This blog post is one in a series on a recent tour to the Ardennes which gave Museum volunteers and staff an in-depth look into the scenes of the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s last desperate attempt to stop the Allied drive in western Europe in the cold winter months of December 1944 and January 1945.
During the tour, we visited two of the American cemeteries maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission, which became the final resting place for thousands of American combatants who lost their lives in the Battle of the Bulge. One of the largest and costliest battles the US Army would fight, the Battle of the Bulge resulted in 67,000 American casualties.
At Luxembourg American Cemetery, we visited the grave of General George Patton, laid a wreath in the chapel to honor all of those buried there, and paid tribute to one particular serviceman, Wendell Wiley Wolfenbarger, known to us previously only through the material held in the Museum’s archives. Wolfenbarger was a husband, father, and postal employee from Neosho, Missouri.
Photo courtesy Alan Raphael
Photo courtesy Alan Raphael
On January 1, 1945 Wendell wrote to his wife, “I still can’t say where I am , but I guess that as long as I’m not in the good old United States it doesn’t make any difference…I nearly cried when you told me about Wylene waking up & crying for me, but it can’t be helped. Try to make her understand that it’ll be sometime before I can be there.”
Three days later, on January 4, 1945, Wendell wrote;
“I wonder how everything is going down at the post office? Does Archie ever say anything about it? Man alive, how I wish I were back there. I would work 24 hours per day, Sundays included and not say a word about it, no use bitching about it though, I’m here and that’s all there is to it.
Are you & the kids all right? I really do miss you all more and more. Everytime I look at your pictures I get more homesick. But at the same time I realize why we’re here and know the job musr be done. All my love to you & the kids. Darling, keep praying. Love, Wiley”
Wolfenbarger was killed in action on January 18, 1945 near Berle, Luxembourg. He served with the 26th Infantry Division. He left behind a wife, Ruby and two small children. The collection was donated to the Museum in 2012 in Memory of Ruby May Barlow Wolfenbarger.
For more information about the tours offered by the Museum, see The National WWII Museum Tours.Stay tuned for more in the series on the April tour of Museum staff and volunteers to the Ardennes region.
Syracuse University basketball and football star, Wilmeth Sidat-Singh (center), was often referred to in the press as Hindu (a term at the time used to describe someone of Indian heritage). Singh, however, was born to African American parents. After his father died, his mother remarried a man from the West Indies who adopted young Wilmeth Webb.
While he never claimed to be something he wasn’t (and often tried to clear up the error in the press to no avail), this popular misconception allowed Sidat-Singh to travel and play with teammates to a schools that did not allow African Americans to compete in sports. An article finally explaining his true ethnicity cost him the opportunity to play in a game soon after in Maryland. The star halfback, known as the Syracuse Walking Dream, sat on the sidelines as the Orangemen lost the game, powerless to assist his teammates.
After college, there were no opportunities for an African American in professional sports, so Sidat-Singh played for two barnstorming teams, the Syracuse Reds and the Harlem Renaissance.
In 1943, he answered the call to serve his country and became a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. On May 9, 1943, his engine failed during a training mission over Lake Huron and Sidat-Singh drowned. He was 25 years old.
Stamp issued in 1948 memorializing the Four Chaplains
On 3 February 1943, the US Army transport Dorchester was struck by a German U-boat’s torpedo and sank within only 20 minutes. She was carrying 902 men, en route in a convoy from the United States to an Army Command Base in southern Greenland. On board were also four chaplains, who were termed the “Immortal Chaplains” for their selfless actions and sacrifices they made in the cold North Atlantic waters. The four Army chaplains were Lt. George L. Fox (Methodist), Lt. Alexander D. Goode (Jewish), Lt. John P. Washington (Roman Catholic), and Lt. Clark V. Poling (Dutch Reformed). They remained a comforting and calming presence in the chaotic scene of the early morning sinking. Witnesses recall hearing their voices among the terror. The chaplains helped distribute life jackets until those ran out, and then they gave up their own jackets to others. Of the 902 men aboard the Dorchester, 230 survived and 672 perished. As the ship went down, survivors in nearby rafts recalled seeing the four chaplains, praying on the slanting deck with their arms linked.
