Category Archives: World War II – Caldwell County Deaths

84 soldiers, sailors, marines, WAC (one) and coast guard kia/mia in WW2 from Caldwell County, Texas will eventually have their stories here. The chronicles appeared in the Lockhart Post Register and the Luling Newsboy and Signal in 2013-2014. The stories were later edited and updated in 2016.

WILLIAM MCGREGOR ‘BILL’ TAYLOR – A CALDWELL COUNTY FARMER AND WARRIOR

A CALDWELL COUNTY FARMER AND WARRIOR

WILLIAM MCGREGOR “BILL” TAYLOR

1921-1997 

RECIPIENT OF TWO SILVER STARS, A BRONZE STAR, AND THREE PURPLE HEARTS

By Todd Blomerth

            In 1945, William McGregor “Bill” Taylor finally made it home from the war in Europe, but not in the way he had hoped. Severely wounded on December 9, 1944, he spent nine months in hospitals in France, England, and finally at Wm. C. Borden General Hospital in Chickasha, Oklahoma, recovering from shrapnel wounds. For the rest of his life, his body bore evidence of what he endured, including small bits of shrapnel that would occasionally come to the surface of his skin.

Bill Taylor died in 1997. His is a story of survival, almost from the day he was born. He was one of the greatest of the Greatest Generation.

Born in 1921, Bill was the eighth and last child of John Hugh Taylor and Emma (Williams) Taylor. His oldest sister, Ella, died in 1910. She was followed by Luke (1902-1946), Bauzzle Turner (1905-1959), Martha Ann (Dinges) (1907-1971), Pearl Ether (1909-1976), Myrtle Ollie (Mercer) (1913-1972), and Jess Willard (1913-1946).

The family farmed and ranched outside of McMahan. Tragedy struck early. When he was nine, Bill’s father died of a stroke. His mother died two years later. Now married, older sister Myrtle Mercer took him in to raise and for several years, Bill attended the tiny Oak Forest School, outside of Gonzales, Texas. He never finished high school. He returned to McMahan, but “got tired of milking cows,” so, at sixteen, he enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  Bill was assigned to a CCC company stationed at Glorieta, New Mexico. For a year, he and other young men worked on public works projects, and were required to send most of their pay home to help support their families.

Returning home to McMahan, he worked on the family farm. Perhaps encouraged by older brother Bauzzle, on September 10, 1940, he enlisted at Lockhart in the Texas National Guard’s Company F, 141st Infantry Regiment, 36th “Texas” Infantry Division.

To say that the United States was unprepared for World War II is a huge understatement. The pre-war Guard units were poorly equipped and undermanned. That didn’t prevent the Texas Division’s men from feeling greatly honored to be a part of the historic military unit. In the years to come, the 36th Infantry Division’s combat record would more than justify its members’ pride.

Bill and older brother Bauzzle in 1940 Company F roster. Company F, 141st Infantry, drilled in Lockhart. Luke was also a member. Company I, 141st Infantry, drilled in Luling. Lockhart also was home to the Regimental Medical Detachment.

  

Realizing that the United States would soon be drawn into the world conflict that had begun in China in 1937 and in Poland in 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt nationalized all National Guard units in late November, 1940. Bill had been in Company F for less than three months. Farmers and shopkeepers who were accustomed to weekend drills and two week summer camps found themselves in a full-time military force desperately in need of training, leadership and equipment. Early in 1941, the Division, with ranks swelling

Bill, a Texan in the harsh winter snow of Massachusetts – early 1943

with new enlistees and draftees, began training at Camp Bowie, outside of Brownwood, Texas. Bill and his buddies endured rather Spartan conditions at the unfinished post. Training accelerated, and the Division participated in pre-war maneuvers in Louisiana and the Carolinas. The Division moved to Camp Blanding, Florida, and then to Camp Edwards, Massachusetts. Finally, in late March and early April 1943, the Division loaded on ships. Bill Taylor arrived in North Africa on April 13, 1943.

The Texas boys were eager for action. What they got was more training, and occasionally, guarding thousands of Italian and German prisoners of war. The Allies invaded the island of Sicily in July 1943, but the 36th Division remained in North Africa.

Wading ashore at Salerno

On September 9, 1943, F Company, 141st Infantry Regiment, saw its first action. It was very nearly its last. The Italians had suddenly surrendered to the Allies, and some Allied commanders expected little opposition to the landings near Salerno, Italy. The American and British divisions were put onto beaches split by a river. There was insufficient pre-landing bombardment. Unknown to the Allies, German troops had quietly moved

into the surrendering Italians’ defensive positions. The 36th and 45th Divisions were nearly pushed off the beachheads by the well-entrenched enemy. Bill saw many men die that day. The 36th Infantry Division lost 250 mean killed in one day.

Destroyers and cruisers moved dangerously close to the shore and fired at almost pointblank range at the enemy. Overcoming the horrific enemy counterattacks, the 36th pushed ashore, and very slowly began the northward push toward Rome. The ‘soft underbelly of Europe’ turned out to be anything but. Mountains succeeded mountains and the Allies advanced against a well trained enemy. Rain, mud, cold, artillery barrages, snipers, and incomprehensible orders to take hills that hid German fortifications were the order of the day.  The results were predictable. Young men were wounded and killed. Somehow, Bill survived bloody battles that drained the Texas Division of many good men. San Pietro, Mt. Lungo, Cassino and the Rapido River became synonymous with often unnecessary suffering.

The battered 36th Division was pulled off the front line in March 1944 to reequip and replace men lost. Meanwhile, in a badly executed attempt at an end-run around the Germans, Americans landed a force on the beaches at Anzio, sixty miles from Rome. Again, the Germans were nearly successful in pushing this force into the sea. The 36th Division went back into action, shoring up the beachhead, on May 22, 1944. The men of the 36th were instrumental in the Anzio breakout. The 141st Infantry Regiment captured the town of Velletri. The German defenses began to crumble and Rome was captured on June 6, 1944.

The Bronze Star is awarded for acts of valor in combat. Somewhere during the fighting in Italy, Bill was awarded a Bronze Star. While his platoon was retreating under withering fire from enemy tanks, “Sgt. Taylor improvised a litter with poles and blankets and aided by a buddy ran through the fire to rescue their wounded lieutenant.”

The Silver Star is this country’s third highest combat decoration for gallantry in action. Only the Distinguished Service Cross and Medal of Honor stand above it. Sergeant Bill Taylor earned two Silver Stars.

The first was during the break-out from Anzio toward Rome. The Gonzales, Texas newspaper later described what happened:

[Sgt. Taylor] attacked a tank which was holding up the movement of his company from a road junction…, and while the tank’s guns tore limbs from the trees over his head, he slammed a bazooka shell into the enemy vehicle and knocked it out. “We fired simultaneously,” recalled Sgt. Taylor. “I had to peer through the foliage of the broken tree limbs which were covering me to get a look at that smoking tank.” His squad arose and finished off the Nazis and took 18 prisoners and the company resumed their advance on Rome. Sgt. Taylor was decorated with the Silver Star for bravery and resourcefulness.

The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded to those wounded or killed while serving with the U.S. military. Sergeant Bill Taylor was awarded three Purple Heart decorations.

The first Purple Heart came during combat somewhere north of Rome, Italy. On June 17, 1944 a mortar shell exploded in a tree burst, and shrapnel struck him under his left arm. Fortunately, the wound was not serious, and Bill remained with Company F, where he was now a platoon sergeant.

The exhausted 36th Infantry Division was again taken out of the front line in Italy to prepare for another beach attack. Troubled by the slow movement against the Germans in the tangle of hedgerows after the Normandy Invasion, Allied commanders landed it as part of a large military force in Southern France. Thankfully, this seaborne attack went smoothly. Soon, Bill and Company F were pushing northward as the Allies tried unsuccessfully to surround and capture the thousands of enemy soldiers retreating toward the mountainous regions near the German border.

The weather turned cold and wet. The enemy retreat slowed. The Allies’ supply lines stretched thin. I’m sure the ‘old hands’ who’d been in 141st Infantry Regiment wondered constantly whether the war would ever end, and whether they’d live to see that day. As the Allies closed on the Rhineland, the terrain became a huge factor.

Bill’s second Purple Heart resulted from more serious wounds. On October 4, 1944, he and his men were returning from a successful reconnaissance mission when an enemy shell landed nearby. Its shrapnel shredded the shoulder of Bill’s field jacket and some pierced his throat. He was patched up at an aid station, where he recruited his commanding officer’s help to avoid being evacuated to a hospital.

Reading combat reports and histories of late 1944, I was struck with the descriptions of the 36th Infantry Division as being “tired and undermanned.” Clearly, attrition had begun to affect the unit’s readiness. Needing an additional four thousand men, it never got them. The reality of American combat in Europe at this time was that there weren’t enough properly trained soldiers in the pipeline to replace the large number of those wounded or killed.

By late October, the Division was down to two-thirds its authorized strength, and part of a slow moving offensive in the gloomy Vosges Mountains. Nearing the German border, the enemy became more and more desperate. Hitler ordered his generals to strike back at the advancing Allies, in part to keep attention away from the thousands of soldiers massing in the Ardennes for what became known as the Battle of the Bulge. The fighting was vicious, and often hand-to-hand.

Regimental after-action report 30 October – 1 November 1944

Near the French town of Saint Die-des-Vosges, near the German border, on November 1, 1944, Technical Sergeant Bill Taylor earned his second Silver Star. The citation speaks for itself:

William M. Taylor, technical sergeant, Company F, 141st Infantry Regiment, for gallantry in action on 1 November 1944 in France. During an attack against an enemy-held hill, Sgt. Taylor located the hostile machine gun which was delaying the advance of his platoon and immediately opened fire on the enemy weapon. After several anti-tank grenades had failed to dislodge it, he called for a friendly tank which was supporting the attack and directed it in knocking out the machine gun emplacement. Then, advancing directly in the face of heavy small arms fire, he led his platoon in an assault against the hostile force and with machine guns and tank fire, killed 12 of the enemy soldiers, captured 14 and completely routed the remainder of the hostile troops. By his personal courage and aggressive leadership, he enabled his unit to seize its objective. His gallant reflects great credit upon himself and the armed forces of the United States.

Bill’s modest version was that “swapping machine gun and small arms fire was getting us nowhere and looked like it would prove costly in the long run. So we had the tank blast their positions while we rushed up the hill and wiped them out. Thanks to the bravery of the men, it worked OK.”

Vicious action near Riquewihr

Bill’s luck ran out on December 9, 1944 near the town of Riquewihr.  Fanatical fighting erupted as the 141st took two small hills, and were then counter-attacked. The battle raged for hours, and Company F fought off a determined enemy in the Bois De Kientzheim. Severely wounded by mortar shrapnel, Bill was evacuated to a hospital in Paris. He later told his wife Jimmie that while in Paris, he stayed awake all night, quietly loosening bloody bandages. He knew they were to be changed the next morning, and the pain would be excruciating.

Portions of Company F after action reports of fighting in the Colmar region when Bill was seriously wounded – 9 December 44

Bill was moved to the 187th General Hospital in England, and finally to the United States. In all, he spent nearly nine months recovering from his wounds.

Technical Sergeant Bill Taylor’s discharge record with dates of wounds, and list of awards and decorations

Bill awarded his metals while recovering from wounds

Bill put the war’s miseries behind him. He farmed and ranched. In 1949, he married Jimmie Secrest in Uvalde, Texas. She comes from a ranching family with roots in Gillespie and Uvalde Counties. Jimmie recalls their wedding day laughingly. They almost didn’t make it to the Justice of the Peace. Rain began filling a low water crossing. Desperate to get to the judge’s office in Uvalde from her grandmother’s house on the Nueces River, before the water closed the road, the couple eased into the crossing, only to have their car stall in the rising water. Jimmie punched the starter button to jump the car ahead, while Bill got out and pushed. Finally out of the water, they looked back to see a relative frantically waving to get their attention. Bill had forgotten their wedding license. Back through the water he trudged. Despite the rocky start, the two had a wonderful marriage. They were blessed with two children; John Wayne, who is married to Diana Lynn, and Peggy June, who is married to Weston Voigt.  The family members were faithful members of McMahan Baptist Church.

