Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ted Cummings Tells the Story of Jack Berquist

The interview that was my first and only solo as well as my last interview of the project was Ted Cummings. His brother-in-law was a paratrooper that dropped in during the night before D-Day. He told me that during the drop into Normandy that his brother-in-law was struck by a single anti-aircraft round but continued with his mission and did not seek medical attention until later on.  He also went on to tell me that later on after coming to a French château he was being treated for his wound when a snipers bullet killed the corpsman that was treating him and ended up hitting him as well. Mr. Cummings told me his brother in law continued to fight in France and participated in the semi-failure operation Market garden, the offensive to circumvent the Siegfried line through the Netherlands. His brother-in-law finished the war as one of General Dwight D Eisenhower’s honor Guard at his headquarters in Germany.

--JR Bauer

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Krotee Family Stories

Wednesday, June 18th

For today, Rachel Brown, Mr. Buckley and I interviewed Richard R. Krotee about his father, Walter R. Krotee, whose branch was the Army Corps of Engineers. He at first told us that he did not remember too much about his father in those years and what he did during World War II, but soon enough; the more he told us the more interesting we found the story of his father’s war-time jobs.  A part of this project is to interview World War II veterans, but this year, another big part of this project has involved the sons and daughters of those who served in the war and getting interviews from them. 

Richard Krotee began by telling us that in the late 1930’s the world was in economic turmoil and World War II was looming near. In 1937 Richard’s father, Walter, graduated from the University of Alabama and earned a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the US Army Reserves through the college’s ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Program). His first job after graduation was as a mechanical engineer in a sugar refinery in Philadelphia. By 1940 Walter and his US Army Reserve colleagues were aware that a fighting War had already broken out in Europe, North Africa, and Asia. They knew that it was only a matter of time before the US became directly involved in the conflicts and combat. In 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor and the US Declaration of War with the Axis powers, Walter and his military colleagues volunteered for Active Duty and became full time soldiers. Second Lieutenant W.R.Krotee’s first Army assignment was to Ft. Belvoir Virginia where he worked in various Engineering Development Programs.

We asked Richard what that meant…and he explained it basically like this: The Ft. Belvoir Engineers were the Army’s Special Development Unit similar to the “Q” branch in the James Bond stories. For those of you that haven’t heard of James Bond or the “Q” branch, “Q” was a research and development branch for the British Secret Service that made crazy and unthinkable gadgets such as a Bowler hat with a built in metal ring weapon, self-destructing suitcases, and exploding pen guns. His father did not make lethal pens; however, they did work on night-vision goggles, and mobile bridges that folded up and were carried by truck and trailer (to be erected to span small rivers then re-folded and transported to be used again).

In 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor, Walter Krotee became a specialist in airport defense including camouflage. One of his father’s jobs there was to develop mesh nets that would vary to match a certain environment and were used to throw over parked airplanes or cars to camouflage them. The camouflage allowed the airplanes as well as vehicles to be hidden and thereby protected while on land. As another example he explained that his father was part of a team making nets decorated in rubber leaves and other artificial plants that would be thrown over Jeeps or tanks to match the environment surrounding them whether it would be the jungle, forest, or even the desert.

One item in particular that he talked about was very peculiar: inflatable planes and tanks. Yes, inflatable….similar to the giant snow men and pumpkins you might see on your neighbor’s front lawn during holidays, as Richard Krotee described them. In Northern England in 1944 the Allies used these “dummy” blowup tanks and planes to set up a decoy camp in order to fake the enemy into believing that was where the Army’s actual invasion force was being staged, and it actually worked! This was a technique that helped make the Axis troops believe that the Allies were most likely going to attack Calais, when they really were planning on attacking Normandy….. It was a truly amazing thing to hear that his father had been part of that.

Because of his father’s frequent changes in duty assignments by the time Richard Krotee was 5 years old he had already lived in 5 different states. Richard Krotee said that he rarely got to see his father during the war years. In 1945 Walter, then a Captain, was shipped to the Pacific theater of operations where he took part in the invasions of the Philippines and Okinawa. Perhaps if I had not spoken to Richard Krotee, I would have never even known about those things that happened during World War II.

