Currently viewing the tag: "Veteran Spotlight"

by Richard D. L. Fulton

“Step forward now you soldier, you’ve borne your burdens well,

1st Lieutenant Robert Seidel, III

Walk peacefully on Heaven’s streets, you’ve done your time in Hell.”

“A Soldier Reports to God,” Author Unknown

(west-point.org, Tribute to 1st Lt. Robert Seidel, III)

1st Lieutenant Robert Seidel, III, was born in 1982 in Frederick, the son of Bob and Sandy Seidel, and was raised in Emmitsburg until his family subsequently moved to Gettysburg in 2003. His grandfather served as mayor of Emmitsburg from 1968 to 1970. 

According to Seidel’s mother, Sandy Giannini Seidel, her son enjoyed Civil War history, frequently visited the Gettysburg battlefield, was a country music fan, and also enjoyed athletics. 

Seidel graduated from Catoctin High School in 2000, where he played football and baseball and excelled academically, his mother stated. After graduating from Catoctin, he attended the United States Military Academy West Point, where he also participated in wrestling on the intramural team. 

According to west-point.org, Seidel majored at West Point in the American Legal System, along with environmental engineering, “(and) was an Army Ranger, earned his Air Assault and Airborne badges, and had been planning a career in the Army.”

Upon graduating from West Point in 2004, 1st Lieutenant Robert Seidel was assigned to United States Army 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division (light infantry), and served as the rifle platoon leader in Company B during Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq.

Frederickcountygives.org noted that, as a platoon leader, “Seidel felt a tremendous responsibility for the safety and well-being of his men, putting their concerns above himself.” 

But, at 2:20 p.m. on May 18, 2006, his service in Iraq came to an unanticipated and devastating end, when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near the HMMWV (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, also known as a Humvee) in which he was riding in with several other soldiers in the Baghdad area. Seidel died from injuries sustained in the blast. Also killed in the blast were Lieutenant Colonel Daniel E. Holland, Sergeant Lonnie C. Allen Jr., and Private First-Class Nicholas R. Cournoyer.

Seidel’s mother said the family was informed of the death of her 23-year-old son at her Gettysburg home by someone she identified as a lieutenant colonel. The family was informed on the same day as his death.

A Mass of Christian Burial for Seidel was celebrated on May 29, 2006, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and was presided by Bishop Francis Malooly, with Rev. James Kiernan serving as celebrant, and was assisted by Father Vincent O’Malley and Father Stephen Trzecieski. 1st Lieutenant Robert Seidel, III, was subsequently interred at St. Joseph Cemetery in Emmitsburg. Hundreds of individuals attended the services, including members of the family, military, county and local officials and citizenry, and the Patriot Guard.

Seidel earned many awards and decorations, including the Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Combat Infantryman Badge, Iraq Campaign Medal, War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Overseas Service Ribbon, Ranger Tab, and the Parachutist Badge.

On October 29, 2016, the bridge on Route 140 in Emmitsburg, spanning U.S. 15, was dedicated to the memory of 1st Lt. Seidel III, an action made possible through the Maryland Hero’s Highway Act.  Kirby Delauter, then a Frederick County councilman, led the dedication ceremony. Each side of the bridge bears a sign noting Seidel’s name and rank.

To honor 1st Lt. Seidel III’s memory and his commitment to his troops, his parents established the 1LT Robert A. Seidel III Memorial Scholarship Fund with the Community Foundation of Frederick County to award scholarships to graduating seniors from Catoctin High School who exhibit academic promise, have participated in at least one varsity sport during their senior year, demonstrate an outstanding record of community service, and are active in their faith.

His parents also established the 1LT Rob Seidel Wounded Soldiers Fund to award grants to nonprofit organizations who support wounded soldiers with medical treatment, housing assistance, psychological counseling, physical and occupational therapies, companionship, mentoring, and employment training.

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Major George W. Webb

Gettysburg’s “Tuskegee Airman”

When George W. Webb, then-holding the rank of first lieutenant, reported for duty as the first black commander of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp on the Gettysburg battlefield, the only red tails he would have encountered there would have been the species of hawks that flew overhead.

The irony of that was, as World War II broke out, “red tails” would come to assume a whole new meaning in his life.

First Lieutenant Webb secured his Army commission as the result of ROTC training he had received at Howard University, having graduated in 1926. In May 1939 he was assigned to be a member of the staff at the CCC camp in McMillan Woods on the Gettysburg Battlefield.

The CCC had established two camps on the Gettysburg Battlefield. The first camp was located in 1933 in Pitzer Woods (in the field behind where the General Longstreet monument stands today) and designated NP-1, and the second camp was located in McMillan Woods in 1934 on the western slope of Seminary Ridge, taking its access off West Confederate Avenue, and designated NP-2.

The CCC camp in Pitzer Woods was comprised of all-black recruits under the command of all white officers as NP-2 had been, except that during late 1939, two years after the Pitzer Woods camp had been abandoned, it was announced that the NP-2 was to become the first all-black (recruits and officers) in the country. At the time, the all-black staff assumed command, the McMillan Woods camp served as home to 198 CCC program “enrollees (designated as being the 135th Company).”

Lieutenant Webb assumed command of the NP-2 on November 12, 1939, when the camp was about to begin being led by an all-black command structure.  Although Webb was described as a “native Washingtonian.” Beginning with his assignment to the NP-2, he afterwards always regarded Gettysburg as his home (before being sent to Gettysburg, Webb had served as supervisor of the Industrial Home School of Blue Plains in Washington, D.C.).

Webb received an official send-off at the NP-2 on August 25, 1941, in the form of a “smoker and banquet.”  The Gettysburg Times noted that, under Webb’s command, the camp had a superior rating “as one of the most outstanding companies in the central district.”

On August 19, the lieutenant arrived at Chanute Field, Illinois, to commence with his training to serve as the adjutant officer of the 99th Pursuit Squadron (also known as the Red Tails, due to their having painted their airplane tails red.  The group was not referred to as the Tuskegee Airmen until it appeared in a book in 1955).  The Black Dispatch reported at that time that Webb was married and had three children (two girls and one boy).

During the second week of September 1941, he was dispatched to the Tuskegee (Alabama) Institute, where he officially assumed his assignment as adjutant of the 99th Pursuit Squadron at what would become Tuskegee Army Airfield.

By January 1942, Adjutant Lieutenant Webb had been appointed provost marshal at the Tuskegee flying school, becoming the first black provost marshal in the United States Army (although he continued in training for that position for six months at the Provost Marshal General School in Fort Custer, Michigan through August 13, 1943).  He was additionally appointed as fire marshal and transportation officer.

As an aside, in October 1942, the flying school opened its brand-new chapel, Webb’s youngest son was the first child baptized in the new facility.

By February 20, 1943, he had also assumed the command of the military police unit at the Tuskegee flying school and had been promoted to captain. In September 1943, Webb had been promoted to major, just days after having completed his provost marshal training in Fort Custer. His wife had also given birth to a third daughter.

The Tuskegee Army Air Field closed in 1947; 932 pilots had been successfully graduated from the program. Among these, 66 Tuskegee airmen died in combat.

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.

Seaman John Ballenger

by Richard D. L. Fulton

Four years on the Saratoga

John Ballenger’s adventures aboard the U.S.S. Saratoga, the sixth ship in the Navy that had been named after the 1777 Battle of Saratoga – which marked a turning point in the American Revolution – began in 1960 when he sought to avoid the draft, and thus… the Army, and instead he then volunteered to join the Navy.

It was a close call, soon-to-be Seaman Ballenger stated. Within two weeks of entering basic training, he received a draft notice. The advantage of not being drafted, he said, was that if an individual was drafted, the draftee had to do whatever the Army assigned to them, but if an individual volunteered, “You got to do what you wanted to do.”

Ballenger resided in Laurel at the time with his parents, where his father also owned and operated the regionally renowned Ballenger Buick (Seaman Ballenger worked at the dealership before ultimately inheriting it, upon his father’s death.). 

Following his induction into the Navy at Andrews Air Force Base (the home of “Air Force One” since 1961), he ultimately was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, in Michigan, for basic training, and then on to the Mayport Naval Station, Jacksonville, Florida, where he was assigned to the Saratoga

The command wanted Ballenger to serve on the flight deck crew, but he wanted and was approved to serve as a catapult-and-arrest mechanic—the catapults being the means by which the jets are launched from the carrier, and the arresters are the means by which the incoming planes are stopped on the deck. He was also responsible for assuring that jets preparing to take off had the appropriate load of fuel and confirmed that the plane’s load met weight standards.

In 1962, the Saratoga was ordered to proceed to Guantanamo Bay along with two other carriers during the “Cuban Missile Crisis”—a 13-day standoff between the U.S. and the USSR over nuclear missile bases being installed by the Russians in Cuba. Ballenger said the Saratoga and the others were prepared for the worst. They all had nuclear missiles onboard.  If the carriers had been forced to arm the jets and use the missiles, “Cuba (as we know it),” he said, “wouldn’t exist today.”

After the Russians backed down, the Saratoga was off to the Mediterranean, during which time Ballenger was able to witness the kind of things that could happen on deck when things went wrong. 

During one incident which turned out to be more heart-stopping than catastrophic was when an improperly secured bomb dropped off the wing of one of the jets during its take-off and landed on the deck.  Fortunately, it didn’t detonate.

If the catapults did not function properly, a plane could nose-dive into the sea off the bow of the ship, and if a jet—generally coming in at 150 miles-per-hour—missed the arresters, it could result with fatal outcomes. 