Jimmie Taylor – a most delightful lady

Jimmie, along with her best friend, Bobbie Dan Gideon, retired from the Lockhart State Bank. Bill farmed and ranched all his life. He also raised watermelons. He suffered from heart disease, and also underwent two hip replacements. He suffered a series of heart attacks, and died at St. David’s Hospital in January 1997. He was seventy-six years old. He is buried in the Jeffrey Cemetery.

Did Bill suffer from what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of what he endured? No doubt he did, but showed little outward sign of it. Jimmie’s only recollection along that line was of the time, when firecrackers went off on the Courthouse Square, Bill instinctively threw himself to the ground. He didn’t talk much about his ordeal. He was quiet, almost bashful at times. Jeffrey Van Horn remembers him fondly. Before Bill and Jimmie build their own house between Lockhart and McMahan, the couple lived for a dozen years on the Van Horn property near Tilmon. “You couldn’t ask for a nicer man,” recalls Jeff. “He and Jimmie were good friends with my mother and father.”

In 1983, there was a reunion of some of the men who served in Company F. Bill’s former company commander, Bill McFadden attended, and later wrote a letter to Bill. Nearly forty years later, McFadden remembered that “the only time that I ever cried in WWII was when I helped you on a stretcher at Riquewihr.”

Company F Reunion 1983 – Bill’s CO is on far left standing

Bill’s Company Commander’s letter in 1983

What praise! His words speak more clearly of Bill’s courage and leadership than any military commendation.

Grandson John Paul Taylor’s shadowbox for Bill’s decorations that he made for Jimmie

Various newpaper clippings from Lockhart and Gonzales regarding Bill

Bill’s headstone – Jeffrey Cemetery

ROBERT ‘BOB’ PEEBLES – A Peaceful man who has witnessed the horrors of war

Lt. Peebles USMC – Midway Island 1943

ROBERT “BOB” PEEBLES

A Peaceful Man Who Has Witnessed the Horrors of War

By Todd Blomerth

Col. Bob Peebles USMC (Ret.) 2016

Bob Peebles was born on January 19, 1922, in the small town of Alvin, Texas. His father worked for Gulf States Utilities, and the Peebles family lived and around the Alvin area all his early years. Bob was the youngest of three children. His brother Howard (now deceased) was ten years older. Marjorie (Wyatt), who now lives in Edna, was four years older. Bob attributes much of his success academically to Marjorie. “She became my ‘teacher,’” he tells me. “We would walk home from school.  Starting when I was in the first grade, Marjorie would then sit behind an apple crate on the screened porch, and make me learn reading, arithmetic and writing. She was relentless.” Bob’s grandfather had passed down many classics, so Marjorie used some as her primers. He still remembers with clarity certain portions of stories by Charles Dickens, because they were found on pages holding his grandmother’s pressed flowers, and “we were told to be very careful with those flowers.”

Bob attended Alvin High School, and was voted ‘most popular boy’ in 1938 and “Best All Around” student in 1939. He played baseball and basketball, but his favorite sport was football. He graduated in 1939 and then enrolled at the University of Texas taking pre-med courses and playing freshman football. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, he rushed to enlist in the U.S. Navy. Although he “hadn’t been within five miles of an airplane,” he signed up for naval aviation training – and flunked the physical! He had varicose veins in and around his knees from playing football. Disheartened, he hunted down a physician to fix the supposed ‘disability,’ had minor surgery, and finally, on May 1, 1942, passed the physical. He was now officially a naval aviation cadet. For the next year, Bob moved through the various phases of aviation training starting in Luscombe single engine trainers, then graduating to PT-17 Stearman “Kaydets” (nicknamed “the Yellow Peril”), to Vultee “Vibrators,” and finally to the SNJ “Texans.” His class ranking allowed him the choice of Navy or Marine Corps aviation, so he chose the Corps. Part of Flight Class 9A (42-C), he received his aviator’s wings and commission as a 2nd lieutenant at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi.  On the way to combat aircraft, he took a short detour, flying C-47 cargo aircraft. He credits his time in that beloved aircraft’s cockpit for allowing him to hone his navigation skills. Apart from occasional ‘radio ranges’ there were few electronic aids in those days; no GPS, FM radios, or omni-directional beacons. Dead reckoning was a skill that would prove invaluable in the Pacific theater.

During flight training, Bob met Lesley Valentine Strandtman, whose family lived outside of Lockhart, Texas. Strandtman was a Fightin’ Texas Aggie and member of the Aggie Band. The two put college rivalries aside and became good friends. Besides a life-long friendship, Valentine’s younger sister, Adeline (“Addie”) Marie would eventually become Bob’s wife in 1946.

Bob’s next duty station was Cherry Point, N.C.  After a short time there, he was ordered to El Toro Naval Air Station, California where he transitioned into the Grumman F4F Wildcat, one of the first modern fighters able to take on the more nimble Japanese fighters. It still had some primitive mechanisms, such as having to retract landing gear by 27 hand cranks!

Lieutenant Peebles was assigned to Marine Corps VMF 114, a fighter squadron that was equipped with one of the premier American fight aircraft of World War II – the Vought F4U Corsair. The Japanese would soon describe the aircraft as “Whistling Death.” The new squadron’s top three officers were veteran combat pilots; the rest of the pilots were newly minted. VMF 114 was shipped to Hawaii where it continued training. The U.S. Navy had turned back a Japanese invasion of Midway Island in June 1942. The island’s location in the Northern Pacific was of strategic importance. As a result, combat units continued to defend the tiny patch of land. In December 1943, VMF 114 was shipped to Midway Island for three months. Then it was back to Oahu to prepare for shipment to Espiritu Santo, a staging area for the Americans’ advances against the Japanese. After additional flight and survival training. VMF 114 moved into its first combat area. Flying from the Green Island group near Papua New Guinea, the squadron suffered its first losses. The Japanese had created a huge base at Rabaul on the island of New Britain. By 1943 there were over 100,000 enemy stationed there. Although Rabaul would be ‘bypassed,’ American air and naval forces kept up unremitting attacks on it and on another enemy base at Kavieng. The Americans did not dare allow an exceeding well trained and increasingly desperate enemy any opportunity at disrupting our advances elsewhere. Weather, combat and air accidents resulted in VMF 114’s loss of nine pilots. The reality of war was now sinking in.

Over many beers during R&R in Sydney, Australia, the men designed their squadron’s new “Death Dealers” logo.

VMF 114 then was thrown into the maelstrom of the American landings in the Palau Islands.

General Douglas MacArthur’s advance into the Philippine Islands in 1944 initially required that his eastern flank be protected. The Palau Islands, some 800 miles to the east had several islands that were heavily fortified, and a plan had been in place to attack and neutralize the Japanese there. However, the American landings in the Philippines were moving ahead of schedule. Certain U.S. commanders expressed extreme doubts as to the need to invade the Palau Islands insisting that, given the circumstances, they could be bypassed and isolated. However, invasion plans were already laid on, and the Marines’ 1st Division and Army regimental combat teams were tasked with taking the Palau group’s Peleliu Island. It would set in motion a horrific battle, which to this day is still cloaked with controversy. Echelons of VMF 114 began flying northward to provide close air support on 9 September 1944. Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Emirau, Pityiliu, and Owl Island were rest and refueling points enroute. After an inadequate pre-landing naval bombardment, young Americans hit Peleliu’s beaches on September 15, 1944. They immediately found themselves in a living hell.

How does one begin to describe the protracted hell of Peleliu? Consider this: Peleliu was defended by nearly 11,000 Japanese troops. The enemy had rethought how to confront Americans in island fighting, and no longer would expend its men on massive suicide attacks. The plan was to make the Americans pay for every inch taken. The Palaus had been in Japanese hands since the end of World War I. Peleliu’s six square miles held a defensive system where virtually every square yard was covered by interlocking fields of fire. The island’s mountain range, the Umurbrogol, contained over 500 natural and man-made caves, as well as the command center. All beaches were mined, with extensive anti-tank traps and obstacles. All caves were connected with tunnels, and heavy artillery was hidden behind sliding steel doors. Caves and defensive bunkers were virtually invisible, concealed behind rock and vegetation. The Japanese even had a miniature railroad to move some artillery from firing point to firing point.

The Marine’s commander predicted the island would be taken in four days. It would take two months, and decimate the 1st Marine Division.

The squadron landed on Peleliu on September 26 (D+9) as the land battle raged less than two miles away. As Bud Daniel writes in A Cowboy Down: A WWII Marine Fighter Pilot’s Story: “All 24 Corsairs arrived in good shape. The howitzers were firing their large shells toward the caves on Bloody Nose Ridge. Marine infantry was busy fighting the ten thousand Japanese that were holed up in these caves. Peleliu looked to us like it was on a planet in another universe. Almost all of the trees had been blown to shred or splintered into pieces. The surface, nothing but coral rock, was also blown apart. We had been warned of snipers and we could hear large shells blasting, creating massive holes and generating lots of smoke. In the distance stretcher-bearers were trying to bring dead and wounded Marines down the coral precipices. It was a horrible battle and we were on the perimeter 1500 yards from the action. What I’m describing was continuous round the clock horror.” El Paso’s Tom Lea, an artist with Life magazine, was a changed man after witnessing Peleliu’s carnage. “The Two thousand Yard Stare,” is one of his most famous paintings. It captures a young Marine’s mental state as he prepares to go back into battle, after seeing many of his compatriots die:

The Two Thousand Yard Stare, by Tom Lea

 

The squadron’s pilots would load up with bombs or napalm, take off, often not even retracting their Corsairs’ landing gear, as some targets were fifteen seconds away. They would return to the airfield, reload, and fly another mission. For the next six months, VMF 114 labored tirelessly to support Marines and soldiers trying to root out the well-hidden and ferocious enemy. When time and circumstances allowed, “barge runs” were made in and around neighboring islands. Other Palau islands were also well defended. The carnage on Peleliu caused the U.S. to re-think invading most of them. But the Japanese on Koror, Babelthuap, Ngesebus, and Anguar were bombed and strafed continuously, to ensure no reinforcements would slip into Peleliu, and no aircraft could lift off. It was dangerous work for Bob’s squadron. The grind of battle, tension of close air support and enemy anti-aircraft artillery, long combat air patrols providing ‘cover’ for the invasion fleet, and stifling heat and humidity (Peleliu lies just seven degrees north of the equator), took its toll. Occasional beer runs to rear areas like Hollandia helped some, but not much. VFM 114 also flew long-range bombing missions – some as far as Yap Island, another enemy stronghold.

All the pilots suffered ‘gray-outs’ from the g-forces of dive bombing. Low flying attacks attracted flak, and on several occasions, Bob’s aircraft was holed by anti-aircraft shrapnel. On one occasion, Bob got shot up on a barge run over Babelthuap. Suddenly, his cockpit filled with smoke. American DUMBO aircraft (sea rescue float planes) were staged under air routes and pilots knew that if captured by the Japanese, they would be tortured and killed. Bob unbuckled his safety harness, threw back the cockpit canopy, and turned for friendly waters. As he prepared to bail out, the smoke cleared. He sat back down, hoping to make it home, It was a long thirty minutes of flying back to Peleliu, with Bob wondering when the engine would seize up. It didn’t. It turned out that shrapnel had struck his radio equipment. When his canopy was opened, the fire went out.

