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Edwin C. Creeger, Jr.

Namesake of Legion Post 168

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Edwin C. Creeger, Jr. was born on August 21, 1920, in Thurmont to parents Edwin C. and Ethel Creeger.  He was his parents’ only child. 

The family’s address was given as having been 7 North Church Street, Thurmont. Creeger’s father owned and operated the Creeger Motor Company in Thurmont, and he had served in France during the First World War.

Creeger graduated from Thurmont High School in 1937 and from the Lebanon Valley College in 1941. 

According to an article published on October 27, 1943, by The (Frederick) News, Creeger “had always been especially talented along musical lines and after having majored in this subject, became music supervisor at the Lower Paxton High School, Harrisburg.”

At a Thurmont High School Alumni Banquet held on June 1, 1942, Creeger sang “Johnny Doughboy Found a Rose in Ireland” and “River Stay ‘Way from My Door,” accompanied by a pianist, as part of the entertainment held during the banquet.

He was still employed at the Lower Paxton High School when he was granted a leave of absence to enlist in the Navy.

Creeger enlisted at 21 years of age on July 7, 1942, in the Naval Reserve.  Upon enlistment, he was listed as having been 5’ 9” in height, weighing 180 pounds, having gray eyes, brown hair, and a ruddy completion.

He initially received training at Marietta College in Ohio (World War II had briefly turned the Marietta College into a pilot training center, according to the Marietta Times).

He then received additional training at the Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia, and at the Naval facility on the University of Georgia campus in Athens, Georgia. That training was followed by additional training in Hollywood, Florida, probably at the Naval Training School there.

Having completed his training, he graduated as a navigator on June 23, 1942, in Hollywood, Florida.

Ensign Creeger had been on sea duty since September 10, 1943, according to The (Frederick) News, which further noted that he “had spent a two-week leave with his parents before leaving for service on September 20.”

Nearly a month following his visitation leave with his parents, Creeger met his death on October 23, 1943, when his plane was shot down at Dunkeswell, East Devon District, Devon, England, deeming him almost certainly as a casualty of the Battle of the Atlantic, said to be the longest, continuous military campaign in World War II.

The (Hagerstown) Daily Mail reported on October 28, 1943, that Creeger had been killed “in the performance of his duty and in the service of his country,” further reporting on November 10, 1943, that, “The Naval officer was killed in the crash of a seaplane, presumably somewhere in England, the Navy Department announcement said.”

His body was interred in the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, Coton, South Cambridgeshire District, Cambridgeshire, England.

The (Frederick) News, announced in their November 17, 1945, issue that a new American Legion Post was being formed in Thurmont and would be named the Edwin C. Creeger Jr. Post 168, in honor of the fallen aviator. 

The (Frederick) News further reported on December 1, 1945, that “The father of the Thurmont youth who lost his life in World War II, and after whom the new post of Legion is named, was elected Commander of the Thurmont organization.”

Creeger was a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Thurmont.

On August 21, 1944, Creeger’s family published a Card of Thanks in The (Frederick) News, which read, “To our very good neighbors and wonderful friends of Edwin, Jr., and ourselves, we wish to thank each and every one from the bottom of our hearts, for the many wonderful words and acts of consolation in our very dark hour of sorrow…  His Mother and Father.”

Edwin C Creeger, Jr.

Larry Thomas Brent

Died in Vietnam

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Larry Thomas Brent was born on May 10, 1946, in Franklin Township, Adams County, Pennsylvania, to parents Logan Brent and Susan Moore Brent.

Brent had seven brothers and five sisters “surviving” him at the time of his death, according to an obituary published in the January 18, 1968, The York Dispatch

Brent graduated from Gettysburg High School as a member of the Class of 1965. Subsequently, he served for six months in the National Guard before entering the Army in June 1966. Brent undertook his basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia.

Brent, who had achieved the designation of SP4 (Specialist 4) was assigned to the 6th Battalion, 77th Artillery.  According to 77fa.org, on October 15, 1966, the “6th Battalion, 77th Artillery was activated at Fort Irwin, California, as a towed-105mm howitzer battalion.”

“Towed” 105mm howitzers are lightweight field artillery that can be towed by another vehicle into action.  According to historynet.com, the “105MM howitzer was the mainstay of every firebase and used in nearly every major battle of the Vietnam War.” The gun-type generally employed a crew of six for operating it.

The battalion, along with Brent, arrived in Vietnam on May 22, 1967, and “was assigned to the II Field Force, the 6/77th Artillery, and was attached to the 25th Division and based at Cu Chi,” 77fa.org stated.

During October 1967, Vietnam was subject to severe rain and storms.  “By the end of September and during the first weeks of October, the monsoon season had made for rough combat conditions,” according to vietnamwar50th.com. 

October saw more than attacks from a fanatical enemy. On the home front, while the American soldiers weathered the storms, both in the form of lightning from the tempests and the bullets and incoming rounds from their artillery of the enemy, the “first national demonstration” against the war had been launched in opposition to the war, which included the Pentagon Riot of October 21, 1967.

Nevertheless, combat continued, despite supply lines having been disrupted by the severe weather. It was during the October deluge that Brent had been hit by enemy fire.

The York Dispatch reported in a story published on January 19, 1968, that Brent had been previously hospitalized during October 1967, in Vietnam, as the result of his having sustained a shrapnel wound. The newspaper noted that, after his recovery, “He returned to duty before Christmas with Battery A, Sixth Battalion, Seventy-Seventh Artillery.”

The Gettysburg Times reported on January 18, 1968, that “recovering from the October wound, he was given a rest and recreation leave over Christmas and then returned to duty.”

Regardless of when he had returned to duty, Brent was awarded the Purple Heart as a result of his injury. His mother was informed of his having received the medal in November.

Nothing out of the ordinary seemed to have made its way into the media or the public eye until the New Year, when, on January 18, 1968, The Gettysburg Times published a story under the headline, “Larry T. Brent Dies in Action Tuesday (January 16) in VN.” 

According to the story, Brent “has been killed in action in Vietnam…  Officers from the Army ROTC unit at Gettysburg College conveyed the message to the mother Wednesday evening.” 

The York Dispatch also reported on January 19 that Brent had been “killed in action (on January 16).”

However, military records seem to dispute the claim that Brent was “killed in action.” His cause of death is listed in U.S., Vietnam War Military Casualties, 1956-1998, as having been classified as “Non-Hostile – Died of Other Causes.” 

SP4 Larry Thomas Brent was laid to rest on January 24 in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. The Gettysburg Times reported that, “An honor guard and pallbearers were provided by a military unit from the Carlisle Barracks.” The newspaper also noted that Brent was buried “with full military honors.”

SP 4 Larry Thomas Brent

Frank W. Albaugh

KIA Lorraine Campaign

Frank W. Albaugh was born on December 26, 1923, in Thurmont, to Maurice, World War I Veteran, and wife, Margaret Albaugh. He and his parents’ address was given in the 1940 Census as simply being “Main Street,” Thurmont; also seen elsewhere as having been “31 West Main Street.” 

Albaugh’s father’s place of employment was stated as having been Woodsboro Savings Bank, where he worked as a banker.

The 1940 Census also stated that Albaugh had a younger sister, Mary C Albaugh, who was 11 years old at the time of the census, and Albaugh was 16 years old.

Albaugh was a graduate of Thurmont High School, and at age 18, he registered for the draft on June 30, 1942. At that time, he had already been enrolled in the University of Maryland and had been attending classes there for two years when he entered into the military service on February 12, 1943, at 20 years of age.

His statistics at the time of his enlistment were recorded as his having been 5’8” in height and weighing 193 pounds, with brown hair and eyes and a “ruddy” complexion.

Albaugh enlisted as a private. He had achieved the rank of staff sergeant before meeting his untimely death on the killing fields of France in 1944. 

Albaugh was dispatched to Europe as a member of the Army’s 137th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division, which landed on Ohama Beach during D-Day operation, deploying on July 7 through July 9. 

As the 137th Infantry Regiment pushed through France in pursuit of a retreating German Army, Albaugh was wounded by enemy fire in August 1944, in which he was “slightly wounded,” treated, and was then permitted to “immediately” return to his unit, according to the August 15, 1944, edition of The (Frederick) News

The newspaper also noted that Albaugh was issued a Purple Heart for his wounding, which he had subsequently sent home to his parents.  The (Hagerstown) Morning Herald more specifically reported on August 16 that Albaugh had “suffered a slight flesh wound in one leg.”

Fast-forwarding to the engagement that ultimately cost Albaugh his life on the evening of September 9, 1944. The 35th Infantry Division was ordered to assail the German line on September 11, in the area of the Moselle River, and to capture the high ground west of the Moselle River, southeast of Nancy, France, according to coulthart.com.

The action was part of the Lorraine Campaign, which historians have described as “one of the most sensational campaigns in the annals of American military history,” and the campaign against the Germans was launched as the result of allied military having discovered “top-secret interceptions known as Ultra revealed that the Franco-German border was virtually undefended and would remain so until mid-September,” according to The Lorraine Campaign: An Overview, September-December 1944, by Dr. Christopher R. Gabel.

On September 11, the 137th Infantry Regiment was directed to attempt to cross the Moselle River near Crevechamps.

Describing the German defenses, which the 137th had faced, coulthart.com wrote on that website that, “The crossing proved difficult, as the Germans had blown all bridges across the Moselle from Flavigny south, and they held strong positions on the east side of the river, with machine gun emplacements on the steep bluffs overlooking the river, and artillery positions to the rear. The canal running parallel to the river’s west bank was an added barrier… ”

It was on September 12 that Staff Sergeant Frank W. Albaugh fell mortally wounded by enemy fire. Marylanders as a whole did not learn of the death of Albaugh until November 8, 1944, when The (Baltimore) Sun published a story, headlined “20 Maryland Men Killed in (European) War Action,” in which Staff Sergeant Albaugh was cited as having been one of those killed in action. 

Albaugh’s mortal remains were never brought home, and he is still interred in the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial, Saint-Avold, Departement de la Moselle, Lorraine, France.

Sergeant David J. Smith

KIA Afghanistan

David J. Smith was born on February 16, 1984, in Washington, D.C., to parents Mary Jane McWilliams and Leonard Alan Smith.

The Sergeant David J. Smith Memorial Fund website noted that he had been raised by stepparents, John Jones and Olga Smith, and was the “the middle child to sister, Kristen, and brother, Daniel… (and) he was part of a loving and extended family; he was a caring son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, and friend.”

The Washington Post reported in its January 31, 2010, issue, “As a boy in Frederick, Maryland, David Smith loved to play with his Army and G.I. Joe action figures and spent hours (at play) rescuing his older sister Kristen from all manner of imagined peril.”

Smith was a 2002 graduate of Frederick High School, where he had participated in various sports, including wrestling, lacrosse, soccer, and football. According to his obituary, as posted by Stauffer Funeral Homes, he had also enjoyed participating in school plays.

At the time he enlisted in the Marine Corps, he was also attending East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, where he played lacrosse and majored in distribution and logistics. According to his obituary, “He loved the Redskins, country music, living down South, ECU Pirates, and life in general.”

Smith had enlisted into the Marine Corps on December 29, 2003, and was assigned to the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Bravo Company in Camp Pendleton, California, where he served as a light-armored vehicle crewman, according to thefallen.militarytimes.com.

His first deployment was to Iraq from 2006 to 2007, during the culmination of the War in Iraq, and he was subsequently deployed to Afghanistan during October 2009, during the final year of “Operation Enduring Freedom,” which had been initiated as the result of the attack on America on September 11, 2001, by terrorist elements based in Afghanistan.

