where she lived the remainder of her life. Of the thousands of SPARs serving in World War II, she was the first to be honored with the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Ribbon. In November 1947, she received the U.S. Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian medal awarded to Americans who aided in the war effort. In 1995, the Coast Guard honored her service by naming a facility for her at Coast Guard Base Honolulu.

Ms. Finch crossed the bar on 8 December 2016.

  • Read her written answers to questions submitted to her regarding her remarkable life and career, first as a resistance fighter in the Philippines and then as a SPAR
  • Ms. Finch (c) with her extended family.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Peter Aczel – brn: HUN/ Quakertown, NY; US Army Air Corps

Alfred Biegert Jr. – San Antonio, TX; US Army Air Corps, WWII, Photo Lab technician

Arthur Gosselin Jr. – Springfield, MA; US Army Air Corps, WWII

Douglas Hardy – New Plymouth, NZ; RNZ Army # 64450, Sgt.

Stanley Krumholz – Far Rockaway, NY; US Navy, WWII, PTO, PT-190 Jack’O’Diamonds

Gerald Larson – Red Oak, AR; US Army Air Corps, WWII

Robert Murray Jr. – Pittsburgh, PA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, Sgt., 11th Airborne Division

Donald Perdue – Vancouver, CAN; RC Army, Korea, Queen’s Own Rifles

Hank von der Heyde Jr. – Jacksonville, FL; USMC, WWII (Ret.)

Baxter Webb – Hapeville, GA; US Army, Lt., Tank Platoon/4th Division

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The Fight for Mindoro

A clearly detailed description of following through on a mission!!

d8280cc1a69d6cf46fd49e02caa35208--mindoro-pt-boat

Night Action off Mindoro by Jack Fellows On the night of December 26, 1944, this radar-equipped B-24M night intruder, piloted by Lt. Samuel L. Flinner of the 63rd Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group attacked and immobilized the Imperial Japanese Navy Yugumo-class destroyer, Kiyoshimo, off the Philippine island of Mindoro, where it was left behind and sunk by a PT boat.http://irandpcorp.com/products/night-action-off-mindoro/
Find this Pin and more on Ken’s Men Against the Empire Vol. II.
Night Action off Mindoro by Jack Fellows
Jack Fellows Figuratives, Landscapes, Sketches & more.

IHRA

Expanding a little more on last week’s post…

As 1944 was wrapping up in the Pacific Theater, units continued their march northward with the invasion and seizure of the island of Mindoro and continuing attacks on Clark Field, Luzon. Mindoro was considered a strategic asset for continued attacks and the eventual push towards reclaiming Luzon from the Japanese. The Japanese knew this, and even though they were driven off Mindoro on December 15th, they weren’t going to give up easily.

Two airfields were constructed on Mindoro within 13 days of the Allied takeover in preparation for the invasion of Luzon. Admiral Masatomi Kumura did not want to see these airfields become usable by the Americans and he assembled eight ships to sail from Vietnam on December 24th to Mindoro in hopes of disrupting the building efforts. It wasn’t until the 26th that their presence was detected some hours south of…

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Intermission Story (8) – Jimmy Stewart

James Maitland Stewart

Jimmy Stewart suffered such extreme PTSD after being a bomber pilot in World War II that he acted out his mental distress during ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.  Stewart played George Bailey in the classic movie and channeled his anger and guilt into the scenes where he rages at his family.

Stewart was haunted by ‘a thousand black memories’ from his time as an Air Force commanding officer that he took with him back to Hollywood after the war.  Pilots who flew with him said that became ‘Flak Happy’ during World War II, a term to describe what is now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

Stewart wrestled with the guilt of killing civilians in bomb raids over France and Germany including one instance where they destroyed the wrong city by mistake.

Stewart felt responsible for the death of his men and especially one bloodbath where he lost 13 planes containing 130 men who he knew well.  Stewart’s anguish is laid bare for the first time in author Robert Matzen’s Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the fight for Europe, published by Paladin Communications.

Stewart’s chance came with the creation of a B-24 bomber group, the 445th, and he was appointed commander of the 703rd squadron. After their air medal mission to Pas de Calais, the crew of the B-24H known as Lady Shamrock pose with air commander Stewart

Stewart never spoke  about it, even to other veterans, and bottled up his emotions that came out in the acting parts he chose when he returned to Hollywood.  He acted it out during It’s a Wonderful Life, where character George Bailey unravels in front of his family – the emotional core of the film after a lifetime of setbacks, including being unable to go to war while his brother becomes a decorated hero.

