Sunday, December 16, 2012


Seaman Charles Leibig


Charles Leibig, Member of a tanker crew, Arrived in Norfolk after sinking. Says men of submarine spoke to them in German.

Norfolk Jan. 31, 1942: Thirty survivors of the the Tanker Rochester told today how a yellow trimmed light blue German submarine sank their vessel with torpedoes and shells at short range.
Three of their shipmates, in the engine room at the time of the attack apparently were lost. The survivors escaped in two life boats.  One of the life boats approached so close to the Axis raider that an oarsman had to take his oar from its lock and fend the off from the submarine.
The 6,836 ton Socony-Vacuum tanker was attacked about noon yesterday while enroute empty from New York to Corpus Christi, Texas, The survivors escaped in two life boats when they launched after the submarine fired fired a torpedo and then rose to the surface and began firing shells.
They were brought to shore by a naval vessel. After more than four hours afloat. In their lifeboats.
The Rochester was the 11th merchant ship sunk and the 10th attacked by German submarine prowling the Atlantic coast, seemingly with tankers as their primary objective. The submarines have been reported from Nova Scotia to Florida.
Survivors stated the first torpedo hit near the Rochester’s propeller then circled the ship and sent in another torpedo. The tanker sanl about an hour and a half after the attack started.
T.C. Watts of Elizabeth N.J. chief cook, ruefully remarked that “Davy Jones got a good dinner” because he was preparing dinner when the first torpedo landed and “soup, bread, meat and coffee were sprayed al over the place.
Charles Leibig, a seaman from Pottsville, said the submarine was not more than 50 feet away when it began shelling from the surface.
“We could smell the gun powder and hear the gunners talking,” he said.
In trying to get away we pulled toward the sub and at the same time the sub was approaching us. We got so close that one man pulled out his oar out of the lock, struck it against the side of the sub and pushed away.
“The sub was light blue, trimmed in yellow, the men spoke to us in German.”
Floyd W. May, of Galveston Texas a seaman explained that it took about fifteen minutes to abandon ship. He said he was in the number two lifeboat and that the boat, “stayed near the sinking ship top see if the men in the engine room would ever come up. The submarine also stayed around for 30 minutes, all the time on the surface with the men out on deck., “ he said.” They made no attempt to get any closer to us. As a matter of fact they seemed to pay no attention to us.. We saw no machine guns.:”
A.D. Lewis, seaman from Beaumont. Tx. Said “I was knocked out of my bunk by the first torpedo. He said he went up on deck and, deciding he had time, ran to the forecastle for his clothes and papers. When he returned he said the first life boat already had been lowered, “but I made it in the second boat.”

Charles Leibig enlisted in the Navy 1939.


At 18.05 hours on 30 Jan, 1942, the unescorted and unarmed Rochester(Master Alden S. Clark) was hit by one stern torpedo from U-106 while steaming on a zigzag course at 10.4 knots about 85 miles east of the Chesapeake Lightship. One torpedo struck aft in the engine room, killed one officer and two crewmen on watch below, destroyed the engines and communications and damaged the rudder and propeller. The survivors among the eight officers and 27 crewmen abandoned ship in two lifeboats when the U-boat surfaced nearby. The Germans waited until both boats were clear of the tanker to finish her off with the deck gun, but it jammed after firing eight rounds from about 500 yards. At 18.38 hours, a coup de grĂ¢ce was fired that hit amidships on the starboard side. The tanker immediately developed a list to starboard and sank after one hour.
The Samuel Q. Brown had observed the attack and sent radio messages that forced the U-boat to leave the area. The survivors were picked up after three hours by USS Roe (DD 418) off the Virginia Capes and landed in Norfolk the next morning. They had been spotted by an aircraft that dropped smoke bombs to lead the destroyer to them. One fireman died from burns on 14 February.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Coaldale Marine the first Marine killed in Action in World War ll.

Wake Island was an American outpost in the central Pacific. Wake is a coral atoll, made up of three islands. Wake Island itself is the largest, and forms two sides of a triangle. Peale Island and Wilkes Island extend the two arms of Wake Island. The three islands are tiny – only 2.5 square miles in area, but their location in the central Pacific gave them a strategic significance far beyond their size. The Marshal Islands to the south and most of the Marianas islands to the west had been in Japanese hands since the First World War, when they seized them from the Germans.
Wake Island was an American outpost in the central Pacific. Wake is a coral atoll, made up of three islands. Wake Island itself is the largest, and forms two sides of a triangle. Peale Island and Wilkes Island extend the two arms of Wake Island. The three islands are tiny – only 2.5 square miles in area, but their location in the central Pacific gave them a strategic significance far beyond their size. The Marshal Islands to the south and most of the Marianas islands to the west had been in Japanese hands since the First World War, when they seized them from the Germans.