At age 25, Smith was fatally injured on January 23, 2010, as the result of a suicide bomber attack while on patrol with his unit in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan.

The Washington Post reported on January 31, 2010, that Smith was injured when “a suicide bomber made it through the security perimeter and detonated a bomb, which had killed three Marines and injured four others,” noting further that Smith’s sister stated that a ball-bearing that had been contained in the bomb had fatally embedded itself in the back of the Marine’s skull.

The Post further reported that his sister said, “Military doctors kept Smith on life support until his father and mother… were able to fly to (medical facilities) in (Landstuhl) Germany… Once his parents arrived, doctors removed Smith from life support, and he died. In keeping with his wishes, Smith’s organs were donated.”

His sister told The Post that “They (medical authorities) told us he saved five or six other people because of that (the organ donations) … I think David would have liked that.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that Smith had died on January 26 from the wounds he had received on January 23.

The (Baltimore) Sun reported on February 2, 2010, that Sergeant Smith was to be interred in the Arlington National Cemetery.

Smith’s military service awards include the Combat Action Ribbon, Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal, according to thefallen.militarytimes.com.

In the aftermath of Smith’s death, his family established the Sergeant David J. Smith Memorial Fund” to provide temporary assistance to Veterans in Frederick County.” The fund can be accessed at sgtdavidjsmith.org.

Additionally, a scholarship is issued in his name every year at Frederick High School from an endowed fund. East Carolina University set up its own memorial scholarship at the School of Engineering and Technology, that being the David J. Smith Leadership

Medic John W. Bennett

Survived Being KIA

by Richard D. L. Fulton

John W. Bennett was born (“at home”) on March 13, 1948, in Takoma Park, a Montgomery County suburb of Washington, D.C., to parents J.W. and Elmira Bennett. He graduated from Westminster High School. 

Bennett subsequently met his wife Shirley (“on a blind date”). They have two children: John, Jr. and Diana, and they have lived in Fairfield for more than three decades. His wife is presently employed at Saint Catherine’s Nursing Center in Emmitsburg.

Bennett enlisted in the Army and was inducted in October 1966, as a conscientious objector, and thus served as a medic. As a private, Bennett was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for training, and subsequently to Fort Sam Houston, Texas. 

After graduating from training, Bennett was sent to Hawaii, where he was assigned to the United States Army’s 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, 11th Light Infantry Brigade, to undergo “jungle training” to prepare for deployment to Vietnam.

Bennett and his unit departed from Hawaii on December 5, 1967, and after a 10-day trek across the ocean, the 11th Light Infantry Brigade was “boots-on-the-ground” in Vietnam, ultimately arriving at Due Pho.

Within days, he found himself assigned to a Recon (Reconnaissance) unit as part of Echo Company, wherein he saw numerous actions in operations against the Vietnamese. 

On one mission, in particular, his Recon unit was suddenly ambushed in a surprise attack, which ultimately turned into a full-scale battle as the Recon team fell back to a safer position. Before the engagement was concluded, the enemy troops found themselves being hit with air strikes, artillery rounds, mortar and gunship fire, and even a coastal warship that had opened up on the enemy.

Bennett said, “Perhaps a million dollars’ worth of ammunition was fired that night… As I looked around the field (after the fight), I could see literally hundreds of bodies.”

But it was during Operation Dragon when the unit’s position came under regular attacks, particularly during storms. Bennett said the enemy preferred moving through the jungles during storms because it made it more difficult for the American defenders to see them.

Having been attacked during a storm the preceding night, Bennett instinctively grabbed an M-16 and several rounds of ammunition and settled down next to a bunker, where he had a clear view of an adjacent hill (medics can carry arms if a unit is short-handed and/or if a troop position is under imminent threat). 

Being seated by the bunker was the last thing Bennett remembered, except for a moment when he thought he was lying on a litter next to a helicopter, at which point he said, “Then there was a huge tunnel (that he saw) and pastel-colored lights with a really bright light at the end, and then suddenly, it went out and left me in the dark.”

Some 10 to 20 hours later, he regained consciousness but felt that he was confined in some kind of plastic tarp. Reaching down into his pocket, he found his knife and cut his way out.

When he sat up, he was startled to discover the tarp in which he had been encased was actually a body bag, and “around me were perhaps a hundred litters with filled body bags on them.” After sitting there for some 20 minutes, a medical staff member entered into what turned out as being a military morgue, and attended to Bennett, showing him his bag-tag that stated, “KIA – Struck by Lightning.”

Amazingly, after recuperating, Bennett returned to duty.

Bennett was honorably discharged from the Army in October 1972. He was awarded two Bronze Stars and numerous other awards issued by the Republic of Vietnam and the United States Army. He was never issued a Purple Heart. He did write a book on his personal experiences during the war, entitled Killed in Action – Struck by Lightning, published by the United Book Press, Baltimore.

To this day, Bennett stated that he still suffers from the effects of having been struck by lightning.

Specialist-4 Richard Sanders

“Chopper Down” Rescue Service in Vietnam

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Helicopters played a major role in the Vietnam War, notably in support of ground operations and in airlifting combat casualties, but this placed many of them at the risk of taking enemy fire themselves.

Richard Sanders, Sabillasville, was born in 1947 in the Waynesboro Hospital, the son of parents Lester and Hilda Sanders of Sabillasville. His father, Lestor, worked as a pipe cutter in a pipe factory, according to the 1950 United States Federal Census, while his mother was listed as a housewife.

Sanders attended Thurmont High School, graduating in 1965, and attended Penn State Mont Alto, graduating in 1968 with an “accelerated” associate degree in engineering technology.

The course was “accelerated” as the result of Sanders having been serving in the Pennsylvania Army Reserve since 1966 with the 357th Transportation Company based in Hagerstown. Facing activation with his unit as the Vietnam War continued to drag on, Penn State Mont Alto staff and professors accelerated the final courses and final exams needed to satisfy the requirements of earning the associate degree.

Following the May 1968 activation of the 357th Transportation Company, Sanders, as a helicopter crew chief, and the 357th Transportation Company (classified as Aircraft Maintenance Direct Support) were assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia for advance training before being shipped overseas to Vietnam. The advance elements of the 357th arrived at Bien Hoa Air Base on September 27, 1968 followed by the main body on October 11.

The 357th Transportation Company was assigned to the 520th Transportation Battalion, with a portion of the 357th designated as the 20th Transportation Company, which was then based at Cu Chi. Sanders was then with the 20th Transportation Company because of the re-designation. The primary helicopter of the transportation units was the “Huey.”

As to the duties of Sanders and the 20th Transportation Company, they were to repair battle-damaged helicopters and render them serviceable. 

He said repair work restoring downed helicopters was accomplished by the men in shifts, but if one or more of the workers was making substantive progress on one of the wrecks, they might not cease work on the craft until it was fully functional again.

“If you started working on one (damaged helicopter), you worked on it until it could get back into the air again,” Sanders said.

It would seem that such a job would not entail much of a risk, but the base had come under attack several times. In February 1969, a small force of the Viet Cong attacked Cu Chi and damaged and destroyed 11 aircraft, according to transportation.army.mil. The base was again attacked on August 15, resulting in the 20th Transportation Company having sustained a number of wounded.

Another of Sanders’ duties was to serve on recovery helicopters as needed to bring back downed choppers, which often entailed flying into active combat zones, Sanders explained, noting, “Everyone took turns flying (on recovery missions).”

Sanders said the recovery operations included utilizing heavy-lift helicopters, such as the dual-propellered Boeing CH-47 Chinook and the CH54 “flying cranes” (for jobs too big for the Chinooks to handle).  Recovery of a downed aircraft usually included strapping the damaged craft to the recovery helicopter and air-lifting the wreck back to the base of operations for repairs (if the helicopter was salvageable).

Encounters with the enemy were not uncommon. Sanders said when the enemy began shooting at the rescue helicopters, the crew just quickly adopted a “spray and pray” strategy:  “We just opened fire and shot the hell back.”

However, Sanders was seriously wounded when a Vietcong round made a direct hit on a recovery helicopter in which he was riding. The rescue helicopter had just been rigged to a downed helicopter and was about to lift it when the round had struck.

Sanders said he didn’t know if he was hit by shrapnel or metal fragments from his helicopter, “but I caught it right in the (buttocks)…”  He said the injury “looked like a checkerboard” on his behind. He was transported back to the States for hospitalization, and then released, thereby ending his career in the Army.

By the end of the war, Sanders had received the Purple Heart for his wounding, along with the unit citations awarded to all the members of the 357th Transportation Company, including the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, the Meritorious Unit Commendation, and the Army Commendation Medal.

Sanders went on to work for Landis Tool Company (Waynesboro) for 55 years, having retired in 2020. Upon his return to the States, he had also earned two master’s degrees while in England (while employed by Landis Tool).

Richard Sanders in Vietnam.

Ira H. Buhrman

“Lost at Sea”

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Ira Harrison Buhrman was born on November 10, 1887, in Foxville (Frederick County), to parents Harvey Meade Buhrman, a farmer, and Theresa Need Buhrman. Buhrman had eight brothers and sisters (two apparently having died at birth).

Buhrman resided in Foxville until his death and was, at one point, employed as a laborer in a local lumber mill. 

The (Frederick) News reported on February 10, 1942, that Buhrman had enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in July 1918, and served one enlistment in Hawaii. The newspaper reported that he became a member of the 13th Regiment, which was then employed in Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. 

He subsequently was attached to Company D of the 15th Separate Battalion until the signing of the Armistice in November 1918.  Buhrman remained with the Marine Corps at Marine Base Quantico until discharged. It was reported that, after having been discharged from the Marine Corps, he was involved in the construction of Camp Ritchie (perhaps due to his former employment in the lumber industry).

The (Frederick) News also reported that Buhrman was an award-winning marksman, having been awarded a number of medals for sharpshooting and marksmanship while serving in the Marine Corps.

By the time World War II broke out, Buhrman, at 53 years of age, was too old to serve, so he opted to sign up with the Merchant Marines (officially known as the United States Merchant Navy), and, thus, on October 8, 1941, ended up as a member of the crew of the fuel tanker India Arrow, owned by the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company. 

He served as a ship’s wiper, which entailed cleaning the engine compartment and machinery, as well as other jobs that were assigned by the ship’s engineers.

On February 4, 1942, the India Arrow was making its way from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Carteret, New Jersey, with a load of 88,369 gallons of diesel fuel. The ship was unarmed and unescorted.

The India Arrow was struck by a torpedo fired by a German submarine (subsequently identified as the German submarine U-103) when the tanker was only about 20 miles southeast of Cape May. Russpickett.com reported that the German submarine “then surfaced and fired seven shells from her deck gun (at the stricken tanker) at two-minute intervals, from a distance of 250 yards into the bow section, which remained above water as the stern was sinking.”

The Frederick Post reported on February 11, 1942, that Buhrman may have been in the engine room when the tanker was hit by the torpedo ”just aft of the engine room,” further noting that only two or three of the occupants in the engine room had escaped that portion of the ship. Buhrman was initially listed as missing.

The vast majority of officers and the crew of the India Arrow had actually survived the attack, except for two that were killed outright, when the submarine shelled the ship. However, 18 of the officers and crew drowned when their lifeboat sank. Ultimately, as the result, eight officers and twenty of the crew were lost in the attack on the India Arrow, while only one officer and eleven of the crew survived.

Between January and August in 1942, German submarines sank more than a dozen ships off the New Jersey Coast, and even more off the coasts of other Mid-Atlantic states, according to whyy.org.

