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Todd Blomerth recently retired from the bench of the 421st Judicial District Court for Caldwell County, Texas. He has written military history articles for local newspapers for many years. In 2023-2014, the Lockhart Post Register and the Luling Newsboy published over 80 stories of young Americans who died in the service of their country in WW2. In 2016, Judge Blomerth published his first book, They Gave Their All, a cumulation and expansion of his earlier newspaper stories. Judge Blomerth continues to interview combat veterans. Those stories are kindly published in the County's newspapers. A member of the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band in Texas A&M's Corps of Cadets, Blomerth graduated in 1972, and later received him Juris Doctor from the University of Texas School of Law.

LEONARD MOONEYHAM

LW Mooneyham 1942 Boot Camp

LW Mooneyham 1942 Boot Camp

LW Mooneyham 1950 Korea-1 smaller
Mooney In Korea

 

Mooney in 2015
Mooney in 2015

 

LEONARD MOONEYHAM – CELEBRATING A LIFE FULL OF EXCITEMENT

BY Todd Blomerth

                On February 26, 2015, Leonard Mooneyham turned 90 years old.  His mind, memories, and wit are as sharp as ever, although his body is letting him down. “Mooney” is fighting cancer, his fifth go-round with the disease. He doesn’t allow it to interfere with visits from friends and family, or with a nosy judge who comes by asking him a load of questions about a most interesting life. Like with so many of his era, my biggest regret is not getting to know him sooner. Mooney is the father of three sons – Wesley Ray, Bobby, and Mark, who died of pancreatic cancer. He is also the proud step-father of Ed Theriot and Debbie Rawlinson. He married their mother Frances Faye Stanford in 1972.

                Leonard was born in 1925 (that’s his story and he’s sticking to it) in Black Oak, Arkansas, the son of a lawman who became Chief of Police in Hope, Arkansas. His parents divorced and his mother, Sylvia Fischer, remarried. His step-father, Chester Warmbrodt, at one time a test pilot for Stinson Aircraft, found work in Oklahoma. The family moved to northern Oklahoma when he was young. He attended a one room school named Chimney Rock School, and then attended high school  in Bartlesville, essentially a company town for Phillips Petroleum Company. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 stirred most young men’s patriotic zeal. Mooney was no exception. Quitting school, he and some friends, fudging their ages a bit, enlisted in the Navy. Gifted in mathematics and with excellent hearing, Mooney didn’t get his first choice of assignments – as a cook and baker. Instead, two weeks into basic training, he was assigned to sonar training. Sonar equipment was an absolute necessity to protect ships from submarine attacks, as its soundings allowed for underwater detection. After training, for a time he and five other young sailors were given Thompson submachine guns to stand guard as secret electronic equipment was installed on destroyers outside of San Francisco. Mooney still chuckles at what must have been a scary sight – young men, some barely shaving, lugging around fully loaded automatic weapons they were untrained on.

 Mooney was then transferred to the USS Ammen, a Fletcher class destroyer with hull designation DD527. He remained a member of  Ammen’s crew for the remainder of World War II.

                Laid down in November of 1941, Ammen was commissioned in March of 1943. After a shakedown cruise, Ammen headed to the frigid waters of Alaska to take part in the Aleutian Campaign. Little understood and rarely discussed, the Aleutian Campaign was one of America’s most difficult efforts in World War II. It was a miserable place to fight a war, and Ammen, slated for the Mediterranean, did not have the cold-weather gear for her 350 man crew. Heavy seas took a toll on the 2000 ton displaced ship. “It is sixty-nine feet from the bridge to the waterline,” Mooney says. “There were many days when I saw green water [not just spray] come over the bridge!” A sailor was washed overboard – the seas were too high to attempt to effect a rescue. He was never found. Fog was often so thick sailors literally could not see more than five feet ahead of them. Ammen was part of the invasion of Attu. American soldiers and sailors suffered mightily from the foul weather. Eventually the Japanese garrison was wiped out. After screening convoys to Adak and Kiska, Ammen shepherded small craft to Pearl Harbor. During that journey, seas were so rough that often lookouts would lose sight of other ships in the troughs. Keeping the ships in close proximity required lookouts to chart their locations with grease pencils when the small vessels came up onto the crests of the huge waves. When Ammen finally arrived at Hawaii, its crew, now properly clad in cold-weather gear, nearly burned up in the tropical sun.

                Ammen’s next nine months was in the Southwest Pacific. It supported landings at Cape Gloucester and provided antisubmarine and antiaircraft protection for the larger ships. It also provided suppression fire onto Japanese coastal defenses. The same went for landings on Los Negros. It participated in anti-shipping sweeps off the coast of New Guinea, and then gave protection to assaults on Tanamerah Bay and Hollandia. Biak, Bosnik, Noemfoor, Sansapor, Morotai – odd sounding places now, but in 1944 they were all part of the Americans’ advance toward the Japanese home islands. Often attached to Australian naval task forces because of the Americans’ superior radar, Ammen went out ‘in the dark of the moon’ to limit tell-tale phosphorescence in the ships’ wakes. And men took liberty in Sydney – something the American sailors loved.

                Ammen escorted ships into Leyte Gulf for Americans’ first landings on the Philippines – part of General Douglas MacArthur’s vow to re-take the islands lost in 1942. The Japanese Navy was badly mauled at Surigao Strait and San Bernardino Strait, so it began resorting to an aerial blitz. Destroyers were the ‘guard dogs’ of convoys and moored ships. With radar and visual observers they were the trip-wires, or picket ships, guarding against attacks on larger ships with their huge crews, aircraft and equipment. On November 1, 1944, Mooney was a gun director for the Ammen’s forward and port-side quad-40 mm anti-aircraft weapon. His station was just below the bridge. In one of the earliest of the kamikaze attacks, a twin-engine Yokosuka P1Y “Frances” bomber took aim at Ammen, coming straight in on her bow.  On the bridge, the quartermaster spun the wheel frantically, swinging the picket ship to starboard just enough that the kamikaze missed the bridge (and Mooney) and crashed between the two stacks. Five men were killed and 21 wounded.

Ammen shot down two other aircraft while on picket duty, and on November 16, 1944 sailed back to San Francisco for repairs.  Patched up, she then endured the unending onslaught of kamikazes that sunk or damaged hundreds of ships and killed nearly 5000 sailors during the horrific battle to take the island of Okinawa. Destroyers took a heavy toll protecting landing forces and larger ships. Destroyers posted on radar picket patrols were the first line of defense from incoming kamikazes. As such, Japanese bombers and suicide planes took a fearsome toll on the small ships and their crews.

USS AMMENOne night a near-miss by a bomb showered the ship with shrapnel. Eight men were wounded. Along with her sister ship Bennion (DD-662) she was attacked and shot down several kamikazes during April and May of 1945. While the Americans tried to occasionally spell picket ships off Okinawa, the emotional and physical wear and tear on ships and men was often overwhelming. Imagine yourself a teenaged sailor on a small ship, sitting in the ocean, watching a determined suicide bomber coming straight at you, intent on killing you and your crewmates.  Once the suicide planes get past air cover, your only defenses are anti-aircraft shells which often appear to have no effect.

AMMEN KAMIKAZE DAMAGEAlthough Mooney’s principal job was that of a sonarman, he, like many other crewmen, had a secondary job when at battle stations for air attacks. Every time radar picked up incoming aircraft, his role as a sonarman became secondary to anti-aircraft stations. During the night of May 24/25 a Nakajima Ki. 44 ‘Tojo,’ aiming for Ammen, missed her but crashed into the nearby Stormes (DD-780). On May 27, 1945, Ammen and Boyd (DD-544) fought off eight coordinated air attacks. Finally, as Japan ran out of airplanes and pilots, the threat abated, and Ammen finished the war patrolling in the East China Sea.

                On August 6, 1945 the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. On August 9, 1945,

640px-Nagasaki_1945_-_Before_and_after_(adjusted)
Nagasaki Beofre and After the Atomic Blast

Nagasaki was obliterated. Finally Japan surrendered. Ammen was ordered to support efforts to recover Allied prisoners of war from the hell of POW camps. Mooring at Depima Pier at Nagasaki on August 15, 1945, its log of August 16th noted “smell from bodies noticeable.” Mooney and others were driven all over the blast zone in open trucks while assisting in the of POWs’ evacuation to hospital ships.  Ammen’s crew was awestruck by the devastation. In the words of Bill Raab, speaking at an Ammen reunion in 2002, “You couldn’t imagine one bomb causing that kind of destruction. It seemed utterly out of some science fiction book. Everything was just leveled. There were people walking around in a daze, animals dead on the side of the road. You couldn’t imagine that it was a city at one time.” There was substantial ignorance as to the long-term effect of radiation. Japanese survivors would find out about cancers caused by exposure to the blast. Americans, perhaps unknowingly, placed their own men in harm’s way afterward. Photography was prohibited, and authorities confiscated all Mooney’s photographs of the desolation of Nagasaki. Mooney has fought five different cancers over the years. He attributes these to exposure to the radiation at Nagasaki.

