Thursday, November 29, 2012

That Hard to Crack Message

From the Nov. 24, 2012, International Business Times "World War II Message Found On Dead Carrier Pigeon Puzzles Code Breakers" by Sreeja V N.

Britain's top code breakers from GCHQ service have failed to crack the code found on the dead carrier pigeon that I blogged about earlier this month and are seeking help from retired spies and the public (perhaps some from World War II are still around who migfht know how to translate it.

A man was remodeling his 17th century house and found the bones of the pigeon in his chimney with a capsule attached to its leg reading "Pigeon Service."  Then, there were 27 coded words, each with five alphabets.

Three crucial bits if information are still not known which might help to crack it:  date of the message (although at first it was believed to be from June 6, 1944, D-Day), its destination and its sender.  They do believe the pigeon was flying to Bletchley Park from France on that date.

Here's Hoping the Case Will be Solved.  --GreGen

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois-- Part 2

The camp closed in 1923.  From 1933 to 1935, it was used by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

In October 1940, it was reactivated as an induction center for physical exams and medical training.  It is estimated that 100,000 medical corpsmen received their training there.  Later, a POW center housed some 2,500 enemy soldiers.

The camp became one of Rockford's biggest employers with some 6,000 civilians on the payroll.

After the war, it became a separation center for returning GIs, where they left the military to become civilians.  In 1946, the camp was permanently closed.  For a few years, the former barracks were converted into apartments.

Today, the Chicago-Rockford International Airport is located on much of the land.  I came close to using this airport a few years back.  Hey, free parking.

I wonder if George Leisenring was training to be a medic when his parents visited or if he was on staff at the camp.

World War II Stuff  I Didn't Know.  --GreGen

Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois-- Part 1

From Wikipedia.

The last entry dealt with a mother and father visiting their son George who stationed at the Medical Center Barracks at Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois.  They sent a postcard to their daughters at home in Elmira, New York, dated July 4, 1943.  This postcard finally arrived in 2012.  Talk about your snail mail!!!

I'd never heard of a Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois, even though I live just an hour away from there.  Obviously, it is no longer there.  So, good old Wikipedia to the rescue.

It was named after U.S. Grant (U.S.-20 which goes through Rockford is named the Grant Highway as it also goes through Galena, Illinois, where he was living before the Civil War).  It was located on the western outskirts of Rockford at at one point consisted of over 18,000 acres and was in operation from 1917 until the late 1940s.

During World War I, it was an infantry training camp, home of the 86th Infantry Division (the Black Hawk Division).

Wonder What George Leisenring Was Doing There in the Next War?  --GreGen

Sunday, November 25, 2012

World War II-Era Postcard Finally Gets Delivered

From the Nov. 24, 2012, New York Daily News "WW II-era postcard finally delivered to address in Elmira, NY" by Christine Roberts.

And, it was in mint condition and dated July 4, 1943, addressed to sisters Paulina and Theresa Leisenring in Elmira.  It was from their parents who were visiting their brother George who was stationed at the Medical Center Barracks at Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois.

It read: "We arrived safe, had a good trip, but we were good and tired.  Geo. looks good, we all went to dinner today (Sunday).  Now we are in the park.

Geo. has to be back to Grant at 12 o'clock tonight.  See you soon.  Love Mother, Dad."

Unfortunately, there was no mention of what happened to the postcard over all the years and whether the sisters were still alive.

Maybe There Will Be a Follow Up.  --GreGen

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Five Brothers Served U.S. in World War II

From the Nov. 2, 2012, Weatherford Democrat by Sally Sexton.

The Wesson brothers had a bond because of birth, but after 1945, had another one as all five served in the war.

In December 1941, right before Pearl Harbor.  That month, T.A. Wesson and olderst son Walter took jobs in bomb and munition factories, while the other four sons: Jim,Nolan, Leo and Arnold, delivered the product to the Army and Navy.  The youngest son, Bruce, was left to run the family farm.

Jim and Leo both joined the Navy prior to Pearl Harbor and served together on the USS Louisville.  After five brothers from Iowa were killed, the Navy separated the two Wessons, sending Jim to another cruiser, the USS Biloxi, which launched February 1943, where he served as a chief machinist mate.

