Tuesday, October 7, 2008

More Schuylkill County World War Two Heroes




Local Pottsville Flier Has A Thrilling Trip to Italy

S/Sgt Charles Brokhoff
15th Air Force
April 24, 1944

S/Sgt. Charles Brochoff was one of ten members of a Flying Fortress crew who bailed out at 800 feet and landed a few miles back of the foxholes of the Fifth Army infantry men in Italy.
This is the story of the ten men and a 15th AAF Flying Fortress. The pilot didn’t have a chance to bail out. He rode the plummeting Fort, which had one engine running down into the mountains and escaped unhurt. He is Lt Carol Underwood, of Texas. They were over a target in Northern Italy. They didn’t remember the name-just some bridge over a river; nobody knew what river. Four burst of flak chopped them down.
They feathered the No 1 engine. The No 2 engine was ok- it brought them in. The No. 3 was flaming and wind milling as the Apennine gales smashed against it. No. 4 wasn’t running Flak cracked through the tank and spilled 100 octane gasoline over the landscape.
Now it all seems like a drama, at least to 19 year old James Dobrin, of Minnesota, but until half of the bomb load which wouldn’t fall had been salvoed it was a night mare. Beyond the German lines they sought to put the wheels down, one worked. The Engineer, S/Sgt Charles Brockhoff, Pottsville tried to crank the other but something went wrong, gasoline was all over the place. The fumes were terrible. The Fort began to lose altitude, everyone threw things out. Sgt Ralph W.Blades, Michigan even tossed his gun overboard.
At 800 feet, no one found that out until later, the pilot, Underwood gave orders to bail out. The navigator thought the plane was across our lines and hallowed they better try it, then or never. The Navigator was Lt. Tom Hyndnen, of Philadelphia. He walked down the catwalk and saw that everyone had got out, then he bailed out from the waist. The Co-pilot Lt. Ken Woodruff, of Colorado, hit the silk so low that his chute barely broke the shock of impact. The Pilot didn’t jump. It was to late, he rode the plane down into the jagged mountains and somehow came away unhurt. It was a miracle because the rest of the plane except his compartment was smashed. Brockhoff entered the Army Air Forces on September 23, 1943.

Trapped For Three Days and Nights in a Pill Box

Pfc. Alvin Barto
76th Infantry Division
April 25, 1945

Trapped for three days and nights in a German Pill Box, with one K ration, a canteen of water and a uncertain “Walkie Talkie” radio, four soldiers of the 76th Infantry Division held a large number of Nazis at bay until the arrival of reinforcements. First Lt. William E. Hinkley, Mass, Col Arnold Cohen, Ill. Pfc Royal D. Rothe, Utah and Pfc. Alvin Barto , Pottsville all members of a forward observation party, were making their way through Siegfried Line when a sudden artillery barrage forced them into the shelter of the empty pill box.
When they attempted to leave a hail of machine gun fire from an enemy held pill box less than 100 yards away met them. In spite of the fact that the Nazis opened fire any time members of the patrol showed a sign of movement. Pfc. Rothe and Cpl. Cohen managed to slip out and started running a telephone line across an open field. Each time they had it laid the Germans would blast it with mortar fire and the men were forced back to the shelter. The next day a patrol sent out by the regiment was fired upon and had to leave one of its wounded in the field directly below the hill on which the Americans were besieged. The leader of the patrol returned for the wounded man. They were fired upon and took shelter in the badly crowded pill box held by the yanks.
Their small water supply was almost gone and Pfc. Rothe braved the Nazis fire again to locate a shell hole containing muddy water which the men purified and drank. Although the walkie talkie operated at times, Lt. Hinkley was finally able to locate his unit and call for artillery fire to clear the woods of the Nazis. On the morning of the third day a platoon of Germans began an assault on the trapped Americans. The men inside were preparing for a last stand when in true Hollywood fashion a company of the 76th Division troops led by Capt. Terrance Vangen, Minn. Appeared on the bottom of the hill and proceeded to dispose of the Germans in short order. “It sure was good to see that company coming up the hill, I could have kissed every last one of them.” Said Pfc. Rothe.

Kaska Soldier Saves Three Comrades in Battle

S/Sgt Charles F. Govern
135th Infantry regiment Company C 34th Division
April 25, 1945

Recently S/Sgt Charles F. Govern was awarded the Bronze Star for heroic achievement in action on the Fifth Army front in Northern Italy. He is a member of Company C, 135th Infantry regiment, 34th Division. Observing an enemy shell hit a house occupied by the mortar section of his company. Govern ran to the house, where he discovered that the roof of the building had collapsed and buried the entire mortar crew. He instantly began digging through the wreckage and disregarding hostile shell fire, succeeded in extricating three of his comrades. Calling for aid, Govern organized and directed a rescue party in the attempt to remove more of the men until it became apparent that all hope of further rescue was futile. “Sgt. Govern’s initiative and courage aided in saving the lives of three men and his action reflects great credit on himself and the military service.” The citation said. It reflects credit upon himself and the Untied States Military Service.

