The Glider Boys

Glider (CG-4A) in flightAmerican Waco CG-4A glider being towed in flight (National Archives)

By George Morris

After a half century, World War II aircraft and airmen remain famous. Jimmy Doolittle’s B-25 raiders bombing Tokyo. Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers dueling Japanese Zeros. British Spitfires and Hurricanes fighting off the German blitz. The Memphis Belle.

Less well known is another group of combat aviators — glider pilots. Yet, they were part of some of the war’s biggest, most dangerous missions.

“A bunch of us are lucky guys to be here,” said W.T. Owens of Baton Rouge in advance of a reunion of about 100 other World War II glider pilots.

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Seven Matherne brothers served in WWII

sevenbrothersepl110.081517.jpgMarion Matherne holds photos of himself (lower right) and his six brothers, all of whom served in the military in World War II. (Photo by Travis Spradling, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.)

By George Morris

Marion Matherne doesn’t claim to be a World War II hero. As far as he knows, no one in his family earned that individual distinction.

As a group, however, the Matherne siblings were remarkable.

Matherne, a Baton Rouge resident for almost 60 years, said he and six of his brothers served in the American military during World War II. Seven siblings serving wasn’t a record – one Texas family claimed nine – but it was a real rarity.

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The ‘Ghost Army’ in Europe

ghostarmyepl002.adv.jpgAnderson Wilson served in the ‘Ghost Army’ that tricked German soldiers into believing the U.S. Army had significant forces in areas that were lightly defended. (Photo by Scott Threlkeld, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

By George Morris

Like many veterans, Anderson Wilson joined the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars following his service in World War II. Before long, he quit going.

“All those fellows wanted to do was talk about what they did in the Army, and I couldn’t talk about that,” 94-year-old Wilson said.

It wasn’t until 1996 that Wilson, who lives in Slidell, could say he served in the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops — now known as the Ghost Army.

(For complete story, follow the link)

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/entertainment_life/article_fc52d7e6-6c06-11e7-80f4-1bd91cb30b38.html

 

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.

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A tough way to enter Europe

SartainDday159.jpg Lenton Sartain, part of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 319th Glider Field Artiller Battalion (Photo by Patrick Dennis, 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.”

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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.

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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.

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