Others were not so lucky. The squadron’s revered commander, Major Robert “Cowboy” Stout died on March 4, 1945 on a strafing and bombing run over Koror. His death devastated the squadron.

The squadron rotated back to the United States in late March of 1945. Captain Peebles was then placed at Page Field, where he taught new pilots gunnery and rocketry at Parris Island. The war ended in August, and Bob was given a choice of staying in the military. His response was affirmative. The Marine Corps told him to go home, and he would be called in six months. As six months rolled around, he still hadn’t received his call back, so he decided he had better do something else with his life, so he re-enrolled at the University of Texas, and signed up to play football. Within a week, the Marine Corps called to invite him back into the service. “I was so sore from football practice,” he told me, “that I was never so happy to get a call in my life.”

Bob’s military career ‘took off’ after World War II. He married Adeline in Lockhart, Texas at the First Christian Church. They would have five children, Robert Jr., Bonnie, Sarah, Jo Leslie, and Patty. Fortunately, Addie proved to be a wonderful military spouse, as the growing family would move with Bob to his various military assignments. In 1950, North Korea invaded the south.  Captain (and later Major) Bob Peebles was shipped to Japan, and then to South Korea, and became the Executive Officer of a radar squadron. Then he returned to Cherry Point, N.C. The next years were fulfilling. As a major, he was appointed to the Joint Landing Force Board at Camp Lejeune, where future amphibious operations were studied. Then it was back to Korea in 1954. Duty stations included Kaneohe Marine Air Station in Hawaii. In 1959, he became squadron commander of VMF 232, flying F8 Crusaders. In 1967, Colonel Peebles served in Viet Nam as air officer attached to amphibious operations.

Bob retired in 1969, and in 1973 he and Addie moved to Caldwell County. They settled on some of the Strandtman land outside of Lockhart, living there until Addie passed away in 1999. Bob now lives in Bastrop with youngest daughter Patty. He is proud of his service to his country, but not one to brag.

The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to someone who “distinguishes himself or herself by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.” He received that honor for airstrikes in the Rabaul, Kavieng, and Palau Islands areas during World War II. The Legion of Merit is awarded for “exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.” He was honored with this award for service during the Vietnam conflict.  When asked about his Bronze Star with V device, which is only awarded for combat heroism or for someone “exposed to personal hazard during direct participation in combat operations,” he only laughs and says, “I guess I got that for bravery.” The reality is more vivid: He was the acting commanding officer of a Ground Control Intercept unit near the North Korean port of Hungnam in December 1950. The Americans were in a fighting retreat from the Chosin Reservoir area in the bitter winter, as hordes of communist Chinese tried to surround them. Those who survived the near-debacle were evacuated through Hungnam, along with tens of thousands of Korean refugees. Captain Peebles evacuated the over two hundred men in his squadron on an LST just before the port facilities were destroyed as the enemy entered the area.

Destruction of Hungnam Harbor

Colonel Bob Peebles typifies the best of the “Greatest Generation.” If you see him, be sure to tell him thanks for his service to our country.

 

 

 

 

THOMAS CLEVELAND (TOMMY) HOLLAND

Tommy w MG

A TRIBUTE TO A QUIET MAN

By Todd Blomerth

He is 91 years old now. When he speaks about his life you sense that despite his chronological age he is much younger at heart. He is a quiet and modest man, not prone to boasting. He tends to minimize a series of events that few of us can imagine living through.  His is a story worthy of recalling.

His name is Thomas C. Holland. Tom, or Tommy, as he goes by, was born in Lockhart in 1922. He has been a resident of Caldwell County almost all his life. Tommy’s dad, Cleveland (he went by “Cleve”) was a respected construction supervisor for Holland Page, a large construction company and traveled extensively to job sites in Texas and Oklahoma.  Tommy and his younger sister Georgia were mostly raised by Albert and Myrtle Schneider. The Schneiders lived at 1217 Woodlawn Street in Lockhart. Cleve often helped Caldwell County men get jobs during the late 30s and during World War II. During summer breaks and after high school graduation, Tommy would travel with his dad and work with construction crews. Georgia would occasionally travel with them. Bridge City and Lubbock were two of the places he worked. Slight and wiry, Tommy shoveled a lot of sand and gravel for concrete jobs. He had to be tough. There was no pre-mix in those days.

In 1942, Uncle Sam sent an invitation to Tommy to join his armed HOLLAND - HARLINGEN 1943forces. In other words, he was drafted. When he was three, he had fallen into a wash pot. The burns scarred an arm. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Army thought the scarring had limited his strength and mobility. Much to his disgust, after basic training he was assigned as a clerk at an army airbase in Mississippi. In December of 1942 he was reevaluated. He reiterated to the Army doctors that there was absolutely nothing wrong with him, and that he wanted to be allowed normal duties. He got his wish. Knowing it was a quick way to earn sergeant’s stripes, he opted for gunnery school. After graduation from gunnery school in Harlingen, Texas, the Army sent him to aircraft mechanic school as Keesler Army Air Base in Mississippi. Then, because he applied to be a pilot, he was enrolled in the University of Alabama under the Army Air Force aviation cadet program. Designed for young men with only high school educations, it was intended to help turn them into “officers and gentlemen.” After six months of college level courses, he was transferred to an airbase in San Antonio. Pilot graduation rates often depended on the number of pilots needed. With an over abundance of pilots at the time, Tommy did not become ‘an officer and a gentleman.’ Instead, he was assigned as a tail gunner on a B-17 and sent to MacDill Field in Florida to begin crew training.

709TH SQUADRON JACKET PATCH 447th INSIGNIA

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hoyercrew

THE HOYER B-17 CREW – EARLY 1944

Standing, L-R

S/Sgt Bernard Duwel, ENG

Lt. Charles Pearson, B
Lt. WIlliam Hoyer, P
Lt. Joseph Syoen, CP
Lt. John Riddell, N

Kneeling, L-R:
Sgt. Thomas C. Holland, TG
Sgt. Floyd Broman, WG
S/Sgt Walter Degutis, WG
Sgt Edward Thornton, WG
S/Sgt Thomas Burke, BTG

His ten-man crew began training on Boeing Aircraft’s B-17. Dubbed the Flying Fortress, it was a magnificent aircraft, and was rightly loved by those who flew in her. The crew became close, as one would expect. They trained as if their lives depended on it-because it would. The life expectancy of a bomber crew in Europe was aboutRattlesden-07-may-1946 two weeks. In late May, 1944 the crew received its orders assigning it and their bomber to the U.S. 8th Air Force’s 709th Bombardment Squadron, 447th Bombardment Group based at Rattlesden, England near Bury St. Edmunds.  Lt. Hoyer’s crew was given a brand new B-17 at Hunter Field outside of Savannah, Georgia. Because the B-17 was a four-engine aircraft, the crew flew the extremely hazardous northern route across the Atlantic, through Newfoundland and Greenland. Weather was problematic to say the least. Along with other aircraft, their bomber was grounded in Greenland by winds so violent the crew had to feather the propellers to keep the engines from being damaged. In the midst of the horrific weather, word came on June 6, 1944 that the Allies had invaded German controlled Europe.  Despite the weather, base officials told the many stranded crews to head to England. And so they did.

Much to the crew’s disappointment, upon arrival in England, their brand new B-17 was taken away from them. It would be used by more experienced crews. They would be stuck with whatever aircraft was assigned them. Like all fresh aircrews, the Hoyer crew was split up for its first missions, in order to ensure the crewmen and pilots were familiar with combat formations and tactics. Tommy’s first mission, on June 24, 1944, was either to Blanc Pignon Ferme or Wesermude – he can’t recall which as there were simultaneous attacks planned. Neither was successful, and both bomber formations came back with their bombs, as neither target was visible through heavy cloud cover.b17g

His second mission, on June 25, 1944, again with another crew, was to Area #1 of Operation “Zebra.” After a 2 a.m. briefing, the Group’s B-17s flew to Vercors, west of Grenoble, France. Instead of dropping bombs, the planes dropped 420 canisters containing ammunition, supplies, and weapons for the French resistance fighters in the area. Several OSS (the forerunner of the CIA) agents also parachute jumped in.

On June 28, 1944, and again with another crew, Tommy manned the tail guns for a run toward a target in France. Weather obscured the primary target so an airfield at Denian/Prouvy, France was hit instead.

On June 29, 1944, the Hoyer crew was reunited for its first combat mission. The target was an oil refinery at Bohlen, Germany. The crew briefing was at 2:30 a.m. At 4:50 a.m. dozens of Flying Fortresses, loaded with 100 pound bombs, started taking off. With the intercom-connected crews donning oxygen masks and heated tail gunnerclothing, the B-17s lumbered to an altitude of 24,000 feet. They were supported by fighter aircraft. German Bf 109s and Focke Wulf190s shot down many bombers during the war, but the greatest danger by far was anti-aircraft artillery. Nearing Bohlen, flak from German anti-aircraft guns began reaching for the Americans. Tommy had been told that if you saw flak, you were probably okay. However if you could hear it, you had better watch out. He could hear the flak “very well.” Just as Lt. Charles Pearson, the plane’s bombardier, finished releasing the bombs, flak hit near the Number 2 engine. Some of the crew was injured by shrapnel. Fuel streamed back, and then erupted in fire. Lt. William Hoyer’s last words heard by Tommy were, “let’s bail the hell out of this thing.”

44-6027 GOING DOWN
44-6027 GOING DOWN

ship crash goodThe B-17 tail gunner was the most isolated member of the crew. He did have one advantage however – his own escape hatch. Tommy didn’t need to be told twice. Throwing off his oxygen mask, helmet, and intercom connections and snapping on his parachute, he jettisoned the escape hatch and flung himself out of the plane. The shock of the parachute deploying knocked him unconscious momentarily. When he came to, he was floating under a canopy deep in enemy territory.  “I seemed to all alone,” Tommy remembers. “I wondered if my insurance would pay off if something else happened.”  Since he was alive, he worried that his dad and the Schneiders would not know for some time that he had survived.

Lt. Pearson was blown free of the plane as it exploded. He had chuted up, and although badly battered, survived. Cameras were mounted in various aircraft to record bomb strikes and anti-aircraft sites. In this instance, Tommy’s B-17, aircraft number 44-6027, was photographed falling out of the sky. Lt. William Hoyer and seven other crewmen all died a fiery death high over Germany.Arndt Teichmann - later Lt

Things got even more interesting when Tommy hit the ground. A welcoming committee of angry German farmers armed with scythes approached him as he landed in a hay field. It looked as if he would be chopped to pieces. He was rescued by someone his bombs had intended to kill – a German soldier. Lt. Arndt Teichmann (shown here as he appeared in 1939) waved off the farmers with his weapon and took the relieved tail gunner into custody. . (Arndt Teichmann would later be captured by the Russians and somehow survive the hell of Stalin’s gulag, coming home in 1948).

Tommy was put in a farmer’s child’s playhouse, and Lt. Pearson, much the worse for wear was then brought in. Lacerated on his face and head, he also probably had broken ribs.

His captors were gentle. He was given some bread and margarine, and a bit of sausage. He asked for water in English, and instead was given a glass of beer.

Tommy was first taken to Nobliz, a Luftwaffe airfield. Then to Wetzler, where German intelligence officers interrogating him. “Hell, they knew more about our organization than I did. I just told them I was a new crewman.”  The interrogation did not last long. The Germans knew crewmen didn’t have a lot of secret information to impart. The Germans took his electrically heated boots, and gave him a pair of shoes.

