Martin C. Evans

Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

Long Island Vets Remember D-Day Invasion

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2010 at 5:57 pm

In the early light of June 6, sixty six years ago this Sunday, men grim with anxiety began pouring onto the beaches of Normandy, France. They clutched rifles in their fingers, and cradled history in their hands.

The bloody D-Day invasion of western Europe had begun.

Men of the 16th Infantry Regiment seek shelter from German machine-gun fire in shallow water behind "Czech hedgehog" beach obstacles, Easy Red sector, Omaha Beach. © Robert Capa/Magnum Photos.

“The shore was filled with all sorts of burning wrecked assault craft,” wrote Billy Melander, 84, who landed that day on Omaha Beach, the scene of the invasion’s bloodiest fighting.  “Some were still unloading men, material and tanks. On the shoreline you could see the tanks and trucks that never made it out of the water and the gruesome sight of all those bodies being washed up on that littered beach.”

Melander was among the 156,000 Allied troops who landed on the first day, including fighters from the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, the Free French Forces and Norway, according to the New Orleans based National World War II Museum.

He almost drowned  even before reaching the beach. The landing craft that delivered him and 230 other troops got stuck 25 yards out at sea, forcing them to wade through neck-deep water. He stepped into a trench and went under.

“The 70 pounds of equipment I was carrying at that time pulled me to the bottom,” he wrote in a brief memoir. “After a frantic struggle to get back to the surface, I had to dump everything …”

Later, in the confusion of trying to flush out the snipers who fired at them from the cliffs, he almost shot dead a fellow soldier, Tom Amoto, who with Melander is now a member of V.F.W. Post 7279, in Lyndenhurst.

“After looking at all this, I started to get a nasty feeling in my gut and the thought persisted that somehow these Germans knew of our plans to land on this very beach. …. But off shore, the sea resembled a large parking field for our Navy, with ships of all kinds as far as the eye could see. In the distance you could see the large gunships belching out flames and smoke as they fired on targets inland. In the air, English Spitfires and American Mustang fighter planes darted all over the sky, looking for German fighter planes. None came up to challenge them. Big flights of heavy bombers continued to fly over, to hit targets inland. So the sea and sky were ours and this restored my faith that somehow we were going to win this battle, because the Germans could never stand up to this invincible power being turned loose by all our combined forces.”

Jim Treuchtlinger, now 84 and living in East Meadow, landed three days later at Utah Beach, one of five spots on the northwest coast of France where Allied leaders planned the assault on the European mainland.

Treuchtlinger, who was drafted in 1943 when he was a Columbia University freshman, and returned after the war to work as a corrections administrator in Nassau County, said the battle helped shape history.

“June 6th was the beginning of the end for Adolph Hitler,” he said. “And that was good for the world.”

Although the Allies had eliminated the German gun positions near the beach that had claimed nearly 3,000 Allied lives on the invasion’s first day, fighting continued for months in the hedgerows beyond the shore.

A storm had roiled the waters of the 100 mile wide English Channel, adding seasickness to the list of challenges face by troops already coping with fear and fatigue.

Far worse, troops who arrived on June 6, already burdened with waterlogged equipment, had to wade ashore and across the wide beaches to reach safety. Set upon by German soldiers who fired from cliffs overlooking the sand, thousands of Allied troops were killed or suffered grievous wounds in the invasion’s first hours.

“Omaha took all damned day,” said Tom Czekanski, director of the museum’s collections and exhibits.

Prior to the Normandy landing, Germany’s ultimate defeat remained very much in doubt, Czekanski said.

An Allied thrust from the south had been bogged down in Italy since September, 1943. Germany’s occupation of France and the Low Countries helped keep it going with access to scarce food, raw materials and industrial capacity. And with no ground threat on its western flank, Germany had been free to focus its dwindling war resources against Russian advances from the east.

“We became the hammer, smashing the Nazis against the Russian anvil,” Czekanski said.  “The ultimate impact of the invasion of Normandy was the downfall of Nazi Germany and the liberation of Europe.”