On December 8th, 1941 between 20 and 30 twin engine bombers in the opening attack on Wake Island, caught 12 planes on the ground  and put eight out of action and killed 25 Marines and some civilians.  Among those Marines was Pvt. John Katchak from Coaldale, Schuylkill County.
John joined the Marines in 1941 and was stationed at Wake Island.

On December 9, there were two more raids by planes which also carried incendiaries, but due to vigorous plane and anti aircraft fire damage was less severe than on the 8th.

A week before Christmas Katchaks parents received the telegram telling them that their son was killed in action on the attack on Wake Island.

From the book entitled, “Wake Island” by James P.S. Devereux  I take the account of burying private John Katchak, USMC.

Private John Katchak
Marine Detachment
First Defense Battalion, FMF , Wake Island

One grave was apart from the others . It was in the middle of Barningers’s battery position. It held the body if the first man of the First Marine Defense Battalion killed in action. In the air attack of December 9, a bomb had landed on the lip of the foxhole, killing him instantly. All they could do was make his foxhole his grave.
They made a small mound and pit some chunks of coral in on it. They didn’t have a book with the burial service in it, but they gathered around the grave. The lieutenant said they would say the Lord’s prayer for his soul. Some said the catholic version, some said the protestant version and some only moved their lips when they came to the parts they were npt sure of.. Then they went back to work. That was how they buried Private John Katchak, of Coaldale, Penna. Who was nineteen years old. Lieutenant Barninger, an unsentimental young man, noted in the battery journal: “ His grave in the middle of the battery position, serves as continuous reminder of the task before us, and a source of inspiration to us all.”




On December 16, 1941 the Pottsville Republican reported that the parents of Marine Corps Major Lither Brown stationed with the USMC in China, is a prisoner of war at Tientsin China. In an earlier letter from their son in October prepared them for developments which followed, as he said then that the Marines were in constant surveillance of the Japanese.
Major Brown has been in China for the past five years and is the author of the U.S. marines Handbook. Major Brown is a graduate of Pottsville High School Class of 1917.

“Major Brown was known by all Marines as “Handbook Brown,” in recognition of his authorship of the “Handbook for Marines,” the fore-runner of today’s “Guidebook for Marines,” the latest edition of which I understand is still a mandatory purchase for all Marines.  Major Brown, having laid down a few rules himself for Marines to follow, was a stickler for regulations.  If it wasn’t written down somewhere, said Major Brown, you can’t do it.  The Japanese military bureaucracy, operating under exactly the same ground rules, had no defense against this argument.  In retrospect, I think that Major Brown had a great time instructing the Japanese on how to properly run a prison camp.”
By Robert E. Winslow
Sergeant Major, USMC (Retired) (1939-1970)

The Following account of the capture of the China Marines is from the History of the US Marine Corps in WW 2.

On 8 December 1941 (Manila Time) ,
Japanese forces took their first Marine
prisoners of war—the officers and men
of the American Embassy Guard, Peiping,
and of the Marine Legation Guard,
Tientsin. A detail of 22 men from the
Tientsin detachment was captured while
stockpiling supplies at the Chingwangtao docks
in anticipation of an immediate evacuation.
The North China Marines were scheduled to
depart Chingwangtao on 10 December 1941 in the
President Harrison, which had evacuated the
4th Marines from Shanghai
during the last week of November.

At approximately 0800 on the 8th,
however, about 1,000 Japanese troop s
surrounded the Tientsin barracks, while
three enemy planes circled overhead .
The Marine gate sentry phoned his commanding
officer, Major Luther A . Brown,
and stated that a Japanese officer wanted to
speak to him. 3 The officer, a Major
Omura who was well known to Brown ,
brought a written proposal that all officers and
men be assembled in one place
in the barracks compound, and all o f
their weapons and equipment in another ,
while the Japanese took over. The alternative
to surrender was "that the
Japanese would enforce their proposal
with the troops at hand." 4
Brown told the major that he would
sign the proposal only if the Japanese
accorded his men the privileges due
them under the Boxer Protocol to which
Japan and the United States had been
signatories. Following a telephone conversation
with the local Japanese commander, Lieutenant General Kyoji
Tominaga, with whom Brown had bee n
friendly in prewar days, Major Omura
stated that Tominaga agreed to the stipulation
and that Japan would honor it if
valid. Brown believed that this stipulation should
have guaranteed the repatriation of his men. 5
General Tominaga arranged for
Brown to telephone Colonel William W.
Ashurst, senior Marine officer in North
China and commander of the America n
Embassy Guard in Peiping . Ashurst told
Brown that he was accepting a similar
Japanese proposal and advised the
Tientsin Marine commander to do the
same.° The embassy and legation guard thought
that if they offered no resistance, they
would be considered part of
the diplomatic entourage and therefore
would be repatriated. Unfortunately,
the basis for this belief was nonexistent.
Because their initial treatment was relatively
mild, and because they received
repeated informal Japanese assurance s
that they would be repatriated, the
Marines made no attempt to escape . ?
Following the establishment of communications
with the Japanese Government through Swiss diplomatic channel s
for the purpose of setting up the exchange of Japanese
and American consular officials, the United States
attempted to get Japan to recognize the
diplomatic status of the North Chin a
Marines. In a telegram on 26 December
1941, the Swiss Government was requested to
inform Japan that
"The United States Government considers
that its official personnel subject to this
exchange includes . . . the marine guards
remaining in China and there under
the protection of international agreement. . . .