Eventually, Tommy arrived at Stalag Luft IV, a German Prisoner of War camp at Gross Tychow, Eastern Pomerania (now Poland). Inadequate shower facilities, heating, and clothing, spotty distribution of Red Cross parcels, bad food, overcrowding and poor medical attention were the order of the day. Escape was not remotely possible. Boredom reigned among the nearly 8000 American, and the thousand or so British, Polish, Czech, French and Norwegian POWs. The men slept in barracks designed for 160 men but holding 240 or more. Each barrack had a two-hole latrine, to bealagerphoto2 used only at night. During the day, POWs were required to use open-air latrines, with pits cleaned by Russian POWs. The daily ration consisted of bread bulked up with sawdust, a soup made with a mixture of potato, turnip, carrot, rutabaga, kohlrabi and horsemeat. The men also received cooked barley and millet once or twice a week. Most camp guards were benign, but some, with nicknames like Big Stoop, Green Hornet, and Squarehead, were known to be sadistic. Guards also would open Red Cross parcels and steal the best of the food before turning them over to POWs. Most of the POWs lost about between 15 and 20 pounds during captivity here. Upper respiratory infections, diphtheria, diarrhea, skin diseases, jaundice, meningitis were common. As bad as this was, at this stage of the war, the German populace in cities wasn’t faring much better.

By early 1945 terror gripped Germans in their eastern provinces. The Soviet Union’s huge armies were driving for the heart of Germany, and revenge was their byword. While German soldiers fought desperately, civilians fled east. On February 6, 1945, some 8000 men imprisoned at Stalag Luft IV were told they could take what they could carry, and then were marched west as the camp was evacuated. The ordeal became known as “The Black March.” To the distant sound of Russian artillery in the east, over 8000 POWs began a forced march across East Prussia, Poland, and almost to Hamburg. The ordeal began in one of the coldest winters in European history, and lasted for nearly three months, on a trek nearly 600 miles long. Divided into sections, the prisoners zigzagged west.

Marched during the day, they were housed in barns, or in open fields. Some men became violently ill from drinking from fecal laden ditches. Pneumonia became endemic. Food usually consisted of potatoes which were sometimes eaten raw if no firewood could be found. The sick were often carried in farm wagons. In the camp, Tommy had become good friends with Floyd Jones, another B-17 crewman. Jones was a great scrounger. His skill proved very useful. Jones stole two bottles containing water for a farmer’s bees. He and Tommy drank the water, and kept the bottles to brew dandelion tea. They ate raw soy beans. On March 28, 1945 many of the men were crammed onto a freight train at Ebbsdorf, sixty to eighty to a boxcar. Many men were wracked by dysentery but the cars remained locked until the train arrived at Stalag 357 near Fallingbostel on the afternoon of March 30. Another move was ordered by the Germans for those fit to continue. Tommy, too sick to travel, was excused by an American doctor. Floyd wasn’t, so he made himself sick by smoking all the cigars in a Red Cross packet, and vomiting on the doctor’s desk. It worked. Five days later, British forces liberated the camp. The ordeal was over.

Tommy returned to Lockhart after the war, planning to go into construction like his father. Instead, he became an auto mechanic with the local Dodge / Plymouth dealership. In 1960 he purchased a service station property from Charlie Kelly on South Main, and transitioned into small engine repair. He married Opal Lackey on November 24, 1946. The couple was blessed with two daughters and a son. His daughters became school teachers, and his son, a trouble shooter for Waukesha Pearce. Opal passed away in 2007.

Tommy got his pilot’s license in 1949. Beginning in the early 80s, he built or partnered in ownership four airplanes. No longer an active pilot, he still has an ownership interest in a kit-built aircraft hangered at the Lockhart airport. And he still fixes lawnmowers and chainsaws on South Main. Drop by and say hi some time.

tommy in one of his kit planes

Tommy takes off in a kit built aircraft.

tommy in shop

Notes: This story was published in the Lockhart Post Register and the Luling Newsboy Signal in August of 2014. Tommy passed away on January 7, 2016 at the age of 93. It was a privilege to have known him.

JACK STOREY LIPSCOMB

LIPSCOMB JACK STOREY

 JACK STOREY LIPSCOMB

by Todd Blomerth

Jack Storey Lipscomb was born in Lockhart, Texas on November 25, 1925. He was the son of John William Lipscomb, Sr. and Corinne Cardwell Storey Lipscomb. The two had married in 1919, when John was 28 and Corinne was 23. Jack’s family lineage encompassed many of the ranching and farming pioneers of Caldwell County and South Texas. Jack had two siblings, older brother John W. Jr. and younger sister Beulah Jean. The Lipscomb families owned and operated several cotton gins and mercantile stores in northern Caldwell County.

 John Sr. enlisted in 1917 at the beginning of America’s involvement in World War I. After being discharged from active service in early 1918, he worked in the family businesses. He also became an officer in the Texas National Guard. The Lipscomb family lived on South Main Street, and attended Lockhart’s Presbyterian Church.

In March of 1935, John Sr., by now a captain, was appointed by Texas Governor Allred as the custodial officer of the Texas National Guard Encampment near Palacios, in Matagorda County, and the Lipscomb family moved from Lockhart. Camp Hulen, as the encampment was more commonly called, served as a Guard training facility until nationalized. It then became a U.S. Army training facility until early 1944 when it was converted to prisoner of war camp for captured Germans.

Jack thrived in Palacios. He played football at every level of schooling allowed. At one point he was nicknamed the “Mighty Mite,” when he quarterbacked the grammar school team in the late 1930s. . He was quarterback of the Palacios Sharks when the team was district co-champion his junior year. He was described by one admirer as a “happy, tousle-headed, freckled faced lad.”

But Lockhart was still considered home, and the family was often in Caldwell and other counties where the large interwoven family owned land. A June 1939 Post Register story reported that Jack’s grandmother, Mrs. A.A. (Beulah Cardwell) Storey, his mother Corinne, and sister Jean traveling to the family ranch in Zavala County, to drop off Jack, older brother John, and cousin, James Storey where the boys would spend a month. The Post-Register stated that “[t]he boys are being chaperoned by Sr. Estanislau Gomez and they are expecting a great time.”  That “great time” included a lot of hard work.

            John Lipscomb Sr.’s military duties included inspecting National Guard units, including the 141st Infantry Regimental detachment in Lockhart. When Camp Hulen was nationalized in 1940, and by now a major, he transferred to Camp Bowie, where he was the base recreation officer. In 1942, Major Lipscomb transferred to Austin, where he served as coordinator of the staff of Adjutant-General J.W. Page in the Selective Service work of that office. By 1941 older brother John Jr. was attending Texas A&M, and about to be selected for the United States Naval Academy. Jack and younger sister Jean along with their mother, continued to live in Palacios so Jack could finish high school (and continue to play football).

            Jack graduated from high school in 1943 and enrolled in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M. Corrine and Jean re-joined John Lipscomb, Sr. in Austin where John Sr. and Jean bought a new home in Highland Park West.

            Jack quit A&M after one year and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on February 21, 1944. He completed boot camp at Camp Elliott, California, where he was occasionally able to be meet up with his cousin John Cardwell, also a marine stationed nearby. John Cardwell would eventually serve as a machine gunner on a Dauntless dive bomber. John Cardwell’s older brother Gus served with a tank battalion and was killed in Italy in 1944. Jack sent a letter to John expressing his grief over Gus’s death.

Jack finished boot camp, qualified as an expert on the M-1 rifle and the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) and was shipped to Hawaii. He then was sent to the island of Guam in the Marianas in mid-August, 1944 and was assigned to Company G, 2nd Battalion, 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Division.  The division had just taken part in the American re-taking of the island of Guam from the Japanese. The invasion cost the Americans over 1700 dead and 6000 wounded. The 3rd Division suffered 677 deaths and over 3600 wounded. The nearly 19,000 Japanese defenders were virtually wiped out. After several months of refitting, the 3rd Division was again ready for another island landing. It would be its bloodiest.

LIPSCOMB-IWO PRE INVASION BOMBARDMENT

Iwo Jima is a tiny, sulfurous blot of land in the Bonin Chain less than 600 miles from the Japanese main islands. With the Marianas in US hands in 1944, new American B-29 bombers now had bases from which to attack the Japanese homeland.  A massive bombing campaign began to take the war to Japan’s cities and industrial centers.

Iwo Jima was important to the Japanese because it lay athwart the air route from the Marianas to Tokyo, and served both as an early warning site, and an interceptor location for fighter aircraft. To the Americans, Iwo Jima’s location only 650 nautical miles from Tokyo meant it was ideally located to recover disabled or damaged B-29s returning from bombing runs over Japan. It was also close enough to allow P-51 fighters to escort the B-29s all the way to Japan. At first glance, Iwo Jima appeared to be a difficult place to defend. But the Japanese had proved masters of island fighting. The bloodbaths at Tarawa and Peleliu had taught the Americans that.

Intelligence figures estimated that at best the Japanese held the ‘dry wasteland of volcanic ash that stinks of sulfur’ (as James Bradley described it in Flags of Our Fathers) with only 12,000 troops. Hardly a small number, but 70,000 Marines seemed to be more than enough to overcome the defenders. American intelligence estimates conservatively stated that one week was all the time needed to secure Iwo Jima and its three airfields. But those intelligence estimates were wrong, and badly so. The actual number of defenders had grown to 23,000 before the island was blockaded.

The 3rd Division embarked from Guam on the USS President Adams LIPSCOMB - GEORGE COMPANY ON MOTOYAMAon February 12, 1945. It was designated as the invasion’s floating reserve. Weeks of pre-invasion ‘softening up’ of defenses proved fruitless. The 4th and 5th Divisions hitting the beaches on February 19th had so many casualties that the 3rd Division was ordered ashore on the 20th. The mayhem on the beaches wouldn’t allow its landing, so it tried again the following day. From February 21st on, Jack and his men were in continuous combat. The Americans quickly cut the island in two. But casualties soon reached epic proportions. The well trained and concealed defenders, fighting from a maze of caves, tunnels and pillboxes, supported by mine fields and interlocking fields of fire meant some units were soon down to a fraction of their original strength. By March 2nd, Jack’s battalion had less than 300 men able to fight out of the 1200 who had come ashore. It had lost every company commander and all but one company executive officer. On March 3rd, the 21st Marines took the unfinished Airfield No. 3, and were able to seize the nearby high ground northeast of the field. It was here that Jack was killed.

The family received the news of his death shortly afterward. BothLIPSCOMB - PRIEST Lockhart and Palacios were deeply affected. The Palacios Beacon ran a long tribute to Jack, written by a good friend, Claire Burton. It was re-printed in the Post-Register. The family received many letters of condolence, including several from members of the 21st Marines. Corporal P.A. Shiesler wrote: “I was not with your son at the time of his death, but a buddy of mine was, and told me that Lippy died instantly from a bullet wound. There was no suffering…. I can honestly say that he was doing more than his share when he was on Iwo. He was a good Marine.” The unit chaplain, probably numbed by the last rites given and funerals read, wrote: “You son was killed while in the heat of battle on Iwo Jima on 3 March, 1945 when he was hit in the head by an enemy bullet killing him instantly. He is buried in the 3rd Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima, Row 25, Grave 1484, Plot #6.” He went on to assure the family that after the battle was over, the entire division assembled to bestow honor on its 1,131 dead with three volleys of seven gun salutes, lowering the American flag to half-mast, and the singing of “Nearer My God to Thee.”

 

LIPSCOMB 21ST MARINES BATTLE REPORT

In 1947, the Americans began to disinter the 6800 American marines and sailors buried on Iwo. In 1949, Jack came home. On Sunday, January 16, 1949, Dr. Sam L. Joekel, pastor of Lockhart First Presbyterian Church conducted Jack’s funeral.  Superintendant Newsome of the Palacios schools was present. Casket bearers were members of Jack’s Palacios High School football team. Jack is buried in the Lockhart Cemetery.

Jack Storey Lipscomb was nineteen years old.

