This is a place to reflect on history's greatest conflict. You'll see stories about soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and civilians, people I've been privileged to meet as a reporter for Louisiana's largest daily newspaper, The Advocate. You're welcome to share stories of your own by posting a comment or emailing the author at email@example.com.
In almost a quarter-century as city engineer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Charles Hair Jr. was responsible for a lot of bridges. But no one was shooting at him when they were being built.
Hair wasn’t always so fortunate as commander of the 3rd Army’s 88th Engineer Heavy Ponton Battalion. His outfit made 15 river crossings as Gen. George S. Patton Jr. led 3rd Army through France, Luxembourg and on into Germany.
The 88th made three crossings of the Seine, five of the Moselle (in three countries) and three of the Main. They never had to make the same crossing twice.
“To be a good soldier, you’ve got to be lucky,” Hair said in 2002. “We went through that whole thing without any severe times, because when Patton crossed a river, he stayed. If he’d gotten thrown back, we would have been lost.”
Merrill’s Marauders behind enemy lines in 1944. (Photo by U.S. Army Signal Corps)
By George Morris
Dr. Melvin Schudmak was an Army doctor stationed stateside when he was called in to the Adjutant General’s Office in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1943.
“They said, ‘We’d like for you to volunteer for hazardous duty in a foreign country,'” said Schudmak, who later became a Baton Rouge physician. “I said, ‘Well, I have a 3-year-old child and I won’t volunteer, but I won’t mind going if you order me. They said, ‘You have until tomorrow morning to volunteer.'”
The next morning, he again declined to volunteer. So they ordered him to Camp Stonemason in San Francisco to join an outfit with an uninspiring title — the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional). Names, it turned out, were deceptive.
A generation of LSU fans knew John Ferguson as the play-by-play voice that carried the action of Tiger football into their homes and car radios. But in World War II, Ferguson wasn’t just on the air. He was in it.
Way up there, in a wild and wooly section of the sky over the world’s tallest mountains.
They called it flying “The Hump,” that being the understated description of the Himalayas. They ran cargo missions from India to China, helping keep the beleaguered Chinese in the war against Japan. It sounded simple enough. It was anything but.
There’s one thing about old Special Forces soldiers; they aren’t good at taking “no” for an answer. At least, Morty Hurston isn’t.
Having served in that capacity in Vietnam, Hurston later heard a credible story about valuable equipment, including fighter planes, that might be buried and recoverable at the former Camp Claiborne in central Louisiana. The story is at the URL below. UPDATE: After the story was published Nov. 7, 2015, the Forest Service has been highly cooperative, and they’re looking into whether the site Hurston found and another site might have what he’s looking for.
You never expect anyone outside the skinhead community to say anything good about Adolf Hitler, and certainly not at an Army reunion. But in a conference room of a New Orleans hotel in 1992, I asked Don Malarkey to explain the camaraderie he shared with the men he fought beside.
He stopped, rubbed his eyes and apologized for the emotion before he attempted an answer.
“I thank Adolf Hitler for every day that I had with these people,” Malarkey said. “We’re closer than family.”