In reply, Japan stated that "it is
unable to agree to include United States
Marine Guards remaining in China a s
they constitute a military unit."
The United States was busy at this time
setting up the exchange program overall, and
informed the Imperial Government
through Swiss channels that it would
revert to this point at a later date . Japan
inferred from this statement that "th e
United States Government do not insist
in inclusion of the Marine Guards in the
present exchange." 10 This inference
was incorrect because on 13 March,
when it provided a list of the Americans
to be repatriated, the Department of
State referred to what it had said previously
regarding the return of the Marine
guards and stated that it expected the
Japanese Government "to take cognizance
of their true status as diplomatic

Neither Major Brown nor Colonel
Ashurst, who had surrendered the Peiping
guard at 1100 on 8 December, knew
of this diplomatic interchange . On 3
January 1942, the Peiping Marines
were brought to Tientsin and quartered
with Brown's troops. At Major Brown's
intercession, Major Edwin P. McCaulley,
who had retired and was living in
Peiping but was recalled to active duty
as the Quartermaster for the Peiping
Guard, was relocated by the Japanese
to a Tientsin hotel, and later returned
to the United States on the first ex -
change ship.

On the 27th, the entire group of
Marines was moved, together with all
personal effects, by train to Shanghai,
where a Japanese officer told them in
English as they entered the prison camp ,
that "they were not prisoners of war
although they would be treated as such
and that North China Marines would be
repatriated." 13 Until the exchange
ships left without the Marines, the men
believed that they would be repatriated .
Brown said after the war that they
were convinced that they were at least
slated to be returned to the United
States, but that the excuse the Japanese
gave for failing to send them back wa s
that there was not enough room fo r
them on board the exchange ships.
This may have been a valid excuse, for
many grave problems concerning shipboard
accommodations arose which
threatened the whole repatriation process.

On 2 February 1942, the North Chin a
Marines arrived at Woosung prison
camp, at the mouth of the Whangpoo
River near Shanghai, where they joined
the Marine survivors of Wake Islan d
who had arrived on 24 January . Also at
Woosung were a handful of Marines,
who, unlike the others, received diplomatic
immunity and were to be repatriated later in 1942.
These men were Quartermaster Clerk Paul G. Chandler,
First Sergeant Nathan A. Smith, Supply
Sergeant Henry Kijak, and Staff
Sergeant Loren O. Schneider, all members
of the 4th Marines who had been
left at Shanghai to settle government
accounts after their regiment had saile d
for the Philippines. 16 For some unknown
reason, unless they had been gulled into
believing so, the Japanese thought that
these last four were part of the U . S.
consular staff at Shanghai and therefore
entitled to diplomatic immunity.
Chandler and the other three Marines
became prisoners on 8 December, and
were transferred several times to other
prisons in the Shanghai area before
they, too, arrived at Woosung. This was
a former Japanese Army camp, approximately
20 acres overall, and completely
enclosed with two electrified fences. The
buildings were all frame structure and
unheated. Most of the prisoners were
not dressed warmly enough to withstand
the biting Chinese . winter, and
all were insufficiently fed. '

The following North China Marine officers were held at Hakodate #4, Nishi-Ashibetsu from July to September of 1945:Col William Ashurst, Maj Luther Brown, Capt James Climie, Capt James Hester, Capt John White, 1st Lt George Newton, 1st Lt Richard Weber, Navy Commander (Dr) L Thyson, and Chief Marine Gunner William Lee. 