LIPSCOMB HEADSTONE LOCKHART TEXAS

LIPSCOMB OBIT 2 LIPSCOMB OBIT 1LIPSCOMB OBIT SMALLERLIPSCOMB ANNOUNCEMENT OF DEATH ON IWO

JASON KENNETH LAFLEUR – He Was Willing

SMILING JASON

JASON KENNETH LAFLEUR

HE WAS WILLING

by Todd Blomerth

“He was larger than life. He had this big smile, and loved to laugh. He always had my back.” E-5 (Ret.) Albert Fambrough

            I want you to try to imagine the following:

            You are the parent of two adult children. The oldest is in the military, and is stationed in Iraq. The doorbell rings. You are trying to get out the door with a friend, to see a Seattle Mariners – Boston Red Sox baseball game. You assume the bell has been rung by the neighbor kid, who likes to come over and play with your dog. You peek out the front door expecting to see a small child. Your eyes fall instead on two sets of military shoes and uniform trousers. Without opening the door, you know why the men wearing them are here – your only son has been killed in action.

            That is what happened to Kei LaFleur in 2007. She, along with her ex-husband Chuck, and her daughter Megan, were confronted with the worst news of their lives. A beloved family member, vibrant and full of life, had been killed in a faraway land, serving his country in the United States Army.

            That family member was Jason LaFleur. This is his story.

            Jason Kenneth LaFleur was born on January 28, 1979 to Chuck and Kei (Warden) LaFleur. His sister Megan came along two years later. The family lived in Houston at the time, where Chuck and Kei both worked for Southwestern Bell. They transferred to the Austin area in 1985, and settled in Lockhart. The LaFleur children attended Lockhart schools. Jason’s parents instilled in them the joy of travel, and the family often took vacations to Colorado and New Mexico.10 JASON LAFLEUR soccer kid resized

Jason played soccer all through school, and was a drummer in the Lockhart High School Band. A good student, he took many college level courses. He graduated in 1997.

Jason’s folks divorced shortly after he graduated from high school. Kei moved with her job to Washington State. Chuck 16 JASON LAFLEURmoved to Durango, Colorado.

Jason received a partial scholarship to the University of Mississippi. Two years at Ole Miss, in Oxford, Mississippi, resulted in a lot of fun, but perhaps was not the route Jason wished to take. More mature, but still uncertain of what to do, Jason returned to his beloved Texas, taking some courses at Texas State University.

He then moved to Durango, Colorado to be closer to his dad. He worked at Home Depot, at the city Recycling Plant, and with his dad’s contracting business. He kept up with all the European soccer leagues, and coached kids under twelve in the Durango Youth Soccer program. He relished Colorado winters, when he could snow ski, an activity he loved almost as much as soccer.

Jason was an ardent patriot. In the words of a woman whose Durango house he boarded at, “He was just very adamant about supporting the president and defending our country.” Somewhere in this time of maturing and introspection, he decided to enlist in the Army. Jason was a big man physically, but he was overweight. He began to eat better and spend time in the gym. His mom knew he was serious about enlisting when he began running every day, an exercise he detested.

In retrospect, Kei believes her son met and visited with a retired helicopter pilot, who whetted his appetite for the Army in general, and Army aviation in particular. Although he rarely discussed it, Jason told someone, “I’ve just got to get through this first enlistment, and then I can go into aviation.” After he died some of his notebooks were found showing he had been studying for Army aviation tests between missions.

Jason enlisted in the Army in 2005. With his test scores and background, he could have chosen any number of military specialties. He chose to be an infantryman. In today’s Army, enlistees going into combat arms (artillery, armor and infantry) do both basic training and advanced combat training at one location – in his case it was Ft. Knox, Kentucky. There, he became fast friends with several other enlistees. At 25 years of age, he was an “old man” compared to other young soldiers.

About half way through this initial training, called One Station Unit Training, someone showed up from Ft. Bragg, looking for volunteers for Airborne School. Those who volunteered, and who completed the arduous three week course, were promised assignments with an Airborne Cavalry unit being formed at Ft. Richardson, Alaska.

About thirty of the young men volunteered. Some were just gung ho. Others went to jump school for more prosaic reasons.  Some of the volunteers did it  because they didn’t want the military occupation specialty of Eleven Bravo – infantryman- “so they wouldn’t have to ride in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle,” seen as a bigger target than the vehicles used by cavalry scouts.

            Jason completed the intense three weeks at Ft. Benning, Georgia and proudly wore jump wings on his uniform. He was assigned to Bravo Troop, First Squadron (Airborne), 40th Cavalry Regiment. He joined his unit in November of 2005. His military specialty had a certain cache to it – cavalry scout, or “19 Delta.”

The 1/40th Cav (Abn) training in Alaska was arduous. Part of the 25th Infantry Division’s Fourth Brigade, It was to be a rapid deployment unit for Southwestern Asia. Ultimately, the unit would fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jason enjoyed the challenges. He thrived on the structure and discipline. And, he loved the camaraderie. He made fast friends with and won the admiration of many of the young men he served with.

Albert Fambrough, a slow talking Kentuckian, went through Basic training with Jason. In Alaska, he and his wife were expecting their first child. Jason and others often came to the Fambrough apartment for meals. Jason’s “big Texas grin” is etched in his memory. Albert and his wife thought so much of Jason that they planned to name him as one of their unborn child’s godfathers.

 

Inevitably, the 1/40th received orders to Iraq.

 

After the capture of Saddam Hussein, the United States forces were slowly withdrawn from Iraq. However, all attempts at establishing a working government quickly foundered. Al Qaeda terrorists moved into the power vacuum, disrupting any chance of peaceful resolution of political issues. Mutual hatred and distrust between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and the growth of sectarian militias, compounded a witches’ brew of long simmering problems.

In 2006, President George Bush began meeting with military and civilian leaders, trying to come up with a plan to stabilize the country. “The New Way Forward”, better known as “the Surge,” came into being. 20,000 additional troops were sent to Iraq, and the aims of the military were refocused “to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security.”

It was highly controversial at the time. While by no means unanimous, most observers, including critics such as Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, would ultimately agree that the Surge was successful.

As part of the Surge, in October 2006, the 1/40th Cav was flown into Baghdad, and then moved south to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Falcon near Checkpoint 20, the last site under U.S. control.

When they arrived at FOB Falcon, the troop’s first sergeant ordered all the young troopers to write a letter home their moms. Jason, six years older than most of the soldiers, thought this order was silly, but in typical droll fashion, did what he was told to do.

07 JASON LAFLEUR letter home

           Jason’s first letter home to his mom, ‘complying’ with the top sergeant’s orders

 

The unit’s operational area consisted of around forty square miles west of the Tigris River, just south of Baghdad. Crisscrossed by irrigation canals, with fish farms, palm trees, tall grass, and narrow roads, its small villages were hotbeds of El Qaeda activity.

One such village was Hawr Rajab. Under the control of Al Qaeda and that group’s mostly foreign jihadis, it was on a major infiltration route into Baghdad for suicide bombers. Al Qaeda was armed with AK47s, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and a “seemingly endless supply of homemade improvised explosive devices [IEDs],” many made with urea fertilizer and nitric acid.

American patrols and sweeps always resulted in ‘contacts’ – a euphemistic term for combat, in the squadron’s area of operation.

The 1/40th’s first six months in-country saw an increase in Al Qaeda activity in their area of operation, as adjoining American forces displaced Al Qaeda jihadis into the Hawr Rajab area.

          05 JASON LAFLEUR in Iraq

Jason during a break on a recon in Iraq

 

Eight months into his tour, Jason received leave. He flew into Seattle, surprising his mother and sister. Equally important, Chuck happened to be in the area. Quick arrangements were made, and Jason and his father reunited for Father’s Day. It was a joyous time. It would be the last time his family would see him.

Because of growing American impatience, and the Surge, many Sunnis, originally hostile to the United States, began to rethink their positions. Tribal sheiks, or chieftains, realized that by enlisting the U.S. help, they could rid their villages of Al Qaeda fighters, who were terrorizing the local populaces. Additionally, many sheiks concluded that the U.S. could provide the Sunni Muslims with protection against the predatory practices of the largely Shiite Iraqi government forces, and various hostile militias.

WITH A BUDDY IN IRAQ

 

 

After seeing the success the Americans had had in other areas in providing support and security, Sheik Ali Majid al-Dulaimi, a sheik at Hawr Rajab, of the Dulaimi tribe, cautiously approached the American Army about ridding his village of Al Qaeda. Sheik Ali was no stranger to Al Qaeda’s violence. Imbedded with the 1/40th, New York Times reporter Martin Gordon noted:  “Al Qaeda militants had killed his father, kidnapped his cousin, burned his home to the ground and alienated many of his fellow tribesmen by imposing a draconian version of Islamic law that proscribed smoking and required women to shroud themselves in veils.” Quietly, Sheik Ali began recruiting locals into a small self-protection group, and reached out to the

MAP

                       The village of Hawr Rajab, marked with red marker

Americans. Sheik Mahir Sarhan Morab al-Muini, of another tribe in Hawr Rajab, also came forward asking for help.

Most of the ‘big picture’ was not available to the trooper on the ground. Daily life was filled of staying alive, and completing the assignment ordered. FOB Falcon had ancillary fortifications in the squadron’s Area of Operations. Bravo Troop rotated platoons in and out of Patrol Base Dog. In May of 2007, a suicide bomber driving a dump truck rammed the Patrol Base. Men were lost and injured. Iraqi summers are vicious. The men rebuilt the PB in the blazing heat, and continued to patrol and scout.

With the limited number of soldiers available in the 1/40th’s area of operation, it was critical that the Americans obtain the locals’ full support. Information given the Americans resulted in a successful air strike on an ice factory where Al Qaeda fighters were hidden. A decision was made to move 1/40th’s A Troop into Hawr Rajab, to distribute food, and to help the sheiks re-assert their authority over the 8000 villagers.

In late July 2007, an abortive attempt was made to support Ali’s men attacking Al Qaeda strong points in Hawr Rajab. Blowing sands grounded supporting American gunships. Al Qaeda, tipped off to the movement, attack Sheik Ali’s force, forcing a retreat, and nearly killing a subordinate’s sister and her children.  In the following days, 1/40th made several raids against the enemy, trying to keep it off balance, while other plans were made.

On August 4, 2007, another attempt was made, this time with A Troop leading the way. The American soldiers wore Kevlar helmets, body armor, Nomex gloves, and ballistic glasses. Engineers with anti-mine vehicles moved out at five a.m., followed by soldiers who were to enter the center of the village, distribute food, and allow psychological operations to begin. The dual objective was a show of force and support for the local Iraqis, as well as an effort to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of potential allies.

There was one road in and out of Hawr Rajab from the north, simplifying Al Qaeda’s task of IED placement. Soon, an American vehicle hit an IED, blowing the cab over 50 feet and injuring the driver. As other troopers pushed into the village, they were aware of closed shutters. The locals knew something bad was up.

Elements of A Troop reached the village center. Humvees formed a protective circle, as announcements went out over loud speakers for the villagers to come get food. And then, the radio came alive. The 1/40th’s commander, Lt. Colonel Mark Odom and his humvee had hit an IED. All four of the vehicle’s occupants were badly hurt.

Jason, with Bravo Troop, was part of the squadron’s Quick Response Force. Sergeant James Allred was a section sergeant for Bravo Troop. “We weren’t in our Area of Operation. We were there to support Alpha. We were to pick up some detainees, and return to the FOB,” he told me. “Route clearance vehicles were to the front. We assumed IEDs had been cleared. Suddenly, the colonel’s humvee got hit.”