Post by Curator Kimberly Guise.
Special Event – “Brotherhood and Sacrifice at Sea: The True Story of the Immortal Four Chaplains of WWII”
A Presentation by Judge Barry Sax, followed by a conversation with veteran Richard “Dick” Swanson
Thursday, February 28, 2013, 5:00 pm Reception, 6:00 pm Presentation
On February 3, 1943, a US Army transport, the Dorchester, was making its way in a convoy from the United States to an Army Command Base in southern Greenland. She was carrying over 900 men, but the Dorchester never arrived at its destination.
She was struck by a torpedo fired from a German U-boat, and the transport sank within 20 minutes.
On board the Dorchester were four chaplains who are now “immortal” for the selfless actions and sacrifices they made in the cold North Atlantic waters.
Join us on Thursday, February 28th to hear this harrowing, yet heroic, story from Judge Barry Sax, a retired Department of Defense Administrative Judge, historian and member of the Board of Directors of the Chapel of the Four Chaplains at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
Following Judge Sax’s presentation will be a unique opportunity to hear from Richard “Dick” Swanson, who was aboard the USS Comanche, one of the Coast Guard Cutters that was a part of the Dorchester’s convoy. The Comanche rescued nearly 100 of the survivors and Swanson himself was later awarded the US Navy and Marine Corps Medal for Heroism during the rescue operations.
The event is free and open to the public, but registration is strongly encouraged.
World War II claimed the lives of 23 NFL men – 21 active or former players, an ex-head coach and a team executive. Listed below are the NFL personnel killed during the war.
Cpl. Mike Basca (HB, Philadelphia, 1941) – Killed in France 1944
Lt. Charlie Behan (E, Detroit, 1942) – Killed on Okinawa, 1945
Maj. Keith Birlem (E, Cardinals-Washington, 1939) – Killed trying to land a combat-damaged bomber in England, 1943
Lt. Al Blozis (T, Giants, 1942-1944) – Killed in France
Lt. Chuck Braidwood (e, Portsmouth-Cleveland-Cardinals-Cinncinati, 1930-1933) – Member of the Red Cross. Killed in the South Pacific, 1944
Lt. Young Bussey (QB, Bears, 1940-1941) – Killed in the Philippines landing assault, 1944
Lt. Jack Chevigney (Coach, Cardinals, 1932) – Killed on Iwo Jima, 1945
Capt. Ed Doyle (E, Frankford-Pottsville, 1924-1925) – Killed during North Africa invasion, 1942
Lt. Col. Grasst Hinton (B, Staten Island, 1932) – Killed in a plane crash in the East Indies, 1944
Capt. Smiley Johnson (G, Green Bay, 1940-1941) – Killed on Iwo Jima, 1945
Lt. Eddie Kahn (G, Boston/Washington, 1935-1937) – Died from wounds suffered during Leyte invasion, 1945
Sgt Alex Ketzko (T, Detroit, 1943) – Killed in France, 1944
Capt. Lee Kizzire (FB, Detroit, 1937) – Shot down near New Guinea, 1943
Lt. Jack Lummus (E, Giants, 1941) – Killed on Iwo Jima, 1945
Bob Mackert (T, Rochester Jeffersons, 1925)
Frank Maher (B, Pittsburgh-Cleveland Rams, 1941)
Pvt. Jim Mooney (E-G-FB, Newark-Brooklyn-Cincinnati-St. Louis-Cardinals, 1930-1937) – Killed by sniper in France, 1944
Lt. John O’Keefe (Front office, Philadelphia) – Killed flying a patrol mission in Panama Canal Zone
Chief Spec. Gus Sonnenberg (B, Buffalo-Columbus-Detroit-Providence, 1923-1928, 1930) – Died of war-related illness at Bethesda Naval Hospital, 1944
Lt. Len Supulski (E, Philadelphia, 1942) – Killed in plane crash in Nebraska, 1944
Lt. Don Wemple (E, Brooklyn, 1941) – Killed in a plane crash in India, 1944
Lt. Chet Wetterlund (HB, Cardinals-Detroit, 1942) – Killed in plane crash off New Jersey coast, 1944
Capt. Waddy Young (E, Brooklyn, 1939-1940) – Killed in a plane crash following first B-29 raid on Tokyo, 1945
All information courtesy of the Pro-Football Hall of Fame.