The (Frederick) News reported that Buhrman was the first Frederick County resident to have been killed in World War II. He was posthumously awarded the Merchant Marine Medal and the Combat Bar with Star. The Combat Bar was awarded to Merchant Marines who were onboard a ship that was attacked by an enemy. A star was added if the recipient was also forced to abandon the ship (or was killed in the attack).

Buhrman was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars as the result of his service during WWI.  According to wikitree.com, in the wake of his mother’s death in 1947, “his name was added to her headstone in Mount Bethel Cemetery in Garfield as a memorial, since his remains were never recovered.

Ira H. Buhrman Source: findagrave.com and Wings Across America

India Arrow

Source: City of Little Rock, LR Parks & Recreation

Anyone who might know a Veteran or is a Veteran, who would like to share their experiences in the military for publication in The Catoctin Banner, is invited to contact the columnist at richardfulton@earthlink.net. Thank you.

Upon Combs’ death from congestive heart failure (according to The Washington Post) at age 92, his memorial service was held at the Myers-Durboraw Funeral Home in Emmitsburg. He was interred in the Emmitsburg Memorial Cemetery.

Sergeant George Frailey Combs

Navigating Bombers Over Europe

by Richard D. L. Fulton

George F. Combs was born January 11, 1922, to parents Cooley and Clara Rowe Combs. He grew up in Emmitsburg and had two brothers, Samuel and Thomas.

Combs’ military registration card, filled in when he was 20, described him as being 5’7” and as having blue eyes and blonde hair, with a “ruddy” complexion.

Combs was married for 60 years to Doris Peppler Combs, 50 years of which was spent living  in Alexandria, Virginia, according to Combs’ obituary, published at the time of Combs’ death in 2014 by The Frederick News-Post, among others.

He attended Mount Saint Mary’s University and graduated with honors in 1942. Also in 1942, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps.  The United States Air Force did not yet exist in 1942 and would not be created until 1947.

Combs’ obituary stated that, following his graduation from navigation school, he was assigned to the 8th Air Force based in England.  The 8th Air Force was initially designated as being the VIII BC (Bomber Command) in 1942, and was subsequently designated as the 8th Air Force during the reorganization of 1944, according to the Official United States Air Force Website (8af.af.mil).

Combs and the then-designated VIII BC were initially assigned to Daws Hill in England, and subsequently, headquartered in High Wycombe in Wycombe Abbey (a school for girls). 

While stationed in England, Combs “became a lead navigator, guiding formations of B-17 bombers on missions over occupied Europe,” according to his obituary. 

For his service with the 8th Air Force, Combs was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and four Battle Stars. 

According to the Air Force website (8af.af.mil), from May 1942 to July 1945, “the Eighth planned and precisely executed America’s daylight strategic bombing campaign against Nazi-occupied Europe, and in doing so, the organization compiled an impressive war record.”

However, the website further noted that the successes of the 8th Air Force, which had included engaging in over 440,000 bomber sorties, during which, the planes dropped 697,000 tons of bombs, did not come without a price: 

“The Eighth suffered about half of the U.S. Army Air Force’s casualties (47,483 out of 115,332), including more than 26,000 dead. The Eighth’s brave men earned 17 Medals of Honor, 220 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 442,000 Air Medals. The Eighth’s combat record also shows 566 aces (261 fighter pilots, with 31 having 15 or more victories, and 305 enlisted gunners).”

Combs attended Dickinson Law School, after having been discharged from the service, and graduated in 1948 with a law degree, subsequently becoming a member of the Maryland Bar Association.

He also spent his entire career with the United States Government Federal Trade Commission, according to his obituary, “he worked as a staff attorney and as a confidential advisor to several commissioners.”  It was noted that Combs had also prepared the drafts of over a hundred Commission adjudicative opinions. According to The Washington Post, Combs also received the Federal Trade Commission’s Distinguished Service Award for his career contributions.

His obituary also noted that his most significant achievement “was his work on the opinion which resulted in the licensing of the patent on the antibiotic Tetracycline, saving consumers millions of dollars.”

Sergeant George Frailey Combs (Obituary photograph)

Anyone who might know a Veteran or is a Veteran, who would like to share their experiences in the military for publication in The Catoctin Banner, is invited to contact the columnist at richardfulton@earthlink.net. Thank you.

Upon Combs’ death from congestive heart failure (according to The Washington Post) at age 92, his memorial service was held at the Myers-Durboraw Funeral Home in Emmitsburg. He was interred in the Emmitsburg Memorial Cemetery.

Colonel Bernard L. Talley, Jr.

Former Mount Graduate and POW

Bernard L. Talley Jr. was born on February 23, 1939, in Baltimore to parents Emma Louise Sheely and Bernard Leo Talley, Sr., and was the youngest of his parents’ three children.

Talley was a graduate of Loyola High School, Towson, and was graduated in the Mount Saint Mary’s University Class of 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in economics before entering U.S. Air Force Officer Training School on June 27, 1962.

Talley was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, according to Veterantributes.org, on September 25, 1962, and served as a supply officer at McCoy Air Force Base, Florida, until entering Undergraduate Pilot Training in April 1964.

Veterantributes.org also reported that he was awarded his pilot wings at Laredo Air Force Base, Texas, in May 1965, and then flew F-4 Phantom II fighters with the 25th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. In April 1966, at the age of 26, Talley volunteered to serve in Vietnam as an F-4C Phantom II pilot.

Talley flew 76 combat missions with the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron out of the Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand, before being forced to eject over North Vietnam on September 10, 1966, according to Veterantributes.org. The Dallas Morning News reported, in his 2022 obituary, that his plane was struck by a missile, and further noted that Talley’s Flight Commander, Douglas “Pete” Peterson, who was also in the plane, was also forced to eject.

Pownetwork.org reported that Tally’s target for the mission in which his plane was shot down was a bridge and ferry complex near Hanoi, and, as they were departing the strike zone, the Phantom was hit by a surface-to-air missile (SAM). “Fortunately,” according to Pownetwork.org, “It was not a direct hit, thus neither the pilot nor Talley were injured by the missile’s blast. The aircraft, however, was severely damaged. Both engines were rendered inoperative, and the entire aft portion of the aircraft was on fire.”

Apparently, Talley and Peterson knew they could not make it to a safe area where they stood a chance of being rescued and decided to eject.

The Dallas Morning News reported that Talley had managed to evade capture for one day before being taken prisoner on September 11, further noting that he was the 125th American airman captured.

Talley subsequently spent the next six-and-a-half years in captivity. The Dallas Morning News stated, “Talley’s parents would not know he was KIA (Killed Action)/MIA (Missing in Action) or a Prisoner of War for three years and one day.” He was released along with Douglas “Pete” Peterson during Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973. Talley subsequently retired from the Air Force as a Colonel.

For bravery demonstrated in Vietnam during a bombing raid in Vietnam on September 3, 1966, seven days before his plane was shot down, Talley was awarded the Silver Star. The citation is quoted here in full (militarytimes.com):

The President of the United States of America… takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to First Lieutenant Bernard Leo Talley, Jr., United States Air Force, for gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force while serving as a Pilot of the 433d Tactical Fighter Squadron, Ubon Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, in action over North Vietnam on 3 September 1966. On that date, Lieutenant Talley conducted a night strike on a vital supply and storage area of the hostile force in a highly defended area. With complete disregard for his own safety, Lieutenant Talley continued the attack in the face of intense defenses to deliver ordnance on the target, completely destroying it. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Lieutenant Talley has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

PFC John Little, Emmitsburg

KIA in the Liberation of Bizory

by Richard D. L. Fulton

John William Little was born on December 19, 1910, to parents John William and Minie Little, and resided on Frederick Street, Emmitsburg, Maryland, and had two sisters, Valerie and Anna, and three brothers, Robert, Roy, and James.

James was included as one of the brothers by a write-up that appeared in The (Frederick) News on March 12, 1945. However, James is not mentioned in the 1930 census. The census lists the Little’s three brothers as Robert, Roy, and Charles.

According to his draft card and enlistment records that Little had filled out when he was 90, he indicated that he was employed at St. Joseph’s College as a fireman before entering service, and that, regarding his education, he had attended “grammar school.”

Little was enlisted at Fort George G. Meade on April 3, 1942, and given the rank of private. He was subsequently stationed at Camp Cook, California, and Camp Chaffee, Oklahoma, before going overseas (at age 34) and was a member of a tank crew in the 68th Tank Battalion, 6th Armor Division, in General George S. Patton, Jr.’s Third Army.

Little was given leave in December 1943, to return home, following the death of his father, to attend the funeral.

The 6th Armor Division entered the war via Utah Beach, Normandy, July 19, 1944, ultimately fighting its way through Northern France, Central Europe, and finally, the Ardennes.

He was injured in November 1944, when the tank in which he was traveling was knocked out by enemy fire, resulting in his being wounded in the face and left leg. The Gettysburg Times Reported on January 30, 1945, that “He was able to able to return to action shortly thereafter… after the medic treated him.”

Little wrote his last letter home on December 27, 1944, stating that “he was well, and expecting to be to be sent to some other country, which he could not identify, within a short time,” according to The Gettysburg Times.

That “some other country” would be Belgium, and Little would soon find himself and 6th Armor Division the rolling towards Bastogne, a Belgian city that the German troops were in the process of laying siege to, as part of an over effort ordered by Adolf Hitler to attack allied forces that were slowly griding their way towards Germany – an overall engagement that came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.

The Battle of the Bugle would become Hitler’s last stand before his 12-year-long “1,000 Year Reich” began to implode from the allies tearing into it from all directions.

The German siege of Bastogne was ultimately broken by the U.S. forces, including the 6th Armor Division, during seven days of battle, from December 20 to December 27, 1944. In January, 1945, the U.S. forces were ordered to begin driving off the German troops that remained in the area.

As a part of that effort, the 6th Armor Division was ordered forward to take the village of Bizory (sometime misspelled as Bixory on some web sites) away from its German occupiers. Bizory lies about 2.6 miles northeast of Bastogne.

The village was soon liberated, and the 6th Armor Division was solely credited with accomplishing the objective. Unfortunately, Little, who would make his final stand in the fight to liberate Bizory, was initially declared missing in action on January 8, 1945. He was 34 at that time. Little was shortly thereafter reclassified as killed in action. But it would appear that Little’s body was never recovered. His name is listed on the “Tablets of the Missing” in the Ardennes American Military Cemetery, Neuville-en-Condroz, Arrondissement de Liège, Liège, Belgium.

Little was awarded the Purple Heart W/Cluster and was also posthumously promoted to private first class.

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Army public domain

PFC John William Little, Photo Courtesy of findagrave.com

Private Joseph A. Williams

Adams’ Only Black WWI Fatality

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Joseph Albert Williams was born on November 23, 1892, in Frederick County, Maryland.

In Valerie J. Young’s The World War One Gold Star Soldiers from Adams County (Adams County Historical Society, Adams County History, Volume 24 2018), Young stated that Williams was born in Emmitsburg, one of nine children of William Alfred and Emma Clara Cook Williams.

According to Williams’ draft registration card, which he had filled out on June 5, 1917, Williams listed his address as being Gettysburg, and his profession was given as “caretaker of horses.” His employer was stated as being J. Lawrence Butt, and Williams’ location of employment was stated as being in Cumberland Township. He listed his relationship status as being single.

Butt was apparently a prominent Gettysburg attorney who owned farmlands in the area, which were farmed by tenant farmers. Williams’ father also worked for Butt.

Williams’ mother died in 1904, so only his father lived long enough to see his son go off to war.

The Gettysburg Compiler reported in their November 3, 1917, issue, “On Monday, seven colored boys, drafted for the National Army, left for Camp Meade. Their many friends were at the station to see them off.” 

