Thursday, December 31, 2009

Camp McKay, late 1943 to early 1944

These shots were taken at Camp McKay, Dorchester, Mass. near Boston in the fall/winter of 1943 or spring of 1944.

Pictured in the top photo: Dave Weaver, John O'Connor, and Bruce Kramlich.
Bottom photo: M/Sgt. Zeeman, and Sgt. Calfee

Thursday, December 24, 2009

GI Christmas Party in Antwerp, 1945

I'm reading the book, Liberators: The Allies and Belgian Society, 1944-1945 by Peter Schrijvers. It's an enlightening text about the relationship between the Belgian citizens and the Allied troops. My grandfather's unit was in Belgium, so this week I was inspired to ask his comrade, Dave Weaver, about their interactions with the people of Antwerp. n 1945 he, Dick Justice, Edward G. Breitenfeldt, and Jim McConchie were happy to be invited to a local Christmas party. Their excited hosts hand-drew a charming Christmas menu with little illustrations of American and Belgian flags. Dave showed this to me briefly when I visited him in Tucson last month. I wish I had a picture to share! Here's his little story:

"Well, there was a guy named Jim McConchie. He was a close friend of mine, interesting guy. He was a tall skinny kid from Paris, Illinois. He used to go around to the bars a lot, and he knew some of these barmaids and people like that. Some way or another he met a girl named Angie, a Belgian girl. She was married to a Belgian soldier, but I don't know where he was. He was out with the forces somewhere. She was a DePunt. There were four or five of us that got to know them quite well.

Mr. DePunt was a very social kind of a guy. He wanted to throw us Christmas party. He had a candy shop downtown. We met there. We used to bring him sugar, which he'd mix it into cordials or some kind of an alcoholic drink. And that's where I first learned about Pernod—an anise-based drink. It's quite good. They had two boys [their own and a foster child]. Angie was a few years younger than us. She was a DePunt relative someway. Her father was a Colonel in the Belgian Army, and he was there. There were more than just the four of us GIs at the party." —Dave Weaver

It's interesting to note the GI's gift of sugar. The Belgians had been under four years of severe food rationing under German occupation. The arrival of the Allies in September of 1944 did little to relieve the shortage. The Allies were focusing their efforts on supplying the troops in their push against the Germans. Theft of these crucial supplies was a tremendous problem, especially in the port of Antwerp. Black market dealings were rampant. In an attempt to limit the loss of military food and materials the Belgian civilians were outlawed from possessing any Allied items. Even the gift of a pack of gum was forbidden. Yet, such strict regulations didn't stop Dave and his buddies from sharing a little Christmas cheer!

Merry Christmas!

Below is the hand-drawn menu given to each of the GIs. The Christmas gathering was actually 1945 (not 1944 as I wrote previously). Note the "Eisenhower Soup with Atom Bombs."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

519th HQ guys and Company Clerks

Here's another photograph of some 519th Port Battalion HQ guys. The shot was taken at Camp MacKay, Boston, Mass., 1943. On the left is Matt Marvin. Next to him in the shadows is Bob Holmgren (clerk for the 302nd Port Co.). Then Ed Watson in front. Edwards is fourth (he was a clerk for the 303rd Port Co.) In the back row smoking a cigarette appears to be Sgt. Alex Wanczak* of HQ. On the right is Richard Heist.

*The guy I have labeled as Wanczak, Bruce Kramlich thinks is Melhorn (clerk for the 305th Port Co.). I'm quite sure it is actually Wanczak. While we're talking about company clerks, John O'Connor was the Co. Clerk for the 304th.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Antwerp's Groenplaats Exposition, 1945

An anti aircraft gun in Groenplaats, Antwerp, 1945. The building in the background is now a Hilton Hotel.
Among my grandfather's photographs is a shot of an anti-aircraft gun in what looks like some kind of air show. I assumed this was Antwerp, because of the words on the sign in the background looked Dutch. Curious, I contacted Tracy Dungan, author of V-2: A Combat History of the First Ballistic Missile and Here is his response:

"The Groenplaats Exhibition was put on by the Allies in Antwerp in the summer following the end of hostilities. It was a victory celebration of sorts, for the people of Antwerp. Each nation's military exhibited military hardware, along with captured German equipment. The V-1 and V-2 were of interest to the people of Antwerp for obvious reasons."

He also emailed me a roof-top photo. I noticed that the planes in the shot looked like those my grandfather had marked in his album as "Paris Air Show." Yet, on the back was written, "Antwerp." When I compared the roof line in the background of his ground-level photos, I saw that these were actually in Antwerp (check out the photos bellow). Another exciting discovery!

A RAF Horsa glider.

P-51 Mustang, Groenplaats Exhibition, 1945, Antwerp.