On display through May 5, Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame presents a panoramic view of the story of professional football — from its humble beginnings in the late 19th century to the cultural phenomenon it is today — and brings together an extraordinary collection of artifacts, while creating an unforgettable interactive experience. The Hall of Fame has partnered with NFL Films in creating the audio and video for this exhibit.
The exhibition — a cornerstone event in the multi-year celebration of the Hall of Fame’s 50th anniversary — is the most extensive and comprehensive exhibition featuring America’s most popular sport ever to tour.
In addition to an exclusive display of WWII-era NFL artifacts, this exhibition of Gridiron Glory also includes historic items related to the New Orleans Saints.
Normandy Scholars raise the Flag at the Normandy American Cemetery
“We stand here among our fallen heroes: men who died in a strange land so we could continue to live how we want to live. They were young: students, farmers, electricians, neighbors, brothers, sons. They were soldiers, but they became something more. They became our heroes, our martyrs…martyrs of the greater good.”
These were the words of Ethan Webster, a high school student from Dallas, Texas, on the morning of June 26, 2012 as he honored Staff Sergeant John B. Guerrero of the 313th Infantry Regiment, 79th Division. Ethan’s original eulogy was read at the grave site of Sgt Guerrero in the Normandy American Cemetery as one of 16 eulogies delivered by the National History Day Normandy Scholars. Each of these scholars spent months researching World War II, and this experience in Normandy was their way of personally honoring one man who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Each scholar chose a soldier to be honored from his or her state. Some of the men were privates who stormed the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944. Others arrived in the days and weeks after and gave their lives fighting in the bocage or in towns like Cherbourg or Sainte Mere Eglise. One was a sailor who died when the USS Osprey hit a mine while clearing a path for the ships that were to bring the men ashore on June 6.
Jenna Stone places American and French flags at the resting place of Horace Bennino
Of the fifteen Normandy Scholars who conducted this extensive research, nine of them made contact with a living relative of their soldier. Jenna Stone of Enfield, Connecticut honored brothers Horace and Frank Bennino, who were killed in Normandy six weeks apart. Jenna found that Frank was killed six weeks after Horace and died without knowing the fate of his younger brother. Jenna met with surviving members of the Bennino family and chose to honor both men on Tuesday morning. She delivered two powerful eulogies that noted not only the slight differences between the brothers, but their common sense of the greater good.
Samantha Fletcher of Toledo, Ohio honored a sailor, Motor Machinist’s Mate Joseph Vanasky, Jr. Vanasky was killed aboard the USS Osprey, and his body was never recovered. At Vanasky’s place on the Wall of the Missing, Samantha delivered a tearful eulogy. “In his high school yearbook,” Samantha began, “Joseph Vanasky was described as three things: quiet, supportive, and curious…His niece Liz described him as softspoken, a little shy even.” She concluded, “family members keep his name alive with them and in their hearts and remembrance not just of what a great sailor he was, what a great man, too. Not only with they remember him…but I will too.”
A wreath laid by the Normandy Scholars at the Normandy American Cemetery which reads, "In Remembrance National History Day"
Michael Shimek of Crawford, Nebraska honored not just the military sacrifice of his soldier, but an additional inspirational part of his soldier’s life as well. In his twenties, 2nd Lieutenant Dean A Woods fell in love with a woman of Japanese descent. Lt. Woods could not marry his love in Nebraska because of laws banning interracial marriage. Therefore, Lt. Woods and Thelma Kohiro were wed in Iowa during the spring of 1944 before he redeployed to Europe. The newlyweds were able to spend only two weeks together before Lt. Woods had to leave the country. While leading a small reconnaissance patrol, Lt. Woods was wounded and ultimately killed by a landmine. According to Michael, “Dean Woods was not willing to allow the law be the boundary of his love for Thelma. He is a fine example of rebellion that today we can look upon as heroic in the face of injustice.”
These are but a few of the stories that were delivered on Tuesday morning. Overall, sixteen eulogies were shared, countless tears were shed, and the meanings of sacrifice and freedom sunk in. Jason Lewis of Salem, Indiana summed it up for everyone in attendance while honoring Major Courtney B. Neilson. “Courtney and all the men and women buried around him are true American heroes. And for the sacrifices that these men and women made, I thank them.”
