Saturday, December 27, 2008

Six-Mile Run, Dec. 27: A Cold, Snowy Day

Right: The runner thaws out after his run.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Short Film Honors 95th Bomb Group and Horham, England

I made a short film yesterday with some new film software. Nothing fancy, but I combined photos I took in Horham in June with vintage shots of the 95th air base and personnel and put it to music. You can see it by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Berga WWII POWs Honored: Survived Hellish Nazi Death Camp--CNN Report

BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- The U.S. Army says it will honor the "heroism and sacrifice" of 350 U.S. soldiers who were held as slaves by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Bernard "Jack" Vogel died in a Nazi slave camp in the arms of fellow U.S. soldier, Anthony Acevedo, in 1945.

The decision by the Army effectively reverses decades of silence about what the soldiers endured in the final months of the war in 1945 at Berga an der Elster, a subcamp of Buchenwald where soldiers were beaten, starved, killed and forced to work in tunnels to hide German equipment.

More than 100 U.S. soldiers died in the camp or on a forced death march. Before they were sent back to the United States, survivors signed a secrecy document with the U.S. government to never speak about their captivity.

"The interests of American prisoners of war in the event of future wars, moreover, demand that the secrets of this war be vigorously safeguarded," the document says.

CNN last month reported the story of Anthony Acevedo, who was a 20-year-old medic when he was sent to Berga with the other soldiers. Acevedo kept a diary that details the day-to-day events inside the camp and lists names and prisoner numbers of men as they died or were executed. See inside Acevedo's diary »

That story prompted a chain of events, including hundreds of users urging their congressional leaders to honor the soldiers of Berga. Two congressmen, Reps. Joe Baca, D-California, and Spencer Bachus, R-Alabama, wrote U.S. Army Secretary Peter Geren and asked him to recognize the 350 soldiers.

Don't Miss
Lawmakers seek honors for soldiers held by Nazis
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Vet breaks silence on Nazi slave camp

The Army recently responded to the two congressmen, saying it is working "to determine an appropriate way to honor the heroism and sacrifice of these soldiers. We expect this review to be complete by March 6, 2009."

After learning of the Army's decision, Bachus said in a press release, "The courage and perseverance they demonstrated in enduring such inhumane conditions is awe inspiring, and I am pleased the Army has opened a more extensive investigation into honoring these men."
For the dozen of Berga survivors who are still living, the news came as a shock. Many had long ago given up hope that their country would ever recognize them for what they endured.
"It's amazing," said Morty Brooks, now 83, when informed of the Army plans. "It's a recognition that's many years past due. No particular notice was ever given to us by the government, and it should be part of the military's annals."

Acevedo, now 84, noted the ages of the remaining survivors -- all of whom are in their 80s. Some are in failing health. He said he hopes the Army can reach its decision before March, because of the possibility some could die before then.

"If they can do it a lot sooner, we would appreciate it much," he said. "I thank God I'm still able to communicate and express myself with dignity, and I'm hoping the other fellas are able to communicate also.

"I've always been proud to be a U.S. soldier. It did me some good, with God's help and faith. I'll pray for everybody, all my other fellas."

He said the 350 soldiers are heroes who "exposed our lives for our country, for democracy and freedom of speech." The soldiers, all of them survivors of the Battle of the Bulge, had originally been sent to a POW camp known as Stalag IX-B in Bad Orb, Germany. From there, the Nazis separated the 350 soldiers based on being Jewish or "looking like Jews" and sent them to the slave camp around February 8, 1945. Watch Acevedo describe treatment in the camp »
In Boston, Martin Vogel sits quietly in his home. His brother, Bernard "Jack" Vogel, died in Acevedo's arms at the age of 19 in April 1945. Bernard Vogel had tried to escape from Berga with another soldier named Izzy Cohen. Both were captured and forced to stand in their underwear outside the barracks for at least two days until they collapsed.

