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Art LaPorte, 2002.

Last year I lost one of my first World War II interviewees, Art LaPorte. He was a wiry, tough, battle-scarred 18-year-old boy-Marine veteran of Iwo Jima and Korea. He kept diaries and drawings of his time on Iwo and wrote poetry and narratives about his experiences. I remember lugging an early version of a video camera and my then 3-year-old daughter;  the interview went on for hours after school one day at his kitchen table. Almost two decades later, he came out to my first book signings and sat with me; he was happy to be in the book in a big way (see below).

I spent a lot of time interviewing the Marines who were on this tiny island—just eight square miles—of black volcanic sand for a month longer than the 3 days planned to take it.  My cousin, a Marine, led a tour there and brought me back some of that sand.

Iwo Jima, or ‘Sulfur Island,’ was eight square miles of sand, ash, and rock lying 660 miles southeast of Tokyo. It could serve as a refueling stop for the B–29s and B–24s that were now flying almost daily out of the fields in the Marianas to bomb the Japanese mainland. In late November 1944, aerial bombardment of Iwo Jima with high explosives began and continued for a record 74 straight days. The 21,000 Japanese defenders survived this with scores of underground fortresses connected by 16 miles of tunnels stocked with food, water, and ammunition. The surface was covered with concrete pillboxes and blockhouses housing some 800 gun positions. On February 19, 1945, the attack began as the landing ships brought the Marines towards the beaches of that blackened volcanic sand.

Arthur LaPorte was an eighteen–year-old Marine, trained on the light machine gun in the 4th Marine Division. His convoy left training at Pearl Harbor for the long journey across the Pacific. It would be his first time in combat, as an ammunition carrier for a gun squad.

 

Art LaPorte

We went aboard ships right to Pearl [Harbor] and stayed at Pearl for a couple weeks until they got supplies and got the convoy together, and then we headed out, not knowing where we were going, across the Pacific on a huge convoy. We did not have any Japanese resistance; we were very lucky, no torpedoes or anything. We got out to Saipan and stayed offshore. After that, when we got going again, they brought out an easel, and they told us about how the Japanese had gun emplacements and what we would meet there. And that was our first knowledge that we were going to Iwo Jima.

We approached Iwo at night, and we could hear the gunfire from the ships. We could see the flashes and the firing, but we could not see Iwo at that time. Us new guys were too nervous to sleep, and we played poker all night. And even some of the old-timers, who were shaken up going into another battle, would be there with us.

Early in the morning, they fed us a steak dinner. Then we went up on deck, and we watched the ‘goings-on’ over Iwo. We looked out the stern of the ship, and there was Iwo standing right in front of us—Mount Suribachi to the left and a long stretch of beach, and to the right, some higher ground. The first outfit [went in] at 9:00. They hit the beaches, and we weren’t scheduled to go in till the afternoon, but they lost so many men that we went in at 11:00. The thing that really got to us almost immediately—the boats were bringing back the wounded to our ship. I guess they were at least not-so-badly-hit casualties; the worst ones were being taken to the hospital ship. But they were bringing casualties back to our ship, and of course that made us quite nervous because we knew what we were getting into.

Our turn to hit the beach came at 11:00 a.m.; we were called in early. And the Japs didn’t fire on us as we went in; I hardly saw any shells… When we got close to shore we were told to get in the landing craft. And when we landed at the beachhead, we ran out, and there was a slight rise ahead of us. It was hard to get over it because it was a mix of that black sand and volcanic ash and it was awful hard to get over it, and we were worried about the bullets.

Our target was an airbase. They had one main airfield, and they had another smaller one, and the third one they were still working on. That was where I got wounded, the unfinished airfield. They had Mount Suribachi, the highest peak, which the 5th Division took. We had the next highest peak, which was Hill 382—you name them by height. The day I got hit, my company went against it. They lost half of the men and had to pull back.

“Smashed by Jap mortar and shellfire, trapped by Iwo’s treacherous black-ash sands, amtracs and other vehicles of war lay knocked out on the black sands of the volcanic fortress.”  Robert M. Warren, ca. February/March 1945. National Archives.

Mount Suribachi was quite a sight, too. There, for a while, you could watch what was going on. They put spotlights on it at night, and they were pounding with everything they had! They put 20-mm and 5-inch guns—and the 16s—they were really pounding it. I don’t know if it did any good, the [Japanese] had the caves. But they were really working it over!

 AP combat photographer Joe Rosenthal took the iconic photo of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima. As at Peleliu, mission planners had expected the island to fall within a few days. Only a third of Iwo Jima had been taken when the U.S. flag appeared over the peak of Mount Suribachi on D–Day+4.

I didn’t actually see the flag go up. We were pretty far inland, by that time, from the cliffs. I volunteered with another guy to go and get some food for the platoon. As we approached the cliffs, I looked over and I saw the flag flying. I said to my buddy—not knowing that it would become so famous—I said, ‘What in the devil do they have that flying for? We haven’t even taken this damned place…’

Art’s unit moved up to secure the unfinished airfield. Looking for cover, he received a shock.

We got the word that one of our outfits got the pounding pretty bad, so we were the replacements. We went up during the night, early morning, and moved into position. They told us to get in a foxhole. I got into a foxhole quickly, and there was another Marine sitting there. I see his feet. I brought my eyes up his body, and his rifle was standing beside him. So I said to him, ‘I’m going to get in with you, all right?’ And no answer. As I come up his body, no head [motions across his neck]. Some Japanese officer or somebody with a sword had taken his head off during the night. I felt the hair raise on the back of my head, and I got away from there! I found another foxhole and jumped in it.

‘I’ve got a good one for you, Doc.’

That morning, 12 days into the attack, Art was hit.