More to Come.  --GreGen

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Wilmington at War

From the Oct. 30, 2012, Wilmington (NC) Star-News "Back Then."

From Oct. 2, 1942--  A big scrap metal drive was underway and the Star was keeping a running list of major contributors:  G.A. Trask, 10,025 pounds; L.L. Hughes, 4,000; Mrs. W.L. Grissom, 1,075; Mrs. John Wolf, 250 and Bud Fowler, 22.

From October 15, 1942--  New Hanover County's representative with the Flying Tigers registered for the draft yesterday though he's expected to re-enlist in the Navy as a meteorologist.  Donald Whelpley of Carolina Beach arrived at his home Saturday after a year's service with the dare devil American Volunteer Group that attempted to liberate China."

The War At Home.  --GreGen

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pearl Harbor Ship to Arkansas?

From November 9, 2012, KUAR "Fundraiser To Help Bring the USS Hoga To Arkansas" by Kezia Nanda.

The Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum is trying to acquire the USS Hoga to Little Rock to join the USS Razorback. 

The tugboat was at Pearl Harbor that day and helped save the battleship USS Nevada from sinking and served throughout the war in the Pacific.  This might be the only vessel still around from the attack so it would be a shame to lose it.

The fundraiser was held Nov. 10th. 

This would be an addition attraction at the museum (I'd never heard of before) that had 17,000 visitors in 2011.

Hope They Get It.  --GreGen

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The RMS Aquatania-- Part 2

After the stock market crash hurt the transAtlantic voyages, the ship was used on the Mediterranean where it especially became popular for the "Booze Cruise."  Americans trying to drink legally during Prohibition were big customers then.

It was scheduled to be replaced by the RMS Queen Elizabeth in 1940, but then came the war and it was used as a troopship in the Pacific.

It is believed that the German raider Kormoran was looking for the Aquatania shortly before the Nov. 19, 1940 battle when it encountered the HMAS Sydney and both ships ended up sinking.  The Sydney lost every crew member..  The Aquatania arrived on the scene shortly after the battle and, against orders, stopped to pick up the Kormoran survivors.  I have written a lot about this battle in my Cooter's History Thing Blog.

Later in the war, the Aquatania transported American soldiers, including Mike Butlovich, across the Atlantic.

During World War II service,the ship sailed 500,000 miles and carried nearly 400,000 soldiers.  Quite a statistic.

In 1946, it transported war brides and children to Canada.

The Aquatania was scrapped in Scotland in 1950.

Quite the Story.  --GreGen

The RMS Aquatania-- Part 1

From Wikipedia.

On Nov. 7th and 9th I wrote about the World War II memorial in Brookfield set up to honor Mike Butkovich who owned the bar next to it and who was killed in the war and others from the neighborhood who served as well.  As usual, this story led to other stories like Camp Blanding in Florida where he trained (and I wrote about Nov. 9th).

Then, I saw that he crossed the Atlantic on the RMS Aquatania on which his father had sailed to Europe in 1928.  I'd never heard of the ship.


Was a Cunard ocean liner built in 1913 and bore a strong resemblance to the much-more famous RMS Titanic, a big reason why it was built.  The ship was 901 feet long and weighed 45,647 tons.  It was one of the Cunard Line's "Grand Trio" which also included the RMS Mauretania and RMS Lusitania.  These ships were built to battle the Titanic and its sisters, the Britannic and Olympic.

At the end of its career, it was the last four-funnel ship surviving and earned the nickname "Ship Beautiful."

It was used as a troopship in World War I and World War II.

After World War I, it became one of the most popular Atlantic liners.

More to Come.  --GreGen

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

It Was Huge: The Dodge Chicago Plant

From Wikipedia.

Located in Chicago's southwest side in the West Lawn neighborhood by 76th Street and Cicero Avenue.

The plant was built in 1942 as part of the US war effort with its main building covering 82 acres, at the time the largest building in the world.  It covered 30 city blocks.

Named the Dodge Chicago Aircraft Engine Plant, it built the majority of the B-29 bomber aircraft engines.  It was designed noted automotive plant architect Alfred Kahn and his company and is regarded as the influential design for American industrial manufacturing plants.