This post by Louisiana History Day Coordinator Nathan Huegen
“I feel that medics are truly heroes,” said Joseph Landoni of Sequim, Washington as he delivered a briefing on medics at The Museum of the Atlantic Wall – The Grand Bunker on Saturday. As he spoke to the mixed group of his peers, teachers and National History Day staff, a German bunker overlooking Sword Beach loomed behind him. Joseph has chosen to honor Terrence D. Cosgriff of Washington, who served as a medic in the 119th Anti-Aircraft Battalion
Joseph’s briefing was one of the first given by the Normandy Scholars on their trip to France. On Friday, June 22, the fifteen Normandy Scholars and their teachers landed in Paris. After a three-hour bus ride, they were in Normandy to investigate the campaigns in which their chosen soldiers took part.
A former German bunker that overlooks Joseph’s briefing
Joseph Landoni delivers a briefing on medics from a landing craft
Their first stop was Pegasus Bridge, the sight of the first Allied victory on D-Day. The students took note of the precision displayed by the glider pilots of the British 6th Airborne Division as three gliders landed within 100 meters of the bridge, a critical objective. The group then toured the Memorial Pegasus and walked across the Pegasus Bridge that spanned the Caen Canal in 1944. This bridge is now behind the Memorial as it was replaced by a nearly identical bridge in 1994. (more…)
Tuesday was the most intensive day so far for the 2012 National History Day Normandy Scholars. The National Archives held a research day for the group of fifteen students and their teachers. The students viewed documents related to the individual soldiers they have chosen to honor in the Normandy American Cemetery.
The National Archives pulled documents related to the initial waves of the invasion, the efforts to build supply networks throughout Normandy, the push to secure Cherbourg, and the break out. Students viewed military maps, textual documents, and photographs to gain insight into the training, planning, and conduct of the Battle of Normandy.
Two students found their soldiers’ names listed in the records of a temporary cemetery in Ste Mere Eglise. Ruben Tellez, being honored by Tiffany Shumack of San Diego, and John P. Ray, being honored by Kalie Indest of New Orleans, were temporarily interned at this cemetery before being transferred to the Normandy American Cemetery. The discovery of these names helped bring a closer bond between the soldier and the student.
Samantha Fletcher from Toledo, Ohio chose to honor a sailor. She will eulogize Joseph Vanasky, Jr. a motor machinist’s mate on the USS Osprey who was killed in action on June 5, 1944. At the Archives, Samantha found the deck logs from the ship and noticed the value of studying an original document.
Samantha discusses her experience in the video below:
The Normandy Scholars will return to George Washington University on Wednesday morning for presentations by scholars and a session on high school yearbooks during World War II.
This post by Louisiana History Day Coordinator Nathan Huegen.
Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom, The Albert H. Small Student/Teacher Institute is now underway. Fifteen teachers and fifteen students from across the country were selected in January to participate in this rigorous institute. After months of in-depth reading, all thirty participants have arrived on the campus of George Washington University to hear detailed lectures, tour monuments honoring the military, and research at the National Archives. On Thursday, June 21 they will all board a plane to Normandy to walk the beaches and visit the sites of some of the most famous battles.
Each student has selected a fallen soldier who lived in his or her state and is buried in the Normandy American Cemetery. The students are preparing eulogies to be read at the grave site of each soldier. In addition, the students will create a web site honoring their chosen soldier at the conclusion of the institute.
On the first night, all thirty participants were treated to a reception at the City View Room on the 7th floor of the Elliot School of International Affairs on the campus of George Washington University. The students showed their appreciation to Albert H. Small for his support of the Institute, and hear from Mortimer Caplin, who served as a beachmaster on D-Day +1. Mr. Caplin told of landing on Omaha Beach on the morning of June 7 and being tasked with directing the removal of debris, wrecked vehicles, and bodies from the area. He received a standing ovation after he finished, and was thanked many times for his service.
