Thursday, March 16, 2017

WWII Veterans Discussion Group Newsletter March, 2017


Correction: The article on
the left should state that that Marseilles was under the power of the Vichy government rather than "Nazi -occupied"

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A salute to my father: a D-Day veteran by Al Hemingway



Many of those who come to the library know Chris Hemingway, who works at the Circulation Desk. The following tribute was written by his dad, Al Hemingway for Al's father- Chris' grandfather, Albert Edward Hemingway, Jr. seen in the photo below.
A salute to my father: a D-Day veteran
By
Al Hemingway
On June 6, 1944, 5,000 ships, carrying an estimated 160,000 American, British, and Free French forces were poised off the coast of Normandy, France to begin the largest amphibious assault in world history. More than 24,000 paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions had already landed behind enemy lines to seize key points preventing the flow of reinforcements and supplies from moving to the beaches so that the troops landing there could make their way inland.
The assault itself was code-named Neptune, part of Operation Overlord. But most people don’t remember that. They know it as D-Day, the massive Allied invasion of Western Europe that would ultimately defeat Germany’s Nazi regime headed by their maniacal leader, Adolf Hitler.
Standing on one of the troop transports that fateful day and observing the historic event was a 24-year-old sergeant from New Haven, Conn. who was a driver with the 3882nd Quartermaster Truck Company.
His name was Albert Edward Hemingway, Jr. He was my father. And he was about to embark on the greatest, and the most harrowing adventure of his entire life.
“I have never seen so many ships in one place in my life,” he once said to me. “It was unbelievable, as far as the eye could see. When the bombardment began, it was deafening.”
Five beachheads had been selected along the Normandy coastline by Allied planners. The British, Canadian, and Free French troops would land on Gold, Juno and Sword; the 1st Infantry and 29th Infantry Divisions, and nine companies of U.S. Army Rangers, were scheduled to come ashore on Omaha Beach, and the 4th Infantry Division, the unit my father was attached to, were slated to disembark onto Utah Beach.
The slaughter on Omaha Beach was horrific. German defenses had been better-prepared and hundreds of soldiers were killed or wounded before they even got off their landing crafts. Omaha had been transformed into a bloodbath.
Resistance on Utah, however, was light. A beachhead was quickly established and reinforcements and equipment began spilling out of the LSTs and transports.
“Thank God I wasn’t assigned to Omaha,” my Dad once said. “I may not have been here today.”
My father told me that the trucks were quickly offloaded from the ships and everyone was sent to a supply point to pick up food, water, and ammunition to be transported to the front lines.
The terrain, he told me, was flooded and inundated with hedgerows, thick vegetation that hid enemy troops, and even deep enough to hide tanks. My father said that they had to drive with their headlights off at night so they would not be detected by the Germans. Non-commissioned officers, like my father, carried a .45 caliber pistol, and everyone was armed with M-1 carbines, and a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), was always in the cab of the truck.
“It’s bad enough not knowing where you are going,” he said, “but now you can’t even see where you are going.”
I recall him telling me how they got lost once at night, but somehow in the inky blackness they finally found the unit that they were resupplying. One officer asked what took them so long. My father said they were lost and described the area where they had been. The officer laughed and said that they had driven across the enemy’s lines.
“We were lucky that we weren’t killed,” he said. “I don’t know how they didn’t hear us.”
One unforgettable sight that deeply disturbed my father was seeing the contorted, twisted bodies of the dead that littered the roadside. Many times my Dad told me and my sister Lorraine that they stopped to gather as many as they could and take them to the rear area for a proper burial.
“We even picked up dead German soldiers,” he told my sister. “I know they were the enemy, but it just didn’t seem right leaving them there like that.”
As the Allied forces pushed inland, liberating towns as they went, the French townspeople would run from their homes to welcome the advancing soldiers.
“Everybody kissed you on both cheeks,” I recall him saying with a big smile, “the men as well as the women.”
Often times my father would mention the German artillery barrages. I think he feared them the most – being torn apart by an enemy shell – from a German 88mm howitzer.
“Those damn 88s, they were so accurate,” he said. “The shell had a very distinctive sound. You ran like hell to find cover when they came in.”
My father ultimately survived D-Day, the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge), Central Europe, Northern France, and the Rhineland. When he returned home in October 1945, he burned all his uniforms. I guess the memories were just too painful.
When he moved to Arcadia in 1992, I would visit him and sometimes when he was in the mood we would discuss his experiences in the war. But, when I pressed him about certain things, he would sit silently and just stare into space. Even after all those years, there were still some terrible images that he kept locked away and would not share with anyone.
When he and my mother relocated to Santa Maria, Calif. in 2002 to be near my sister, he suffered from dementia. As he became more confused, he would slip out of the house and wander the streets “looking for his buddies.” Luckily, my two nephews are police officers in town and before long he would be located and returned to my sister’s house.
“Dad thinks he’s back in the war,” Lorraine would tell me. “He keeps asking where his buddies are.”
He would question my sister and ask where they had gone. He told her that he was supposed to be with them. He was their sergeant. They were his responsibility.
“I told him that they had shipped out,” she said. “He seemed sad.”
I received a call on Dec. 20, 2011 from my sister telling me that my father had passed away. He was 92-years-old. She sat by his hospital bed most of the day and held his hand. Finally, he gently squeezed it, smiled, and closed his eyes. When she called to him, he did not answer. He couldn’t. He was on Utah Beach with his buddies – he had finally shipped out to be with them.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Janina Nawarskas- A Child Lost - WWII Veterans Discussion Group Meeting April 27th, 2016



