Netherlands American Cemetery

Near Margraten, a small town in The Netherlands, the 611th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company established the 9th Army Military Cemetery for the burial of American military personnel who died in battles nearby. This was in September, 1944, in time for the Battle of the Bulge, fighting in Belgium and many more battles as the Americans fought into Germany.

YouTube video of Netherlands American Cemetery

I became interested in the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten several years ago when I read about their program called “Faces of Margraten.”

The goal of “Faces of Margraten” has been to give a face to the 8,288 of the military dead who rest at Margraten. In addition, at Margraten the “Tablets of the Missing” display 1,722 names of those who are still missing. If the remains of someone listed on the “Tablets” have been recovered and identified, a rosette is placed by their name. Out of approximately 10,000 interred or listed as missing, only nineteen hundred do not have pictures. If you are interested in helping this project click here to go to the “Faces of Margraten” website.

Bi-annually during Dutch Memorial Day weekend, the Cemetery displays the photos at the individuals’ graves. Also narrative stories about some of military personnel buried at Margraten are on display. Thousands of visitors learn about those who gave their lives for our freedom and theirs. The photos make the experience more personal. Looking into the face of the young man who gave his life makes that sacrifice real.

Another fascinating detail about the Margraten cemetery is that since 1945 local Dutch families have adopted graves and there is a waiting list of families who want to adopt a grave when one becomes available. The Dutch families place flowers on the graves and research the individual so they know who they were, what they did and how they died. In this way the Dutch honor their liberators, young American men who gave their lives to secure the freedom of the Dutch people.

Joseph Shomon wrote a book about the establishment of the Netherlands American Cemetery titled “Crosses in the Wind.” The book tells the story of the 611th Graves Registration Company from its beginning until the cemetery at Margraten was finished and dedicated. It is very interesting if you want to know more details about the people and the process.

The American Battle Monuments Commission bears responsibility for all of the American Cemeteries overseas where our dead from WWI, WWII and Korea are buried. This includes the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten.

The Lead Up To World War II – Is History Repeating Itself?

The events leading up to the Second World War is a timely topic. We can see similar patterns today. So I thought it would be a good time to remind all of us of past events to help us understand the present.

In January 1933 Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany. He soon suspended the Constitution of Germany and, therefore, became their Dictator.

Rhineland, demonbug, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

March 7, 1936, Germany re-militarized the Rhineland. According to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, the Rhineland was to remain a demilitarized zone. The Rhineland, an area along the western border of Germany bordering on France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, remained a part of Germany after WWI but it was supposed to provide a buffer zone for their neighbors to the west. When Hitler marched his soldiers into the Rhineland, there were no significant objections from the former Allied countries. This was a small but important victory which embolden Hitler.

March 12, 1938, Germany annexed Austria. Hitler claimed that the German speaking people of Austria should be part of Germany. He had already made know his belief that all Germans should be within one nation or Reich. Also pro-Nazi groups had been trying to destabilize Austria by attempting to overthrow the Austrian Government in 1934. Hitler denied any involvement or desire to annex Austria in 1935. In February 1938 a new Austrian Chancellor was appointed after his predecessor was assassinated. Under pressure from Germany to do their bidding this new Chancellor resigned. Hitler demanded that the President appoint an Austrian Nazi as the new Chancellor. When he refused, Hitler ordered the invasion. Most Austrians welcomed the Germans thinking their life would be better as part of the Third Reich.

Sudetenland Occupation By Bundesarchiv, Bild 137-004055 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5418581

September 30, 1938, Germany, Britain, France and Italy signed the Munich Agreement. In it the Sudetenland, a large swath of Czechoslovakia, was ceded to Germany in return for a promise of peace from Hitler. Again Hitler’s explanation for taking the Sudetenland centered around Hitler’s belief that German Sudeten’s in the area should be part of Germany. He also wanted more “living space” for the growing German Reich. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier believed Hitler’s promise of peace, but Hitler did not.