With admiration for Lt. Col. Odom’s leadership despite his extensive injuries, Allred explained that “our mission had suddenly changed.”  He and Medic Dustin Wakeman assisted in extracting the injured men from Odom’s Humvee. Sergeant Donnie Cartwright also dismounted from the humvee where Jason was gunner.  Bravo’s men and vehicle assumed defensive positions around the perimeter. Things calmed down – although in the madness of the event this is a relative term. It was time for Bravo’s men to return to FOB Falcon. “I radioed Jaron [Holliday} to back up and pick us up. The last thing he said was ‘roger.’”

The humvee hit a pressure plate, or a massive IED was activated remotely by phone. “Wakeman had gone back to the humvee to take a breather,” recalls Allred. “Sergeant Cartwright and I were standing there when the whole thing went up in pieces. We were pretty close.”

Cartwright asked, “Where is the humvee?”

The humvee was gone, and with it, three young men. Sgt. Dustin Wakeman, Corporal Jaron Holliday, and Corporal Jason LaFleur were killed instantly.

New York Times reporter Michael Gordon witnessed the mayhem from another perspective:

We drove back toward Checkpoint 20 and came upon a terrible sight. The twisted wreck of a Humvee was in the middle of the road. Combat medics were hovering over two soldiers lying in the grass. One was the turret gunner. The other was Odom, whose face was swathed in bandages. The wounded soldiers were lifted by stretcher into waiting Humvees and driven back.

Another Humvee, meanwhile, drove down from Checkpoint 20 to guard our flank. Suddenly there was a massive blast. Much of that Humvee disintegrated into fragments that rained down around us. Nobody could survive such a blast. The radio traffic reported three killed in action.

Again, in the words of reporter Michael Gordon:

When we got back to Checkpoint 20, the outpost was silent. The soldiers had lost three of their comrades. Another eight had been wounded. The enemy had suffered no casualties. Food had been given out to 40 residents.

At Forward Operating Base Falcon, the commanders imposed “River City” — they shut down the unclassified Internet connection the soldiers used to chat with their families and to blog so that word of the casualties would not spread until the next of kin were notified. That night, I went to the airfield at the base for the “angel flight.” A formation of soldiers lined up and saluted as the caskets of the three dead soldiers were carried to the tarmac so they could be flown away.

            Ordinarily, Cpl. Farmbrough was the squadron commander’s driver. On August 4, he had been assigned to man the radios in the Tactical Control Center, back at the Forward Operating Base. “When I heard what had happened, I knew who had died. I started crying over the radio.”

            In reading Michael Gordon’s account, and listening to James Allred’s version, it is in some respects like two different occurrences. The reality? The compression and expansion of perceived time, the incredible stress of combat, and the events seen through different lenses, focused on different issues.

“Jason was bold,” Allred remembers, but occasionally maddeningly hard-headed. “We butted heads sometimes. He was older closeup in gearthan me. I had joined the Army at eighteen, and was a very young NCO.” Allred had been a drill instructor, and admired the big Texan. “He was the soldier I had that made me want to do my job better.” Sergeant Allred states, “We were all a brotherhood there. I am still dealing with it.”  Allred spoke on behalf of Jason at the men’s’ eulogies at FOB Falcon. “I was able to personally say goodbye,” as Jason’s casket was loaded to be flown home.

Corporal Jason LaFleur’s body came home to Texas. His funeral was held at Lockhart’s Eeds Funeral Home. Jason hadn’t lived in Caldwell County in nearly ten years. The LaFleur family was stunned by the outpouring of love and concern shown by the large numbers of Caldwell County folks in attendance. Jason is buried as Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery.

The loss of this young soldier continues to ripple through his family, and his many friends. When speaking to me, Albert Fambrough could not hold back his tears. To this day, and despite logic and reason, James Allred remains haunted by what happened. I have “what iffed’ the situation every day.”  If they hadn’t back up a few feet. If he hadn’t radioed Holliday to come pick them up so they could return to FOB Falcon. If, if, if….

            Megan, Jason’s sister, succinctly describes the devastation when she says, “I felt like I lost my whole family.” Her mother Kei understandably became “all consumed” with the loss of her only son. Her father Chuck could not deal with the loss. He withdrew, as if to protect himself emotionally. His son’s death has exacerbated health issues.

Megan’s sense of loss is nuanced. She and Jason weren’t close growing up, but that had begun to change. The ability of siblings to reach a new or renewed level of affection and understanding with age and maturity has been taken from her and her brother. “I regret the inability to get together,” she says. “This made me feel how fragmented our family had become. I feel very small.”

Kei visits her son’s grave at least once a month. She is a member of American Gold Star Mothers. Comprised of moms who have lost sons or daughters in the service of their country, the Gold Star Mothers volunteer to support veterans and those serving in the military. Gold Star Mothers offer support and friendship, but also makes the most of the members’ situations to help others even less fortunate. She is also a member of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a grief and healing organization. She has mentored  through that program, “talking to other moms who may not be as far down the road as I am.”

As I was writing this story, I received this message from Kei LaFleur: “When [Jason] told me he was going to enlist, I felt I needed to counsel him. Not to dissuade him, but to have him think about other military options. I told him in the Army, he would be sent to the desert. Probably pretty quick. He’s big and he’s strong. And he said to me, ‘I know Mom, but I am willing.’ So if people remember anything about Jason, they should remember that he was willing.”

TWO troopers killed

WAKEMAN

The three troopers killed – Holliday, LaFleur, and Wakeman

aftermath one aftermath 2 13 JASON LAFLEUR aftermath

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aftermath of several IED attacks witnessed by 1/40th troopers while in Iraq

 

KEI AND HEADSTONE

Kei at her son’s grave Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery

14 JASON LAFLEUR gold star window

The window of a Gold Star mom

Note: I am indebted to Kei LaFleur for her time and kindness in providing pictures and stories of her son. She also helped me make contact with Megan LaFleur, James Allred, and Albert Fambrough who honored me with their time and recollections.

New York Times journalist Michael Gordon was embedded with the 1/40th. His story appeared on September 2, 2007 and can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/02/world/africa/02iht-02checkpoint.7348866.html

The Durango (Colorado) Herald front page story of August 9, 2007, entitled Soldier LaFleur Proud to Serve was provided to me by Kei LaFleur.

 

HAL WILLIAM DALTON

DALTON FROM LPR 1945

HAL WILLIAM DALTON

by Todd Blomerth

Hal William Dalton was the middle son of William Ewen Dalton and Delta (Martin) Dalton. He was born on February 20, 1923 in Hays County, Texas. His older brother Wesley was six years his senior. Younger brother Robert, or Bobbie, was born in 1932. Hal’s father, Ewen, began married life as a farmer in Hays County, and then changed careers. For most of Hal’s life his father was an automobile salesman. At some time between 1930 and 1935, the family moved to Luling. Shortly before Hal entered high school the family relocated to Lockhart, living at 623 Cibolo Street.

            Hal was active in the Lockhart High School Band, and was at one time an assistant drum major. According to Harry Hilgers, during the Depression, few could afford to buy band uniforms, so cast-off University of Texas Longhorn Band uniforms were obtained, and band mothers would dye them, changing the color from orange to maroon. The band mothers would then make the trousers. Caps were also from the Longhorn Band, which were also dyed appropriately. Hal’s senior year he, along with Andy Hinton, Winifred Adams, Vera Riddle, Opal Shinn, Dorothy Nell Williams, Corbett Halsell, Branch Lipscomb, and Hollis Raymond, starred in a play at the Adams gym – “Professor, How Could You?”

Hal graduated from Lockhart High School in May of 1940 and DALTON - GREAT PIC FROM PEDAGOGenrolled in Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now Texas State University). He attended for two years, and served on the Student Council. He was also a member of the Harris-Blair Literary Society. Like many others, he did not finish school, enlisting in the Army Air Forces in 1942.

Hal graduated from Bombardier School at Kirtland Airfield in Albuquerque, New Mexico, training on AT-11s and B-18As. The AT-11 was built by Beech. It was a twin-engine trainer and personnel transport that after the War became a popular business aircraft. The B-18 “Bolo” was developed in the 1930s as a medium bomber. By the onset of the War, its deficiencies were obvious – inadequate bomb load capacity and armament, and underpowered engines. It was soon relegated to anti-submarine patrols and training missions.

Hal was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant and received his bombardier’s wings. He then went overseas in May of 1944, completing thirty-three combat missions in the European Theater of Operations.

By June of 1945, the Dalton family perhaps thought it would remain intact despite others’ losses in World War II. Bobbie was too young to serve in World War II. Wesley had served with Dr. Joe Coopwood’s Medical Detachment of the 143rd Infantry Regiment, He had been wounded by artillery shrapnel in Italy, but recovered. Returning to the States, Hal was assigned as bombardier instructor at San Angelo Army Air Field. The school’s class book, “On Course!” DALTON - FROM ON COURSEshows Hal was an instructor for student Flight “E” of Class 45-15B. The war in Europe was over and he was training others to be bombardiers in the continuing fight against Japan. His assignment was a challenging but pleasant change from the high-risk operations of aerial bombardments. One thing was certain – after what he had lived through, he was not supposed to lose his life in the continental United States. But he did, and needlessly.

            Bobbie had spent part of the summer of 1945 with his big brother, Hal. Mr. and Mrs. Dalton, by now living at 4120 Tennyson Street in Houston, left Houston early on Saturday, June 30, 1945, driving to San Angelo to pick up Bobbie. Shortly after leaving, a telegram arrived at their home. Another family member saw its contents, and telephoned Wesley, now living in Lockhart. Wesley parked on the side of the highway he knew his parents would be taking to San Angelo and flagged them down as they approached. He broke the news that Hal had been killed the night before in a training accident.

            At 9:12 p.m., Central War Time, a Beechcraft Model 18 (the DALTON Beechcraft_AT-11_out_over_the_West_Texas_prairies_(00910460_103)military nomenclature was AT-11A “Kansan”), aircraft number 43-10417, took off from San Angelo Army Airfield. There were three men on board: 2nd Lt. Thomas E. Nageotte – pilot; 1st Lt. J.B. Colleps – bombardier instructor; and 1st Lt. Hal Dalton – bombardier instructor. The flight was for bombardier instructor proficiency training – in other words, Lieutenants Colleps and Dalton were maintaining that their own skill levels.

DALTON - CRASH FINAL DALTON - airview of crash

 

The AT-11A, powered with two Pratt and Whitney R-985 engines, rated at 450 horsepower each, crashed near Christoval, killing all three occupants. Several miles from the airbase it struck the arid ground at a shallow descent, bounced once, twice, and on the third strike exploded. Very little of the aircraft was left intact. The resulting investigation gave no clear explanation for what had happened. Report of Major Accident Number 45-6-29-21 noted:

The accident occurred at about the part of a bombing mission where the last bombardier is completing the 12 C Report on bombs dropped and the pilot is losing altitude for entrance into the traffic pattern at the home base. It is possible that the reflection of the bombardier’s nose light on dirty glass might have blinded the pilot enough to cause confusion and error.

      The investigators also surmised the possibility of an air lock, as the one hour and eighteen minute flight would have emptied the main fuel tank. “With possible air lock in fuel system, [and the plane descending from the practice bombing run altitude] the pilot may have placed his entire attention inside the cockpit long enough for the accident to occur.”  In other words, there was no clear explanation for the three deaths. The aircraft simply flew into the ground, plowing up mesquite and cactus, before disintegrating.

            A good friend, Lt. C.D. With accompanied Hal’s body home. Funeral services were held at Rogers-Pennington Funeral Home in San Marcos on July 2, 1945. Dean H.E. Speck, the men’s dean at SWTSTC spoke glowingly of Hal.  A letter from Reverend C.E. Bludworth, pastor at First Methodist Church at San Angelo, and former pastor at First Methodist in Lockhart, was read. Reverend Bludworth knew Hal as a boy in Lockhart, and became re-acquainted with him when Hal began attending church at Rev. Bludworth’s church in San Angelo. Pall bearers included Joe Lipscomb, C.E. Royal, Alton Williams, and Jack Hoffman.