                Mooney had more than enough time overseas to be sent home immediately after the war.    However he took leave one night in Japan, and a subordinate wangled a trip home for a supposed medical emergency. Mooney was declared indispensible and got stuck helping sail Ammen home through the Panama Canal to Charleston, S.C. for de-commissioning.  Ammen and her crew were warriors. The ship earned eight battle stars during World War II. It participated in 19 ground invasions, destroyed eight Japanese mines, sank three enemy ships, and shot down twenty-one aircraft.

Mooney didn’t get back home to Oklahoma until April of 1946. He enrolled in the University of Oklahoma but never got his degree. Turns out that his Navy training in electronics put him well ahead in practical terms of most of his professors. He went to work for Phillips Petroleum, and began a lifetime of work in the oil and gas industry that took him all over the world.

But there was an interruption. In June of 1950, North Korea attacked the south, and was narrowly kept from overrunning the entire peninsula. After the surprise landings at Inchon, Allied forces sped north, pushing the North Koreans back toward the Chinese border. General Douglas MacArthur, in one of the worst errors every perpetrated by a military commander, split his command advancing into the mountains of North Korea, where there was no mutual support. Ignoring repeated warnings of Chinese intervention, he ordered X Corps to seize reservoirs in the mountains near the Chinese border. Made up of the Marine 1st Division and Army units, X Corps was surrounded and attacked. Although a ‘victory’ of sorts, the Chinese lost over 40% of their troops to the desperate marines and soldiers. Retreating while holding back hundreds of thousands of Chinese in an incredible display of valor, most of the American forces made it to the the port of Hungnam in North Korea, where they were desperately awaited evacuation.

Re-activated into the active Navy almost immediately after the invasion of South Korea, Mooney was shipped to Japan.  Despite having destroyers in the United States kept in readiness, the Navy desperately needed ships in Asia.  Several patrol frigates, much smaller than destroyers, were moored in Japan. They had been ‘loaned’ to the Soviet Union in 1945 in anticipation of its entrance into the Pacific War. Grudgingly returned from their loan to the Soviet Union in 1949, these ships were fraught with problems and skilled sonarmen were needed to help get them up and running. Mooney was assigned to USS Hoquiam (PF5). Hoquiam, after four years with Soviet navy, was, to say the least, in bad shape. Mooney and a crew worked furiously to get the 1200 ton ship operational. It was soon part of a 139 ship flotilla that sailed to Hungnam in North evacuation hungnamKorea in early December, 1950.           Historian Roy Appleman has called this “the greatest evacuation movement by sea in US military history.” 105,000 marines and soldiers, 98,000 Korean civilians, 17,500 vehicles, and 350,000 tons of equipment were taken off the Korean coast, just ahead of the advancing Chinese army. LSTs took as many of the terrified Koreans as they could. One incident Mooney witnessed was both poignant and humorous. A Korean farmer was hell-bent to get his donkey and cart onto the LST. The LST’s loadmaster had no intention of letting an animal into precious human cargo space. Thousands of desperate Koreans were being loaded. Frustrated at the impasse, the loadmaster pulled out his .45 and shot the donkey beween the eyes, then dumped the dead animal and cart into the harbor. The Korean farmer was then allowed on to make his escape.

color hungnam explosion
Hungnam Harbor Goes Up

Mooney’s ship had a contingency of Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs – forerunners of the Navy SEALS) tasked with destroying the port facilities once the evacuation was accomplished. Hoquiam was the last ship out of the harbor after the charges were set. It was given 45 minutes to vacate the harbor before demolition charges blew. And its engines wouldn’t start. UDT members and the crew thought Hoquiam would go up with the harbor installations. Fortunately a sea-going tug pulled the ship out of harm’s way. It was another close shave. Hoquiam was awarded five battle stars for her service during the Korean War.

                After Korea he built pipelines in Alaska and Canada. His work with Phillips and Fluor and his own company took him all around the world. Mooney lived in Venezuela near the Dutch islands of Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire. He helped build a carbon black plant in Guanajuato, Mexico. He built refineries in Spain. He built cryogenic natural gas capture installations in Borneo.

His civilian work put him in harm’s way as well.  Fluor sent him to assist in a refinery retrofit in Iran, shortly before the Shah abdicated. He worked near Teheran, and then at refinery in Isfahan. After the Shah left Iran to be treated for cancer, Mooney was able to get his family out. He went back to Iran to finish the job. The Ayatollah Khomeini came to power and shortly afterward, the American Embassy staff was captured and held for 440 days. Near Fluor’s worksite at Isfahad were men from a German company building a cement plant. Somehow obtaining German passports and intermingling with the Germans, the Americans with Fluor headed to the Teheran airport. Photos on the German passports looked vaguely similar to the Americans using them. Pretending to be leaving for a short leave, the Americans, intermingled with and emulated their German counterparts, took only small carryon luggage.  Mooney is proud to say that “nothing worked [at the Iranian facility being upgraded] when we left!”

Mooney’s life has been incredibly interesting and full as you can tell. He has combined an analytical mind with a can-do attitude. There isn’t much he hasn’t built or improved on through the years. He has raced BSA motorcycles, built dune buggies to race on the sanddunes of the Coro Peninsula in Venezuela, and was a licensed ham radio operator. While working in Borneo, Faye contacted him about buying a place to live in Caldwell County where two of her sisters lived. They bought much of downtown McMahan. While he continued to work overseas, Caldwell County became ‘home base.’ Finally retiring for the third and final time in 1993, Mooney settled down to enjoy life. Folks in the McMahan area afforded Mooney and his family many years of happiness and friendship. Selling his property in 2003, he and Francis moved to the Texas Gulf Coast. As he says, “The fishing was great!” Mooney lost his life-partner in 2011 and moved back to Lockhart, to be closer to some of his family.

Mooney is understandably extremely proud of his ship’s role in World War II. He is also proud of America’s efforts in World War II and Korea. He relishes his wonderful friends and family. He has had a wonderful life.

 

DANIEL ROYSTON ‘JACK’ CHAMBERLAIN

  CHAMBERLAIN JACK CLASS 41F KELLY FIELD CROPPED CHAMBERLAIN JACK CLASS 41F KELLY FIELD CHAMBERLAIN LETTER 1 CHAMBERLAIN LETTER 2 CHAMBERLAIN LETTER 3 CHAMBERLAIN LETTER 4 CHAMBERLAIN LETTER 6 CHAMBERLAIN LETTER 7

DANIEL ROYSTON “JACK” CHAMBERLAIN

Jack Chamberlain was the son and oldest child of James (Jim) Chamberlain and Scottie (Royston) Chamberlain of McMahan. He was born on February 5, 1919. His younger siblings were Sarah Irene (1920-1992), James Scott (1923-1986) and Henry Lyndon (1926-1987). Jim Chamberlain ran a general store in McMahan. He would live to the age of 99 and be remembered fondly by many whose families were kept alive by Jim’s generosity during the Great Depression.

After graduating from Lockhart High School Jack became a Fightin’ Texas Aggie. He was a cadet in Headquarters Battery, Second Battalion Coast Artillery. He completed two years of study and then quit and enlisted in the Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet on December 30, 1940. On the date of his enlistment he stood 5’10” tall and weighed 142 pounds. His basic and primary training took place at the private contractor-run Cal Aero Flight Academy (later Chino Airport, California) and at Goodfellow Field in San Angelo.

His letters home to his mother reflected the natural progression of a young man from pre-war aviation training to a military pilot in a wartime setting. In January of 1941 he wrote from California of a cadet who failed to fasten his seat belt, and who fell out of an open cockpit trainer when it went inverted. Fortunately, the

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

student was wearing a parachute and survived. He mentioned rumors that ‘dodoes’ (apparently the name given new trainees) were going to be washed out at a high rate because of the lack of aircraft. Later than month, he confessed that “the instructors say that according to the law of averages we are past due for some dead cadets.” In that he was most certainly correct. He was allowed to solo with less than four hours of dual instruction. Nonetheless, he survived Basic and Primary training and received his wings on August 15, 1941 at Kelly Field in San Antonio, graduating in Class 41-F. Although he had not graduated from college, Kelly’s class album, “The Gig Sheet,” listed him as a petroleum engineer – probably based on his unfinished studies at A&M.

Jack was transferred to Wheeler Army Airfield on Oahu, Hawaii and assigned to the newly activated 73rd Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group. The Group was part of the Hawaiian Interceptor Command. The squadron aircraft contained obsolete P-36 Hawks as well as the newer P-40. The P-40, soon to be obsolescent, was nonetheless an excellent fighter in the hands of experienced pilots such as the Flying Tigers, and British and Free French flying in North Africa. Jack thrilled at its speed and maneuverability, but he also was one of many who confessed to a healthy fear of its quirks. On November 9, 1941 he wrote, “The more I see a P-40, the more cautious I become when flying it. It has a very vicious and unorthodox spin and it comes out at its own leisure.”