I was kind of in a shallow place, I was going to run up and join my outfit—they were a little ahead. All of a sudden a sniper was putting shots right by my head. I could almost feel it, so I figured I better run. So I zigzagged. Of course, if you zigzag, you make yourself a harder target. Next thing I know, I’m flying through the air. A machine gun burst had gone by me, and they were using explosive bullets. And so, luckily, I landed in a 5-inch shell hole; our guns on the destroyers were 5 inches in diameter across the shell, like the battlewagons had 16-inch diameters across that shell. Now the 16-inch shell was about across-my-body wide [motioning], 2,000 pounds, and you can imagine what explosive that is. You could put about 15 or 20 people in the [crater made by the shell on impact], I’d say. So I looked down at my leg, and I could see the bone, and you could put your fist into it. I could hear some guys in the next 16-inch shell hole, so I think I hollered over to them, ‘I’m hit.’ I wasn’t feeling any pain, I was in shock. As bad as it is, it was no pain that I remember. And so, I heard somebody running, and somebody popped down on me, and the machine gun was trying to get him. And it was my sergeant, section leader. And he says, ‘How bad you hit?’ And I said, ‘Pretty bad.’ I think he said, ‘Jesus,’ and he ran into the 16-inch shell hole. And this time, another body landed on me, and it was a corpsman this time. And he tried to patch me up, but that machine gun kept trying to pick him off. So he says, ‘I can’t work on you here, I haven’t got room enough,’ because it was very shallow. And he said, ‘Would you take a chance? We can push you across to the 16-inch shell hole.’ It was a short distance, maybe 10 feet. I said, ‘Sure, I got to get patched up.’ So he pushed against my good leg, and I’m trying to crawl. And the other guys in the 16-inch shell hole are reaching out for me. And one of them got a graze against the wrist.

They got me down in the hole; it was pretty deep, probably six or eight feet deep. Quite wide, too. They worked on me—patched me up. Then they left; they had to go to Hill 382. So all day I was there, I tried to drink water. But I couldn’t, I’d throw it up. Tried to eat food, same thing. I noticed a funny sensation, like something wet. I knew that they had bound up the wounds good. I was worried about hemorrhaging, so I pulled up my pants leg, and there was a fountain—about an inch or two high—coming out of my kneecap. A piece of shrapnel had gone in and hit an artery or whatever is in there. I had used my bandage on my wounds; the only thing I had was toilet paper. So I put that on with some pressure, and it stopped the bleeding.

Art shows students where he was hit on Iwo Jima.

I was by myself in the shell crater. I was all alone. All kinds of weapons were firing because they were trying to pick our men off. My company was going against 382. And, of course, I was right in line with it. I’d peep up and try to see how they were doing, but I didn’t dare to stand up on my good leg. I looked back toward some rocks behind me. Some of our men were there, and stretcher-bearers, but they didn’t dare send anyone because there were so many bullets flying around. And they didn’t want to lose four men to save one.[1]

I was there about eight hours. I was concerned that they would leave me there and the Japanese would get me. Then, my sergeant came by and asked if I was still there. I don’t know how he got me out of that 16-inch shell hole but he asked me if I could stand on the good leg. He put me in a fireman’s carry and carried me out under fire.

On the hospital ship, LaPorte waited his turn for surgery.

From where I was I could watch the doctors operate. It was a table, and around the table was a trough. What fascinated me was when the trough was filled with blood, and when the ship would rock, the blood would go back and forth in unison with the ship.

They finally got to me, and I believe I said to the doctor, ‘I’ve got a good one for you, Doc.’ Because the one that was ahead of me apparently couldn’t take the pain too good. And he was screaming and hollering, and I could see the doctor. They were working right around the clock, and they looked awful tired. And I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to give them a hard time’—they had enough trouble. So when he got to me, I watched him. It really didn’t bother me. I could see him clipping with scissors around the wound, taking the jagged edges off. Then, when I got done, they put me out on the side where I could look out and see Iwo. Like a sundeck or something. That was the last time I saw Iwo—we sailed for Guam.

Another young Marine, Herb Altshuler, recalled,

One thing I will always remember is the day or two before we left the island, before we got back on that ship, they had services and they dedicated the cemetery on Iwo. I remember sitting on a hill looking down and there was a flag pole—they used dogs for bringing messages back from the front forward to the firing units in the back, and they had the [dead] dogs lined up around the flagpole where they were to be buried… You see a large area of your [dead] men just lined up, and… then I saw heavy equipment, and that [the ground] was plowed, and all the dead bodies were laid out. You could see dead bodies as far as you wanted to look, and then you realized that war was not fun and games. These were the guys that were left behind.

A total of 27 Medals of Honor were awarded for individual acts of heroism under fire at Iwo Jima. The island was deemed secure on March 25—25 days longer than planners had counted on. Nearly 7,000 Americans and 19,000 Japanese died at Iwo Jima. It was the Marines’ costliest battle ever.[2]


Most of the above was excerpted from my first book, The Things Our Fathers Saw—The Untold Stories of the World War II Generation From Hometown, USA-Volume I: Voices of the Pacific Theater. A best-seller, it can claim a readership of upwards of 75,000 thus far. Get yours by clicking on the link.

 

75,000 readers. Did you read it yet?

 

 

[1] As on Peleliu and in other battles, the Japanese would target corpsmen and stretcher-bearers.

[2]World War II: Time-Life Books History of the Second World War. New York: Prentice Hall, 1989.

 

 

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“The (Germans) held all the high ground, and one felt like he was in the bottom of a bowl with the enemy sitting on two-thirds of the rim looking down upon you. There was about as much concealment as a goldfish would have in a bowl.”–10th Mountain Division soldier[i]

“The general said to one of the battalion commanders, ‘I want you to take Riva Ridge tomorrow night. Go out and scout how you’re going to do it. You guys are a bunch of hotshots, you’re skiers and mountain climbers, find a way on top of that ridge!”–10th Mountain Division soldier

Rock climbing at Camp Hale, CO.

DID YOU KNOW that the United States had mountain troops in World War II?

That the last division to ship out to the European Theater of Operations actually originated as a brainstorm of civilians who recognized the Nazi threat of alpine troops striking the United States?

And were you aware that today, February 18, 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of the 10th Mountain Division’s nighttime assault, incredibly scaling the heights of a sheer slope of a mountain ridge in the darkness, in total silence, to surprise a deadly German observation post overlooking Allied positions for weeks?

The fighting force, eventually known as the 10th Mountain Division, would train hard for this new specialized type of warfare. Near Thanksgiving, 1944, it finally got the call, the last of sixty-three U.S. Army divisions to be sent to the European Theater. It would spearhead the closing push in Italy into the Po Valley north of Rome and Florence in the winter/spring of 1945. Though it would spend less than four months in combat, it would suffer ten percent losses and garner acclaim for helping bring the Italian Campaign to a conclusion. The heroic climb up Riva Ridge in Hitler’s Gothic Line of defenses in northern Italy in the winter of 1945, and subsequent German counter attacks and battles, are hardly even known today. Here are some oral history excerpts by veterans who were there, from my 2018 book The Things Our Fathers Saw—The Untold Stories of the World War II Generation-Volume IV: Up the Bloody Boot—The War in Italy.