The last words Bernard Vogel ever uttered were "I want to die, I want to die." Listen as Acevedo tells brother of victim: "I held him in my arms" »

Martin Vogel, 82, said that "since learning of my brother's death in 1945, a week has not passed that I don't think of his untimely death. Many questions had gone unanswered during this time."
After talking with and the few remaining survivors, he said, "My thoughts have come into a clearer focus. I have learned of the last few days of [Bernard's] life and what horrendous event took place prior to death. This has at least crystallized the uncertainty of his death and brought a close to this chapter."
Vogel still gets emotional talking about his brother's death. He wrote his thoughts so he wouldn't cry talking about it.
He continued, writing that questions remain on many issues, including the fate of his brother's captors and "the unwillingness of the Army to publicly document the capture and imprisonment of these soldiers. ... The least is I now know Jack died with friends near him, giving him comfort in his last moments."
The two Berga commanders -- Erwin Metz and his superior, Hauptmann Ludwig Merz -- were tried for war crimes and initially sentenced to die by hanging. But the U.S. government commuted their death sentences in 1948, and both men were eventually set free in the 1950s.
Charles Vogel, the uncle of Bernard and Martin, was outraged at the decision. At the time a powerful Manhattan attorney, he petitioned President Harry Truman, Secretary of State George Marshall and Defense Secretary James Forrestal to overturn the commutation.
Charles Vogel also helped form a group called "Berga Survivors" after the war in which some of the slave camp soldiers would meet to discuss the best way to pressure the government to honor them and allow them to testify against Metz and Merz.
In a bulletin from one of their meetings in early 1949, the "Berga Survivors" appeared optimistic the government would act. "Your cooperation now is doubly important, for things are beginning to break our way," the bulletin says. "A little enthusiasm, a little more cooperation, a little more action will accomplish a great, great deal now."
It adds, "You can aid in the campaign to get Washington to procure full justice for us."
More than six decades later, it appears the work of the original "Berga Survivors" group was not in vain. Most have since died, but the few who remain alive say they will never let their fellow soldiers be forgotten.
"It's finally gotten to a point where the Army is coming to their senses after they had ignored us in the past," Acevedo said. "Why the silence all these years? It's time to recognize all these soldiers who sacrificed their lives." has located 14 Berga soldiers who are alive and will keep working to find if any others are still living.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Emerson High School flies Over Iraq with Pilot Mike Emerson

Air Force pilot Mike Emerson.

Back when I was teaching school and coaching in rural Wyoming, I met a young man named Mike Emerson. Mike attended Rock River High School, about 17 miles down the road from our own town of Medicine Bow, Wyoming. Rock River was even smaller than Medicine Bow. As a cross-country coach, I got to see all the kids from the other schools run each week during CC and track. Rock River rarely had enough kids to field a 5-man cross-country team, but there was one kid--one tough, smart, scrappy, gutsy kid--named Mike Emerson who made a big impression on me. This was back in the years 1985 to 1989, so obviously Mike is no longer a high schooler but most likely in his late thirties or early forties.

About a month ago through the wonders of the internet I reestablished contact with Mike. He was at that time--and still is---deployed to Iraq as an Air Force pilot, flying some type of huge aircraft, possibly a C-130, to different parts of Iraq. Mike will be coming home in a few weeks, God willing.
Crew Photo.

Big-ass bird! Note the Wyoming National Guard logo on the tail.

Mike was very interested that I taught at a school named Emerson High School. After all, that's his name. He asked if he could buy a couple of shirts with the Emerson name and logo on them. Instead, Principal Wendy Cavan donated the shirts and I put them in a box and mailed them to Iraq via the APO.

Mike sent this picture of the Emerson shirt in the cockpit of his aircraft.
Thanks, Mike, for your service, and come home safely.
Sunset over Baghdad, by Mike Emerson.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Correction on The Melting Pot Story: The Mistake Was Mine

The man who researched and discovered the B-17 'The Meltin' Pot' in the Irish Sea was stated incorrectly in a previous blog. Here is the correct version:
Seamus Carey researched and found the 'The Meltin' Pot' in the Irish Sea.
I made a mistake in my reporting of this. My friend Jack Scoltock, in Ireland, never made the claim to have discovered the ship. The mistake was all mine, and I regret it.
Jack writes:
"I did not say I found or dived on the Meltin' Pot, at any time.Seamus and several members of the Inishowen Sub Aqua Club searched in an area where it was well known the Meltin' Pot went down. Seamus and four other members of the club found the wreck in 2001. I began to write about it and did a few years research after the discovery. A former member of the club contacted Lee Kessler and he sent a few pages of what happened to the Meltin' Pot. Then Lee and I began our contact. When he told me Curt Melton, Captain of the plane was alive I was put in contact with him. Through my correspondence I put him in touch with the teenager who rescued him and some of the crew as the plane went down.It's all there in my book."

Again, I take full responsibility for my incorrect reportage, and extend my apologies to all involved. Rob

Never Forget....