Films like Shenandoah and Winchester 73 allowed Stewart to explore his dark side which was never there before he went to war.

James Stewart and Clark Gable who was also sent into combat.

Matzen writes that Stewart’s decision to join the military was less surprising than his decision to become an actor; his grandfather fought in the Civil War and more distant relatives fought in the Revolutionary War.  His initial attempts failed because he was too skinny, despite trying to fatten himself up on ice cream and chocolate bars.  Stewart was finally called up shortly before the assault on Pearl Harbor in 1941 which forced America into the World War II.

Stewart in “It’s A Wonderful Life” channeled his PTSD from losing 130 of his men for the role.

Asked by a studio boss why he wanted to give up his life in Hollywood, Stewart said: ‘This country’s conscience is bigger than all the studios in Hollywood put together, and the time will come when we’ll have to fight’.  Stewart was initially put in the Air Force Motion Picture Division because commanders wanted to use him to make films to convince more airmen to sign up.

Major Stewart, 453rd Bomb Group Operations Officer, Old Buckenham, 1944

He was also used for PR stunts until he demanded that he see combat like other airmen.  Stewart’s chance came with the creation of a B-24 bomber group, the 445th, and he was appointed commander of the 703rd squadron.  After 20 missions, the stress began to take its toll him and the only food that would stay in his stomach was peanut butter and ice cream.

BGeneral Jimmy Stewart w/ his B-52 crew, 20 Feb. 1966, Vietnam.

Stewart did not leave the military and continued to serve until May 1968 when he retired after 27 years of service during which time he was a bomber pilot during the Vietnam War.

James Maitland Stewart

20 February 1966: Brigadier General James M. Stewart, United States Air Force Reserve, flew the last combat mission of his military career, a 12 hour, 50 minute “Arc Light” bombing mission over Vietnam, aboard Boeing B-52 Stratofortress of the 736th Bombardment Squadron, 454th Bombardment Wing.

Information collected from War History online; This Day in Aviation and Mission For Today.

Click on images to enlarge,

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Military Humor – Murphy’s Laws –

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Farewell Salutes – 

Edward Albert – Milwaukee, WI; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, Co. F/152nd Artillery/11th Airborne Division

Edmond Baclawski – Hinsdale, IL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, Sgt., radar

George Debenian – New Britain, CT; US Army, WWII

Stephen Everette – Albuquerque, NM; US Navy, WWII

Sam Friedman – Toronto, CAN; RC Air Force, WWII # R270226

Thomas Hardy – Lake Worth, FL; US Air Force, Korea & Vietnam, flight engineer (Ret. 20 yrs.)

Gerald Kerner – Brooklyn, NY; US Army, Korea, Sgt. Signal Corps

Joan Miller – London, ENG; Civilian, WWII, British Ministry of Supply

Frank Oddo – Summerfield, FL; US Army, WWII, medic, 32nd “Red Arrow” Division

Don Williams – New Orleans, LA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, pilot / Treasury Agent

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Intermission Story (7) – Submarines of the Pacific War

USS Tang (SS-563) -Balao-class; sank 33 ships. Was sunk in Oct.’44, 9 survived using momsen lung, 78 lost

During the war, submarines of the United States Navy were responsible for 55% of Japan’s merchant marine losses; other Allied navies added to the toll.  The war against shipping was the single most decisive factor in the collapse of the Japanese economy. Allied submarines also sank a large number of IJA troop transports, killing many thousands of Japanese soldiers and hampering the deployment of IJA reinforcements during the battles on the Pacific islands.

USS Barb – Gato-class, sank 17 enemy vessels.

They also conducted reconnaissance patrols, landed special forces and guerrilla troops and performed search and rescue tasks, especially in the Philippines.  The majority of the submarines involved were from the U.S. Navy, with the British Royal Navy committing the second largest amount of boats and the Royal Netherlands Navy contributing smaller numbers of boats.

The Allied submarine campaign is one of the least-publicized feats in military history, due in large part to the efforts of Allied governments to ensure their own submarines’ actions were not reported in the media.