V-1 Rocket

V-2 Rocket
See more photos of the Groenplaats Exposition in my 2015 post.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Road to Victory by David P. Colley

"The Red Ball Express? Yeah, I knew those guys." —Cortland Hopkins, my grandpa

Before I started researching my grandfather's outfit, I had assumed that I would easily find a book about Army Port Companies like his. Judging by the round-the-clock coverage The History Channel gave to WWII and the full military history shelf at the bookstore, I was left with the impression that this subject was just overflowing with books about every aspect of the war. I was wrong. History books for a general audience seem to stick to D-Day, tanks, and paratroopers, while scholarly publications focus on the war's relation to narrow anthropological interests like gender studies, immigration, the arts, etc. So basically, there is a wide open space for straight history books on non-combat units. During the war there were four support troops for every one fighting soldier in the front lines. These guys had fascinating and life-changing experiences, but they don't get into books. Understandably, combat is the hot topic with readers.

Consequently, I was very happy to find David Colley's book. Road to Victory is an excellent reference for the movement of supplies between the Normandy beaches and the front lines. It's absolutely perfect for my research because the units dealt in the text came in on the same beach as my grandfather, and continued to work in that area. Port Companies like my grandfather's unit moved the supplies off the ships, on to the beaches, and the Quartermaster Truck Companies in Road to Victory picked it up and drove it to the front lines. Colley details the types of supplies, the way it was stored & moved, and the various trucks and equipment used. That's the raw info I needed, but the general reader will enjoy the stories related by the black soldiers who formed the Red Ball Express.

I see one of the reviews on amazon criticizes the author's lack of a continuous narrative. Each chapter is pretty much a self-contained subject, rather than the next step in a story. Yet, this is a style choice and does not detract from the book's worth as a history. Road to Victory is a welcome contribution to a historic subject top-heavy with combat.

Check out the author's website.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

304th Port Company roster WWII

Second Platoon of the 304th Port Company, 519th Port Bn.
near Dorchester, MA USA 1943

The following list of 304th Port Co. personnel is pulled from a number of sources: 1. an August 9, 1944 paper recommending men for the Good Conduct Medal. This provides the bulk of names. Unless otherwise noted, the names bellow are from this source. Unfortuantely, some of the names have faded over time. I have placed a question mark next to names or spelling where I had trouble reading; 2. a June 10, 1944 Morning Report; 3. a December 1943 pay roll record; 4. a August 15, 1945 notice of promotions record; 5. veteran interviews

This list isn't complete, but it's the most comprehensive list around. If you recognize any names, please get in touch.

1st Lt William C. F. Lawler (took command of the company in January 1945, source 4.)
2nd Lt John C. Winfree (source 2.)
2nd Lt. Gardner (source 5.)
2nd Lt. Renfrew (source 5.)
1st Sgt Albert H. Bratzel
S/Sgt James J. Dolan (third platoon)
S/Sgt Willard J. LaBarge (from Tupper Lake, NY)
S/Sgt Julian Schwartzberg
S/Sgt Delbert C. Staggs
Sgt Samuel T. Scanlon
Sgt Donald W. Wood (clean cut young fella from the midwest, a real "straight arrow")
Sgt Anthony Borkowski (source 4.)
Tec 4 John J. Cornacchi
Tec 4 Robert F. Lipke
Tec 4 Robert M. Marx
Tec 4 George? Massing
Tec 4 John O'Connor (company clerk from Boston, Mass.)
Tec 4 Palmer Perkins
Tec 4 Ralph F. Phelan (source 2.)
Tec 4 Ralph Ponomar?
Tec 4 Norman Radtke
Tec 4 Joseph Savarese
Tec 4 Edward Varnum
Tec 4 Efrain G. Vidaurri
Tec 4 William P. Wilder
Cpl Donald L Hartung (friend of my grandpa, from NJ)
Cpl George W. Klipfel (source 4.)
Cpl James J. Labita
Cpl Wilton M. Reavis
Cpl Edward L Smolen
Cpl Moubray Stoll
Cpl Clemens F. Uptmor Jr.
Cpl Lawrence L. Wantland (source 4.)
Cpl John J. Wilson (source 4.)
Tec 5 Abelardo Alvarez
Tec 5 Morey Berger
Tec 5 Morris Bernstein
Tec 5 William H. Bowers Jr.
Tec 5 Sylvester P Dzikonski
Tec 5 Thomas A. Gardner Jr.
Tec 5 Robert S. Gauron
Tec 5 LeeRoy C Harringer
Tec 5 Joseph B. Heinz
Tec 5 Cortland Hopkins (my grandpa)
Tec 5 Edward J. Kaniewski
Tec 5 William J. Kelly
Tec 5 Steve J. Kocela
Tec 5 Richard C. Krause
Tec 5 Samuel Levine
Tec 5 Leslie lilien
Tec 5 Joseph Maizlish
Tec 5 Earl E. Maloney
Tec 5 William V. McCullough (source 2.)
Tec 5 Thomas J. Reiter
Tec 5 Harry I. Ross
Tec 5 James F. Ryan
Tec 5 Joseph A. Schilling (source 3.)
Tec 5 William L. Schroeder
Tec 5 Arthur J. Schroedter (source 3.)
Tec 5 John E. Shireman ("Jack" we talk)
Tec 5 Raymond P. Sonoski (source 4.) we talk
Tec 5 Charles Spencer
Tec 5 Roy O. S?
Tec 5 Jack C. ???etzky
Tec 5 Thomas F. Viele
Tec 5 James L. Whitby
Tec 5 Aloysius C. Wiesbrock (from Wisc.)
Tec 5 Anthony V. Watson (source 3.)
Tec 5 Julius Zalesky (source 3.)
Pfc Richard L. Baeten
Pfc Robert J. Ballenger (source 2.)
Pfc Philip Baratz
Pfc Edward Barlow (source 4.)
Pfc Edward G. Breitenfeldt
Pfc Alvin J. Brettman
Pfc Allen P. Boegner (source 3.)
Pfc George W. Cagle
Pfc Richard H. Chitty ("Hal")
Pfc Howard E. Clark
Pfc Wallace C. Gilbert
Pfc Harold J. Haack
Pfc Raymond D. Hankins (source 2)
Pfc Lloyd H. Hoover
Pfc Richard J. Justice (source 4.)
Pfc Albert J. Karowski (source 2)
Pfc Morris E. Klinger
Pfc Herbert P? Koller
Pfc Franklin W. Lentz
Pfc Anthony J. Litvin (source 4.)
Pfc Walter McKinney
Pfc Louis M. Oromaner (source 4.)
Pfc Dominic C. Parise
Pfc James O. Ruidl ("Red")
Pfc Lyle M. Schlekau
Pfc Melvin E. Schon
Pfc John E. Stonestreet
Pfc Israel Sugarman ("Irving" or "Sugi")
Pfc Edward ?. Vitkovich
Pfc Johnnie A. Williams (source 4.)
Pfc Robert R. Woodcock
Pfc Morris Yohai
Pvt Francesco Barone (source 2)
Pvt Nicholas A. Cannone
Pvt James E. Curry (source 2.)
Pvt Albert L. DiJohn
Pvt Hartley G. Husted (source 4.)
Pvt Andrew J. Kostur (source 4.)
Pvt Sidney H. Kraus (source 2)
Pvt Vernsley G. McLaughlin (source 4.)
Pvt Harold B. Pollack
Pvt Kurt Schiff
Pvt Benjamin Sherman
Pvt Walter M, Slasinski (source 2)
Pvt Leo Sommer
Pvt Lionel L. Ridgeway (source 2)
Pvt Robert C. Sorenson
Pvt Jack J. Swope
Pvt Irwin Tobe
Pvt Dwayne E. Trantham (source 2)
Pvt Peter J. Tyrcha
Pvt John Crupi (from newspaper article)