Not only had Richard Krotee’s father had experience in WWII, but Richard also had some “war” stories of his own to tell. Richard told of enlisting into the Navy as a volunteer in a Submarine Reserve Unit in Philadelphia in 1961. The “War” at this time was called the “Cold War”

After a year of training and then completing the Navy’s Submarine School in Groton CT Richard Krotee went on 2 years active duty with the submarine fleet. His Submarine was the USS Thomas Jefferson, a nuclear powered Polaris Ballistic Missile carrying sub. The underwater limits of this sub, as Mr. Krotee described it, were due only to the human factors of the crew. His sub was 425 feet long, and about the same displacement as a Cruiser (large Navy surface ship). The Polaris subs could exceed 20 miles an hour submerged…indefinitely! While deployed (60 out of 90 days) they were not allowed contact with the outside world because of security. He went on to explain that they carried 16 missiles, each one containing  the combined explosive power of all the bombs used in World War II…including the atomic bomb.

There were 41 other of these Polaris Subs spread out around the world, and their job was to counter “Cold War” threats. The mission was:  “deterrent patrol”… which meant: “If you shoot us, we are going to blow the hell out of you”. And this strategy seemed to work out pretty well for them during the “Cold War years that lasted into the 1980s and ended when the USSR was dissolved. To operate these subs, all 130 men had to have special training and be “Qualified on Submarines”. This meant that all of them had to be able to perform a wide range of jobs on the sub. For example: how to shoot a missile, shoot a torpedo, start a diesel engine, or be a cook’s assistant…all of which Richard Krotee learned how to do on top of working as a Quartermaster in the sub’s navigation department.

Something interesting that I never would have imagined, is that if you weren’t on watch many books were available for reading, the sub had 1500 linear feet of library space. Reading was one way to spend your off-watch time while being away at sea for so long. Then the best part of the duty…apparently submarines are famous for having really tasty food. I would have never expected that a submarine that’s usually submerged in seas over 100 fathoms deep, would be serving steaks, lobster tails, frog legs, fresh baked bread and homemade ice cream. Although the food was nice, his sum up of prolonged submerged patrols was: “It was like being in jail…with 130 of your friends”. I could see how he could feel that way. 

Once his Navy days were over, Richard Krotee  worked in the drafting and engineering fields. He became an amateur SCUBA diver and enjoyed that type of undersea adventure for many years.  He used his diving experiences and (with his father) co-authored a book on “Shipwrecks off the New Jersey Coast” in 1965.

And the stories of his family’s Military service have continued. A tradition of service carried on by Richard’s twin sons Mark and Rich who are veterans of the US Marine Corp.

I am so grateful that we were able to revive the WWII story of Walter Krotee through the telling of his son Richard. Also, that we were able to transition the interview to the more modern “Cold War” times that Richard was involved in and could make an audio record of his experiences.

 I am grateful for all of their family’s service and for Richard’s cheerful willingness to add to our Veterans History Project.

-Nancy Louck with Richard Krotee

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ron Fithian: A Story of Okinawa

Commissioner Fithian shared the story of his brother, Albert Smith Fithian.
The last group interview I was part of before our own individual interview’s was with Rock Hall Town Manager and President of the Kent County Commissioners, Ron Fithian. His brother severed in the last year of the war as a Marine at the Battle of Okinawa. Where he was killed during the fighting around Sugar Loaf Hill during the American push down the Southern part of the island.  Fithian explained to us that he never knew his brother having been born several years after his brother’s death and was never told about his brothers service. He told us it was only after the cleaning out of the apartment in Chesapeake City where his brother resided and later his sister owned that his brother’s wartime service came to light. This information came in a shoebox that was given to him by the new owners of the apartment, which included letters, photographs and his official military papers. After receiving the shoebox Mr. Fithian told us he studied the battle and even took a trip to Okinawa to find his brothers grave in the cemetery on the island. He told us his trip to the island was somewhat disappointing as he was told that the cemetery was moved to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in the Punch Bowl Crater on Honolulu, Hawaii.

Even though this was not a direct interview with a veteran, it was most interesting and informative.