USS Nautilus – Narwhal-class; Asia-Pacific Medal w/ 14 battle stars.

However, the U.S. Navy was poorly prepared for a submarine war against commerce. Although a few officers had anticipated such a role, in spite of the the prize rules, the submarine service had not trained for it. U.S. submarines were plagued by defective torpedoes during the first two years of war, whose faults were due in part to the design emphasis on their use against heavily armored warships. However, once the faults were remedied, the submarines sank over half the ships of the Japanese merchant marine.

USS Bowfin (SS-287) – Balao-class; sank 18 vessels; now a museum in Hawaii.

American submarines also enjoyed significant successes against warships, accounting for six fleet carriers. three escort carriers, a battleship, twelve cruisers, over 40 destroyers, and numerous lesser warships and auxiliaries. An estimated 182,000 Japanese soldiers were lost at sea from sunken transports. This was accomplished at a relatively low cost. Of the naval powers that constructed significant submarine forces, the Americans suffered the lowest casualties in the Second World War: 52 American submarines were lost, versus 74 British submarines lost, 90 Italian submarines lost, 128 Japanese submarines lost, and nearly 800 German U-boats sunk.  The 374 officers and 3131 men killed in American submarine operations constituted 13% of the submarine sailor corps, or over 1 in 7.

USS Sailfish – Sargo-class; originally the sunken USS Squalus.

 During the air strikes preceding the Gilberts invasion, the Pacific Fleet experimented with deploying submarines near target atolls to rescue downed aviators. This proved so successful  that the deployment of lifeguard submarines became a standard feature of carrier strike planning for the remainder of the war.

USS Wahoo (SS-238) – Gato-class; sunk by Japanese aerial bomb Oct.’43, awarded 6 battle stars

The Japanese Navy did not even establish an antisubmarine warfare school until March 1944. Convoying was adopted rather late in the war and too few ships and planes were assigned to escort duty.  Japanese depth charges were too small and were usually set too shallow, at least until one of the stupidest men* to ever darken the doors of Congress blurted out in a press conference why American submarines were able to evade counterattack.  The Japanese did make effective use of minefields and developed a working airborne magnetic anomaly detector (Jikitanchiki).

* Andrew Jackson May (June 24, 1875 – September 6, 1959) was a Kentucky attorney, an influential New Deal-era politician, and chairman of the House Military Affairs Committee during WWII, infamous for his rash disclosure of classified naval information that may have resulted in the losses of up to ten American submarines and up to 800 sailors, and his subsequent conviction for bribery. May was a Democratic member of the US House of representatives. 

The boats shown are merely examples of the submarines we had in the Pacific.  The article subject was requested by 56Packardman.  Thank you for suggesting it.  The information here was retrieved from the US Navy.gov, “Submarines of the World” by Robert Jackson and Wikipedia.

For those even more interested in submarines, our fellow blogger, The Lean Submariner, has many a sea going tale to tell you – ENJOY!

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Military Humor – 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Homer Buck – Mesa, AZ; US Army, WWII, 34th Infantry Div., Silver Star, Purple Heart

Benjamin Capua – Somers, NY; US Army Air Corps, WWII & Korea, 11th Airborne Division, Purple Heart

Paul Jarchow – IA; US Army, WWII, ETO, radioman

James Hough – Miami, FL; US Army Air Corps, WWII

Morton West – Newton, MA; US Army, WWII, Purple Heart

The remaining six Marines to be identified from the Mississippi crash…

Robert Cox – Ventura, CA; USMC,  SSgt.

Sean Elliott – San Diego, CA; USMC, Captain

Caine Michael Goyette — Waterford, CT; USMC, KC-130T Hercules Comdr., Major (22 yrs.)

Chad Jensen – Redondo Beach, CA; USMC, Sgt.

Owen Lennon – Pomona, NY; USMC, Sgt.

Collin Schaaff – Pierce County, WA; USMC, Corporal

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June, 1944 “Nothing of historical significance has happened.”

A rare glimpse into the life of sailors on the home front and how we know….

Sailor's Attic

Have you heard the popular retort from the 1940s, “Don’t you know there’s a war going on?”

During the Second World War, naval commandants wrote diary entries about major events in their commands.  The subordinate officers submitted reports to their commandants who typed up “war diaries” for the Vice-Chief of Naval Operations.  The War Diaries were official U.S. Navy records, to be examined post-war as a source for histories of the various Navy commands.