The newspaper noted that, “Each (of the draftees) had a box filled with a good lunch prepared by committees from Asbury and Zion churches.” The paper named Joseph A. Williams as having been among the seven.

The Gettysburg Times reported in their September 1, 1919, edition, that Williams, a soldier in the 368th Infantry, had been killed on September 28. However, Young, cited above, claims that Willians was only initially assigned to the 368th, and was actually with the 372nd Infantry, 93rd (colored) Division, at the time of his death. Young further noted that Williams had been killed by a German artillery round.

The Gettysburg Times reported that Williams was killed on September 29, 1918, in their article of December 29, 2021, titled, “Soldier Received Purple Heart 100 Years After His Death.”

September 28 marked the third day of the Meuse–Argonne offensive, a concerted effort launched by the allies to counterattack the German forces in the German effort to take Paris. The counter-offensive did succeed in driving back the Germans to the degree that it resulted in the November 11, 1918, armistice… at the cost of 360,000 casualties.

During the Meuse–Argonne offensive, the 372nd Infantry was credited with capturing nearly 600 German prisoners, and securing large quantities of engineering supplies and artillery ammunition, according to nationalguard.mil.

Of the seven Adams County blacks to serve in the war, Williams was the only fatality.

Williams was buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery near the French village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, where his remains are still interred. According to ww1cemeteries.com, the cemetery “contains the largest number of American military dead in Europe (14,246 individuals).”

The Gettysburg Times reported on December 29, 2021, in the article previously cited), that Jean Howard Green, great-niece of Private Joseph A. Williams, was presented with the Purple Heart, and a World War I Victory Medal and Victory Pin for his service, according to the Times

The newspaper noted that Representative John Joyce’s field representative, Ashleigh Presnar, presented the awards.

Had Williams survived the war, he would have been entitled to pin the French Croix de Guerre with Palm unit citation to his uniform. Instead, he would have to wait 100 years to receive a Purple Heart and the victory medal and pin.

(Reporter’s Note: For additional information, refer to Valerie J. Young’s The World War One Gold Star Soldiers from Adams County (Adams County Historical Society, Adams County History, Volume 24 2018), and to The Gettysburg Times article of December 29, 2021, entitled, “Soldier Received Purple Heart 100 Years After His Death.”)

Pvt. Joseph A. Williams’ unit, the U.S. Army’s 93rd (colored) Division.

Source: nationalguard.mil (An official website of the United States government)

Corporal Martin Burns

Guarding Presidents and Camp David

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Martin “Marty” Burns, of Thurmont, was born in 1965 to parents Patricia and Jay Burns, resided in Munroe Falls, Ohio, and graduated from Stow–Munroe Falls High School, Stow, Ohio.

Burns subsequently enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1985 and was sent to Parris Island “boot camp” for training.  Burns said he wanted to be an aviation mechanic. During boot camp, he was recommended for reassignment to the Presidential retreat Camp David duty by a Marine drill instructor. Burns initially tried to turn down the offer, “I didn’t even know what Camp David was,” he said.

It required that he change to the Marine Corps infantry career field and forego his desire to serve as an aviation mechanic.

But, he said, “I didn’t want to be a ‘grunt (infantryman). His Drill Instructor responded, “Do you know what you’re turning down? You will guard the President of the United States.” He subsequently accepted and received orders to Marine Barracks Washington.

Having been at 8th & I for “just shy of a year,” he was being considered for assignment to the White House as a member of the presidential guard.

He didn’t quite make it to the White House. Several Marine guard positions opened up at Camp David, unexpectedly, and Burns found himself enroute to that presidential compound. 

Burns’ duties at Camp David included providing overall security for the President and presidential guests, in conjunction with the Secret Service when the president or presidential guest was onsite and providing physical security for the base when they weren’t.

Burns served at Camp David during President Ronald Reagan and President George H. W. Bush, Sr., and often encountered both during their stays at the presidential retreat.

Regarding Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan, Burns stated that they kept to themselves, and we were not to be seen or heard. “They routinely brought horses up, and we would see them horseback riding,” Burns said, “and a couple of times had lunch with them.” Otherwise, he stated, they kept to themselves.

Burns said President Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush were “exactly the opposite” of the Reagans, noting that the President and First Lady would often talk with the Marines and joke with them, and even invited them to play racquetball.

When Bush entered the gym on one of his first visits to Camp David as president, he questioned where the Marines and others were, and was told that Reagan never wanted them present when he used camp facilities.  Burns stated that Bush told the staff, “If they (Marines and other military members) use this (gym) when I’m not here, then they can use it when I am here.”

Burns said the Bush family “did not act like they were special,” adding, “He (the president) was an incredibly humble, personable individual.”

Burns left the Marine Corps in 1989, and, for his service as a member of the presidential guard, he was awarded the prestigious Presidential Service Badge, being the 9,381st member of the military to receive the medal since it was established back in 1964.

After leaving the Marine Corps, Burns worked at Holy Hills Country Club—where, again, he met President Bush—and in the security industry, which even included returning to Camp David to install a new security system.

He ultimately landed at the Pentagon, where he served for more than two decades, and recently retired from federal service in December 2022.

In 1989, Burns settled in Thurmont, where he served as a commissioner from 1999 to 2001, and as mayor from 2001 to 2013. He then subsequently served as commissioner again until 2021.

Burns with his wife, Suzanne, have two grown children, and he continues to work in security as a senior manager for Lockheed Martin.

For leisure, he likes to take mechanical things apart and reassemble them, or fix them, and enjoys playing pickleball.

Nancy Reagan, Martin Burns, and President Ronald Reagan at Camp David, 1987. 

President George H. W. Bush and Suzanne and Martin Burns at The White House, 2006. 

Photos Courtesy of Marty Burns

Harvey Lee Wetzel

From Erecting Bridges to Disarming Bombs

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Harvey Lee Wetzel was born in 1947 in Waynesboro to parents, Clarence and Elsie Wetzel, and he and his family lived in Thurmont, where Wetzel graduated from Thurmont High School in 1965. Wetzel presently resides in Indian Head, Maryland with his wife, Sandy. They have three children: Jackie, Chris, and Andrea.

Wetzel enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1965, only months after graduation, then to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, and, after a brief assignment with Infantry Training Regiment and the 2nd Engineer Battalion at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. Wetzel was transferred to Camp Pendleton, California where he was assigned to the 3rd Bridge Company, 7th Engineers Battalion.

His first deployment was to Vietnam, where he was stationed for 13 months, from 1966 to 1967. During his time in Vietnam, he rose from the rank of lance-corporal to corporal, and ultimately sergeant.

The 3rd Bridge Company, as the name would suggest, entailed repairing and erecting various types of bridges – which included fixed and floating bridges – and roadwork as necessary in order to maintain reliable supply convoys for reaching the convoys’ designated destinations.

During this deployment, the 3rd Bridge Company opened the first supply road from Dong Ho to Khe Sanh, which was essentially established utilizing an old French road that had become heavily overgrown. During the establishment of the road, Wetzel said the unit encountered communities whose inhabitants had never seen a motorized vehicle.

At the end of his 1966-1967 deployment, Wetzel returned to Camp Pendleton and Twenty Palms, California, until he reenlisted in 1969, which resulted to his assignment at Maine Barracks Bermuda. After 12 months in Bermuda, he deployed on his second deployment to Vietnam with the 1st Engineer Battalion, consisting of a six-month stint spanning from 1970 into 1971.

Duties during this deployment entailed much the same as the previous deployment, with the added responsibilities of sweeping the roadways for mines, ‘rehabilitated” damaged or otherwise-ruined assets, and “rehabilitated” or helped repair the military infrastructure.

During both deployments, Wetzel was based at Dong Ho, Hill 37, and in the Da Nang area at Landing Zone “Ross,” and at Landing Zone “Baldy (also known as Hill 63).”

Subsequently in 1971, Wetzel was transferred back to the states on a “Humanitarian Transfer,” following the death of his father. Such transfers were granted to those who actually represented as being a family’s “only child.’

From 1974 to 1975, Wetzel attended Explosion Ordnance Disposal (EOD) school, and received training in how ordnance functioned which helped the rendering ordnance safe ranging from mines and improvised explosive devices, to rockets/missiles, and even nuclear weapons, which included disarming weapons that failed to fire when triggered.

Upon completing the training in 1975, Wetzel was sent to Japan to provide EOD support to the Marine Air Wing. His duties were to support flight operations.

Wetzel was assigned to Marine Corps Recruit Deploy from 1974 to 1977 as Drill Instructor, senior drill instructor, and series gunnery sergeant meritoriously promotion to the rate of gunnery sergeant.

In 1977 through 1979, he served at Camp Pendleton as part of the Marine Corps Base EOD team, and in support of the other EODs. Tasks included support of range operations and rendering safe ordnance that failed to exolode. 1979 and into 1980, Wetzel was sent back to Japan, and to North Korea and the Philippines, the assignments being repetitive of those rendered within his initial service in Japan. “We (the EOD team) supported the air-wing wherever they went,” he said.

In 1980, he was assigned to the Marine Corps Detached Joint Service installation at Indian Head, Maryland, where he was involved in revising training manuals and standardizing EOD-related procedures.

Wetzel considered himself retired after his assignment to the Marine Corps Detached Joint Service installation, but instead he found himself recalled to active duty during Operation Desert Storm.

He said he was not deployed overseas but did spend “about three months sitting on my butt” in Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, filling in for EOD technicians who were deployed. At this time Wetzel, Son and Daughter were on active duty.  His son went on to retire from the Coast Guard with 30 years of service at the rank of CWO4.

Finally retiring from the Marine Corps, Wetzel continued on as a government contractor, serving as a senior engineer on EOD-related projects. After the contracts ended, he worked at Lowes, “just counting nuts and bolts,” until he officially retired in 2012.

Today Wetzel enjoys photography and belongs to a number of photography/camera clubs, and he enjoys traveling.

Photos Courtesy of Harvey Wetzel

Sergeant Jim Adelsberger

Emmitsburg’s Last Pearl Harbor Survivor

by Richard D. L. Fulton

On February 24, 2009, Emmitsburg lost its last Pearl Harbor survivor, James (“Jim”) O. Adelsberger, at age 87, when he passed away at St. Catherine’s Nursing Center.

In November 2004, the reporter, who was then the news editor for the The Emmitsburg Disatch, met with Adelsberger at his West Main Street home, where he recounted his experiences on that fateful day of December 7, 1941, when the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the military installation at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Adelsberger was born on May 24, 1921, in Baltimore, son of the late Dwen and Adele Adelsberger, and James was married to the late-Loretta C. (Sanders) Adelsberger.

Upon graduation from the Emmitsburg High School, Adelsberger, at age 24, decided to enlist, at which time he became a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps, the unit in which he was serving at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, and the unit with whom he remained for five years.

Adelsberger had said during the 2004 interview, that he and three of his friends, Joseph Boyle, Jack Stoner, and Bud Shearer (all of whom enlisted in the Army Air Corps at the same time), upon enlisting, requested to serve in Hawaii, which the Army was then promoting as a “paradise.”

They were then assigned to “guard-duty” at Hickam Field when, subsequently, “Paradise” quickly became Hell on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese targeted Hickam Field as part of the overall assault in order to suppress any effort by the Army Air Corps to get their planes into the air to defend against the Japanese attack.

The attack commenced around 7:55 a.m., when Japanese Commander Mitsua Fuchida uttered the command, “Tora, tora, tora!”—which doesn’t mean “Attack, attack, attack.” It is Japanese for “Tiger, tiger, tiger” (code for executing a lightning attack).