Ballenger said that one plane attempting to land missed the arresters, and the pilot throttled up and took off, enabling the pilot and co-pilot to eject (having lost their landing gear). Somehow, he said, the co-pilot was killed in the effort.  During a second incident, another jet came in and missed the arresters and crashed into a line of jets on the flight deck, setting them afire.  Fortunately, Ballenger stated, the planes had their bombs removed and taken below deck before the crash.  “It was a terrible crash,” he said.  “We lost a few people.”

But the Saratoga did avert being deployed to Vietnam during Ballenger’s service, and the sailors aboard, were instead given opportunities to enjoy a number of Mediterranean countries, including Venice, Italy, France, and Turkey.

Ballenger was discharged in 1964, and married his wife, Linda Ballenger in 1977, and sold Ballenger Buick in 1989, subsequently buying the farm upon which they presently reside in northern Frederick County. They have three daughters, Jessica, Cynthia, and Emily, and one son, John III. Ballenger retired from Lonzo Bioscience in 2017 after having been employed at that facility for 12 years.

Seaman John Ballenger

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 4

by Sally T. Grove

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

Dad and Mates

Courtesy Photo

I started to understand my father, Chester Grove when I was 20 years old in 1977. That’s when I found the journal he kept during World War II. I read about experiences he didn’t talk about…fighting in war.

A cold March rain came to add to our discomfort…my arm was now stiff but the bleeding had stopped. My buddy’s head and legs were giving him plenty of trouble…we had to slow the pace and take turns helping him along…we often went through the forest on trails and dirt roads, tanks and guns concealed in the forest…we were constantly wet and chilled.

Our guards stopped at a house in the next town and ate while our stomachs just growled with hunger. At 4:00 p.m. we came to a little German town and sat down while the guards talked to a German captain. We had been walking since 5:00 a.m. and we were a tired and hungry bunch of Joes…

Dad had been going for at least 20 hours straight. I doubt anything that life dealt my father after the war could compare with what he had experienced in Germany. No wonder my father was always grateful for the small blessings in life. He taught us to stop and savor the view, to hear the calls of Bob Whites and Whip-Por-Whils echoing in the air at sunset, and to know that in our family we were rich beyond money.

...one at a time into the house… the Jerry’s captain interrogated us… I was next to be questioned and was glad my time had come, for the uncertainty of waiting was terrible. I went into the room and the officer behind a large desk asked, “What’s your name?” I answered with my name, rank and serial number. He then asked my outfit. I wouldn’t answer so he told me the answer, the division and also the regiment I was from… I was not surprised that he knew the division but I was given a great surprise when he also named the regiment. I still cannot understand how he found out unless he forced one of the fellows to talk (which I doubt) or found the answer on a letter or paper of some kind someone was carrying. He then asked whether we were Panzer’s troop, flyers, or infantry, and I guessed then that he didn’t know much about our outfit. I refused to tell him and he got very mad and threatened to hit me unless I talked. He even drew back his arm in a motion to strike me but it turned out that he did not strike. I was very mad when he threatened me and I’m sure that if he had struck me I would have gone over the desk after him and killed him, for I know I could not have taken a slap without fighting back. It is good that he didn’t for I surely would have been killed if I had tangled with him.

I cannot even imagine my father having the thought of killing someone. He was the gentlest soul I have ever known.

After he had finished questioning all of us, he said that since we would not talk we would have nothing to eat until we decided to talk… We waited for about two hours in the rain and cold March wind, while the guards ate and we looked on with watering mouths and hungry eyes. Finally we were told to go in the house… we were brought in a small bowl of cold potatoes, about one apiece. But they vanished in a flash, serving only to sharpen our hunger.

Dad hadn’t eaten since 8:00 p.m. the night before. He had gone 24 hours without food.

About half an hour later, the three of us that were wounded were told that a truck was waiting to take us to a hospital and the rest would march on to the concentration camp. I almost wished to go on to the concentration camp rather than split up with the rest of the fellows, but I wouldn’t have been allowed… so we parted our little group that had been through so much together.

What would have happened had he gone to the concentration camp? Would things have turned out differently? Thank God his life took the turns it did or I would not be here to tell you my father’s story.

It was dark and we rode for ages in the small truck and went through countless towns. Finally, about 11:30 p.m., we were taken into a large German house, which was being used as a Jerry field hospital. We gave our name, rank, and serial number to a Jerry orderly at a desk and then sat down among half a dozen wounded Jerries to wait our turn with the doctor. I was taken into a room equipped for operating. A radio was playing an American song. The first American music I had heard for months… A beautiful, young blonde-haired girl was helping the doctor. He told me it was his daughter. I laid on a table and was stripped to the waist then strapped down hand and foot. The doctor drew out a large scalpel and laughed as he drew it across my throat in a motion to cut it. If he had not been laughing, I would have been very much afraid, but I knew it was a joke so I laughed back.

My father had a great sense of humor, a gift he gave us all. We still laugh when we think about Dad learning to play tennis. For all of our lives, my father came home from work and changed from his suit into blue jeans. Blue jeans were his primary play clothes. So, when Dad played tennis, he played in jeans. That was fine in cool weather, but when the mercury skyrocketed along with my father’s passion for tennis, the problem had to be fixed. For Father’s Day, my siblings and I bought Dad tennis shorts. My father appeared in the hallway, boxers hanging inches below the shorts. Being a time before it was chic to have boxers showing beneath shorts, the whole family dissolved into laughter. Dad not only graduated to shorts that summer, but was introduced to briefs as well.

The doctor said, “Don’t feel so good now do you?” He told me in broken English that he had studied medicine in Chicago and I felt a little better.

Sadly, this is where Dad’s war diary stopped. He didn’t explain how long he was held captive, when he was liberated from the Germans, where he recuperated from his wounds, or when he returned to the states. Thankfully, my father had lived through these horrendous events and lived to write a part of his story.

Slowly, after reading the last page, I closed the stenographer’s notebook. Dad was a writer. This was my father but outside the lens of my experience. Were his memories too horrible to speak? Did Dad write this journal to have an outlet to express his feelings, hoping that in the writing of the words, the horror would be erased from his memory?

My mind’s camera had always framed a gentle, quiet man. The man I had known came home each afternoon by 4:30. He took a nap, his eyes closing and his body surrendering to a fast, deep sleep, the very moment his head made contact with the mattress on my parent’s carved-pineapple post bed. As kids, we rushed to see Dad when he came home; if we were two seconds late, our sharing had to wait until dinner at 5:00.

I clutched the notebook to my chest, my heart racing as I slowly ascended the stairs. Now that I knew all of this, I could not pretend that I didn’t know.

I opened the door and found various members of my family sitting around our house. I relaxed my grip on the notebook, looked at my mom and each of my siblings, knowing that I knew what they did not. I don’t remember how it happened, but I shared Dad’s notebook with my family that day.

You see, my father died when I was twenty, the day after Thanksgiving. He had gone hunting, fell out of a tree stand, and hit his head, dying instantly.

I remember vividly, too vividly, the night that my father’s station wagon, along with another car, pulled into the driveway and my Aunt Kitty got out and walked to the door. I assumed that Dad had finally gotten his deer.

When, in anticipation, I opened the door to my aunt and uncle, I knew that I was wrong. Their faces said everything. I don’t know how I held it together that night. I told my aunt I would tell my mother when she returned home from her quick grocery run. Somehow, my family made it through the night, and the days and nights that followed.

The next day, the day after my father died, I would descend the stairs to the basement. I would go through my father’s belongings, wanting so much to touch him, to hear him, to know he was there. I would open a trunk and find a small stenographer’s notebook, its brown cover worn, well-traveled, the edges frayed—my father’s war diary.

I would learn things about my father that I had never thought to ask him. Some questions to this day remain unanswered. Still, the journal provided me a glimpse into a man I did not know, and it is how I came to know my father.

How I Came to Know My Father ~ Part 3by Sally T. Grove

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

Courtesy Photo

I started to understand my father, Chester Grove when I was 20 years old in 1977. That’s when I found the journal he kept during World War II. I read about experiences he didn’t talk about… fighting in war. About the assault on the Rhine, he wrote:

Where I lay, there were two more of my buddies, so I crawled back along the wall trying to locate the rest but could not do so… The Jerries must have heard me for just then a pebble dropped from the wall about ten feet away… I realized that it might not be a stone after all. I hugged the ground as tightly as I could, pushing my body against it. I also, in that split second, turned my face against the wall. Then it happened, a blinding flash and a deafening noise. I could neither see nor hear. Dirt flew all over me.

A grenade had taken my father’s sight and his hearing. A dark veil hanging over his bright blue eyes. How it must have magnified his fear!

I felt my face for I was sure it must be bleeding, but then my sight returned and gradually my hearing, although my ears kept ringing… I looked at my buddy in front of me and his head was smeared with blood as well as his foot and legs. I shook him thinking he was dead but he moved, then another grenade not quite as close hit the ground. A blinding flash and blast followed, however it did not touch us.

Concern for others, even in the face of adversity does not surprise me. Although my family didn’t have much growing up, we never did without, thanks to my father. Dad had just three suits: one for winter, one for summer, and one to wear when the in-season suit was getting cleaned. His children, on the other hand, went shopping each September for new school clothes, and each spring, we shined in our new Easter outfits.