Other names mentioned in interviews (source 5.):
Dave Weaver
Jim McConchie (from Paris, Il)
Woodrow Wilson (Heatherly, NC)
Harley Baily (from Incline, Ken. carried his guitar all the way from IGMR to Antwerp!)
Verle W. Hamilton (from southern Illinois)
All the above were members of Dave Weaver's section

Robert G. Calfee (from Radford, Virginia. Leader of 2nd section of the 2nd platoon)
Rick Pinicotti
Mike DeLaura ("the Mouse")
Ken Roberts (Milwaukee, WI)
Roger Deane (southern Ill)
Gene(Harry) (from Davenport, Ill)
Gilbert Mello (Mellow? Company cook. from East Coast?)
Pvt. Frank Rodriguez (from NY)

Thanksgiving Dinner in the 304th Port Co.

Dave Weaver (pictured at left) responded to my query about their Thanksgiving meal in Antwerp, 1944. Here's his email from Nov. 30, 2009:

"At Tampico Flats (Antwerp) our kitchens were up on the roof, using field kitchen equipment. Equipment and supplies were sent up to the roof on a dumbwaiter. A cook named Icenhauer [sic] from IL was killed loading supplies when crushed between the moving dumbwaiter and the brick enclosure.
The only time we ever got decent food was when unloading ships we could scrounge something to eat in the crews mess or the Navy gun crew mess. If we were lucky enough to be unloading PX or officers' supplies, of course we would break open [boxes] to sample candy bars, liquor, etc.!"

I must say I wasn't prepared for that disturbing news. Being crushed in an elevator accident somehow seems more tragic than being wounded by a German V-rocket. It's just so unexpected. I checked my records, and found a T/5 Richard M. Icenhower in the 303rd Port Company. Thankfully he wasn't killed by the accident. The battalion records show no deaths while in Antwerp, and a researcher found a death certificate for Richard Manuel Icenhower from 1950.

Irving Sugarman, also in the 304th Port Co, doesn't remember any kind of special Thanksgiving dinner in 1944. I knew the Army would not have provided anything approaching a family dinner, but I had thought that something a little special would have been dispensed to the troops—maybe some cranberry sauce, or canned turkey. Yet, the port of Antwerp had only recently been taken, the city was under V-Bomb attack, and there was lots of hard work to do. It just wasn't the time for holiday niceties.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving in a Port Company, 1944

While helping my wife cook Thanksgiving dinner today, I recalled that the author of We Made The Headlines Possible mentions his Thanksgiving feast of 1944. His Port Maintenance Company was riding crowded 40 & 8 train cars on their way to Antwerp:

"Thanksgiving Day 1944 was memorable. Of course the propaganda line back in the States was that it would be a Spartan holiday with 'all the turkeys and other goodies sent overseas to our troops.' Actually, we almost went without any food at all. Only when our Captain Doran demanded that the train commander open up some provisions for us did we get food. For each car of 40 GIs we received two round loaves of French farm bread, a gallon can of orange marmalade, and a long tin of Spam! Under a barrage of kibitzing about fairness, it became my duty to allocate and serve the food in my car. So, I cut each fellow a slice of bread, put on a slice of Spam and overed this with marmalade. That was our Thanksgiving feast." —George N. Havens, pages 59-60

This description makes me doubly thankful for the abundance of our Thanksgiving 2009. It has also inspired me to ask the veterans of my grandfather's unit about their Thanksgiving feast. I'm sure they'll have something equally interesting to report. They were in Antwerp by this point, so maybe their meal was a little better (probably not).