Remembering Pearl Harbor--and a Chopper Pilot Named Dale Garber

Pilot Dale Garber and his Chopper, Vietnam.
My friend Paul Dillon sent me a wonderful post today, and I'm passing it on to readers on this anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day.

Paul writes: "As most of you know, on this day, Dec. 7, in 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor suddenly jolting America into the shooting part of WW II. What you don't know, nor should you unless of course you were there, is that on that same day twenty-six years later in 1967, 40 clicks (kilometers) south of someplace called Da Lat, South Vietnam, my friend Dale Garber, was shot down. It also happened to be his 24th birthday. He was then, and thankfully still is today, a pilot. If you know Dale, you'd know that he was born to be a pilot. If it has wings or rotors on it, he can fly it.

In 1967 he was with the 117th Assault Helicopter Company flying a "Charlie Model" Huey gunship. His call sign was "Sidewinder 3." On this particular Dec. 7, an American Special Forces listening post set up in the boonies to listen and snoop around, had been way too quiet for way too long. The 117th was ordered to insert South Vietnamese paratroopers into the area to have a look around.

Dale was flying the lead in an element of 4 gunships protecting 15 "slicks" (troop carrying helicopters) carrying the South Vietnamese troops. When they got to the landing zone, Dale went in to mark the area with smoke and to check it out. Command and Control had reported the area "safe," but when Dale made his pass over where the Special Forces guys were supposed to be something did not feel right. Command and Control again insisted that there had been no recent activity reported in the area.

As the "slicks" were beginning to make their final approach Dale radioed the other gunships that he didn't care what the reports were, he was going back down for another look. The enemy must have known that he suspected something because as Dale banked left and started to climb out from his second pass "Sidewinder 3" began receiving heavy ground fire.

His crew chief was hit in the shoulder. Immediately "Sidewinder 3" began returning fire and radioed for the "slicks" to abort the landing and get the hell out of there.

The gunships began working over the periphery of the landing zone with mini-guns, M-60 machine guns, and rockets. Heavily loaded with troops and their weapons, the "slicks" were trying as hard as they could to leave but were "low and slow." Dale came back around and got behind them to cover them from the rear. His gunship would be the last one out, and the last one through the enemy's gauntlet of fire.

Except that he didn't quite make it. His crew chief had been shot again and his M-60 door gun blown apart, both mini-guns had been shot-up and quit working, the rocket launch system had been shot away and the few rockets left were full of bullet holes. The chin bubble had been blown away and the hydraulic system had apparently been hit because Dale was losing cyclic control... and he noticed that the collective had been shot in two. Happy Birthday, Dale!

All that was left for them to do was to look for a nice soft place to crash. They flopped down in a muddy rice paddy northeast of the landing zone they had just left. Dale tried to shut down the engine but the controls had been shot-up so badly that the engine wouldn't shut off.

So there they sat, in the mud, in a shot-up helicopter, taking inventory of the situation with the engine idling. About that time pieces of the helicopter began to fly off as they came under intense fire again.

Dale, his co-pilot, wounded crew chief, and the other door gunner got out of the helicopter and began firing back with whatever weapons they had that were still working. A "slick" tried to come in and pick them up but was driven away by heavy ground fire.

About that time the gunships retuned and began vaporizing the tree lines with mini-gun fire. From out of nowhere a "slick" plopped down next to them. Dale got his crew and wounded crew chief into the helicopter and its pilot, Lt. Butch LaRoue, somehow managed to get the overloaded aircraft into the air and on its way out of there.

All 15 "slicks" made it safely back to Da Lat with no casualties. "Sidewinder 3" was the only gunship lost. The Air Force came back the next day and reported "Sidewinder 3" still sitting in the mud with its engine idling. They then blew it up.

As it turned out, the Special Forces post had been overrun the day before by a regiment of North Vietnamese with all of the Americans killed. The North Vietnamese knew we'd be coming to look for our guys, and they were sitting there waiting.

On this day, Dec. 7, when we reflect back upon Pearl Harbor and that "day that will live in infamy," I ask you to also take a brief moment to remember another Dec. 7, and remember Dale Garber and ALL our Vietnam vets, and their courage and sacrifice. They deserve so much more than what they got. Their victories were never reported, and their bravery either scoffed at by those who had none, or taken for granted.