 Janina Nawarskas gave a presentation and book signing of her memoir, A Child Lost at the April 27th WWII Veterans Discussion Group meeting. Janina told how in 1945, as a child in Lithuania, her family fled the oncoming Soviet military. Separated from her father and brothers, she and her mother were placed in a detention center. When Janina's mother died, she was left to fend for herself and wandered through refugee camps. A year after the end of the war, Janina was reunited with her father and brothers through the help of American soldiers and moved to the U.S.  Janina thanks America 'the greatest country in the world.'




Friday, March 4, 2016

February Meeting -Charles Young- Letters from the Attic

Author, Charles Young (above) gave the February, 2016 presentation of the WWII Veterans Discussion Group.The cover of his book can be seen in the photograph above.  Letters From The Attic is a compilation of WWII era letters written to and by Mr. Young. The Youngs "rediscovered" these letters in their attic many years later, as Mr. Young's mother had saved them and placed them in a box. The sub-title of Mr. Young's book is Save the Last Dance for Me and he gave a  moving recitation of words at the meeting. His talk focused on the time he spent as a marine at Guadalcanal.
 Above: Mary and Charles Young
We were glad to have reporter/columnist  Randall Beech, attend the meeting as well as playwright, Catherine Ladnier whose play The Apron Strings was read at the November meeting.

Below left: Flier for the meeting. Below right: Catherine Ladnier speaking with Mr. Young at the November meeting.