Monday, November 23, 2009

519th Port Battalion Headquarters roster

Bruce Kramlich saved a few papers from his time in the 519th's Headquarters. Among them is a list of enlisted men awarded the Good Conduct Medal in August 1944. I'm very interested in these papers because they provides a near comprehensive list of the men in the battalion. The official unit rosters were lost in the 1973 National Archives fire. I'm typing out al the names in the hope of attracting the attention of these veterans or their families. Unfortunately, officers are excluded from receiving this medal, so they aren't on the list. Their names come from talkign to Bruce.

Major Charles H. Nabors (commander of the 519th, from Florida)
Captain Samuel Klauber (commanded 519th Medical Detachment)
Captain Glenn T. Foust, Jr. (medical detachment)
Captain Knauer
Captain F. W. Coykendall
Thurman F. Bowers (Chaplain from Greensboro, NC)

Enlisted Men:
M/Sgt Seymour Zeeman
T/Sgt Edward C. Watson
1st Sgt Alex Wanczak
Tec 3 Dallas K. Rudrud (from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Served in 305th and 303rd Port Co.s)
Tec 4 Roger N. Lawrence
Tec 5 Edwin B. Byrom (jeep driver for Nabors)
Tec 5 Lawrence H. Botzon
Tec 5 Stanley M. Gadd
Tec 5 Matthew A. Marvin (I have spoke with his brother)
Tec 5 Albert Wishner
Pfc Richard B. Heist
Pfc Bruce C. Kramlich (we speak alot)
Pfc Elwood C. McDonald
Pvt Toivo H. Hamberg
Ralph? Richard (from New Hampshire)

According to the veterans I speak to HQ also included: O'Conner, Milliorn, Geyer, Holngren, and Isaac Chancey.

These four names are according to a note on one of Bruce's photos (pictured above) The picture was taken at the HQ building in Bristol, England. In the front row (right to left) are Geyer, Holngren, and Roger Lawrence. In the middle row are Marvin, Rudrud, Zeeman, Watzon, and Bruce Kramlich. In the back row are O'Conner, Botzen, Edwards, and Milliorn.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Meeting Bruce and Dave

This month I had the chance to meet two of them 519th Port Bn men I have been interviewing. Bruce Kramlich was in HQ. He now lives about an hour from me in Colorado. I visited him in his home for a few hours on the 7th. He shared all sorts of great material that he's saved from his Army days. He even has his full uniform! My grandfather, Cortland, tells me that he re-purposed his Ike jacket for civilian use by dyeing it blue! Bruce was good enough to keep his intact. Note the interesting stitching of the unit patches.

Last week my family and I were in Tucson, AZ for a publishing conference. I met Dave Weaver for coffee on Sunday. After three years of email and phone conversations it was great to finally meet these guys in person.

Bruce (on left) and Dave (on right) at Indiantown Gap, PA 1943.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sports in the Army: Boxing in Antwerp

Reported in the Green Sheet of the Milwaukee Journal, Wed. Dec. 19, 1945.

Germany's surrender in May of 1945 allowed for the safety and free-time needed for sporting events. Some of the 519th's Wisconsin boys organized a boxing club. Dave Weaver told me about this and mentioned that there was an article printed in his hometown paper. Not living in Wisc. myself, I thought there was no way I'd find the article. I was happily proved wrong when I met Bruce Kramlich last weekend. He also is originally from Wisc. His mother saved three copies of this article! He let me borrow one to scan.

On the subject of boxing, this research of mine produced a funny little story. I noticed in his discharge papers that he took a "boxing course" in Paris. I asked him about this, saying I was impressed that he had been a boxer. He wasn't—the "boxing course" was training in packing boxes for supplying the Pacific Theater.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The 519th Port Battalion band

The 519th Port Battalion band playing in Massachusetts, 1943.

I met with Bruce Kramlich yesterday. He lent me this great photo of the 519th Port Bn. band. My grandfather has some shots of the band, but none this close-up. The 519th Historical Report chronicles the band's activities in Antwerp:

Battalion weekly parades were inaugurated with music by the excellent military band of this organization. The military band was called on frequently for various reviews and presentations, and from the hard work that each individual member and the director put in to form this band came one of the best military bands in the Port Area, to ably represent the 519th Port Bn. The Battalion dance band was engaged in various Service Clubs and separate organizations sponsoring unit dances. This group also gave a day of their services each week to the 30th General Hospital, as did the military band when called upon.