I knew then that they would keep grenading us till we were dead or came out. I never prayed so hard and so desperately in my life, I know that I could never be an atheist, ever, and that anyone no matter what his feeling, put in the same situation would ever deny God.

Dad never talked about religion, he lived his belief. Mom was the one who took us to church on Sundays. Dad came for Baptisms, First Communions, and Confirmations, but Sunday mornings were always Dad’s time at home, while we went to mass with Mom. I have never known a more-loving man than my father, so I am not surprised that he professes his belief in God, still he never talked to us about his faith.

In those few minutes, which seemed a year, I saw visions of my favorite fishing places and hunting territory… saw them clearly as if I were there. I pictured mom, dad, and all the family, as well as all my friends who I was sure I would never see again.

My dad’s sister, Aunt Kitty, told me that Dad was always her best friend. They were closest in age of all their siblings and played together as children. They fished in Carroll Creek and rode their bikes through the streets of Frederick. I once read a letter that Dad wrote to his father; he signed his letter, “Love, Your Fishing Buddy, Tommy.”

Again a grenade dropped within 20 feet and I pressed into the earth… a voice spoke in broken English “Hello boys, come out, ve know you are there.”… I scarcely breathed for each breath sounded like a bellows, at least in my ears… I was soaked to the skin in blood and water and was shaking like a leaf in the wind. I thought of my first-aid kit with its sulfa drug to keep my wound from infection, yet I dared not move for every move brought a grenade.

The waiting must have been torture. Dad knew that the Germans were close, and they had his life in their hands.

Night started to fade… empty boats floated by… then we heard footsteps on the beach… the Jerries were afraid to come down in the darkness for fear of ambush. They had waited until they had light enough to see and then investigated. We were prisoners.

Dad’s fear must have been great when he heard footsteps approaching. The soldier became a prisoner.

At least the constant fear of uncertainty and falling grenades was now over. We had lain under the wall from 12 p.m. till daylight… four and a half hours of terrible uncertainty, awaiting death or capture or possibly help.

Dad relinquished one state of uncertainty for another. Perhaps being a prisoner of war was better than lying in wait for an unknown fate.

We were searched and stripped of all equipment but our clothes, even our first-aid pouches were taken, as well as our cigarettes, water, rations, and anything the Jerries decided they wanted. I refused to give up my pay book and finally they agreed to let me have it… I then tried to get the other fellow’s books back but they would not allow this.

Why was his pay book so important? What did it mean to a soldier?

Certainly a soldier got paid whether they presented a pay book or not.

Thankfully, by the time I knew my dad, he had given up cigarettes for a pipe. I know that pipes are bad for you, but to this day, pipe smoke makes me think of my father.

We had four guards for the eight of us and we were forced to carry a fifty pound box with us. We climbed up a steep, rocky ridge just before the sun peeped over the horizon. The going was rough…those hills were hundreds of feet high and very steep. Our (the U.S.) artillery had begun firing again and we were in constant danger from our own shells…We were really scared and I never thought we would make it through there alive.

I had seldom seen my father show raw emotion, except, that is, when Dad made a decision to reverse a doctor’s recommendation for our family. I was 10 when my brother Craig was born. We didn’t know it for several years, but Craig’s brain had been damaged during the birth process—Craig was developmentally disabled.

The doctors told my parents that Craig and our family would fare best if Craig moved into a group home.

Unfamiliar with the plight ahead, my parents placed Craig in Kemp Horn Home.

Our family was not allowed to see Craig for a month. When we finally visited, it was raining. “Song Sung Blue” played on the radio. My family’s hearts mirrored the rain as we visited with Craig. My father decided that doctors do not know best, and Craig came home with us that very day. My family never looked back.

How I Came to Know My Father ~ Part 2

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 when I first came to understand my father. He invited me to return home to live with him on Thanksgiving Day 1977 as a way to relieve the financial pressures I faced as a newly graduated college student. It was then that I found a small stenographer’s notebook in a trunk in the basement. As I read through it, I learned about a part of my father’s life during World War II that he, like many Veterans of that war, didn’t share easily.

 “January 11th, we left the good old Terra Firma of the U.S.A. for Europe … January 21, 1945, we landed at Le Havre, France… We had a cold reception on landing. The temperature was below zero… We rode 60 miles in open trucks to Camp Lucky Strike, the coldest ride of my life. We arrived at camp at 2 a.m. frozen stiff. Our night was far from over yet, as we had to pitch tents in the snow and, when we finally did get to bed, we were too cold to sleep.”

I took U.S. History in high school, and I guess I should have known Dad fought in WWII. Still, Dad never talked about the war.

“The camp of former German airfields with a large concrete runway was infested with mines and booby traps. We trained in snow and then knee-deep mud for about a month, making very hard marches. During that time, my feet were frozen so badly that I couldn’t wear shoes for several days.”

Studying history is nothing like reading a journal from WWII. They didn’t talk about the cold and the suffering in our textbook—feet frozen so badly that you couldn’t wear shoes! Thankfully, that is a cold that I have never known.

“On March 25th, we moved up to the west bank of the Rhine. We arrived at 8 p.m., ate, and at 10:30 p.m. with but two hours’ sleep, we started our assault crossing. For hours, our artillery had been hammering the east bank and now the forest was a blazing inferno. Our company crept down the twisting trail to the river’s edge. As we reached the riverbank, we were fired upon by a hail of machine guns and 20 mms, which pinned us to the ground for half an hour. The railroad station to our front was ablaze as a result of the firing… The second platoon tried to launch several boats but was mowed down before they could load them. Finally in desperation, Captain Brown asked for a boat load of volunteers to try to make it across… our whole squad stepped forward…”

Dad was a part of the assault on the Rhine! We learned so little about WWII in my high school history class. We learned almost nothing about the Holocaust or how the United States declared neutrality at the start of World War II in Europe. We did learn about troop movements, and my limited memory tells me that the assault on the Rhine was a big deal. It precipitated the beginning of the end.

“… we got out only about thirty yards before they spotted our boat. Everything broke loose at us but we kept going… halfway across and by this time about two blocks down stream, we again received heavy fire but again paddled through it. Finally we were about 40 yards from the Jerry side, right opposite a high wall on which the machine guns were mounted… this time the jug-heads had our range and were peppering the boats so we decided to swim for it. Stripping off all equipment but our guns, we dove overboard…I was in mid-air when I felt a hot sear in my shoulder…I found that I could not use my left arm, but I managed to swim with one arm to shore…I was the only one of the seven in our boat that was hit…as we hit the sandy beach, they resumed firing on us and the engineer in the boat with us was hit and fell at the water’s edge. The rest of us took cover at the base of a wall about 25 to 30 feet high.”

I have seen that scar on Dad’s shoulder since I was a kid. The scar is as much a part of Dad as the dimple on his chin or his chipped front tooth. I knew his tooth broke during a childhood flight over the handlebars of his bike, and Mom always said Dad’s dimples made him look like Robert Mitchum, a movie star from their generation. But the scar on his shoulder—I had not known the event that had caused it.

“The engineer was in terrible agony and laid groaning and praying in a blood-chilling voice. We could not go to his aid as the Jerry’s kept showering the area with lead. A little later, however, we crept over to him, but it was too late. A bullet had hit his spine and he was dead.”

My father saw a friend die. I cannot imagine my father enduring such a tragic loss. Did a soldier’s training prepare them to go on when they had lost a friend? 

“… We made our way back to the safety of the wall, as shells were hitting directly out from us in the water about 20 yards away. We were pinned between two lines of fire, one from the Jerry’s and one from US troops.”

This sounds like a scene from an old war movie…

“Pain seared my body. I don’t know why but one of my first impulses was to spit to see if my lung was hit, which I guess it was not, as I did not spit blood. I could see the bullet holes in my jacket right at the point where the sleeve and shoulder seam is, but could not find where the bullet left, although my chest at the heart area was very sore and full of blood as well as swollen. My whole shirt was blood-soaked and I feared I might bleed to death although the blood did not now seem to be running from the wound. We lay very still along the wall, the hob-nailed boots of the Jerries sounded just above the wall and we could hear them loading their machine guns and talking in low voices. My arm was stiff and throbbing now like an engine.”

This wasn’t an old John Wayne war movie. This battle was real, and my dad was the main character. How frightening it must have been for him, bleeding and in pain, waiting, not knowing what would happen next. The design of his future was out of his hands.

Sally Grove pictured with her father and mother in 1972.

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

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

Raymond Sanders

by Deb Abraham Spalding and James Rada, Jr.

Photo by Richard L. Dougan, Jr.

When Raymond Sanders first came to Sabillasville, it was because his family was growing and they needed space to expand. They found a two-story home at the end of a dead-end road and set down roots.

“It’s a nice place to live”, Sanders said. “The dead end road was good for the children, and my wife’s father and stepmother lived nearby.”

His children started attend Sabillasville School when it was still in the building that is now Walkersville Christian Fellowship Church. At that time, local students up to grade six all fit into a four room school. For high school, the students were bussed down the mountain to Thurmont High.

“I didn’t worry about them going down to Thurmont,” Sanders said. “People were careful on the road, and there were no accidents.”

Sanders was born December 11, 1923, in Iron Springs, Pennsylvania. He is one of eight children to Lloyd and Ruth Gertrude Riley Sanders. His family moved to Fountaindale, Pennsylvania, when he was six. From there, they would eventually move to Charmain, Pennsylvania, and Highfield, Maryland.

Although his military service would take him far from Catoctin Mountain, all of his homes are no more than a 10-mile round trip.

