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.