My grandpa says he remembers an Al Levinson playing in the band. Dallas Rudrud leads the band. James "Red" Ruidl is playing the tuba. I've learned something from looking at all these old Army photos: if you want someone to recognize your face 65 years later, don't hide under your helmet or behind a tuba.

Update: In October 2010, Mark Newman emailed me photos from his dad's WWII album. His dad Marvin B. Newman painted the bass drum seen in this shot of the battalion's dance band, The T.S. Capaders. I assume that the dance band was made up of some of the same members as the military band.
Photo of the 519th Port Battalion dance band, by Marvin Newman.
Photo of the 519th Port Battalion dance band, by Marvin Newman

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Attack on SS Charles Morgan

I received three photos from the Department of the Navy last week. The above image is a photocopy from their order form.

Rear echelon work shared some of the same dangers faced by the front line troops. On June 10, 1944 German bombers struck the SS Charles Morgan. There is no surviving record for casualties in the other companies, or if any beside the 304th were serving on the ship. Dave Weaver requested copies of the 304th's Company Morning reports before they were destroyed in the National Archives' 1973 fire (see image at left). Bruce Kramlich provided me with a document stating that a Pvt. Richard E. Heon went MIA on this day. I wonder if he ever turned up. Also listed as MIA is Pvt. Frank Rodriguez. This was a friend of Irving Sugarman, one of the vets I talk to. He was sad to say Rodriguez was killed.

There were seven 304th Port Co. men killed and six men injured on June 10th, 1994, presumably from the same ship bombing. All casualties to the 519th Port Bn. during the war took place in the first week of landing at Normandy. A total of 10 men were killed and 12 were wounded. The 519th Historical Report states that all of these were due to aerial bombing. However, a couple of veterans told me that at least one man was killed by a booby trap while souvenir hunting.

Bruce Kramlich's diary lists June 15, 1944 as the worst German air raid on the beach. I don't have Company Morning Reports for that day, but I do have a separate record documenting T/4 Willard Begel being killed. They were laid to rest in the Military Cemetary in Normandy. The Army named roads on Utah Beach after the fallen men.

June 10th 1944 Morning Report Figures:
Killed in action:
Pvt. Lionel L. Ridgeway*
Pvt. Francesco Barone
Pvt. James E. Curry
Pvt. Walter M. Slasinski

Wounded in action:
T/4 Ralph F Phelan
Pvt. Dwayne E. Trantham
Pfc. Raymond D. Hankins

Injured in action:
Pfc. Robert J. Ballenger
Pfc. Albert J. Karowski
2nd Lt. John C. Winfree

June 10th figures found on a later record:
Missing in action:
Pvt. Richard E. Heon of Rhode Island
Pvt. Frank Rodriguez of New York
Pvt. George J. Swinehart, Jr. of Michigan

*This summer the niece of Lionel L. Ridgeway got in touch with me. I asked the 304th Port Co. veterans if they remembered him. Remarkably, Dave Weaver did. He sat next to him on the train to Indiantown Gap. I was happy to put the two of them in touch.

National Archives fire of 1973

In 1973 a huge fire destroyed the bulk of WWII military personnel records housed at the National Archives' St. Louis, MO building. Their website states that the 1943 unit rosters survived, and morning reports for the war should be available. Sadly, my reply letter from the Archives said they had nothing for my grandfather's unit!

I've been researching my book on the 304th Port Co., 519th Port Bn. since 2006. Mostly I have been interviewing veterans from the unit (my grandfather included). I received an invaluable unit history from the US National Archives in College Park, MD. Thankfully, before the 1973 fire my friend Dave Weaver requested about 10 morning reports surrounding the D-Day invasion. I would have dearly loved to get more. I was also hoping to get a full roster of the men that served in the unit.

If by chance you have some of these records, please let me know!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Destination Berlin, The Transportation Corp

In 1944-45 Stars and Stripes published a series of booklets about various units in the war. I just found a link that displays the text from the issue about the Transportation Corp. (click on cover)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

WWII Army Cartoons

Veteran Irving Sugarman emailed me this drawing made by another 304th Port Co. GI, Johnny Love. It illustrates a time when Irving didn't get any mail. It seems like every company in WWII had an artist in the ranks. Of course, there was the famous Bill Mauldin. Some of his cartoons can be seen on the Stars and Stripes website. And there was George Baker, creator of Sad Sack, published in Yank Army Weekly.

This week I found a very nice collection of cartoons drawn by William Schmitt (see envelope bellow). As far as I know his cartoon work was never published, but there is a collection of his decorated envelopes on the 488th Port Bn. History site. The illustration style is excellent, and I love that they were drawn by a fellow Port Company man. Note the T-5 patch on the guy's shoulder!

My grandfather and the other 519th vets have a number of amusing anecdotes that would translate well as cartoons. I'm using the Sad Sack comics and these envelopes as a style reference to create original cartoons for my upcoming book.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Port Companies in the Normandy Invasion

The following lists comes from the US Army website. I also added units that appear on the 1st ESB monument at Utah Beach. I have adjusted the list by assigning the companies to their respective battalions (where possible).

