I just keep finding more and more of these great little stories of Schuylkill County World War Two Heroes.
Schuylkill County Heroes of World War 2
In the Second Wave at Okinawa
Cpl. Edward Gober
A former Pottsville Journal correspondent writes from the battlefield on Okinawa Island, Pacific Area. He landed on the beach at 8:30 a.m. Easter Sunday and his tractor was in the second wave to land. “We expected to draw a lot of fire when we approached the beach but the Navy had silenced anything that could be used against us, he states. He Continued” It was really a great sight when our convoy sailed into the bay. The heavyweights of our fleet and the naval air corps were already working the landing area over when we arrived. Every gun that could operate was firing. The navy fire continued until the first wave was a few hundred yards from the beach. At times the beach was hardly visible from the smoke and fire caused by our shells. There were very few enemy planes over our convoy on the morning of the landing. The ones that did appear were quickly eliminated. We are only three hundred miles from Japan and China.
“The fighting has become much tougher on the infantry. The Japs have caves dug in all over the hills and it takes time to clean them out. Each dugout has to be completely gone over before an advance is made. The initial landing was a lot easier than the one on Leyte in the Philippines but the inland fighting is a lot rougher. I was receiving the Journal regularly on Leyte. It has slowed up again due to the change. It was great to read the news way out here in the Pacific. His brother Sgt. Francis Gober, is seeing action on Luzon, P.I.
Note: The Assault Goes In
Admiral Kelly Turner gave the order to "Land the Landing Force" at 04.06, 1 April 1945 - Easter Sunday and April Fool's Day. The pre-invasion bombardment started at 05.30 and as the sun rose at 06.21 the soldiers and marines who would shortly be landing on it, saw Okinawa Gunto for the first time. Gradually, the amtracs formed into groups and started to circle, awaiting the order to head towards the beach. Carriers planes and gunboats bombarded the beaches and as the control craft pennants came down, an eight-mile line of amtracs began their 4,000 yard dash to the beach. At the same time, the 2nd Marine Division began their feint and ironically suffered the first casualties as kamikazes slammed into a transport and LST (Landing Ship, Tank or Troops) - apart from these air attacks the demonstration prompted no other Japanese reaction. Ushijima had few troops near the Hagushi Beaches anyway and the remainder were positioned exactly where he wanted them. The assault force churned their way past the Battleship USS Tennessee and formed into the regimental assault waves of two battalions abreast in eight waves:
• Wave 1 - twenty-eight LVT(A)(4) amtracs with 75mm howitzers;
• Wave 2 - sixteen LVT(4) amtracs with assault troops;
• Wave 3 to 6 - twelve LVT(4) with assault troops and crew-served weapons;
• Wave 7 - varied numbers of LSMs or LCMs with floatation-equipped Sherman tanks;
• Wave 8 - LVT(4)s with support troops.
There was only sporadic mortar and shellfire as the assault troops landed - resistance from the 1st Specially Established Regiment was light as it had only rudimentary training and few heavy weapons. Okinawa was not to be a repeat of Peleliu, Tarawa or Iwo Jima with the assault waves meeting fierce and coordinated resistance upon landing. Some 50,000 American troops landed in the first hour and the larger landing ships started to deliver heavy weapons and armoured vehicles at 14.00. By nightfall another 10,000 troops had come ashore and a 15,000-yard beachhead had been established with 6th Marine Division on the left, then 1st Marine Division, then 7th Infantry Division and 96th Infantry Division on the right. A 600-yard gap existed between XXIV Corps and IIIAC but this was closed on L+1. The first day saw the 4th Marines on the edge of the Yontan Airfield and 17th Infantry on the perimeter of Kadena. It also saw twenty-eight dead, twenty-seven missing and 104 wounded for the opening day of Operation Iceberg.
The landings on Okinawa was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater of World War II. The 82 day battle lasted from late March through June 1945.