“We heard the planes coming in and thought they were ours (an incoming flight of B-17s was anticipated that morning at Hickam Field),” Adelsberger stated during the 2004 interview. 

In fact, the B-17s were arriving and found themselves mixed in with the attacking Japanese aircraft.  Unfortunately, said Adelsberger, the B-17s were unarmed to lighten their loads. 

“Some of them (the B-17s) were being hit. Some of them were being shot down. We didn’t know what was going on. Some of them were shot up pretty bad,” Adelsberger said.

As the intensity of the attack increased, he stated during the 2004 interview, “They just kept coming and coming, and we couldn’t figure out where they were all coming from,” adding that, none of the men could figure out why they were being attacked. “We didn’t know what it was for… I could see all of the attack. I could see ships half-sunk and buildings burned down after the attack.”

When the attack subsided about two hours later, Adelsberger said, during the 2004 interview, “There were a lot of fellows lying around (on the ground). They were lying everywhere. The field hospital was doing a real business that day.”

Hickam Field suffered extensive damage and aircraft losses, with 189 people killed (including civilians) and 303 wounded. In total, the Japanese assault left 2,388 military personnel dead, along with 1,178 wounded. Among the dead were 68 civilians. And the attack propelled the United States into World War II.

Sergeant Adelsberger was discharged from the military on October 16, 1945, and, subsequently, worked for 35 years at the United States Post Office in Emmitsburg.

On December 2, 2004, the Emmitsburg Board of Commissioners officially recognized Adelsberger as the “town’s last surviving citizen and Veteran of Pearl Harbor,” and issued a proclamation that declared December 7, 2004, as “James Adelsberger Day.”

Adelsberger was a member of the Emmitsburg Memorial VFW, Post 6658, the American Legion Francis X. Elder Post 121, and a lifelong communicant of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

Photograph of the attack on Pearl Harbor, taken by a Japanese fighter pilot.

James Adelsberger poses with his Pearl Harbor “Mementos,” including spent Japanese fighter cartridges and his burnt wallet and dog tags, which he recovered from his barracks after it had been bombed.

Pvt. Francis Xavier Elder

First to Enlist, First to Fall

by Richard D. L. Fulton

“I am about to enter the fight for democracy…”   ~Francis X. Elder, 1918

In 1917, as the United States entered World War I, the soldiers of the 1st, 4th, and 5th Maryland (state national guard) regiments found themselves on their way to France, and in the process, those units were combined to form the 115th Infantry.

Among them was 21-year-old Emmitsburg resident, Francis X. Elder. 

Elder was born on June 30, 1893, to Emmitsburg residents Doctor James B. and Sarah B. Elder.

He enlisted in the service of his country on May 9, 1917, the first Emmitsburg resident to do so.  Based on a sole, last letter written home in 1918, Elder was full of vim, vigor, and patriotism and was prepared to face an impending storm of battle as the Germans prepared to unleash a massive attack in order to capture Paris. 

Between the Germans and their Paris objective, a line of French and American units had been assembled in order to resist the onslaught, Elder amongst them.

The allied resistance effort would become known as the Meuse–Argonne campaign, a counter offensive launch by the allied troops on September 28, 1918 in the hopes of stalling the German advance, if not driving the German forces back completely from their objective of taking Paris.

Elder and his fellow soldiers were deployed within the area of the Belleau Wood, which had been cleared of German occupation in June, a battle so violent that, when the allied forces had prevailed, General John Pershing, commanding the American Expeditionary Forces, said, “The Gettysburg of the war has been fought.”

The troops that Elder was among found themselves in the area of the Belleau Wood as the Meuse–Argonne campaign was launched.  Apparently as they moved out on October 11, Elder was fatally injured and listed among those “killed in action.”  The place of his death is stated on a memorial dedicated to his memory as having occurred at Belleau Woods, Alcaise Argonne Forest.

Private Francis X. Elder was the first Emmitsburg volunteer to die in the war.  One month after his death, on November 11 the guns fell silent across the entirety of the Western Front.  The “war to end all wars” was over.  The war had cost the United States 116,708 deaths, and had helped spread the deadly Spanish Flu as an aside.

What is likely Elder’s final letter home appeared in the January 9, 1919, edition of The (Allentown, Pennsylvania) Morning Call, which stated his step-brother. Robert G. Smith,  “had just received…” almost three months following Elder’s death.  It seems fitting in this tribute to print this letter in full:

“As I am about to enter the fight for democracy it is my desire now, whilst I have the opportunity to pencil a few lines briefly, and bid you all a sincere farewell. And may our dear and most precious God always protect you in this life, and knowing this I will die cheerfully and in a good cause, if it be His holy will; otherwise it will be the happiest moment of my life when I once more kiss mother’s lips. If the worst happens to me, take the news courageously and be brave, as I am going into it cheerfully and resigned to whatever my fate may be.  If I come through O.K. I will write at once and let you know.  Hoping for the best and trusting that I may see you all on earth, or that we will meet in Heaven. I am yours affectionately, farewell, Private Francis  X. Elder.”

In 1920, the first American Legion Post in Emmitsburg was organized and named the Francis X. Elder Post No. 75 (later Post No. 121).

Elder’s original headstone was replaced , and the original headstone now stands in front of the American Legion post that bears his name.

From Iran to Gettysburg

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Photo Courtesy of Howard’s daughter, Coleen Reamer

Pvt. Howard Mace appears second from the left in this photograph, taken in the Middle East.

Photo Courtesy of National Park Service, Gettysburg

Photographed is Camp Sharpe.

Private First Class Howard Mace’s career in the Army during World War II found him guarding supply convoys carrying supplies through Iran to Russia, bombs being shipped from Virginia to New York, and 400 German POWs on the Gettysburg Battlefield.

Mace, who was born in Medix Run, Pennsylvania, was 30 years of age and working at the U.S. Naval Shipyard in Philadelphia when war was declared against Japan and Germany in 1941. Although he could have been granted a deferment, he decided to enlist in the Army in April 1942, serving in the 1325 Service Command Unit as a military policeman.

After completing basic training in 1942, he and his unit were deployed in 1943 to the Middle East (Iran area), where the unit guarded supply convoys heading through Iran to the Russian allies, where the unit remained on duty until early 1945. In early 1945, Mace was dispatched to Norfolk and, subsequently, was assigned to guard convoys delivering bombs to military installations in New York City.

Soon thereafter, Mace was reassigned to assist with guarding around 400 German soldiers and officers being held at Camp Sharpe (formerly a Civilian Conservation Corps camp) on the Gettysburg Battlefield. The CCC camp had been converted into a special forces training base in 1944 and was renamed Camp Sharpe. (See German POWs helped save Adams’ Agriculture in this issue of The Catoctin Banner). Mace’s primary role at Camp Sharpe was to guard the prisoners when they were outside of the compound on work details in the farm fields, orchards, and canning factories.

Mace’s daughter, Coleen Reamer, a Hamiltonban Township supervisor, said her father didn’t talk much about the war to her but did occasionally discuss the war with her brother, Ronald.

Reamer informed that her father said that “he liked that duty (guarding the PWs – POW was a post-World War II designation) very much because the prisoners did all the cooking, cleaning, polishing and had no desire to go anywhere since they were treated so well.” He stated that Gettysburg, like the rest of the country, was under food rationing, but the POW camps were not.

Reamer reported that guards and military staff could invite guests to visit the camp and the prisoners generally prepared the meals. “Because the camp had plenty of otherwise rationed items, the townspeople enjoyed being invited to the camp for a tour and dinner,” she said her father observed.

Reamer said, “The belief by Americans was that if we treated German POWs well, then that would hopefully translate the same for our American POWs held by the enemy overseas.”

Only a few prisoners attempted escapes were ever reported from the three German prisoner-of-war camps that were built on the Gettysburg battlefield. Two escaped the Emmitsburg Road camp but surrendered to a family wife and her daughter-in-law in York. Another escaped one of the other camps but surrendered to a New York City book dealer. Two others escaped and were caught at Zora (on Waynesboro Pike).

Reamer said her father did mention an escape in which two of the German prisoners slipped away from a work detail and were found sitting at the Gettysburg Town Square. They only wanted to see a movie, but the Strand Theater on Baltimore Street refused to accept PW canteen script for admission.

Mace served at Camp Sharp until he was mustered out on November 7, 1945. He was awarded the Good Conduct Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and the European-African-Middle East Campaign Medal.

He married his wife Jo-Ellen Anna Nary in 1946, and they had four children: Coleen Reamer, Ronald Mace, Vikki Mace, and Beth Vivaldi.

(Reporters Note: Mace likely would have been at the Camp Sharpe compound when the Army suffered its only casualty that would occur in conjunction with the prisoner-of-war camps at Gettysburg. On September 1, 1945, when a shot rang out in Camp Sharpe, guards fanned out to locate the source and found the body of Private First-Class Joseph Ward, lying lifeless on the floor of one of the guard towers; they saw that he had been shot. It was subsequently ruled that his death was a suicide.)

Airman First Class Ballenger

From Rocky Ridge to Japan …and Beyond

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Life-long Rocky Ridge resident, Emily Ballenger (pictured right), during a short two-year span during which she lived in Texas, decided to seek out a career move, and subsequently signed on with the United States Air Force.

Ballenger is the daughter of John and Linda Ballenger, owners of Buck Forest Farm in Rocky Ridge, which now also serves as her home. Her father served aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Saratoga in the 1960s.  Her brother, John “Jay” Ballenger, served in the Army in Afghanistan.

Ballenger signed up for the air service in Dallas in 2003 and trained at the Lackland, Texas, Air Force boot camp in Bexar County, Texas, for a half dozen weeks before being assigned to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. 

Ballenger spent eight weeks in Biloxi, six weeks training and two additional weeks awaiting an assignment. When the assignment came through, she found herself enroute to Misawa Air Base, located in the northern part of the island of Honshu in Japan, where she was attached to the 35th Communication Squadron which is a component of the 35th Mission Support Group, 35th Fighter Wing. 

The base is a joint service installation and houses three United States military services—Air Force, Navy, and Army—as well as the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.  Ballenger noted that there were also American Marines located there.

She served as an Air Force administrative assistant/information manager. Ballenger described the installation as a “fairly large base… nicely laid out,” which was “very quiet.” She said the base was being constantly upgraded throughout the time she was there.

She was able to spend some time touring, her main form of off-base entertainment, and even purchased a motorcycle there for simply getting around, touring the area. “I loved it in Japan,” she said, adding, “The culture there is amazing.” 

Ballenger said that particular area of Japan is primarily agricultural, which made her feel more “at home” (the Buck Forest Farm being some 140 acres in size).  The town of Misawa, she said, was about the size of Thurmont, noting, “It was so nice. It was like being at home.”

She served in Japan two years before being discharged and sent home. The only downside to her service in Japan was contracting “stress-related arthritis and fibromyalgia, which resulted in her having been diagnosed as being 50 percent disabled.

Ballenger was honorably discharged from the Air Force at Misawa Air Base in August 2006.

Following her return to the United States, Ballenger served as a photographer for the (now defunct) Emmitsburg Dispatch, photography being among her obsessions. She now runs her own photography business, Twilight Photography, primarily focusing on outdoor events and subjects. 

“My love of photographing nature and horses brought me to share my passion with others,” she said, adding, “I would have to describe my photography style as a bit of photojournalism mixed with fine art and a sprinkle of spontaneity.”

Her other obsession includes horses. Her home, Buck Forest Farm, served as a boarding facility for horses for many years. Presently, Ballenger also offers riding instructions, and currently has three horses of her own.

