Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What happened to US servicemen who died in battle?

The family received the dreaded telegram beginning, “I deeply regret to inform you...” It would give the date of the death, but nothing about how the death occurred or where the body was. A letter followed with a few more details, including notice that personal effects would be processed and returned, and the Memorial Affairs Branch of the Office of the Quartermaster General would be in touch to learn if they wanted their loved one’s remains returned for burial.
In the case of Tony Marchione, the last American killed in combat in World War II on August 18, 1945, his parents waited for over a year before they could start the process of bringing Tony home.
Temporary cemetery for Marines in Iwo Jima.

Several hundred temporary cemeteries were in use during the war. Once the war ended, the dead were brought together in a few large memorial cemeteries in the war theater in which they died. These are maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission in perpetuity. Next of kin could opt to have their loved one buried there, or have the body shipped back to the US.
A flag-draped casket in the first shipment of war dead.

In most cases, the bodies could not be viewed. Rarely were they embalmed or placed in caskets. The time and materials necessary to prepare thousands of war dead made that impossible. And they had to be buried quickly to prevent the spread of disease.
Bodies received a quick cleaning and were wrapped in canvas. Rapid decomposition resulted, especially in areas with high temperatures and humidity, and acidic soil.
According to Quartermaster Corps policy, all the dead in temporary cemeteries were disinterred at one time. This could be several hundred or several thousand. Caskets were now on hand in which the badly decomposed skeletal remains were hermetically seal.
A funeral ship arrives in California Feb. 12, 1948.

Tony Marchione was first buried on Okinawa. His casket was placed in a shipping case and loaded onto a C-54 transport along with other dead, and they were flown to the US Army mausoleum on Saipan. From there, 4,500 caskets were loaded into a transport ship for Honolulu, and then San Francisco.
The Oakland Army Base was one of fifteen distribution centers for repatriated remains. Tony arrived in the fourteenth funeral ship since the repatriation program began in September of 1947. A memorial service was held for the ship’s “passengers, deceased,” which family and friends of the dead could attend. A bugler ended with Taps.
Caskets are loaded onto a train for shipment to families.

Several days later, Tony began the trip across the U.S. His and the remains of eleven others were escorted by a senior noncommissioned officer, who supervised the loading of the caskets on a funeral train. Fifteen Pullman passenger cars with seats removed carried between fifty and sixty-six caskets each, grouped according to the state or region of their final destination. Those cars headed for the Midwest were dropped off at Kansas City while those for the East Coast continued on to New York and the Brooklyn Army Base.
Over the following weeks, the caskets were flagged-draped, driven by ambulance or hearse to the local train station, and sent home. For Tony, that was in Pennsylvania. An official escort accompanied each casket. The Marchiones asked two of Tony’s old crewmates to meet the train in their place. They and the escort followed the hearse taking him to the funeral home specified by his parents. The escort then left, and the mortician performed an examination required by state law and the military release. A public viewing was impossible under Pennsylvania public health laws because the remains were badly decomposed.
On March 21, 1949, nearly four years after his death, Tony Marchione was eulogized in a funeral mass with full military honors and laid to rest in the church’s cemetery.

Luxembourg American Military Cemetery

The program for the final disposition of war dead handled more than 280,000 sets of remains. Of those, over 171,000 were returned to the U.S. for final burial. The total cost of the program was over $163 million.

Where would you want a loved one buried, a national cemetery overseas or a local cemetery of your choice?

Black and white photos from Final Disposition of World War II Dead 1945-1951. Color photo by Terri Wangard.

Recommended Reading  Last to Die: A Defeated Empire, a Forgotten Mission, and the Last American Killed in World War II by Stephen Harding.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Lapdog

What do you know of Joseph Goebbels?
He was propaganda minister for Nazi Germany, making shrill, bombastic speeches glorifying Hitler and Nazi ways, attacking anything or anyone in disagreement. He and his wife murdered their five children and then committed suicide to follow Hitler in death.
But who was he?