In the ramp-up to World War II Jack met many college mates: “The Aggies must be everywhere, because I see someone I know everywhere I go,” he wrote in early November 1941. Like any proud Aggie, he was elated that the University of Texas had just been beaten by Baylor and hoped for the same result with A&M on Thanksgiving (alas, it was not to be). By now, everyone in the military expected war, but the tone of his letters home still did not possess any sense of urgency or alarm. In another pre-war letter, he told of enrolling in Jiu jets classes, of pistol shooting, and the expectation of aerial gunnery school “in the spring.” He purchased a car for $600.

The casual pace of the military training would change on December 7, 1941.

In a letter dated December 15, 1941 sent by Pan American ‘Clippergram’ (military rate of 6 cents per ½ ounce for first class mail) he explained to a young lady named Doris (whom he was apparently sweet on) that “[w]e were caught with our pants down the morning of Dec 7th and it will not happen again. If the [Japanese] ever come back they will get a very warm welcome. I was awakened by the first bomb that was dropped here and I can assure you that it is best not to have a hangover during a bomb attack. I lost no time in getting out of my room. When they strafed the field with machinegun fire I jumped in a ditch.  I believe I shrank to half of my normal size.”  Jack minimized the damage to Wheeler Field. All 18 of the squadron’s P-36s were destroyed on the ground.  His letter to his mother (presumably a teetotaler) of the same date makes no mention of the hangover. Neither letter described the horror of damage inflicted by sneak attack. CHAMBERLAIN - WHEELER FIELD BOMBING

With the onset of war came a new urgency. And also a request: “I need an insignia for my plane [presumably a P-40 at this stage]. It should be approx. 5 in. in diameter. As a suggestion – a mule kicking up his hind legs.”

Early 1942 was spent in training and air patrols over Hawaii. It appears to have become monotonous.

On June 1, 1942, he mentioned that his friend Mansel Williams had been promoted to first lieutenant at the same time as him (March 1, 1942). Mansel would be killed in Italy in December of 1943 while part of the 36th Division.  Jack’s pay was now $275, a princely sum when coupled with housing and food allowances of $78.  Jack sent money home to assist in Irene’s college expenses.  That month he shipped home two footlockers of civilian clothes. They were no longer needed.

Shortly after the Battle of Midway, Jack’s squadron was transported to Midway Island and on June 22, 1942 flew off the deck of the USS Saratoga for a two-month rotation on the island, relieving a battered Marine combat squadron. It then rotated back to Oahu. While on Midway, he expressed his opinion of younger brother James’ desire to join the Navy: “I’m agin it.”

Jack volunteered for a new squadron, the 6th Night Fighter CHAMBERLAIN -Douglas_P-70_in_flight__The_first_P-70_061024-F-1234P-036Squadron, in late 1942. Rumor abounded as to its ultimate assignment. And during this time, Doris found another beau. Like so many young men, he apparently received a “Dear John” letter. He inquired of Scottie if she knew what had happened.

He was killed on January 29, 1943. He had been promoted to captain a few weeks before his death. The accident report (#16268) contains little information. Oddly, it does not even identify the type of aircraft Jack piloted:

CHAMBERLAIN ACC REPORT EXCERPT

The Entirety of the Investigation

Research indicates that Jack and Sergeant Jacobson were flying a variant of the A-20 Havoc designed as a night fighter, designated P-70 Nighthawk with a two man crew. A shipment of P-70s had been received by the squadron in September of 1942. Jack and Sgt. Jacobson went up to check on an unidentified object in the waters near Pearl Harbor and lost control, crashing and exploding off Oahu. Jack is memorialized on Wall C, Tablets of the Missing, in the National Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) on Oahu, Hawaii. He had not reached his 24th birthday.

CHAMBERLAIN JACK - TABLETS OF MISSING OAHU

 

Inscription-Tablets of the Missing

Scottie’s last letter to her son, dated January 22, 1943 was never received. It was returned to her by the War Department, marked “Killed in Action.”

CHAMBERLAIN - MOM'S LAST LETTER - NOT RECEIVED

Scottie’s Last Letter To Her Son

DUKE CUMMINGS

CUMMINGS DUKE

Duke D. Cummings is inexplicably left off the official listing of men and women from Caldwell County who died in WWII. It may be that he had moved off briefly to California. Nonetheless, he is most definitely one of our own. Duke was born in Port Aransas but spent most of his school years in Luling. He was a star football player on the Eagle squad. His father Newton Cummings was a teamster in the oil patch. His mother was Elva Lynn Duke, who was living in Grayson County, Texas when she met and married Newton Cummings. Duke’s first name was apparently in honor of his mother’s family. The family moved around. His younger sister, Val Jean, was born in Erath County in 1927. In 1930, the family was living at 167 Rife Street, Aransas Pass. Between 1930 and 1935, his parents divorced. His father, Newton S. Cummings, was a teamster, and would eventually move up to central Texas. Duke was raised by his mother in Luling. Elva Lynn remarried in 1942, moving to Texarkana, Arkansas.

After high school, he attended Seguin Lutheran College (now Texas Lutheran University) for two years. According to his high school classmate, Dr. Tom Matthews, Duke moved to California to work in the defense industry. He enlisted the Army Air Corps on November 1, 1941 at Ft. Sam Houston. In all probability, he was told he would be called up when a slot opened. The 1942 Paso Robles phone book still showed Duke living at 629 Osos Street, with a listed occupation as a ‘warehouseman.’

Sometime in 1942, Duke was called up. After successfully completing primary and basic flight training, he was sent to Geiger Field in Spokane, Washington, and graduated with a co-pilot designation on the B-17 four-engine bomber. He was assigned to the 301st Bombardment Group’s 353rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy). Part of the U.S. Twelfth Force, the Group and its four squadrons were based in North Africa. Extensive bombing raids were made over the island of Sicily as part of the Allied attempt at strangling Axis supply lines to North Africa (Operation Flax) and in anticipation of the invasion of the island. The B-17 was one of one of the US Army Air Corps’ most prolific bombers. However, despite its designation as a ‘Flying Fortress’ is could prove easy prey to enemy fighters, unless properly escorted. In early 1943, this often was not the case.

On April 13, 1943, his ship was piloted by 1st Lt. Jerry E. Thomas. It took off from its base at St. Donat, Algeria on a bombing raid against airfields at Castelvetrano, Sicily. After turning back toward North Africa, it was attacked by German aircraft. The plane went down in the

CUMMINGS EMBLEM

353rd Bombardment Squadron Emblem  

 waters ten miles west of Cape Granitola, Sicily. As Dr. Matthews says, “It was wartime. No one had time to look for survivors.”

Missing Air Crew Report 16302, declassified in 1982, shows just how little effort was made, and possibly how little effort could have been made, to ascertain the exact circumstances of B-17, Aircraft Number 41-24394’s disappearance. Five pages, mostly blank, with a few blanks filled in on a pre-printed form, are all that memorialize the deaths of a crew of ten. “Failed to return from a mission over Castelvetrano, Italy,” is all that is said.

The Luling Newsboy was hopeful. “It is entirely possible that Lieut. Cummings has bailed out of his damaged plane somewhere in the African wastes – again, he may be a prisoner of the enemy. Luling has already experienced several instances of our sons reported ‘Missing In Action’ who turned up later, and it is the fervent hope of every soul of this community that such are the circumstances now.”

Elva received a letter from Duke’s tent-mate, Lt. William Benson. Benson wrote:

The plane of which Lt. Cummings was a crew member was damaged, but not badly, but practically all of the crew got clear and parachuted to safety, though in enemy territory. I believe he is safe, but a prisoner of war, for I took particular notice to look where the             

CUMMINGS BOMB GROUP

 

 A 301st Bomb Group B-17 – North Africa

 parachutists came from and although I was flying some distance ahead of his damaged plane, I am nearly certain he got clear…

It was not to be. By letter dated April 14, 1944, the War Department notified his mother at her rented house on North Oak Street in Luling that a year had passed, and there was no more hope. She was told that the War Department “must terminate such absence by a presumptive finding of death.”

            The plane and crew were never found. Duke’s name is memorialized at an American Cemetery in Italy.

Duke Cummings was twenty-one years old.

CUMMMINGS TABLETS

 

Tablets of the Missing, Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, Nettuno, Italy

JOSEPH BENNETT COOPWOOD

COOPWOOD JOE COLOR 1

JOSEPH BENNETT COOPWOOD

by Todd Blomerth

The December 9, 1943 edition of the Lockhart Post Register read “MAJ. JOE COOPWOOD KILLED IN ACTION.” This was a tragic day for Lockhart, because Joe was one of the town’s most beloved citizens. Because of his unique background, training, and service to his community, Coopwood’s death dealt a tremendous blow to the  Caldwell County community.
Major Joseph Bennett Coopwood was the regimental surgeon for the 141st Infantry Regiment of the 36th “Texas” Infantry Division. He was born in Lockhart on March 7, 1907. His mother was Eva Putnam Coopwood and his father was Dr. Thomas Benton Coopwood. Joe was destined to follow in his dad’s footsteps. He graduated from Lockhart High School, then spent one year at the Virginia Military Academy before enrolling at the University of Texas for two years. He then attended Baylor University College of Medicine and received his Doctor of Medicine in 1930. At the same time he was commissioned into the Medical Officers Reserve Corps. He interned in San Antonio and did his residency at the Cumberland Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. He then came home to set up his medical practice. On December 19, 1936 he married Kate (“Tiny”) Ellis Lipscomb. They would have two children, Tommy and Kate. A devout Methodist, he served on Lockhart’s First Methodist Church Board of Stewards. He was also a Mason.