            1st Lt. Hal Dalton did not reach his 23rd birthday.

DALTON HAL W - HEADSTONE 1945 KYLEHal Walton’s Headstone – Kyle

WILBUR OTTO ‘SONNY’ SALGE

SALGE OTTO

WILBUR OTTO (SONNY) SALGE

by Todd Blomerth

            Wilbur Otto “Sonny” Salge was born on September 30, 1923. He went by “Sonny” and was your typical small town kid. While at Lockhart High School he played football and was co-captain with Alvin Riedel of the Lions football team his senior year.  He graduated in 1942, and told his sister Dorothy (Norman) that he just wanted to get out of high school. He knew he was going into the service and didn’t make too big of a deal about his grades. His sister said he didn’t want to wait around to be drafted, so he enlisted in the Marine Corps.

Sonny was the son of Otto and Ella (Hartung) Salge. Otto was a World War I veteran. The Salge family lived at 606 Wichita Street in Lockhart. After high school, Sonny married Mary Holman. Like so many wartime marriages, this one was interrupted almost immediately by the realities of life. He was mustered into the Marine Corps on April 16, 1943, and shipped to Camp Elliott, California for training. While there, Sonny excelled, and was the honor graduate of his platoon. Initially in the infantry, he was later made part of a mortar section.

            Sonny was assigned to Company L, Third Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment. The Seventh was part of the First Marine Division. Shipped overseas in October of 1943, he was one of many freshly minted Marines filling the depleted ranks of “The Old Breed.” The First Marine Division had fought heroically on Guadalcanal, and then was returned to Australia to refit. It had lost thousands to death, wounds, combat exhaustion (the term used at the time for psychological issues arising from the stress of combat) and tropical diseases.  After refilling its ranks, the Division was made part of Operation Cartwheel, an Allied plan to isolate the huge Japanese garrison at Rabaul. The 3/7, as the Third Battalion of the Seventh Marines was commonly designated, was part of the First Division which landed on Cape Gloucester on the island of New Britain on December 26, 1943. In a slogging jungle campaign, the division destroyed the Japanese 51st Division. American maps identified the areas just inland from the landing areas as “damp flat.” That was optimistic at best. The place was a misery of jungle and leeches. In the words of Bernard Nalty, “…a Marine might be slogging through knee-deep mud, step into a hole, and end up, as one of them said, ‘damp up to your neck.’”SALGE NEW BRITAIN

Aogiri Ridge, Suicide Creek, and Hell’s Point became well known as places of misery and ambush – of a patrol taking ten steps and disappearing into the “Green Inferno” of seemingly impenetrable jungle. So hellish was the terrain that after four months, there was real concern that the 1st Division would no longer be a viable amphibious force, unless relieved.

            It was and then sent to the small island of Pavuvu, for rest and refitting.

            The First Marine Division was next tasked with the invasion of island of Peleliu, in the Palau island group. The Palau campaign had originally been planned as a side show to General Douglas MacArthur’s re-taking of the Philippine Islands. The Palaus, to the east of the Philippines were to be taken in order to protect MacArthur’s right flank. Because of the speed of the Allied advances in the Southwest Pacific, serious doubts were raised as to the necessity of attacking the Palau island group at all. Arguments were made that the islands could be isolated, neutralized and by-passed. In one of the imponderables of war, the attacks were not cancelled. The First Marine Division with its three infantry and one artillery regiment was assigned to what was assumed to be a three to five day conquest of the island of Peleliu. Despite intense and protracted naval bombardment and aerial attacks, the thousands of defenders hunkered down in caves and tunnels. What was thought to be a relatively casualty-free campaign ended up as a bloody and protracted fight that decimated the Division’s First Regiment, cost the division and the US Army’s 81st Infantry Division nearly 2000 dead and total casualties of almost 10,000. The Seventh Marines spend two bloody weeks in the Umurbrogol Pocket, a mountainous lace of sinkholes, caves and tunnels.  In scenes worthy of the worst of Dante’s “Inferno,” flamethrowers, artillery, and grenades made small progress in 110 degree heat against a hidden enemy. The battle for Peleliu raged from September 15th until late November of 1944. The 81st Infantry Division finished the fight, as the exhausted and depleted First Marine Division was pulled out on October 20th and sent back to the Russell Island of Pavuvu for re-fitting.

The Marine Corps photo department sent home a picture of Sonny and two other Marines holding a captured Japanese flag. It ran in the Lockhart Post Register. Sonny no longer had the look of an innocent young man. In just a few months, he had seen enough misery for several lifetimes.  And the worst was yet to come.

SALGE LPR 1944 PELELIUThe invasion of Okinawa in April of 1945 resulted in the bloodiest battle of the Pacific Theater. It lasted 82 days. Six divisions; four Army, and two Marine, were in the fight. Huge numbers of aircraft and naval vessels were involved. It cost the lives of 12,513 soldiers, sailors and marines, including several Caldwell County men, and the US commanding officer, General Simon Bolivar Buckner. There were over 72,000 wounded and non-combat losses for the Americans. The Japanese defenders lost over 100,000 men killed. Caught in the middle of the maelstrom, the number of Okinawan civilians killed has been estimated at well over 100,000. The ferocity of the Japanese defense of an island 350 miles from its home islands lay to rest any thought of the United States not using atomic weapons instead of attempting an invasion of the three main Japanese islands.

The initial landings on Okinawa were unopposed. Then came the kamikazes – suicide airplanes that sunk or damaged dozens of ships. On the ground, Americans split the island in two with relative ease. Some began to think things wouldn’t be so bad. They were soon disabused of that notion. The Japanese commander, Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima, was a defensive genius, and he had the terrain to prove it. Retreating to mountains in the north and south of the island, the Japanese defenders made the Americans pay for every inch of land taken.  If possible to do so, torrential rains made things even worse. Bodies lay rotting in the mud. Tanks could not move. GIs’ and marines’ clothing rotted on them, as they moved from cover to cover. In the south, the 1st Marine Division attacked a line of defenses held by deadly ridgelines. Marine Colonel Joseph Alexander noted in his history of the Okinawa campaign that after a fierce fight to seize one of the ridges, “the next 1,200 yards of [the First Division’s] advance would eat up 18 days of fighting. In this case, seizing Wana Ridge would be tough, but the most formidable obstacle would be steep, twisted Wana Draw that rambled just to the south, a deadly killing ground, surrounded by towering cliffs pocked with caves, with every possible approach strewn with mines and covered by interlocking fire.” It was in this action that on May 16, 1945, PFC Sonny Salge was killed. He was twenty years old.

Sonny’s body was eventually returned to the United States, but not to Texas. He is buried in Section M, Site 371, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, located in the Punchbowl in Hawaii.

SALGE OTTO HEADSTONE

 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Sonny’s sister, Dorothy Norman—an energetic 92-years-of-age in 2013—visited with me and provided Sonny’s photo, as well as stories of her brother and his childhood in Lockhart. Tommy Holland (d. 2016) also provided some background on Sonny. Muster rolls were used to track his location after assignment to the 7th Marines. “Cape Gloucester: The Green Inferno,” by Bernard C. Nalty (www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/USMC-C-Gloucester/) gave insight into that hellhole.  The picture of Sonny’s headstone was provided by Fred Weber.

SAMUEL G. SERRATO

SAMUEL G. SERRATO

by Todd Blomerth

Soledad Garcia, at the age of fourteen, crossed into the United States on February 14, 1914 at Eagle Pass, Texas. Undoubtedly, she and her family were one of many fleeing the uncertainty and barbarity of the Mexican Revolution.  She eventually married David R. Serrato who was born in Mendoza, Texas in 1900. David and Soledad lived in Maxwell, Texas for a part of their lives, where David worked for local farmers. At some point the Serratos moved with their family to 716 E. Live Oak, in Lockhart.  Samuel was born on February 16, 1924, the third of seven children. His siblings included Abraham, Beatrice (Soto), Estella (Alfanador), Lucy, Rudy, and David (“Big Dave”).

Soledad and David Sr. also raised Genaro Ybarra, who they treated as a son. The Serrato family were members of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

Samuel had some elementary school education, possibly at Navarro School. He was working as a Western Union messenger prior to entering the Army on March 11, 1943.

 Samuel was one of hundreds of thousands of Americans of Hispanic descent who served in the armed forces during World War II. We know that approximately 53,000 Puerto Ricans served. Because Hispanics were not segregated like African Americans, and with the exception of Puerto Ricans, no good figures exist as to their true numbers, although estimates range from 250,000 to 500,000. Many National Guard units from the Southwest (including many companies with the 36th “Texas” Infantry Division) consisted largely of Mexican Americans.

SERRATO - DEATH OF CHILD
Baby Raul’s death certificate

Samuel was married to Natividad Romero Garcia. Their only child, Raul Jose Serrato was born on April 2, 1944, but died on January 22, 1945 in the San Marcos Hospital with what was diagnosed as entero-colitis. Samuel would outlive his only child by less than three weeks. In all probability, Samuel never saw his son, as he was overseas in the Pacific when the Raul Jose was born.

SERRATO - 37TH idAfter basic and advanced infantry training, Samuel was assigned to Company I, 129th Infantry Regiment, 37th Infantry Division. The division, originally a National Guard entity, saw combat in the Pacific Theater. Although his regiment was part of the 37th Infantry Division, in at least two different actions it was detached and assigned to the 33rd Infantry Division and the 40th Infantry Division. Samuel received his baptism of fire in the Bougainville Campaign. The 37th Infantry Division landed on Bougainville Island on November 13, 1943 along with the 3rd Marine Division. Bougainville is a huge island, and there was no intention of trying to drive the estimated 25,000 Japanese troops off it. Instead, the Americans established a large beachhead at Princess Augusta Bay, building airfields and supply points inside it. With its anchorage and air facilities, protection could be provided for forces used in the SERRATO - BOUGAINVILLE PERIMETERretaking of the Philippines. Once the Japanese defenders realized that the Americans would not try to seek them out in the island’s trackless jungles, they were forced to attack the American perimeter. After a series of small clashes, the Japanese hit the American perimeter in a series of battles in and around what became known as Hill 700 and Koromokina River between March 8 and March 23, 1944. Although the Japanese were repulsed with horrific losses, the 37th Infantry Division suffered greatly as well. The November 9, 1944 edition of the Lockhart Post Register proudly announced that Samuel received his Combat Infantryman’s BadSERRATO - ICONIC PIC ON BOUGAINVILLEge for combat on the island of Bougainville.

            After the repulse of the Japanese, the 37th Division was pulled out of the line and began training for a landing on the Philippine island of Luzon. The American re-conquest of Luzon began with largely un-opposed landings at Lingayen Gulf on January 9, 1945.  The U.S. Sixth Army swept down toward the capital of Manila with 175,000 men. A second landing of troops, both airborne and amphibious, moved toward the capital city from the southwest. The overall Japanese Army commander, General Yamashita, did not want to contest the city, and ordered the military there to leave the city open. Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi and his naval forces ignored the order. A bloodbath ensured. Literally thousands of innocent Filipinos were slaughtered by the enraged Japanese. Some Japanese accounts refer to it as gyakusatsu, or massacre. The atrocities beggar the imagination. Rape, murder, torture, and destruction of an entire city occurred because of the refusal to acknowledge the inevitable defeat, and the hatred for another race. Noted historian William Manchester, in his seminal book on General Douglas MacArthur writes that “[h]ospitals were set on fire after their patients were strapped to their beds. The corpses of males were mutilated, females of all ages were raped before they were slain, and babies’ eyeballs were gouged out and smeared on walls like jelly.” It is a fact to this day not acknowledged in Japan.

Those not outright murdered were often killed by American artillery and air strikes. There were an estimated 100,000 civilian deaths.