Extensive underground tunnels were also built to facilitate foot and supply traffic.  It was the setting for racial and ethnic tolerances well.

After the war, it was leased for a short time by the Tucker Car Corporation and later used by several automobile makers, including Ford.  Tootsie Roll moved in during 1967 and a large part of it became the Ford City Mall.


A Dying PHSA Chapter

From the April 27, 2011, Central Nebraska Independent.

Sadly, all chapters of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association (PHSA) are gone or in the process of going.

The Bo Wilson Nebraska Chapter 1 of the PHSA is a dying organization, consisting now of six members and twelve others.  They used to have meetings three times a year, but now just once.

It was founded in 1966.

One member is Ralph Naslund of the 72nd Bomber Squadron AAC.

Earl Brandes, 2nd Engineer Marine Corps, said, "I remember unloading my rifle at the Japanese planes during the second raid.  I don't suppose I hit anything though, but I was about two blocks away from a destroyer blowing up in the dry docks.  It scared me so I left my truck and got under some nearby barracks."

Sad to See Them Go.  --GreGen

Monday, November 12, 2012

"There Were a Lot of Ways to Get Killed That Day"

From the October 8, 2012, Stars and Stripes "WWII veterans share experiences of war at Oklahoma symposium" by Jerry Wofford of the Tulsa World.

Ed Vezey, 92, took his junior officer uniform cap off, put it in a corner, put a pistol on top of it and jumped off the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor where he manned an anti-aircraft gun.  I wonder if he ever got that cap and pistol back?

"Anyone who got off alive was off in 11 minutes.  We were being strafed, being bombed, being torpedoed.  There were a lot of ways to get killed that day.


World War II Survivor Deaths: Pearl Harbor and Tuskegee

Tuskegee pilot died Sarasota, Florida,  April 11, 2011.  Enlisted in the Army Air Corps at age 18 in 1943.  Became a pilot in the 332 Fighter Group and escorted bombers from from Italy to targets in Germany.  After the war, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the GI Bill.

One of Idaho's last Pearl Harbor survivors died April 8, 2011.  He was 24-years-old and on the USS Maryland at Pearl Harbor and was trapped at the bottom of the ship.

He was the local president of the PHSA until is dissolved in 2005.


Bits of War: USS Iowa-- Schindler's List-- Dunkirk Anchor

Bits of War for World War II

1.  USS IOWA--  From Dec. 28, 2010, LA Times--  San Pedro, Ca. wants the battleship that carried FDR to important meetings and as such is the only US Naval vessel with a bathtub   There are no battleship memorials on the West Coast.  The 900-foot ship, 15-story-high ship was decommissioned in 1990 and it has been in the Suisun Bay  near San Francisco in the mothball fleet.  (Since then, the ship was sent to Los Angeles where it has become a museum ship.)

2.  SCHINDLER'S LIST--  From Dec. 28, 2012, Times of India.  A 13-page original copy of the list that spared more than 1000 Jews went up for auction.  It is one of several original copies, Oskar Schindler had made.

3.  DUNKIRK ANCHOR--  The anchor from the Mona's Queen, lost at Dunkirk in May 1940 was found and returned to the Isle of Man.  It is a memorial to the staff of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Line who lost their lives.

The Mona's Queen was one of eight company ships that rescued 24,669 troops from Dunkirk.

The ships Fennella and King Orry were also lost.

The Mona's Queen struck a German mine and 24 crew lost their lives.

A Bit of the War.    -GreGen

Oldest Michigan World War II Veteran Lester Shaffer Honored

From the April 7, 2011, Holland (Mi) Sentinel.

Lester Shaffer was born in Holland, Michigan March 23, 1909, and served in the Army in the 1930s and was discharged before being drafted after the war began.  Served in France, rising to the rank of sergeant.

In civilian life he drove a tanker truck for Texaco before he and his wife, Pauline, settled in Douglas.  Operated the Douglas Dinette for ten years.  It is now the Everyday People Cafe at 11 Center Street.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Big Thank You to Our World War II Veterans

Today, I pause to thank those members of the Greatest Generation who served to make the world safe for all.  Sadly, this generation is fast leaving us, but to those who remain, we salute you and those who have passed on, the same.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Churchill's Secret Army Uncovered

From the April 3, 2011 Wales Online.