Mission: To defeat the Nazis by forcing Germany, which was dug in against the Russian Army in the east, to also defend its western flank.
The Plan: To establish an Allied toe-hold in western Europe by sending troops to Nazi-occupied France.
Number of troops: 156,000
Countries involved: The United States, The United Kingdom, Canada, France, Norway
Number of vessels: 5,000 ships and landing craft
Number of planes: 11,000
Point of demarcation: Portsmouth, England
Target: A 50-mile stretch of beaches on Normandy’s Cotentin Peninsula, in Atlantic France.
Code Names for the beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.
U.S. Casualties: 6,603, including 1,465 killed.
Total Allied Casualties: 10,400.
The Outcome: By June 11, some 326,000 troops and 100,000 tons of equipment had crossed into Europe. Paris was liberated within two months, and Germany surrendered the following May 8.
Survivors living today: estimates range from 8,000 to 60,000.

Source: National World War II Museum

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Spann Watson, Tuskegee Airman, Dead at 93

In Uncategorized on April 16, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Spann Watson August 14, 1916 - April 15, 2010

Services  for Spann Watson, who helped break the color bar in the military as one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, then used his position as an employee of the Federal Aviation Administration to agitate for integration among commercial airline crews, are being planned for this week on Long Island, and later at Arlington, Va.

Watson, an affable but determined man who lived in Westbury, NY, died April 15 of complications of pneumonia at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola. He was 93.

“He was unwavering in discipline and unwavering in love,” the youngest of his five children, Weyman Watson, of South Orange N.J., told Newsday. “You got both, whether you wanted it or not.”

A South Carolina native, whose family moved to New Jersey after a neighbor was lynched when he was 10, Watson’s path to a military cockpit was a difficult one.

He had earned a pilots license in the late 1930s while studying mechanical engineering at Howard University. That meant with war raging in Europe, he was one of only a few thousand Americans who knew how to fly.

But in 1940 an Army recruiter at Long Island’s Mitchel Field rejected him, saying, correctly, that the Army didn’t allow black pilots.

In a Newsday interview on his 90th birthday, Watson said he got back into his mother’s Buick Special and drove to his New Jersey home with the radio dialed to “The Make Believe Ballroom,” a popular dance music program.

“I cursed all the way to the Triborough Bridge, listening to Benny Goodman do ‘Sing, Sing, Sing,’ ” said Watson, who still had the Army’s rejection letter. “And I promised I would never give up.”

Things turned in his favor the next year, when pressure by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People forced the War Department to set up an Army program that opened pilot training to black men.

Watson was in the fourth class of cadets in the program based at Tuskegee Army Air Field – only a dozen other Tuskegee pilots had their wings before his cadet class graduated in July, 1942 – and he went on to fly combat missions over North Africa and Europe.

While at Tuskegee, he met Edna Webster, a civilian employee at the airfield, and they were married on Dec. 17, 1943.

Watson often said it was an administrative snafu that led to his early return to the United States, setting in motion his role as an organizer of the Tuskegee Airmen. With his wartime service in Europe over, Watson helped to train other black Army pilots at Tuskegee and at Walterboro, S.C.

Doing so, he became familiar with almost all of the roughly 1,000 pilots who graduated from the Tuskegee program – highly trained fliers who after the war were barred by racial discrimination from getting jobs in the commercial airline industry.

On April 6, 1945, 10 years before Rosa Parks sparked the Birmingham bus boycott, Watson was one of 58 black pilots voluntarily arrested for entering a “whites only” officers club at an Army base in Indiana. The incident, known as the Freeman Field Mutiny is credited with hastening the end of segregation in the military.

Watson said when he retired from the military in 1965 to become an affirmative action specialist for the FAA, he made the integration of commercial cockpits a priority.

In the past two decades he crisscrossed the country for speaking engagements and air-show visits to bring the all-black flight program – which had been virtually ignored by history – into the American consciousness. In 1997, Congress honored graduates of the Tuskegee program with the Congressional Gold Medal – the nation’s highest civilian award.

For his 90th birthday celebration, several black airline employees traveled from as far away as Denver to attend, saying without his advocacy, their careers might never have gotten off the ground.

Watson, who at 92 traveled to Washington to attend an inaugural ball hosted by President Barack Obama, said his helping pave the way for others was among his life’s most satisfying accomplishments.