“I’ve been working since the time I was twelve,” Sanders said.

His early work was with Mr. Leisinger on a huckster truck hauling and selling vegetables, but he has also been a fruit picker, worked at the pipe and nipple factory, Landis Machine, and Frick Company. His longest lasting job was as a heavy engineer equipment mechanic at Fort Ritchie. He worked there for 22 years, retiring in 1975 because off a back injury. He said, “They wouldn’t give me another job and I couldn’t work anymore because I couldn’t pull wrenches.”

Instead, he wound up retiring at age 52. He was also a member of the Maryland National Guard and was able to continue his service for five more years before he needed to retire from that as well. Together, his service in the National Guard and in the Army, Sanders served 33 years in the military.

Sanders is also a Veteran of World War II. He was never drafted. His son, Larry, explained. “He didn’t get called up for the draft while his friends and brothers were being called. His mom took him to Hagerstown to ask why and they couldn’t find his records. Turns out he was in the dead file – they would never have called him up.”

He enlisted in the Army on March 18, 1943, and trained with the 8th Armored Division. However, when he shipped out to Europe, he was sent as part of the green troops, being sent to replace the soldiers who were dying in the war. Once in Europe, though, he never saw combat. “I was close to being called up a couple of times, but it never happened,” said Sanders.

He mustered out after three years and returned home, which at the time, was in Highfield. About his service, he said, “It has done me a wonderful good.”

The following year, he “really met” Betty Jane Fox. He had first met her when she was 10 and he was 15, but that was just in passing because he was friends with the boys in her family. 

Sanders was in Waynesboro one time with Betty Jane’s uncle, when her uncle tried to convince Sanders to come to Frederick with him to a dance. Sanders wanted to go, but said he didn’t have a date. Betty Jane’s uncle then fixed her up with Sanders and the two hit it off. They were married on September 13, 1947.

Together, they raised seven children (Debbie, Rita, Becky, Larry, Mary, David, and Jim), and one grandson (Jeffrey). They also have 12 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren, 1 great-great grandchild, 2 step-grandchildren, 5 step-great-grandchildren, and 5 step-great-great-grandchildren.

“When we had family picnics, we would have 45 to 80 people show up,” Sanders said.

Raymond tells a humorous story about delivering a bowling ball to his grandson, Jeffrey, who was stationed in Germany while in the military. Jeffrey told Raymond that he could bowl a better game if he had his own bowling ball from home. Raymond hopped a military transport plane in Dover, Delaware, and flew to Jeffrey with the bowling ball. Raymond said, “Oh, he was surprised!”

Raymond has always enjoyed living in Sabillasville and says that he has pretty much anything he might need nearby. He attends church at St. Rita’s Catholic Church in Blue Ridge Summit. He belongs to the Cascade American Legion, Waynesboro VFW, and Knights of Columbus.

“I think we have the nicest people that any community could have up here,” expressed Sanders. “They make great neighbors.”

Betty Jane passed away in 2016, and while Sanders now lives alone, he still has plenty of family looking out for him and plenty of memories.

He clearly remembers, “I have a good family and I’ve had a good life!”

Raymond was honored at a recent Veteran’s event at the Cascade American Legion where he was a founding member. Following his military service in addition to Jeffrey, mentioned above, are three grandchildren who are also war Veterans. Raymond was the recipient of the Legionaires Award at the Veteran’s Day event at the Cascade American Legion

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.

by Priscilla Rall

John Henry Lehman was born in Reed near Hagerstown in 1922 to J. Henry and Elizabeth Hege Lehman. His grandfather, a Mennonite, owned and operated the Lehman’s Mill on Marsh Creek, one mile south of the Mason Dixon Line. The mill, first built in 1869, had been rebuilt three times, the last time using bricks made at the mill by Marsh Creek. The mill ground corn, buckwheat, and wheat for human consumption and for animal feed. It still had the original stone-grinding stones imported from France. His grandfather was progressive for those days. He installed a telephone in the mill and got rid of his horses and wagon, buying a truck to deliver his wares.

This upset the elders of the church, but Grandfather Lehman insisted that he was running a business and needed the phone in the mill. This might have been the reason that John was raised in the Lutheran Church. Eventually, the mill was sold to a woman who removed all of the milling equipment and then sold items made by the local women.

John’s father worked for the Western Maryland Railroad until the Great Depression hit and he was laid off.

John and his two sisters attended the Bridgeport school on the Cavetown Pike by Antietam Creek. It had one room, one stove, and one teacher. Later, they went to school in Hagerstown. The family survived the Depression, as their grandfather hired his father for small jobs and such. The Mennonites did not lose their money when the banks failed, as they only dealt in cash, which they kept in their homes, not trusting banks. The Lehmans saw many hobos during this time. John’s mother would always find enough to feed them a meal before they journeyed on, looking for work.

The family had a half-acre garden where the children would help plant, pull weeds, and harvest. At this time, they lived along the Cavetown Pike. Sometimes they would go to Hagerstown to the movies, but that was all the entertainment they had.

After graduating from the old Hagerstown High School, John went to the Bliss Electrical School in Tacoma Park for one year. Amazingly enough, Mr. Bliss had once worked for Thomas Edison! John then briefly worked for the C&P Telephone Company, but the war caught up with him. Before he was to be drafted, John joined the U.S. Navy.  A naval officer had visited the Bliss School and encouraged the boys to complete the course, saying that they would then be very useful to the Navy. So, the Navy it was!

At the Naval Yard, John continued learning about radios, even building crystals sets and one-tube radios. He returned to Bliss, which by now was under the Navy, and learned more about the budding science of radar. He then traveled to San Francisco and spent six months studying radar. Then, he was off to New London, Connecticut, to learn specifically about radar used on submarines. After finishing these courses, he traveled back across the country to Mare Island, where he joined the crew of the USS Barb (SS-220). With Captain John Waterman, John made five combat patrols in the North Atlantic and sunk one German ship. The seventh patrol began with a trip through the Panama Canal, and then off to Pearl Harbor, where Eugene Fluckey joined the crew for his final training. Waterman was old-school, and Fluckey was from the new; they clashed repeatedly. John could hear this from where he was stationed. Finally, Waterman said, “Shut up…I’m the captain!”

Commander Fluckey captained the submarine during the next seven war patrols, between March 1944 and August 1945, when the Barb sunk 17 enemy vessels. In addition, when a “hell ship” carrying Australian and British POWs was unknowingly sunk (as she had no identification) by the SS Sea Lion, the Barb raced for five days to reach the survivors just before a typhoon hit. She was able to rescue 14 Allied POWs from the SS Rakuyo Maru.

Captain Fluckey considered Lehman one of the best radar men he sailed with, noting him several times in his book, Thunder Below.

The last two patrols were particularly impressive. The Barb sank four Japanese ships, including an aircraft carrier, in the East China Sea, off the coast of China. Next, with John constantly monitoring the radar, the Barb sailed up a busy harbor on the Chinese coast, launching her torpedoes at a convoy of 30 enemy ships at anchor. This was the easy part…getting out of the harbor safely to open water was the tricky part. Then, running on the surface, she retired at high speed through the uncharted harbor, full of mines and rocks. Seaman 1st Class Layman was at his station the entire time. For this audacious feat, Fluckey was awarded the Medal of Honor and the USS Barb received the Presidential Unit Citation.

After John left the Navy, he worked for the telephone company. In 1960, he married Anne Pearce and adopted her two children from a previous marriage. They had one son, William, together. They eventually retired to Frederick at Homewood. John passed away on March 5, 2021, the last crew member of the famous submarine, the USS Barb.

USN — Official U.S. Navy photo 19-N-83952 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command.

USS Barb (SS-220)

Cpl. Donald Kuhn From India to Burma: World War II

by Priscilla Rall

Last month, I wrote of how during World War II, Donald Kuhn traveled north in India, hearing jackals howling and starving children begging for food. When he finally got to the airbase at Tansucoa, he was assigned to Intelligence, an S-2, with tremendous responsibilities. He typed up every mission report as soon as the pilots were debriefed after each mission. Then, the reports went to the Communications staff that then put it in code to be sent to General Santameyer, General Chenault (of Flying Tigers fame), and four other top brass.

Every day, two planes went out to take reconnaissance photos of Burma. They had no guns for defense, just two cameras each. As soon as they returned, Kuhn had to process them, label them, and then file them for use in future missions. Another duty for Kuhn was to take a one-pound chunk of opium from the safe and cut it into small pieces that could fit in a vial to be placed in each pilot’s emergency belt, along with a small silk map of Burma, pills to purify water, and a special comb that had a hacksaw in the handle, supposedly to saw oneself out of a prison cell if captured!

Each emergency belt had a number, and it was Kuhn’s responsibility to keep records of each belt that he handed out before each mission and to record them when they were returned, and to put the opium back into the safe. What the opium was for he did not know, but one can only guess. At one base, he was actually responsible for the safety belts of every pilot in every airstrip in all of India.

Eventually, Kuhn was incorporated into the 459th Squadron, which was fitted with all P-38 twin-engine planes, although no one had been trained on these aircrafts. It was brimming with guns, and under its wings, they could hang two 100-pound bombs, put jelly bombs (napalm), or extra fuel tanks if the mission was particularly far away. The mission for the day would come down early in the morning and could include 10 or all 25 aircrafts. They were to bomb and strafe railroads, supply depots, and once all planes went out, to bomb the vital airstrip at Rangoon, Burma. When the planes returned (and not everyone did), Kuhn wrote up all of the ammo expended by each plane and gave that report to the higher-ups.