On September 1, 1939, Hitler’s forces invaded Poland, knowing that Britain and France had treaties with Poland stating that they would come to Poland’s defense if she were attacked. At that point, both countries were obligated to honor their treaties. On September 3, 1939, France, Britain, Canada and other British Commonwealth nations declared war on Germany. World War II had begun.

Invasion of Poland 1939 en:User:Listowy, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

It soon became apparent to the world that Hitler’s ambitions went further that wanting Poland. After originally agreeing to split Poland with Russia (Soviet Union), Hitler had a change of heart and attacked Russia (Soviet Union) on June 22, 1941.

The United States stayed out of the “European” war until Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. A few days later, on December 11, 1941, Hitler declared war on the United States.

Does any of this step-by-step expansion make you think of what is going on today? Do you see the slow plotting, taking a little territory at a time, to unite people who speak the same language, share a culture and a history? Do these excuses justify one nation taking over another sovereign nation?

My Top Five WWII Navy Movies

Continuing with my WWII movie theme, here are my favorite Navy movies, (that is movies about the Navy on the water, not on land). Most of these are set in the Pacific Theatre because that’s where the larger naval battles took place fighting the Japanese. In the Atlantic, the U.S. Navy mostly fought the German U-boats attacking convoys headed for England.

5. The Enemy Below (1957)

Staring Robert Mitchum as Captain of an American destroyer escorting an Atlantic convoy and Curt Jurgens Captain of a German U-Boat. It’s a cat and mouse chase where the American Captain goes after the German Captain each gaining respect for the other. You’ll have to watch it to see how it ends. I’ll just say the end is exactly what you would expect – one sinks the other, but there’s more to it which makes the whole movie worthwhile.

4. Operation Pacific (1951)

John Wayne, Patricia Neal and Ward Bond star in the story of a submarine in the South Pacific dealing with torpedo’s that don’t explode when fired. After two encounters with the Japanese when their torpedo’s fail, the last ending in the death of the captain, Ward Bond, Executive Officer Wayne searches for a solution. My favorite aspect of this movie is the rekindled romance between Wayne and his ex-wife Patricia Neal, a Navy Nurse. There’s plenty of action to see in this movie, but the romance makes it one of my favorites.

3. PT-109 (1963)

The story of Pres. John Kennedy’s heroic actions during WWII. The film, made during Kennedy’s presidency, stars Cliff Robertson as Kennedy, Ty Hardin, Robert Culp, Robert Blake, and Norman Fell. After their small PT boat is rammed by a Japanese destroyer, Kennedy rescues a wounded crew member by swimming him ashore. He leads the crew on another dangerous swim before they are finally rescued after many days stranded on an island. Kennedy is a favorite of mine and this true story proves he was a real hero.

2. Midway (1976)

The 1942 Battle of Midway Island proves to be turning point in the Pacific. An impressive cast, including Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Hal Holbrook, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, and Robert Wagner, depicts this epic battle at sea. This excellent war movie is one you should not miss.

1. In Harms Way (1965)

This epic naval war movie stars John Wayne, Patricia Neal, Kirk Douglas, and many more. The action starts on Dec. 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor where Wayne, a determined Naval officer escapes with a small group of ships. Relieved from duty and put on a desk, he wants to get back in the fight. Again, the romance between Wayne and Patricia Neal, Navy Nurse. Other complications include Wayne meeting his estranged son, now in the Navy; the son’s romance; and Douglas’ drunken violence. Wayne gets himself reassigned to lead an important operation and the naval battles begin. As you can guess, I like the romance angle in this movie. It’s plot is complicated by complex characters, each with their own baggage. The acting is superb, as is the action, weaving an excellent movie I could watch over and over.

Message from President Roosevelt – Christmas 1944

Below is President Roosevelt’s somber message to the nation on Christmas Eve, 1944. For me his words are powerful even today. They contain strength, empathy and faith.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

32nd President of the United States: 1933 ‐ 1945

December 24, 1944

Address to the Nation.

It is not easy to say “Merry Christmas” to you, my fellow Americans, in this time of destructive war. Nor can I say “Merry Christmas” lightly tonight to our armed forces at their battle stations all over the world- or to our allies who fight by their side.