At DeRidder, La. In 1940 141st Reg't Medical Detachment -Lockhart 1941
At DeRidder, La. In 1940     141st Reg’t Medical Detachment -Lockhart 1941

He was one of the organizers of the 141st Infantry Medical Detachment, which had its armory in Lockhart. When the 36th Division was nationalized in November 1940, he quickly rose through the ranks, and on December 24, 1941 was promoted to major. The Division went into training at Brownwood, Texas and later in Florida. Some of the medical detachment trained in Colorado and were loading a bus for their first ski trip, sponsored by the local chamber of commerce, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The ski trip never happened, and for many of the detachment there would never be another opportunity.
In early 1943, the division was sent to Massachusetts, and then shipped to North Africa for further training. Loading on ships at the port of Oran, it then became part of the most controversial front in the European Theater – the attack on the Italian mainland. Labeled by Winston Churchill as the “soft underbelly” of the Axis powers, the invasion took place near the port of Salerno, approximately one quarter of the way up the west coast, and south of the city of Naples. In describing Italy, author Rick Atkinson stated it was “eight hundred miles long, [and] it was the most vertebrate of countries, with a mountainous spine and bony ribs.”
The Americans and British had finally taken the island of Sicily in August of 1943, and the Italian government bowed out of the war soon after. Substantial numbers of troops (and just as importantly, landing craft) were siphoned off in preparation for the 1944 D-Day invasion of France from England. Assuming that the surrender of Italy would allow the Americans to ‘walk in’, Allied planners gave little thought to what would happen if the Germans chose to defend Italy in spite of the Italians, which they immediately set about preparing to do.
To make matters worse, British Field Marshal Montgomery had cut off the American axis of advance in Sicily by giving priority to his own troops. In doing so he (and the inaction of Allied air forces and navies) gave the Germans ample time to evacuate over 40,000 troops across the Straights of Messina onto the Italian mainland. American General Omar Bradley would later declare Montgomery’s conduct “the most arrogant, egotistical, selfish and dangerous move in the whole of combined operations in World War II.”
This mistake would have deadly repercussions for the Allies at Salerno. Landing without preparatory naval bombardment, the 36th Division’s regiments were cut to ribbons. The 36th’s commander, General Walker stated the 36th lost 250 men killed in one half day defending the beachhead! There were so many dead that, in the words of an Army engineer, “They’ve placed the graveyard, the latrines and the kitchen all in the same area for the convenience of the flies.”
Dr. Coopwood was one of the medical personnel working on Red Beach. “The evacuation hospital near Red Beach was so overcrowded that many patients lay “along the walls of the tents with their heads inside and their bodies outside.”
As regimental surgeon, Dr. Coopwood saw every conceivable way a man could be killed or wounded. For many, the only treatment was morphine to ease their dying, with an “M” printed on their foreheads with iodine.
On Sicily, famed correspondent Ernie Pyle wrote “Dying men were brought into our tent, men whose death rattle silenced the conversation and made all of us thoughtful.” He saw that a trench outside the surgical tent was “filled with bloody shirt sleeves and pant legs the surgeons had snipped off wounded men.” He remembered one dying man in particular:

The dying man was left utterly alone, just lying there on his litter on the ground, lying in an aisle, because the tent was full…. The aloneness ofthat man as he went through the last minutes of his life was what tormented me.

Salerno would be as bad. Italy would be worse.

While the Salerno beachhead was in grave peril, Montgomery (whose troops had landed in the boot of Italy even though everyone knew there were virtually no German troops there) slowly moved northward, ignoring desperate pleas from the troops at Salerno.
After the botched landings at Salerno, German Field Marshal “Smiling” Albert Kesselring, a defensive genius, withdrew his troops to a series of defenses dubbed the Winter Line. The 36th Division’s official history tells of the German delaying action across the whole of Italy. The 36th was given a brief respite then moved back into the lines. “It rained the November night the 36th moved up to re-enter the line near Mignano, where Highway 6 and a main railway cut through a narrow pass into the Liri Valley running north toward Rome.” Rain, mud, cold, artillery, snipers, and incomprehensible orders to take hills that hid German fortifications were the order of the day.
On November 15, 1943, the division moved into the Camino Maggieore hill mass guarding the Mignano Gap. Rains turned the mountainous terrain into a horror. What donkeys and mules not already requisitioned by the retreating Germans were dragooned into service. Where donkeys couldn’t go, supplies were carried by hand.
One of Doctor Coopwood’s section sergeants was McMahan’s Curtis Owen. Sergeant Owen ran the 141st Regiment’s second battalion aid station near the front. It wasn’t necessary for regimental surgeons to visit these aid stations – there was enough to do elsewhere, and the risk of being killed increased dramatically the closer to the front. In fact, according to Owen, he never saw any other regimental surgeon do it. But, said Owen, “Major Coopwood wasn’t like other doctors. He came up and checked on us every other day. He had a high regard for his people.” Owen said that the last words he heard from Major Coopwood were, “I’ll see you day after tomorrow.” Coopwood never came back. He was killed the next day by a long range artillery round that struck his jeep. In all probability his death could have been avoided. When the Italians surrendered, some units came over to the Allied side. Bivouacked near the 141st Regiment’s headquarters, they exhibited poor camouflage practice. More than likely they were seen by German spotter aircraft and the area then targeted. He was killed on November 21, 1943. He was 36 years old.
His death disheartened those who knew him. Curtis Owen had joined the Medical Detachment in Lockhart in 1940 out of respect for Dr. Coopwood: “He was a father figure to us. He had taken country boys and made soldiers out of all of us.” Lockhart’s Stanley Balser was his driver. He suffered from chronic asthma that had flared up the morning of November 21st, requiring him to report to sick call. Until the day he died, he often questioned why he lived and the man he so admired died.

Dr. Coopwood’s death hit hard. The The Coopwood house faced that of Peck and Martha Westmoreland on Lockhart’s Maple Street. Peck, a pharmacist was home eating lunch with Martha when he saw Western Union auto drive up to the Coopwood house. Peck later told his son Brad that he never felt so sick in his life, because he knew what the telegraph company’s messenger’s appearance meant.
Harry Hilgers, then attending Lockhart High School recalled news of the death being “received like a bombshell in the student body.”
Major Coopwood was buried in Italy. After the War, his body was disinterred and brought home to Texas. All businesses in the city were closed from 3:30 to 5:30 on October 1, 1948, as last rites were held at McCurdy’s Funeral Home. American Legion Post 41 members assisted in the ceremonies there, and at the Lockhart Cemetery, where he was laid to rest. His funeral was not just a local event. George Ohlendorf, then a young boy, lived on a farm near Polonia, north of Lockhart. He watched buses and cars carrying 36th Division veterans to the last rites streamed south out of Austin. An Honor Guard, with men from as far away as Lampasas, consisted in part of men he had commanded in the 141st Infantry Regiment’s medical units. Curtis Own represented the McMahan community. A caduceus made of mums “from the boys in the Medical Detachment who served overseas with him” decorated the chapel, in the words of the Post Register. His casket bearers included Stanley Balser and Wesley Dalton.

In one of the memorials subsequent to his death, the Lockhart Business Men’s Club stated, “His civilian and professional life made of him a good citizen. The when, where and how he died makes him a patriot. Such a man could be nothing less than a good husband, and one worthy of the name father.”
Mrs. Coopwood never remarried. She retired as a schoolteacher, as did her daughter. Joe Coopwood’s son Tom became a physician. His grandchildren included three physicians and a nurse.

COOPWOOD HEADSTONE

 

 

 

 

 

(Much thanks to Dr. Tom Coopwood for providing his dad’s photo)
(Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle provided much information on Sicily and Salerno)

POSTSCRIPT: Brad Westmoreland called after reading the article. His mother and father lived across from Dr. Coopwood on Maple Street. They were eating lunch when Western Union drove up. Peck told his son Brad that he never felt so sick in his life at what he knew he was going on across the street.