“I’ve done so much I’m proud of,” Watson said. “That’s the real reward.”

In addition to his wife and son, Watson is survived by another son, Spann Marlowe Watson, of Silver Spring, Md., and daughters Cynthia Hopson, of Bratenahl, Ohio and Dianne Capers, of Hempstead. Another son, Capt. Orrin Watson, an Air Force flier, died in 1981.

A burial is being planned for Arlington National Cemetery following a funeral at the adjacent Old Post Chapel, in Virginia, but no date has been set. Viewings this week will be held on Long Island at Donohue-Cecere Funeral Home, 290 Post Ave., Westbury. Times are 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, April 20, and 2-4 p.m Wednesday. A brief ceremony will be held 7-9 p.m. Wednesday.

Long dead soldier provides his son with mementos

In Uncategorized on February 4, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Its contents had been a mystery to the French farmer who discovered the weathered pouch buried in a field near the German border: Army dog tags, a tiny ring, a St. Christopher pendant, a U.S. Army medallion.

To Robert Foster, a retired Greenport school janitor who lived his whole life in the tiny North Fork village, they were a final connection to the soldier father he never knew.

“It’s great to have something of my father’s,” said Foster, a former waterman who was only 4 when his dad died. “It brings emotions I’ve never had before.”

The items had been secreted in the field in the waning months of World War II by Foster’s father, William, who may have thought he was about to be captured by the Nazis and ditched items that could identify him as an American GI.

William Foster made it home safely, but died soon after, while Robert was still a toddler.

Foster’s wife, Frances, never remarried, and she and Robert spent more than six decades living together with few physical reminders of their soldier loved one. They had no pictures, no Army citations, no medals to remember him by.

That began to change recently, when a farmer working in a field near Metz, France, uncovered the pouch and disgorged its contents.

Sensing their sentimental value, he forwarded them to authorities, who eventually placed them in the hands of the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

U.S. officials noticed that the “dog tags” identified William Foster as a resident of Suffolk County, and contacted the county’s Veterans Services Agency, which began trying to reach members of his family.

William Foster’s widow, Frances, died Dec. 21, hours before Suffolk officials reached her home with word that her husband’s effects had been found.

County Execitive Steve Levy presented Robert Foster with the long-buried mementos during a ceremony honoring Long Island’s military personnel. Newsday carried an account of the discovery and ceremony.

Levy also presented the Suffolk County Medal of Distinguished Military Service to family members of two Suffolk residents who were killed in war last year.

The medals honor Army Sgt. Jonathan Keller, 29, of Wading River, and Army Staff Sgt. Keith Bishop, of Medford. Keller died at a Ft. Bragg, N.C. medical center January 24, 2009 of complications of gunshot wounds suffered the prior April in Afghanistan. Bishop, 28, died in a helicopter crash while on an October 26 mission in Afghanistan.

Robert Foster, a man of few words, said little while receiving his father’s effects. But later, he shared reflections that seemed to come hard to him.

“I don’t have much of my father, don’t know much about my father,” he said, cradling the items in his weathered hands.

“I’m going to bring them home and have them in a good place,” he said. “It’s like he’s come back to me.”

Freeport war dead database updated

In War casualty archive on January 2, 2010 at 11:01 am

Don Schultz has expanded on his trove of information about Freeport’s war dead.

Two years ago, the former Freeport resident built a spreadsheet listing 139 village residents who perished in war, including where and how they died, and where they are buried. His research was added to the collection at the Freeport library.

The Freeport Library has included research on Freeport's war dead compiled by Don Schultz, a former resident living in Florida.

But the Florida retiree has continued to update his work as more troops are identified and new information on their fates has continued to trickle in from their relatives, former neighbors, classmates or other interested parties.

He recently e-mailed the following note to tipsters who have helped him:

“Thank you (all 44 of you) for making this a good year. We have a photo of 99 memorials or headstone out of the 139 deceased Freeport war veterans. We are working to get 9 other photo’s which will bring the Grand Total to 108. Good Job !! If anybody would care for a photo of any of the 99 photo’s just give a holler.”