But whose decided what was important enough to write down?

The answer, of course, was everybody.  And everybody had a different view of the same experience.  So the entries in War Diaries varied from one commanding officer to the next, and from one command to the next.  A hand-written desk diary kept by the Commandants of the U.S. Naval Training Station at Great Lakes shows how different people viewed the exact same place and experience in vastly…

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Intermission (6) – The Janitor Who Won the Medal of Honor

William J. Crawford

William J. Crawford

During every intermission I include at least one story from the European Theater.  This following article showed me once again the honor and humility that was common to the Greatest Generation.

Perhaps it was the way he carried himself in an unassuming and humble manner, but day after day hundreds of Air Force Academy cadets would pass this janitor in the hall oblivious to the greatness that was among them.

In the mid-1970s, William Crawford might spend one day sweeping the halls and another cleaning the bathrooms, but it was a day approximately 30 years prior that would create for him a special place in the history of war. In 1943 in Italy, the only thing  Private William Crawford was cleaning out was German machine gun nest and bunkers.

William Crawford – Medal of Honor recipient

Under heavy fire and at great risk to himself, his gallantry was so audacious that it earned him the Medal of Honor and the respect of any man who witnessed his actions. And yet, for the cadets at the Air Force Academy, it would take a student’s study of the Allied campaign in Italy to realize who it was that walked among them. Once the cadets realized the humble janitor was a recipient of the nation’s highest military honor, that would never be able to look at him the same and the secret was out.

William Crawford was born in 1918 in Pueblo, Colorado.  For Crawford, he would always call the state of Colorado home despite serving a long career in the military where he was assigned to various duty stations. It was after retiring from the Army that he returned to Colorado and took up his job as a janitor at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

The cadets would report that the shy janitor they only knew as Mr. Crawford simply blended into the background as he did his job without much fanfare. However, when one of the cadets began reading a book detailing the Allied advance through Italy he came upon the story of a medal of honor recipient named William Crawford.

Talking to his roommate, the cadet made the connection and said: “I think our janitor is a recipient of the Medal of Honor.”  The next day, the cadet took the book to Crawford and simply asked if this was him. Perhaps weighing whether it was worth it to expose his gallantry, Crawford stared at the book for a while then simply said, “That was a long time ago and one day in my life.”

He would then be taken back to that fateful day in Italy and recount the story as only the man who lived it could do.  By September 1943, the Allies were pushing through southern Italy slugging it out with a resilient German army. For Crawford and the 36th infantry division, that would place them near Altavilla Silentina with orders to take Hill 424.

On September 13th, Company I was assaulting the enemy help position on the hill when the entire company was pinned down by intense machine-guns fire and mortars. Serving as the squad scout for third platoon, Private Crawford was near the front of this assault and located the first of the gun positions wreaking havoc on the company.

Without orders, he took it upon himself to eliminate the threat single-handedly. Under heavy fire, he crawled forward to within a few yards of the gun and placement and lobbed a grenade directly on top of the three defenders.

Meanwhile, the rest of the company finally made it to the crest of the hill when they were again coming under fire from two more machine gun nests entrenched in a higher ridge. Again on his own initiative, Crawford set out to destroy the threat. Crawling under the storm of bullets, Crawford came upon the first machine gun nest and with perfect accuracy once again landed a grenade right in their lap.

Moving on to the second gun, he was able to take it out of action causing the rest of the defenders to flee as they opted not to stick around for a visit from the man they had just watched single-handedly destroy three entrenched positions.

Thanks to Crawford’s gallant actions, Hill 424 was successfully overtaken and the Allied advance continued. Unfortunately for Crawford, his position at the front of the assault would eventually lead to his capture by the Germans during the chaos of the battle.

The rest of the company had believed Crawford was killed in action as reports of his gallantry advanced up the chain of command. And for his actions that day in Italy, William Crawford was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, but that is not where the story would end.

George Crawford receives his son’s medal.

In 1944, the medal was presented to his father who accepted it on behalf of his son he presumed to have died in combat. But later in 1944 when a group of soldiers was rescued from German captivity, it turned out William Crawford was among them, oblivious to the fact that he was now the recipient of the nation’s highest military honor.