Frederick Vetter

[The climb up Riva Ridge]  was done at night, and with raw troops… They had had a little bit of patrol activity but had never been in a major battle to that time. And to put them into a nighttime situation—this ridge was about 1,600 feet from the base to the top. Very rugged, a very steep slope, and rocky. It was in the wintertime, February 18 I think it was, in 1945. And it was an escarpment that overlooked the valley where the Americans were. On top, the Germans held this ridge, and they had observation posts looking out over all of this area, including Mount Belvedere off to the right.

The Americans had tried to take Mount Belvedere three times before, in November and early December, previous to us getting there. And each time they had gained the summit, they were driven off by counterattacks. One of the keys was that the Germans had observation posts on top of Mount Belvedere, from Riva Ridge. So when the mission was given to the 10th Mountain to take Mount Belvedere, Hays, the commanding general, insisted that he first had to take Riva Ridge. And that was the key to taking Belvedere.

Anyway, they did go up. [Rock climbing had been part of our basic training.] A full battalion, there’d probably be 800 to 900 men, fully loaded with all their equipment, had to climb this Riva Ridge. And they had done a lot of scouting and they were not discovered, which was very fortunate; some of the scouting was done at night and some during the day. They established about three or four routes that could be done, up the ridge. In places they had fixed ropes. And that was tricky, when you had to put in pitons, the little pieces of spiked metal to hold these ropes. And they were pretty clever about that. They had their hammers, and they muffled them with cloth, putting in the pitons. They had those in the worst spots, where they had the fixed ropes. They gathered about a day or two earlier, going in at night through this valley into a number of small villages, and staying hidden during the day. And they started up at night, and they gained the summit, some of them by two in the morning, three o’clock in the morning; they were all on the top by the time dawn came. And the Germans had never figured that any large group would ever come up that cliff! That was their mistake. If they had defended it, as they probably should have, it would have been a different story, but these attack team groups—and they went up in three or four different groups—were not discovered until well after dawn. And the Germans were asleep behind the ridge! And our men attacked and took care of the ones that were up there, but the Germans soon came in and counterattacked.

A brutal fight for the five-mile ridge had begun.

Harold J. Wusterbarth

We’re going to go into a night attack. Night attack? You wouldn’t have any contact with each other, and single file, which means if the line breaks, you don’t know where you are. Well, if the line breaks and you don’t know where you are, the goal is to keep going up. Okay, so much for that. But what about friendly fire? We’re going to be in the dark and we’re loaded with all kinds of weapons. No, you’re going to clear your piece. That’s army talk for you’re going to take all the rounds from your BARs and rifles. Not loaded, so nobody’s going to be shooting. You’re going to know who the enemy is because they’re going to be shooting at you! That sounded like a hare-brained idea to some of us. We never had a training session where we attacked a mountain in the dark with no ammunition!

We went back to our areas. I had to explain this to the guys. All I could think of was the Charge of the Light Brigade, ‘Ours is not to reason why/ours is but to do and die.’ But orders are orders.

[We got to the top], and soon we were under fire, and we just went around the guys that were firing. Pretty soon the Germans firing the machine guns realized, ‘Hey, there are Americans above, on either side, and below,’ and they surrendered, but not before we took some casualties, because there were minefields we had to go through. I didn’t get caught in that minefield. And we held it. Incidentally, that wasn’t the end of the day. We were on top of the mountain by dawn, but Mount Belvedere was connected by lesser mountains that went off to the northeast, and we had to take that along with Mount Belvedere. It was like a Fort Benning exercise at this point. One company would move up and get shot up, then the battalion commander would move another company through. Then a platoon, the company commander would move one platoon up, and when they got shot up, another platoon would go through. I was the last platoon to be assigned and there was a stopping point—at the end of this [string] of mountains, I had half a platoon left. My platoon sergeant had been killed, a couple of guys had to take prisoners back, and a couple of guys just drifted off. In fact, I went back because the company CP told me to come back for instructions, and I saw two of my guys. They were so scared they were behind a tree with their back to the tree shivering. I said, ‘Hey, guys, you’re in trouble. You get back to your squad right now.’ They did, and I never brought it up. I was a little sympathetic to them because I was scared stiff too! [Chuckles] But officers aren’t supposed to get scared.

At the end of the day I had just about half of a platoon, and I was heading in a defensive position and I said, ‘These Germans are going to counterattack, they never give up without a counterattack.’ I said, ‘We are going to be slaughtered.’

Carl Newton

I never got shot at until I got on Riva Ridge.

Well, of course we climbed it at night. We had to cross a stream with a temporary log bridge on the way up, and we couldn’t see anything, couldn’t really know what was going on. There were fixed ropes here and there on the real steep parts. I remember a guy said, ‘Oh, I lost my helmet,’ and we heard a little clink way down.

I said, ‘Oh my God, where are we?’ Well, we got up on top of Riva Ridge, and it was foggy, and so we were well covered. The Germans were all in bunkers. Some of the guys went down and woke them up with a rifle pointed at them; we captured a lot of them. In fact, I captured a guy, he surrendered really, running down across this hill on top of the ridge. He was dressed in white like we were and I thought it was one of our guys. Well, he got maybe 100 feet from me and he dropped his pistol belt and threw his rifle down, put his hands up, and I realized it was a German. He said to me, ‘Got an American cigarette?’ He spoke pretty good English. He said he’d been freezing his feet off up there for three months and he was glad to get out of there, because all they did was observe. They were artillery observers. They didn’t have any artillery, they would just call it back to the artillery emplacements, and they would shoot, so every time we did much of anything, they would throw a shell at us.

Counterattacked

We could have captured all of them easily, except that one of the guys in the company took a potshot with his sniper rifle at a [German] relief column coming up and alerted them. They turned around and went back down, then that night we got a counter-attack and one of our squads was separated from the rest of the company out on a nose of the ridge. We lost quite a few people there, wounded and killed. So, we had to retake that the next day.

Fred Schuler was pinned down in a foxhole halfway between this platoon and the company, and with his white helmet with a red cross up there made it a good target; they were shooting at him too. Then we had a running, screaming assault to retake that position and I got a [bullet] crease across the back of my helmet, just above my ear on one side. [Another bullet] hit my arm and I turned around and looked at the guy behind me, because I thought he threw something at me to get my attention or something, but it was a bullet. A German hand grenade landed right in front of me, one of those potato mashers. I picked it up and threw it back, and it never did go off; it was a dud, thank goodness.

I had quite a few close calls. Later on, I was running across a potato field outside of Sassomolare; we lost a lot of people in that assault. A bullet went through my helmet, through my wool cap, through my hair, and out the back end, but it never touched me. I wish I could have kept that helmet, but you used the helmet for everything, and it wasn’t that good with a hole in it, so I threw it away. It would have been a good souvenir to have.