Sunday marked the beginning of the lectures and activities. Up first was US Marine Corps Major Richard Wilkerson with a presentation called World War II: The Big Picture. Following his lecture, all participants boarded a bus to tour the National Mall including the Lincoln Memorial, the DC War Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and the World War II Memorial.
The National WWII Museum is proud to work as a partner with National History Day. Nathan Huegen, the Museum’s History Day Coordinator has mentored five of the student/teacher groups over the past few months and will be assisting with their research during the next two weeks. More updates on this unique program will appear over the next two weeks.
Today is Memorial Day, a day The National WWII Museum takes time to remember the 400,000 men and women who have laid down their lives for our freedom.
Take a moment today to visit mymemorialday.org to see just a few of their stories. Learn about Howard Madison Walker, Germaine Laville, Johnnie David Hutchins and Darrel “Happy” Neil – just a few of our WWII heroes whose stories are part of the Museum’s exhibits and collections.
Look at their photos, see the things they touched and read the letters they wrote home describing the war in their own words.
With your help we can continue our efforts to ensure the voices of these courageous men and women will always be heard. With your contribution of $10 or more today we can digitize artifacts, images and oral histories so they are available for generations to come. Our goal is to raise $40,000 by the end of the day to purchase the software and other tools vital to this effort.
Only a few hours remain for us to meet this challenge. Give your gift today in honor of the brothers, sisters, best friends, husbands and sweethearts who did not return home to their loved ones.
Visit mymemorialday.org today to learn the true purpose of Memorial Day and be sure to share it with your friends and family via Facebook.
The Museum receives many wonderful donations every week. This past month has offered some particularly exciting material.
How did Mrs. Josie Leggett, the wife of a retired minister, mother of 8, in her sixties from Hattiesburg, Mississippi end up profiled in newspapers across the country, Colliers Magazine and featured on radio shows in the US and Canada.
In 1944, Mrs. Leggett dreamed up a project she would work on for years to come. Her youngest son, Wesley S. Leggett, was serving in the Seventh Air Force in the Marshall Islands when he wrote a letter to his mother in which he expressed how badly he wanted to feel Mississippi soil under his feet again. Mrs. Leggett packaged a scoop of dirt from the family Victory Garden and sent it overseas to her son. Other servicemen in her son’s unit also began requesting soil. Mrs. Leggett then sent some soil to Admiral Nimitz requesting that some be placed on the foundation of the new government building on Kwajalein. Because of the wide reach of the soil project and a desire to have input from states other than her home state of Mississippi , Mrs. Leggett reached out to the governors of all of the states requesting soil from the state capitol grounds. Her tenacity and the correspondence regarding this project is remarkable. The project quickly expanded to other commanders including Lt. General Mark Clark and General Douglas MacArthur and then to US chaplains around the globe who then sprinkled the soil on graves of Americans who were killed overseas. She called her soil bundles “For This We Fight” bags. Josie Leggett’s collection includes the material with which she made her bundles, all of the correspondence related to the project and many news clippings about her and her work. Her story is one of many fascinating stories of people on the Home Front lending their time and support to those fighting abroad.
Click images to enlarge.
30 March 1944 article from the Memphis newspaper, The Commercial Appeal.
Letter from singer Kate Smith.
V-Mail from Lt. General Mark Clark.
Letter from Col. Lloyd Lehrbas.
Letter from Admiral Chester Nimitz.
Letter from E.P. Carville, Governor of Nevada.
Letter from Jimmie Davis, Governor of Louisiana.
Memorial services for the dead of the 83rd Infantry Division at the American Military Cemetery Henri Chappelle, Belgium conducted by the division chaplain.
A display of the soil and letters collected by Mrs. Leggett displayed in a department store in Hattiesburg.
Wesley and his mother after the war’s end assembling soil bags for shipment.
Collier’s article from 7 April 1945.
Ceremony at the Marine Corps Monument in Washington, DC on Memorial Day in 1955.
Gift in Memory of Josephine Featherstun Legett and Wesley Featherstun Leggett, 2012.
On Memorial Day in 1955, visitors to the Marine Corps Monument in Washington, DC witnessed a symbolic scattering of earth from the capitol grounds of the 48 states, the final presentation of Mrs. Leggett’s soil.
Post by Curator/Content Specialist Kimberly Guise.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world - why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today - so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.