490th Port Battalion, attached to the 1st Engineer Special Brigade, an all African-American unit (see NPR piece)
  • 226th Port Company
  • 227th Port Company
  • 228th Port Company
  • 229th Port Company

518th Port Battalion,
attached to the 1st Engineer Special Brigade
  • 278th Port Company
  • 281st Port Company (this company was attached to the 519th Port Bn. In Nov., 1944.)
  • 298th Port Company
  • 299th Port Company
  • 300th Port Company
  • 301st Port Company

519th Port Battalion
, attached to the 1st Engineer Special Brigade. This is my grandfather's unit, detailed in my book Longshore Soldiers.
  • 279th Port Company (This company was detached from the 519th in Nov., 1944)
  • 280th Port Company
  • 302nd Port Company
  • 303rd Port Company
  • 304th Port Company
  • 305th Port Company
487th Port Battalion, attached to the 5th Engineer Special Brigade. (discussed in Bryan Morses' book, A moment in history: the story of the American Army in the Rhondda in 1944. Transfered to Antwerp in November 1944)
  • 184th Port Company
  • 185th Port Company - I found an article from my hometown paper about a man in this company.
  • 186th Port Company
  • 187th Port Company
  • 282nd Port Company
  • 283rd Port Company

494th Port Battalion, attached to the 6th Engineer Special Brigade, an all African-American unit.
  • 238th Port Company
  • 239th Port Company
  • 240th Port Company
  • 241st Port Company

502nd Port Battalion, attached to the 5th Engineer Special Brigade.
  • 270th Port Company
  • 271st Port Company
  • 272nd Port Company
  • 273rd Port Company

517th Port Battalion, attached to the 6th Engineer Special Brigade. (discussed in Bryan Morses' book, A moment in history: the story of the American Army in the Rhondda in 1944. Transfered to Antwerp on Nov 24th)
  • 284th Port Company
  • 285th Port Company
  • 797h Port Company (formerly A)
  • 798th Port Company (formerly B)
  • 799th Port Company (formerly C)
  • 800th Port Company (formerly D)

On April 19th, 1944 the Army Transportation Corps' 11th Port (a port management organization, not a company or battalion) was attached to the engineer brigades planned for the Omaha Beach landing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

We Made the Headlines Possible, by George Havens

519th Port Bn guys working outside of Tampico Flats, Antwerp, c.1945

Early on in my research Dave Weaver and Bruce Kramlich recommended this book. To my knowledge We Made The Headlines Possible is the only published book on Port Company work in WWII Europe. The author, George Havens, served in the 105th Port Marine Maintenance Company. Although his unit took no part in the Normandy invasion or its subsequent supply work, the book has been useful to me in presenting a picture of Port Co. life in England and Antwerp.

In November, 1944 the 105th came over from England, landing in La Havre France. They rode 40 and 8s to Antwerp on the same railway the 519th Port Bn. used a few weeks earlier. Undoubtedly, this description could apply to my grandfather's own trip:

Our cars moved slowly, stopped frequently and unpredictably, and started up with no notice other than several high-pitched wistels. When we did stop, guys bailed out of the cramped cars to stretch, scavenge for apples in nearby trees, or run to any close-by house to negotiate for a bottle of calvados or wine. When the wistle sounded, guys came running helter-skelter across fields to cath our car and dive aboard. Several who would not make it simply went to the adjacent highway and hitchhiked to the next village, often beating us there. The car had no toilet, of course, so we had to wait until the train stopped and then take care of business before the train started again. Some guys really got caught with their pants down. (p 59)

The port of Antwerp was controlled by the British army, with a sector set aside for the work of American Port Companies. The 105th came under the command of the American's 13th Major Port Group, likewise with my grandfather's 304th Port Co.. The 105th men stayed in the Luchtbal Barracks. The 304th men moved to the same housing in December of 1945 (they had been living in Tampico Flats). So, there are quite a few experiences shared by the two units. I had hoped that this book would offer more detail about the actual work done by Havens' company, but I suppose there is only so much that can be said about engine repair and maintenance. However, I am very grateful for it's depiction of the general atmosphere, as well as it's collection of facts and figures germane to the service of my grandfather's unit.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Landships at Indiantown Gap

Tthe 519th Port Battalion trained at Indiantown Gap from July 20 to October 17, 1943. Yesterday I was pleased to receive training photographs of Port Companies from this time. Among the most interesting: two ships were built on land to train the Transportation Corp men. (click above picture for a larger image). Between the PA National Guard Museum at Fort Indiantown Gap and the National Archives I have 10 photos from which to choose. I'll definitely include the above photo in my book, and maybe three or four more.

Instruction in night operation, showing winch operators and instructor, ITG 1942.

Instruction on gasoline-driven winch located at land hatch, ITG 1942.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Antwerp, City of Sudden Death

Antwerp, Belgium during WW II. This photo was snapped by my grandfather in 1945.

Below is an article from TIME magazine published 26, March 1945, pp 5-6. The piece describes what it was like to be in Antwerp during the German v-bomb attacks. A copy was among the 519th Port Bn. Papers I received from the National Archives. The 303rd Port Company distributed it to the men on April 6, 1945.