As with all of our vets, never pass by an opportunity to thank them for their service. For without them backing them up, all of our fancy words about freedom and democracy mean absolutely nothing. And please, the next time you see a Vietnam vet, please be sure to WELCOME HIM OR HER HOME! Thank you and... WELCOME HOME, DALE! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!"

Thanks, Paul, for a great story. And may I add....Welcome home, Dale and Happy Birthday! -Rob

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Jack Scoltock's 'The Meltin' Pot' tells the Story of a B-17 and Its Crew

Today in the mail I got a copy of "The Meltin' Pot: From Wreck to Rescue to Recovery" by my friend in Ireland, Jack Scoltock. Jack spent many years researching this book, and it was well worth it. The book tells of the fate of the B-17 Flying Fortress 'The Meltin' Pot' that crashed off the coast of Ireland during WWII. One of the crewmen on that plane was Lee Kessler, and the crew went on to fly missions on a different plane over Europe. Lee was later shot down and became a POW, and this book covers the fate of the crew as well as the plane.

Jack is a diver and chronicles the search for and discovery of the Meltin' Pot, undertaken by divers over the past few years. A documentary is in the works.

When I visited Lee Kessler back in 2003, he was very excited about the work of the Irish divers, and was looking forward to going to Ireland to see the wreck of his old plane for himself. Lee spent several freezing hours in the sea awaiting rescue after the Meltin' Pot went down. Unforunately, Lee passed away in the fall of 2003, without ever realizing his hopes of seeing his old plane again. However, the pilot of the plane, William C. Melton, did have a chance to go to Ireland and see artifacts from his plane before Melton himself passed away June 13, 2008.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in WWII, the 8th Air Force, the lives of B-17 crews, or deep sea diving. You can order the book here from in the United Kingdom:

I give this book my highest recommendation. Buy it, read it, treasure it.

Old Photos by a Marine on Board the USS San Diego in 1917-1918 Found in Idaho Falls

The Marine wrote "Big seas" on the back of this photo.

A Marine honor guard at sea, possibly for a burial at sea.

The Marine labeled this shot "Brooklyn Bridge" but it is actually the Manhattan Bridge. The San Diego enters the harbor in 1917.

The written backs on some of the photos provide a glimpse into the life of one young Marine on board.

Marines pose in uniform on deck of USS San Diego, 1917.

Sailors wash their uniforms in a half-bucket of fresh water, then rinse them with salt water from a hose.

March 16, 1917, morning inspection on the deck of the Marine Guards by the C.O.

"X" over one man shows the Marine who owned these photos--he identifies it as himself.

Ice on the bow, Atlantic 1918.

Convoy duty, Atlantic.

Yesterday a ran across a cache of old photos taken by a Marine guard on board the USS San Diego in 1917 and 1918 during World War One. They provide a fascinating look at life on board a Navy ship nearly a hundred years ago. The USS San Diego was originally built about 1905 and named the USS California, with the name change coming a few years later. She sailed in the Pacific as a Navy flagship and then spent her last year in the Atlantic escorting convoys during World War One. Unfortunately, near the end of the war, she was sunk--possibly by a German U-Boat--and she rests on the ocean floor.

The Marine wrote on the backs of some of the photos, giving us more of a glimpse of life on this great ship.

Facts about the USS San Diego.

