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Posts Tagged ‘Memorial Day’

Blair Williams grave by Vincent Heggen, 2017. Netherlands American Cemetery.

Here in the United States, Memorial Day will be upon us soon.

In interviewing WW II veterans over the years, I found that most whom I was privileged to know shied away from honors and recognition on Memorial Day.  I was reminded of the sacrifices that the veterans made, again and again, but they all told me that the real heroes were the ones that did not come home. And that Memorial Day was the day reserved for THEM; contrary to popular American opinion, it’s not another Veterans Day. But this weekend we tip our hat to the veterans among us, and post that ‘salute to the troops’, thank them for their service, and we are free to start our summer vacation. Did we just give ourselves some kind of pass?

The holiday known originally as “Decoration Day” originated at the end of the Civil War when a general order was issued designating May 30, 1868, “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” When Congress passed a law formally recognizing the last Monday in May as the day of national remembrance, we effectively got our three-day weekend and our de facto beginning of summer. But do we really want to know?  If we do, maybe we can take the time to seek out one of those who fell on those faraway fields, and think about what it means on a personal level, try to find out more about a life that was cut short. Here are a few to think about.

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Riverside Cemetery, Oshkosh, Winnebago County, Wisconsin, USA. Credit: J M Schumann

This is Marvin Boller. His remains did make it home. A Thanksgiving letter written  to him did not. The backstory:

In writing my second book, I revisited a horrific incident that occurred in the earliest days of American penetration onto enemy soil in Germany.  Resistance was stiff; on a cold and rainy day before Thanksgiving, 1944, 3 tanks of the 743rd Tank Battalion’s ‘D’ Company were wiped out in a muddy apple orchard a few miles across the river.

In 2012, I was alerted to the existence of this WWII era letter in a memorial museum in Belgium. The envelope was postmarked Nov. 27, 1944, and addressed from the USA to PFC Marvin K. Boller, D Co., 743rd Tank Battalion. It was also stamped ‘DECEASED’.

Vince Heggen, who tends graves of the men who were killed with Martin, posted this for Memorial Day:

 Co D 743rd Tank Bn was moving from Langendorf to Erberich in November, 1944. It kept raining the whole day before they arrived in the orchards near Erberich. It was 8h20 when a German tank opened fire and knocked out 3 light tanks… All the crews were killed and a few of them are buried at the cemetery of Margraten. The letter, in front of the graves , was written by Marvin Boller’s wife. Marvin was killed just the day before Thanksgiving and the letter was marked ‘return to sender’.  The letter made the link between the crew members of Marvin’s tank  buried here, and Marvin who was buried [elsewhere].

Frank McWilliams grave by Vincent Heggen, 2017. Netherlands American Cemetery.

 

{You can read a Washington Post article:

Americans gave their lives to defeat the Nazis. The Dutch have never forgotten.}

 

I wrote to Carrol Walsh, a liberator of the train near Magdeburg and a fellow member of Company D, and asked if he knew Boller; I also sent him this image of the envelope.

He wrote back:

‘Hi Matt, I was stunned when I read your message. I remember Boller very well and remember when he got killed.  I believe it was just before Thanksgiving 1944 when a big German tank wiped out three tanks of the first platoon of Co. D of the 743rd. Every member of every crew of every one of the tanks was killed.  I seem to remember packages arriving for some of these guys after they had been killed.  I used to tease Boller, who was an older man, because he wanted to vote for Tom Dewey and I was big for my pal, FDR.  Boy what a memory you stirred up.  I knew all the guys that got killed in that engagement.’

Walsh and others would survive and go on to liberate Holocaust survivors on April 13th, 1945. And the letter has never been opened.

I did not know you, I don’t know if anyone is alive who knew you, but you are not forgotten.

 

 

MARVIN K. BOLLER

PFC, 743 TANK BN WORLD WAR II

Birth: Oct. 9, 1908
Death: Nov. 22, 1944

More can also be seen here.

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How soon we forget. Or perhaps, we were never told. That is understandable, given what they saw.

But, it happened. Many of the boys never came home.

And that, dear reader, is why we can’t afford to forget.

You can read the reviews, but my favorite commentary on my first book was not written or published. A dear friend told me that one of her close relatives read the book, and that she had cried all the way through it. She finally realized what her father had seen, and gone through, and the friends that he had lost.

And it helped her make sense of her own life.

Just because the shooting stopped, it did not mean that the war ended. In many ways, it still lives on. And I hope that this book takes a step in the healing process. The book is a catharsis, for both the veterans and their families. But more importantly, it’s a way to honor and remember those who did not return home. The veterans are leaving us, and it is up to us to remember. For own own sakes, as much as theirs.

