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.