Hotell Siljansborg Luggage Label

2015 April 4
by Pat DiGeorge

Hotell-Siljansborg-luggage-tagA year or so ago, Joakim, a gentleman from Sweden, sent me a 1943 luggage label from the Hotell Siljansborg! Out of the blue! He had read about my connection with the now-demolished hotel in Rättvik, the town nearly 200 miles north of Stockholm.

My parents spent their honeymoon there in January of 1945. I am sure that the minute she saw it, my mother would have placed a luggage label just like this on her suitcase! They had just been married in an old church in Stockholm, Gustav Adolfs kyrka. The newlyweds took the train to Rättvik the next morning. My Dad’s Liberty Lady B-17 crew had been interned in that resort town shortly after their forced landing in Sweden on March 6 the year before, the day of the Eighth Air Force’s first large-scale daylight bombing raid of Berlin.

Joakim explained that the red horse on the label is a Dalahäst (Dala horse,) a symbol of Dalarna, the area of Sweden where Rättvik is located. I love that on the horse are skis, a tennis racket and pieces of luggage.  Back in the day, the Hotell Siljansborg, situated right on Lake Siljan, was a recreational destination for wealthy tourists, movie stars, even royalty!

Since I was born nine months minus two days later, I like to say that the Hotell Siljansborg is where my life began.

Herman and Hedvig Allen in Rättvik, January 1945. photo sent to me by  Jan-Olof Nilsson

Herman and Hedvig Allen in Rättvik, January 1945. photo sent to me by Jan-Olof Nilsson

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A Spy Among Friends

2015 February 18
by Pat DiGeorge

A-Spy-Among-Friends(2014) A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre is the story of the Soviet spy Kim Philby and the two friends, one British and one American, that he so handily betrayed.

In 1912 Harold Adrian Russell “Kim” Philby was born in India. His father Jack, who became adviser to the first monarch of Saudi Arabia, nicknamed him “Kim” after the boy in Rudyard Kipling’s novel. As did his father, Kim attended Cambridge where he, along with many of his classmates, fought against fascism. So strongly he fought that he was easily recruited to become a spy for the Soviet Union. He was working for peace, he told a friend.

Kim’s Soviet handler told him that he should (pretend to) renounce communism and find a job in British government. This was not difficult for the intelligent, charming, handsome, well-connected young news correspondent. Soon he was a British Intelligence officer, and in 1941 was working for MI6, counterintelligence. In 1943, the MI6 offices were located at 7 Ryder Street near Piccadilly. This is also where my mother, Hedvig Johnson, worked for X-2, the counterintelligence arm of the OSS, Office of Strategic Services.

There is no doubt in my mind that she knew who he was. The Americans were housed on the floor directly above the British. Hedvig wrote,

I couldn’t believe all this was happening to me. London … Ryder Street was our office. At the time, I thought it a dump! We were very crowded and often cold. American secretaries were treated so royally, but the British employers did not give their helpers–girls, i.e.–much respect. Penalized them if they came in late, etc. (Hedvig Johnson Allen)

Hedvig arrived in London in January of 1944, and not long afterward another member of X-2, James Jesus Angleton, followed behind her. They knew each other, on a casual basis, from Washington, D.C.

Kim Philby and Angleton, Allied intelligence agents, quickly became friends and drinking buddies. Philby was a good conversationalist, and the liquor flowed freely. Philby was in and out of Angleton’s office on Ryder Street, and my mother would have certainly noticed the good-looking gentleman.

Philby was feeding information to the Soviets all during the war, and afterward, when the Soviet Union was no longer ally to Great Britain and the United States. His meteoric rise to the top of British intelligence is astounding. In 1946 he was appointed to the Order of the British Empire, honored for his wartime work.

I could go on and one, but you’ll just have to read this excellent book written by Ben Macintyre, a British author who has written several other books about wartime espionage.