The United States Ship (USS) California was the second of that name; She was an Armored Class Cruiser, assigned number 6. She was laid down in 1902 and launched 28 April 1904 by the Union Iron Works, San Francisco, Calif.; sponsored by Miss F. Pardee; and commissioned 1 August 1907, Captain V. L. Cottman in command. She was powered by two coal burning, four cylinder, triple expansion steam engines, which drove her two 37,000 pound bronze/magnesium propellers.
Joining the 2d Division, Pacific Fleet, the California took part in the naval review at San Francisco in May 1908 for the Secretary of the Navy. Aside from a cruise to Hawaii and Samoa in the fall of 1908, the cruiser operated along the west coast, sharpening her readiness through training exercises and drills. In December 1911 she sailed for Honolulu, and in March 1912 continued westward for duty on the Asiatic Station.
After this service representing American power and prestige in the Far East, she returned home in August 1912, and was ordered to Corinto, Nicaragua, then embroiled in internal political disturbance. Here she protected American lives and property, and then resumed her operations along the west coast; she cruised off California, and kept a watchful eye on Mexico, at that time also suffering political disturbance (1).
In September 1914 the California was renamed the San Diego to make her original name available for assignment to a battleship, as directed by Congress. She served as flagship for Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, intermittently until a boiler explosion put her in Mare Island Naval Ship Yard in reduced commission through the summer of 1915 (1).
The USS San Diego on 28 January 1915 while serving as flagship of the Pacific Fleet. Her name had been changed from the California on 1 September of the previous year.
On 21 January 1915 the San Diego suffered a boiler explosion. While taking the half hour readings of the steam pressure at every boiler, Ensign Robert Webester Cary Jr. had just read the steam and air pressure on number 2 boiler. He had just stepped through the electric watertight door into number 1 fire room when the boilers in number 2 fire room exploded. In fire room number 2 at the time was Second Class Fireman Telesforo Trinidad, of the Philippines and R. E. Daly, along with one other man. Ensign Cary stopped and held open the watertight doors which were being closed electrically from the bridge, and yelling to the men in No. 2 fire room to escape through these doors, which 3 of them did do. Ensign Cary held the doors open for a full minute with the escaping steam from the ruptured boilers around him. For His extraordinary heroism Ensign Cary was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor2,3. He would later retire with the rank of Rear Admiral. Fireman Telesforo Trinidad was driven out fire room No. 2 by the explosion, but at once returned and picked up R. E. Daly, Fireman Second Class, whom he saw injured, and proceeded to bring him out. While coming into No. 4 fire room, Trinidad was just in time to catch the explosion in No. 3 fire room, but without consideration of his own safety, passed Daly on and then assisted in rescuing another injured man from No. 3 fire room. Trinidad was himself burned about the face by the blast from the explosion in No. 3 fire room. For his extraordinary heroism Fireman Second Class Trinidad was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor also for this incident (2).
The San Diego returned to duty as flagship through 12 February 1917, when she went into reserve status until the opening of World War I. Placed in full commission 7 April, the cruiser operated as flagship for Commander, Patrol Force Pacific Fleet (1).
USS San Diego ACR-6 (ex-USS California) about 1917. Officers are Rear Admiral W.B. Caperton and his staff
On April 6, 1917, California Governor William D. Stephens received a telegram from the Secretary of the Navy calling the State’s Naval Militia into Federal Service. Upon the Governor’s orders the Naval Militia was immediately directed to assemble at their Armories and prepare for muster. The following organizations were mustered in as National Naval Volunteers: First Division, San Francisco; Second Division, San Francisco; Third Division, San Diego; Fourth Division, Santa Cruz; Engineer Section, Fourth Division, Santa Cruz; Fifth Division, Eureka; Sixth Division, Santa Barbara; Seventh, Eight, and Ninth Divisions, Los Angeles; Aeronautic Section, Ninth Division, Los Angeles; Tenth Division, San Diego; Eleventh Division, Los Angeles; First Engineer Division, San Francisco; Second Engineer Division, Los Angeles; and the First Marine Company, Los Angeles. The entire organization was subsequently mobilized on board the USS Oregon, USS San Diego, USS Huntington (4) and USS Frederich (5).
On April 15th Lieutenant Adolph B. Adams and his 5th Division, California Naval Militia left with the San Francisco and Santa Cruz Divisions for Mare Island. At Mare Island the Division reported to George W. Williams on the USS Oregon and were assigned to the Armored Cruiser USS San Diego. On April 17th, sixteen men of the division were transferred to the USS Frederich (5). Between May 31st and July 18th 1917 those of the Division that were aboard the USS San Diego participated in Convoy duty along the California coast. One mission was a trip from Honolulu, Hawaiian Territory to Port Townsend with an interned German vessel under convoy escort (6). These duties entitled all the members of the ship to the “Escort” bar for their World War I Victory Medals.
On 18 July, the USS San Diego was ordered to the Atlantic Fleet. Reaching Hampton Roads, Virginia on 4 August, she joined Cruiser Division 2, and later bore the flag of Commander, Cruiser Force, Atlantic, which she flew until 19 September. San Diego's essential mission was the escort of convoys through the first dangerous leg of their passages to Europe. Based on Tompkinsville, New York, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, she operated in the weather-torn, submarine-infested North Atlantic safely convoying all of her charges to the ocean escorts1. Prior to the sinking of the USS San Diego, Lt. Adolph B. Adams was transferred off the ship and assigned to the USS Tallahassee at the Panama Canal Zone (6).
On 8 July 1918, the San Diego left Portsmouth, New Hampshire, en route to New York. She had rounded Nantucket Light and was heading west. On 19 July 1918, she was zigzagging as per war instructions on a course for New York. The Sea was smooth, and the visibility was 6 miles. At 11:23 AM, a huge explosion tore a large hole in her port side amidships. The explosion crippled the port engine. Captain Christy immediately sounded the submarine defense quarters, which involved a general alarm and closing of all watertight doors. Soon after two more explosions ripped through her hull. These secondary explosions were later determined to have been caused by the rupturing of one of her boilers and the ignition of one of her magazines. The ship immediately started to list to port. Captain Christy ordered the starboard engine rung up to full speed and headed toward the shore in an attempt to ground the San Diego in a salvageable depth of water. Soon afterward the starboard engine quit. The Officers and crew quickly went to their battle stations. Guns were fired from all sides of the warship at anything that could be a periscope or submarine. Her port guns fire until they were awash. Her starboard guns fired until the list of the ship pointed them into the sky. Under the impression that a submarine was in the area, the men stayed at their posts until Captain Christy gave the order “All hands abandon ship” after the starboard engine quit. At 11:51 AM the San Diego sunk only 28 minutes after the initial explosion. As per Navy tradition Captain Christy was the last man off the ship. As the Captain left the ship, the crew in the lifeboats gave him a cheer and burst in to signing the National Anthem. As the Officers and crew watched from their lifeboats the San Diego capsized and sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean about 8 miles off Long Island’s south shore. Today she lies in water ranging from 65 to 116 feet deep.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Norman Feltwell Spitfire Photo