B-17 Tail Gunner Position

Kaska Hero A B-17 Tail Gunner Receives the Air Medal

S/Sgt John S. Burkot
334th Bomb Squadron
Kaska April 21, 1944

S/Sgt Burkot of the Army Air Corps is the first young man from Kaska to Receive the Air Medal, Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart Award for distinguishing himself by heroism in an aerial fight, over enemy territory. He was a tail gunner on a B-17 during the operational mission over Wilhelmshaven, Germany on November 3, 1943.
The Citation signed by Major Harry M. Conley, commanding 334th Bombing Squadron stated: “while flying at very high altitude, Sgt. Burkot was subjected to extremely low temperatures while fighting of enemy aircraft encountered on this operational sortie. Though suffering sever pain, he remained at his guns and skillfully assisted in defending his aircraft from repeated attacks, aiding the fire power of the entire formation. Performing his duties in an exemplary manner, with three fingers of his left hand frostbitten. Sgt. Burkot remained at his position until all the danger had passed and his crew was safely at home base. Sgt. Burkot on two previous missions had suffered this same experience in spite of the fact that adequate heavy flying garments were worn. He has without a moments hesitation, exposed himself to permanent disability in order to perform his duties. Sgt. Burkot, by incurring another such injury, has been removed from further combat flying. He has set an inspiring example for his fellow flyers. The heroism displayed under such conditions reflects the greatest credit upon himself and the Armed forces of the United States.
Sgt. Burkot received the Air Medal for completing five missions over enemy territory and the Oak Leaf Clusters for destroying enemy aircraft on September 6, 1943 and again on October 8, 1943, and for completing fifteen or more dangerous missions. He received the Purple Heart Award when he was wounded in action on November 3, 1943.

Pilot of B-24 Flies 50th Mission

1st Lt. Joseph Shellick
450th BG 15th Air Force

Lt. Joseph Shellick has flown his 50th mission in aerial combat as pilot of a B-24 Liberator Bomber. Shellick is a member of a veteran group of the 15th Air force that is playing a leading role in the strategic air offense against the Reich. In the course of rounding out 50 missions he has taken part in such important attacks on the Ploesti Rumanian oilfields , industrial areas of Vienna and Munich and Friedrichshafen. He also participated in the pre invasion hammering of coastal installations and gun emplacements in Southern France.
For meritorious achievement in sustained activities Shellick has been awarded the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters.

Minersville Boy a member of “The Battling group of Engineers”

Pfc. William Zubroff
Combat Engineer Battalion
January 8, 1945

A battling group of engineers, who would rather trade shots with the Germans from slit trenches on the battle line than build bridges into the rear areas, has built up a reputation for itself as a “bunch of dare-devils who can really fight”. These soldiers, veterans of North Africa and Italy before they came to France got their first taste of infantry fighting at Salerno when they spent 12 days on the line. Then they returned to engineer work. But when the Fifth Army hit Anzio the engineers went back to the front line. They hit Anzio on D-Day and stayed in the line for 45 days with the British divisions on the left flank of the beachhead. Men of this group were among the first to establish contact with the Fifth Army fighting its way northward to end the fierce battle of Anzio. A member of this group is Pfc. William Zubroff, Minersville who is now back in the states recovering from wounds received during part of the fighting in Italy

C-47's Towing Gliders

C-47 Flight Engineer Promoted

T/Sgt Anthony Drula
Troop Carrier C-47’s

Anthony Drula has been promoted the grade of T/Sgt. He is a veteran of the Holland invasion in which his ship a C-47 hauled a glider loaded with men and material into battle. As an aerial engineer, Sgt. Drula is completely responsible for the maintenance and operation of his ship. When not flying, he is chief of a maintenance crew which keeps the airplane in top notch condition. Sgt. Drula entered the Army Air force on June 12, 1941

Pottsville Soldier Awarded Bronze Star for Heroic Duty.

Pvt. Francis X. Wilson
Engineer Combat Battalion
January 5, 1945

Private Wilson serving with an engineer combat battalion, recently has been awarded the Bronze Star Medal for heroic service in connection with the military operations against the enemy in France.
His Citation Reads ”Private Wilson displayed remarkable devotion to duty when taking part in an assault on a fortified enemy position. Laden with 100 pounds of TNT plus his personal arms and equipment he moved forward in the face of enemy mortar and small arms fire over comparatively open terrain, and successfully placed the charges that destroyed the obstacle. His unflinching courage and extreme devotion to duty reflect great credit upon himself and the military service.”


