Wednesday, September 28, 2011

George Taylor of the 502nd Port Battalion

George Taylor (on left), William Downes, and Leonard R. Roane at Camp Kilmer in NJ in January 1946.

This month I found two articles about George Taylor. He was company carpenter serving in the 502nd Port Battalion. He speaks in this video and he is interviewed by the Culpeper, VA Star Exponent in this article.

I sent George a copy of my book and we talked today on the phone. He and several friends from his hometown of Culpeper, VA joined the 502nd Port Battalion in 1943. They trained at Camp Miles Standish, just as my grandfather's battalion had. While the 519th Port Battalion was in Bristol, George's 502nd was working up in Glasgow. He was surprised to hear that my grandfather's battalion was white. It's true that most of the Army Transportation Corps was made up of segregated black units, but there were some white comapnies as well (25% of the corps).

George's battalion hit Omaha Beach in the afternoon of June 6th. "We had to wade over dead bodies of the guys who didn't make it. The water was red with American blood." With German snipers, artillery attacks, and aerial bombing, the Normandy experience was sobering and dangerous for the support troops as well as the combat soldiers. There were some casualties, including the battalion commanding officer, L. Col. James T. Pierce.

He talked about how impressive it was to see all the ships, trucks, and supply activity on the beach. "The next day after D-Day the beach looked like New York harbor." As a company carpenter George constructed buildings and crated equipment for transit. After the Normandy beaches shut down supply work in the fall of 1944 his battalion moved on to LeHavre, France where they unloaded American supplies until the end of the war.

Friday, September 2, 2011

WWII Port Company Reunions

From September 22nd to 24th WWII veterans and their families will be attending the 1st Engineers Special Brigade Association reunion at The Hope Hotel at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. These former 1st ESB men served in Africa, Sicily, Italy, Normandy, Holland, Belgium, Germany, and even Japan. They have been meeting regularly since the war.

490th Port Battalion veteran Charles Sprowl attended this reunion back in 2007. The 490th was attached to the 1st ESB for the Normandy invasion. My grandfather didn't do much more than exchange letters and Christmas cards with his old Army buddies, but many of the other veterans I speak to frequently met each other at their own informal reunions. For several different WWII Army units I have come upon 1945/46 documents listing men with their home addresses. It seems that these were put together to that the GIs could keep in touch after the war.

The 2007 1st Engineer Special Brigade Reunion

304th Port Company reunion, 1995 in Madison, WI

A groups of friends from the 304th Port Company met every few years. My grandfather was in this same company, but he didn't know these guys. From left to right: Tom Gardner, Bob Calfee, Jack Shireman, Ray Sonoski, Dick Justice, Matt Marvin, Dave Weaver, and Bruce Kramlich. I have spoken to all but to two of these veterans.

(click photo to see large version)

Gaetano Benza sent me a most impressive photo of a 1948 reunion at the Hotel Piccadilly in Brooklyn. He served in the 279th Port Company, which was attached to my grandfather's 519th Port Battalion for the Utah Beach invasion. They had some very well attended reunions for years after the war.