Here, at home, we will celebrate this Christmas Day in our traditional American way- because of its deep spiritual meaning to us; because the teachings of Christ are fundamental in our lives; and because we want our youngest generation to grow up knowing the significance of this tradition and the story of the coming of the immortal Prince of Peace and Good Will. But, in perhaps every home in the United States, sad and anxious thoughts will be continually with the millions of our loved ones who are suffering hardships and misery, and who are risking their very lives to preserve for us and for all mankind the fruits of His teachings and the foundations of civilization itself.

The Christmas spirit lives tonight in the bitter cold of the front lines in Europe and in the heat of the jungles and swamps of Burma and the Pacific islands. Even the roar of our bombers and fighters in the air and the guns of our ships at sea will not drown out the messages of Christmas which come to the hearts of our fighting men. The thoughts of these men tonight will turn to us here at home around our Christmas trees, surrounded by our children and grandchildren and their Christmas stockings and gifts—just as our own thoughts go out to them, tonight and every night, in their distant places.

We all know how anxious they are to be home with us, and they know how anxious we are to have them- and how determined every one of us is to make their day of home-coming as early as possible. And- above all- they know the determination of all right-thinking people and Nations, that Christmases such as those that we have known in these years of world tragedy shall not come again to beset the souls of the children of God.

This generation has passed through many recent years of deep darkness, watching the spread of the poison of Hitlerism and Fascism in Europe—the growth of imperialism and militarism in Japan- and the final clash of war all over the world. Then came the dark days of the fall of France, and the ruthless bombing of England, and the desperate battle of the Atlantic, and of Pearl Harbor and Corregidor and Singapore.

Since then the prayers of good men and women and children the world over have been answered. The tide of battle has turned, slowly but inexorably, against those who sought to destroy civilization.

On this Christmas day, we cannot yet say when our victory will come. Our enemies still fight fanatically. They still have reserves of men and military power. But, they themselves know that they and their evil works are doomed. We may hasten the day of their doom if we here at home continue to do our full share.

And we pray that that day may come soon. We pray that until then, God will protect our gallant men and women in the uniforms of the United Nations- that He will receive into His infinite grace those who make their supreme sacrifice in the cause of righteousness, in the cause of love of Him and His teachings.

We pray that with victory will come a new day of peace on earth in which all the Nations of the earth will join together for all time. That is the spirit of Christmas, the holy day. May that spirit live and grow throughout the world in all the years to come.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address to the Nation. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/210593

The American Red Cross Overseas in WWII

One of the missions of the Red Cross was to keep up the morale of the military. The Red Cross achieved this mission in numerous ways.

Overseas the Red Cross set up service clubs, some big and some small. Rainbow Corner Club, probably the most famous of these service clubs, occupied a building on Piccadilly Circus in London. It never closed and provided meals and recreation for service men and women. Overnight accommodations as well as barber shops and laundry facilities were also available in the bigger clubs. Anywhere American soldiers were stationed overseas a service club met their needs. In England Aeroclubs provided services to the many Eighth Air Force bases scattered across the English countryside. For the Navy there were Fleet Clubs. The Red Cross set up these clubs in the Pacific Theatre, too. All these clubs were manned by Red Cross “girls” and local civilians.

A new idea became reality when the Clubmobiles, converted busses or half-ton trucks, began driving the English backroads to reach American camps. Manned by three Red Cross girls and a driver the Clubmobiles provided real coffee and freshly-made doughnuts. Most were equipped with a record player and loud speaker to play a wide variety of popular records. The Clubmobiles were so successful they followed the troops onto the continent after D-Day.

All the Red Cross “Girls” who served overseas had to meet rigorous standards. These young women had to be at least 25 years old and college graduates. The intensive interview process essentially determined if the women had the right personality for the job. After passing physicals they went through extensive training in a short time which included, of course, learning to make doughnuts.