In securing Manila, the only urban fighting in the Pacific, 80% of the city was destroyed by artillery and naval gunfire. By all accounts, the battle was horrific, rivaling some of the fighting seen between Germans and Russians on the Eastern Front. It was also a cautionary tale of what could be expected fighting in built up areas. The Japanese naval forces were largely untrained in this type of fighting, had no artillery or armor, and no reinforcements. Yet they were disciplined and intent on making the Americans pay for every inch taken. Every block was fortified, and hand to hand, room to room fighting went on for weeks. Despite being vastly outnumbered, defenders held the advantage.

Feb. 13, 1945: Two Yank Infantrymen of the hard fighting 37th American division, climb through some Japanese barbed wire during street fighting in Manila in the Philippines. (AP Photo)

M3 Sherman tank enters the Intramuros

The 129th Infantry Regiment freed 1,330 U.S. and Allied prisoner of war and civilian internees from the Old Bilibid Prison on February 4, then crossed the Pasig River despite its destroyed bridges on February 8, and attacked Provisor Island, where the city’s electrical generation plant was located. In the words of Thomas Huber, “The 129th Infantry Regiment approached the island in engineer assault boats, then conducted a cat and mouse struggle with Japanese for control of the buildings, fighting with machine guns and rifles among the structures and heavy equipment.” After securing Provisor, the 129th attacked Manila’s New Police Station, another strongpoint. In the words of Robert Ross Smith, in his sequential history, “Triumph in the Philippines,” describes the area:

The New Police Station, two stories of reinforced concrete and a large basement, featured inside and outside bunkers, in both of which machine gunners and riflemen holed up. The 129th Infantry, which had previously seen action at Bougainville and against the Kembu Group, and which subsequently had a rough time against the Shobu Group in northern Luzon, later characterized the combined collection of obstacles in the New Police Station area as the most formidable the regiment encountered during the war.

The March 15, 1945 Lockhart Post Register reported that Pfc. Samuel Serrato had been reported killed in Manila, Philippines on February 14, 1945. He was killed in the taking the New Post Office and the complex of buildings around it. He was one of over 1000 GIs killed in the fight for Manila.

In 1949 Samuel’s body was returned home. Last rites were given at St. Mary’s Catholic Church on March 6. With American Legion Post 41 performing full military honors, burial was in St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery.  At the request of the family, a military headstone marks Samuel’s grave.

SERRATO - HEADSTONE

 

REFERENCE NOTES:  Ross Smith’s Triumph in the Philippines (US Army Center of Military History, 1963) and Battle of Manila Online’s website, www.battleofmanila.org were used extensively to capture the brutality of the Japanese defenders, and the difficulty of rooting out entrenched urban defenders. Thomas Huber’s “The Battle of Manila” (an essay within the website) was also used. Samuel’s Combat Infantryman’s Badge was reported as having been earned during the fight for HIll 129 on Bougainville Island. This probably is an error; I believe the fight was for Hill 700. See www.historynet.com/battle-of-bougainville-37th-infantry-battle-for-hill-700.htm. Sadly, I was never able to find a photograph of Samuel.

 

EDWARD HERMAN PROVE

by Todd BlomerthPROVE - BETTER INDIVIDUAL SHOT FROM LONGHORN 41

Edward Prove was born in Lockhart on April 15, 1919. He was the son of Hugo and Amelia (Kreuz) Prove, and lived at 813 South Brazos Street. The youngest of three children ( his two siblings were older brother Roland, and older sister Maymie Louise [McMillan]) he was described as “a real boy, good-natured, enterprising, [and] a lover of sports.” Among other activities, he was a Boy Scout, along with his best friend, Mansell Williams (who would also die in the war). Like the rest of his family, he was a member of the Presbyterian Church and was expected to attend Sunday school faithfully. He graduated from Lockhart High School in 1937 and enrolled at Texas A&M where hePROVE - THIRD BATT HQT BATTERY

PROVE - A&M INDUSTRY AND FINANCE CLUB 41

was part of Headquarters Battery of the Third Battalion – Field Artillery in the Corps of Cadets. He was also a member of the Aggie Marketing and Finance Club. Upon graduation from A&M he was commissioned as Army second lieutenant in the field artillery. Edward then went to Ft. Sill where he completed his officer training.  On December 26, 1942, Edward married Miss Ruth Duvall, an Oklahoman who was five years older than him. The Post Register society page noted that some of the Prove family travelled to Ft. Sill the week of June 10, 1943 to visit with Edward and his new spouse.

PROVE - BLACK 155 UNIT IN ACTION
African-American 155 howitzer in Action in France

900,000 African Americans served in World War II. Most were in segregated labor or transportation outfits. Eventually there would be two infantry divisions of black soldiers. Prior to that, several field artillery units were formed. One of those units, which would become the 349th Field Artillery Battalion was created in September of 1940. The 349th, upon completion of its training on various field pieces (it would eventually be provided with the 155 mm howitzer) was part of the Ft. Sill training detachment. Edward was one of its white officers. Newly formed artillery batteries were quickly being created and for over seventeen months the 349th’s men provided the needed instruction for these units. Its motto was the classic artilleryman’s response to a request for fire support: “On The Way, Sir.” By all accounts, it was a good, well-trained military unit. The battalion transferred to Camp (now Fort) Hood in July of 1944 for overseas training, and then was moved to Camp Shanks, New York. It sailed for Europe arriving at a camp in Wiltshire, England on November 11, 1944. Then it was transferred onto the mainland of Europe arriving at Camp Twenty Grand, France on February 1, 1945 where it underwent another month of training. It was attached to XIII Corps and went into combat on March 3, 1945 in Germany.

            Less than three days later, on March 6, 1945, Captain Prove was dead. According to his sister Maymie, (now a young 101 years of age) he was walking next to an American tank when he was struck by German anti-tank fire and died instantly. He was twenty-five years old.

It was not until March of 1949 that Edward’s body was returned to the United States for re-interment. McCurdy Funeral Home handled the arrangements Dr. Sam L. Joekel, pastor of Lockhart’s First Presbyterian Church officiated as Edward’s body was buried in the Lockhart Cemetery. With the flowery language of the times, the Post Register noted, “In his own native land, near scenes in which he was interested and had part during life the body of the lamented, courteous, mild mannered heroic Edward Prove sleeps, awaiting the resurrection morn.”

PROVE EDWARD HEADSTONE
Edward Prove’s Headstone, Lockhart Cemetery

PROVE San Antonio Light 20 March 1945
San Antonio Light 20 March 1945

AFTERWARD:

Charles Raleigh Kreuz lost both his sister, Jimmie, and his cousin Edward Prove in the war. When discussed via telephone, it became obvious that these deaths still affected him deeply, nearly sixty years later (I interviewed him in 2013). Mayme Louise McMillan, Edward’s 101 year old sister (in 2013), provided me with much information on her brother. Like Aubrey Biggs (whose story will be added later, Edward trained and commanded African-American troops. The challenges accepted by these troops, in the face of discrimination, and the challenges and conceptions (or misconceptions) of white officers and senior NCOs is something perhaps unable to be comprehended today.

TAB

 

ANNA DORIS ‘JIMMIE’ KREUZ

KREUZ JIMMIE crop one

ANNA DORIS “JIMMIE” KREUZ

            Anna Doris, or “Jimmie” as she insisted from childhood on being called, was born to Alvin and Mamie (Whisenant) Kreuz on March 14, 1920. The KREUZ JIMMIE crop twothird of three sisters, (a

brother would come along in 1931) she was a tomboy, and excelled in sports. The Kreuz family home was at 123 Trinity Street, Lockhart. Joe Bunch grew up across the street from the Kreuz family and fondly remembered Jimmie. She always owned a horse, and would often ride her horse up to the Bunch front yard where she would tell Joe to ‘climb on’ behind her. They would then ride all over Lockhart. She graduated from Lockhart High School in 1936 and then took a business course to become a stenographer. She served as the Sunday school secretary at Lockhart First Presbyterian Church and was captain of the local women’s debating team. Jimmie worked for the Alamo Lumber Company before taking the job of Secretary of the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce. When the war began, she became Captain in the local Women’s Defense Corps.

            The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (later shortened to the Women’s Army Corps or WAC) was P. Hobby. The Corps was created to fill gaps left by men leaving for the service. Ultimately, over 150,000 women enlisted, serving in all theaters of the war, and in many non-combat roles originally held by men. General Dwight Eisenhower said of them, “their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination are immeasurable.” The WAC success spurred the creation of Navy WAVES, Coast Guard SPARS, and Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP). The WAC was intended to be a wartime organization only, but its success kept it from being disbanded until 1978, when men and women were placed on equal footing in all branches of the military (except in combat roles).

Jimmie enlisted in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps on January 9, 1943. Jimmie’s enlistment records showed her to be 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighing 140 pounds.  She was the first woman from Lockhart to enlist in the WAAC. Jimmie attempted to resign from her duties at the Chamber of Commerce when she enlisted, but the Chamber members insisted that they were only allowing her to “be on leave,” promising her job would be open when she returned from the service.

Prior to reporting, she was “the subject of numerous social courtesies before her departure.” Lockhart Mayor Sam Tabor introduced her as the honored guest at a Lockhart city council meeting the first week of February 1943. Guests at the meeting included Mrs. HV Reid, Mr. and Mrs. CM George, and Mr. AW Mohle. The paper noted, “Miss Kreuz responded with a few well-chosen words.”  JimmieKREUZ JIMMIE - RECRUITING POSTER was by all accounts an extremely likeable and popular young woman. Because of these traits, and the fact that she was the first local woman to enlist in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps she received much laudatory press coverage. The Post Register described Jimmie as “[a] lady of fine personality, physically capable, experienced in making contact with people, an extraordinary executive, alert as to duties assigned. Lockhart people expect her to advance in the service of the W.A.A.C.”

After enlisting, she reported for service in San Antonio on February 7, 1943 and received her eight weeks of basic training in Des Moines, Iowa.  She then received additional training at various posts in Iowa, Louisiana, and Georgia. She was promoted to Corporal. Because of her outgoing personality, she was made a recruiter. She was a very successful one.

            On July 8, 1944, Jimmie was attending a tennis game at Maxwell Field (later Maxwell Air Force Base) in Alabama. She was seated in the bleachers when she was struck by lightning and killed instantly. Her body was shipped by train to Luling. Her casket was met there and accompanied by military units to the family home at 419 Trinity Street, where it lay in state “amid masses of exquisite flowers…” Businesses all over town closed for her funeral at the Lockhart Cemetery. Present was an honor guard of WACs from Randolph Field. A contingent of airmen from the San Marcos Air Field served as a firing squad. Among those serving as pallbearers were local Texas State Guard members Harry Annas and Gershon Rosenwasser. The Chamber of Commerce prepared a commemorative piece in the paper, noting, “No more useful or highly esteemed citizen ever lived in Lockhart that Miss Jimmie Kreuz.”

            The Post Register stated, “Her life was lived honestly, joyously, and courageously before God and her fellowmen.”

Jimmie was twenty-four years oKREUZ JIMMIE - HEADSTONEld.

Jimmie Kreuz’ Headstone-Lockhart Cemetery

FROM REFERENCE NOTES IN THEY GAVE THEIR ALL: The true stories of the brave men – and woman – from Caldwell County, Texas who gave their all in World War Two by Todd Blomerth Copyright 2016

KREUZ, ANNA (JIMMY) – Jimmy’s photo was sent to me by her younger brother, Charles Raleigh Kreuz, a retired oil company executive and consultant, living in Fredericksburg, Texas. He has kept her photo by his bedside his entire life. Joe Bunch provided much personal information about Jimmie, as well as other members of the Kreuz family.  Raleigh passed away in 2017.