On Easter Sunday 1945, Kuhn vividly recalled that a single Japanese plane attacked his airfield (that had absolutely no defenses), and dropped a cluster of incendiary bombs, burning their barracks or “bashas.” Donald had just left the building and saw the approach of the enemy plane. A cautious man, he had already scoped out a nearby pipe that ran under a railway track. First, he grabbed his barracks bag, which was by the entrance, and grabbed a family photo off the wall, then he hopped into the pipe. Thankfully, no one was killed by the bombs, but many of the men were wounded by shrapnel. When it was safe to exit his place of succor, he noticed that a piece of shrapnel had pierced the photo he had of all of his sisters.

The airstrips were very primitive, just gravel and grass. They moved a lot, as they needed to be as close as possible to the fighting. Finally, the enemy was being pushed back east. The only troops were the American Merrill’s Marauders and some British and Indian troops. There were a number of air-warning units of several men each. They were secreted in the Chin Hills of northeast Burma. They reported all planes, friendly or not, to Kuhn’s airfield, then he had to write with a grease pencil on an acetate overlay of a map exactly where the enemy was, as well as how far the Allies had progressed. Earlier, he was responsible for marking all of the locations of German troops in North Africa, so he knew just where Rommel was, as well as the Allied troops. “The men would come in to see how we were doing, and at that point, not very well!”

At one point, the Japanese were closing in on Kuhn’s location, and all of the men were issued carbines for protection. Before that, they had no guns at all. But, the Japanese were stopped before they got to Kuhn’s location.

One of Donald’s most memorable experiences was when Lord Mountbatten, who was in charge of all the allied forces in Burma, visited his unit. He was there to give them a “pep talk,” when it seemed that the Japanese might be closing in on them and cutting the three airfields in the north off from the Allied forces in the south.

Cpl. Kuhn did ride on the famous Ledo-Burma Road, which he described as rocky with mountains and jungle all around. Once, Kuhn flew on a PT-19 Fairchild trainer plane, made right here in Hagerstown, Maryland. He laughed when he realized how many units he had been attached to. First the American Air Command #1, then the 5320 Air Defense Wing, then Headquarters 10th US Air Force, and finally, to the 459th “Twin Dragons” unit. This was dangerous business. Donald vividly recalled when two planes were lost on one mission. They never had any word on their status and were not captured. The entire unit rejoiced once when all 25 planes went out on a mission and all 25 returned! By the way, Air Commando Col. Phil Cochran, the inspiration for the comic strip “Terry and the Pirates” was in Kuhn’s 33rd Fighter Group, but in the European Theater. In all, 45 airmen were lost from the Hq. 33rd Fighter Group, the 58th, 59th, and the 60th Fighter Squadrons during the war in the CBI, or China, India, and Burma Campaign.

The war was winding down. The atom bomb was the final punch that knocked the Japanese down. Kuhn later learned that the 459th was to be in the “Forward Echelon” for the planned invasion of Japan. They were to be flown over China and back up the first invasion forces. Thankfully, that never was needed.

After the surrender was signed, Donald was finally able to return home. He took a Navy troop ship home, from Calcutta through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. Then, they sailed through the Mediterranean, sailing by the famous Rock of Gibraltar into the Atlantic Ocean. He finally reached New York harbor in early November, and his ship pulled into a berth right next to the USS Missouri, where the surrender was signed! Then, off to Camp Kilmer and finally to Ft. Meade, where he was deactivated.

Finally home, he found that he began being troubled by a nervous condition of vertigo that made him feel like he was swirling around and could fly off into space at any moment. It was obviously a variation of PTSD; he worked it out, and a month or two later, it disappeared. He had a hard time deciding what he wanted to do. He first worked at a feed mill in Smithsburg and then on his brother-in-law’s farm. Finally, he landed a job in accounting at the Chewsville Co-op, where he worked for 34 years.

In 1950, he married Naomi Leatherman, and the couple moved into her parents’ home, where they had an egg and chicken business. One day they collected 800 eggs! The couple had two daughters and lived in the same home until he passed several years ago. Naomi still lives in the family home near Foxville.

Cpl. Donald Kuhn had a remarkable career in the U.S. Air Corps and was instrumental in the success of the 459th Fighter Squadron. Few of us even remember the CBI Theater, but now you know the rest of the story.

by Priscilla Rall

Donald Kuhn

From the Mountains of Appalachia to the Mountains of India and Burma

The late Donald Eugene Kuhn traveled with the Army Air Corps to places most of us merely dream of. Born in 1921 to Ernest Rexfore “Rex” and Goldie Wolf Kuhn, he was one of 10 children, growing up on a small farm on Brandenburg Hollow road near Wolfsville. Rex bought out his two sisters, buying the farm for $2,700 after his father died. When it was appraised, the banker told them to figure out how much it was worth before the Great Depression, and then halve that amount! The family had a sleigh and a buggy, but they were not used after Donald was born. Instead, his father drove a 1923 Chevy.

The Kuhn’s raised eight to ten hogs a year and had four to five milk cows. On the 38 tillable acres, the family grew corn, potatoes, wheat, and green beans. They had no tractors but used draft horses, “Kit” and “Bird.” The kids picked the beans for 15 cents a bushel. Donald remarked that he “looked to a quarter as a big piece of money.” After a hard day picking beans, the kids would race down to their favorite watering hole to cool off swimming. His mother was busy from morn to night, milking the cows, churning butter, and cooking for her large brood. When Donald was about 10, he was old enough to be given the chore of getting water from the nearby creek for the steam engine that ran the threshing machine needed for the wheat, which had been put up in shocks in the barn. The farm had no electricity until 1942.

It was not all work and no play. One of Donald’s fondest memories was after a big snow, the kids would go sledding. There were still a few chestnut trees not yet killed by the blight, and Donald remembered picking them to eat. He also helped split the chestnut logs to be used for split-rail fences. They still had to walk to the Forest School, a mile or so away, but his father would harness up one of the horses and hitch a log to her and drag a path for his children to the school.

The Depression hit the small farmers hard. Often, the Kuhns would take eggs and chickens to Goldie’s grandfather’s store in Wolfsville and barter for sugar and kerosene. All of the neighbors enjoyed sitting around listening to the radio, especially the Grand Ol’ Opry. At that time, there were “hucksters” like Ross Eyler, Raymond MacLean, and my husband’s great uncle, Victor Pryor, who would buy the produce and take it to the city to sell. When the children needed shoes, Rex would take a cured ham to Harry Myer’s grocery to sell for enough money to buy shoes for at least a few of the children. The Kuhns were fortunate not to lose their farm as some neighbors did.

The Roosevelt Administration began many programs to help the struggling Americans. A Civil Conservation Camp (CCC) was built where Camp David is now. The government bought much of the land, and those living there had no choice but to sell. Isaac Smith was one of those who lost his farm to eminent domain.

After seven years at the two-room Forest School in Garfield, Donald went on to Middletown High School. Goldie was insistent that all her children attend high school. Donald recalled that “It always grieved her” not to be able to go beyond seventh grade, as she had to stay home and care for her sick mother.

After graduating from high school, Donald attended Columbia Business School in Hagerstown. He then worked six-and-a-half days a week for a coal company, also in Hagerstown. He made $12.50 a week. Then, he received his draft notice, but decided to enlist in the Army Air Corps. After three days at Fort Meade, he traveled to St. Petersburg, Florida, spending a week taking tests. After qualifying for clerical school, he was sent to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, for 11 weeks. His next stop was to the Waycross Air Base and the 385th Bombardment Squadron, 311th Bombardment Group, where he served until July 1943.

Then, it was goodbye USA and hello Asia. Leaving San Francisco on the USAP Brazil, a troop carrier, he sailed first to Tanzania, then around the south of Australia. At Perth, they picked up another ship and a destroyer, arriving on September 10 in the Indian Ocean. Finally on land, the men took three different trains and two different riverboats across India to reach its northeastern tip. They did stop at the British Camp at Gaya, where the Americans could hear the jackals howling at night. Quite an unnerving experience for a farm boy from Appalachia! The conditions were very primitive in India, particularly since they were experiencing a terrible famine at this time. At each train station, hordes of children would swarm around the train, begging for food. Finally, the men arrived at their destination, and Donald’s real work began.

by Priscilla Rall

Oscar Sykes was born in 1916 in Catoctin Furnace to William and Carrie Ann Stackhouse Sykes. His father was a lumberman from Canada whose own father was killed by a falling tree while working as a lumberjack. Oscar was one of three sons and two daughters. William died in 1919 when Oscar was just three, and he is buried in Lewistown. From then on, Oscar was raised mostly by his sister, Ida. He was very fortunate to be raised by his sister, as one of his brothers was put in an orphanage when their father passed. His mother later married Harry Sweeney, and they lived in Catoctin Furnace. Ida married Howard M. Kemp, who was a blacksmith and had a great impact on Oscar’s life.

Oscar moved to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a town then known for making wooden pipes for water systems. He was surprised to learn that Pennsylvania schools were not segregated like those in Maryland.

Moving once again, he lived in State College, Pennsylvania, with an aunt. Then, it was back to Catoctin Furnace, to live in a house across from the church.

Route 15 had not been widened at that time, and the boys swam in Locust Pond, located where the overpass walkway is now. The furnace was already in a state of disrepair, but the Dinky railroad was still in operation, and you could ride it up to Thurmont.