Up in Riva Ridge, after that assault, it was a very difficult night, because there were wounded Germans out in front of us. One guy was screaming that he was freezing to death and wanted us to help him. One of the guys in my squad, my assistant gunner on the BAR, had been educated in Switzerland as a young kid and he understood German. And he said, ‘He’s freezing to death, we have to go out and help him.’ We did, and the squad leader interrogated [the German]; he was a captain, but he was shot up really bad and he didn’t make it.

And that was [part of] the trouble we had, we couldn’t get our own wounded off [the mountain] until later when they built a tramway to take our wounded people down on the tram. Paul Petzoldt, the famous mountaineer, was assigned to build that tramway.[1] There was a huge rock at the bottom just across the stream where we started, and they anchored the cable there and then ran the cable up the mountain. Then they fastened the litters to the cable to run them down; it was a fun ride if you weren’t wounded. We had to walk down. See, Riva Ridge was very steep from the American side. On the other side, it was gradual, and the Germans could actually drive up there. It wasn’t easy going, but they could get up there. Of course, they could just hike out. But they never expected anybody could climb from the other way, so they didn’t man any positions at night. We were lucky there, because they could have rolled rocks down and knocked us off the mountain. It would have been absolutely [like] shooting fish in a barrel, because [the terrain] was so difficult. There weren’t any trees at that time. Now, when we went back in ’95, it was all second-growth trees. [Back then], the Italians had stripped the mountain of wood for fire.

[I received the Bronze Star] at Sassomolare. That’s where I got the bullet hole in my helmet. Our squad was going across this field and there was a machine gun in this house, up in the town. [The Germans] had good field of fire and we lost [Bill Crookshank], who got severely wounded; he wound up in the hospital for about three years. They never expected him to make it, but he did. He has his one arm, but it is somewhat useless. Two people in my squad were killed. When I saw them go down, I went out from where we were pinned down to try and see if I could help, but when I got out there, I found out they were both dead. So that’s what I got the Bronze Star for.


The Tenth suffered nearly 1000 killed with four times as many wounded in their four months of combat, including future U.S. Senator Robert Dole. Today, the Tenth was the first to be called up for the rugged terrain fighting in Afghanistan. Returning home after World War II, the veterans of the 10th Mountain Division went on to pioneer and nurture the booming alpine skiing industry.

You can read more in my book. And by the way, that’s the 87th Infantry of the 10th Mountain on the cover, in Italy about a month after the capture of Riva Ridge.

Vol. IV The War in Italy. Click on the cover to buy from Amazon, or for hard cover/signed books get it directly from the author. Discounts for sets!

[1] Paul Petzoldt (1908-1999)- accomplished mountaineer, making his first ascent of the Grand Teton at the age of 16. In 1938 he was a member of the first American team to attempt a climb on K2. During the war, he pioneered medical evacuation techniques to soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division. He went on to establish the National Outdoor Leadership School in 1965.

[i]Kennedy, Michelle. Bootprints in History: Mountaineers take the Ridge. U.S. Army, February 19, 2015.

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A TALK BY MATTHEW ROZELL, FRIDAY, JAN. 17, 7PM

Matthew Rozell will discuss his newest book: The Things Our Fathers Saw―D-Day and Beyond: The War in France, this Friday, Jan. 17, at 7pm at the Rogers Island Visitors Center, 11 Rogers Island Dr., Fort Edward, NY. Come out and pick one up, or just sit and have a listen. https://www.facebook.com/events/542669763258537/

WHEN YOU STEP OFF THE LANDING CRAFT into the sea, bullets flying at 0630, how do you react to your vision of your mother opening the telegram that you have been killed?

WHEN YOUR GLIDER CRASHES AND BREAKS APART, what do you when you are shot and the Germans are bearing down on you, and you know your dogtags identify you as a Jew?


— “I had a vision, if you want to call it that. At my home, the mailman would walk up towards the front porch, and I saw it just as clear as if he’s standing beside me—I see his blue jacket and the blue cap and the leather mailbag. Here he goes up to the house, but he doesn’t turn. He goes right up the front steps. This happened so fast, probably a matter of seconds, but the first thing that came to mind, that’s the way my folks would find out what happened to me. The next thing I know, I kind of come to, and I’m in the push-up mode. I’m half up out of the underwater depression, and I’m trying to figure out what the hell happened to those prone figures on the beach, and all of a sudden, I realized I’m in amongst those bodies!” —Army demolition engineer, Omaha Beach, D-Day


Dying for freedom isn’t the worst that could happen. Being forgotten is.


— “My last mission was the Bastogne mission. We were being towed, we’re approaching Bastogne, and I see a cloud of flak, anti-aircraft fire. I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to make it.’ There were a couple of groups ahead of us, so now the anti-aircraft batteries are zeroing in. Every time a new group came over, they kept zeroing in. My outfit had, I think, 95% casualties.” —Glider pilot, D-Day and beyond


Maybe our veterans did not volunteer to tell us their stories; perhaps we were too busy with our own lives to ask. But they opened up to a younger generation, when a history teacher taught his students to engage.


— “I was fighting in the hedgerows for five days; it was murder. But psychologically, we were the best troops in the world. There was nobody like us; I had all the training that they could give us, but nothing prepares you for some things. You know, in my platoon, the assistant platoon leader got shot right through the head, right through the helmet, dead, right there in front of me. That affects you, doesn’t it?”” —Paratrooper, D-Day and beyond


As we forge ahead as a nation, do we owe it to ourselves to become reacquainted with a generation that is fast leaving us, who asked for nothing but gave everything, to attune ourselves as Americans to a broader appreciation of what we stand for?

This is the fifth book in the masterful WWII oral history series, but you can read them in any order.


— “Somebody asked me once, what was the hardest part for you in the war? And I thought about a young boy who came in as a replacement; the first thing he said was, ‘How long will it be before I’m a veteran?’I said, ‘If I’m talking to you the day after you’re in combat, you’re a veteran.’He replaced one of the gunners who had been killed on the back of the half-track. Now, all of a sudden, the Germans were pouring this fire in on us. He was working on the track and when he jumped off, he went down, called my name. I ran over to him and he was bleeding in the mouth… From my experience before, all I could do was hold that kid’s hand and tell him it’s going to be all right. ‘You’ll be all right.’ I knew he wasn’t going to last, and he was gone the minute that he squeezed my hand…” —Armored sergeant, D-Day and beyond


It’s time to listen to them. Read some of the reviews below and REMEMBER how a generation of young Americans truly saved the world. Or maybe it was all for nothing?

