Taking care of the wounded

Irma Darphin... 05/28/04Irma Darphin served as a nurse in Europe after the Normandy Invasion. (Photo used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.)

By George Morris

The smell of cordite no longer hung in the air when Lt. Irma Darphin came ashore on Utah Beach in 1944. Six weeks had passed since D-Day, and shells no longer fell, bullets no longer flew and the groans of the wounded no longer sounded along the Normandy coast.

But there was no shortage of wounded soldiers in France, and Darphin was on her way to help them.

Continue reading “Taking care of the wounded”

A tough way to enter Europe

SartainDday159.jpg Lenton Sartain, part of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 319th Glider Field Artiller Battalion (Photo used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

By George Morris

In his first two years in the Army, C. Lenton Sartain Jr., of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, qualified as a paratrooper, served in North Africa, fought in Italy and trained endlessly with his unit.

But nothing was like D-Day.

When American, British and Canadian forces invaded German-held France on June 6, 1944, no one had it easy. But Sartain, then a lieutenant known to his men as Charlie, may have had one of the most dangerous ways of getting into Fortress Europe.

Sartain was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 319th Glider Field Artillery Battalion. While most of the soldiers arrived by boat or parachute, Sartain was among those who came on clumsy aircraft ill-suited for this occasion.

Regardless, those aboard them helped begin the eastward push that ended in Germany’s surrender 11 months later.

“The glider landing in Normandy was very crucial, but it was very costly,” said Sartain. “We lost a lot of people just by Normandy having such small fields. … It was a touch-and-go situation there for a while.”

Continue reading “A tough way to enter Europe”

Liberating a childhood friend

MedineRuiz.adv s090.jpgNolan Ruiz, left, and Mervin Medine knew each other in elementary school, and it was Medine’s unit that liberated Ruiz from captivity near the end of World War II. (Photo by Travis Spradling, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

By George Morris

When the story of how Nolan Ruiz was shot down and captured in World War II and endured a horrific, weeks-long march was told in Baton Rouge’s daily newspaper, he heard from a lot of his friends. The story, however, connected him with someone else from his past.

It was Mervin Medine — who not only knew Ruiz in elementary school 80 earlier near Plaquemine, Louisiana, but was part of the military unit that liberated him.

Continue reading “Liberating a childhood friend”

Not a ‘Lucky Bastard’ — Shot down on his 21st mission

NolanRuiz022.adv.jpg
Nolan Ruiz, a ball turret gunner on a B-17 during WWII, takes a look at some of his medals and photos from his service days in the war. (Photo by Patrick Dennis, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

By George Morris

But for a miscommunication, Nolan “Country” Ruiz, of Plaquemine, Louisiana, might have been among the World War II B-17 crews who completed 25 bombing missions and earned a ticket home. That happened so rarely that those who accomplished it were declared members of the “Lucky Bastards Club.”

No one could call Ruiz’s last mission lucky — nor what happened after that.

Ruiz was shot down on March 4, 1944, in the war’s first daylight bombing attack on Germany’s capital, Berlin, and spent the next 14 months as a prisoner of war. Only 11 of those months, however, were in a prison camp.

Instead, he was among several thousand POWs who were marched for 86 consecutive days during a brutal winter before finally being liberated on April 26, 1945. That forced march is not well known except by those forced to endure it.

“It was terrible,” Ruiz said.

Continue reading “Not a ‘Lucky Bastard’ — Shot down on his 21st mission”

10th Mountain Division: Brutal training, brutal combat

peo WW2Black bf 0041.jpgRobert Black fought with the 10th Mountain Division in Italy. (Photo used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

By George Morris

As a pre-med student in the Enlisted Reserve Corps, Robert Black had his ticket punched to miss the business end of World War II. But an accidental encounter with servicemen whom doctors couldn’t save led Black to ask for active duty.

It was nothing if not active. 

Black fought with the 10th Mountain Division, a unit that trained to ski as well as march and fought in northern Italy in the last months of the war. He also had several close encounters with the famous.

“I was very fortunate to come back safe and sound,” he said.

Continue reading “10th Mountain Division: Brutal training, brutal combat”

Liberating Cabanatuan

BR man recalls dramatic raid to liberate Japanese POW camp... 11/23/04Tom Grace was part of an Army Ranger unit that liberated more than 500 prisoners from Cabanatuan, Philippines. (Photo used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

By George Morris

When Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur made good on his promise to return to the Philippines during World War II, Tom Grace’s initial role in the invasions turned out to be uneventful. But it didn’t stay that way.

Grace, a New Orleans native and long-time Baton Rouge resident, was part of a dramatic 1945 raid behind Japanese lines that freed more than 500 Allied prisoners to prevent their being massacred by their captors. A force of just 121 Army Rangers and two groups of Filipino guerrillas marched 30 miles behind enemy lines, where they were vastly outnumbered by the Japanese military.

“What we were going into, we were either going two ways or only one way, because we’re not going to come back until we get them out,” Grace said. “That’s what we went in with on our mind.”

Continue reading “Liberating Cabanatuan”

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.
Continue reading “Tuskegee Airmen”