So why am I so fascinated by the story of Kim Philby? When his name began to hit the newspapers, first in the 1950s and then in the 60s, our mother hung on very word. She couldn’t believe what she was reading.

Over the course of Philby’s thirty year career as a double agent, thousands of people died because of his traitorous betrayals.  He defected to Moscow in 1963, was never given a meaningful job there, and continued drinking heavily until his death from heart failure in 1988.

This video features author Ben Macintyre, sharing Philby’s most personal betrayal, that of fellow British intelligence agent, Nicholas Elliott … his best friend and the one who defended him (almost) until the very end.

Kim Philby – His Most Intimate Betrayal from louiscaulfield on Vimeo.

 

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal at amazon.com

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Carl A. Heuser

2015 January 23
by Pat DiGeorge

Carl A. HeuserThis month the daughter of  ball turret gunner Thomas E. “Tom” Stillson “found me” via the Liberty Lady Facebook page!  So now, there is only one crew member whose family I haven’t been able to find, and that is Sgt. Carl A. Heuser, engineer and top turret gunner on the Liberty Lady B-17.  He was born in Germany, and his nickname was “Tiny” … because he wasn’t.

Here are the clues I have collected:

He was born in 1921, probably May 19.

He died in 1991, probably October 12 either in New York or in Los Angeles. (not confirmed.)

On Ancestry.com I found more clues: In August 1924 August and Luise Heuser along with their son Carl left Hamburg, Germany on the SS Resolute and arrived in New York.  In the 1930 census the family was living in Queens. August was a butcher in a meat store.

Heuser enlisted in August 31, 1942 at Fort Jay Governor’s Island. He’d had two years of high school and was working as a driver, possibly taxi or bus.

In my Dad’s address book I have a notation that after he left Sweden as an American internee, he was at Truax Field in Madison Wisconsin. Another address for him was Wyckoff Ave., Brooklyn, NY.

When the Liberty Lady B-17 force landed on the island of Gotland on March 6, 1944, the crew jumped from the plane and hid in a copse of trees. One of the first men to arrive on the scene was dressed in uniform and carried a German rifle. He called out to the Americans in a foreign language. Carl knew it was German and looked at his crew mates, “He’s a German … the jig is up!

Of course that wasn’t the case. They were on a Swedish island but in 1944 German was the most common 2nd language.

I would love to speak to anyone from Carl Heuser’s family. Please message me at pat@liberyladybook.com.


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Washington Goes to War

2015 January 2
by Pat DiGeorge

Washington Goes to War(1988) In his book Washington Goes to War, newscaster and journalist David Brinkley tells the story of the transformation of the capital city during World War II.

Mr. Brinkley writes nothing about his personal military involvement in the war. I finally found in a philly.com article explaining that in 1940, he volunteered for the Army. A year later he was misdiagnosed with a kidney ailment and honorably discharged. He then worked in Atlanta and Nashville for UPI (United Press International) before moving to Washington, D.C. as a reporter for the NBC radio network.

His book is copiously researched and begins with a history of the creation of the city itself.  What interested me the most was how it changed from a sleepy town to the chaotic center of the free world. In 1941 my mother, Hedy Allen, arrived in Washington to be one of the vast number of “government girls” who came to work as stenographers, typists, and file clerks for the myriad of new government agencies that were popping up every week.

I laughed so many times during the book at Brinkley’s sense of humor.  “Six months into the war, there were so many new agencies, all known by their initials that nobody could keep them straight.” OPC, OWI, WPB, OPA, WMC, BEW, NWLB, ODT, WSA, OCD, OEM … and I will add those from the OSS since that’s where my mother worked … COI, SI, X-2, SO, OG, R&A, MO. The secretary of the interior, Harold Ickes, was also director of the Office of Petroleum Coordination. At a news conference when asked about an OPC ruling, he answered, “I can’t speak for the OPC.” That is, until an aide whispered in his ear, “You are the director of the OPC.” Ickes was confused by all the initials too.