She said her experience in the Air Force has “taught me a lot about integrity and working hard.” As an administrative business professional, she learned skills related to initiating and managing a business.

For more on Ballenger’s Twilight Photography, visit twilightphotographymd.com.  For riding lessons, contact Emily Ballenger at 301-473-1504.

Dana French

45 Years in the Navy

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Note: Priscilla Rall contributed various materials for the purpose of writing this article.

Dana French of Frederick County served aboard and/or commanded several Navy vessels over the course of the 45 years he served in the United States Navy, from 1955 through 1990.

Raised in Newburyport, Massachusetts, French decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and enlisted in the Navy at age 17. After French signed on with the Navy, he qualified to attend the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS), in Bainbridge, Maryland.

French attended the academy as a sailor, and then graduated in 1961 as an ensign. He chose to pursue a career in the naval surface (non-submersible ship) service, as opposed to air or submarine services.

His first shipboard assignment came a month after he graduated, when he was assigned to the destroyer U.S.S. Coontz, which was then sent along with ships accompanying the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ranger to the Middle East for two seven-month deployments.  French served as the assistant 1st lieutenant in charge of the deck force, then became gunnery assistant at the end of the deployment.

French was then ordered as an executive officer in 1963 to report to the wooden minesweeper U.S.S. Whippoorwill during the Korean war. The minesweepers were wooden while metal alloys were employed wherever necessary—then to keep from triggering magnetic mines. The ships were responsible for cleaning mines from harbors for use by United States’ forces.

In the wake of the Tonkin Gulf incident (which technically triggered the Vietnam War), the minesweepers were sent on a “secret mission” to the Tonkin Gulf to screen a harbor for mines, rocks, and debris that would prevent the proposed port from being used.

In 1965 French was ordered to the U.S.S. Koka, an auxiliary ocean tug as Commander (the first such rank assigned to his academy class).

French said one of the more interesting incidents was when his ship was ordered to tow a “floating bomb” out to sea where it could be detonated to test how far around the world the detonation could be detected via deep sea sound channels. The “floating bomb” actually was a “Liberty” ship, made of concrete.

French was tasked with towing it, along with a second tug, to a desired location for detonation, which “seemed like a simple idea, except the weather turned bad. The weather really turned awful.” As the vessels approached to drop-point, the tow lines gave way, and the “floating bomb” was then loose. French was able to recapture the “Liberty” ship and begin towing it, but the scientists present decided to blow up the ship where they had it, rather than risk further issues trying to tow it to the original designated location.

During 1968, French was again heading back to Vietnam for seven months, this time in command of the guided missile destroyer U.S.S. Robison. He and the Robison became part of an operation deemed “Giant Slingshot,” a plan to ambush Vietcong attempting to cross two parallel rivers, using the cover of night, leading from Cambodia into Vietnam. 

The Robison and other Navy ships under French’s command, joined by several riverine combat ships, were concealed during the day until nightfall, and then to rush the two river crossings and take out as many enemy combatants as they could, then fall back before Vietcong artillery could get a fix on their ships’ locations.

French was subsequently assigned as a weapons officer on the guided missile cruiser U.S.S Leahy in 1970, when the ship was sent off with its sister ship and an aircraft carrier to Gibraltar and then Jordan to counter a Russian move in that area, resulting in a stand-off and the retreat of the Russian ships.

After his services at sea, French had also subsequently developed a number of programs addressing officer leadership and enlisted men and organizational effectiveness. After his retirement from the services, he began a career as a self-employed organization development consultant and trainer, based in Frederick.

For additional information regarding Dana French, visit elementalimpactsolutions.com/dana-french-bio.

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Lehman & the U.S.S. Barb

The Sub That “Sunk” a Train

The World War II submarine U.S.S. Barb (also known by its naval designation SS-220), was said to have compiled “one of the most outstanding records of any U.S. submarine in the war,” sinking more than 96,600 tons of Japanese ships—a total of 17 Japanese ships, including an aircraft carrier.

Under the command of Lieutenant Commander Eugene “Lucky” Fluckey, the Barb’s commander earned the Navy Cross and Medal of Honor, and the ship and its crew were awarded four Presidential Unit Citations and a Navy Unit Commendation with eight battle stars.

The late John Lehman, born in Reed (near Hagerstown), ultimately became a resident of Frederick.

Lehman joined the Navy in the wake of the Korean War as a trained radio operator, having attended the Bliss Electrical School in Tacoma Park. He joined the Navy before he could be drafted into the Army, wherein he received additional training, notably in the field of radar.

He was subsequently sent to London, Connecticut, to attend classes on submarine-specific radar.

Following the completion of his education in Connecticut, he returned to Mare Island, California, where he was assigned to the crew of the U.S.S. Barb.

Initially, the Barb was dispatched to the North Atlantic under Captain John Waterman, where the submarine sank only a single German ship.  The Barb was then assigned to Pearl Harbor, where Fluckey assumed command.

With Lehman manning the radar, the Barb sank four Japanese ships, including an aircraft carrier in the East China Sea, off the coast of China, before making its way up to a Japanese-occupied port on the China coast, where the crew of the Barb took on a Japanese sitting duck convoy of 30 anchored ships.  About that raid, Lehman stated, “(sneaking into the harbor) was the easy part… Getting out of the harbor safely into open water was the tricky part,” adding that upon escape, the submarine was forced to remain on the surface in order to safely negotiate mines and rocks.

For this daring assault alone, Fluckey was awarded the Medal of Honor, and the crew of the Barb received the Presidential Unit Citation.

The Barb also participated in a rescue operation when an unmarked Japanese ship—designated the “Hell ship”—transporting Australian and British prisoners of war was tragically sunk. The crew of the submarine rescued 14 of the POWs.

But one of the Barb’s more notorious ventures began on July 19, 1945, when the ship sailed close to the Japanese shoreline, and the crew noted a railroad that had been constructed with the apparent intent that it be used for transporting military supplies. The submarine sat idle for several days to allow the crew to observe the arrival and departure of the supply trains.

Then on July 23, the submarine closed in on the shoreline, followed by eight of the ship’s crew, launching themselves in a small boat to gain access to the beach. According to warhistory.com, the team then crawled through high grass, across a highway and a ditch, and then began to lay pressure-sensitive explosives along the train tracks.  Lehman said he tried to volunteer for the mission, but the commander was not about to send his primary radar operator into the attack.

In a little over an hour, after the assault team was back on board the sub, a supply train triggered the explosives and blew up, and the rest is history. The attack became the only ground combat assault carried out upon Japanese soil in the war, and the Barb became the only submarine with the image of a train sewn onto their battle flag.

Fluckey described Lehman as one of the best radar men with whom he had ever sailed, citing Lehman several times in the lieutenant commander’s book, Thunder Below.

Lehman passed away in Frederick in 2021, the last surviving crew member of the Barb under Fluckey’s command.

As to the fate of the U.S.S. Barb, it was decommissioned and loaned to the Italian Navy, who renamed it the Enrico Tazzoli. Still in Italian hands, the ship was sold in 1972 for scrap for $100,000, according to warhistory.com.

by Richard D. L. Fulton

The Day Georgie Peach Helped Save 3,800 Prisoners

Walkersville may very well remember George Fisher, Sr. as a life member of the Walkersville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company or his having been an active member of the United Methodist Church, the local Lions Club, or the Woodsboro American Legion Post.

But some 3,700 to 3,800 civilian prisoners being held by the Japanese Army in Manila during World War II might remember him for an entirely different reason: the day Fisher, aboard his tank, Georgia Peach, stormed the prison camp and helped liberate the prisoners from their brutal Japanese Army captors.

When Fisher joined the United States Army in Spring 1942 as a drummer in a regimental band with the 8th Armored Division, the raid to liberate Allied civilians being held as prisoners by the Japanese in Manila was three years away. He received his basic training at Fort Knox. A month and a half later, Fisher was sent to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to assist in forming a regimental band as part of the 12th Armored Division. He remained there as a drummer in the regimental band and in the show and dance band.

But the frivolity, as such, was about to come to an end. In September 1943, the band was reduced in size, resulting in Fisher seeking reassignment, which landed him in the 44th Tank Battalion, a unit within the 12th Armored Division. In November, the 44th Tank Battalion was detached from the 12th Armored Division and, in March, was sent to Vancouver to prepare for deployment to the Pacific, a move that was executed in March 1944.

“We… boarded the Dutch ship S.S. Kota Baroe on March 22 and sailed unescorted for a period of 51 days before reaching our destination at Fanshawe, New Guinea,” Fisher stated in an interview.

The war officially commenced for Fisher in January 1945, when the 44th Tank Battalion was deployed along with the armed forces being sent to San Jacinto, Philippines, at the opening of the Luzon Campaign—making it the largest campaign in the Pacific war, involving more than 10 U.S. divisions.

General Douglas MacArthur, then commander of the Southwest Pacific, had become impressed with an ongoing prisoner rescue attempt and immediately ordered the formation of the “Flying Column,” with the orders to, “Go to Manila! Go over the Japs, go around the Japs, bounce off the Japs, but go to Manila! Free the prisoners at Santo Tomas…”

Fisher had been assigned to an M4 Sherman medium tank, which the crew had dubbed Georgia Peach, no doubt influenced by the fact that the tank’s commander was Sergeant Marvin Herndon, of Georgia, when orders were received to roll with the “Flying Column.”

As the column (a mere 700 men and their equipment) neared Santo Tomas, the bullets and shells began to fly, as Japanese resistance began to stiffen. Fisher described the ensuing chaos as seemingly “all Hell breaks loose, with the appearance of a fireworks display on the Fourth of July.”

Fisher stepped outside of his tank during a presumed lull and was immediately struck in the back by a fragment of shrapnel.  Regarding the injury, he said, “It was red hot, and that’s why it hurt so much, but it was a clean cut,” so the tank crew “just put on a bandage,” and he resumed his position in the tank.

The troops received word that the Japanese may well have been preparing to execute as many of the civilian prisoners as they could before they could be liberated, which further hastened the American column forward. Upon orders to charge the prison compound gates, the Georgia Peach and four other tanks broke into the compound, and the fight to free the civilian captives was over… except of course, the “Flying Column” and its thousands of liberated prisoners now themselves had to escape.

The column encountered a major Japanese fortified “roadblock” while executing their withdrawal, but in 20 minutes, reduced it to rubble, and the road “home” was cleared of resistance.

Fisher was awarded a Purple Heart, a Philippine Liberation Ribbon, a Good Conduct Medal, and an Asiatic Pacific Service Medal, and served as a president of the 44th Tank Battalion Association of WWII.

Fisher, a Bedford, Pennsylvania-born, life-long resident of Walkersville, and an honorary member of the Bay Area Civilian Ex-Prisoners of War, which had been bestowed upon him as a result of his participation in the 1945 rescue of the 3,800 civilians at Santa Tomas, passed away at the Montevue Assisted Living in Frederick, on July 11, 2000—23 days after his 100th birthday.

Corporal George Fisher, Sr. Courtesy of Family

George Fisher, Sr. and Georgia Peach. Source: Citations Magazine

Navy Vet Tony Ruopoli

by Richard D. L. Fulton

From Beirut to Eritrea

Soon-to-retire and highly decorated Frederick County Deputy, Tony Ruopoli (pictured right), served in the U.S. Navy and has been confronting the “bad guys” for more than four decades, from Lebanon to the highways of Frederick County.

Emmitsburg resident Ruopoli served in the Navy from 1980 until his retirement in 2002. He has served in missions from Lebanon to Somalia to Eritrea, as well as at home, which included recovering a valuable, prototype aircraft involved in a fatal crash in the Potomac River.