More great aviation photography from Norman Feltwell.

Thanks, Norman.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Baghdad Sunset

My old friend from Medicine Bow (he's actually from Rock River) Mike Emerson sent me some photos from Iraq. Mike is a pilot over there. Stay safe, Mike.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Letter from a Former Teacher, Marine Capt. Pete Benavage, Iwo Jima Veteran

A low-resolution photo taken from page 74 of my 1976 Herndon High School yearbook of my teacher, Peter Benavage. The caption says he taught Social Studies, World Studies, and World Geography. He was Chairman of the World Geography Department. He had a BA degree from George Washington University, an M.A. from Catholic University, and did course work at the University of Virginia, the University of North Carolina, and the College of William and Mary.

I got a big surprise today when I got home from work. There was a letter from my old high school history teacher, Mr. Benavage. I knew it was from him right away because the return address label had the famous image of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima on Mt. Suribachi on it. A month or so ago, I did a blog entry on my former teacher, remembering a story he told us about when he was a captain in the United States Marine Corps on Iwo Jima in 1945. Shortly thereafter, I heard from his grand daughter, and she put me back in touch. I sent him a copy of my book to salute his 'Untold Valor' but did not expect to hear from him. My teacher proved me wrong. He read my book, and he wrote back.

Seems Captain Benavage ended up a Major in the USMC. He retired from teaching at Herndon High School in 1984 and moved to a locale that did not have the traffic and population hassles of suburban Washington, DC.

It was great to hear from Mr. Benavage. He was a real hero of mine when I was in high school. He was one of the first World War Two veterans that I knew personally, and I was already very interested in the history of WWII at the time I met him.

Once again, this blog has reunited old friends. What a blessing.

We honor men such as you, Pete Benavage, for fighting to keep us free.
We'll never forget.
Right: The front of my 1976 Herndon High School Yearbook.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Outstanding Documentary on Lee Kessler: Free to Download

Click this link to download a full-length documentary about Lee Kessler and 'The Hand'.

More on Lee Kessler's The Hand

The Background for the Drawing By Lee Kessler (Artist)

"With the onslaught of the Russian Army and their advance on Austria and the Danube in late March 1945, the Germans evacuated Stalag XVII-B, marching those who could walk, on the road West. After a couple of weeks on the road, we passed a place called Mauthausen. We later learned it was a Concentration Camp, although at the time we knew little about them. Approaching us from the opposite direction was a group of prisoners from this camp who had been working in a quarry. They were Hungarian Jews and were guarded by the S.S. We were halted at the side of the road as these walking skeletons passed. Occasionally we heard the crack of pistols and knew what they were for. Those who fell and were too weak to get up were shot. The prisoners followed a wagon and loaded the bodies.

"I approached one of the bodies of a man shot in the head lying along the side of the road and noticed a crinkled photograph by his hand. As he lie, his arm stretched out as if to be reaching for the picture. I moved off the road for a better look at the photo and I was just about to pick it up, but a guard shouted for me to get back. The picture was of a women and two small children. As I glanced back, I saw that a butterfly had lit on him.