JR Bauer

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Time With Sy Ellenhorn

JR, Sy Ellenhorn, Nicolle, and Nancy
One of our latest interviews has been by far one of the most exciting for me out of all of the interviews I have done so far.  Sy Ellenhorn, a waist gunner on a B-24 based out of Italy from 1943-45. During his service in the Second World War he flew 40 missions over Germany, Austria, Italy, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. During one of his missions between 1943 and 1944, he and the rest of the crew were forced to bail out of their plane over the Adriatic due to battle damage. He was picked by a British convoy and given temporary rest before going back to fly again. It was shortly after his return to flying that he was informed that he was now a member of the Caterpillar Club, which was joined by having successfully bailed out of an inoperable plane using a parachute. He was given a pin and certificate that he showed us during the interview.  Along with the pin and certificate he showed us many of the photos that were taken during his service as well as his service medals and his leather flight jacket.  After the interview he posed for photographs in his Army Air Corps jacket and even gave us the tour of his 1850’s home. I have to say that Sy is one of the funniest and most hospitable people I have ever met in my life.
After our interview with Sy our group managed to get him in contact with William Landis, who was our first interviewee and also a B-24 crewman.

--JR Bauer 

James Ireland: The Story of an MP

Going into the interview with Mr. James Ireland, I was both excited and nervous. I had learned a great deal from watching Mr. Buckley interview William Landis the day before. But this was the first interview that JR and I were going to be participating in. Mr. Buckley would be there to guide us, but we had to prepare and ask questions.

The morning before the interview, Mr. Buckley briefed us on the information he had gotten from Mr. Ireland over the phone. JR and I then started to research and prepare some questions about Mr. Ireland’s service. We knew he was Military Police (MP), and that he served in both North Africa and Italy during the War.
Mr. Ireland with Brady and J.R.
When we got to the interview, Mr. Ireland was very reserved, and said that he was not sure how helpful he would be because he believed his service to be uneventful, and his job not of importance.

James Ireland is a native of Kent County who enlisted in the Army. He was excused from the draft do to a childhood injury that left him blinded in his left eye. Mr. Ireland remembers telling the recruiter that he would not leave without enlisting. The recruiter told Mr. Ireland that he would spend the War state side, and he agreed. Six months later, Mr. Ireland was deployed to Casablanca and later Italy.

During the War, Mr. Ireland's duties included watching German and Italian soldiers who had been captured. Mr. Ireland said he was never concerned about prisoners trying to escape, and he believed this was because none of them wanted to return to the front lines.

His other duty was patrolling the towns watching out for the off duty soldiers who were blowing off steam before heading back to the front lines. Mr. Ireland recalled that most of the solders were very unappreciative of his duty giving all the MP’s nicknames like “Military P****”.

Ireland's discharge paper
During his time overseas, Mr. Ireland remarked on the different cultures he was able to experience. He remembered vividly the time he was able witness a volcano exploding, and how extraordinary those experiences were.

At the end of the War, James Ireland was sent on a plane filled with German prisoners back to the states where he continued to guide them until he was honorably discharged from the Army in 1946 after around three years of service.

I want to thank Mr. Ireland for his openness and for taking the time to share his story with us.

--Brady Townsend 

An Afternoon At Levindale

Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital was a day long endeavor for interviewing veterans, and meeting some unexpected new resources. With the help of two employees of the hospital, John Otten and Helene King, we set out to go room to room with a list of names of possible veterans to talk to. At the end of the day, we had two men with strong stories, and I had met someone along the way with stories of World War II from a concentration camp.

Frank Lebow, a doctor now residing in the nursing home, was on the USS Missouri when the Japanese was signing their treaty of surrender. As a teenager, Lebow enlisted in the Navy, and was put onto the ship after training. Lebow also saw Pearl Harbor, meaning he had the experience of being with the war from the beginning to the end, something not many can claim. On the topic of being a Jewish soldier, he said he was not treated any differently, everyone had one goal, and that was to get home at the end of the day. Frank Lebow also had family in World War I and spoke highly of his parents keep him on track during this time, encouraging reading and educating himself during this time.
Mr. William Mazer

Walking into William Mazer’s room, we found that the room was empty, and a man hunt ensued for this man to share his story. Going to a community activity to see if he was there, as we rounded a corner, he came out of nowhere saying that he knew he was running late to find us and he had a lunch in forty minutes that he had to be to, then starting laughing. Mazer told us of how his family comes from Russia and he was moved to the United States when he was around one year old. He joined the Army as a teenager and moved from base to base during training. Eventually after 3 years in the states at bases, Mazer was informed that he would be sent overseas, but when he reported, they told him he couldn’t go. They had lost his records, he did not exist to the Army, and was soon offered discharge, which he greatly took and reunited with his wife.