For more info see North China Marines Web site

Thursday, December 6, 2012


At dawn on 7 December 1941 more than half of the United States Pacific Fleet, approximately 150 vessels and service craft, lay at anchor or alongside piers in Pearl Harbor. All but one of the Pacific fleet battleships were in port that morning, most of them moored to quays flanking Ford Island. By 10:00 a.m. the tranquil Sunday calm had been shattered, 21 vessels lay sunk or damaged, the fighting backbone of the fleet apparently broken. Smoke from burning planes and hangers filled the sky. Oil from sinking ships clogged the harbor. Death was everywhere. The fleet in Pearl Harbor, the focus of the attack, suffered the greatest loss; almost half the total casualties occurred when the USS Arizona blew up. Army, Navy, Army Air Force, and Marine Corps facilities across the length and breadth of Oahu, from Kaneohe to haleiwa to Malakole, bore their share of death and destruction. Hickam, Wheeler, and Bellows Army Air Force bases lost 217 men and 77 aircraft.
Among those killed in action is three Schuylkill County soldiers and sailors.

DECEMBER 7, 1941

A 21 year old Mahanoy City young man became the first  soldier to lose his life during the Second World War.

He was Jerome Szematowicz of 401 West Mahony St., a graduate of Mahanoy City High School.
Jerome was a chief mechanic in the squadron. He became an Army Air Corps Mechanic after completing courses at Chanute Field, Ill.
He was killed in action at Hickam Field, Hawaii, during the Japanese air assault on Sunday  December 7, 1941.
Jerome enlisted at Pottsville in 1939 and was serving with the 22nd Material Squadron.
In researching the action at Hickam Field on this day. It was reported that the first bombs dropped on the field killed a group of soldiers from the 22nd Material Sqd,, working on and trying to move a B-24 bomber. The Japs hit at 7:55 A.M., his squadron lost 27 men killed. The attack consisted of two waves of low level and high level attacks.
A flight of some 50 dive bombers and fighters struck Hickam Field. The first targets hit were the Hawaiian Air Depot's engineering building and the hangar area, where A-20, B-18, and B-17 bombers were parked wingtip to wingtip. With the large population of Japanese in the local community, sabotage had been feared more than an enemy attack; so instead of being dispersed and in readiness for immediate takeoff, the aircraft were bunched together in one place where they could be closely guarded. Consequently, they were easy targets for the Japanese, whose attack then widened to include the big new consolidated barracks and mess hall, the base theater (which was also used as a chapel), the post exchange, enlisted men's beer garden, and the fire station and guardhouse.
A total of 27 men from the squadron were killed in action on this day.

United States Army Air Corp.
Hawaiian Air Force, Hq & Hq Squadron,

- 17th Air Base Group, Hq & Hq Squadron
- 22nd Material Squadron
Station: Hickam AFB, Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii
Casualty List: 28 KIA - 42 WIA*


John E. Burns a graduate of Pottsville Catholic High School in 1933 was killed at Pearl Harbor while serving aboard the USS Arizona which was sunk by Japanese Aircraft.
Weeks before the attack Burn’s family received a letter that stated  he was to be reassigned to San Diego for schooling in diesel engineering.

In early January his family received  the letter.

A telegram received by his parents stated,
“After exhaustive search it has been found impossible to locate your son John E. Burns, of the USN and therefore has been officially declared to have lost his life in the service of his country as of December 7, 1941. The department expresses to you its sincere sympathy.”


Seaman 2/C George Stembrosky, 20 who entered the Navy in September 1940 was killed in action at Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.
Killed While serving aboard the U.S.S. Nevada BB-36..
George is buried in the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

On December 7, 1941 At 0910 at Hospital Point, Honolulu the crippled 
  USS Nevada was trying to escape the harbor when Japanese planes concentrated their attack on it. Afraid that if the ship sank, it would block the harbor entrance, Admiral Pye ordered it beached five minutes after its skipper, Captain Scanlan, came aboard. The Nevada had three officers and 47 enlisted men killed, and five officers and 104 enlisted wounded. The Nevada was back in service
before the end of 1942.
The Nevada Beached 

DECEMBER 7, 1941
DECEMBER  8, 1941.


Pvt Edward Cullen Hq. Sqd. 11 Bomb Group, Shenadoah.
Pvt. Metro Stednitz, 18th Air Base Sqd., St. Clair
Pvt. Herman Chattlin, 12 th Signal Platoon Chief Telephone Operator. St. Clair.
T/Sgt. Harry Fetterolf, Mediucal detachment, Llewellyn.
Corp Norman J. Smeltzer..Port Carbon
Pvt. Clyde N. Seabold 18th Bomb Wing, Port Carbon
Pvt. Charles E. Goss, 31st Bombing Sqd. Port Carbon
PFC William Auer HQ. 5th  Group.
Pvt. Walter Barasha, 58th Bombing Sqd. Shenandoah.
Pvt. Peter Brunda, 23 Material Sqd. Coaldale.