— “A must-read in every high school in America. It is a very poignant look back at our greatest generation; maybe it will inspire the next one.”

Reviewer, Vol. I

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My wife and I drove to the state capital to present a talk to representatives of the United States Army last Saturday. I was invited to speak at the Albany Recruiting Battalion’s Annual Training Conference, seven companies from the Northeastern United States and Europe. I think it was the first time that they had invited a civilian to address them as their keynote speaker. And I think that took some boldness, a willingness to ‘think outside the box’, as most certainly had no idea who I was. [Thank you SFC Christian O’Keeffe for being a reader and a fan!]

There were 350+ present, a culmination of their weekend gathering and training, a sea of dress uniforms and evening gowns, some formality and protocol but also a chance to celebrate and take pride in serving the United States of America. We were honored to be seated at the table with the Command of the Albany Battalion.

As we took our seats the ceremony began with the posting of the colors by the local Christian Brothers Academy Color Guard. The MC also pointed to the Missing Man/Fallen Comrade Table, set up for one, but highlighted by the absence of those who were no longer present. It instantly reminded me of all of the times I had been with my World War II veteran friends for their annual reunion ceremonies, which began exactly the same way. And as I was readying to take to the podium, I was frankly struck with an emotion I did not expect, a profound sense of sadness:

All of my old friends who led or organized these ceremonies, in reunions of Army veterans all over the south, are now dead.

Matthew Rozell, 30th Infantry Veterans of WWII, Holocaust survivors at Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, March 2, 2012.

With ranks thinning, the 30th Infantry Division Veterans of World War II (which had met annually since 1946, sometimes taking over more than one downtown city hotel) folded its reunion tent in April 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee, on the 70th anniversary of the 1945 Nazi death train liberation. And for the past ten years, led by Frank W. Towers, they had warmly hosted the Holocaust survivors that they liberated in April 1945. I remember the way they greeted my ten-year-old son at the reunions we attended with the 30th Infantry Division Veterans of World War II, rubbing his head at the annual final banquets, the colorful fundraising auctions that followed with many laughs and jokes. They opened each reunion by reading the names of those fellow soldiers who had passed away in the past year, with the tolling the bell for each man who had passed on the previous year; my son and I, and the Holocaust survivors I helped to reunite with the men of the 30th, were privileged to witness this moving ceremony several times.

It was with these tempered feelings that I took the stage. I was introduced by the Command Sergeant Major as the dessert service was getting underway, and coupled with some blistering microphone feedback, it took a few seconds to get my audience’s full attention, but I had them as I began recounting some of the feelings I was having—these reminders which had been buried for the past five years—my sudden reckoning of the irrevocable certitude that those special weekends and touching moments with liberating soldiers and the people they saved now were firmly categorized as ‘Things of the Past’, now seemingly dissolved and flowing down the long Corridor of Time.

The slideshow the audience never saw…

My carefully tailored AV slides also had gone out the window—the Army laptops would not accept my work—but I was able to bring up the Major Benjamin photograph from the internet and ask a few questions.

743rd S-3 After Action journal report- the moment of liberation

743rd S-3 After Action journal report- the moment of liberation

How many people in this room have seen this image before? (Less than 1%). Well, settle back, and let me tell you a story, about a beautiful spring day in 1945, when two Army friends who had miraculously survived 10 months of vicious combat from the beaches of Normandy, across the Dragon’s Teeth into Germany, back down into the winter nightmare of the Battle of the Bulge—men who had seen their friends killed in front of their eyes and could no longer even recall their own mothers’ faces—would be shocked on this day to learn about the death of their President—the only one they had grown up with, their Commander in Chief—only to be confronted and stunned a few hours later with the horrors of the Holocaust—so unknown to them that it did not even have a name: THIS is what your forebearers ran into, were assaulted with, on that Friday in April 1945 as the killing went on around them.

And one of them said, “What Are We Going to Do With All These People?”

What would you do?  The tank commanders set up a perimeter guard and declared the train and its 2500 tortured occupants to be under the protection of the United States Army. Frank Towers, who arrived the next morning to transport the people out of harm’s way and toward medical attention, remembered, ‘Never in our training were we taught to be humanitarians. We were taught to be soldiers.’ And Walter Gantz, as a medic who nursed the survivors back to health over six weeks, recalled, ‘After I got home, I cried a lot. My parents couldn’t understand why I couldn’t sleep at times.’

Of course, the men and women in uniform, now listening intently, knew NOTHING about this incident, which, I posited, is really a lesson, an exercise in ethics and morality that took its place as a nano-incident in the most cataclysmic war in history, so infinitesimal it was virtually lost for 65 years, until those two tank commanders showed me that picture and others they had taken from that incident, and told me the story.

What happened next was just as mind-blowing, I continued, but for now, we will consider this:

In a shooting war, the rescue of the people on the train was not a military objective. The Army did not have to stop and help.

But it did.

Six/sevenths of European Jewry would be killed in four and a half years, but thanks to the soldiers’ actions, tens of thousands are alive today. And it’s not a nano-incident to them; ‘whoever saves one life, saves the world entire’.

As the ones who have picked up the mantle of your grandfathers, this is YOUR LEGACY: in learning this story, you become witnesses empowered to reflect on your roles as DEFENDERS of our core democratic values, as PROTECTORS of those in your path who are suffering, AS CONFRONTERS of injustice and indignity.

Thank you, indeed, for your sacrifice, and for all you do, and for allowing me to share this with you. I hope you can draw strength from what you have learned.

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MALMEDY, BATTLE OF THE BULGE, DEC. 21, 1944. 75 YEARS AGO…

The last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient in New York State and New England died in Oct. this year at the age of 94. And I had the honor of calling him my friend and introducing him to some of the Holocaust survivors that he and the 30th Infantry Division helped to save in April 1945.

Francis Sherman Currey was humble; he was, as the time of our association from 2008 on, the vice president of the 30th Infantry Division Veterans of World War II. He and Frank Towers, the president, helped to organize and come to our high school in upstate New York for our 2009 gathering of American soldier liberators and the Holocaust survivors they help rescue in 1945. Frank and the others signed autographs for the kids and were treated like rock stars. And in every sense of the word, they were more important than rock stars to these kids.

Frank told me he met Eisenhower, Bradley and Truman after the war. Ike told him that in his opinion, Frank’s actions had single-handedly shortened the war by six weeks or more, by stopping that German advance during the Battle of the Bulge.

