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?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Riding 40 and 8s up to Antwerp

The 519th Port Bn. left Utah Beach on November 14th, 1944, on a 5 day train trip to Antwerp, Belgium. I suspect an official Army photographer took these photos, and shared prints with the guys. These photos are from Cortland's album, but alot of the 304th Port Co. veterans have these same shots. Do you recognize any of these faces? (click photo for larger image)

1. Al Wiesbrock, 2. Cutrie, 6. Elmer Beck (the chain-smoking company barber), 7. Bill Schroeder (Green Bay Wisc.), 8. (first name?) St.Peter (a Frenchman)

1. Luke Truro, 2. Salmon?, 3. Roger Dean, 4. Noll, 10. Harley Bailey (of Incline, KY), 13. Harold Haack. 4. Noll (maybe), 5. Verle W. Hamilton (from Danville, IL) gave nicknames to everyone!, 8. Leroy "Shorty" Harringer (from Minneapolis, Minn), 12. Harry Ross (from Chicago). 7. Jack Shireman (from WI), 8. Leroy "Shorty" Harringer, 9. Hal Chitty (from Peoria, IL), 11. David H. Weaver (standing in glasses), 13. Harold Haack (from North Wisc.).

5. Harry Ross (maybe), 8. Morry Klinger (maybe), 2. Herb Koller, 1. James Dolan, 3. Second Lt. Gardner, fresh out of the OCS. 9. Hartung. 4. Sgt. Goncarz.

1. Don Widen, 6. Kelly, 7. Mike Monica,

3. Michael "Mouse" DeLaura, 7. Cutrie, 5. Rick Pinicotti 6. French train conductor. (Note the Transportation Corp emblem on the train's side.)

Guys from the 304th Port Co.

My grandpa has been able to identify some of the guys from his photo album. Above is Sgt. Phillip Rose (from NY?).

Don Hartung (from NJ) picking up a Molotov cocktail left by the Germans on Utah Beach, Normandy. Souvenir hunting was prohibited, and for good reason. One guy was killed by a booby trap while searching for keepsake to bring back home.

T-5 Richard G. Krause from Milwaukee, T-5 William Kelly, and PFC Dominic C. Parise (from NY?) in the apple orchard at Utah Beach.

I don't know the two on the left, but the S/Sgt. is James J. Dolan, a friend of my grandfather.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Researching your father's (or grandfather's) war

A couple months ago I came across an absolutely brilliant book. Finding Your Father's War, by Jon Gawne is a guidebook to anyone researching the US Army in WWII. I did pretty well researching on my own for the first two years, but this book has really cleared up some questions. I wish I had it at the beginning of my project!

So how did I start my Army research? My grandpa, Cortland Hopkins landed and worked at Utah Beach. The first thing I did was to read Utah Beach by Joseph Balkoski. This was in August of 2006. The book has very little to say specific to the engineers or transportation units, but it provides am excellent background to the greater scene. While reading I was able to ask Corty new questions.

An author friend of mine, a retired Army Col., recommended the official history of WWII published by the US Government Printing Office. This multi-volume series was published after the war, chronicling every aspect of the US military's involvement. These are often referred to as the "green books" because of the hardcover's green binding. The Transportation Corps: Operations Overseas, by Joseph Bykofsky includes the work of Port Battalions in Europe. The text is very dry, but it's a great resource. Reading this volume allowed me ask Corty more detailed questions. By this time I was interviewing other veterans, Bruce, Dave, and Jon.

Another major step was approaching the National Archives. But that is a tale for another post...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Let's begin at the beginning

Back in the summer of 2006 I was sick with some kid of flu or something. It was one of those illnesses that make it too unpleasant to sleep. My wife isn't a big fan of war movies, so I took the opportunity offered by those late nights to watch the Band of Brothers series on DVD. At certain points during the program the camera is on actual veterans talking about their experiences. One of them mentioned a grandson asking about his service. I thought, "I should ask my own grandpa about his time in the Army." He had mentioned little snippets of stories throughout the years, but I never sat down with him to really talk about it. So, when I was feeling better, I started calling to interview him.

I lived in Maryland at the time, and he was in upstate New York. The phone calls were a nice bonding experience. Although he was quite active in his neighborhood, he was living alone. The frequent calls were welcome, and he enjoyed sharing his memories. No one had asked for so many details before. He's not really much of a storyteller, so he had never really forwarded the info on his own. In fact, my mom tells me that he never spoke of the War until about the 1990s! The silence wasn't because of horrid memories. Although, men in his outfit were killed, he wasn't in a front-lines infantry unit. I think he kept quiet mostly because he didn't think it was worth talking about. He told me that everybody back then (at home and abroad) was doing their part for the war effort, so there was no reason to bring it up afterwards. Yet, the 519th story is proving to be a fascinating one!

My initial interviews were pretty informal. I asked questions and while he spoke I scribbled down notes as fast as I could. As we went along I picked up more scholarly oral history techniques. A nice oral history guidebook was suggested to me. Interestingly, it turned out to be a book that I had designed, The Oral History Manual. It's not the finest cover design I ever did, but the text was very useful! I bought a tape recorder, and started recording our phone conversations.

Meanwhile I had also tracked down other men from his unit. I thought they could fill in the broader picture. The 519th Port Battalion was reactivated during the Vietnam conflict as the 519th Transportation Bn. Veterans from this war have set up an association website. It was here that I found Bruce and Dave. These two guys have been immensely helpful in my research. They provided me with photos (to add to my grandfather's extensive album), anecdotes, newspaper clippings, various details, and contacts for other veterans.

When I first set out on this project I intended it to be a short collection of my grandfather's stories. As I spoke to the other guys I started to think I had enough material to publish a book on the unit as a whole. I had always thought that WWII was a subject that was overly studied. I was really quite surprised at how much history has been hidden. In the UK the 519th Port Bn. loaded the ships for the Normandy invasion. It landed in the first wave on Utah Beach. Once there it transported the supplies needed for the advancing Allied army. It continued work in the Belgium port of Antwerp under constant German rocket attacks. The men that were a part of this had alot of stories to tell. My book aims to get those stories out there!

Researching the book

(above photo, D-Day plus 5, Utah Beach)

I'm writing a book about the 519th Port Bn. in WWII. My grandfather was in the 304th Port Co., serving in Bristol, England; Utah Beach, Normandy, France; and Antwerp, Belgium. Having interviewed several veterans and gathered all the official war-time records, I'm completing the research phase. I hope that this blog attracts the attention of other former members of the unit, or their relatives. I have photographs and information I could share. Please email me if you have a connection to the unit (see photos for email address).

I am especially interested in talking to relatives of James J. Dolan of New York, Army Serial No. 32203407. He was the supply sgt. and friend of my grandfather. I also hope to speak with his other buddies, Richard G. Krause from Milwaukee, Dominic C. Parisi from New York (I think), William Kelly, Phillip Rose, and Dan Hortuna. I have photos of all these guys and would love to see if you have more to share.