Crawford would continue to serve in the military after World War II and retired in 1967 at the rank of Master Sergeant.  After his distinguished and yet humble career in the military, this unassuming man would take a job as a janitor at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

It was here in 1976 that the truth would come out, and future Air Force officers would get a lesson in both gallantry and incredible humility. As the cadets looked to their janitor with a newfound respect, they would eventually coax the painfully shy man into speaking about his experience to the next generation of leaders. In one exchange, Crawford related the point that he never personally received his Medal of Honor with any ceremony due to his captivity and presumed death. The students and staff of the Air Force Academy would remember this fact and see to it that he had his day.

President Reagan presents William Crawford with his Medal of Honor

n 1984 when Pres. Ronald Reagan came to speak at that year’s graduation ceremony; they had arranged for their gallant janitor to finally stand face-to-face with the President of the United States and receive his due commendation. William Crawford died at the age of 81 in the year 2000 at his home in Colorado. And although Crawford was a veteran of the Army, he would become the only non-U.S. Air Force enlisted person buried at the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery in Colorado Springs.

The cadets regarded him as one of their own and gave him all the respect such a man deserved.

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Military Humor – from Bill Mauldin –

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Farewell Salutes – 

(these are 10 of the brave souls who perished in the Mississippi plane crash on Monday)

Dan Baldassare – Colts Neck, NJ; USMC

Brendan Johnson – Colchester, VT; USMC, Master Gunnery Sgt.

Mark Hopkins – Montgomery, NY; USMC

William J. Kundrat – MD & NC; USMC; SSgt.

Julian Keviann – Detroit, MI; USMC

Talon Leach – Fulton, MO; USMC

Ryan Lohrey – Middletown, IN; US Navy, Corpsman

Joe Murray – Jackson, FL; USMC

Dietrich Schmieman – Richland, WA; USMC

Joshua Snowden – Dallas, TX; SSgt.

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Current News – Battle of Leyte Remembered

Remembering the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Surigao Strait.

On 3 July, 2017, the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) commemorated those that fought in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

“Today we sail the same waters as those sailors did 73 years ago,” said Cmdr. J.W. David Kurtz, the ship’s executive officer, according to the statement.

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The Battle of Leyte Gulf, which took place in late October 1944, included several naval engagements involving ships from the 7th and 3rd fleets. The battle crippled the Japanese Imperial Navy, which lost four aircraft carriers, three battleships, six heavy and four light cruisers, 11 destroyers, several hundred aircraft and more than 10,500 sailors, according to History.com. U.S. and Allied forces lost one light carrier, two escort carriers, two destroyers and one destroyer-escort.

Japan’s losses allowed the U.S. to conduct a ground invasion of the Philippines. Roughly 3,000 sailors and Marines were killed in the battle, which some historians consider to be not only the largest naval battle of WWII, but the largest naval battle in history.

A moment of silence, Taps and 21-gun salute from the USS Nimitz.

“I’m proud to be here at the ceremony because they didn’t have to give their lives for us, but they did,” said Chief Religious Program Specialist Kimberly Bell, according to the statement. “This ceremony was emotional for me because every time they play taps I want to cry when I think about all that those service members sacrificed for us.”

Information and photos from the U.S. Navy.

Click on still photos to enlarge.

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Military Humor –

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Farewell Salutes – 

Benny Barrick – Carlsbad, NM; US Navy, WWII, PTO

Alfred Binger Jr. – Brooklyn, NY; US Navy, WWII

Les Campbell – Reno, NV; US Navy, Korea & Vietnam, Master Chief at Arms (Ret.)

Final Voyage

Frances Dwyer – Roselle Park, NJ; US Navy, WWII, Lt.

Opal Bivens – Hazelton, ND; US Navy WAVES, WWII

Robert Hamner Sr – W.Palm Beach, FL; USMC, Korea, Vietnam, Lt.Comdr. (Ret. 30 years)

Kenneth King – Everett, CT; US Navy, WWII

Jack Kinney – Independence, OH; US Army, 11th Airborne Division

Ray Lashley – DesArc, MO; US Navy, WWII

Alex Soltesz – Boynton Bch., FL; US Coast Guard, WWII, USS Mohawk (CGWPG-38), radioman

Theodore Wynberg – Sydney, AUS; RA Navy, Commodore

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