POSTSCRIPT: An email from Harry Hilgers:
Todd: I have read almost every book and article written about WWII and have added my own experiences to that and found your article in the Post Register as the most riveting story I have read. I was a student at LHS when the news came about Major Coopwood and in a class with his sister, Julia, who was my instructor in Spanish class. The news was received as a bombshell in the student body which met once per week in Adams Gymn to hear the latest news from the front. There was a large flag mounted by the stage with blue stars for every veteran serving and gold stars for those who were killed in action. It was a vivid and sad reminder to all of us of how close we were to being included in the casualties. Major Coopwood was, because of his background, his family history, and his achievement something akin to Sir Galahad of King Arthur’s Court so that his death was keenly felt by all. His picture can be seen in the foyer at the Legion. You have a gift as a writer of keeping the reader’s interest at a very high level and this article was, perhaps, your best example of that talent. Keep those articles coming. Harry

POSTSCRIPT: Discussion with George Ohlendorf on 7-1-13
As a child living near the Rogers Ranch, he can remember Dr. Coopwood’s funeral in Lockhart because of the many busloads of 36th Division veterans that attended from Austin.

POST SCRIPT
A wonderful tribute and you made a fine Dr. Joe! I will put these with my early years memory treasures.
(From ‘Tiny’ Singleton who I contacted on Walton Copeland in March of 2014)

JAMES ‘MACK’ CONNOLLY JR.

CONNOLLY MACK LPR PHOTO 10-45 #2                                        JAMES EDWARD “MACK” CONNOLLY JR.
Page One of the Post Register of May 8, 1945 announced boldly, WAR IN EUROPE ENDS; VE DAY SOLEMN DAY IN LOCKHART. In part this was because information had just been received that Lt. Mack Connolly, son of Mr. and Mrs. J.E. Connolly Sr., had been killed in Germany.
“The effect of the news on Lockhart people was depressing in the extreme. It was passed from one to another in whispers or low tones. Another son, one of the flowers of Lockhart manhood, gives his life in the cause of Freedom just as the day of Liberty is dawning over the world.”
Mack was the son of James Edward Sr. and Jessie Mary (McMillan) Connolly. He was the older brother by eight years to Dr. J. Tom Connolly. The family lived at 617 S. Brazos in Lockhart. He was born on May 15, 1924. Mack’s circle of friends included Herbert (Herb) Reid Jr., Fleetwood Richards, and Forrest (Jack) Wilson. All played football on the high school team. In the words of Jack Wilson, “Mack was the best guy in the world.” He recalled Mack’s mother would feed some of the team steaks every Friday night, Mack and his friends adored her. Mack graduated from Lockhart High School in 1942, and enrolled at Texas A&M. Leaving school to enlist, he later became an officer.
In late July 1944 while home on leave, he attended a Business Men’s Club luncheon where the topic of post-war use of government built tanks for stock water was discussed. The newspaper’s playful report of the lunch noted that “Lt. Mac[k] Connolly was called on to state what he wanted. He replied that at present he was just trying to learn enough to be able to get back when the war was over.”
Mack married Mariellyn (“Dink”) Andrews on September 23, 1944 at Fort Sill Oklahoma. The Connolly family and Mack’s bride-to-be traveled together from Texas so that all could attend the wedding.
CONNOLLY 33rd_Armor_Regiment_(insignia) At some point Mack was assigned to Company I, 33rd Cavalry Regiment of the 3rd Armored Division. The 33rd Cavalry’s unit nickname was “Men of War.” It was richly deserved. Described as part of the “massive tank battering ram which made the 3rd Armored Division famous,” its M4 Sherman tanks had a splendid combat record. However, the M4 Sherman also had a reputation as a crew killer, because of its tendency to explode if taking a direct hit. Its nickname was the “Ronson” (a cigarette lighter that was guaranteed to “light up the first time”).

Mack was one of the many replacement officers and men inserted as the attrition of constant CONNOLLY - 33RD M4 SHERMAN WW2combat across Europe served as a meat grinder on Allied forces pushing the Germans back into the Fatherland. The unit had fought across France’s hedgerows reaching Belgium in September 1944. The Division was part of the northern ‘neck’ that held, then closed on the Germans during the winter Battle of the Bulge. It swept into Cologne in March of 1945 and then crossed the Saale River speeding toward the agreed meet-up point with the Russians on the Elbe River. On April 11, 1945 it freed the survivors of the horrific concentration camp of Dora-Mittlebau.
As the war wound down, and with Germany’s surrender clearly in sight, many families were tortured by the possibility that a loved one would be killed with the war practically over. Certainly the Connolly family and Mack’s bride must have feared that.
On the Western Front, German soldiers were surrendering by the thousands. Many were fleeing the Russian advance on the Eastern Front, seeking to escape the tender mercies the expected retribution exacted by the Soviet Union would offer, either by summary execution or slow death in the Gulag. The Wehrmacht, the German regular army, was crumbling, as its manpower and command structure ebbed away – regular army soldiers knew to expect humane treatment as prisoners of the French, British or Americans. The only units still offering any real resistance to the western Allies were SS units, and Hitler Youth – both imbued with a fanaticism that transcended the reality of Germany’s impending defeat. Many of these units had panzerfausts – shoulder mounted single shot anti-armor weapons that were very effective.
The 33rd’s final action was an intense battle to take the German city of Dessau. Mack was killed in that battle on April 14, 1945. Notice of his death came four days before VE Day. In October 1945, he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the Armed Forces’ third highest award for valor. His wife accepted the award on Mack’s behalf in a solemn ceremony at Camp Swift. The citation reads as follows:

Lt. Connolly was leading his platoon of tanks in the vicinity of Dessau, Germany, when the tank in front of his was hit and disabled by bazooka fire. Although he was without infantry support and he was in the face of well emplaced bazooka teams, he went forward with total disregard for his safety in order to enable the crew of the disabled vehicle to withdraw. His tank was also hit and he was killed. Lt. Connolly’s courage and devotion to duty reflect the highest of credit upon himself and the armed forces of the United States.

Mack died one month before his 21st birthday.

Mack’s body was eventually returned home. Final rites were held at his parents’ home at 617 S. Blanco on February 2, 1949. Pallbearers were his boyhood frineds, Jack Wilson, Fleetwood Richards, Herb Reid, Newton (Doc) Wilson, Jesse Burditt, Tom Burditt, and George (Bubba) Chapman. After the reciting of the 23rd Psalm, he was buried in the Lockhart Cemetery.
Dink later married Herb Reid, Mack’s boyhood friend. She passed away in 2002.

CONNOLLY - HEADSTONE LOCKHART

GEORGE ZALESKI

GEORGE ZALESKI
By Todd Blomerth
George was the son of Joe and Anatolia (Urbanski) Zaleski. George was born on February 21, 1932 in the Polonia Community, north of Lockhart. He was the fourth of five children. The others were Lillian, Jim, George, and Johnnie.
The Polonia community was settled by Polish immigrants in the 1880s. At one time the small community boasted two schools, Sacred Heart Catholic Church (razed in 1939), the Levandowski cotton gin, a blacksmith shop, and a general store. The Polonia area did not have electricity until 1948, when the Rural Electric Administration, at the urging of Lyndon Johnson, brought power lines into the area.
The family spoke Polish in the home as the boys were growing up. School attendance was not seen as a major priority – the family was farming, and putting food on the table was of paramount importance. George attended school only through the sixth grade at a rural school in Polonia north of Lockhart. That school would be consolidated with Lockhart in 1949. The boys’ diversions usually involved swimming in the nearby creek.
George en
George enlisted in the U.S. Army, and after Infantry Basic Training he also completed Airborne training at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Eventually he was assigned to the 27th Infantry Regiment (“The Wolfhounds”) of the 25th Infantry Division. The 25th Infantry Division had been in Korea since 1950. This was (and is) a proud unit. Its lightning bolt imposed over a taro leaf shoulder patch reflects its Hawaiian heritage. Before World War II, it was known as the Hawaiian Division and its home was Oahu’s Schofield Barracks. It saw action at Guadalcanal, the Philippines and elsewhere during the Pacific Campaign. It was hurriedly deployed to the Korean Peninsula, and helped defend the Pusan perimeter, then fought along the Iron Triangle in 1951. Subsequently its main duties were defending the many defensive line’s fortifications along the UN’s Main Line of Resistance.
On July 8, 1951, truce talks began at Kaesong. The process was glacial, and the North Koreans periodically walked away from the table. The front was stabilized, but vicious fighting continued. United Nations forces were compelled to go on the offense to de-stabilize huge build ups of People’s Republic of China (PRC, or communist Chinese) and North Korean weaponry and personnel, and to compel the communists to return to the negotiating table. Personal histories later found indicated that the communists eventually became desperate and dispirited. As the grind of outpost warfare went on, one NKPA general’s captured correspondence showed his frustration with the UN’s willingness and ability to keep providing men and weaponry to the South.
The USSR’s Joseph Stalin’s death on March 2, 1953 proved a game changer for the Korean and Chinese communists (NKPA and PRC). The ensuing power struggle and change of focus meant that the USSR would no longer continue to supply the NKPA and Chinese with weaponry and supplies. On April 26, 1953 the stalled armistice negotiations resumed. Despite this, heavy fighting flared along the Main Line of Resistance (MLR), as the NKPA and PRC tried to improve their positions. The last major attacks by the communists were mostly aimed at ROK positions, as the South Korean strongman Sygman Rhee’s continued voicing of his opposition to a divided Korean peninsula.
The 25th Infantry Division was tasked with defending the South Korean capital of Seoul when the last communist attempt at breaking the UN line north of Seoul began in May, 1953. It front was on the extreme left of the UN front, near Munsan-ni. Very strong attacks were directed against the South Korean capital, but were turned back.
PFC Zaleski was killed north of Seoul on May 14, 1953. On June 8, 1953 the warring parties reached an agreement on repatriation of prisoners of war. On July 19, 1953, a truce agreement was reached and was signed on July 27, 1953. With losses in the millions, the North Koreans lost 1500 square miles of territory.

