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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
For years, Dale Carver got depressed around Christmas. It wasn’t the typical holiday blues. It was much worse than that.
In 1944, Carver was a soldier with the U.S. Army’s 106th Infantry Division in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest when German troops began their last major offensive of World War II in Europe, the Battle of the Bulge.
There, he saw what war is: the grisly death of friends and innocents, cruelty, stupidity, cowardice, strong men breaking under the strain. As much as he wished otherwise, these sights and sounds and smells would not leave him even after the battles ended. Not even when the rest of his world was celebrating.
“I never had nightmares. I never woke up screaming,” Carver said. “I used to get depressed at Christmastime.”
His method of coping was neither to lie on a psychiatrist’s couch nor bury these images in his subconscious. Instead, Carver wrote poetry.
Carver let the horror of war spill out into verse. He had long loved poetry, memorizing it for the sheer joy of basking in aptly turned phrases. Now, it served a different purpose.
“I think it was therapy,” Carver said. “I think I would have gone crazy if I hadn’t. I’m not kidding.
P-51 pilot Osce R. Jones poses beside his aircraft. (Photo provided by Carol Ann Jones Lizana)
By George Morris
Many veterans returned from World War II with stories to tell, and most relied only on their memory.
P-51 fighter pilot Osce R. Jones, had something more tangible — a diary.
Forced down over occupied France by antiaircraft fire the day after the D-Day invasion, Jones, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, spent a week trying to evade capture and work his way back to England. He got caught, but while the events were fresh on his mind in a POW camp, he wrote about his experiences in a tiny notebook. His wife, Thelma, kept the notebook after he died in 1994.
“He had to write real small, because they didn’t have much paper,” she said.
The headstones are there by the thousands, row on row. Throughout Western Europe, American dead from two world wars are at rest, many near the epic battlefields where they lost their lives.
Fifty years after he lost his dear wartime comrade, Leon Standifer didn’t go to any of those. Rather, he showed up in a tiny town in a corner of France where little real action took place. But even there, men of courage stood up.
And, in the case of Dale Proctor, fell. Standifer couldn’t let that be forgotten.
So, far from the grand ceremonies that marked other half-century remembrances, Standifer came to a country road outside Redene, a small Brittany town, where about 60 persons gathered to celebrate their liberation from Nazi Germany. Most who attended had lived through the occupation. Few, however, knew the man they specifically honored that day.
Call a man a “lucky bastard” and you’re asking for a punch in the nose. But not from Rex Shearer.
When the B-17 named “Blythe Spirit” touched down at Rattlesden, England, in early February 1945, Shearer and the rest of the nine-man crew joined the elite ranks of those who completed all their bombing missions over Europe.
They called it the “Lucky Bastards Club.” The name was appropriate.
“We were fortunate,” said Shearer, a Kansas native and Baton Rouge resident since 1965.
A German Messerschmitt Me 163B Komet rocket-propelled fighter at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, Ohio (Public domain photo)
By George Morris
In 1943, a month before his 16th birthday, Joachim “Joe” Hoehne was drafted into the German military. It was the fate of many boys his age in a country seeing World War II’s fortunes turning against it.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, though, Hoehne ended up on the cutting edge of aviation.
Hoehne, later a resident of Denham Springs, Louisiana, flew the Messerschmitt 163 Komet, a rocket plane introduced late in the war as the United States, Britain, Russia and France tightened the noose on Germany. Although it had little impact on the war’s outcome, it indicated where manned flight was heading.
Two years after the war, Chuck Yeager flew faster than the speed of sound in an X-1 rocket plane. Today, the vehicle’s most advanced descendent is the space shuttle.
All of that, of course, was more than Hoehne could have imagined at the time, even though he had grown up around aviation.
Shortly after America’s entry into World War II, when German submarines were sinking American merchant vessels at a frightening rate in the Atlantic Ocean, Bob Talley was far from that action — and, he thought, about to get farther.
A U.S. Navy gunner, Talley was aboard a troop ship about to sail from San Francisco to Australia. But, an hour before it lifted anchor, Talley was ordered ashore. He stood on the pier and watched the ship leave.
“We were in San Francisco having a time,” Talley said. “We felt sorry for those fellows on the East Coast. Those subs were knocking them off one a week over there.
“All of a sudden, we woke up one morning and got orders to report to New York City.”
Those orders led Talley directly into the U-boat war in the Atlantic and to an ordeal that all mariners dread.