The trolley also went through Thurmont, and Oscar loved to hitch a ride on it to Braddock Heights to enjoy all the entertainment there. The main business in Catoctin Furnace at the time was making barrel staves from the thousands of dead chestnut trees covering Catoctin Mountain. Businesses also made telephone poles, crossties for the poles, and the wood screws that held the glass insulators on electric poles.

Oscar and his mother loved to ice skate on the upper and lower ponds there. They would place a log by the side of the pond and sit on it to lace up their skates and build a fire nearby to keep warm. Carrie was a gifted healer. She cared for pregnant women and delivered their babies. She would tap a pine tree and make a healing salve from the sap, just one of her many old-time recipes for medicine.

Oscar left school after eighth grade, and by age 13, he was working for Mr. Harding at his blacksmith shop in Mt. Pleasant, Maryland. The building is still there, at the end of the store.

An old buggy maker, Coleman Laddie, would sit by the fire and tell of his buggy shop in Frederick on All Saints Street. When Oscar mentioned he wanted a pincer to trim horses’ hooves, Mr. Laddie offered to show him how to make one. Eventually, Oscar made all of the tools he needed for blacksmithing and, most importantly, learned how to use an anvil correctly. Later, Oscar worked at Howard Kemp’s blacksmith shop in Frederick at the corner of South and Carroll Street.

Farmers brought their produce to Frederick, and it was especially busy when sweet corn was hauled in wagons, pulled by horses down East Street to the canneries. Many farmers took advantage of being in town to get their horses reshod or wooden wagon wheels repaired, so Oscar was especially busy at harvest time.

For wheels, they would buy the hubs and make the spokes and wooden wheels. Then they would have to place the metal rims on the wooden wheels, a complex process. On the weekends, Frederick was a bustling place, with cars and wagons parked along the main streets and benches up and down the sidewalks, filled with citizens sharing the latest news and gossip.

Then the Great Depression hit. There were no jobs to be had, and many people didn’t even have enough to eat. Hobos were a common sight. There was a CCC camp in Catoctin Furnace where Oscar’s Uncle Carl found work. Oscar did a lot of hunting, particularly in Canada, and would give the meat from rabbits, pheasants, deer, and even bear to his family and friends for food. Oscar remembered farmers who would come to his sister’s husband, Howard, crying as they had no money to pay him. Howard would take a dollar or two, and Oscar would later stop by to get another dollar as they tried to pay off their bill. Unemployed African Americans congregated on the corner of Patrick and Market streets, hoping that a farmer might need a hand for making hay or cutting corn.

Oscar fondly recalled that on nights with a full moon, he would join neighbors and shock corn for 20 cents a shock. Later, they would return to husk the dried corn. Oscar also worked on Guy and Will Water’s farms. He even shod horses at the Buckingham School. Oscar wasn’t afraid of hard work, but his fondest memories were of working with Tom Fox at his blacksmith shop on South Street, where he finished his journeyman’s training and became a full-fledged smithy.

In 1936, Oscar married Dorothy Brand from Brunswick. They had one son in 1944. He decided to join the Navy and, in March 1942, began work as a blacksmith at the David Taylor Model Basin in Carderock in Montgomery County. It was a top-secret facility for testing military vessels and equipment, so important that Marines guarded it. The complex consisted of a model shop, machine shop, blacksmith and welding shop, and a machine shop. Alongside the shops were two huge water basins, each approximately one-half-mile long. Oscar’s job was to test all of the metals to be used in ships and submarines. He tested the metals for compression and tensile strength. Along with an engineer, Oscar helped design what he called a “noise maker.”

This was at a time when Germans were using torpedoes that were attracted to the sounds made by a vessel’s engines. To create a kind of decoy, they made a metal device that created such noise that the enemy torpedoes honed in on it and exploded harmlessly behind the ship. Oscar also designed the point for a spear that was placed on lifeboats so that a shipwrecked sailor could use it to kill fish to eat, as well as a hook on the front of a lifeboat to hopefully use to be hauled to safety by a rescue boat. There was much more that Oscar felt he still did not have the authority to disclose.

He worked for 30 years at the David Taylor Model Basin as their top metallurgist, while also consulting at the National Bureau of Standards and at the Navy Yard. Pretty good for a boy who just finished eighth grade and was coached by a buggy-maker from the 1800s!

Although he enjoyed recalling the good times, there were plenty of bad times, which he preferred not to dwell upon. His most difficult memory was when he lost his beloved wife in 1954.

When the author interviewed Mr. Sykes for the Veterans History Project in 2007, Oscar was still driving everywhere, going out dancing in Martinsburg, and enjoying a healthy, full life, living with his doting grandson. He was extremely proud of his interview and went to all his friends to brag that his was the longest interview done to date. He even drove to see Mark Lewis, the friend who recommended that I talk to him.

It was heartbreaking to learn that he died of the flu just two weeks after his interview. Oscar Sykes exemplifies the American dream that anyone with determination can be anything through hard work.

Oscar and his wife, Dorothy, and son.

Oscar and his son.

Scatter Come Together

by Priscilla Rall

The motto for the 190th Field Artillery Long Tom Battalion (FAB) refers to its cavalry history going back to the Civil War. It reflects the cavalry tactics for a hard fought battle. But instead of horses, the 190th FAB used modern artillery pieces. A member of battalion’s headquarters group was a farm boy from near Sabillasville. Walter Leon Harbaugh was born on December 29, 1916, on the small farm in the home of Murry and Minnie Brown Harbaugh. The local area is named for his family, Harbaugh Valley. Walter had a large family, one of five children, and there were many chores to do each day. The family butchered hogs and then smoked the meat. Walter remembered they used sassafras and hickory chips for the fire. For two straight days, they had to make sure the fire did not break out into flames or “blaze up.” They also had two cows to milk, and had to cut wood for the cookstove and heat. They would use a cross-cut saw and then drag the log with horses to the mill. By age eight, Walter was using horses to plow. Thankfully, Maude and Colonel were gentle giants. At first, Walter went to a one-room school on Quirock Road and then to the school in Sabillasville. By his early teens, the Great Depression was in full swing. He left school at age 15 to work in construction and help the family.

But, soon, war loomed over the world, and Walter was drafted in June 1941. He was to serve one year. But after six months, war came to the United States, and he was in for the duration.

Walter trained at Fort Sill and then for 13 weeks at Fort Shelby in Mississippi. Finally, he set sail on the Queen Elizabeth as it zig-zagged across the Atlantic to avoid German subs. In seven days, they landed in Glasgow and soon crossed the Irish Sea in old cattle boats. He continued his training in mechanics, as the company had 6x6s, weapons carriers, prime movers, and jeeps. His unit was part of the 1st Army V Corps and was, by its nature, extremely mobile so that it could support the troops wherever they happened to be. While in Scotland, he managed to visit Belfast, but because of the black-out, he “couldn’t even find a pub.”

Walter was chosen to complete commando training taught by British soldiers who had recently been in North Africa. He was impressed by the British soldiers and got along well with them. With their stiff upper lip, they didn’t let anything bother them. In training, they used live ammunition, and one lieutenant was accidently shot in the ankle, but it could have been worse! For one of their exercises, they were taken outside at night and given just a map and a flashlight and had to find their way back to the base. They regularly made 25-mile marches, but that didn’t bother this tough farm boy. Back with his unit, they practiced beach landings after waterproofing their vehicles. They’d go out at about at 2:00 a.m. with a stove pipe extending from the exhaust pipe to keep the water out. Another time, they were left in the moors, but were not told the 110th Airborne was also there trying to “ambush” them. At the end, if you had a chalk “X” on your back, the troopers had gotten to you!

Finally, it was D-Day. Walter and his battalion were in a staging area and soon loaded in boats to cross the choppy channel. The 190th FAB landed on D-plus 2 at Omaha Beach. By 9:00 a.m., Battery A was firing at the enemy. Harbaugh was with the Group Headquarters Battalion and was soon fighting through the hedgerow country. The 190th supported the 29th Division in Normandy until St. Lo. There, Walter went to a hillside and looked down on the devastated city; he could see only a few church steeples sticking out from the ruins. They then fought their way across France, assisting in the Falaise Pocket. Then they stopped just for a day to participate in the victory parade through Paris. Then, through Aachen, where they faced heavy enemy resistance. Later, at St. Vith, there were three men in one foxhole. A shell hit the foxhole dead-on and killed the man in the middle, but left the ones on each side unharmed. In November, they spent 25 days giving support to the units caught up in the hellish battle in the Hurtgen Forest. In Walter’s words, “your life wasn’t worth a plugged nickel.” After that, the 190th was called on to help out in the Battle of the Bulge. As the Army crossed into Germany, the 190th found themselves at the Remagan Bridge. By this time, Harbaugh had enough points for a 45-day furlough. Fortunately, while he was in the good old USA, the war ended.

After taking a little time off to decompress from the war, Walter went back to working construction. Some of you may know of the Rocky Ridge Brick plant. Well, he was the foreman for that huge job.

Walter met Molly Emma Gates at a dance, and they were married soon after. They had six children. Son Leon was in the Vietnam War, and son Lamont served in the National Guard—a family that certainly served our country well and faithfully.

Walter Harbaugh died on December 30, 2017, at the age of 101. The last time I saw him, less than a year before his passing, he refused to let me get a ladder, and he picked the apples he wanted to give me himself! Rest in Peace, dear friend.

