World War II

A Priest Born on Flag Day

One of the most highly decorated chaplains of World War II, Father Elmer W. Heindl used to joke that his decorations were simply due to him being in the wrong place at the right time.  Born on June 14, 1910 in Rochester, New York, the oldest of six children, Heindl decided at an early age that he was meant to be a priest and was ordained on June 6, 1936.  He said that being born on Flag Day indicated to him that during his life he would do something to honor the Stars and Stripes. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

FDR’s D-Day Prayer

My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom. ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

D-Day: A French Priest is Grateful

Today, seventy years on, this is heart warming:

 

As a Frenchman and as a priest, I’m really aware of what we owe this young generation of soldiers who died for us French to be free,” said Father Pujos, 44, who is a parochial vicar and chaplain at St. Catherine School.

Without his freedom, he may not have become a priest, he said.

“I’m a priest today … because I was raised in a free country, not occupied by the Nazis, nor by the Russian communists after World War II like half of Europe,” Father Pujos said.

As a young boy growing up in Paris, his family instilled in him a deep respect and appreciation for the sacrifice of thousands of soldiers who died that day.

During the Normandy invasion, called D-Day, some 156,000 allied troops launched the largest seaborne invasion in history against the German-occupied northern France and into Western Europe.

Causalities reached an estimated 12,000 that day along the 50-mile stretch of the Normandy beach. The victory contributed to the allied forces’ eventual victory over Nazi Germany.

His grandparents and parents, Jerome and Sylvie Pujos, always spoke to him about it. When he was young, his grandmother took him to the American cemetery in Normandy to pay their respect for the soldiers.

“I have a deep memory of the cemetery with all these thousands of tombs,” he said. “Each time I think about this cemetery, I get emotional because it’s striking.”

He recalls seeing row after row of white crosses marking the graves of young Americans.

“The field of crosses were perfectly taken care of and maintained,” he said. “As you got closer to the tombs, you would see the age of the soldiers. They were kids—18 or 21 years old.

“I will never forget about it,” Father Pujos said. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

The Great Crusade

Eisenhower, on D-Day morning distributed to the troops a general order, which is like a handbill, and everybody read it.  And he said “we are about to embark upon the great crusade, which we have been preparing for, for many months” etc.

Now at first none of us could believe it was anything like a crusade, because we were playing dice, and we were thinking about girls all the time and getting drunk as possible and so forth.  It wasn’t like a crusade, there was not religious dimension to whatever.  When they finally got across France and into Germany, and saw the German death camps, they realized that they had been in engaged in something like a crusade, although none of them called it that.  And it all began to make a kind of sense to us.

Paul Fussell

 

 

 

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower

 

Father Airborne

 

Father Francis Sampson

A leap year baby, Francis L. Sampson  was born on February 29, 1912 in Cherokee Iowa.

A quarter of a century later he graduated from Notre Dame and made a bee-line for St. Paul’s Seminary at Saint Paul Minnesota.  Ordained a priest for the Des Moines Iowa diocese on June 1, 1941, he served briefly as a parish priest at Neola, Iowa and taught at Dowling High School in Des Moines.

Eager to become a chaplain, as soon as he received permission from his Bishop Father Sampson enlisted in the United States Army in 1942.  Always looking for a challenge, he became regimental chaplain of the 501st Parachute Regiment of the 101rst Airborne.  In his memoirs, Look Out Below!, Father Sampson wrote about his joining a very tough branch of the service: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Patton’s Granddaughter Is A Benedictine Nun

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Chaplain, I am a strong believer in Prayer. There are three ways that men get what they want; by planning, by working, and by Praying. Any great military operation takes careful planning, or thinking. Then you must have well-trained troops to carry it out: that’s working. But between the plan and the operation there is always an unknown. That unknown spells defeat or victory, success or failure. It is the reaction of the actors to the ordeal when it actually comes. Some people call that getting the breaks; I call it God. God has His part, or margin in everything, That’s where prayer comes in. Up to now, in the Third Army, God has been very good to us. We have never retreated; we have suffered no defeats, no famine, no epidemics. This is because a lot of people back home are praying for us. We were lucky in Africa, in Sicily, and in Italy. Simply because people prayed. But we have to pray for ourselves, too. A good soldier is not made merely by making him think and work. There is something in every soldier that goes deeper than thinking or working–it’s his “guts.” It is something that he has built in there: it is a world of truth and power that is higher than himself. Great living is not all output of thought and work. A man has to have intake as well. I don’t know what you it, but I call it Religion, Prayer, or God.