1942, Hedy Johnson (right) at work in Washington, D.C.

1942, Hedy Johnson (right) at work in Washington, D.C.

So, all these initials needed government employees, and most of them were women. In the beginning civil service exams were required (my mother took one) but they were dropped. Took too much time. The government advertised in newspapers all over the country for anyone who had a high school diploma and could type. $1440 a year.

The women (if they didn’t already have a job, and thank goodness my mother did) went to a mass receiving station above a dime store where they were interviewed. There were never enough workers to feed the agencies.

And there were never enough typewriters.  By mid-1942 the government said it was 600,000 typewriters short. The companies that had been making typewriters had been diverted to war production.  The OWI (Office of War Information) began a “Send your typewriter to war” campaign. Maureen O’Hara posed behind a table piled with typewriters. Each had a tag that read, “For Uncle Sam.”

Taking time off between the shooting of scenes at the RKO Studios in Hollywood, Miss O'Hara helped collect more than 70 typewriters for future use by the Army, Navy, and Marines. (This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration)

Taking time off between the shooting of scenes at the RKO Studios in Hollywood, Miss O’Hara helped collect more than 70 typewriters for future use by the Army, Navy, and Marines. (This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration)

Problem was, not that many people were willing to hand over their typewriters. Plus, the ones that came in with their standard 12 inch carriages often weren’t the right size. These new agencies were using new forms up to 18 inches wide.

The next crisis was paper. When the war started, the government owned $650,000 worth of printing and reproducing equipment. In less than a year it had $50 million worth. There wasn’t enough paper to keep all these machines going, and there wasn’t enough space to store the records they created.  After spending two weeks in the National Archives going through just some of the papers of one WWII office (X-2 Stockholm) I believe it!

Six months after Pearl Harbor more than half the young women hired as typists and stenographers had quit and gone home. They had been hired but were never given anything useful to do.

“It was simply the way the government worked, in both war and peace, although in wartime it was worse. The single fact most clearly differentiating government employers from private employers was, always, that government agencies did not have to earn their money. Congress simply handed it over every year and almost always more than the year before, so it was there to be spent and it was unthinkable not to spend it. Nobody in government ever benefited in any way from saving money. Whatever was not spent had to be handed back to the Treasury and if an agency had money left over at the end of one year, how could it ask Congress for more money the next year?”

Perhaps not much has changed in the past seventy years!

For anyone with a connection to Washington D.C. and/or World War II, I highly recommend Brinkley’s book.

Washington Goes to War at amazon.com

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FDR’s Funeral Train

2014 December 23
by Pat DiGeorge

FDR's Funeral Train by Robert Klara(2010) FDR’s Funeral Train by Robert Klara is the story of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his final trip back home to Hyde Park. On April 12, 1945 the exhausted President was working from the Little White House in Warm Springs, GA when he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He was sitting for a portrait painting by an artist who had come to White Springs with Lucy Mercer Rutherford, his dear friend and former mistress.

I have visited that very room in the cottage that was such a haven for FDR. The rooms are surprisingly small. I could hardly photograph his bedroom, and trust me, there was no room for a king-sized bed. The kitchen where Daisy Bonner prepared some of the President’s favorite dishes was a vintage display of well-used utensils and appliances.

Who would have thought I would be so fascinated by the details of the train itself that left Warm Springs. I found one connection after another as it meandered north through one town after another, thousands upon thousands of tearful spectators paying their respects. Atlanta’s prominent mortician Fred Patterson oversaw the arrangements of the casket and embalming.

When the train got to Atlanta, there were 20,000 people waiting. Only one hundred were allowed onto the platform. 2000 soldiers flanked the track. Atlanta’s mayor William B. Hartsfield presented a huge spray of flowers on behalf of the citizens of Atlanta.

As the train approached Gainesville, GA, fifty miles north of Atlanta, a group of women picking cotton dropped to their knees and raised their palms up to heaven. This was typical of the response from the Southerners who had so adored their President.