________Below: The Column by Randall Beach______

Randall Beach: From Okinawa’s killing fields to state’s dance halls

Author Charles Young speaks about his World War II experience at the Hagaman Memorial Library in East Haven Wednesday.
Author Charles Young speaks about his World War II experience at the Hagaman Memorial Library in East Haven Wednesday. PETER HVIZDAK — NEW HAVEN REGISTER
Randall Beach
Randall Beach
Charles Young began his talk to a group of veterans last week by describing the horrors he witnessed on the Japanese island of Okinawa during World War II, and he ended by reciting the words to “Save the Last Dance for Me.”
Young, now 90, and his wife, Mary, had driven from their home in Madison Wednesday afternoon in heavy rain so he could speak to the World War II Veterans Discussion Group at the Hagaman Memorial Library in East Haven.
Sitting at a table at the head of the basement room, Young looked out at the two dozen in attendance and wondered aloud if any of them might be his former students. “I spent 11 years teaching English in the high school here in the late ’50s and early ’60s,” he told us.
Speaking without notes, Young spent the next 45 minutes recalling his experiences as a medic with the U.S. Marine Corps. His memory has continued to preserve vivid details.
“What bothers me,” he began, “is that when you see these series about World War II on TV and they get to the war in the Pacific, they spend a lot of time on Iwo Jima, then they skip to the atomic bomb. They say very little about Okinawa, the biggest and costliest battle of the Pacific.” (Historical accounts estimate 12,000 to 14,000 U.S. troops died and that more than 150,000 Japanese, many of them civilians, were killed.)
Young talked about the months spent on the island of Guadalcanal, waiting to be sent into battle. “We had no idea what we were being groomed for. Every time you went to the head (bathroom) you heard another story: ‘We’re going to Formosa! We’re going to the Japanese mainland!’”
Finally, in the third week of March 1945, they were told to move out. “That was when we heard the word ‘Okinawa.’ We were told the southern quarter of the island was where over 100,000 Japanese troops were stationed.”
“People always ask me: ‘Were you afraid?’ I can’t remember ever being afraid.” He compared a young soldier’s state of mind to “youths tearing down a highway on flat tires, thinking you’re going to live forever.”
But Young did tell us of one man, Joe, who was so nervous the night before they went into action that he overdosed on pills. He was buried at sea.
Although Young remembers Okinawa as beautiful country with deep ravines, pine trees and rice fields, when the rainy days came the soldiers and their equipment got bogged down in the mud.
“The whole area became a killing field,” he said. “If there was an enemy body nearby, you were allowed to put dirt on top of it. But the American dead had to be left, gathered up by graves registration and taken back for a proper burial.”
Young said when he is asked what was “the worst thing” about the war, “I think of flies and the bodies. The flies came out everywhere. The smell was horrendous.”
Even after American forces won control of Okinawa, Young and the others braced themselves for an invasion of the Japanese mainland. But then came the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan’s surrender.
In the weeks afterward, Young was in Tokyo and visited the surrounding hills. “We went into the caves, all lit by electricity. They had hospitals, machine shops, everything in there. We realized that if we’d had to attack Japan, it would have cost a million American and Japanese lives.”
Young had a second part of his story to tell us. “Three or four years ago, after I’d been teaching in Greece, we moved back to Connecticut (initially to his childhood family home in New Britain). My wife went up in the attic to store her knitting and came down to tell me, ‘There’s a box up there.’”
When he asked her what was in the box, she said: “Letters.”
“My mother was a real pack rat,” he told us. “She saved everything. I told my wife, ‘We’ll have to pitch all that.’”
But she told him the letters were from the 1940s. And so he looked through the box.
“I saw a letter from an old girlfriend (Launa Darcy) who I’d had a wild crush on in the eighth grade. I thought, ‘Oh, these are teenage love letters. I ought to get them back up to the attic.’
“But my curiosity got the best of me and I started to read. I couldn’t believe the voices: my mother, my sister, half a dozen girls, half a dozen guys. My wife said, ‘Why don’t you put them on the computer?’”
He spent the next three months doing it. The result was the publication of his most recent book, “Letters from the Attic: Save the Last Dance for Me.”
If you read the many passionate letters Darcy wrote to Young throughout the war (and his letters back to her), you would think the subtitle referred to her. But they broke up after he finally got back home; she broke his heart by marrying another man. Young dedicated the book “to the memory of my sister Betty, who after 84 years saved the last dance for me.”
Sitting at that table in the library’s basement, Young recited the lyrics: “You can dance every dance with the guy who gives you the eye, let him hold you tight...”
He flawlessly continued, verse after verse, then ended: “Don’t forget who’s takin’ you home and in whose arms you’re gonna be. So darling, save the last dance for me.”
The group applauded; some of the women sighed. Young smiled and said: “Any questions?”
A Vietnam War veteran asked him about current military conflicts and drone warfare. Young replied, “It’s such a mess, when you look at Syria. There’s just no solution to it.”
“I feel sorry for these kids today — all these drugs,” Young added. “We had it all so good in this country for so many years after World War II. We had it so good here.”
Then Young returned to what his wife found in the attic and how that box couldn’t contain everything. “I wish I had all the letters I wrote during those years. People tell me they were so funny. Going through life, humor is the most important thing.”
Contact Randall Beach at rbeach@nhregister.com or 203-680-9345.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

WW II Veteran Robert Swirsky

 
Local author and WWII veteran Tech Sgt. Robert Swirsky spoke yesterday at the WW II Veterans Discussion Group.  Mr. Swirsky is the author of three books: My War which is about his combat experiences, Recollections about his time growing up in Bridgeport and Memories which is about his post-war experiences in Stratford, CT.  
 
See the video below in which Mr. Swirsky speaks about the English having their tea:  
 
 
 
 
video