Schultz, who welcomes suggestions, can be reached by e-mail at: dhschultzfhs52@comcast.net

He is currently looking for info on Frank De Mase, a WWII soldier who died at 21 of a skin disease he got while serving in North Africa. He found an obit of De Mase, who lived at 13 West Dean Street in Freeport, in the Brooklyn Eagle.

He is also trying to find out more about two Marines who were killed in Vietnam, but who he believes were buried at private Long Island cemeteries he cannot locate. They are Pfc Gary W. Thornlow, DOD 4/20/1969, and and Pfc Harold Snyder Jr. DOD 8/1/1967. Snyder’s family moved to Brooklyn NYwhile Harold was in the service.


Christmas, 1944

In Uncategorized on December 23, 2009 at 12:24 am

Christmas, 1944 was a hard season that brought success for GIs in WWII. Here, troops with the 101st Airborne Division march through Bastogne.

Ex-GIs who are now in their 80s and 90s sure have things to be thankful for this Christmas season. For one, they are pretty thankful that it is not 65 years ago.

They spent Christmas 1944 fighting awful battles, like The Bulge, in Belgium, or just encamped in rotten places like along the border with Germany.

“What’s Merry about all this, you ask?” General Anthony McAuliffe, commander of the 101st Airborne Division that year, wrote in his Christmas message to his troops. “We’re fighting – it’s cold – we aren’t home.”

Jack Del Monte, of Oceanside NY, was a 23-year-old corporal with the 191st Tank Battalion that Christmas. Temperatures in the Rhine River valley where his unit found itself then were so low that icicles would hang from the ceiling of his tank near where he slept inside.

Members of his unit were always looking for places where they could get in from the cold and the flying lead.

“We spent that Christmas Day in the cellar of a farmhouse,” said Del Monte, 88. “We found beer and wine in the cellar, so we had something to drink. But as Christmases go, I wouldn’t recommend it.”

But Christmas brought quite a gift to U.S. troops that year.

The U.S. 4th Armored Division broke through German lines that Dec. 26, rescuing U.S. troops who were surrounded but still holding the critical French town of Bastogne. It was a key element to victory at the Battle of the Bulge.

Tuskegee Airmen lose a pilot

In Uncategorized on December 12, 2009 at 8:54 am

The ranks of the Tuskegee Airmen lost one of their elite fliers Wednesday when Capt. Luther H. Smith Jr., an Iowa native who flew 132 missions in Europe before being captured near the end of WWII, died Wednesday at a hospital near his Villanova, Pa. home.

Smith, 89, who had a long career after the war as an aerospace engineer for General Electric, died of complications of an infection, according to his obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He was captured Oct. 13, 1944 after the engine of his P-51 Mustang caught fire over Yugoslavia. A German SS officer asked him why he would risk his life for America if black people there were often the victims of lynchings and racial terrorism.

“He would become indignant and respond that he was proud to serve his country,” his son, Gordon, said.

Smith was among a group of black Army aviators who became known as the Tuskegee Airmen after completing an Army program to train African Americans as pilots during WWII.

Prior to the experimental program, offered at an airfield near Tuskegee, Alabama, the U.S. military’s policy of racial discrimination barred blacks from becoming pilots.

Smith was among the 994 black pilots who were commissioned during the program, which ran from 1941 to 1946. The 450 fighter pilots produced by the program served in all-black fighter squadrons, whose skill and reputation as bomber escorts made them among the most coveted during the war.

A funeral will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Wayne Methodist Church, 210 S. Wayne Ave., Wayne. He will be buried at Arlington Cemetery at a later date.

A Christmas story

In Uncategorized on December 7, 2009 at 2:38 pm

I just talked to Jack DelMonte, of Oceanside, who told me he was a soldier with a tank platoon on the Rhine in the Winter of 1944 when he met an 11-year-old French kid who spoke English.

He took the pup under his wing, once giving him a ride to the movies aboard the tank.

In that harsh winter of that brutal war, the soldier and the kid formed an enduring bond.

They have corresponded ever since. Sixty-five years later, and they still send each other Christmas cards.

A tank, somewhere in Europe during WWII