[Frank’s son Jon sent this link to my Facebook page. There is a link to the source file at the end.]

Francis Currey, WWII Medal of Honor recipient, passed away on October 8, 2019, at the age of 94. The New York native was orphaned as a 12-year-old child and passed through the New York State foster system, growing up with a foster family in the town of Hurleyville, New York. Upon his high school graduation, Currey wasted no time in enlisting in the US Army at the age of 17.

In September 1944, Currey was assigned as a replacement infantryman to the battle-hardened 30th Infantry Division, stationed at that time on the front lines in Holland. While he was stateside, Currey received extensive training on infantry weapons of all sorts, ranging from the standard M1 Garand, the Browning 1919 .30 caliber machine gun, the .50 caliber machine gun, the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), and the bazooka. Just a few months later, the young man from New York would put all of that training to the ultimate test.

On the morning of December 21, 1944, Currey was standing guard at a bridge crossing in the small Belgian town of Malmedy when his position came under fierce German artillery fire. The battle-experienced Currey assumed that the artillery barrage was cover for an enemy infantry assault. He had no idea that the infantry would be accompanied by something a bit heavier.

As the smoke from the artillery cleared, Currey looked down the road to see the barrel of a German tank protruding around a corner. Through the smoke and haze, Currey could see the German tank commander standing up in the turret of his tank, surveying the area. The enemy tank commander made a perfect target as Currey let loose with a burst from his BAR. As the tank continued down the road, he retreated across the bridge and ran towards a nearby barn, where inside he located a bazooka. Currey and another soldier loaded the weapon, and leveled and fired it at the oncoming German tank. The bazooka round struck the enemy tank at the base of the turret, thereby jamming the turret and rendering it ineffective. The German vehicle retreated in the direction from which it came, allowing Currey to assume his former position near the bridge.

Minutes later, three more German tanks rounded the corner and headed for the bridge and Currey. Eyeing a knocked-out antitank position nearby, Currey ran through furious German fire and located antitank grenades. He fired the grenades at the German tanks relentlessly by himself until the three German tanks were disabled, forcing their crews to either abandon their vehicles or retreat. Despite the retreat of the German tanks, enemy rifle and machine-gun fire was intense, and the Germans were determined to force the river crossing and get into Malmedy.

As Currey took cover from the enemy fire, he noticed that a machine gun crew just opposite of his position was knocked out, the entire crew either wounded or killed by enemy fire. Without regard for his personal safety, Currey crawled across the road under fire in order to aid the wounded machine gunner’s evacuation. Currey opened fire with the position’s 1919 .30 caliber weapon, providing covering for the wounded men as they escaped. He was able to escape the position as it became untenable due to the heavy enemy fire. For his bravery in action, Currey was awarded the nation’s highest award, the Medal of Honor, for gallantry on July 27, 1945, while in Germany. He finished the war with the rank of 1st Sergeant, carrying the Medal of Honor, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. After the war, Currey worked for the Veterans Administration, retiring in 1980.

BY Seth Paridon, staff historian at The National WWII Museum. SOURCE FILE AND VIDEO: https://www.nationalww2museum.org/about-us/notes-museum/francis-currey

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Okay, boomer.

 

On December 10, 2019, I surpassed 500,000 blog visits on TeachingHistoryMatters.com. Thank you for visiting; maybe you were the one who tripped the milestone.

I’ve been trying to think of what to write for this occasion, and set aside the time to get it done. (Did you know that every new original post takes me at least 2 days to write, edit, and proof?) Should I do a ‘greatest hits’ post, highlighting my most popular reads? A twelve-year retrospective of this journey I have been on which has carried me from mid-career teacher to published author, sought-out speaker, and historical commentator? Of the people who have crossed my path here and graced my life but who have now passed on?

Well, I suppose I can’t just let it pass.

I started this blog with a Sept 2007 entry after our very first soldiers-survivors reunion at the high school where  I had a 30-year career. Now I’m retired; my school honored me with a commencement address and induction into their honored graduates’ alumni, but sometimes I wonder if it’s all moving so fast that it’s all going to be lost in the current of time.

We did something important. We showed that teaching history does matter. And I want that to be remembered, because it is lazy to let it slip away, and as a nation we are complicit to an alarming extent.

So I write, first this blog, now my books. Now, some reviewers of the book around the events that began this blog took me to task for ‘Inserting Himself into the Narrative.’ Well, I am part of the narrative now. Get off my lawn and write your own damned book. That one nearly killed me on a few levels. Good luck on yours.

I didn’t write it as an exercise in self-promo; rather, one of the threads in it was more an ongoing dialogue with myself in attempting to come to grips with my mortal place in this universe, my sojourn on this earth, so to speak. And I literally did not figure it out until the last 20 pages of a 500-page odyssey. I’m no longer an observantly religious guy in the traditional sense, but the full weight of revelation hit me in the City of God, Jerusalem. Go figure.

This year I lost one of my first World War II interviewees, Art LaPorte. He was a wiry, tough, battle-scarred 17-year-old boy-Marine veteran of Iwo Jima and Korea. He kept diaries and drawings of his time on Iwo and wrote poetry and narratives about his experiences. I remember lugging an early version of a video camera and my 3-year-old daughter to his kitchen table; the interview went on for so long that I think I remember I neglected my fatherly duties and she had a minor ‘accident’ off camera. Almost 2 decades later, he came out to my first book signings and sat with me; he was happy to be in the book in a big way. When he died in August his family mentioned me in his obituary. I found out after the fact, I missed his wake and service. At the time I was totally absorbed with helping another history friend conduct his life’s work shortly after being diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I felt bad about that, and that I have not brought Art up until now, but maybe it’s all part of whatever review this post is turning out to be. So long, Art.