A bunker from World War II was recently opened to the public for the first time in over sixty years at Grd Coesau-Whips Woodland near Rudry..  Foresters cleaned out decades of brush and built a path and fence to keep people from falling into it.

This concrete bunker was built for secret auxiliary units set up to relay vital information about enemy movement as Britain braced itself for possible German occupation.

Had Hitler's forces invaded the island, resistance fighters would have lived off the land and launched sneak attacks on the Germans.

Things Were Getting That Bad.  --GreGen

Getting Ready to Meet Some WWII Marines

Happy Birthday to the Corps, as in USMC.

In a few minutes I will be leaving for the Fox Lake American Legion for the annual Birthday Breakfast featuring that Corps staple, SOS and scrambled eggs.

Always a real treat, there is a table for the World War II and one for the Korean War veterans. 

Along with the birthday, there is all the tradition and raising money for the Toys for Tots.

It is one fine thing.

Talk About History.  --GreGen

Friday, November 9, 2012

Camp Blanding, Florida

In my entries about the Illinois war memorial, I mentioned that Mike Butkovich was sent to training at Camp Blanding in Florida.  I'd never heard of it, so good old Wiki here I come.

Camp Blanding is still in operation as the primary military reservation and training base for the Florida National Guard, located in Clay County, southwest of Jacksonville, Florida.  It came into being when the US Navy decided it wanted a naval air station near Jacksonville and traded land for the National Guard's Camp Foster on the St. John's River. The new camp was named after World War I General Albert H. Blanding.

In 1940, the camp was leased to the US Army as an active duty training center.  During the war, it served as an induction center, an infantry replacement training center, German POW camp and a separation center after the war.

At its height, the camp grew to 170,000 acres and from 1940 to 1945, more than 800,000 soldiers received all or part of their training there.  At one point, it ranked as Florida's fourth biggest city and had 10,000 buildings, 170 miles of paved roads and the largest hospital in the state.

After the war, it was returned to Florida and became a national guard center again.

There is a museum and memorial park open to the public.

Never Heard of It.  --GreGen

A Local Illinois Memorial-- Part 2

The memorial was lovingly landscaped and inside a whire gravel star.  No one can today remember exactly when it went up, but it was in place by May 1944 when several photos were taken.

Mike Butkovich boarded the troop ship Aquatania Dec. 20, 1944 and left New York City Dec. 22nd for the week-long crossing of the Atlantic.  The Aquatania was the same ship that Mike's father had sailed on in a 1928 trip to Europe.

Upon arrival, he was assigned to the 134th Infantry Regiment, 35th Division.

Sadly, Mike Butkovich was killed in European action on Feb. 26, 1945, west of the town of Hilfarth when he entered a mine field to administer to troops who had blundered into it and he stepped on a mine.  His remains were sent home and he received the Silver Star for his courage. 

His wife Fran ran the bar until 1946, then Mike's brother, Joe, took it over and ran it for 50 years.  His daughter Ellen Frantzen now runs it.  The bar is one of those holdouts from the past and still has the original 1939 bar and wood paneling.

The monument remained until the mid-1950s, but fell into disrepair and eventually just fell apart.

It would be very fitting if, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the war, if they rebuilt it to honor Mike Butkovich and the others who served and died.

Something to Think About.  --GreGen

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Bombing of Belfast, Northern Ireland: "Things Like That You Never Forget"

From the March 21, 2011, BBC News.

The German Blitz came to Belfast on the night of April 15, 1941 when bombers attacked the city, killing 1,000 and destroying or damaging half the homes and left 100,000 homeless.

The city was a legitimate target because of its ahipyard and aircraft factory.  The sirens went on at 10:45 PM and the attack continued for six hours.  Hundreds of tons of high explosive bombs and incendiaries were dropped around the docks where many worker homes were located.

The dead were stacked in the emptied pool of the Falls Church public baths.  Many of them were unidentified and there were many body parts.  If they had a rosary, they were determined to be Catholic.