Courtesy Photos of Walter Leon Harbaugh

by Priscilla Rall

Playing Ball in Germany

Seventy-Five Years Ago

Seventy-five years ago, where were you? My father, Captain J. E. Rall, was in post-war Germany, an army doctor stationed in Nuremburg amongst the ruins of a once-great city. I wasn’t even born yet. Thousands of thankful American soldiers didn’t have to fight any longer. The war was over, and the killing ended.

One of those happy soldiers was the late Ronald Charles Manning. He was born on July 27, 1915, in Pennsylvania and grew up in rural western Maryland. His family ran a small market in Clear Spring. Ron was a married man of 28 when he was drafted. With two young daughters and one on the way, he was not anxious for combat. But he put in his time, and now there was peace. Ron and a group of “high pointers” were marking time until they could return stateside. He had accumulated 87 points (for the Silver Stars, battles fought, and dependents). A high-ranking officer told the men they needed to be “in training.” That didn’t sit too well with the battle-hardened men. Ron told the officer he had two years of training (an understatement), and he didn’t need anymore. What they needed was a few baseball bats, balls, and gloves, and they would stay out of trouble. A few days later, much to his surprise, the sports gear arrived. So, 75 years ago, Ron and his men spent three months playing ball until they were finally sent home in December 1945.

When the troopship carrying Ron pulled into New York, no crowds or ceremonies marked his homecoming, only Lady Liberty welcomed him home and his beloved wife, Nancy, who had given birth to their third child, alone. She had raised their three young girls while staying with her parents, and they ran their small grocery store in Clear Spring. Now they were together again. Nancy never asked Ron about his time at war. Ron never told her of his experiences. Words always failed him, but he never forgot the horrors of war. He had the scarred and numb fingers from frostbite to remind him.

He had been in England when he heard of the Normandy invasion, but he “didn’t think much of it.” Soon, he realized that he would soon be there himself. He was with the Tank Corps 6th Armored Division, the “Super Sixth.” D-Day plus three found Ron landing at Utah Beach. He saw the remnants of the assault… “It was terrible.” The destruction from the massive bombing and shelling shocked him. There was still strong enemy resistance, and the objective of St. Lo wasn’t realized until mid-July. Ron and his division then fought the retreating Germans south to Brest. After the Germans at Brest finally surrendered, he vividly remembered seeing hundreds of German POWs, mainly old men.

Eventually, his division moved through France to Belgium. It was then that the German breakout known as the Battle of the Bulge began, threatening the entire Allied effort. Ron and his troops were clothed only in summer uniforms. When Gen. George Patton was informed of this problem, he said that they had no choice but to go to the aid of the besieged troops at Bastogne. Ron noted that “it wouldn’t have mattered if we were naked; Patton would have sent them anyway.” Wearing only summer pants, a thin Eisenhower jacket, and a trench coat not designed for combat, the troops fought bravely. When the winds and snow were too much, they would dig a trench and run a tank over it, providing shelter for three men, as well as a target for the enemy. More often than not, they simply slept in their sleeping bags in shallow foxholes and would wake up covered with newly fallen snow. They had no hot food, just C-rations, and even those became scarce as the fighting raged on. Once, when Ron was sent into Bastogne to get mail for his company, a shell burst, narrowly missing him—but he did get the mail for his unit.

Ron and his company were defending Hill 510. When asked what was on that hill, Ron replied, “Nothing.” But, in fact, it was a strategic spot that defended a vital crossroad just northeast of Bastogne. One night, Ron noticed some moving figures, vaguely silhouetted against a nearby row of cedars. Then he saw what he thought looked like enemy tanks slowly moving towards his position. Ron tried to contact his command post, but the communications were down, so he ran through the dark to alert the command. Racing back, he discovered the wires had been broken from the recent shelling. Quickly repairing them, he returned to his company and roused his men, even pounding on tanks to wake the drivers. His company, now aware of the German offensive, spent the next three days and nights defending Hill 510. They were successful. It was for this that Sgt. Manning earned a Silver Star Commendation.

Finally, the German offensive was defeated, but the war continued. Ron didn’t remember the names of all of the towns, rivers, and cities where he fought. It was simply one battle after another. As a platoon sergeant, he once discovered a German pillbox that had gone undetected. He led his men in a successful machine gun assault of the enemy position. On a later mission, his platoon returned one man short. Ron and another soldier (Johnny Cash’s uncle) set out to retrieve the missing man. After going a half-mile, Ron told Cash to wait there and to cover him as he continued the search. Ron finally found his man lying against a cedar tree, wounded in the head and moaning. Ron hoisted him on his shoulders and began to carry him to safety. He trudged through the snow, with enemy bullets ringing around him. Ron eventually had to lay the wounded man across his back and walk, bent over, towards his lines. The three men eventually got back to safety. For these two heroic actions, Ron earned another Silver Star (with Oak Leaf Clusters).

Ron Manning saw the destruction of Germany first-hand. He saw the smoldering remains of factories bombed by Allied planes. He described one small town, completely destroyed and flattened, with only a chicken wandering alone in the ruins. They didn’t even have the time to eat the poor chicken. He did remember one hot holiday meal. It was either Thanksgiving or Christmas. Memorable because there were “more feathers than turkey!”

After the war, he joined the American Legion, but found that he didn’t have much in common with the younger men. His awards proudly hung in the Manning’s home until his death, and the old photos have been kept safely in an album, now with his daughters.

The battle-scarred Veteran died on September 14, 2011. He peacefully slipped away, noticed only by his family and a few old friends. He was 96 and had lost his wife, as well as most of his contemporaries. Just one of the last of the “Greatest Generation,” who had answered his country’s call, fought in some of the war’s most fierce battles, to return home and work the rest of his life as a machinist. He loved sports and fishing, but most of all, his family. Ron Manning was one of the quiet heroes of World War II who ended his fighting days playing ball 75 years ago.

Courtesy Photos of Ronald Charles Manning

If you are a Veteran or know a Veteran who is willing to tell his or her story, contact the Frederick County Veterans History Project at priscillarall@gmail.com.

Mark Allen Lewis

A Life Well Spent

by Priscilla Rall

Mark Lewis was born in 1924 in the hamlet of Garfield, high up in the Catoctin Mountains. He died there, in a place he knew well—the home where he was born. When I consider Mark’s life, I realize it encompassed an entire century of our country’s history: from her agricultural roots to the Great Depression, from the horrors of World War II to the Cold War.

All that was rural America can be summed up in Mark Lewis’ life. He was born at home, not in a hospital, 1 of 10 children. The Lewis family scratched out a meager living in the rocky fields and orchards of Frederick County. He could not remember when he was not working on the farm. He went to a two-room school, Forest School, and then began working on a neighbor’s farm when he was just 13, plowing the fields with a team of horses, just as farmers had done for a hundred years.

The little store run by his father had all that the mountain people needed. Traveling hucksters provided a small income from eggs and butter. Mark’s mother, Annie, toiled long hours and, sadly, died too soon. She impressed on her children the need for an education. His hard-working father, Claude, was a pillar of the community.

These beginnings gave Mark all that he needed to face the uncertain years of the Great Depression. He joined the National Youth Administration at 16 years old. He worked at Fort Ritchie, where he saw the last of the cavalry regiments!

The world was changing.

As our country plunged into war, Mark joined up. Trained as a paratrooper, he rode a glider into Germany amidst savage enemy fire. He trudged through the snow to relieve the troops at Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge. This mountain boy, with little education, became a combat engineer, detecting mines, blowing up enemy bridges, and then building pontoon bridges for the allies. He was wounded three times and was ready to be sent to invade Japan when the war was ended by the atomic bombs.

Mark came home to his family, and then began his own. He married his beloved Dorothy, who he met picking beans in a field at the home farm. Like other GIs returning home, he began a new life. And like many other combat Veterans—then as now—he suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. However, with drive and ambition, he succeeded, working for many years as a construction project superintendent at such American institutions as the Library of Congress, Camp David, and Site R. But Mark never lost his love of the land. He never lost his pride in being an American.

With his love of history, he wrote and published many articles on local lore and of the people he knew so well. From his writings, others learned about the strength of the people who lived in the hills and hollows of the Catoctin Mountains. To talk to him was to open a history book, with footnotes provided by Dorothy. He shared his own story with the Veterans History Project in 2006. It is fitting that his own history now resides in the Library of Congress, where he had once worked. echoua.com

Mark was a remarkable man—smart, hard-working, devoted to his community and his family. Just as he had fought in the fields of Europe as a young man, he bravely fought his illnesses during his last years, with Dorothy and their children by his side.

One would never mistake his voice for another, “Mark, here….” I would begin. “How’s my gal?” he would ask.  I will miss those phone calls. I will miss the visits I had with Mark and Dorothy. I will miss my friend, Mark Lewis, someone I consider a true American Hero.

Courtesy Photo of Mark Allen Lewis

Photo Courtesy of Ellen Smith

Forrest School opened its doors in the fall of 1882, serving children in the Garfield area, between Wolfsville and Foxville in Frederick County. Located at the intersection of Stottlemyer and Forrest School roads, the school closed its doors in the spring of 1939.

Peg Goes Into the Army

by Priscilla Rall

Margaret Virginia “Peg” Franklin has deep roots in Frederick County. She was born on her family’s farm, Thornbrook, in 1915, to John Nathaniel and Margaret Fox Franklin. The home is on the National Register with its fantastic example of Italianate architecture. At one time, it was owned by the well-known poet and professor at Mount St. Mary’s College, George Henry Miles.