I feel also super compelled to write a 75th anniversary post about the Battle of the Bulge, which unfolded tomorrow morning about this time. I have a lot of profound things to say, some of which I’ve definitely said before in blog posts here and in my new book, and probably my next one. But it’s 5:45 AM and I have to leave to do another book fair type show today, getting the word out on the street again that teaching history matters. It reminds me of my project 10 years ago, before any books, where on this blog I began a 65th anniversary tour of 1945 event posts entitled, ‘The Year of the Liberator’. You can look those up in the search bar, but I will probably be re-editing and re-introducing in 2020 if I have the time. I have half a dozen new book ideas to work on and I am looking to keep spreading the word on a national level with the documentary on the train. It’s a cliché that you can get even more busy with work in retirement, but for me it’s true. I still can’t believe that I knocked out my first 2 books while I was still a full-time teacher. How the hell did I pull that off? Well, any author knows the personal sacrifices; father and husband of the year I have not been awarded yet. Add full time job and responsibility to students to the pile! And I had my own kids in class and/or was their National Honor Society advisor, so I’m kinda grateful for that; at least we had that time together during those crazy days. Thank goodness for my wife…

The 75th anniversary of the Bulge also reminds me of the recent passing of Francis Currey, MOH. Frank was the sole surviving WWII MOH recipient in all of New York and New England, a nineteen year old replacement soldier looking to get the hell out of his hometown who became the hero of December 21, 1945 in a horrible place called Malmedy, and who was told by none other than the Supreme Allied Commander that his actions there that day may have shortened the war in Europe by 6 weeks. I shamefully lost touch with Frank over the last few years, but shared a place at the head table with him at many a 30th Infantry Division Veterans of World War II reunion; Frank donned his Medal of Honor, Frank Towers wore his Legion d’Honneur, and I felt no shame pinning on my national medal for American history education. I was honored by these heroes, to be in their presence, to be asked to speak to their deeds, not for their benefit, but for the betterment of humanity. Now they are gone.

I lost my 95-year-old friend Walter Gantz a few weeks later just before Thanksgiving, so suddenly it knocked the wind out of my sails for a time, that is for sure. He was the 95-year-old medic who I re-united with the children he nursed back to health after the horrors of the Holocaust, including Judah Samet, train survivor and Pittsburgh Tree of Life shooting survivor. Walter cried. And he was funny, so kind, gentle; his family told me that former student athletes of his coaching drove hundreds of miles to be at his funeral. And what do you say when they tell you that a copy of A Train Near Magdeburg was placed in his casket, to be with him for eternity?

I guess this brings me full circle. While working on the audio version of that book (supposedly out in a week, but don’t hold your breath), I was struck again by listening to the chapter where I try to reconcile my place in the universe with the memory of the passings of Frank Towers, George Gross and my first ‘train interviewee’, Carrol Walsh, seven years ago this coming week, and the beautiful survivors that I grew to know and love as well. So right now, it brings me back to the beginning again. I’m on the downhill side of my fifties now; my former 3-year-old is 25 soon. I’ve lost students, high school friends, parents, and all the friends mentioned above. So, it makes one wonder, rambling on here; half a million blog reads over 12 years is really nothing; I’m sure some ‘influencers’ get that in a few days or a week.

Somedays it feels like it is over, but as I have learned, it’s never over, is it?

“Okay, boomer.”  But yeah, it really is okay.

I’ll leave you with an accompanying news article that still hangs on the door in my woodworking shop, the event that kicked off this blog and miracle upon miracle after September 14, 2007.

 

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“To Mom and Dad, Babe” WW2 medic, Walter ‘Babe’ Gantz, left

The Old Coach is being buried today. As I write this, he is being eulogized by those who knew him and loved him best. Losing an old soldier is a heavy road I have been down many times, but it’s taken me a week to compose my thoughts on best serving his memory.

In a previous Army life, combat medic Walter Gantz of the 95th Medical Battalion was known as the ‘Sharpshooter’, not for killing people in wartime, but for his uncanny ability to sight in on impossible to find veins in skin-and-bones-bodies racked with disease, malnutrition, and dehydration with a life-giving needle. And he went on giving life after the war, leading by example and taking the needle himself, personally donating 27 gallons of blood to the American Red Cross and spearheading the collection of thousands more in his hometown.

I last talked to Babe, as he liked to sign off in his letters, a few months ago. It had crossed my mind to call him again on his 95th birthday this year, November 1st, but I guess I was busy or put it off to the weekend, figuring I still had time.

I wanted to ask him if he would like to return to Germany with us this coming April, to the site of the Holocaust train liberation of the Train Near Magdeburg and a monument unveiling for the 75th anniversary, in the presence of survivors and 2nd and 3rd generation descendants of survivors and other American liberators associated with the liberation of the train. And to meet the German schoolkids, one a 17-year-old who became a pen pal for a while, when I told her to write to him with her questions. Of course, he wrote back!

You see, Walter was a hero to a lot of people. Mike, the filmmaker for the documentary we are working on, remembers driving many hours to pull up at his house to meet him, to get an interview for our film—”I got out of my car, Walter took my hand and looked me straight in the eye and thanked me for coming to tell the story.”

Walter died on November 27th, in the morning, exactly a week ago. His son-in-law Ken reached out to me shortly afterwards, and I have been struggling to find the words ever since; it did not register at first because it just did not seem possible. When I met him in April—he was waiting for me in the lobby of the hotel. He had arrived an hour early, having driven himself to the hotel where we were staying.

I don’t have many heroes. But I met one in April. WW2 combat medic, Walter Gantz–and he squeezed my hands so hard…

Walter got emotional. The Old Coach in his red athletic hoodie grabbed my two hands with the grip of the 20-year-old he had been as a medic at Hillersleben, the captured German Luftwaffe base and weapons proving ground 74 years before. “Matt Rozell, God bless you!” Mike snapped a picture. “It’s a good thing I am as cool as a cucumber; otherwise I would be real nervous about all this!”

We talked for a while. He lived only three minutes away in the hills overlooking the city, the ‘Polish Alps’ as he calls it, where his parents had raised him, most of the community having emigrated from Poland in the early part of the previous century to work in the mines. He remembered attempts at conversations with the Polish survivors at Hillersleben, how he could pick up word and phrases, and he remembered child survivor Micha Tomkiewicz’s Polish mother distinctly, an educated woman who also had medical knowledge and training. He remembered Gina Rappaport, a survivor from the Krakow Ghetto who spoke seven languages and translated for the people on the train. And he was so sorry to have missed the reunions (11 in all) in the past, but I did not even know about him until he called my classroom in October 2011, shortly after our Sept. 2011 final school reunion.

We were in Scranton for a film shoot-re-introducing him to survivor Judah Samet of Pittsburgh, who came with his daughter for a meeting and lunch with Walter and his family. Walter cried.

As it happened, I was scheduled to give a talk in New Jersey the next week. Walter and his son-in-law Ken made the trip, and when a New York based train survivor learned about it, he and his family came to meet Walter in another emotional meeting. More tears were shed, and students got to witness it.

As he recalled,

“After 70 years, I still get emotional. I try to control my emotions, but it’s impossible. I know I keep repeating the word, ‘helpless.’ It’s a good way to describe this situation, really. Yet as medics we did everything humanly possible to help; I would say without a question we saved a lot of lives. We really did save a lot of lives. When you hear them saying ‘heroes,’ we medics weren’t considered heroes, but I guess we were the unsung heroes. It’s a long time ago, over 70 years. It’s a lifetime. Sadly, in time, your memories become dimmed—but there are certain events that will stay with a person all of their lifetime.