You can get the book here at Amazon, in print and electronic format. For signed copies, you can go here.

I have more books on the way, if you care to sign up for advance notification.

Thanks for taking the time to stop by, and for being one of those who appreciates that Memorial Day as more than just the de facto start of summer. Hit a ‘SHARE’ button below if you think someone else will appreciate it.

Matthew Rozell

Author, teacher of young people, and blogger on things that matter.

 

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Here in the United States, Memorial Day will be upon us soon.

In researching for my upcoming book on the liberation of the train, I are reminded of the sacrifices of the soldiers, again and again. Right now I’m revisiting a horrific incident that occurred just across Hitler’s “West Wall”, the so-called Dragon’s Teeth that formed the three-mile deep defensive fortifications that our troops had to cross to enter German soil.  Resistance was stiff; on a cold and rainy day before Thanksgiving, 1944, several tanks of the 743rd Tank Battalion’s ‘D’ Company were wiped out in a muddy apple orchard a few miles across the border.

boller envelope

Letter to Marvin Boller postmarked 5 days after his death. It remains unopened in a museum in Belgium. Thanks to Vincent Heggen, the curator.

In 2012, I was alerted to the existence of an unopened WWII era letter in a memorial museum in Belgium. The envelope was postmarked Nov. 27, 1944, and addressed from the USA to PFC Marvin K. Boller, D Co., 743rd Tank Battalion. It was also stamped ‘DECEASED’. I wrote to Carrol Walsh, a liberator of the train near Magdeburg and a fellow member of Company D, and asked if he knew Boller; I also sent him this image of the envelope. He wrote back:

‘Hi Matt, I was stunned when I read your message. I remember Boller very well and remember when he got killed.  I believe it was just before Thanksgiving 1944 when a big German tank wiped out four tanks of the first platoon of Co. D of the 743rd. Every member of every crew of every one of the four tanks was killed.  I seem to remember packages arriving for some of these guys after they had been killed.  I used to tease Boller, who was an older man, because he wanted to vote for Tom Dewey and I was big for my pal, FDR.  Boy what a memory you stirred up.  I knew all the guys that got killed in that engagement.’

Walsh and others would survive and go on to liberate Holocaust survivors on April 13th, 1945.

So here is a tribute to Marvin Boller, and all who fell. His body was returned to the United States. Rest on.

Riverside Cemetery, Oshkosh, Winnebago County, Wisconsin, USA. Credit: J M Schumann

 

MARVIN K. BOLLER

PFC, 743 TANK BN WORLD WAR II

Birth: Oct. 9, 1908
Death: Nov. 22, 1944

More can also be seen here.

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In 2003, I set out to interview a retiree living on the quiet boulevard leading up to our high school. I sat on his backporch with him for a few hours on a late spring afternoon. Born in 1922, he was in the Navy, serving as a radioman on a destroyer escort, and he seemed to be everywhere in the Pacific during World War II. Like John A. Leary, he also spent a great deal of time supporting the Marines, and saw his first action in the South Pacific in the reduction of the massive Japanese base at Rabaul on New Britain.

Mr. Peachman turned 93 this past March. He was my high school history teacher.

 

Alvin Peachman

From “The Things Our Fathers Saw” by Matthew Rozell.

From “The Things Our Fathers Saw” by Matthew Rozell.

 

 

You can view a book preview at the Amazon site. Available in digital and paperback format. Book can also be purchased at http://matthewrozell.com/order-the-things-our-fathers-saw/

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 Book Description: At the height of World War II, LOOK Magazine profiled an upstate New York community for a series of articles portraying it as the wholesome, patriotic model of life on the home front. Seventy years later, a high school history teacher and his students track down over two dozen veterans residing around ‘Hometown, USA’ who fought the war in the Pacific, from Pearl Harbor to the surrender at Tokyo Bay. They resurrect firsthand accounts of combat and brotherhood, of captivity and redemption, and the aftermath of a war that left no community unscathed. Here are the stories that the magazine could not tell, from a special generation of Americans speaking to the youth of America today.  270 pages.

About the Author: Matthew Rozell’s teaching career is now spanning 4 decades, beginning as a quiet kid returning to teach in his own hometown to being recognized as a national History Teacher of the Year and as a recipient of a national Medal for History Education. Rozell is a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Teacher Fellow, has had his lessons filmed for NBC Learn, and has even been chosen as the ABC World News Person of the Week. He is also a recipient of several state and local awards for history education. He writes on the power of teaching and the importance of the study of history at his website,teachinghistorymatters.com.