25,000 people came toward the station in Greenville, S.C. In Charlotte, N.C. just about everybody in town sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” in unison. A newsman reported that they sang as though they were asking, “What are we going to do now?”

For the mile long procession from Union Station to the White House the casket was lifted onto a ceremonial caisson, pulled by seven white horses.  Twenty four heavy bombers, B-17s and B-24s, flew overhead. Only 378 people were invited to attend the White House funeral, and it was a good thing because the humidity was almost unbearable. The service was twenty-three minutes long.

I loved all the research, the detailed descriptions of who was there and what they did.  There was a spy for the KGB on the train too … you’ll have to read the book to find out more. The author quoted one of the West Point cadets who accompanied the coffin to the burial site. That night he wrote home to his family and expressed what so much of the country, the world, was feeling:.

As I stood there I felt a tear tricking down my cheek. Not more than thirty feet ahead of me was my ideal in life — perhaps the greatest man the world has ever seen.

FDR’s Funeral Train: A Betrayed Widow, a Soviet Spy, and a Presidency in the Balance on amazon.com
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The Real Inglorious Bastards

2014 December 9
by Pat DiGeorge
Fred Mayer being interviewed for this documentary, the story of the harrowing OSS mission Operation Greenup

Fred Mayer being interviewed for this documentary, the story of the harrowing OSS mission Operation Greenup. (http://www.storylineentertainment.com/publicity)

(2012) Two Jewish refugees who enlist in the U.S. Army are soon recruited by the Office of Strategic Services for a dangerous mission code name “Operation Greenup” into Nazi occupied Austria. Fred Mayer and Hans Wijnberg go through elaborate training and planning. Then they are joined up with a German POW, former Wehrmacht officer Franz Weber, a conscientious deserter.

The story moves along with dramatic reconstructed scenes, archival footage, and interviews with both Fred Mayer and Hans Wijnberg.  Patrick K. O’Donnell, who wrote a best-selling book on this same mission, They Dared Return: The True Story of Jewish Spies Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany also offers commentary.

The mission was successful although harrowing along the way. Mayer was captured and tortured for three days but never gave away the identifies of his accomplices.

I have watched the two previous “Inglorious” movies … Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009) which I loved and the 1978 The Inglorious Bastards, which I did not.

This one, the “real” story was the best of all.  You can follow news about screenings of The Real Inglorious Bastards on their Facebook page.or on their official site

Today Fred Mayer lives in West Virginia.  Hans Wijnberg passed away the day after his interview for this film.  We can never thank our veterans enough.

The Real Inglorious Bastards at amazon.com

 

 

 

 

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Shot Down

2014 October 26
by Pat DiGeorge

Shot-Down,-WWII-Book(2014) Shot Down by Steve Snyder is the true story of the Susan Ruth, a B-17 shot down over Belgium on February 8, 1944. Steve’s Dad, Howard Snyder, was the pilot and on this fateful day, as the burning plane began to fall apart, each crew member suffered a distinctly different fate.

I wrote about the Susan Ruth a couple of years ago, and it was then that I met Steve Snyder. Our Dads had been at Thurleigh at about the same time, and we were both attending reunions of their bomb group, the 306th BG out of Thurleigh airfield near Bedford, England.

Steve has done a great job of following the footsteps of his Dad beginning with his training to become a pilot, life at Thurleigh through all the harrowing experiences after their plane literally crashed and burned.   I anxiously awaited the fate of each airman.

What was especially endearing to me was the love story. Howard and Ruth married shortly before he went to war. Susan Ruth was their baby daughter, and of course there was no other name considered for his new flying fortress than hers. Steve is fortunate to have every letter that his Dad wrote home. I enjoyed reading about all his crew members’ hijinks while Howard was writing to Ruth about how much he missed her and their daughter. He wasn’t interested in anything but her.