If you want to learn more about the Clubmobile girls, read “Slinging Doughnuts for the Boys” by James H. Madison who uses the letters and diary of Elizabeth Richardson. Richardson was a Red Cross Clubmobile hostess who served in England and Europe. She was killed in a military plane crash in France in July, 1945.

And there’s much more the Red Cross did during the war. I’ll cover the rest in my next post.

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The Many Roles of the American Red Cross During WWII

While researching WWII, I kept seeing the American Red Cross involved in a number of areas so I decided to look at what the organization did during that time. I found so much that it will take more than one post to cover everything.

First, a bit of background. The American Red Cross was founded in 1905 and charged with providing “volunteer aid in time of war to the sick and wounded of the armed forces” and with providing communications between the people and the military. The ARC was also to provide relief from suffering “caused by pestilence, famine, fire, floods and other great national calamities.”

That’s a tall order. And it encompasses a wide range of activities. In this first post I’m going focus on some of the Red Cross activities in the medical field.

Red Cross Nurses

The American Red Cross trained and certified nurses for service in the military beginning before the First World War. World War II created a shortage of trained nurses in the United States as civilian nurses joined the Army and Navy Nurse Corps. More were needed as the casualties increased, not only overseas but also in the numerous military hospitals established across the country. On the home front the nurses trained by the Red Cross filled the vacancies caused by military service and took on the medical care of civilians. Also Red Cross Volunteer Nurses Aides and Volunteer Dietitian Aides provided assistance to both military and civilian hospitals. Again, the Red Cross trained these volunteers.

Blood and Plasma

Even before the U.S. entered the war, the American Red Cross began to collect blood and process it into liquid plasma to send to England where the fighting and bombing had created a shortage. Under the direction of Dr. Charles Drew, the African-American blood specialist, that effort succeeded. After that the military asked the Red Cross to set up a Blood Donor Service to collect blood donations and process the blood into dried blood plasma that could be more easily stored and shipped overseas. Dr. Drew headed this up and before the Japanese attack in December 1941 blood donation centers had been set up across the country including a number of mobile units. The dried blood plasma saved many lives on the battlefield and the program served as a model for post-war civilian blood collection.

Gray Lady Corps, Recreation in Hospitals and Additional Supplies to Hospitals

Nurses weren’t the only Red Cross presence in military hospitals. The Gray Ladies were Red Cross volunteers who provided whatever services the wounded men needed. They might play a game of cards or write a letter home, they might run an errand or simply listen to a lonely soldier. The Gray Ladies organized ward parties, set up art exhibits or brought in theatrical performances to hospitals where men were recovering from wounds. The Red Cross set up local councils in the cities where hospitals were located to provide supplies not available through the military. Requests from the hospital went to these local councils who worked with local businesses to provide things like musical instruments, sports equipment, furniture, magazines and newspapers.

In my next novel Kitty’s brother Milton, who was wounded in Normandy, is recovering in a state-side Army hospital where he encounters nurses (many trained by the Red Cross) and Gray Ladies who help him and other soldiers. He also helps with obtaining sports equipment from local businesses for rehabilitating the wounded. In A War Apart after Guy was wounded the medics started an IV before his surgery, most likely from the blood plasma produced by the Red Cross. So you see, my research often included the Red Cross in some way.

My next post will continue with services provided by the Red Cross during World War II.

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Twelve O’clock High – The Movie

Movies can inspire and get the creative juices flowing. That’s what Twelve O’clock High did for me, creating a fascination with the 8th Air Force and their part in winning World War II. It is one of my favorite WW II movies, even though there’s no love story. Never the less, parts of my novel, Kitty’s War, were inspired by the movie.

Made in 1949 and starring Gregory Peck, Twelve O’clock High tells the story of an American bomb group flying daylight raids over German occupied Europe early in the war. The characters depict the personal struggles of the pilots and crew who flew these dangerous missions day after day. After the war ended the need to bolster the home-front morale gave way to a need to understand what had happened during the war. Many of the films made in the late 40’s and in the 1950’s were more realistic about the human cost of war.