"I was obsessed with the scene. Here was this man, dead by the side of the road. The last thing he looked at was a picture of his family, probably his only possession, and where were they? Dead, or in some other camp? At that moment I could only think that everyone has the right to die with dignity, and here was a poor soul who died with such obscurity.

"Sometime in the 1950s, I started a sketch of a rough outline but put it away, since I felt no one would understand what I was trying to portray. Twenty years later, as I lie in the hospital, a nurse who knew me and my association with art suggested I do art work for therapy. I had my wife hunt for this sketch, bring me my pen and ink, and with the encouragement of the staff, I finished the picture.

"Like other pictures, I put it away feeling that no one but me could really understand it.
"In 1983, a POW Convention in Cleveland, when another POW was being interviewed, he related the story of how he saw a man fall. “While lying on the ground, he pulled a picture from his pocket, and as he kissed it the S.S. guard shot him.”
Lee Kessler

Two Idaho WWII POWs find They were both at Stalag 17-B

The following article was in Wednesday's Idaho Falls Post Register. It mentions my late friend Lee Kessler, who was also at Stalag 17-B near Krems, Austria after being shot down in WWII.

It's a small world. I plan to get in touch with Mr. Hess in the near future.

"Two men who met at the Idaho State Veterans Home were also prisoners of war at Stalag 17-B during World War II.

BOISE -- All veterans share a bond, but the one Mel Schwasinger and Francis Hess discovered while residents of the Idaho State Veterans Home was stunning.

The two 90-year-olds wouldn't seem to have much in common. Hess is a native of Philadelphia; Schwasinger grew up on a farm near Nampa. Schwasinger spent most of his working years as a sugar beet farmer; Hess was a career military man.

That the two would end up together at the Veterans Home in Boise was an unlikely coincidence. But the other thing they had in common was beyond unlikely.

Both were prisoners of war at Stalag 17-B, one of the most notorious Nazi prison camps in World War II and the inspiration for "Stalag 17," the Academy Award-winning film starring William Holden.

"I don't even want think about the odds of that," Veterans Home Volunteer Coordinator Phil Hawkins said.

The men discovered their shared history during a conversation earlier this year, while both were residents of the veterans home; Schwasinger has since moved to a private care facility.
Half a century fell away as they recalled the deprivations of POW-camp life in Nazi-occupied Austria, where the two never met.

"You got a shower every six months whether you needed it or not," Schwasinger said.

Hess lamented the scarcity of the "little coal briquettes that they gave us for heat. There were never enough, and it was always cold. Guys would rub each other's backs to try to stay warm."
The prisoners were so hungry that "we stole the potato peelings the Germans left from preparing their food," Schwasinger said. "What they gave us wasn't fit for pigs."

Schwasinger weighed 165 pounds when he was imprisoned and 105 when he was liberated 17 months later.

Hess was there even longer. His wife, Mary, said her husband became so accustomed to sleeping on a slab of wood that "when he got home, his mother found him asleep on the floor under the bed. It took him a while before he could sleep in a real bed again."

An Army Air Corps radio operator and gunner on a B-17 bomber, Hess was shot down over France on Dec. 20, 1942. He almost came out of his parachute, which snagged on his nose on the way down.

"I'd have died if I hadn't had a big nose," he said. "A Frenchman found me and stopped the bleeding. Then the Germans came."

Schwasinger's B-17, the "Luscious Duchess," was shot down a little over a year later. A turret gunner, he has said he shot down at least 10 German fighter planes that day and possibly as many as 18. His collection of WWII medals includes the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Both men were freed during the waning weeks of the war in 1945, when the camp was emptied and the Germans fled Austria in advance of invading Russian troops.

"They marched us 210 miles to the German border, where we had troops," Hess said. "That's when we saw what they had done to the Jews.

"A friend of mine did a drawing of something he saw along the way, a dead man's hand with a picture of his wife and children. A butterfly had landed on his hand."

I took these photos of Lee when visiting him in Canton, Ohio. RM

That drawing, by his friend Lee Kessler, has been displayed in Holocaust museums around the world.

