The Katyn Massacre

Katyn_massacre_1Mass grave discovered in 1943 in Katyn, USSR.

 

By George Morris

Dachau. Bataan. Katyn. Generations of post-war Americans have grown up knowing about the first two places, but few have heard of the third.

But Sophia Grebocki Denham was aware. She lost her husband there.

“People should know what happened there,” Denham said in 2000.

What happened there was an atrocity.

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WASPs left their mark on World War II

Women_Airforce_Service_PilotsFrances Green, Margaret “Peg” Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn during WASP ferry training on the B-17 Flying Fortress (U.S. Air Force photo)

By George Morris

There was a lot the U.S. Army Air Forces couldn’t have imagined on Dec. 6, 1941. One was Marion Brown.

After the next day, eyes and minds started opening rather quickly.

There was no doubt that, for the first time in history, a major war would involve a significant contribution by air forces. It was planes, not ships, that attacked Pearl Harbor, and it was German fighter planes, dive bombers and heavy bombers that blitzed through Europe and pounded England. It took little imagination to envision that airmen would have an enormous role.

But women? They would have a part to play, too, even if not in combat.

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The long, awful march from Stalag Luft IV

stalag luft IV evac                                                                                POWs being evacuated from Stalag Luft IV, early 1945 (Source: http://www.dvrbs.com/camden-heroes/CamdenHeroes-FrankGramenzi.htm)

By George Morris

The sound of an approaching army — especially a mechanized one — is impossible to miss, particularly when it is engaged with its enemy. In January 1945, Allied prisoners of Stalag Luft IV heard the Soviet army driving westward through Poland.

“We could hear the gunfire, the cannons,” said Russell McRae, a Baton Rouge resident. “We could see the flashes at night. We knew we were going to get overrun, and we thought we’d be liberated.”

They would — some of them, anyway. But not for a long time, and not by the Soviets.

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USS Hornet: Launching the Doolittle Raid

doolittle-hornetA B-25 launches from the USS Hornet on April 18, 1942, as part of the Doolittle Raid on Japan.

By George Morris

Less than two months after Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor launched the United States into World War II, the USS Hornet sailed from its base at Norfolk, Virginia with two B-25 bombers aboard. That had the sailors talking.

“We had scuttlebutt running around, all kinds of scuttlebutt,” said Tom Varnado, who served aboard the Hornet. “We just thought that was an experiment to see if they could take off.”

Which they did. Two months later, when the Hornet departed San Francisco Bay, there were 16 B-25s aboard, but the sailors thought they would simply be delivering the aircraft to Pearl Harbor. After all, the Hornet passed under the Golden Gate Bridge in broad daylight with the bombers in plain sight on the flight deck.

“Traffic was just stopped there,” Varnado said. “It was just a mass of people on the bridge. We went right under them. I thought, ‘Well, we’re not going on a secret mission because they wouldn’t do this.'”

But they would. A day into the cruise, the crew got the news. They weren’t going to Pearl Harbor. They were going to bomb Japan.

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Kamikaze Hits the USS KIDD

Kidd at sunsetThe USS Kidd is now a war memorial and naval museum in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

By George Morris

On April 11, 1945, Maurice Clements was in charge of one of a Fletcher-class destroyer’s largest guns as it cruised the waters 90 miles east of Okinawa. Yet, when a lone Japanese plane came in low and headed for the ship’s starboard side, there was nothing he could do.

So, he had a front row seat for a sailor’s worst nightmare late in World War II — a successful kamikaze attack.

In this case, it was the USS Kidd. The attack killed 38 and wounded 55 of the destroyer’s 320 sailors. As fate would have it, the Kidd would eventually be turned into a naval museum on the Mississippi River in Clement’s home town, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He attends memorial services held there, including one held on the 70th anniversary of the attack in 2015.

“They were all my friends,” he said.

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Bataan Death March

Bataan Death March
Prisoners of war on the Bataan Death March. (U.S. Air Force photo)

By George Morris

When their ship passed under the Golden Gate Bridge on Nov. 1, 1941, all J.S. Gray and his buddy, Cletis Overton, knew was they were heading to Manila, Philippines. As they left Hawaii, though, ships carrying their airplanes left the convoy. Gray, an ordnance specialist, and Overton, an airplane mechanic with the Army Air Forces, received no explanation. They learned after the war that the planes went to Australia.

“We were looking out watching them, and they just turned south, and we never saw them again,” Gray said.

They would soon see airplanes, but they weren’t American.

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Missing in Action

RemiDelouche052.jpg
Remi DeLouche (Photo by Patrick Dennis, published Nov. 10, 2013, used by permission of The Advocate.)

By George Morris

Considering that Remi DeLouche was captured not once, but twice — and by the armies of two different nations, no less — he thought somebody would have told his family of his circumstances.

It was only when he was reunited with them that he found out otherwise.

“When I got home, my mother and my dad came out and man, they were crying. It was like I was dead,” DeLouche said. “They said, ‘You’ve been missing.’ Apparently no one noticed that I’d been captured.”

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