Ruopoli, who enlisted in the Navy when he was 17, was initially assigned in 1980 to serve on the U.S.S. Spruance as a mechanical engineer, working on hydraulics and the ship’s diesel engine.

He was serving aboard the Spruance, which was stationed off Lebanon in 1983, as the Lebanese war was erupting, and was present when the U.S.S. New Jersey engaged the enemy, firing her heavy guns for the first time since Vietnam at hostile positions in Beirut.

Also in 1983, Ruopoli was assigned to the U.S.S. Halyburton.  While serving on the Halyburton, Ruopoli was aboard when the ship was dispatched to Granada in October 1983 to support the Marine assault that resulted in the liberation of 36 American students that were being held as hostages by the Grenadian militia. 

During 1985, Ruopoli was assigned to Assault Craft Unit II, a unit that was involved in the invasion of Panama, which ultimately resulted in the surrender of Dictator Manuel Noriega. While with the unit, he was made chief engineer and became the first engineer to qualify as craft master.

Ruopoli was subsequently transferred to the Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit II (MDSU) after having been trained as a Navy diver. When Iran invaded Kuwait in 1991, Ruopoli found himself and other members of MDSU deployed in support of the ensuing military response.

A less pugnacious incident he was assigned was the salvage of a prototype V-22 Osprey (a “tilt-rotor” aircraft), which had crashed on July 21, 1992, into the Potomac River. “We got called to recover the aircraft,” Ruopoli said. By dusk, Ruopoli and his fellow divers had begun recovering pieces of the craft and the bodies of the crew members.

The year 1993 found Ruopoli enroute to Mogadishu, Somalia, to support Seal Teams 2, 4, and 6 in retrieving the remains of the Black Hawk helicopter that had been shot down by Somali militia (subject of the movie Black Hawk Down).

Ruopoli was then assigned to the Navy Medical Research Institute (NMRI) in 1994 to participate in developing protocols for civilian and Navy divers and to help with experimenting with gas mixtures for divers’ tanks. He was also made chief petty officer.

Ruopoli also became involved in recovering debris and bodies from the wreckage of TWA Flight 800, which had exploded and crashed into the Atlantic in 1996 off Long Island, New York. He said the recovery was especially emotional and difficult for him since “a lot of them [victims] were those of kids who were on the plane on a field trip to France.”

When the Eritrean–Ethiopian War broke out in 1998, Ruopoli and other members of his unit were deployed as part of a United Nations operation in an attempt to “assist Eritrea in becoming its own nation and (in assuring) a peaceful separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia,” he said. 

Ruopoli retired from the Navy in 2002, and then attended and completed the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) Academy, becoming a deputy sheriff, a position he continues to hold until he retires in September.

He has received citations (including medals for valor) for numerous acts of heroism while on and off duty, having saved several lives over the years, including an individual rescued from her burning home. As part of his duties with FCSO, he predominantly patrolled the north county, with some of his time on the force devoted to accident reconstruction.

Following his retirement, Ruopoli and his wife, Brenda, intend to continue with their development business, Cherry Blossom Properties.

PFC Clyde Jacob Smith

by E.A. EYLER

Photo Credit to Richard Starbird

When I was six months old, my uncle Jake moved in with us. We lived in a small house alongside Rt. 491 in an area called Lantz. At least it was Lantz until the1960s when the Lantz Post office closed, and our postmark became Sabillasville. The truth was we lived in neither. Just out in the country on a mountain saddle between the South Mountain and Catoctin ranges. My grandparents’ farm was a half mile back the road, where, on maybe 15 acres of tillable land, they raised a family of twelve children. Jake and my mom, Mildred, were born somewhere in the middle. And now, Jake had fallen out with his parents and left home.

Jake had knocked around after leaving school. He worked at Victor Cullen Sanitorium as a dishwasher and occasional projector operator, but, mostly, he had worked on the family farm and for his brother-in-law, Glenn (Junior) Willard, on his farm a mile back the road.

But, Jake was dissatisfied. He wanted to do something more with his life. He wanted to see the world and start a career. It was 1951 and there was a war in Korea. He wanted to join the Army. Trouble was, he was only 17. And, at 17, you needed your parents to sign off, and they refused. Likely, my grandmother put her foot down. She ran the roost. So, Jake moved in with my parents.

Jake was persistent, however, and after six months, tempers cooled, and his parents reluctantly agreed to sign.

He took basic training at Fort Meade and then shipped out to Germany. Unhappy with his assignment there, he requested a transfer to Korea and arrived there on July 14, 1952.

On August 7, 1952, he was assigned Fire Direction Liaison Operator with the 57th Artillery Battalion, Charlie “C” Battery. Finally, he requested to join a Forward Observe Team and was assigned to the 31st Infantry Regiment 3rd Battalion “K” Company as a Wire Corporal. His duties were to keep communications open via radio between his Forward Observation team and the gun battery.

Per a letter received by Jake’s parents from Colonel R.A. Risden, Major General Wayne Smith’s chief of Staff:

“On 17 October 1952, (during the battle of Triangle Hill in the Iron Triangle), friendly forces engaged in an extensive offensive action against a strategic enemy-held hill, were subjected to an intense enemy mortar and artillery barrage. Private Smith was with the Forward Observer Party relaying vital communications when the radio suddenly failed. Ignoring the fierce enemy fire, Private Smith left his position of relative safety, and, moving through the impact area, secured additional batteries so communications could be restored. Upon his return, Private Smith, noticing several wounded men in danger of falling over a cliff, rushed to their aid and helped in evacuating them. Again returning to his position, Private Smith, with complete disregard for his personal safety, answered a call for volunteers to help defend the friendly positions and moved in to the forward trenches (with Riflemen of the Infantry units), where he valiantly fought off numerically superior enemy forces until he was mortally wounded by enemy fire (an artillery shell landing close to his position).”

He received the Silver Star and the Purple Heart, posthumously. He was buried January, 8, 1953, in Germantown Bethel Church Cemetery.

 According to Lt. Richard Starbird and Sgt. Howard Nease, who served with him, “Smitty was a good soldier, well-liked by his buddies. He chewed Plow Boy brand tobacco and loved the Hershey Bars in his rations. Clyde was a strong man who was good at “Tapping the Box” (keeping the radio working). He loved being a soldier. He looked forward to mail from his family and a girl named, Jennie.”

How I Came to Know My Father ~ Part 1

by Sally T. Grove

Using Her Father Chester L. Grove, Jr.’s Diary and Reflecting on What He Had Written

I was 20 years old, fresh out of college, and in my first year of teaching, a difficult first year. Why did college prepare me so little for my own classroom?

Finally, a break, a time to breathe. I went home for Thanksgiving. At home, I talked with Dad about my living situation and my finances, both in dire straits. A basement apartment, a bathroom that leaked water into the kitchen, and a landlord who lived richly and didn’t care about the problems of his tenants, even as they lived in his own basement. What should I do? Car payments! Dad had warned me not to buy a new car. Not one to listen, I bought a new Honda and was now living the consequences. I loved my shiny red Honda, but the car payments on an $8,000 per year teaching salary were a killer.

On Thanksgiving Day 1977, my father invited me to move back home to relieve the pressure. I could save some money and have some support from my family as I got my feet wet teaching. I cried that Thanksgiving and gave Dad a big hug and kiss, telling him how grateful I was and much I loved him.

A day later, while sifting through a trunk in my family’s unfinished basement, I found a small stenographer’s notebook, its brown cover worn, well-traveled, edges frayed. I opened the notebook slowly, deliberately. Its contents were gradually revealed, like the plot of a mystery novel. As the practiced and perfect handwriting came into focus, I knew this writing to be my father’s.

 “On April 15, 1943, I took my examination for the U.S. Army. It was on this day that I ate my first sandwich consisting of baloney.”

Was that my father? I had never seen him eat a baloney sandwich. In fact, I know his menu by heart: vegetables consisting of peas, corn, baked beans, and any kind of potato; meats, always dry and over-cooked—these were his meals and ours—and Friday night was tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. These are the foods that Dad liked, and these are the foods that we ate and loved. We ate like our father, all six of us, much to my Mom’s chagrin.

“The morning of April 22, my last day home, I went up Carroll Creek and caught seven beautiful trout, my last as a civilian.”

When our family visited “Poppy in Frederick” when I was small, I used to stare at the stuffed fish that adorned his dark, dusty, shadowed walls. The fish hung as a testament to his youth and his sense of adventure. My grandfather was a fisherman, and he taught my dad to fish. I have a great picture of my father (shown left), standing with a fist full of fish fanned out for the photographer’s film. Was this a picture of Dad on the day my grandfather caught the big one?

“Our train ride took us through Western Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama… We arrived at our new station, Fort McClellan, a very tired bunch of rookies… I got along very well eating most everything we got for meals, although not liking it very much…”

His first big adventure via train—how exciting! With six kids, our family’s adventures now consisted of camping in Western Maryland or a week in Ocean City. We rode bikes each morning on the boardwalk and had pancakes at Happy Jack’s Pancake House. At least in Ocean City, Dad ate what he wanted.

“I took the Air Cadet exam the 12th week of basic. The passing grade for the cadet exam is 83 and I made 100%, the 3rd highest grade… On February 16th, 1944, I made my first flight at the school and by March 11th, I had completed 10 hours of flying. I really loved flying…”

Twenty-one years old and learning to fly. I didn’t know Dad had flown planes! Why didn’t he tell us? I remember when we were little, Dad took us to “Penny-A-Pound” Day at the local airport. For a penny a pound, we could go on an airplane ride. I remember being frightened and not wanting to go. Dad convinced me it would be okay. Once in the air, I couldn’t get enough of flying. The houses and streets looked like a miniature Christmas village below. No wonder Dad loved flying.

“… arrived at Santa Anna Army Air Base on the 23rd, after a very exciting trip across the U.S., my first. After taking the test for three straight days, I was a classified pilot but then the tragedy came. An order came from Washington, calling back all cadets who were former ground force students and so my dreams of flying were crushed on April 1, 1944 by a single piece of paper.”

I guess that’s why my father didn’t tell us…his dream was shattered. What other dreams did Dad have for his life? Most of what I know of my father revolves around the time he spent with his family. Were we part of his life dream?

Courtesy Photo of Chester L. Grove, Jr. in Uniform

Courtesy Photo

Robert McPherson Gardiner

by Terry Pryor

Lt. Robert McPherson Gardiner in uniform. Courtesy Photo

Although born in Denver, Colorado, Robert McPherson Gardiner spent his childhood and youth at the Auburn home in Catoctin Furnace. It was from here that he joined the Army in 1943.

This is, in part, his story. I did not know him, but I am married to his nephew, Christopher Orth Gardiner, who has regaled me with wonderful stories of this man and his lifetime accomplishments.

Headquarters

308th Field Artillery Battalion

APO 78, U. S. Army

GLH/hip

8 August 1945

Subject: Recommendation for Award

To:  Commanding General, 78th Infantry Division, APO 78, U. S. Army.

1. Under the provisions of AR600-45, as amended, it is recommended that ROBERT. M. GARDINER, First Lieutenant, 0528776, Field Artillery, Battery “C”, 308th Field Artillery Battalion, present for duty, be awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action in connection with military operations against the enemy on 17 January 1945.