Shot Down takes us from England to the skies over occupied Europe to the underground resistance in Belgium and in France. These young men were struggling to stay two steps ahead of the Gestapo while the brave citizens of the small villages risked their lives to help them.

Years later, the families of these citizens are still remembering with gratitude the young men who lived and died among them.

We can never thank our veterans enough.

SHOT DOWN: The true story of pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth

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Albert N. McMahan

2014 October 5
by Pat DiGeorge
I was thrilled to see Albert McMahan again at the Atlanta Warbird Weekend.

I was thrilled to see Albert McMahan again at the Atlanta Warbird Weekend.

Albert McMahan flew B-17s both as tail gunner and ball turret gunner. I originally contacted Albert in 2009. He was the first person to personally tell me about life with the 306th Bomb Group at Thurleigh where both he and my Dad flew combat missions during World War II.

After high school Albert attended Auburn University for one year. He couldn’t afford to continue on, and jobs were scarce. Albert had always been interested in electricity and radio, so he enlisted in the Army Tank Corps. They had a highly rated communication school, and he figured that would give him the skills to work in the radio field.

The day he enlisted was 12 July 1940. After he was sworn in, he was instead assigned to the Army Air Corps. When he objected the recruiter explained that everyone who had college training went into the Air Corps, and that was that. So off to Maxwell Field in Montgomery, Alabama he went.

The next couple years were spent in mechanics and instruments training. In August of 1942 Albert was assigned to the 369th Bomb Squadron of the 306th Bomb Group as an Instrument Specialist. He was going to work on B-17 Flying Fortresses.

When he got to Thurleigh in September of 1942 the first flight crews had just arrived.  He wasn’t there long before he decided that he really wanted to join a combat crew. Since there were no replacement personnel in the pipeline yet, he was sent for aerial gunnery training.

Albert joined a crew that had just lost two tail gunners from combat injuries. The pilot was Lt. Robert Riordan, and his B-17 was Wahoo.  The nose art was a painting on the right side of an Indian “Wahoo” and scalping Hitler.

After his first mission Albert smoked his very first cigarette and went to a pub in Bedford for a couple glasses of ale!

Albert McMahon was the 18th enlisted crewman to complete a 25 mission tour with the 306th BG. Albert admits that he endured periods of sheet terror but he was able to answer with confidence the question, “Do I have what it takes to fly combat?”  Yes!

In June of 1943 Albert sailed back to the United States on the Queen Elizabeth. He was sent to Dyersburg Army Air Base in Halls, Tennessee, a B-17 combat crew training base, hoping that he would be used to train combat crews.

Even though most of the combat crew instructors had zero combat experience, the base commander assigned him to be crew chief of a B-26.

A few days later Albert was washing the tail of a B-17 when a jeep drove by. A loud voice yelled, “Red (his nickname), what the X&%*# are you doing washing the tail of a B-17?”  It was General Frank A. Armstrong who had been CO of the 306th BG while Albert was there and had even awards him an Air Medal.

(General Armstrong was the inspiration for the movie Twelve O’Clock High.)

The base commander was in the jeep with the General, and before you know it, Albert had a new assignment. He was on the Board responsible for insuring that all instructors were qualified.  It was a job he was well qualified to do!

Albert was discharged from the Army on 2 September 1945. After a 2nd year at Auburn, he rejoined the Air Force in 1947, retiring finally in 1963.

Following that Albert enjoyed a variety of careers.  He says he retired three times! For a while he worked for a major computer manufacture. Then he was with the Civil Service at the Pentagon. He taught school for twelve years and even moved to Alaska before his final retirement to Norcross, GA.

For many years Albert was an officer of the 306th Bomb Group Historical Association. Even though Albert McMahan is 94 years old he is still active with veteran groups.  And as you can see from the photograph taken just a week ago he looks fabulous.

We can never thank our veterans enough.

LINKS

Earlier this year Albert rode the B-17 Memphis Belle at Peachtree-DeKalb airport.