The Final Truce Line – July 1953 (map by Ernie Holden)

George is buried next to his mother and father in the Polonia Cemetery. George was twenty-one years old.

(Polonia schoolhouse photo appeared in Caldwell County Genealogical Society’s Plum Creek Almanac Vol. 32, No. 2, Fall 2014)

JAMES RAY JANCA

JAMES RAY JANCA
By Todd Blomerth
James Ray Janca was born in Luling, Texas on October 3, 1931. His father was John Joseph (J.J.) Janca, and his mother was Margaret August (Nied) Janca. He was the third child of the couple. Joseph Edward and Dorothy Margaret were his older siblings. His younger brother was John David (Bubba). J.J. and Margaret were of Moravian and German heritage.
The family lived on the Lockhart Road and later at 321 Walnut Street in Luling. J.J. owned and operated Luling Battery and Electric Company, an auto parts store, for many years. Margaret was active in the Texas Home Demonstration Association. James Ray was to have graduated from Luling High School in 1950. The Aquila has his junior year picture, but there is no senior picture for the Class of 1950. After high school, James Ray enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. After boot camp and advanced training he was assigned to the 1st Marine Division.
In March of 1951, PFC Janca joined up with Company H, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division as a machine gunner. The 1st Division had been fighting in Korea since shortly after the invasion by the North Koreans in August of 1950.
After the United Nations force pushed the North Koreans almost out of their country in the autumn of 1950, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) communist troops, which had been in hiding in North Korea, struck back with a vengeance. The First Marine Division conducted a fighting retreat from the Chosin Reservoir during the misery of the peninsula’s sub-zero winter. Without a doubt it was one of the most seasoned units on the peninsula.
By April of 1951 the US and its allies had been pushed back down in South Korea. After undermining attempts at a negotiated peace, General Douglas MacArthur (who commanded from Tokyo and never spent a night in Korea) was relieved of command by President Truman. General Matthew Ridgway was placed in overall command. His instructions were to stabilize the front lines and stop what had been dubbed an “accordion war.” Chinese and North Korean troops made further advances into the south, but logistically were in trouble and had been badly blooded in trying to recover the initiative and push the United Nations forces out of the Korean peninsula. Their losses were horrific. But their willingness to serve up lives meant that the predominantly US led United Nations troops (which included British, Canadian, Australian, Philippine, Turkish, Republic of Korea, and several other countries’ troops) also took many casualties. The UN established a defensive line roughly along the 38th Parallel, or “Line Kansas.” Then Ridgway initiated Operation “Piledriver” in an attempt to push the communists out of the “Iron Triangle,” just north of the UN main line of resistance in the center of the peninsula, and move north some twelve miles to “Line Wyoming.” The communist Chinese and North Koreans had built up substantial strength here, and had decent rail and road lines into the area. An anticipated strike by the communists would rely on this area’s resources and had to be hit hard. Line Wyoming would afford better defensive positions, and put the UN in a better position to force a truce. Meanwhile to the west, communist forces launched an all-out “Spring Offensive,” pushing the UN forces back toward the South Korean capital of Seoul, which the UN had just liberated in March. The enemy drove south almost twenty miles, until on May 21, 1951, the UN counterattacked and drove the communists back to the 38th Parallel.
The 1st Marine Division continued to attack northward into the Iron Triangle. The Division’s Historical Diary for June 13, 1951 (declassified) reads:
1st Marines: On 13 June, the Regiment attacked on the right in zone to seize and secure Division Objective DOG…. After a heavy artillery preparation, the 3rd Battalion jumped off for Division Objective DOG at 0800K. Regimental Objective 1 was secured without enemy opposition, at 0814K. Following an air strike the Battalion continued the attack on Objective 2, Hill 787. Heavy small arms, and automatic weapons fire was received as the troops assaulted ridge-line 700.Hill 787 was taken by hand to hand fighting at 1055K, and the enemy withdrew toward DT1229-B…. Heavy mortar and 76mm artillery fire was received during the Regiment’s attack throughout the day.
Somewhere in this fighting, near the southern edge of an area dubbed “The Punchbowl,” James Ray Janca was killed, probably by artillery fire.
American forces captured the North Korean capital of Pyongyang on June 14th, but were pushed back three days later. The destruction of many of the strongest communist defenses in the Iron Triangle, and the air interdiction of communist supply lines finally forced the beginning of truce talks on July 10, 1951. For the next two years, fighting would continue along the 38th Parallel.
When news of his death hit Luling, flags were lowered to half-staff. James was brought home and is buried in the Luling Cemetery. On July 29, 1951, a groundbreaking took place on West Houston Street for Luling’s first low-income housing project. The thirty residences were officially designated “James Ray Janca Homes” in his memory. The dedication was sponsored by the Benton McCarley Post 177, American Legion. In attendance were city and county officials, the project’s manager and architect and Ms. Joyce Rutledge, the first Luling Housing Authority executive director.
On October 17, 1951 J.J. applied for a military headstone for his son’s grave. It now rests over his grave. PFC James Ray Janca was nineteen years old.

Acknowledgement: The author owes much to Paul I Gulick’s monograph “How Company, Third Battalion, First Marine Division” revised 2008, http://koreanwareducator.org/topics/branch_accounts/marine/h31_marines_in_korea_part_1.pdf for his exhaustive compilation of daily reports and oral histories that gives a vivid understanding of How Company’s daily dance with death on the Korean Peninsula.
(Historical aside: 1951 was a period of segregation, sadly. The same day that James Ray Janca’s name was memorialized on thirty low-income residences, the Latin American units, ten total, were dedicated to an Hispanic soldier from Luling, Gilbert Gutierrez, killed in World War II. The African-American housing units were named in honor of Willie Lovell Wade, a black sailor who went down with the aircraft carrier Wasp in 1942.)

KENNETH R. BRIDGES

      BRIDGES - GOOD PIC

KENNETH R. BRIDGES

Kenneth R. Bridges was the son of Roy L. and Nora (McGraw) Bridges. He had one sister, Lurline, born in 1917 in Luling. Kenneth was born in Wharton on August 23, 1918. By 1920 the family had moved to Orange County, apparently to be with Nora’s widowed mother, but returned to the Luling area by 1930 living across the river in Guadalupe County.  Kenneth attended schools in Luling, and graduated from Luling High School in 1936. He then moved to Houston, where he enrolled in a business college.  In 1940 he was living with nine other lodgers in a boarding house on Fannin Street in Houston. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps on April 11, 1942 in Houston. The enlistment records showed him to be married, but there is no mention of any such relationship in any news reports, nor family histories.

Flight training took Kenneth to several airfields, from South Carolina to California. He received his pilot’s wings and commission, and was shipped to the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater on February 5, 1944.  He was assigned to the 491st Bombardment Squadron, of the 341st Bombardment Group. The unit had just transitioned from India to China and assignment to General Clair Chennault’s 14th Air Force. The 14th Air Force headquarters was in the city of Kunming, but the Group was scattered around the area in auxiliary fields, such as the one at Yankai. Flying in China and Indo-China was a challenge in the best of times. Little or no navigation aids, poor landing fields, poor maps, and sudden weather changes challenged the best of pilots and crew. Japanese advances in 1944, and heavily defended bombing targets added to the danger. There was no glamour in the CBI. Mud, rain, lousy food, primitive living conditions and malaria were just a few of its charms. One NCO’s memoirs notes that “menus at the squadron mess halls were concoctions of anything that could be derived from rice, eggs, onions, local vegetables, water buffalo, tea, rice-flour bread and water. Army K-Rations were classified as dessert.”

The 491st Bombardment Squadron of the 341st Bombardment Group was equipped with twin engine B-25 Mitchell medium bombers. The primary objective of the mediums was the interdiction of Japanese rail traffic in China, French Indo-China, and Burma. Bridges were extremely difficult targets, located in valleys or canyons, and protected by anti-aircraft of many calibers. The success rate on these targets was initially very low. After experimentation, in December of 1944 the Americans perfected what they called “glip” bombing, which increased the success rate substantially. A Group history describes ‘glip’ bombing:

      It consisted essentially of a double or multiple glide approach, first a steep glide followed by a shallow glide.   The pilot approaches the target bridge along its longitudinal axis at an altitude of 1000-1200 feet.   When approximately 2000 feet from the target, he goes into a 30-35 degree glide, building up speed of 260-280 mph.   In this glide the pilot aims 50 feet in from of the target and continues to glide to an altitude of about 450 feet.   At this point the glide is abruptly decreased to 15-20 degrees.   While in this shallow glide the modified gun sight (N-6 or similar one) is lined up with the aiming point on the bridge.   The gun sight is preset before approaching the target area.   The angle set into the sight is that obtained from skip-bombing tables, with a correction for the angle of glide.   Bomb release is from an altitude of about 150 feet.