One survivor remembers seeing a  big dog running down the street with a dead baby in its mouth: "I took off my metal helmet and threw it on the ground.  The rattle scared the dog and he dropped the baby.  I remember wrapping the baby's body in some old  net curtains from one of the bombed houses.  I left the baby with some soldiers, having attached a note to say that the body was found on York Street.  Things like that you never forget."Today, there are two monuments at mass graves of the unidentified.

A Sad Aspect of the War.  --GreGen

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Local Illinois War Memorial-- Part 1

From the November 6, 2012, Riverside-Brookfield (Ill) Landmark "Forgotten Brookfield war monument once sat at 47th and Arthur" by Bob Uphues.

The last two years of World War II, there sat a war memorial in the parking lot of Mike Butkovich's Bar at 9220 47th Street.  The place still stands, but is now still in the family and called Joe's Saloon.  The spot was called Victory Corner.

Workers from the nearby McCook factories could come in for a Schlitz or two and then pay their respects to neighborhood boys in the service of their country at the memorial.

Mike Butkovich ran the bar for his father, George.  The 34-year-old father of four reported to Army basic training at Camp Blanding, Florida, which trained infantry replacements.  Mike ended up as a medic.

The war monument was built by Mike's father and Joe Saba and stood six-feet tall, had four sides and was made of wood and copper.  It sat in what is now the west parking lot of the bar. Mike's name along with those of others from the neighborhood were on it.

A Fitting Memorial.  --GreGen

World War II In Chicago

From the ChicagoTribune Photo Archives, March 16, 2011, Daywatch.

RUNNING ON EMPTY:  picture of a couple making out in a car during gas rationing with a sign in the window saying "I'm really out of gas!"  Should have read "Out of gas, and out of breath, too."

CIGARETTES:  a well-dressed woman smoking a pipe.  Cigarettes on the home front hard to come by as Congress had mandated that every soldier, sailor and Marine receive them as part of their rations.

Well, I never!  --GreGen

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

1940 Presidential Election

Yesterday, 72 years ago, an important election for the United States, on the precipice of World War II took place when Franklin D. Roosevelt was reelected for an unprecedented third time, receiving 54.72% of the vote and 449 electoral votes to his Republican opposition Wendel Willkie who had 44.77% and 82 electoral votes.

There would have been no "Day of Infamy" speech otherwise.


The Dog That Insulted Hitler and Lived to Bark About It

From the Jan. 8, 2011, Independent.

During the war there was a Finnish dog that could imitate the Hitler salute which enraged the Nazis so much that they started a campaign against the dog according to recently discovered documents.  Jackie the dalmatian was owned by Tor Borg.

In 1941, the German vice-consul in Helsinki reported that witnesses had seen Jackie raise his paw on the command "Hitler."  Borg was brought in and questioned by the German embassy.  Borg claimed his wife called the dog Hitler, but the embassy did not buy it.

Various ministries investigated, but decided not to press charges due to lack of witnesses.  Thirty files of correspondence and diplomatic cables were found in the archives of the German Foreign Office.

Looks Like Somebody Didn't Have Much of a Sense of Humor.  Bad Dog.  --GreGen

Monday, November 5, 2012

Pearl Harbor Survivors

PEARL HARBOR HERO POSTHUMOUSLY HONORED--  From the April 1, 2001, Abilene (Kansas) Reflector-Chronicle.  Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed house Bill 2003 designating Kansas Highway 18 from US-81 to the western boundary of Lincoln County as the "Medal of Honor Recipient Donald K. Ross Memorial Highway."

Mr. Ross was born in Beverly, Kansas, in 1910 and received the first Medal of Honor in World War II on the USS Nevada at Pearl Harbor.  He retired from the Navy in 1956 and died in 1992.

Warrant Officer Ross battled smoke, heat and fire to get power back on.  After ordering his men to safety, performed his duties until blinded by smoke and rendered unconscious from exhaustion.  Rescued and resuscitated, he didn't seek medical attention and went back to his post until his superiors forced him to leave it.