He can be reached at marozell at gmail dot com.

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This story below is an excerpt from my first book. It was published for the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.

My friend Jimmy Butterfield used to come to my classroom with his bride of 60+ years, Mary. She would joke with him, and us, and call him by his high school nickname, “But”. Maybe it was “Butt”, I don’t know, but they had fun playing around with each other in front of 17 and 18 year olds.

Jimmy, of course, was blind and hard of hearing. Mary had to yell at him, he would crack a grin under the dark glasses and flirt with her. The girls loved it. When the hearing aide was cranked up to eleven, we would get some echo and feedback, which didn’t seem to bother him, or the students in the class listening to his story. He just liked to talk to the kids.

Several years ago, after the two of them and Danny Lawler (another First Marine Division veteran of really hard fighting in the Pacific at Peleliu and Okinawa) came to my room for an afternoon, I came home to an email from one of my senior girls, telling me how meaningful meeting Jimmy and Mary and Danny was to her and her classmates. I still have it.

You see, Jim Butterfield got struck not once but twice in the head by enemy fire at Okinawa about this time in May  1945 (that is 70 years ago this month, if you are noticing). He was evacuated first to Guam, then to Hawaii and later stateside for over 18 months, and as many operations, for reconstructive surgery.  When he did realize that he would never see again,  he was ready to tell his high school sweetheart to leave him be. Not to get attached to him, a blind man.

Well, she told us what she thought of that. They ran a small mom and pop store back in Glens Falls together until they retired.

Why is Jim’s story important? Well, you’ll have to listen to him tell it. You have the sense of the unfolding realization of the loss he is feeling, but at the same time, wonderment at his and Mary’s resilience in making a successful life afterwards. The sacrifices made by this and other generations of veterans becomes real. We need to also note that Jim came home. Chappy and many others others did not.

Jim never looked for sympathy or pity- and of course would be the first to point out that Memorial Day is for those who did not return. But still, if we are to pause as a nation for one weekend to remember, we can’t forget what this nineteen year old from Hometown USA gave up as well.

Mary and Jim have since passed on. What obstacles they overcame together…

Rest on Jimmy and Mary. Thanks for letting us witness your story.

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From "The Things Our Fathers Saw" by Matthew Rozell.

From “The Things Our Fathers Saw” by Matthew Rozell.

 

Mary and Jim Butterfield Jan. 2007

Mary and Jim Butterfield in my classroom, Jan. 2007.

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Excerpted from “The Things Our Fathers Saw: The Untold Stories of the World War II Generation from Hometown, USA“. Order the book here.

 Book Description: At the height of World War II, LOOK Magazine profiled an upstate New York community for a series of articles portraying it as the wholesome, patriotic model of life on the home front. Seventy years later, a high school history teacher and his students track down over two dozen veterans residing around ‘Hometown, USA’ who fought the war in the Pacific, from Pearl Harbor to the surrender at Tokyo Bay. They resurrect firsthand accounts of combat and brotherhood, of captivity and redemption, and the aftermath of a war that left no community unscathed. Here are the stories that the magazine could not tell, from a special generation of Americans speaking to the youth of America today.  292 pages.

 

 H

 

 

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This story below is an excerpt from my upcoming book. It will be out early this summer for the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.

My friend Jimmy Butterfield used to come to my classroom with his bride of 60+ years, Mary. She would joke with him, and us, and call him by his high school nickname, “But”. Maybe it was “Butt”, I don’t know, but they had fun playing around with each other in front of 17 and 18 year olds.

Jimmy, of course, was blind and hard of hearing. Mary had to yell at him, he would crack a grin under the dark glasses and flirt with her. The girls loved it. When the hearing aide was cranked up to eleven, we would get some echo and feedback, which didn’t seem to bother him, or the students in the class listening to his story. He just liked to talk to the kids.

Several years ago, after the two of them and Danny Lawler (another First Marine Division veteran of really hard fighting in the Pacific at Peleliu and Okinawa) came to my room for an afternoon, I came home to an email from one of my senior girls, telling me how meaningful meeting Jimmy and Mary and Danny was to her and her classmates. I still have it.

You see, Jim Butterfield got struck not once but twice in the head by enemy fire at Okinawa about this time in May  1945 (that is 70 years ago this month, if you are noticing). He was evacuated first to Guam, then to Hawaii and later stateside for over 18 months, and as many operations, for reconstructive surgery.  When he did realize that he would never see again,  he was ready to tell his high school sweetheart to leave him be. Not to get attached to him, a blind man.

