10th Mountain Division: Brutal training, brutal combat

peo WW2Black bf 0041.jpgRobert Black fought with the 10th Mountain Division in Italy. (Photo used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

By George Morris

As a pre-med student in the Enlisted Reserve Corps, Robert Black had his ticket punched to miss the business end of World War II. But an accidental encounter with servicemen whom doctors couldn’t save led Black to ask for active duty.

It was nothing if not active. 

Black fought with the 10th Mountain Division, a unit that trained to ski as well as march and fought in northern Italy in the last months of the war. He also had several close encounters with the famous.

“I was very fortunate to come back safe and sound,” he said.

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Liberating Cabanatuan

BR man recalls dramatic raid to liberate Japanese POW camp... 11/23/04Tom Grace was part of an Army Ranger unit that liberated more than 500 prisoners from Cabanatuan, Philippines. (Photo used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

By George Morris

When Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur made good on his promise to return to the Philippines during World War II, Tom Grace’s initial role in the invasions turned out to be uneventful. But it didn’t stay that way.

Grace, a New Orleans native and long-time Baton Rouge resident, was part of a dramatic 1945 raid behind Japanese lines that freed more than 500 Allied prisoners to prevent their being massacred by their captors. A force of just 121 Army Rangers and two groups of Filipino guerrillas marched 30 miles behind enemy lines, where they were vastly outnumbered by the Japanese military.

“What we were going into, we were either going two ways or only one way, because we’re not going to come back until we get them out,” Grace said. “That’s what we went in with on our mind.”

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Tuskegee Airmen

arthur-ward-1Arthur W. Ward during flight training in World War II. (Photo provided by Deborah S. Ward)

By George Morris

As the United States neared its entry into World War II, the world wondered whether England would fall to German bombs or the Soviet Union would fall to Nazi troops.
For much of black America, though, attention focused on the small, East Alabama town of Tuskegee. There, a racial barrier was falling.
Of blacks’ numerous contributions to Allied victory, perhaps none is as compelling as the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. Resisted by the American military at home and enemies abroad, they advanced the civil rights struggle in an area where many doubted they could succeed — in the skies.
Although the airmen’s names are seldom mentioned in war history, Baton Rouge resident Arthur W. Ward knows them well. Ward, a retired Southern University professor, went through wartime pilot training there.
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Getting across the bridge at Remagen

peo remagen TS 091.jpgA.C. Thomas recalls crossing the Rhine River over the Ludendorff Bridge, which German defenders had failed to destroy, with the U.S. 9th Armored Division. (Photo by Travis Spradling, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.)

By George Morris

In its desperate final months in World War II, Germany inadvertently left a door open in its defenses. A.C. Thomas, of Central, Louisiana, is one of those who went through it.

Thomas, then a halftrack driver in the U.S. Army 9th Armored Division, had been with the division in the Battle of the Bulge and in its drive into western Germany. But a major obstacle, the Rhine River, stood in the Allied armies’ path, and the defenders destroyed every bridge the Americans, British and French could use.

Except one.

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Wrong place at the wrong time

Conrad MeijerConrad Meijer was a Dutch civilian teenager who spent much of World War II as a prisoner of the Japanese. (Photo by Patrick Dennis, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.)

By George Morris

As a Dutch teenager who never took up arms in World War II, Conrad Meijer seemed unlikely to end up in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Meijer, however, was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Meijer grew up in India, where his father, Johan, built sugar refineries. In 1938, his parents sent him to a boarding school in Indonesia, which then was a Dutch colony. Meijer was at the school when they heard radio reports of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Java, Indonesia’s most populous island, is a long way from Hawaii, but it didn’t take long for World War II to arrive. Within hours of its strike on Pearl Harbor, Japan attacked the Philippines and Southeast Asia.  Singapore was captured on Feb. 15, 1942, and Japanese forces moved into Sumatra and Java.

Meijer (pronounced MY-er) later learned his father had sent money to the school to pay for his evacuation, but it didn’t arrive in time.

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Gen. Troy Middleton: Right man at the right time at the Bulge

Gen. Troy Middleton: Right man at the right time at the Bulge

middleton-eisenhower-1944                    Gen. Troy Middleton, right, with Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

By George Morris

When Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton awoke on Dec. 16, 1944, in Bastogne, Belgium, he knew something was wrong. His attention turned east. Sunlight had not yet pierced the fog, but Middleton could clearly hear what he couldn’t see. Artillery.

This was a surprise — especially here, certainly now. For seven months, the Allied forces had beaten German forces across France,Belgium and Luxembourg. To the east, Russia troops had taken the Balkans, the Baltic states and pushed their way into Poland.

Now, a bitter winter was gripping Europe. Certainly, Hitler was preparing a desperate, yard-by-yard defense of the Fatherland. That made the most sense. What Middleton heard this morning, however, did not sound like defense.

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Watching the attack on Pearl Harbor

pearl_shaw-explodingUSS Shaw explodes during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941 (National Archives)

By George Morris

The day that helped define the 20th century started as a typical Sunday morning in 14-year-old Janice Hobson’s home in Honolulu, Hawaii. An Ink Spots song, “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,” was playing on the radio. The only oddity was that her dad, usually the first one up, was sleeping late. It was almost 8 a.m.

But it wasn’t a normal Sunday. Someone was setting the world on fire.

Janice heard a car horn blowing across the street. From a window, she saw a neighbor, Edward Bogan — who, like her dad, Sebaldus, served in the Navy — running with his young daughter in his arms.

“He jumped out of the car, grabbed the little girl and went up these steps to our house screaming, ‘The g-d Japs are bombing the hell out of Pearl Harbor!’” she said.

It was Dec. 7, 1941, and Baton Rouge resident Janice Hobson Wall Monro remembers it well.

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