Twelve O’clock High showed the devastating effects of continuous losses on the morale of the airmen and their leaders. To get morale and performance back on track, General Savage (played by Gregory Peck) took command with such a strict attitude that the men hated him and the pilots all requested transfers. But Savage stalled the transfers because he knew they needed discipline to face the job they had to do. While pulling the outfit together Savage became so personally involved with the men and the missions that he eventually suffered battle fatigue.

In 1942, the American Air Corp bombed German held Europe in the daylight, something the British would not do because it was too dangerous. The RAF bombed at night. The Americans faced intense anti-aircraft fire as well as deadly attacks by German fighters. Neither the Americans nor the British had fighter planes that could fly as far as the bombers so the bombers had no protection from the German fighters except their onboard guns. Later in the war, the P-51 Mustang flew as fighter protection to the target and back.

Although nominated for Academy Awards, the film and Gregory Peck failed to win the coveted award. Dean Jagger won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Major Harvey Stovall, the Group Adjutant who helped Savage win over the men, as well as introducing and ending the film with his reminiscences.

If you love war movies filled with action and tension, then Twelve O’clock High fills the bill. It is truly entertaining and informative. If, like me, you enjoy a little romance mixed it, this may not be what you are looking for.

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Oak Ridge in A War Apart and Personal Memories

The city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was created in 1942 when the U. S. Government bought up a large section of land along the Clinch River in Anderson county for a secret defense project. Construction began immediately after the residents of the area were moved off the property, much like the Tennessee Valley Authority had done when they bought up land for dams. Many locals, as well as people from all over the country, went to work building what would become plants that separated uranium-235 to be used in the first atomic bomb.

Between 1942 and 1945 the population of Oak Ridge grew to 75,000 residents with employment at approximately 82,000. The plants ran continuously to produce the Uranium 235 needed for the secret project and construction struggled to keep up with growth. After the war ended these numbers fell drastically. By 1950 the City of Oak Ridge had a population of 30,205, still fifth largest in Tennessee. Employment decreased, too, especially in construction. But the plants continued to run producing the fuel for the atomic age.

In my latest novel, A War Apart, my heroine, Rosemary, took a job at Oak Ridge to support the war effort, earn some money and, most of all, to get away from home. She worked in the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant which used one method of separating Uranium-235 from Uranium-238. Her cousin, Martha Sue, worked in the Y-12 electromagnetic plant which used a different method for separating Uranium-235. Neither woman, nor any of the workers, knew what they were making because secrecy about the project was of highest priority.

In the 1950’s when I was a young child, my uncle worked at Oak Ridge. My sister and I visited for a week. Our cousins showed us around the area where they lived and played, then on the weekend, when our parents came to get us, my uncle showed us around Oak Ridge. All I remember is the car stopping in front of a big metal gate and Uncle John saying that was as far as we could go. When I was older, our family returned to Oak Ridge and went to the Atomic Energy Museum. I still have a dime that was irradiated there.

As I learned more about Oak Ridge I found the story of its origin fascinating. That such a highly technical and highly secret plant could be built and run in rural Tennessee sounded implausible, if not impossible. Yet it really happened. Later, I learned that many of the women who worked at Oak Ridge during the war were young women from Tennessee with no special training, just a willingness to work and follow directions. So, of course, one of these young women had to be the heroine in one of my stories. When my character, Rosemary, needed a job, Oak Ridge provided the perfect place for her to work.

In doing research for my novel, A War Apart, I primarily used three books for my research on Oak Ridge. They were “City Behind A Fence” by Charles W. Johnson and Charles O. Jackson, “Images of America Oak Ridge” by Ed Westcott, and “The Girls of Atomic City” by Denise Kiernan.

A Train Near Magdeburg

A few years ago my husband and I drove down to the Camp Blanding Museum to meet with Frank Towers, a WWII veteran of the 30th Infantry Division. We had met Frank on a previous visit but we didn’t have enough time to really talk to him. That day Frank told us about the train near Magdeburg filled with Jewish refugees that elements of the 30th liberated. The Jews were being moved from Bergen-Belsen to another concentration camp when the train stopped on the tracks near Magdeburg. Frank wasn’t with the liberators on that first day but he arrived the next day with orders to find housing and provisions for the refugees.

