Tuskegee Airmen

arthur-ward-1Arthur W. Ward during flight training in World War II. (Photo provided by Deborah S. Ward)

By George Morris

As the United States neared its entry into World War II, the world wondered whether England would fall to German bombs or the Soviet Union would fall to Nazi troops.
For much of black America, though, attention focused on the small, East Alabama town of Tuskegee. There, a racial barrier was falling.
Of blacks’ numerous contributions to Allied victory, perhaps none is as compelling as the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. Resisted by the American military at home and enemies abroad, they advanced the civil rights struggle in an area where many doubted they could succeed — in the skies.
Although the airmen’s names are seldom mentioned in war history, Baton Rouge resident Arthur W. Ward knows them well. Ward, a retired Southern University professor, went through wartime pilot training there.
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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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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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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.


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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Is there buried treasure at old Camp Claiborne?

By George Morris

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.