In Antwerp people close doors softly and talk in low voices. Hollow-eyed citizens, clinging to their homes, skulk through the ruined streets. Antwerp is a city of suspense—until suspense is broken by the thunder of guns and the put-put of V-1 robot bombs.
Antwerp was taken from the Germans virtually intact. But now almost half the city’s buildings have vanished in rubble and dust. Most of those that still stand are askew on their foundations, with walls leaning and cracked. In all the city there is not a window pane left. The Germans swore they would deny Antwerp to the Allies as a port. In Belgium cities along the V-bomb routes, sirens wail frequently, as the noisy V-1s pass overhead. But no sirens sound in Antwerp, the bombs’ principle target. In Antwerp men never leave the ack-ack guns, the city’s defense against the V-1s. Against the faster-than-sound V-2s there is no defense at all. These were a few of the details of a story carefully withheld for security reasons, which the Army only began to let out last week. Back from a trip to Antwerp, TIME Correspondent Edward Lockett this week brought a fuller story.

A.S.F. FRONT. The Allies were determined to use the port. It was close to the fighting front. Cherbourg, LeHavre, Marseille were useful (and still are), but the shortest route to the front lay through Antwerp. As soon as Antwerp’s port, damaged by the fleeing Germans, was open again, the Allies lost no time in putting it to work. British supply troops and men of the U.S. Army Service Forces moved in. U.S. commandant of the port is leisurely, drawling 46-year-old Colonel Doswell Gullatt, who graduated form West Point in 1918. Gullat and his men have become fatalists. Visitors move through the area with fluttering hearts, get out as fast as they can. Some combat troops, sent to Antwerp for a “rest,” stayed one day, wanted to be sent back to the front.

Some of them have marked out the constricted area of the city within which they have to move in their work. Nothing could persuade them to step outside those lines; in this way they think they have reduced the mathematical chances of death. In spite of the continuous V-bombing, oil dumps, barge basins, ship repair facilities—all going full tilt—line the waterfront. A floating generator supplies the battered port with its power. In the Antwerp Ford plant, still standing, Belgians assemble Army trucks. (The General Motors plant nearby has been demolished.)

“SHIVER MONEY.” Speed is the order. Men of the 513th Quartermaster group supervise the unloading of ships bringing supplies from Britain and the U.S. Cargoes are transfered to trailers on the long docks. Most of the stevedore work is done by civilians, who get 130 francs a day, plus one meal, plus 30 francs “shiver money,” for working in Antwerp’s hell.

Tractors haul the loaded trailers to “surge pools” (assembly points) where they are ticketed for caravans. Over the ABC route, which is even more efficient than the old, famed Red Ball, trucks haul ten-ton trailers to the front; 1,200 are in operation between Antwerp, Louvain, Liege, and other strategic points.
Other supplies are moved by rail, operated by the 708th Railway Grand Division, whose headquarters were recently in Liege. That city, too has been violently V-bombed. It was in Liege that a V-bomb landed in a field tent-hospital.

A.S.F. has made its answer to the Germans’ stubborn threat: two weeks after Antwerp had been open to shipping, thousands of tons a day were passing through the port.

The Stream which has never stopped flowing. Antwerp’s cracked walls, outlying villages’ narrow streets, dark Belgian farms echo back the never-ending rumble of trucks. The land shakes under the weight of caravans. Men drive as though the devil is after them. From the skies V-bombs still hurtle into the city of sudden death—but bellow, the Army’s supplies still roll.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Organization of the 519th Port Battalion

To help meet the massive logistical needs of the war, the the 519th Port Battalion was activated June 25, 1943. It was made up of Headquarters, the 302nd Port Company, 303rd Port Co., 304th Port Co., and 305th Port Co. My grandfather was in the 304th. The Bn. was attached to the 1st Engineer Special Brigade for the Normandy invasion. It's not clear to me whether the 519th remained under the control of the 1st ESB for the remainder of the war, or of it was detached when they were transfered to Antwerp. The men did continue to wear their engineer's patches: the Army Amphibious patch (blue with yellow eagle, gun and anchor), and the Engineer Amphibious Command (white oval with red sea horse and blue border).

Above is a photo of a monument on Utah Beach dedicated to the fallen men of the 1st ESB. It was Inaugurated on the 1-year anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1945. On one side of the monument a list of port battalions, port companies, quartermaster trucking companies, and QM service companies. Two additional companies were attached to the 519th shortly before the Normandy invasion. The 519th Port Bn. was joined by the 280th Port Co. on May 4, 1944, and the 279th Port Company on May 13. They were originally part of the 505th Port Bn.

Before the 519th was relocated to Antwerp the 279th Port Co was released from the Bn. In November the 279th departed for a new station—I don't know where. In that same month the 281st Port Co was attached, accompanying the 519th to Antwerp.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Training Port Companies at Indiantown Gap Military Reservation

(click image for enlarged view)

The 519th Port Bn. was trained at Indiantown Gap, PA. In August of 1943 two reporters from the Philadelphia Inquirer came out to observe the training. Dave Weaver was kind enough to mail me this clipping. I am currently in talks with the paper to get permission to reproduce the full article in my book. It's perfectly acceptable to quote small parts of a published piece, but I'd love to include the whole thing. Hopefully, their reproduction fee won't be to high. I'm just a self-published author without the deep pockets of a big book publisher.

