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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.