2. Detailed Description of Incident: Lt GARDINER, a Field Artillery Forward Observer, was with an Infantry company assigned the mission of holding a piece of high ground and a pill box in the vicinity of Rafflesbrand, Germany. On 17 January 1945, the Germans attacked in force to retake this ground and to reoccupy the pill box. The Infantry Lt GARDINER was supporting was driven from the dug in positions in front of the pill box, leaving it exposed to the enemy. Realizing the importance of the position, Lt GARDINER held his ground and continued firing on the enemy in spite of the fact that his position was overrun. The Germans subjected the pill box to heavy artillery and mortar fire, wounding Lt GARDINER and killing his radio operator. Lt GARDINER then himself operated the radio and continued to observe the enemy. The results of his accurate calls for artillery fire were devastating and were greatly responsible for the disorganization of the planned attack by the Germans. He continued to call for and adjust fires for a period of six hours until the ground was again secured by our own Infantry. This artillery played an important part in repulsing the enemy and driving them from the hill. Although wounded, this Officer remained at his observation post for 48 hours, continuing to bring artillery fore down on the enemy at every suspicious move. Lt GARDINER distinguished himself throughout combat as being one of the most dependable, aggressive, and courageous forward observers in the 308th Field Artillery Battalion. His aggressiveness, personal courage and heroic action are in accordance with the highest military traditions.

* Unfortunately, this letter is missing the last part of the page, but he was awarded that Silver Star that he so deserved.

The following is from the November 16, 2018, Wall Street Journal, by James R. Hagerty.

Robert Gardiner, Wall Street Giant, Helped Sears With ‘Socks and Stocks’ Strategy

Army veteran was part of building Dean Witter into a powerhouse and launching Discover credit card.

Stay put or flee? Atop a hill in Germany’s Hürtgen Forest in January 1945, Robert Gardiner, a 22-year-old Army officer, had to make a quick decision.

As his unit faced swarming German troops, he was in a concrete pillbox and responsible for directing artillery fire. He stayed, even after mortar fire briefly knocked him out and killed his radio operator. With blood trickling down his back, Mr. Gardiner took over the radio duties to provide cover for his troops.

The 6-foot-7 Army officer, nicknamed “Stretch,” might have made an easy target, but he survived and returned home to launch a career on Wall Street, where nothing ever seemed to fluster him. He was deeply involved in two mergers that helped transform the securities industry from a gaggle of small partnerships into a business dominated by global companies.

Mr. Gardiner, who died Nov. 3 at the age of 95, headed Reynolds Securities when it merged into Dean Witter in 1978, creating one of the largest Wall Street firms. In 1981, he was president of Dean Witter Reynolds when Sears, Roebuck & Co. paid about $610 million for the firm as part of its strategy of offering financial services—including insurance, real-estate brokerage and investment funds—alongside refrigerators and underpants.

Robert MacPherson Gardiner was born Nov. 17, 1922, in Denver. His family had a candy business in New York but had moved to Colorado with the hope that cleaner air would help his father, Clement Gardiner, recover from tuberculosis. The elder Mr. Gardiner died when Robert was 9, and the family relocated to a dairy farm near Frederick, Md. (Auburn) He attended the Trinity-Pawling boarding school in Pawling, N.Y., where he was on the basketball team.

At Princeton University, he majored in history and participated in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. He wore an Army uniform and marched to classes and meals.

“I remember practicing slouching and bending my knees to appear shorter when measured so that I would qualify for the Army’s height limit,” he wrote later. After graduating from Princeton in 1943, he was inducted into the Army. In October 1944, he was shipped to Europe. As an artillery forward observer, he wrote, “I served as the eyes of the gunners.” He was awarded Silver Star and Purple Heart medals for remaining in the exposed pillbox in the Hürtgen Forest. He also won a Bronze Star and a Belgian Croix de Guerre.

After the war, he became a research analyst at the Wall Street firm A.M. Kidder & Co. Five years later, he jumped to a bigger firm, Reynolds & Co. He soon found he was unhappy there and wrote a letter of resignation. The firm’s founder asked why he was leaving. “I told him it was a lousy firm, and I told him why it was a lousy firm,” Mr. Gardiner recalled in a 2005 oral history. “Instead of throwing me out on my ear, he said, ‘Why don’t you become my assistant?’ Maybe we can do something about it.’”

By 1958, Mr. Gardiner was managing partner of Reynolds as it opened offices across the U.S. and in Canada. Reynolds eventually merged with Dean Witter, which was strong on the West Coast, creating a national firm to rival Merrill Lynch.

The 1981 takeover offer from Sears was too generous to refuse, he said later. Sears soon promoted him to CEO of Dean Witter. Financial-services kiosks popped up in hundreds of stores. By the time Mr. Gardiner retired in 1986, however, the kiosks still weren’t producing much business for Dean Witter. The retailer abandoned its “socks and stocks” strategy in the early 1990s. Dean Witter ended up as part of Morgan Stanley.

Though investment kiosks in Sears stores didn’t work out, the idea of combining a securities firm, an insurer and a real-estate broker was sound, Mr. Gardiner said in the oral history. The best solution, he suggested, would have been to keep them together and spin off the Sears stores. One lasting business that emerged from the combination was the Discover credit card, which he helped launch.

In his later years, he served as an adviser to Morgan Stanley and had an office in the World Trade Center. He tended to show up early at the office and start his day by tipping his fedora to the receptionist. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was stuck in traffic near the Holland Tunnel, saving him from the terrorist attack.

Mr. Gardiner was a longtime trustee of the Boys’ Club of New York and endowed a school at a Boys’ Club summer camp. He also supported the Guggenheim Museum and the Trinity-Pawling School, among other causes.

Mr. Gardiner is survived by Elizabeth Walker Gardiner, whom he married in 1975. An earlier marriage ended in divorce. He is also survived by three of his four children and two grandchildren.

Friends recalled his relentless optimism. When the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 23% in one day in October 1987, he assured colleagues it would quickly rebound. In his early 80s, he was still hoping to improve his golf score. After he had a stroke on his 89th birthday, doctors didn’t expect him to walk again. “I disregarded their prognosis,” he said later in an interview with a Pawling school publication.

He regained mobility with help from a walker and enjoyed six more years of shuttling between homes in Gulf Stream, Fla., and Far Hills, N.J. “I like to be in New Jersey when the tulips are blooming,” he said. “I’m a big fan of tulips.”

by Priscilla Rall

WWII Thurmont Nurse Follows Troops: Part 3

We continue with the story of Army nurse Mary Catherine Willhide as she nursed wounded American soldiers after the Battle of the Bulge. While stationed in Malmedy in Germany, Mary endured the explosions from German bombs for months in late 1944.

She was on night duty on December 16, sitting near a stove as she wrote a letter home. A bomb hit so close that it knocked the pen out of her hand. This is how she found herself in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge.

According to Mary, “you couldn’t hear anything for the terrible explosions…one knocked out the corner of one of our buildings. About a dozen people were killed in Malmedy about a half-mile away.” On December 17 at breakfast, the colonel told the nurses that paratroopers had dropped between Malmedy and Eupen, 30 miles away. There was to be a counterattack, but no orders had been received so far.

Around noon, infantry troops began jumping out of trucks right at the hospital’s front gate! Mary could hear the fire of small arms in the direction of Malmedy. At three in the morning, a nurse tore into Mary’s room to tell her that there was fighting in the streets of Malmedy and there was to be an emergency nurses’ meeting.

For the next two days, the casualties were heavy and her hospital had nearly 300 patients. Then, Mary noticed a very unsettling activity. All the traffic was now in reverse, including the tanks!

The nurses’ meeting took all of three minutes! The hospital staff was ordered to pack, and Mary wisely dressed as warmly as she could. Fifteen minutes later, they got the word that they were to be evacuated, and the colonel asked for five volunteers to remain at the hospital. Apparently, there were no orders from headquarters, as there was another hospital in Malmedy and no nurses were left behind when they evacuated. The patients were being evacuated as far as possible in “trucks, ambulances, or anything we could get.”

As luck would have it, all nine of the trucks assigned to Mary’s hospital were still there. Forty nurses were placed in one truck. In the afternoon, the nurses from the field hospital at Waimes arrived with a harrowing tale to tell. They had just gotten out ahead of the Germans. Apparently, Mary’s headquarters had called the corps commander four times before they were given the order to evacuate. Mary wryly noted that if they had been told on the morning of the 17th, they would have had time to pack up all of the valuable hospital equipment. Unfortunately, they had to leave all of their medical equipment behind with seven enlisted men and one officer as guards. They worked through the night and had everything packed by 6:00 a.m. on the last truck, also carrying the last load of patients. According to a letter sent to her parents, Lt. Willhide was forced to move three times in one night during the worst of the Battle of the Bulge.

“Fortunately an engineer battalion held the Jerrys back after they had orders to retreat,” Mary wrote. An infantry division and an armored division had already started from above Aachen, but they didn’t arrive until Sunday afternoon and the rest the next day. It was too late. According to Mary, that was the trouble. If they took our troops out of the Aachen area, then the enemy could break through there. “In other words, we were biting off more than we could chew.”

Soon, the British moved into Aachen and the U.S. brought our troops south. According to Mary, “it was the airplanes that defeated the Germans who didn’t have enough support, and the Americans tore up their supply lines.”

A colonel from headquarters came and asked for three volunteers to come with him. Of course, Mary volunteered! She claims that the nurses weren’t too scared until the colonel asked them if the German strafed their jeep, could they make it to the gutter! “We said, brother, you won’t have to tell us more than once!”

He took them to Spa, Belgium, just 10 miles from Malmedy. They met the rest of the unit there. The main drive was towards Stavelot, Belgium, and then further south through St. Vith toward Bastogne. On Monday, December 18, we moved again to Hartze “where we had our closest call.” They stayed there just one night as the battle raged on only 10 miles east of them. Luckily, they moved out just two hours before the Germans took the place. “Thank God we were always just a jump ahead of them.” She realized just how fortunate they were when she saw the ragged and starving POWs from the concentration camps. On the 19th, they moved to Huij, Belgium, where they helped the 102 Evacuation Hospital, which was inundated with the wounded. “It was like Normandy all over again.”

Although Lt. Willhide doesn’t mention it in her letter, she received the Bronze Star with a citation for meritorious service on January 4, 1945. The citation reads “For meritorious service in connection with military operations as an anesthetist, 67th Evacuation Hospital, semimobile from 17 June 1944 to 27 November 1944 in France, Luxembourg and Belgium.”

Then, most of the hospital staff went on to Namur, where the Germans made their deepest penetration. Mary stayed there until January 7 and then went on to the 51st Field Hospital. From there, she went to Duren, which was in complete ruins. It took the men three days to clean it out. “There were dead Germans in the cellar and in the attic where they were housed.”

On March 25, Mary moved to Bonn, where she stayed at the Pathological Institute by the Rhine River. Next stop, Huborn, the next largest hospital since St. Mere Eglise. There, they cared for 30 Russians, all with head injuries. “If you ever saw a mess, that was it. No one spoke Russian, and they were afraid of us and wouldn’t stay on the operating room table, so I put them to sleep on the run!”

On May 4, they moved to Bayreuth, Bavaria, 280 miles by truck, taking 12 hours.

Mary went through Frankfort to Nuremberg, where she saw Hitler’s Stadium. Finally, the long-awaited V-E Day came. But there was still work for Mary. She moved to Marienbad, Czechoslovakia, a lovely resort town, where they set up yet another hospital on June 1. As time went on, Mary noticed that the Germans were less hostile towards the Americans. “Never have I seen a more bedraggled, dirty, sullen people than the German soldiers, who were all along the road. They were walking, riding in horse-drawn vehicles, trucks, and every imaginable mode of travel.” They had thrown the dice and lost.

Now Capt. Willhide, Mary Catherine finished out her tour of duty and then served in the Maryland State Department of Health. She died on February 15, 2001, at her home on Flanagan Road and is buried in Weller’s Cemetery in Thurmont.