Peg’s grandfather bought the farm before she was born. The large home was also used as a boarding house for vacationers from D.C., Baltimore, and Virginia. Before buying Thornbrook, Peg’s grandfather, Jeremiah Fox, ran a livery service in Thurmont, picking up riders from the Thurmont train station and taking them to their destination. Later, he worked as the mail carrier in Thurmont, driving his horse and wagon from the town to Frederick to get the mail. He often would take orders from Thurmont residents for items to buy for them in Frederick.

Peg’s father was a farmer, and their family consisted of four girls and three boys. They all worked on the farm, raising milk cows, hogs, sheep, and chickens. They took the cream to the creamery at Motters Station, located across from the store there. The family also grew factory crops like tomatoes and beans. These, they took to the cannery in Thurmont by the train tracks on Altamont Avenue. They grew grain and took it to the mill north of Emmitsburg to grind into flour.

All the family helped on the farm. Peg remembered riding on the binder, but the girls never milked—that was a job for the boys. They farmed with horses, and her grandfather never did learn to drive a car! The farm did not even have electricity until 1945. First, they had a windmill to pump water to the house and later got a gasoline engine to pump the water from the cistern.

The Great Depression was tough on all Americans, but at least those on farms had enough to eat. Like so many, her grandfather lost all of his savings when the Thurmont bank failed. Her mother fashioned clothes from feed sacks and also made them into curtains. She cooked for her family and the boarders on a wood-burning cookstove located on the porch during the summer.

Peg and her siblings attended the old Emmitsburg Elementary School, now part of the fire hall. Then they attended the old Emmitsburg High School, now the Emmitsburg Community Center. All the Franklin siblings graduated from high school. From 1931 to 1935, Peg attended St. Joseph’s College, majoring in home economics. She still lived at home, one of the so-called “day hops,” walking four miles most days. The father of her good friend, Elizabeth Troxell Newman, often took them in his sleigh when the snow was deep. Later, her sister, Elizabeth, taught at the one-room school at Appolds, between Motters Station and Rocky Ridge.

The next year, Peg interned in a hospital in Philadelphia, after which she began working at a Catholic hospital in Yonkers, New York, run by the Sisters of Charity. She was in charge of the Special Diet Department. After America went to war, she traveled to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where she worked for General Electric, not as a Rosie the Riveter, but as Rosie the Radio Tester! She tested radios to be used in tanks, while two of her brothers worked for Glen L. Martin in war production work. Her other brother joined the Army. Even her mother contributed to the war effort. The Army needed human hair to be used in precision instruments. So, she sacrificed her beautiful, long blond hair for the war effort.

In the spring of 1944, Peg joined the Army. After passing the physical in Boston, she went through basic training in Atlantic City; 2nd Lt. Franklin became part of the Army’s Medical Department and was assigned to Mason General Hospital on Long Island. It was the processing center for all military personnel arriving from Europe. The convoys would arrive, usually at night, often carrying more than 1,000 GIs. First, they had to be fed; the hospital was staffed with some Italian POWs to help. There were even Army nurses who had been POWs in the Philippines. They were given foods like ice cream, milk, and other delicacies missing from the front lines and much appreciated. Mason General Hospital was used mostly for those with emotional problems. The most severe cases were put in “closed wards.” After the war, the Army closed Mason, and Peg transferred to Letterman General Hospital at the Presidio in San Francisco. She worked there for seven months before Captain Franklin left the service in June 1947.

A friend from the service suggested that she join him at a resort in the Catskills, run by Macy’s Company for its employees. In those years, many large companies had resorts as a perk for those that worked for them. Unfortunately, it was closed after two years due to a dispute with its workers. It was at this time that Peg’s mother, brother, and father became ill, and she returned home to care for them. After her brother and father died, she continued to care for her mother for 15 years until her death.

Finding herself unemployed after so many years, Peg began working at St. Joseph’s Provincial House. After that institution closed, she worked at the Marian Center until she retired in 1985. Peg was a life member of Emmitsburg Presbyterian Church, where she sang in the choir. She was also a founding member of the Emmitsburg Community Chorus. After a long and productive life, Captain Franklin passed away in 2009. Her family served our country in many ways, and we in Frederick County are proud to call Captain Franklin one of our own.

If you are a Veteran or know a Veteran who is willing to tell his or her story, contact the Frederick County Veterans History Project at priscillarall@gmail.com.

Like Father, Like Son

by Priscilla Rall

The first Baker, Henry, came to Maryland in 1742. He settled on a farm near Unionville, where his descendant, Wilbur Baker, farmed in the early 1900s. Wilbur only left the farm to serve in WWI in a supply company, driving a truck carrying supplies and sometimes the wounded in France. When he returned to the United States, he married Emma Glisan. They had two children: William Glisan Baker (born in 1923) and Betty Baker Englar. Betty’s husband, Donald, was a coxswain in a Higgins boat on D-Day in Normandy. William, or Bill, took a different route.

Bill grew up working on the home farm, milking cows by hand, making hay, and husking corn. He remembered the fun young people had at husking parties held at night under the full moon. Then they gathered ears of corn in baskets and threw them onto wagons to take to the corn crib by the barn. His mother was an excellent cook. Bill’s favorite meal was having breakfast after milking. It consisted of pudding and hominy, not the choice of many today. Emma really had her hands full at threshing time when she would have to feed about 18 thresher men.

Bill attended a one-room school, which eventually became the Linganore Grange Hall, and then to Linganore High School. In the fall of 1940, he began college at the University of Maryland, majoring in agricultural education.

Also, Bill’s uncle, Monroe Stambaugh, his cousin, Nevin Baker, and good friend, Warren Smith, served in the war. Warren was captured in the Battle of the Bulge and was a POW. He eventually became a well-respected educator in Frederick County. Nevin, after serving in the Marine Corps, went into banking.

At College Park, Bill enrolled in the Enlisted Reserve Corps. By the beginning of his spring semester in his sophomore year, he was told he was now in the regular Army. After a three-day visit home, Bill took the trolley to Union Station, and then on to Fort Lee, Virginia, where he went through basic training. Afterward, he was sent to Camp Lee for technical training and truck driving school. He was soon promoted to T-5, working in the mailroom. Tiring of this, he filled out forms to either enter Officers’ Candidate School (OCS) or join the paratroopers.

The camp commander, D. John Markey, a good friend of Bill’s father, strongly suggested that a rifle company was not the best place to be and urged him to return to Quartermasters’ School at Camp Lee. Bill took Markey’s advice and eventually was assigned to Camp Campbell with the 4332 Service Company as the 2nd Platoon Leader. The company consisted of four white officers and 212 African American soldiers.

First, they were sent to Fort Devan for two weeks, and then they were placed on a convoy that sailed from Boston in April 1943 to Amsterdam. There was still the danger of German U-boats, and the convoy was guarded by destroyers. After safely arriving in Holland, Bill and another officer had the choice of joining Graves Registration or a supply company for an armored unit. They flipped a coin for it, and Bill ended up in a truck supply company. They rode trucks filled with ammunition for howitzers and tanks. When they got to the Remagan Bridge, they had to wait a few days for the engineers to complete a pontoon bridge to replace the damaged bridge. One day, while staying in a German manor house in the center of town, Bill vividly recalled awaking to the tragic news that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died. Everyone wondered, “What would happen now?”

When in Leipzig, Germany, his company was tasked with taking truckloads of enemy guns, cleaning and repairing them, and then sending them off. The worst experience Bill can remember is when his convoy, carrying ammo, came to a crossroads. The MP there told them to go one direction…the wrong direction! Suddenly, they were confronted with a German howitzer…and quickly turned around. They ended up stuck in a ditch until they pushed the truck out and drove back to safety. Boy, did they give the MP hell for sending them in the wrong direction!

Once, when Bill’s company had crossed near the Remagan Bridge, he was in a foxhole with one of his men when a Messerschmitt flew up the river, shooting at the Americans. They were lucky that time. Usually, ammo convoys had little protection and were prime targets for the Nazis.

Finally, the war in Europe was over, and Lt. Baker was sent to Marseilles, where the troops were staging for the next offense: Japan. He was on a ship for one-and-one-half days, bound for the Pacific when they got a change of orders. They were going home. Bill returned to the shores of the United States, and after a 30-day leave, was eventually discharged in the summer of 1946.

Returning to college, Bill graduated in 1951 with a certificate to teach agriculture. He resumed his friendship with Marguerite “Weetie” Stitely from Woodsboro, who graduated from Hood College in 1947. She became a beloved librarian at Thurmont Elementary School for many years. Bill and Weetie were married in September 1947. They had three children: Bill Jr., Becky, and Katrina.

Bill began a long career teaching agriculture at Emmitsburg and then at Catoctin High School until retiring in 1980. Along the way, he attended an auctioneering school and continued auctioneering even after retiring from teaching. One of his proudest accomplishments was forming the Thurmont & Emmitsburg Community Show, which continues to this day.

No student who took agriculture from “Bulldog” Baker forgot him. He was one of a kind! As a neighbor of the Bakers for 25 years, I treasured their friendship. Sadly, Bill passed away in 2009, and then both Katrina and Weetie followed him in death. William Baker served his country like his father before him, and then spent the rest of his life serving his community. Truly a life well lived.

If you are a Veteran or know a Veteran who is willing to tell his or her story, contact the Frederick County Veterans History Project at priscillarall@gmail.com.

Bill and Weetie Baker