Ball turret gunner: ‘A ringside seat’ to air combat

peo ballturret pd 4.jpgCharles McGowan kept a B-17 wind indicator in his back yard. (Photo used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

By George Morris

From an exclusively visual perspective, Charles “Chub” McGowan had the best seat during the air war over Germany late in World War II.

Sightseeing, however, wasn’t on the agenda.

McGowan, a Pennsylvania native and Baton Rouge resident since 1969, was a ball turret gunner from late July 1944 to late February 1945, when the crew of the B-17 bomber called “Patty Jo” completed their 35th mission, earning them that rare blessing of being sent back to the United States for the rest of the war. With thousands of airmen killed or captured, those completing a full tour of duty earned membership in the “Lucky Bastard Club.”

None of them probably felt luckier than the ball turret gunner.

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Over half-century later, POW corresponds with liberator

photoDon Menard shows a letter and gifts he received in 2004 from Vasily Bezugly, a Soviet soldier who helped liberate Menard at Stalag Luft 1 near the end of World War II in Europe. (Photo used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.)

By George Morris

After leaving a prisoner of war camp near the end of World War II, Don Menard never expected he’d get to know any of the Soviet soldiers who liberated him.

Yet, several years, that is exactly what he was able to do.

In 2001, Menard began corresponding with Vasily Bezugly, part of the Soviet force that liberated Stalag Luft 1 in Barth, Germany, on May 2, 1945, just days before Germany’s surrender ended the war.

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Occupying Nagasaki

peo walsh pd 19.jpgLeo Walsh spent three months as a Marine occupying Nagasaki, Japan, where the second atomic bomb blast led to Japan’s surrender. (Photo used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

By George Morris

In more than 3½ years of combat, countless thousands of servicemen passed through Pearl Harbor, where World War II began for the United States.

Leo Walsh, of Baton Rouge, is in a more select company. He saw where it essentially ended.

Walsh was a private first class with the 2nd Marine Division when it was assigned to occupation duty at Nagasaki, Japan. There, on Aug. 9, 1945, an atomic bomb was used in warfare for the second and, so far, last time. Japan’s surrender was announced six days later.

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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

 

Growing up in occupied France

JordaJones.050615 35.jpgSiblings Marie Jorda Jones and Gerald Jorda saw their country, France, occupied then liberated during World War II. (Photo by Travis Spradling, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

By George Morris

When anniversaries of the end of World War II in Europe — or V-E Day — come around, it’s an abstraction for most Americans. Not for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, siblings Marie Jorda Jones and Gerard Jorda.

Both were teens in northern France when the war came to their country in 1940. By the time it ended, Marie was engaged to an American. In between, they endured an occupation that turned them into refugees for more than two years.

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