DEATH OF A SURVIVOR--  From the Jan. 11, 2011, Fox 17.  Richard Quinn, 89, died in Kalamazoo, Michigan, one of the few remaining Pearl Harbor survivors in Western Michigan.  Born June 23, 1941.  Was 20 years old and radio operator on the USS Maryland when the attack took place.

Later served on the USS New Mexico.


World War II Carrier Pigeon Delivers Message

From the Nov. 2, 2012, ABC News by Lama Hasan.

Daniel Martin in Bletchingly, Surrey, was renovating his fireplace when he started finding pigeon bones, then there was a leg with a red capsule attached to it.  It turned out to be an encoded message. 

Theories immediately began that perhaps the pigeon was making its way from behind enemy lines in German-occupied Europe, perhaps even D-Day and heading to Bletchley Park where Britain's main decryption establishment was located during World War II.

Others say it got lost, disorientated in bad weather or simply exhausted and landed in Martin;s chimney where it died.

More than 250,000 carrier pigeons were used during World War II in what was called the National Pigeon Service.  They were heavily relied on to carry secret messages.

During the war, the Dickin Medal, the highest decoration for valor for animals, was awarded to 32 pigeons, including the U.S. Army pigeon G.I. Joe and the Irish pigeon Paddy.

Government code breakers are currently working on reading the message which will give great light if they succeed.  So far, they have determined that the message was from a Sgt. W. Scott and written 70 years ago.

It Will be Interesting to Find Out What the Message Was.  --GreGen

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Death of Another Pearl Harbor Survivor

From the March 10, 2011, New Bedford (Mass) Standard-Times South Coast Today.

Senior Chief Boatswain's Mate (ret) Herve Fortin, the last of six Middleboro Pearl Harbor survivors died feb. 17th.

he was a Seaman First Class on the USS Detrot (CL8) anchored by Ford Island and went topside at 7:30 AM to relieve a fellow crewman on a motor boat which was still out on a mission at the time..  He turned around to report to a petty officer in charge of the gun tub area of the ship just when two low-flying Japanese planes came in and dropped their bombs.  Both these two and the next two missed the Detroit, but hit the USS Raleigh and USS Utah.

Fortin then went to battle station in sky control, but when that was curtailed, he spent the rest of the attack assigned to three-inch anti-aircraft gun #5.

The Greatest Generation.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hull Repairs on the USS North Carolina-- Part 2

The steel in that area is now 1/10 of an inch instead of the 1/2 inch it originally was.  The portion that is deep in the mud is in much better shape.

The section now being replaced will cost $2.1 million to replace with money coming in from a 1998 fund-raising campaign called Operation Ship Shape.  Another capital campaign will be starting soon to raise money for the rest of the hull, expected to cost $15-16 million.

To have floated the ship, towed it and then dry dock it as originally envisioned would have cost $30 million.  Plus, it would have been out of the state for a lengthy period of time.

The battleship commission hopes to eventually build a permanent cofferdam around the ship.  This hull replacement is an anniversary gift to the state's namesake.  It was brought to Wilmington 50 years ago (now 41) when it was moored Oct. 2. 1961.

It was saved from the scrapyard with a "Save Our Ship" drive with contributions from citizens and businesses around the state (and don't forget the school children donating nickles and dimes, including yours truly.  The ship is a fitting memorial to the 10,000 North Carolinians who died during World War II.

A Magnificent Ship.  --GreGen

Japanese Airport Closed After WWII Bomb Found

From the Oct. 9, 2012, Wilmington (NC) Star-News by Eric Talmadge, AP.

The major airport of Sendai in northern Japan was closed after workers found an unexploded bomb believed to be from World War II was found during construction near a runway.  The 550 pound bomb was identified as being American

 The detonator appeared to be still in working order and a military bomb squad was considering whether to attempt to remove it or exploding it where it is.  All 92 flights in and out of the airport were cancelled.

Japan was heavily bombed by Americans during the war and dozens of duds are discovered each year in Tokyo and even more in Okinawa.

After nearly 70 years, time and rust have made them prone to explosion when attempts are made to move them.

Just last week, a hundred people were evacuated when a 220-pound bomb was found in central Tokyo.

Careful Where You Dig in Japan.  --GreGen