Having learned about the train from someone who was there, when I saw Matthew Rozell’s book, I had to read it.

A Train Near Magdeburg by Matthew A. Rozell is a fascinating account of both the people on the train and the American soldiers who came across the train as they fought their way through Germany. On April 15, 1945, the 743rd Tank Battalion discovered a long string of freight cars parked on a railroad track. As they came closer to inspect the train they found almost 2,500 Jewish refugees packed inside the filthy cars or hanging around the area near the train.

Rozell started with a project on the Holocaust for the high-school teacher’s students. They set up a website and began interviewing both survivors of the Holocaust and soldiers who had liberated camps. One of those soldiers told of the day his tank battalion came across the train. That soldier connected Rozell to another soldier who had made pictures that day. When the pictures were posted on the school’s website, people from all over the world responded.

The book is the result of all the interviews and research. It is a detailed account of events in April, 1945, and later when Rozell brought many of these people together, both liberated and liberators, in several reunions. The book has several sections. First, the Holocaust section contains interviews with survivors describing their experiences in the German concentration camps. The second section tells about the American soldiers in their own words. Third, the story of the actual liberation. And fourth, the reunions are described by all participants. Finally, Rozell added an Epilogue which tells of the loss of Frank Towers, the last of the liberators and the end of an era. 

Two Memoirs of WWII Airmen

Through the COVID pandemic I’ve been reading – a lot. Two books I read were memoirs by WWII flyboys. I thoroughly enjoyed both. They were “From Farm to Flight to Faith” by Bernard O. DeVore and “A Measure of Life” by Herman L. Cranman.

Bernard O. DeVore served as the Flight Engineer on the Picadilly Special, a B-17 Flying Fortress. He flew out of Paddington, England, as part of the 325th Squadron, 92nd Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. For those who have read my previous posts, there were two WWII veterans in my hometown who were also part of the 92nd Bomb Group and flew out of Podington, Tom Brewer and Everett Holly.

Herman L. Cranman served as Bombardier on a Consolidated B-24. He flew with the 376th Bomb Group, part of the 47th Bomb Wing of the 15th Air Force, near San Pancrazio, Italy. After being established in Tunisia in 1943, the 15th Air Force moved into Italy as the Allies advanced from Sicily onto the Italian peninsula.

The two memoirs are very different yet have much in common. Both men wrote about their service later in life. While DeVore kept his story shorter yet consise, Cranman provides lots of details in a much longer book.

As I mentioned DeVore flew in a B-17 bomber while Cranman flew in a B-24. DeVore, as part of the 8th Air Force flew in the same airplane, the Picadilly Special, with the same crew for all his missions. The 15th Air Force, for which Cranman flew, rotated the men between whatever aircraft was available for each mission. Their crews were also not necessarily the same on each flight.

Another difference between the 8th Air Force and the 15th Air Force I learned about from Cranman’s memoir was the way they counted missions. The 8th Air Force originally required each airman to complete 25 missions. This requirement was increased to 30 missions in June 1944 and to 35 missions later. The 15th Air Force required 50 missions, but certain missions counted as two while others counted as only one.

Another important difference between the two stories was that DeVore completed his thirty missions and returned safely to the United States in early 1945. Cranman’s aircraft was shot down over Hungary on July 14, 1944, and he spent the remainder of the war as a Prisoner of War.

Both memoirs included the story of how they met and “courted” the love of their lives. These stories were my favorite parts. DeVore met his love when he and a buddy picked up two girls on the way to the beach near Tampa, Florida, while he was in training. They married before he went overseas. Cranman realized that a girl he’d known since childhood had stolen his heart before she moved away. All through the war and his incarceration he worried that she didn’t love him like he loved her. When he finally got home he discovered that his parents had arranged their engagement on his behalf. So they were married soon after the war.

Do you see why I love reading memoirs? Every one is different, yet so interesting. I highly recommend both these books.