Hess's WWII experience only increased his desire to serve his country in the military. He spent 25 years in the Air Force, retired as a master sergeant and worked as a civilian for the Navy, testing catapults for aircraft carriers. He moved to Idaho in the mid-1980s, following his son, Francis Hess Jr., who was serving at Mountain Home Air Force Base.
Hess and his late wife had six sons, five of whom served in the military. The youngest followed his father's career path by retiring as a master sergeant. Their only daughter married a military man, and his current wife, Mary, was a Navy WAVE during WWII.

"Serving in the war made everyone more patriotic," he said. "You couldn't see what we did and not be patriotic. It taught me that there's no place else in the world like the U.S."

Schwasinger feels the same way. Though he remembers the sky on the day he was shot down as being filled with nothing but parachutes and burning airplanes, he said he'd do it all again.
"It was scary, but necessary," he said. "There was no question that we had to do what we did."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Honoring a Fallen Hero--NICK MASON

RIP Nick Mason, 1984-2004
My friend Mike Rhodes sent me this information on his close friend, Nick Mason, who died serving his country in Iraq. I quote Mike's words here, and ask all readers to honor this fine young man.

Nick Mason 1984-2004

"Nick Mason was a soldier who gave his life in the service of his country. He was my friend in elementary school and I maintained that friendship up until graduation of high school. He enlisted in the National Guard and left for basic training only days after graduating. When I was in iraq during my second tour, I found out that my friend Nick had died. It was a horrible shock. Nick had been in a mess hall eating with his comrades when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside of the enclosure, killing nick and and 18 other U.S. Soldiers. This happened on December 21, My birthday is on the 22nd. The only thing worse then finding out that a friend of mine had died around my birthday, is the thought that the family was finding out around Christmas.

Nicholas Conan Mason should never ever be forgotten.This is all that I really have to tell. This is my experience of what happened."

Thanks, Mike. Well-said.
Further information about this fine man is available here:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

One More Vet's Day Honoree---My Great-Grandfather John Richards

I don't have a photo of him handy, but I'd like to honor my great-great-grandfather John D. Richards of Switzerland County, Indiana, who enlisted at Muscatine, Iowa into the Union Army with the 11th Iowa and fought in the Civil War. John was wounded seriously at the Battle of Atlanta after fighting in all the major battles of the western war, including Shiloh, Vicksburg and Pittsburgh Landing. John survived, though crippled, and fathered eight children, one of whom was my dad's grandmother Birdie Richards. John passed away in 1917. He had been shot through the groin and had severe pain the rest of his life, making it hard for him to plow his fields.
I never knew you, great-grandfather, but I honor you. I'll post a photo of you as time permits.

Visit From a Hero on Veteran's Day

Marshall tells of his experiences. The gentleman at center is my student teacher, Jim Jones, who is a veteran of the First Persian Gulf War.
Marshall talks about his years as an Air Force airman from WWII through Korea.

Today is Veteran's Day in the United States, and I invited my friend Marshall Dullum to come in and speak to our high school about his experiences as an airman in World War Two, the Berlin Airlift, and Korea. Marshall was a B-29 radio operator during the Korean War, flying 26 missions over enemy territory and having numerous adventures in his years in the Air Force from WWII through Korea. He gave a fascinating talk to about 90 students and staff at Emerson High School.
Marshall Dullum, bottom row, second from left, when he was a radio operator on the giant B-29 Superfortress directly behind the crew. This plane flew out of Japan over Korea.

It was an honor to have Marshall come to our school, and to have him share his experiences with us.
Thanks, Marshall. We'll never forget what you and so many did so that we could enjoy the freedoms we so often take for granted.

For more on Marshall Dullum, please see my story about him at this link:

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A New President

Congratulations to our future President Barack Obama. This was an inspiring election, and both candidates were worthy; in fact, I was a very early supporter of Senator John McCain's back when it appeared his campaign was dead in the water. Senator McCain is a true American hero who has served his nation with honor for many years. Senator Obama managed to inspire a nation that was willing to vote in record numbers and stand in polling lines for hours just to cast a vote. Both men strengthened my faith in our democracy.

May the next four years be good ones, and may the nation unite as one to work together to solve our common problems. The time for divisiveness is thankfully over. It's time to give President-elect Obama our support and our prayers.

God bless America.

Vote--It's the American Way

Thousands paid the ultimate price so that we can elect our leaders.

Don't let these great men and women down.

Vote today.

Friday, October 31, 2008

And The Greatest of these is....

Ammon Sky

I took these photos this morning. On what had been a depressing morning (two funerals this week) plus a very hard work schedule and a bad book review, God sent me something to remind me of the things that really matter.