Videos on GPB Media of Albert McMahan telling about his combat experiences.


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The Roosevelts: An Intimate History

2014 September 24
by Pat DiGeorge

The Roosevelts-an Intimate History(2014) This PBS six part series is a fascinating history of the lives of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the best known members of the most influential family of the 20th century. It was directed and produced by Ken Burns, also famous for The War (2007) which I have watched, read and listened to several times. I must also give credit to Geoffrey Ward who co-wrote The War script and wrote this one about the Roosevelt family.

Narrated by Peter Coyote whose voice you will instantly recognize. Meryl Streep is the voice of Eleanor Roosevelt, and Edward Herrman the voice of Franklin Roosevelt. These are only three of the many well known voices you will hear.

For five more days you can watch the entire series on PBS. After that, you’ll have to buy the DVD. It will be well worth it.

So far I’m half way through the 3rd episode.

Episode #1:  Get Action (1858-1901) … The 1st episode begins with the birth of Theodore Roosevelt and takes us up to 1901 when he was elected President of the United States. Theodore’s older brother was an alcoholic who died young and left a daughter named Eleanor. Theodore used action to combat his demons, the worst of which occurred the one day that both his mother and his adored first wife died. How do you recover from something like that?  Theodore became a cowboy in North Dakota.

Episode #2: In The Arena (1901–1910) …  The 2nd episode covers Theodore’s Presidency. Known as “T.R.” he ushered in the 20th century and accomplished so much.  In an attempt to help the common man, he filed suit against more than 40 trusts, to ensure that “the rich man is held to the same accountability as the poor man.” He paved the way for construction of the Panama Canal. He was the first American ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a peace agreement between Russia and Japan. He was the first president to invite a black man, Booker T. Washington, to dine in the White House. Unfortunately there was so much protest that although he remained friends with Booker T., he never again invited him to dinner. There was much more …

Franklin and Eleanor marry, even though his mother (and she was the most important woman in his life) never gave her full approval to the match.

Episode #3: The Fire of Life (1910-1919) I’ll add notes after I finish this and the rest of the episodes.

I have read so many books about Franklin and Eleanor … FDRFranklin & LucyNo Ordinary TimeFranklin and Winston to name a few.  With its vintage videos, photographs along with the very words the characters spoke, this PBS series is giving a significant historical timeline of the first half of the 20th century.

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History at amazon.com

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Torkel Tistrand

2014 September 16
by Pat DiGeorge

Torkel-Tistrand-telegramTorkel Tistrand was a Swedish officer, a captain in the Swedish Army Maintenance Corps. During World War II he served on the Gripsholm, one of the two Swedish ships used for prisoner of war exchanges and repatriation voyages. The gold and blue colors of the Swedish flag were painted on her side as well as, in huge letters, the word DIPLOMAT.

The Gripsholm was actually chartered to the United States and operated under the protection of the Red Cross. The ship carried diplomats, journalists, nurses, missionaries as well as prisoners of war being sent home from all parts of the world.

You can read all about these voyages on the salship.se website.  There is also a page dedicated to Torkel Tistrand. Captain Tistrand passed away in 1999.

Herman F. Allen (my Dad’s) connection to Captain Tistrand came about because in 1944 Tistrand was appointed to be commander of the American airmen internment camp at Rättvik, Sweden.  My Dad had left Rättvik by then and was working in Stockholm in the Military Air Attaché’s office. Since one of his responsibilities was to take care of the American internees, he and Captain Tistrand worked together and became friends.

The American internees were very fond of their Swedish “boss,” and after the war wrote fondly of the man they called “Jimmy.”

When my parents married on January 18, 1945 in Stockholm, they received a telegram from T.E. Tistrand wishing them all the best.  “You both got caught by the midnight sun … the very best and lots of fun.”

If you are interested in the American Internees in World War II Sweden, please join our Facebook group.

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