C-47 Pilot Earns Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster

Lt. Robert J. Webb
Pine Grove
January 19, 1945

At an airstrip in liberated France the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster was presented to Lt. Robert Webb in recognition of “Meritorious achievements while participating in hazardous aerial flight against the enemy”.
Webb is the pilot of a Troop Carrier “Dakota” C-47 aircraft. Lt Webb was one of the first American fliers over Cherbourg on the opening night of the continental invasion. He also participated in the Para drop and glider operations in Southern France and in the gigantic airborne invasion of Holland.” Flak was bursting all around us as we came over the drop zone.” Said the Pennsylvania airman, describing the Holland mission, “but we were lucky enough to dodge through it without being hit, as we dropped our paratroopers there seemed to be a sea of parachutes opening below but we couldn’t stick around to watch the rest of the show. For my money Holland was tougher deal than either Normandy or Southern France. “ Lt. Webb was graduated from Bloomsburg College before entering the Army Air Forces in June 1942.

Airman earns 2nd Oak Leaf Cluster Air Medal

T/sgt Austin D,. Brommer
January 10, 1945

The 23 year old has been awarded the 2nd Oak leaf Cluster to the Air Medal for “Courage, Coolness and Skill” displayed while on bombing attacks over Germany. The airman is a top turret gunner in the 490th Bomb Group, a B-17 Flying Fortress unit of the Eight Air Force.

Cressona Boy Gunner on Navy TBM

Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class
John Harry Richards
January 10, 1945

Has recently returned from a tour of combat duty in the Pacific where he served as an air crewman with the Navy’s Air Group 51. Richards was a gunner aboard a General Motors Avenger (TBM) torpedo plane, which can attack with Bombs, rockets and machine gun fire as well as with torpedoes.

The Air Medal for Flying the “Hump”

Corporal George Vanagaitis
St. Clair
January 15, 1945

Vanagaitis is serving with the Air Transport Command in India. He recently wrote home that he received the Air Medal for having complet3d the required number of missions flying over the “Hump” in China. He has been granted rest leave which will be spent in a rest camp somewhere in India. He went overseas in January 1944, he was stationed in South America and Africa before moving to India.

Combat Mission on the B-24 Liberator “Stinky”

S/Sgt. Joseph M. Zeall
Palo Alto
January 15, 1945

S/Sgt Zeal has been awarded the fourth Oak Leaf Cluster to the Air Medal. This has been announced by the 2nd Bombardment Division Eight Air Force, England. Zeall has been flying with the well known veteran 398th Bombardment Group and has participated on 32 aerial combat missions bombing such strategic targets as Cologne, Strassburg, Brunswick, and Dusseldorf. In all his 32 missions, his trip to Bingen, Germany, proved to be his most exciting. That day “Stinky”, his liberator, was hit by flak knocking one engine out of commission just before “bombs away”. Nevertheless they continued the bomb run, dropping the deadly missiles and then started for home. When crossing the English, Channel the crew was ordered to prepare to make a landing in the water. Fortunately, they were able to make the English coast when the pilot brought the wounded giant down for a safe emergency landing with the entire crew intact.

The 339th Polar Bears

January 15, 1945
Pfc. Edgar C. Machamer, ammo bearer, of Middleport; Tsgt Byron G. Robertson, Pottsville, and Pfc. John J. Callahan, truck driver Heckscherville, are members of the 339th “Polar Bear” Regiment which recently shattered the vitals of the vaunted Gothic Line, taking Italian peaks as high as 3,400 feet east of Highway 65 and Futa Pass. The regiment landed in Italy last March 15 after a training period in North Africa and was the first unit of the 85th Division in the line when it was committed to action the following day. It passed through Rome June 5, crossed the Tiber River and took a brief rest. It went back into line to hold a stretch along the Arno River near Florence. The “Polar Bears” got their name in WW1 when they fought in waist deep snow along a 400 mile front between Archangel and Leningrad in Russia. They battled on five months after the Armistice had ended in Europe.