Well, she told us what she thought of that. They ran a small mom and pop store back in Glens Falls together until they retired.

Why is Jim’s story important? Well, you’ll have to listen to him tell it. You have the sense of the unfolding realization of the loss he is feeling, but at the same time, wonderment at his and Mary’s resilience in making a successful life afterwards. The sacrifices made by this and other generations of veterans becomes real. We need to also note that Jim came home. Chappy and many others others did not.

Jim never looked for sympathy or pity- and of course would be the first to point out that Memorial Day is for those who did not return. But still, if we are to pause as a nation for one weekend to remember, we can’t forget what this nineteen year old from Hometown USA gave up as well.

Mary passed a year and a half ago. Jim died at home last June. What obstacles they overcame together…

Rest on Jimmy and Mary. Thanks for letting us witness your story.

******************************************

From

From “The Things Our Fathers Saw” by Matthew Rozell.

Book can be purchased at http://matthewrozell.com/order-the-things-our-fathers-saw/

Mary and Jim Butterfield Jan. 2007

Mary and Jim Butterfield in my classroom, Jan. 2007.

*************************************************************

 

 Book Description: At the height of World War II, LOOK Magazine profiled an upstate New York community for a series of articles portraying it as the wholesome, patriotic model of life on the home front. Seventy years later, a high school history teacher and his students track down over two dozen veterans residing around ‘Hometown, USA’ who fought the war in the Pacific, from Pearl Harbor to the surrender at Tokyo Bay. They resurrect firsthand accounts of combat and brotherhood, of captivity and redemption, and the aftermath of a war that left no community unscathed. Here are the stories that the magazine could not tell, from a special generation of Americans speaking to the youth of America today.  292 pages.

 

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My boys. Thanks to my friend Chris Carola at the AP and Senator Little’s office for recognizing them while they were still with us.

2 NY vets of Edson’s Raiders recall WWII battles

By CHRIS CAROLA

— May. 26 3:38 PM EDT

In this Wednesday, May 22, 2013 photo, World War II veterans Bob Addison, left, and Jerry West pose for a photo, in Glens Falls, N.Y. Addison and West share more than a longtime friendship. They share some of the same memories of bloody battles fought on Pacific islands while serving with an elite Marine Corps unit that was the forerunnner of today's U.S. Special Forces. Living just miles apart, the two men are among the last surviving members of the original Marine Raider battalions that were the first American ground troops to attack Japanese-held territory. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

In this Wednesday, May 22, 2013 photo, World War II veterans Bob Addison, left, and Jerry West pose for a photo, in Glens Falls, N.Y. Addison and West share more than a longtime friendship. They share some of the same memories of bloody battles fought on Pacific islands while serving with an elite Marine Corps unit that was the forerunnner of today’s U.S. Special Forces. Living just miles apart, the two men are among the last surviving members of the original Marine Raider battalions that were the first American ground troops to attack Japanese-held territory. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Gerald West held the laminated sheet of paper fellow World War II combat veteran Robert Addison pulled from an old briefcase and perused the 300-plus names listed under the words, “Lest We Forget.”

“I knew quite a few of those guys,” said West, 93, who made the short drive to Addison’s home 45 miles north of Albany recently to reminisce about their wartime service with the legendary Edson’s Raiders, an elite Marine Corps unit that was the forerunnner of today’s U.S. Special Forces.

The document Addison keeps among his wartime mementos and literature lists the names of members of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion who died while fighting the Japanese in the South Pacific. Addison and West are among the dwindling number of Edson’s Raiders still alive. Out of an original roster of about 900 men, fewer than 150 are believed to survive, according to Bruce Burlingham, historian for U.S. Marine Raider Association.

Dubbed Edson’s Raiders after their colorful, red-haired commander, Col. Merritt “Red Mike” Edson, the unit was the first U.S. ground force to attack Japan-held territory after Pearl Harbor. Landing on Tulagi in the Solomon Islands in August 1942, they beat the larger 1st Marine Division’s arrival on nearby Guadalcanal by an hour.

https://i0.wp.com/tsealey.net/thegunny/gfx/raiders.jpgThe 1st and 2nd Raider battalions, formed just days apart in February 1942, were the first commando-style units in the American military, predating the creation of the U.S. Army Rangers by four months. Trained in jungle warfare and hand-to-hand combat, the Raiders’ leatherneck pride paired with a pirate’s attitude was reflected in their distinctive battalion patch: a white death’s head skull in a red diamond, set against a blue background with five white stars representing the Southern Cross constellation.