Davis, Grace and Davis, Knickerbacker. “Training Transportation Corps: Port Battalions Load and Unload Ships in Pennsylvania Mountains” in The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 15, 1943.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

304th Port Company press release, c. 1945

Among my grandpa's old papers was a photocopy of an article, probably from the Schenectady Gazette. I have not found the original newspaper from which it comes, but I can tell that it was published some time between January and May 1945. The two paragraphs are a great summation of the work of the 304th Port Co. and the 519th Port Bn. It was also interested to learn that another Schenectady man was in my grandfather's company.

WITH UNITED STATES FORCES IN BELGIUM—— Supplies moving out of Antwerp to other war zones and supplies prepared for reshipment are now being guarded by the 304th Port Company commanded by First Lieutenant William C. F. Lawler of Boston, Mass. Since their arrival at the great Belgium port last Autumn, men of the veteran company have patrolled warehouses, guarded supply dumps and loaded freight cars with equipment for combat troops. Many of them rode to the front lines areas as guards on supply trains. For six months the port company men, who landed in Normandy with the first assault waves and wear the Bronze Arrowhead in recognition of their participation in the invasion, worked long hours to help move supplies for the final offensives against Germany, despite bombardment by German V-Bombs.

In Normandy men of the 304th unloaded guns, vehicles, ammunition and food from amphibian trucks and other landing craft, while under direct enemy fire. The unit suffered a number of casualties, and supply roads to the front were named for some of the men who fell.

Members of the unit include two Schenectady men:
Cpl. Cortland F. Hopkins - 454 Cedar Street
and Pvt. John Crupi - 1221 bay Street.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Cafe Photo

3. William Kelly, 5. S/Sgt. James J. Dolan.
Can you identify any one else in this picture?

This cafe could be anywhere in Belgium or France. Any ideas?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Homefront: Welding M-7 Priests and tanks at ALCO

Can you help? I am hunting for the August, 1942 issue of ALCO's Attack newsletter.

Arc welders at ALCO's Schenectady plant in January, 1943.
Courtesy of The Library of Congress.

On November 23, 1940 The American Locomotive Company was awarded a contract to build the Army’s M-3 medium tank. The first completed tank rolled out less than five months later in April. As production progressed company engineers improved their tank-building techniques. Many of their innovations were so successful they were adopted by the nation’s other tank manufactures. The first of Alco’s M-3 tanks were delivered in December of 1944. From mid 1941 to July of 1943 my grandfather worked as one of the welders at ALCO's Schenectady plant. He told me about his work there: “First I was working on locomotives, then they transferred me to over to the tank division. I welded the outside of the tank. The more experienced first class welders had the inside. I was 2nd class, so I had the outside.” In addition to the M-3 "General Lee" tank, M-4 Sherman, and M-36 "Slugger", Alco was secretly producing M-7 mobile howitzers. Corty also welded the M-7 "Priests" destined for the British 8th Army fighting Rommel. All M-7s used in the North Africa campaign were produced in Schenectady.

In recognition for their important work building tanks the US War Department awarded the Schenectady plant with the Army/Navy E-Award. On August 27, 1942 two thousand Alco employees assembled to witness the award ceremony. I found a report of this event in the Schenectady Gazette, but I am also interested in seeing how this story was treated in ALCO's wartime newsletter, Attack. I am hunting for the August, 1942 issue. I contacted the Schenectady Historical Society. They hold issues of the newsletter, but they don't go back as far as I need. The closest we got was a December 1942 issue that reprinted photos from the August article (see below).

This week I discovered that the University of Syracuse Library holds a large collection of ALCO records. They have issues of Attack newsletter, but again I have hit a dead end. They have issues for April, May, and June 1942, but after that it skips to November!

ALCO received further recognition in April, 1943. British 8th Army commanders came to Schenectady to thank the ALCO workers for their hard work. Now that the M-7 was no longer a secret weapon, the British could publicly thank ALCO's many workers. There was a big to-do with a tank parade down Erie Blvd and a screening of the documentary film, Desert Victory.

Meet Corty Hopkins

Meet my grandfather, Cortland Hopkins. I know him better as "Grandpa Corty." He always preferred "Hoppy" and was called that in the Army, but his older brother has laid claim to that nickname in civilian life. So, while living in Schenectady, NY he has been called "Corty." Now that he is an assisted living community outside the old neighborhood he has gone back to "Hoppy." The staff there love him, and all call him by that name.

This photo was labeled, "Belgium." It's probably Antwerp. Check out the "deuce and a half" GMC 2-ton trucks in the background.

This is a professional photograph, so I presume it was taken either in 1943 (after enlisting) or in 1946 (after returning from Europe). Note the Transportation Corp lapel pin.

This past June my grandfather was interviewed for a D-Day story in the Albany Times Union newspaper. You can see the article online.

Here's Hoppy and my daughter on August 8th, 2009. He's wearing a Colorado shirt from me, and a Coast Guard hat from his eldest grandson. He's turning 95 in November! He has the same smile, doesn't he?