General George S. Patton, Jr to Monsignor James H. O’Neil, Chief Chaplain, Third Army

 

I am sure old Blood and Guts would have had something to say about this, both colorful and devout:

Mother Margaret Georgina Patton first came to the Abbey in the early 1970’s while a freshman at Bennington College amidst the social turmoil surrounding the Vietnam War. She was personally implicated in the conflict through her father George S. Patton’s distinguished service during three tours of duty, one as colonel, commanding the 11th Blackhorse Armored Cavalry Regiment. In conversations with our Foundress Lady Abbess Benedict, she discovered that her grandfather General George S. Patton Jr. and the American 3rd Army had liberated the Abbey of Notre Dame de Jouarre from Nazi occupation during World War II. Mother Benedict, an American who had entered Jouarre in 1936, had the inspiration to found a monastery in the United States in response to what she described as the “lifting of oppression” by the American soldiers on the day Jouarre was liberated. As Mother Margaret Georgina became drawn to monastic life at Regina Laudis she could begin to claim the rich genealogy of her military family. She completed her B.A. in English at Dartmouth College in 1976, and entered Regina Laudis in 1982 . →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

June 5, 1944: Liberation of Rome

In the afternoon of the same day, Wednesday, June 7th, the Pope received, in a memorable and moving general audience in the Sala Clementina, some seven hundred grimy Allied soldiers, most of them fresh from battle and all of them in the highest spirits. There were British, French, Americans, Poles, Indians, and men from all the Dominions. The contrast between these varieties of battle-dress and the plumed Swiss Guard in their sixteenth-century uniforms who marshalled them made the deepest impression : here were the centuries meeting, as well as the nations of the free world, at an historic moment in history. The Pope said in English from the throne : “We bless all you here in person, and We send Our blessing to your loved ones at home. We pray that God in His love and mercy may be with you always. Goodbye. Bless you all.” Then he administered the Apostolic Benediction as the soldiers knelt, and came down from the throne, passing among the men as he made his way to leave. Hundreds of soldiers pressed round the common father, trying to kiss his hand or his cassock, and altogether too enthusiastic for the Swiss Guard ; but the Pope himself was entirely unperturbed, smiling, and speaking all the time to those nearest to him. Every soldier who attended was given a rosary which he had specially blessed, in a little envelope bearing the papal crest.

The Tablet, June 17, 1944

 

 

 

The Italian theatre of operations was the forgotten theatre of operations in World War II Europe.  The American, British, Poles, New Zealanders, Australians, South Africans, Brazilians and other Allied troops fought a long and grinding  campaign against a formidable German defense, with advances often painfully won from mountain top to mountain top, up the tough spine of the Italian boot.  Typical of how events in Italy were overshadowed by events elsewhere in Europe was the liberation of Rome on June 5, 1944, a very hard won objective of the Allied 5th American Army and the 8th British Army, which was immediately overshadowed by D-Day the next day.

The above video is color footage showing the entrance of some of the American troops into Rome on June 5, 1944, and an audience they had with Pope Pius XII.

The Pope, like almost all Romans, was joyous to be free from Nazi occupation, and he made that clear when he met with General Mark Clark. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

First US Army Group

“There is one great thing that you men will all be able to say after this war is over and you are home once again. You may be thankful that twenty years from now when you are sitting by the fireplace with your grandson on your knee and he asks you what you did in the great World War II, you WON’T have to cough, shift him to the other knee and say, “Well, your Granddaddy shoveled sh-t in Louisiana.” No, Sir, you can look him straight in the eye and say, “Son, your Granddaddy rode with the Great Third Army and a Son-of-a-G-dd—ed-B—h named Georgie Patton!”

General George S. Patton, Jr., June 5, 1944

 

General George S. Patton, Jr., not only had high military skills, he was also a skilled actor, using that skill to inspire his troops and sometimes to terrify his immediate subordinates.  After Patton was placed in the dog house due to the slapping of a private on Sicily, Army Chief of Staff George Marshall came up with the idea of using Patton as a decoy:  Marshall wrote to Eisenhower on October 21, 1943: “It seems evident to us that Patton’s movements are of great importance to German reactions and therefore should be carefully considered. I had thought and spoke to [Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Walter Bedell] Smith about Patton being given a trip to Cairo and Cyprus but the Corsican visit appeals to me as carrying much more of a threat [to northern Italy].” Eisenhower responded, “As it is I am quite sure that we must do everything possible to keep [the Germans] confused and the point you have suggested concerning Patton’s movements appeals to me as having a great deal of merit. This possibility had not previously occurred to me.”