M-10 Tank Destroyer

M-10 Tank Destroyers

Pfc. William G. Davis
Tower City
7th Army Tank Destroyer Battalion
January 15, 1945

A brilliant record established in North Africa and Italy is being lived up to by the men of the tank Destroyer battalion, of the Seventh Army in the southern Saar Basin of Germany. The Battalion came into Southern France on D-Day and took part in the chase of the German 18th Army north through the Rhone Valley. When the Germans made a stand in the Vosges Mountains, the battalion turned the heavy guns of the M-10 tank destroyers against the strong points and played a large part in the drive that smashed the Nazis line and drove them out of Alsace-Loraine and behind the Seigfried line. Elements of the battalion landed on D-Day in North Africa and first established its reputation as a (Bull Dog) outfit when it played a large part in the finally stopping the German at Kasserine Pass and then leading the way back when the Yanks retook the lost ground and went to bottle up the Nazi Army in Tunisia. D-Day at Salerno found the men again living up to their motto of “Seek, Find and Destroy” When the Anzio Beachhead was seized, the battalion again went in on D-Day and held its sector firm for four months. When the breakout finally came, the tank hunters led the way and out the German escape route from southern Italy to Rome. Evidence of the valor and ability of the men of the battalion is found in more than 600 decorations its members have received. Included in these are seven Croix de Guerre and a Legion of Honor, awarded by the French.

Port Carbon Soldier Wounded In Action

Pvt. Lewis M. Krebs
Port Carbon
Jan 10, 1945

Krebs who is serving with a Tank Destroyer Battalion with the First American Army, in Germany. He was wounded in action at St. Lo France on August 14, and after several weeks of hospitalization in England was returned to active duty on November 16, the day of his 20th birthday. In his letter he explained a day of war. He Wrote: We are in a log house about three feet high, eight feet wide and eight feet long. On one side are our rifles and above them is an empty ration box which we use for mail. In a corner is a Jerry stove, which we helped our selves to, and a pile of wood. In front of me are two telephones, one from which we receive firing orders and the other I have to my ears listening to music. Only six of us sleep in this match box. Around us we hear guns cracking while outside one of the men is chopping wood. We had a company the last three nights in the form of German Air Force, (forgotten by U.S. Civilians), which had been raising hell. Night is approaching and everyone is getting ready for the thoroughly disliked night. The boys are getting ammunition around to tank destroyers and putting in on deck for our firing missions. I hope that helps you understand a little about it but picture all that and one more thing, _Mud- Knee- Deep.

Baptism of Fire

Pvt. Donald H. Wertz
Pine Grove.
398th Infantry Regiment, 100th Division.
January 18, 1945

Baptism of fire is an experience few soldiers ever forget, and the men of the 398th Infantry Regiment of the 100th (Century) Division have special reason never to forget theirs. For they went into action for the first time in one of the toughest sectors of the long Sixth Army group front in Eastern France. The enemy held prepared positions in dense forests. Their dugouts were deep, covered with logs, and well camouflaged. Their artillery was placed on the mountainous heights that rose above the forest level. Tank traps, booby traps and land mines, many of the latter ingeniously fitted with trip wires, blocked the narrow routes and paths, through the forest. Still against military obstacles like these, against a fanatic enemy, and weather conditions that included rain and snow and ankle deep mud, the 398th proceeded without delay to help take Baccarat, to cross the swift, flooded Meurthe River, and to press the Nazis further backward to the Rhine. It proved that it had learned its lesson well, for in the drive on Raon L’Etape, a strategic town on the 7th Army front the regiment skillfully out maneuvered the Nazis, prepared defenses and took the high ground which surrounds the town and commands a stretch of open terrain to the east in the direction of the Rhine.

Editors Note:
The 398th Practically destroyed the brand-new, full-strength German 708th Volks-Grenadier Division in the process of penetrating the Vosges Mountains by assault for the first time in history Since the 1st century BC, Romans, Huns, Burgundians, Swedes, Austrians, Bavarians, Germans and even French forces had tried and failed, but in the late autumn of 1944, in the face of nearly constant rain, snow, ice and mud, the US Seventh Army did what no other army had ever done before. For its success in ripping the Germans out of their trenches on the formidable heights overlooking Raon L'Etape, the 1st Battalion, 399th Infantry Regiment was awarded the Division's first Presidential Unit Citation, the collective equivalent of the Distinguished Service Cross for individual valor. Lieutenant Edward Silk, of the 2d Battalion, 398th, won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions during the rout of the German forces.

1 comment:

Joanne Klauber said...

S/Sgt Ralph Blades from Flint, MI was my father (he passed away 7/30/87). I have an original copy of the Stars 'n Stripes article, as well as a piece of his parachute, ripcord, and 'Caterpillar Club' pin and ID card. I'd love to have these items placed in a WWII museum if they will be displayed (I gave them to a museum in San Marcos, TX and they stuck it all in a box for two years, never displaying it, so I took it back).