Gratitude for the fallen

Caring to remember *** Dutch family continues adoption of WWII graves


By George Morris

Some time after Harold Gayle’s family got the dreaded telegram informing them that he had been killed in World War II, they received a wholly unexpected correspondence designed to give them comfort.

A family that lived near the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium wanted them to know that Gayle’s grave would be cared for.

“They wrote to my mother, I guess, 62 years ago and told her that they had adopted his grave and that they put flowers on it,” said Gayle’s younger sister, Edna Kennedy, of Baker

In 2008, she learned that the care was continuing.

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Restoring PT-305 brings three generations together

Clifford Grout, left, and his father John Grout with keepsakes from Clifford’s grandfather, who worked at Higgins Industries in New Orleans. Now, Clifford, his son and his father volunteer to help restore a PT boat that will be displayed at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. (Photo by Richard Alan Hannon, used by permission of The Advocate)

By George Morris

Baton Rouge architect Clifford Grout never met his grandfather, who died in a 1957 car accident, 18 months before Clifford’s birth. But almost every weekend at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, grandson has grown closer to grandfather.

One tube of caulk, one paint brush stroke, one hammer swing at a time.

And he’s not alone. On any given Saturday, three generations of Grouts pay tribute to their forebear by helping restore one of the wartime vessels his work helped create.

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Gen. George Patton through the eyes of his aide

Stillman poses for portrait... 04/04/98
Retired Col. Richard Stallman (Photo by Jeff Adkins, used by permission of The Advocate newspaper)

By George Morris

When he got the idea to write a book on Gen. George S. Patton Jr., former University of New Orleans professor Richard Stillman received some honest, if indelicate, encouragement.

“As my younger son put it so well, we’re a fading group,” Stillman said.

Certainly, few alive today worked so closely with the famed World War II general — and Patton himself was an original.

So, in 1998, Stillman, then 81, wrote “General Patton’s Timeless Leadership Principles,” a work that is part biography, part self-help book and all the culmination of Stillman’s two-fold career. After retiring from the Army as a colonel in 1965, Stillman became a management professor at UNO, retiring in 1982. Stillman died in 2008.

“This was a great American hero,” Stillman said. “I consider him perhaps the most outstanding army commander that our country, and perhaps any country, has ever produced.”

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Returning part of a soldier’s history

Zachary Trussell, Elena Branzaru
Zachary Trussell holds the dog tag he found with his aunt, Elena Branzaru, along the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. The dog tag now is back with its rightful owner. (Photo by Arthur D. Lauck, used by permission of The Advocate newspaper)

By George Morris

It’s not every day I get asked to help locate someone, not knowing whether or not he is even alive. But when it involves returning a lost dog tag to a soldier? I’m all in.

In 2007, Elena Branzaru and her nephew, Zachary Trussell, were spending Memorial Day in downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when they wandered to the edge of the Mississippi River.

“We were just messing around because we were on the levee,” Branzaru said. “We didn’t know what we were going to find.”

Lying amid broken glass, weeds, litter and driftwood near the Interstate 10 bridge was a dog tag that had been issued to Clarence A. Burke when he enlisted shortly after Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. Burke, we would discover, hadn’t lived in Baton Rouge in more than a half-century.

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‘Unbroken’ Louis Zamperini

peo Zamperini bf 0176.jpg
Louis Zamperini’s face is reflected on the surface of a table as he speaks to reporters in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2011. (Photo by Bill Feig, used by permission of The Advocate.)

By George Morris

When I picked up the office phone and recognized the caller from a Baton Rouge church-supported school, I knew a story pitch was coming. What I didn’t expect was the subject.

“Would you like to interview Louis Zamperini?”

Why, yes. Yes. I. Would.

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Meeting Rene Gagnon

A date with history *** Woman remembers meeting Marine... 09/30/04
Alyne Gray was the escort for Marine Pfc. Rene Gagnon at a May, 30, 1945 war bond rally in Alexandria, Louisiana. Gagnon was one of the six men who raised the second flag atop Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi, whose image became one of the most famous of World War II. (Photograph by Advocate staff photo by Patrick Dennis published on Oct. 22, 2004. Used by permission of The Advocate.)

By George Morris

Recently, the U.S. Marine Corps acknowledged it is investigating one of the most iconic images of World War II — Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal’s image of six men raising an American flag atop Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi. For 71 years, that group has been thought to include Navy Corpsman John Bradley. Now, historians are calling that into question.

No one, however, questions the presence of Marine Pfc. Rene Gagnon. After that image hit the front page of just about every American newspaper, Gagnon, Pfc. Ira Hayes and Bradley were pulled out of the war zone and taken stateside as celebrity spokesmen for war bond drives. The other three Marines — Cpl. Harlon Block, Sgt. Michael Strank and Pfc. Franklin Sousley — were killed in action on Iwo Jima.

A central Louisiana 19-year-old during World War II, Alyne Swayze Gray, had seen the photo. And, on May 30, 1945, she got to meet Gagnon.

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Update: WASPs can be buried at Arlington

One of my recent posts was about Marion Brown’s service as a Women’s Airforce Service Pilot. Now, Congress has approved them for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Overdue, but a good thing.

Escape from Bilibid Prison

bilibid prison                                                                                      Bilibid Prison, a POW camp during World War II

By George Morris

Nobody could say Pfc. James Carrington wasn’t resourceful.

A Marine who was one of those captured when the Philippine island of Corregidor surrendered on May 9, 1942, he soon realized that survival would require his wits. At one point in his prison odyssey, he took two cans of spoiled milk, poured it into his shirt, squeezed it and left it to dry in the sun and make cheese.

On April 14, 1944, he would do something else remarkable. He would escape from Manila’s notorious Bilibid Prison — not only escape, but become a thorn in the enemy’s side.

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Mass suicide by German civilians

This is a horrific account of eastern German civilians, either in fear of or response to the Soviet conquest of their towns, killing themselves and their children. Given how Soviet soldiers treated the Germans, it is understandable, but no less terrible. H/T to Dirk de Klein.


Fall of Corregidor

corregidor-surrender-to-japanese                    U.S. forces in the Malinta Tunnel surrender on Corregidor.

By George Morris

Once Japan invaded the Philippines shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, American military leaders quickly realized the islands were a lost cause. But, if U.S. and Philippine forces couldn’t defeat the enemy, it could accomplish something else — delay them.

Delay had its last major stand at Corregidor.

A hunk of rock 2.5 miles long and a half-mile wide. It would have been a worthless piece of real estate had it not been situated at the mouth of Manila Bay. About 12,000 soldiers and Marines were ordered to hold it at all costs.

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