Ironically, although the Germans after his dash across France at the head of Third Army would regard Patton as one of ablest Allied generals, prior to that time his name figures little in German intelligence reports, while constant attention was paid to the movements of Montgomery.  The plan to use Patton as a decoy was therefore based on a faulty premise, but of course Eisenhower and Marshall were completely unaware of that. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

March 24, 1944: The Great Escape

Seventy years ago was a busy time at Stalag III, a German POW camp near the town of Sagan.  76 Allied pows escaped the camp in the largest mass escape of Allied prisoners during the War.  The plan of the escape was conceived by RAF Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, the officer in charge of the camp escape committee.  He announced his plan to the committee in the Spring of 1943 beginning with these words:

Everyone here in this room is living on borrowed time. By rights we should all be dead! The only reason that God allowed us this extra ration of life is so we can make life hell for the Hun.

The plan involved three tunnels, Tom, Dick and Harry.  More than 600 POWs were involved in the construction.  In the midst of the construction of the tunnels, the American POWs were moved to another compound and, contra Hollywood, no Americans as a result participated in the actual escape, although they had helped with the construction of the tunnels prior to their move.

On March 24, 1944, a moonless night, 76 men made good their escape.  The Germans realized what was going on when the 77th man was seen climbing out of the tunnel.  73 of the prisoners were eventually recaptured, with three making good their escape.  Hitler was enraged by the escapes and ordered the execution of the escapees.  German officers up to and including Reichsfuhrer Herman Goering were appalled, arguing that such executions would violate the Geneva Convention.    Hitler eventually compromised with fifty of the recaptured escapees murdered by the SS, including Squadron Leader Bushell.  It should be noted that the German officers at Stalag III strictly observed the Geneva Convention, and one can imagine their feelings at having their military honor stained by the SS.  Indeed a later camp commandant, Oberst Franz Braune, allowed a memorial to the murdered men to be erected by the prisoners and he contributed to it. (In regard to the East Front both sides waged a war of extermination with prisoners starved to death and murdered by the hundreds of thousands.) →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

The Rear Gunner

An interesting training film made by Warner Brothers for the United States Army Air Corps in 1943.  Burgess Meredith has the feature role as the tail gunner in training.  Ronald Reagan is in a supporting role as the pilot of the B-17.  Both of them were Lieutenants in the Army Air Corps and both would complete their service as Captains.  A cut above the usual training films of the period.

Buchenwald

I have reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words.

Edward R. Murrow at Buchenwald, April 15, 1945

1944 was seventy years ago, and on this blog we will have numerous posts depicting the battles fought in the wake of D-Day up through the fall of the Third Reich.  As we recall this, I think it is also important to recall the type of tyranny that the Third Reich was, and why it was necessary to utterly vanquish it at a hideous cost in human lives.

When Buchenwald death camp was liberated, General Patton was so outraged that he ordered military police to go to Weimar, the nearest town, and bring 1000 German civilians back to tour the camp to see what their leaders had done.  The MPs were just as outraged, and brought back 2000.  Edward R. Murrow did a radio broadcast from Buchenwald on April 15, 1945 that is absolutely unforgettable.  Evil can grow so strong in this world that it has to be stopped, no matter the cost.  Here is the transcript of Murrow’s broadcast:

Permit me to tell you what you would have seen and heard had you had been with me on Thursday.  It will not be pleasant listening.  If you are at lunch, or if you have no appetite to hear what Germans have done, now is a good time to switch off the radio for I propose to tell you of Buchenwald.  It is on a small hill about four miles outside Weimar, and it was one of the largest concentration camps in Germany, and it was built to last. ']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Why We Fight: The Battle of China

Hollywood director Frank Capra directed many classic films including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It’s a Wonderful Life.  However, he thought his best work was the Why We Fight series of films that he directed for the Army during World War II.  Sicilian born Capra was the son of Italian immigrants and was an American patriot to his fingertips.  He served in the Army during World War I as a Second Lieutenant.  Immediately after Peal Harbor he enlisted in the Army.  He was put to work making films explaining to American GIs why the US had to fight and win World War II.  Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall explained to Capra the importance of this task:

Now, Capra, I want to nail down with you a plan to make a series of documented, factual-information films – the first in our history – that will explain to our boys in the Army why we are fighting, and the principles for which we are fighting … You have an opportunity to contribute enormously to your country and the cause of freedom. Are you aware of that, sir?