Glip Path
Glip Path

This approach increased the accuracy at destroying Japanese targets appreciably, and it was adopted by many of the 14th Air Force units. But bombing successes notwithstanding, running a gauntlet of anti-aircraft fire at 150 feet off the deck was incredibly dangerous.  If a bomber was hit, the chances of its crew surviving were very low. Despite this, Kenneth quickly made a name for himself. On November 22, 1944 he received the Distinguished Flying Cross.  Squadron records show numerous low level raids on heavily defended targets by his B-25 and others.

On January 19, 1945, four B-25s, each loaded with two 1000 pound bombs, took off from Yankai, China at 9:50 a.m. First Lieutenant Bridges was flight leader. The target was a railroad and highway bridge at Song Cau, (near Hanoi in what is now Vietnam).  After bombing the bridge, the Mitchells continued strafing railroad yards and rolling stock, destroying two locomotives, 23 railroad cars and a large sampan.

BRIDGES - one of his crews including White
Bridges (top left) with one of his crews including bombardier Lt. Arthur J. White (top rt.)
B-25 Mitchell Medium Bomber
B-25 Mitchell Medium Bomber

The raid came at a price. The bombardier, Lt. Arthur J. White, wrote a long letter to Kenneth’s mom on March 29, 1945. It was reprinted in the Newsboy the following week. He recounted how  Lt. Bridges’ B-25 was riddled with bullets as it turned from a bomb run. One of the five man crew was shot through the leg. The right engine was also hit and disabled. Bridges turned the plane toward friendly territory, because, in White’s words, “Our only hope was that we would get out of Japanese territory before we had to bail out.” The plane struggled on one engine, and couldn’t hold altitude. Flying up a river valley, it could not climb mountains on either side, and when the river took a sudden turn it couldn’t handle the maneuvering required. There was no choice for Bridges but to order his crew to parachute. He held the plane steady and the five crew members jumped at 800 feet. By that time, it was too late for Bridges. The plane crashed into the side of a mountain, killing him instantly.

                 White was devastated by his friend’s death. “I made arrangements with the Chinese to put him in a coffin and to transport him back to the nearest American base.”

The February 16, 1945 Luling Newsboy reported that the family had just received notice that Kenneth was missing.  His death was disclosed shortly thereafter. White’s letter to the family reflected his deep friendship and respect for Bridges. “His death was a severe blow to the whole squadron,” he wrote, “as he was one of the nicest persons in it and was very popular. He would have been promoted to the rank of captain on the First of February. He deserved it.” (Lt Bridges received his promotion posthumously). On May 6, 1945 a memorial service was held at Central Baptist Church.

Kenneth received the Silver Star at some point in his time in China. It is not clear when, but in all probability it was awarded posthumously for the bravery and leadership he showed in keeping his plane aloft long enough for his crew to bail out. And they all survived.

Eventually, Bridges’ body was returned to U.S. soil. His remains were temporarily kept at Schofield Barracks Mausoleum, and in 1949 re-interred in Section C, Site 278, National Memorial of the Pacific (Punchbowl) in Hawaii. Kenneth was 26 years old when he died.

BRIDGES - HEADSTONE PUNCHBOWL

McKay Nelson Cover Page
McKay Nelson Cover Page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BRIDGES - McKay's Diary of a Bomb Squadron p 1 (1)BRIDGES - McKay's Diary of a Bomb Squadron p 2BRIDGES - McKay's Diary of a Bomb Squadron p 3BRIDGES - McKay's Diary of a Bomb Squadron p 4BRIDGES - McKay's Diary of a Bomb Squadron p 5

 

 

 

GUS “BOOTS” CARDWELL

 

CARDWELL BOOTS a&m STUDENTGUS CALHOUN (BOOTS) CARDWELL

by Todd Blomerth

Gus Calhoun Cardwell went by the nickname “Boots” most of his life. He was the son of Augustus Withers Cardwell and Betty Matthews Caldwell. Betty had been a journalist, working for two San Antonio newspapers, and the society editor for the Forth Worth Record, prior to marrying Augustus (“Gus”) in 1916. Gus was a cattleman. The entire Cardwell family was active in the Presbyterian Church

Boots was born on September 16, 1919. He grew up on Trinity Street, and was next door neighbor to the Kreuz family, whose daughter Jimmie would enlist in World War II as a WAAC. During the summers he would work on one of the Withers’ ranches in South Texas. After graduating from Lockhart High School in 1937 he attended Texas A&M for two and ½ years. Boots was Caldwell County draftee number 395, and was ordered to report for induction on March 18, 1941, according to the Lockhart Post Register. In all likelihood he could have stayed at A&M and gotten a commission. Instead, Boots enlisted in the Army, and after basic training was assigned to the 755th Tank Battalion. The battalion had both light and medium tanks, and Boots was in C Company, which was assigned the “Sherman” medium tank. After training at Camp Bowie in Texas and Ft. Knox, Kentucky, the unit was sent to Indio, California for desert training. The unit was then shipped to North Africa, and then to Italy where it entered combat in December of 1943.

Cardwell's Tank Crew With Nazi Flag - North Africa
Cardwell’s Tank Crew With Nazi Flag – North Africa
Cardwell Tank Crew - 1943
Cardwell Tank Crew – 1943

The Italian campaign had bogged down by the winter of 1943. Mountainous terrain provided the German defenders excellent positions, and the Allied command, divided between the British led Eighth Army and the American led Fifth Army never achieved anything near the cohesiveness and strategic insight to deal with the situation.  By December Allied soldiers were stuck in an array of never ending mountains where brooding peaks held large numbers of well-trained German defenders. Mignano Gap, Rotondo, Sammucro, San Pietro and Cassino became hated names signifying unremitting misery and danger.  Assigned to the 45th Infantry Division, the 755th was in the thankless role of trying to advance tanks against well concealed and defended positions sown with land mines. Defending in a series of lines with names like Winter, Bernhardt and Gustav, the attrition rate among the Allies was horrific. As noted by Rick

Boots in Tanker Gear - Italy - 1944
Boots in Tanker Gear – Italy – 1944
Boots and His Buddy Beyer
Boots and His Buddy Beyer

Atkinson in The Day of Battle, “To cross the seven-mile stretch and pierce the Bernhardt Line had taken the Fifth Army six weeks, at a cost of sixteen thousand casualties.” In January of 1944, the battalion was assigned as support to French Moroccan and Algerian infantry in the French Expeditionary Force. Breaching German defenses entailed bloody fighting and many repulses.  Near Leucio, the after-action report for May 20, 1944 states, “The attack finally got started at 1800 under most adverse conditions. The sun and wind was [sic] against us and the enemy threw in a terrific barrage of artillery. The sun, smoke and dusk made the visibility almost nil. The infantry suffered heavy casualties. The attack withdrew at darkness.” The 755th Tank Battalion took heavy casualties as well.

Light ("Lee") Tank and Medium ("Sherman") Tank - Italy
Light (“Lee”) Tank and Medium (“Sherman”) Tank – Italy

The summary of May’s action contains a litany of complaints about the need for better radio communications, troop coordination, and reconnaissance against hidden anti-tank weapons. But the main complaint reflected what was endemic with all combat units in Italy – the need for better trained replacements, “[T]he trained men lost in combat cannot be replaced, [and] this situation lowers the combat efficiency of the Battalion to a very great extent.”

Despite all this, Boots’ letter home of June 5, 1944 sounded cheerful, as he wrote he was “on the road to Rome.” He told his mom and dad that he was “still doing fine,” that his unit had gotten another campaign ribbon, and that “I hope I don’t get any more.” The next day, General Mark Clark’s 5th Army entered Rome.  Boots wrote younger brother John, congratulating him on his promotion, on June 11, 1944.

Letter To John Cardwell
Letter To John Cardwell
Boots' Letter Home 6-5-1944 (Page 1)
Boots’ Letter Home 6-5-1944 (Page 1)
Boots' Letter Home 6-5-1944 (Page 2)
Boots’ Letter Home 6-5-1944 (Page 2)

Any expectation of a weakening of the German will to fight after the loss of Rome ended quickly.  Pushing northeast, the battalion was hit with intense artillery, anti-tank, and sniper fire.  On June 16, 1944 the battalion’s report states in impersonal military language: “Company C supporting 3 RTA advancing toward CASTAGNAIO… from the South met stiff resistance from artillery and anti-tank fire and lost one tank and two crew members by anti-tank fire vicinity A133715.”

One of the crew members was Boots. His friend from Fentress, Adolphus Beyer, saw him die. “We were advancing toward a German held position,” he wrote in an August, 1944 letter to Boots’ dad, “when Gus’s tank was hit, killing instantly Gus and another and wounding three others. At the time I was outside my tank because it had just thrown a track and from our position could easily see what was going on as his tank was only about two hundred yard’s [sic] to our left.”