Addison, an Alliance, Ohio, native, and West, who grew up outside Glens Falls, both fought at Tulagi and later on Guadalcanal, where Edson’s Raiders earned their vaunted place in American military lore for anchoring the thinly stretched Marine defenses that decimated Japanese forces during successive nighttime assaults in September 1942.

Fighting from positions separated by a few hundred yards along high ground near the island’s airfield, Addison and West helped defend what became known as Bloody Ridge _ but that the Marines called “Edson’s Ridge.” They wouldn’t learn until much later that the fight was considered a turning point that started the U.S. on its island-hopping road to victory in the Pacific.

“In combat, you only know what’s going on in your little world,” West said.

Edson was awarded the Medal of Honor for his front-line leadership during the battle, during which his Raiders suffered more than 250 killed and wounded. Bigger, bloodier battles awaited, but Edson’s Ridge and the Raiders hold a special place among leathernecks of all generations, according to Beth Crumley, a historian with the U.S. Marine Corps History Division.

“Anybody who has taken an interest in the history of the corps, they’re going to know the story about Edson and they’re going to know about the Raiders and know about the Battle of Edson’s Ridge,” she said.

After the Raiders’ next campaign on the island of New Georgia in the summer of 1943, Addison and West were sent back to the U.S. Addison was attending college as part of an officers program, and West was in Guam preparing for the invasion of Japan when the war ended.

They went their separate ways and didn’t get reacquainted until the early 1960s, when Addison moved to Glens Falls to become athletic director at a new community college. He ran into West at a Sears store where West was working, and they’ve remained close friends ever since.

“They were America’s first elite force unit and showed future units like the U.S. Army Special Forces what could be done with a handful of determined, well-trained, well-armed troops against a determined enemy,” said Robert A. Buerlein, co-author of “Our Kind of War: Illustrated Saga of the U.S. Marine Raiders of World War II.

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/2-ny-vets-edsons-raiders-recall-wwii-battles

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Gerry West and Bob Addison, U.S. Marine “Edson’s Raiders” World War II veterans, honored in Albany

By Betty Little
Posted by Betty Little on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
Gerry West and Bob Addison, World War II veterans who served in the same elite U.S. Marines unit and have remained lifelong friends, were inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Albany today.

Gerry West and Bob Addison, World War II veterans who served in the same elite U.S. Marines unit and have remained lifelong friends, were inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Albany today.

Senator Betty Little nominated Addison of Glens Falls and West of Fort Edward.

“These two soldiers were among the first Americans to engage the Japanese in combat less than a year after Pearl Harbor,” said Senator Little.  “They were specially selected and trained to serve in the First Marine Raider Battalion, called Edson’s Raiders, and fought in critical and victorious battles on Guadalcanal.

“After the war, they returned home, started families and careers, but never lost touch and remained lifelong friends.  They are among the few remaining Edson’s Raiders and their bond is unique.  It was a wonderful honor for me to have them here today, along with their family and friends, to share their story and see them receive this well-deserved recognition.”

West and Addison were suggested to Senator Little by Hudson Falls history teacher Matthew Rozell.  Rozell is in the process of writing a series of articles on World War II, based on class archives of interviews, for the Washington County Historical Society Journal.  The following are excerpts from a part of the series entitled “Recording the Voices of World War II – From Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay”:

On September 14th, 1942, first light at Guadalcanal revealed over a thousand Japanese dead on the ridge.  Outnumbered five to one, for two nights the Raiders held on against Japanese shelling by sea and Imperial troops, and the battle became legendary in Marine Corps history.

            West recalls: “Most of us just refer to it as Bloody Ridge.  We had 50% casualties that night…two men in our battalion received the Congressional Medal of Honor and there were thirteen Navy Crosses awarded to men in our battalion just for that one battle, which is unheard of.”

            Suppressed from the public at the time, more than 7,000 U.S. Marines, soldiers and sailors would die in the six month Guadalcanal campaign.  Japanese losses were much higher.

            Bob Addison: “They called it Hell Island, the Japanese, because they had to live out in the jungles…They had lost over 26,000 men.”

            Only a handful of the original Marine Raiders are left.  Addison and West survived to return home, marry, and raise children.  Seventy one years later, their friendship endures.

The New York State Veterans’ Hall of Fame was created to honor and recognize outstanding veterans from the Empire State who have distinguished themselves both in military and civilian life.  The Hall of Fame can be accessed online at www.nysenate.gov/honoring-our-veterans .

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