The films he produced are widely considered to be masterpieces today. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.: American Eagle

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Benjamin O Davis, Jr, a 1936 graduate of West Point, probably did not have any premonition when he graduated that he and his father were destined to write an interesting chapter in American military history.  At the time of his graduation from West Point, the Army had a total of two black line officers, Davis and his father.  Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. would be the first black general in the United States Army and Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. would be the first black general in the United States Air Force.  They both earned their stars through sheer ability at a time when prejudice against blacks was official policy within the US military.

The grandson of a slave, Davis senior was born in 1880.  He enlisted in the black 8th volunteer infantry during the Spanish-American War, serving as a temporary first lieutenant.  After the war he enlisted in the regular Army as a private, serving in the 9th United States cavalry, one of the Buffalo Soldier regiments.  A promising young soldier, he shot up in rank to squadron sergeant major.  He came to the notice of the commander of his unit, Lieutenant Charles Young, then the only black officer in the Army.  With Young’s encouragement and tutoring, he took the officer’s test at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant on February 2, 1901.  For the next 39 years he served in various postings, including military attaché to Liberia and professor of military science at Tuskegee.  It took persistence to stay in an Army where blacks served only in segregated units and where he was often the only black officer in the entire Army, but on October 25, 1940 Davis became the first black in American military history to earn a general’s star.

His son found the going just as tough initially.  At West Point Davis Junior was officially shunned by almost all of the other cadets, who would only speak to him in the line of duty.  He ate his meals alone and had no room mate during his four years.  However, his hard work and ability earned grudging respect judging from this inscription in the West Point year book for 1936:

The courage, tenacity, and intelligence with which he conquered a problem incomparably more difficult than plebe year won for him the sincere admiration of his classmates, and his single-minded determination to continue in his chosen career cannot fail to inspire respect wherever fortune may lead him.

Such respect did not change the fact that he was black in an Army that had no love for black officers.  His application to the Army Air Corps was summarily rejected because the Army Air Corps did not accept blacks.  He found himself serving as a professor of military science at Tuskegee just as his father had years before.

With the advent of World War II the military was still segregated, and opposition to blacks serving as pilots was intense.   However, the Army Air Corps could not ignore that blacks had passed the tests to qualify as aviation cadets.   To his delight, Captain Davis was assigned to the first training class for black fighter pilots.  He was the first black to solo in the Army Air Corps and got his wings in March 1942.

Trained at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, the 99th Pursuit squadron was activated in 1941 and sent overseas to North Africa in April 1943.  Now a Lieutenant Colonel, Davis Junior was in command.  In September he was called back to the States to help form the all black 332 fighter group.  After he arrived back, an attempt to kill the project was made by senior Army Air Corps officers alleging deficiencies in the record of the 99th.  Furious, Davis held a news conference at the Pentagon, with his father, to defend his men, and challenged the accuracy of the charges.  Further investigations determined that the 99th had performed as well as similar white units. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

The Fighting Lady

A great wartime propaganda film from 1944, The Fighting Lady.  The film was made aboard the USS Yorktown, but for wartime security considerations it was designated The Fighting Lady in the film.  Hollywood star Robert Taylor, then serving in the Navy as a flight instructor, supplied the narration.  I do not mean to disparage the film when I call it propaganda:  it is also grittily realistic.  At the end the film pays tribute to the men who appeared in the film who have died in combat.

To Rouse A Sleeping Giant

A fascinating video detailing the paths of Japanese and US merchant shipping during World War II.  Beginning in 1943 the US is increasingly dominant with the Japanese shipping clinging to the Asian coast down to the oil in the Dutch East Indies.  1944 shows the obliteration of those Japanese routes and by the surrender in 1945 Japanese merchant shipping is virtually non-existent.  A stark reminder of just what madness it was for the Japan to start a war it could not win with the US.

At the end of the epic movie Tora, Tora, Tora, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the head of the combined Japanese fleet, after the successful attack on Pearl Harbor, refuses to join in the elation of his staff, and makes this haunting observation: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”  The line is almost certainly apocryphal.  The director of the film, Elmo Williams, claimed that Larry Forester, the film’s screenwriter, had found the line in a 1943 letter written by Yamamoto.   However, he has been unable to produce the letter, and there is no other evidence that such a letter exists.

However, there is no doubt that Yamamoto would fully have endorsed the sentiment that the line contained.  He had studied at Harvard in 1919-1921, and served two tours as a naval attache at the Japanese embassy in Washington DC.  He spoke fluent English, and his stays in the US had convinced him of that nation’s vast wealth and industrial power.  He had also developed a fondness for both America and Americans. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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