Beyers Letter to the Family - page 2 - April 1945

Beyer's Letter to Family - page 3 - August 1944
Beyer’s Letter to Family – page 3 – August 1944

 

 

Tank Battalion After Action Report - Detailing the Mountainous Territory
Tank Battalion After Action Report – Detailing the Mountainous Territory
After Action Report 16 June 1944 Noting Boots' Death
After Action Report 16 June 1944 Noting Boots’ Death

Beyer praised his friend as “a leader of men and had plenty of guts. I say guts because that is what he had. Prior to this he had had one tank knocked from under him and although shaken up a bit went on in performance of his duties. “

Boots never received the last letter sent him.  A “V-mail” missive from a relative in Cotulla, Elfred Wither Dobie, dated June 12th, spoke of the normality that Boots and the rest of those combat yearned for: “We are at the ranch this summer and everything looks fine and just waiting for you boys to come home.” CARDWELL BOOTS LETTER FROM ELFRED DOBIE 4 DAYS BEFORE DEATH

John’s death hit many people hard outside the family. One of his best buddies was Jack Lipscomb. Jack wrote a letter of condolence to the family upon hearing of Boots’ death. Jack would die on Iwo Jima nine months later.

Marine Pvt Jack Lipscomb's Condolence Letter To The Family (Jack would be killed on Iwo Jima
Marine Pvt Jack Lipscomb’s Condolence Letter To The Family (Jack would be killed on Iwo Jima

Boots’ remains were buried “in a nice little cemetery in Italy,” according to Beyer.  In January of 1950 his remains and those of Pvt. James Brundish, the other trooper killed in the tank, were

Beyers Letter to the Family – page 1 – April 1945

reinterred in the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky in a single grave. Boots’ dad Gus Cardwell, sister Betty, younger brother John (who had served in US Marine Squadron VMSB 245 as a Dauntless dive bomber radioman and gunner), along with John’s wife Dolores, attended the ceremony.

Boots Cardwell and James Brundish Joint Headstone
Boots Cardwell and James Brundish Joint Headstone
1997 Letter From John Cardwell Regarding His Brother's Death
1997 Letter From John Cardwell Regarding His Brother’s Death

 

PATRICK MCGREAL ARMSTRONG JR.

ARMSTRONG - PHOTO GIG SHEET

PATRICK MCGREAL ARMSTRONG, JR.

 

Patrick McGreal Armstrong, Jr. was the second child of Patrick Sr. (“Pat”) and Elizabeth Martha (Strong) Armstrong. He was born on March 2, 1920 in Forth Worth, Texas. He had an older sister, Bennie, and four younger siblings, Stephen, Mollie, Margaret, and Churchill. Pat was born in Heidenheimer, near Waco, in 1896 and was in the oil business in some capacity for much of his adult life. As such, he and his family moved often, following the oil plays in various parts of Texas. His World War I draft card showed him to be living at 100 S. Thompson Street, Houston, Texas and working for Texas Supply Company in Beaumont. At the time of Patrick Jr.’s birth, he listed his occupation as a driller. The family lived in Wichita Falls in 1921 when Patrick’s younger brother Stephen was born. In 1923, the family was living in Houston. By 1929 the Armstrong family had moved to 123 Monroe Avenue, San Antonio, and Pat was manager of ABA Oil Company. By 1930 he had become an independent oil operator. In 1934, the East Texas boom brought Pat to Tyler. At some point in the late 1930s the family moved to Luling. The family residence fronted State Highway 29 (the road to Lockhart). In Caldwell County Pat’s finances took a downturn, and in 1940 he filed for bankruptcy. The federal court in Austin granted the bankruptcy on January 6, 1941, and the Post Register gave official notice to his creditors soon thereafter.ARMSTRONG -FATHERS BANKRUPTCY LULING

Pat moved back to San Antonio after the bankruptcy. He, Elizabeth and the younger children lived at 406 Dunning Avenue. He started a new business – Armstrong Iron & Salvage Company. He would later become a Methodist minister working with Goodwill Industries.

The family was still in Luling when Patrick, after completing one year of college, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and was accepted for flight training.  His initial training was in the San Diego, California area. He then completed his advanced flight training at Kelly Field outside San Antonio. He graduated with Class 41-H on October 31, 1941, and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. He was assigned to the 36th Pursuit Squadron, 8th Pursuit Group. Recently transitioning out of obsolescent P-36s into P-40s, the unit trained in anticipation of a war in Europe. The Group’s mission changed with the sneak attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. After a short time of flying defensive cover over New York City the 8th Pursuit Group (which consisted at the time of the 35th and 36th Pursuit Squadrons) entrained to San Francisco in early January, 1942.

The suddenness of the attack and the swiftness of the Japanese advance across the Southwest Pacific caused substantial panic. The American Territory of the Philippines was quickly becoming a lost cause, and plans to sail there were scrapped. Sparsely populated Australia had by this time sent most of its able-bodied men to fight the Germans and Italians in North Africa and the Mediterranean. There was little to stop a Japanese advance into that vast and under-populated country. Hurriedly, the Americans cobbled together assistance to the beleaguered Aussies. The 8th Pursuit Group sailed from San Francisco on February 12, 1942 for Northern Australia on the United States Army Transport (USAT) Maui. ARMSTRONG - USAT MAUIA passenger steamship built in 1917, it had been purchased by the government in late 1941. The crossing took 24 days. Arriving at Brisbane on March 8, 1942, the Group began training on recently assembled Bell P-39 Airacobras. It then moved north to Townsville.

It is impossible to overstate the Allied concerns about the Japanese juggernaut in late 1941 and 1942. The Emperor’s forces had sliced through supposedly impregnable defenses at Singapore, taken Hong Kong, trapped American forces in the Philippines, and seized islands all over the Pacific. Somewhat surprised by the speed of their advance, the question for the Japanese high command was where to go next. It was decided that three axes of advance be made. One would move into the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Samoa to cut the supply route from the United States to Australia. The second would strike toward Midway and Hawaii, and the third would take control of the huge and virtually unexplored island of New Guinea, in anticipation of an eventual move into Australia. It was deemed necessary also to protect Japan’s huge naval facilities at Truk and Rabaul. Papua New Guinea, the southern half of the landmass was an Australian-administered territory. Both sides realized that control of its coastline was critical. Bombing of the territorial capital of Port Moresby began in late February, 1942. Japanese forces began unopposed landing at Salamaua and Lae on its northern coast soon thereafter. Lae, known because it was the last departure point for Amelia Earhart in her ill-fated 1937 attempt at circumnavigating the globe, was quickly turned into an advance airfield. The Japanese planned to ship men around the southern tip of New Guinea and take Port Moresby. From there it was a short hop to the Australian mainland. (This attempt would later be thwarted by a carrier battle in the Coral Sea, and the incredible bravery of Australian forces which prevented the Japanese army from crossing the New Guinea’s forbidding Owen Stanley Mountains)

ARMSTRONG - P39 IN NEW GUINEA
P-39 In New Guinea

Australian forces began reinforcing the Port Moresby area as the Japanese forces built up its forces for an anticipated attack.ARMSTRONG - GREAT PIC OF EARLY P-39

The 8th Pursuit Group’s ground and support units sailed to New Guinea on April 20, 1942 and its three squadrons’ (it had added the 80th Pursuit Squadron) P-39s flew up between April 26th and April 30th. The 36th Pursuit’s new home was Seven Mile Drome, a dirt strip outside of Port Moresby. To say that conditions were primitive would understate matters. Torrential rains, sudden and violent storms, exposure to malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and repeated bombings by the Japanese made life precarious.ARMSTRONG - 36TH FIGHTER SQUADRON PIC OF OFFICERS IN 1942

Air combat in P-39s against highly trained pilots and better Japanese aircraft shortened lives as well. The P-39 was of innovative design, with a tricycle landing gear, and an Allison V-1710 engine directly behind the pilot. Its export version, the P-400 would prove an effective tank buster for Soviet forces. But the P-39/400 was often an inadequate match against more advanced fighters in dogfights. Plagued with oxygen system problems and a low service ceiling, it could not reach high flying enemy bombers. Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, Saburo Sakai and other Japanese aces racked up impressive kill numbers with A6M2 “Zeroes” when P-39s were used as interceptors.

The 8th Pursuit’s units went into combat immediately, primarily defending the Port Moresby airfields. On May 4, 1942, Patrick Armstrong piloted a P-39D-BE, aircraft number 41-6971 in support of a raid against the enemy facilities at Lae. He was not seen again.ARMSTRONG - LAE

Although an official ‘finding of death’ was not made until December of 1945 it is almost certain that Patrick was the first Caldwell County casualty of World War II. His body was never recovered. He is memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing, American Cemetery, Manila, Philippines.

Patrick was twenty-two years old.

ARMSTRONG - TABLETS
Tablets of the Missing – Manila