Pvt. Fred W. Corbin Battery G 3rd Defense BatteryAshland.
Harvey Smith Jr….USS West Virginia.
John M. Roberts Asst. Gunner US Navy Pottsville.\
Oscar Welde, USS Cachalot.
PO Lawerence J. Ryan USS San Francisco, Mahanoy City.
WO. Richard Wagner, USS Louisville. Port Carbon
1/C Seaman Thomas M. Coogan USS Tucker, Port Carbon.
Pvt. Eaymond Klitsch 53rd Brigade AA. Pottsville
Pvt. Lamar Kintzel, QM Corps, Pine Grove.
Pvt. Joseph J. Yutgus HQ Battery 53rd Coast Artillery AA. New Phila.
Pvt. Alphonse Msedalis Battery 64 Coast Artillery. Minersville.
Pvt. George Klutchka 64th Coast Artilery Battery F. Minersville.
Pvt. John J. Knarr In telligence Battery 53rd Coast Artillery. Mahanoy City.
Pvt. Evert Hoffman 64th Coast Artillery Battery K, Locust Dale.
Corp. John J. Shuler Battery A Coast Artillery, Llwellyn.
Pvt. James L. Heim Battery E 64th Coast Artillery, Sacramento.
Pvt. Joseph Kentusky Battey K 64th Coast Artillery, Shenandoah
Pvt. Francis McDonald Intell Battery 54th Coast Artillery, Middleport.
Pvt. Albert A. Saluta Battery K 64th Coast Artillery, Shenadoah.
Pvt. Michael E. Delinko HQ Battery 53rd AA Battery Arnout’s Addition.


S/Sgt. Edward Covelsky 44th Pursuit Sqd. Pottsville.
Pvt. Michael E. Delinko 45thPursuit Sqd. Pottsville.
PFC Guy Hand Army Mechanic 741st Ordance Company. Schuylkill Haven.
Pvt. Francis P. Zigmund Mechanic in Air Corps. Port Carbon.
Corp. George D. Pollack 25th Material Sqdn. New Phila.
Sgt. John Kudlak  45th Pursuit Sqd. Marlin.
Pfc. Joseph Botto HQ Sqd. 18th Air Base, St. Clair.
Pfc David Fessler, 741st Ordance Company, Summit Station.
Pfc Charles A. Zelonis 18th Air Base. Shenandoah.
Sgt. Alfred Drabinis, 44th Pursuit Sqd. Middleport.


Pvt. John Weiss, Station HospitalPottsville.
Corp. Paul Smerko Co. F.35th Infantry.Minersville.
S/Sgt Vincent F. Seminsvage 35th Infantry Hq. BatterySt. Clair.
Pvt. Emil Sanilko HQ, Company 35th Infantry. Pottsville.
Corp James J. Whalen Co. I 27th Regiment. Mahanoy Plane.
Pvt. Anthony Gregonis Co. M 27th Infantry. Minersville.
\Pvt. Eugene Carlin, Company C 21st Infantry. Mahanoy City.
Pfc Mike Vengin, 1st Batt. 8th Field Artillery. Llewellyn.
Pfc Joseph Ondo, HQ Service Company 11th Medical Regt. Llewellyn.
Pfc George Schuler, Co. C 10th Infantry, Llewellyn.
Pvt. William J. Clery, Co. L 21st Infantry, Tremont.
Pvt. William A. Lesher,  Hq. Com. 25th Infantry, Ashland.
Pvt. John J. Coyne Co. E 3rd Engineers. Ashland.
Pfc Peter A. Vasura, Co. K 35th Infantry, Port Carbon.
Pfc Martin Peelman, Co. M 27th Infantry. Poret Carbon.
Corp. Edmond Lynaugh, Co. H. 77th Infantry ,Port Carbon.
Pvt.Donald F. Sorber Co. K 35th Infantry, Shenandoah.
Pvt. Paul F.Buckley Battery C 13 Field Artillery, Shenandoah.
Pvt. Robert Heisler Signal Company Aircraft Warning. Schuylkill Haven,
Pvt.Nick Latanishen, Co. B. 19th Infantry, Buck Run.
Pvt. Francis L. Edwards Signal Company Aircraft Warning, Hegins.
Pvt. Paul Ridgers, Battery A Field Artillery 24th Infantry Div. New Phila.