The American casualties were:
12,513 killed in action,
33,096 non-combat losses
Gunner on B-24 Liberator Flies 25th Mission
S/Sgt. Joseph L. Alessi,
Alessi a 19 year old aerial gunner on a B-24 Liberator, recently flew his 25th Combat mission to an enemy fighter field near Prague, Czech. Although no enemy fighters were encountered in the air many that were parked on the field were destroyed. Since arriving over seas last October he has participated in bombing missions attacking vital harbor installation, raided enemy airfields and industrial targets in Germany, Italy, Austria, Hungary and Yugoslavia. Sgt. Alessi wears the air medal with two oak leaf clusters and also the distinguished unit badge as a member of a heavy bombardment group cited for “Outstanding performance of duty while in armed conflict with the enemy”
Orwigsburg Soldier Crosses the Sauer River
And Spends Christmas In A German Pill Box
76th Division Patch
Pfc. Emerson W. Kauffman
76th Infantry Division
Christmas was a little late this year for the men of the 76th Infantry Division, holed up in pill boxes which less than two weeks ago were part of Hitler’s impregnable Siegfried Line. Christmas mail and packages which had followed the division across France and Belgium were given out at mail call the night before the division began its crossing of the Sauer River, and for the next six days and nights no one had any time to unwrap anything not containing ammunition. The river swollen twenty inches above normal by melting snows was crossed in inky blackness and under a concentrated hail of machine gun fire. Men of the 76th, although fresh from the states and untried in combat, were the first troops in this latest invasion of the Reich to achieve both the crossing and their initial objective a steep hill overlooking the town of Echternach. In the pillboxes scattered along the hill, men resting from their ordeal are enjoying the considerable comforts of the Germans vacated lodgings-stout concrete bunkers- some of which contained several rooms with stoves, ventilation apparatus and bunks fitted to the walls.
Pfc. Kauffman and three other Yanks moved into one of the pill boxes they helped capture. The tang of fresh coffee, the gay Christmas cards, the opened packages containing American things like candy bars and gum and “Do not open until Christmas” stickers are a far cry from the six days and nights these men have passed through. The four, held up by a mine field on the river bank the night of the initial crossings came over the Sauer next morning in broad daylight, perfect targets for the Nazi guns trained on them from the hill. Landing on the German side, they fought their way to a wrecked house where for two days and night were pinned down by a torrent of machine gun, mortar and artillery fire. Protecting themselves from the incessant shrapnel and bursting white phosphorus bombs, required every effort. During the first night American soldiers began stumbling into a Nazi mine field near the house. The four men organized themselves into volunteer rescue party, repeatedly risking the murderous fire and immediate danger of tripping over wires and being blasted, they brought the wounded into the house.
Pottsville Bombardier Earns Oak Leaf Cluster to The Distinguished Flying Cross.
1st Lieutenant Charles Zalonka
April 21, 1945
“Target time in two minutes,” came over the interphone. A shower of steel peppered against the wing and fuselage of the Flying Fortress that was leading the mission. The weather was hazy and the smoke pots set up a screen that further obscured the target. First Lt. Charles C. Zalonka of Pottsville, took a final look at his target chart and bent over the bombsight. His skilled hands set meters, turned knobs, last minute corrections were made. A dozen 500 pound bombs tumbled from the belly of the 15th Air Force B-17 Flying Fort. Crewman’s eyes strained as they followed the course of the explosives. Someone laughed and yelled, “Mr. Hitler, recount your oil refineries”. Smoke and flame billowed heavenward. The planes came off the target, rallied and headed home. Tail gunners watched the smoke and flame grow to 20, 000 feet and could still see it a distance of 250 miles. It was the last gas producing target within the operating area of the 15th Air force in Italy. Following this mission Charlie added one more oak leaf cluster to the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The Citation read in Part.” On this and many other occasions, Lt. Zalonka has displayed superb skill and inspired leadership.” The man who wrote that citation has seen Zalonka records. There was Schwartsheide Synthetic Oil Refinery, 15th March, 1945 “good Results” Sopron Hungary, railroad Yards, “Very well hit” Linz Austria, railroad Yards “well Hit” in Italy. Zalonka has flown 23 missions; Five times he has lead his squadron as lead bombardier.
Tragically in 1955, then Captain Charles Zalonka was killed in an accident while flying as a navigator on board the B-36 Bomber.
A B-36J-5-CF Tail Number 52 2818A assigned to Walker AFB New Mexico, crashed on a training flight. They encountered sever turbulence and weather over Texas while flying at 25,000 feet.
The Aircraft began to disintegrate in flight resulting in the loss of control and went into a flat spin, and struck the ground at high impact resulting in the aircraft exploding. This made location of the bodies and identification very difficult.
Zalonka was the 2nd Navigator on board the aircraft.
One theory stated that the Fifteen airmen died in the flaming crash of the B-36 bomber in rugged territory 60 miles from San Angelo, Texas. Air Force spokesmen said apparently the big craft was snapped up by a howling tornado skipping high above the ground.