 The whole experience [of being reunited with survivors over 70 years later] has made me feel ten feet tall, and I have to use the word ‘mind-boggling’—I guess you’d have to put it in the category of a dream… all the survivors keep saying is, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’”

Walter signed off on one of his letters to me.

Some of the boys couldn’t take this type of duty and had to be sent back to our headquarters… My parents never knew of Hillersleben; the 95th held more than 40 reunions and barely a word was mentioned concerning Hillersleben.

Matt, I wish you well in all your endeavors. God’s blessings to you and yours.

 

As ever,

Walter (Babe) Gantz

Member, 95th Medical Bn.

 

I think the best way to serve your memory, Walter, is to keep on keeping on in our ongoing endeavor, that you and your deeds are never forgotten, and generations of people will know and celebrate the goodness in humanity in recalling your life and the lives of all the soldiers and liberators through the book A Train Near Magdeburg, and our upcoming film of the same name. God bless YOU, my friend, and Godspeed.



Walter (Babe) Gantz Obituary

Walter (Babe) Gantz, 95, South Scranton, died peacefully Wednesday morning at Geisinger Community Medical Center surrounded by his family. His wife of 69 years, Charlotte Jean Kester Gantz, died in 2018.

Son of the late Frank and Rose Slangan Gantz, he spent his entire life in the South Side area. A graduate of Central High School and Keystone Junior College, he was a member of St. Stanislaus Polish National Catholic Cathedral.

During World War II, he served as a surgical technician with the 95th Medical Battalion. He was the recipient of the Combat Medical Badge, Bronze Star, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Meritorious Unit Citation and many other awards. He served in northern France, Rhineland, central Europe and Ardennes campaigns. During the Korean War, he was a member of the 79th Infantry Division.

In early 1944, he volunteered on a secret mission in the wetlands of southern Florida. It was a joint effort involving American, British, Canadian and French Armed Forces. Their task was to test clothing to be used in the event of chemical warfare. He was seriously burned by nitrogen mustard gas and was hospitalized at MacDill Air Force Base. His group was placed under 24-hour guard.

One of the greatest satisfactions of his lifetime was to reunite with the boys from his medical battalion after being separated for 18 years. He always referred to it as a “labor of love.” The first three reunions were held in Scranton and the 50th anniversary was also held locally. He remained as the only president of its association.

He was a great sports enthusiast throughout his lifetime, both as a player and coach. He was a member of the YMS of R team in the first-class Scranton association, the top amateur league. He also played with some of the best softball teams in the area. In 1945, while waiting to be transferred to the Pacific, his battalion’s softball team won the championship at the Arles staging area with a record of 35 wins and five losses. The staging area, located in northern France, consisted of more than 250,000 troops. In 1960, he formed the first slow-pitch league in NEPA. An outstanding distance runner, he continued to do so in his middle 70s. He was considered one of the top speed skaters in the area. While in the service, he was an assistant coach and member of the battalion boxing team. While in his 80s, Babe was a team adviser to the women’s softball team at Baptist Bible College. He continued in this role well into his 90s. He derived great satisfaction in hearing the players refer to him as Coach Walt. Most of the young generation referred to him as the “Old Coach.”

Babe was involved in community affairs throughout his lifetime. He was elected to a six-year term on the Scranton School Board in the 1970s. As the overseer of athletics, he was successful in introducing cross county in the district. He was noted for his objectivity while on the board. In the early 1980s, when the AIDS epidemic became known, he was a member of the initial committee to study its local impact.

As an AIDS instructor, he spoke at many of our high schools and colleges. Babe also served on the hemodialysis commission. As a combat medic, it was an easy decision for him to join our blood program in 1948. He served at the head of every volunteer office at the Scranton Chapter blood program and was its first representative to the NEPA Blood Center. He was the sole remaining member of the initial committee that organized the South Scranton Ecumenical Blood Council. The group collected more than 17,000 units of blood. Leading by example, he donated 27 gallons locally. In 2015, he retired from the program after 65 years. As the Americanism chairman for the American Legion Central District, he attended many services for those who made the supreme sacrifice during the Vietnam War.

Babe was an ardent believer in physical fitness. He would say to both young and old, “Keep those legs moving.”

Babe had a perpetual smile and when greeting you by your first name, he would always follow it with “God bless you.” It was easy for him to find the good in everyone. A spiritual individual, he tried his best to walk in the path of God.

He always said that he was truly blessed that he rubbed shoulders with so many individuals. In many instances he played the role of mentor, conveying any words of wisdom that he possessed.

He enjoyed music and said it was a source of strength during difficult times. His favorites were bluegrass, hymns, big band and the classics. In the evening, he spent many hours reading in his den. His topics ranged from Abraham Lincoln, World War II and those of a spiritual nature. For many years, he and Jeanie were seen at the area polka dances. Also for many years, the family enjoyed walking around Lake Scranton. He was an ardent fisherman and spent much time at his favorite pond, saying it was a great way to relax.

One of the most memorable events in his later years was having the honor and pleasure of meeting many Holocaust survivors at the Teen Symposium sponsored by the Holocaust Education Resource Center. For a number of years, he related his experience treating survivors from the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp. His medical battalion set up a hospital to meet their needs. They were victims of what was known as “The Death Train at Magdeburg.”

In 2010, Babe was the recipient of the Hero of Combat, Hero of Compassion award by our local group for his humane endeavors. He is also portrayed in the book called “A Train Near Magdeburg,” written by Matt Rozell, and will be featured in the upcoming documentary by the same name.

Although he was very devoted to his family, he credits his wife, Jeanie, for faithfully providing the everyday needs of their children while he was away or on assignment.

Surviving are three daughters, Debbie Gantz, Lake Winola; Linda Guarino and husband, James, Blakely; and Doreen Klinkel and husband, Kenneth, Dalton; grandson, Tony Guarino; great-grandson, Elijah Guarino; nieces and nephews; and a sister-in-law, Shirley Angelis, Lake Ariel.

He was preceded in death by a brother, Frank Gantz, and two infant brothers, Steven and Walter Gantz.

The funeral will be Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. from the Leon S. Gorgol Funeral Home, 1131 Pittston Ave., with Mass at 10 in St. Stanislaus Polish National Catholic Cathedral. Interment with military honors will be at Abington Hills Cemetery.

Published in Scranton Times on Dec. 1, 2019

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