Peter Longerich has written an illuminating biography of the man who is one of the most recognized faces of the Nazi Party. Reading Goebbels: A Biography can be quite aggravating. The garbage he spews is maddening: the utter nonsense that the Jews are responsible for the war, the propaganda attack on Deputy Police Commissioner Bernhard Weiss, the denigration of anyone who doesn’t agree with him. Goebbels wrote in his diary, “It doesn’t matter what we believe in, as long as we believe.”
Some tidbits that I found enlightening:
Goebbels was a narcissist who could only be satisfied if he was recognized and affirmed by others. In 1924, he found an idol in Adolf Hitler. Though Goebbels didn’t always agree with him, Hitler could always overcome Goebbels’ doubts and keep him in line. Hitler recognized Goebbels’ psychological dependence on him and took advantage of him.
One of six children, Joseph Goebbels was born in Rheydt, west of the Rhine, in 1897. His father was a clerk, his mother a farmhand. He finished school at the top of his class. Despite money being short, he attended university, where he was a disinterested student spending more time with girls. World War I was going on, but he seemed unaware of it. Because of a club foot, he did not serve in the military.
One of his girlfriends, Else Janke, was half Jewish. She started him in his lifelong habit of keeping a diary.
During the time of chaos in the Rhineland after the war, Goebbels developed deep respect for Russia, and read extensively in Russian literature. He lost his Catholic faith, and saw himself playing a significant role in a complete cultural revolution.
In 1924, he founded a local National Socialist group in Rheydt, which talked mostly of anti-Semitism. There was widespread hope for a leader to arise, bring them out of defeat, and back to honor. He became more and more anti-Semitic, even though Else was still his lover. “I’d love to make her my wife, if only she weren’t a half-breed.”
He met Hitler on July 12, 1925, at a conference in Weimar. Goebbels was entranced. “What a voice. What gestures, what passion.”

At a leadership meeting in February, 1926, Goebbels believed he could win Hitler over to his assessment of the Soviet Union, which was completely at odds with Hitler’s position. Instead, he was greatly disappointed, saying he no longer totally believed in Hitler.
At their next meeting, Goebbels was completely overwhelmed by Hitler’s personality. The contents of Hitler’s Mein Kampf were less important than the prophecy and revelation of the master. Hitler was beyond criticism.
In 1931, he met Magda Quandt. Their relationship was tumultuous. Hitler fell in love with her, causing Goebbels fits of jealousy. Hitler saw her as his ideal female opposite, and was disappointed Goebbels had spoken for her. Hitler approved of their marriage. A triangular relationship enabled him to develop an intimate relationship with Magda without harming her reputation. For Goebbels, it meant access to his idol.

As propaganda minister, Goebbels saw his job as working on people until they accepted the Nazi influence. The new government intended to no longer leave people to their own devices. He advocated radical courses, yet he disliked crime films as “guides to crime.” All means used for the conquest of the masses were good.
The mass demonstrations in Berlin for Hitler and the Nazi’s war efforts were perfectly choreographed to portray full confidence in victory and genuine enthusiasm for the war. Factories and shops were closed at noon and the employees were herded into position.
He was not an easy man to work for. He loved making coarse jokes at the expense of underlings and humiliating them in the office.

In 1936, Goebbels met Czech actress Lida Baarová. They became lovers. Goebbels wanted a ménage á trios with her and Magda. Magda complained to Hitler, Hitler demanded Goebbels break with Lida. Hitler also wouldn’t allow the Goebbelses to divorce. Goebbels: “Life is so hard and cruel.”
Hitler told Goebbels on October 6, 1939, that war in the west should be avoided now that Poland had been dissolved. The reason for England’s and France’s declaration of war was null and void. They should accept Poland’s dismemberment as a fait accompli. The future was glorious. Germany had no interest in further border revisions.
Hitler never involved Goebbels in most major domestic or foreign policy decisions. Goebbels was determined to play a pioneering role in anti-Semitic policy. He referred to the Nazi’s criminal behavior when he wrote, “When we’re victorious who will question our methods. We have done so many things that we must win because otherwise our whole nation, with us at the forefront with everything that is dear to us, would be eradicated.”
He continually exhorted Germans to make ever more sacrifices, but kept his own opulent lifestyle. As Hitler withdrew from the public, Goebbels took on the role as the regime’s main orator. He tried to commit the nation to total war, but Hitler didn’t always go along with him, permitting entertainment magazines, reopening casinos, inadequate enforcement of labor conscription for women. To Goebbels’ consternation, Hitler failed to discipline leading Nazis for failure to comply with restrictions.
By September of 1943, Goebbels began to realize the war couldn’t be won militarily. Much talk began about making a separate peace, sometimes with the Russians, sometimes with the western powers. Hitler believed Stalin’s intent of Bolshevizing Europe was Germany’s big opportunity. England and America couldn’t allow that to happen, but if they wanted to resist, they would need German assistance. Or since the Soviet Union was having very serious difficulties with the British and Americans, they could reach a deal with Stalin and then crush England with the most brutal energy. He believed the enemy coalition was about to collapse, and that would be Germany’s salvation. Goebbels suspected Hitler clung to fantasies about their defensive capabilities.