Navy Pilot Earns Gold Star on the Air Medal
Lt. J.G. Robert A Horn
April 25, 1945
Lt. JG Robert A. Horn was awarded the gold star in lieu of a second Air Medal at an East Coast Navy Air Field recently.
He holds the Navy Cross in addition to his two air medals, and was cited by his task force commander for courage and skill displayed as a pilot of a dive bomber in the strikes on Palau and the Philippines last September. In spite of intense anti aircraft fire he scored direct bomb hits on a large enemy vessel, which is known to have sunk later. He is a veteran of 41 missions against the Japanese and is a graduate of Pottsville High School and Oregon State University.
From the August 22, 1944 Pottsville Republican
Lt. Horn has been in the South Pacific for the last eight months and he particpated in all the major campaigns in the area during ththat time and two months ago he and his crew were afloat on the Pacific for a day in a ruber raft after their plane was forced down following a long distant assignment.
Lt, Horn has participated in the bombing and strafing of the japs on Saipan, Guam and other hot beds of battle activity and is due to be returned home in October for rest.
The Navy Cross is the highest medal that can be awarded by the Department of the Navy and the second highest award given for valor.
Wounded in The Phillipines
PFC. Ernest Keifer
April 14, 1945
For wounds received in action east of Olongapo during the 38th (Cyclone ) Division fight to avenge Bataan, Pfc. Ernest Keifer was awarded the Purple Heart, he is a member of Company I, 152nd Infantry Regiment and saw action with his regiment’s 16 day battle for strategic and heavily fortified Zig Zag Pass, which opened another route to Manila. He has recovered form his wounds and is now returned to active duty with his company. He has been overseas 15 months. He served previously in Hawaii, New Guinea and Leyte.
"The Avenger's of Bataan"
Commissioned by the 38th Division Association in 1999 to commemorate one of the most important events in the 38th Division's history, The Battle of Zig Zag Pass. Fought in the Phillipines during World War Two, The Battle of Zig Zag Pass was the turning point that led to the surrender of Japanese forces in the Phillipine Islands. As a result of the 38th Division's heroic performance during this battle, General Douglas MacArthur dubbed the 38th, "The Avenger's of Bataan". The painting was done by the renowned military historical artist Rick Reeves.
Note: The 38th Division History
Spearheading the drive which annihilated Japanese forces on Bataan, in the battle that liberated Luzon, is an achievement of which men of the 38th are justly proud. The division first saw action in Leyte December 1944, when the 149th Infantry Regiment was sent into Leyte P. I., for a month of mopping-up campaigning. It then moved on to Luzon, P. I., to make its now famous Subic Bay landing on Bataan Peninsula on 29 January 1945. Division troops poured in for 16 days of fierce action to smash through an intricate maze of Japanese fortifications at Zig-Zag Pass, key defense to the rapid reduction Bataan Peninsula. While one division regimental combat team made an amphibious landing at Mariveles, on the tip of the Peninsula, another force struck swiftly down the east coast through Balanga, Pilar and across the neck of land to Bagac the March of Death route – - to gain control of the entire peninsula. Some units of the 38th then landed at D plus 4, on Corregidor to assist in the defeat of the strong Jap garrison there. The division was then divided up into three regiment combat teams. One force mopped up remnants of enemy troops on the Bataan Peninsula. Another regimental combat team plus a provisional company organized from the 38th division artillery, struck north and west of Zig-Zag Pass against powerful Jap defense in the Zambales mountain ranges, while the third regimental combat team was charged with the reduction of enemy defenses on the remaining three islands – - Cabello, Fort Drum and Carabao – - guarding the entrance to Manila Bay. Later sent to the Marakina watershed, the Cyclone boys worked in May 1945, to free Eastern Luzon from the Gaps and helped preserve Manila’s water supply. This involved fighting in the Sierra Madre mountains northeast of Manila to oppose Jap forces drawn up behind the Shinbu Line, an area defended by almost impassable terrain in addition to a well developed and interlocking series of caves, pillboxes, tunnels and artillery emplacements. Here division troops defeated the Japanese in a series of bitterly contested engagements culminating in the seizing of the Marakina River line and the capture of strategic Wawa Dam, an important source of water supply to Manila. Division troops engaged in combat with the Japs in the bamboo thickets and mountainous terrain of the Marakina area up to and after V-J Day. The division was alerted for home in late September; elements arrived during October with inactivation shortly thereafter.