After two interviews so full of information, I was mentally exhausted and talking to my mother who was visiting my grandmother in the same building, when a man approached us. His name is David Friedman, and I was immediately taken back by the first thing he said to me, “out of everything bad comes something good.” He knew who I was because of my mother talking about me to fellow residents about what I was doing in the building that day, and told me I needed to hear a story from the World War II era.

My mother eating lunch with my grandmother in the garden

Friedman knew of a man named George, who was born on Pesach (Passover), and on his 8th birthday the Germans came and brought him to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. After spending years in this camp, George knew that something big was happening, because the Germans had started shooting just about everyone in the camp, but had run out of bullets with many still alive in the camp. They soon combined the prisoners of war in the camp and the Jewish people together, and were giving them bread. For the Germans to be giving these men bread was something incredibly unexpected, but George was so hungry that he was not going to question the motives of his captors. Before he could eat the bread, two Russians who were prisoners of war beat him and took his bread; George went to sleep hungry that night. The next morning, George was the only one alive in his hut. The Germans had poisoned that hut’s bread and the Germans in charge of that hut soon left after, knowing that the liberation was near. Bergen-Belsen was liberated that Passover. George said that it was מלאכים, the angels, and the Americans, saving this day for him to be liberated.

I know Levindale still has so many stories to tell and I plan on going back soon to try to help this stories get preserved in the way these will be soon.

--Molli Cole

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Looking the Enemy in the Eyes - A Story from Bill Campbell

Tuesday, June 17th 2014

Today was my first day working on the Oral History project for Washington College, and it was definitely not what I expected. The rest of the group has been here for a couple of weeks, (besides Rachel Brown who just joined also, but has been doing this since 2013 so she’s already basically a pro) and have already had experiences with interviewing. So, for today I acted as a shadow while Molli Cole and Brady Townsend had their first group interview with Bill Campbell. 

To be honest, I was very timid about interviewing a World War II veteran. I had never done an actual interview before, so I was afraid I was going to be awkward and therefore make the interviewee feel uncomfortable. Also, I had the expectation that veterans would be reluctant to share their stories and that it was going to be all up to me to prompt them to be motivated to want to talk. But Bill Campbell, aka “Soup” by his shipmates, changed my perspective completely. He was very warm and welcoming, showing us his “pad” and the back porch he uses for bird watching. He brought us into his office, which was like walking into a room of his history being involved in World War II and the extra 10 years he stayed in the military, filled with pictures of his destroyer, pictures at award banquets, medals, uniforms, awards, and files that held information pertaining to what he did while in the war.

When we first sat down with Campbell, he gave us the rundown of what happened during his time out at sea on the destroyer USS Melvin. As the interview went on, we asked him more questions that gave us more detail of his experience. 

When Campbell was assigned to the USS Melvin he was the assistant gunnery officer. So, when the gunnery officer left for his downtime or rest, it was Campbell’s job to take his place. He told us that his first experience however, was a lot more extreme than expected. It was his first week on USS Melvin, and while watching over the gunnery office they were attacked by the suicide bomber kamikaze planes. These planes must have been terrifying, because not only are they bombing and attacking you…but even with two of their wings blown off, they will keep coming at you. 

One of the kamikaze actually dived down so close towards the destroyer that it was impossible for USS Melvin to shoot it down because the bomb attached to it and the debris could destroy their ship. As the kamikaze was getting closer, all the gunners could do was waiting to see what would happen next. As Campbell watched from the gunnery office, his and the Japanese eyes met...something that would most likely be the last thing that a soldier sees, but to their astonishment the kamikaze  lifted up and flew just barely over the destroyer. After that, they shot the kamikaze down. This was particularly interesting to me, because you rarely hear stories of how two opposing sides share an intimate moment such as making eye contact and then live on to tell others about it.

As this is only one of Bill Campbell’s stories, he had many that he shared with us. He and the rest of his crew were successful with their other battles and missions, and they also helped with the occupation in Japan after the war. They did this from July all the way to December, and after hitting a typhoon, the USS Melvin finally made it back to San Francisco to return to their wives after a long period of their life out at sea. He graduated from the Navy in class 1944, and is currently involved in the committee for setting up reunions for his graduating class. 

I will always appreciate how open Campbell was with us and how fun he made me first interview for me. I’m very excited about what else I will get to hear from our veterans in their moments of bravery serving our country. 

-Nancy Louck