The Goebbels family included Magda's son Harald from a previous marriage. He survived the war.

He wanted to achieve personal recognition and success at any price. Even though he was increasingly critical of Hitler in 1945 and doubted his leadership ability, he still followed him in death, because life wouldn’t be worth living if Germany lost.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Writing 69th

In the beginning of America’s involvement in the war against Nazi Germany, all the action took place in the Atlantic and in the air over continental Europe. The army didn’t become involved in northern Europe until D-Day in June, 1944.
Several reporters covered the air was. They were dubbed the Writing 69th. In the early days of the air war, with inadequate fighter support, chances were about one in six that the airmen would no return from a mission.
The reporters found it heartrending when the men they’d spoken with earlier failed to make it back to England. Despite the high casualty rate, they wanted to experience a bombing mission for themselves. The Eighth Air Force granted their wish to the eight men who regularly covered the air bases, as long as they first went through intensive training.
Explained Andy Rooney of Stars and Stripes, “If we were going to go on a bomber in battle, we were told, we’d better know how to shoot a gun in case we got in trouble.”

Left to right: Gladwin Hill, William Wade, Robert Post, Walter Cronkite, Homer Bigart, and Paul Manning.

Three months of training were crammed into a week. They learned gunnery, oxygen maintenance, first aid, aircraft identification, and abandoning a plane by parachute or dinghy. They were warned against removing their gloves at high altitude and taken for an orientation flight around England in a B-17. Walter Cronkite wrote his wife, “It was a real thrill.”
The B-17 Flying Fortresses and the B-24 Liberators were carrying out the American bombing missions. All the newsmen wanted to ride in the Forts. The men of the Liberators deserved recognition too, they were admonished. Bob Post of the New York Times finally volunteered to fly on a B-24.
On February 26, 1943, they made their flight. The primary target was a Bremen aircraft factory. When it proved to be cloud-covered, they continued to the secondary target, a U-Boat base at Wilhelmshaven, well-protected by antiaircraft guns and fighters.
One of the planes carrying a newsman had to turn back with mechanical problems. Two other reporters  missed the mission due to illness or conflicting orders. Five went all the way: Rooney, Cronkite, Post, Homer Bigart, and Gladwin Hill.
The bombers came under attack by German fighters for over two hours. Over the target, they flew through deadly flak. Then more harassment from the fighters as they headed back to England.
Andy Rooney’s plane suffered considerable damage. He had to help when one crewman passed out after his oxygen tank was damaged. No one was wounded.
Bob Post was not so lucky. His B-24 went down over Wilhelmshaven. Two parachutes emerged, but neither was Post. German soldiers found his body in the wreckage.

The other reporters rushed to get their stories filed. Cronkite and Rooney took part in live radio broadcasts.
Despite the danger and discomfort, Homer Bigart wanted to go on another mission. Post’s death prevented newsman ride-alongs from becoming commonplace, however, until late in the war when the Luftwaffe had greatly diminished.
How about you? Would you have wanted to ride along on a bombing mission over Germany, knowing the odds were good that you might be wounded or killed?

Information taken from Assignment to Hell: The War Against Nazi Germany with Correspondents Walter Cronkite, Andy Rooney, A.J. Liebling, Homer Bigart, and Hal Boyle, by Timothy M. Gay