Estrellita

2015 June 9
by Pat DiGeorge
from the album, Bei Dir War Es Immer So Schon

from the album, Bei Dir War Es Immer So Schon

After his B-17 force-landed in Sweden on March 6, 1944, my father, bombardier Herman F. Allen, spent the rest of the year in Stockholm working in the office of the Military Air Attache. As an American internee in a neutral country, he was not allowed to leave Sweden, but his duties took him all over.

I am reading a report I found at the National Archives about a party he attended on May 10. One of the guests was the beautiful singer, Rosita Serrano. Herman was adept at working the crowd wherever he went, and I am sure that the first person he walked up to was Miss Serrano.

They discussed her music, and specifically a song she had recorded a few years earlier in Berlin, the Mexican ballad Estrellita. She probably did not mention to the American airman that this was a song she sang during a tour of the Wehrmacht, entertaining the German soldiers.

Yes, because Rosita socialized openly with known and suspected pro-Nazis in Sweden, she was high on the OSS Watch List and was even suspected of being an Abwehr (German military intelligence) agent.

I doubt that she was, but after all, in World War II Stockholm everyone was suspected of being a spy.


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Escape and Evasion into Sweden

2015 June 3
by Pat DiGeorge
Stockholm-1944-Herman-Allen

1944 Stockholm. Herman F. Allen on the far right. (from the wartime scrapbook of Nicholas Kehoe.)

Shortly after my father, Herman F. Allen’s B-17, Liberty Lady, crash landed in neutral Sweden, he was interned in the city of Rättvik. After only a month, because he knew how to type, he was recruited to go to Stockholm to work in the office of Col. Felix Hardison, the Military Air Attaché. It was April of 1944.

As the bombing missions were flying deeper and deeper into Nazi Germany, more and more pilots of badly damaged planes would divert their crews to Sweden, praying that they would arrive alive.

My Dad was one of the men from Hardison’s office who would meet the crash, take care of the injured, and send the rest of the crew on to one of the internment camps.

Sweden was neighbor to the countries of Denmark and Norway, both occupied by the Germans. The British and the Americans in Stockholm provided much support to their underground resistance forces. When an Allied plane would be forced to land there, or worse yet have to parachute out, the locals would risk their lives helping the men escape to Sweden.

All in all, fifty Americans arrived in Sweden from Denmark, nine from Norway.

Whenever this happened, the men who had escaped or evaded capture would be taken to the American Legation in Stockholm to be questioned by Col. Hardison and his aides, one of which was my father.

Thanks to a discussion on the Facebook page, American Internees in WWII Sweden, and at the suggestion of military historian Dwight Mears, I discovered the National Archive’s collection of Escape and Evasion reports. Those from Stockholm are included, and I was able to find reports of men who had been questioned by none other than Herman F. Allen.

The Howard J. Bohle crew.  Photo from 303rd BG website.

The Howard J. Bohle crew. Photo from 303rd BG website.

The first one evader he worked with was 2nd Lt. Robert R. Kerr with the 303rd Bomb Group flying out of Molesworth, England. He was co-pilot of the Howard J. Bohle crew. On 29 April 1944, their target was Berlin.

2nd Lt. Kerr’s personal narrative described what happened that day.

Over the target, their B-17, the Spirit of Wanette (#42-31241), encountered heavy flak which knocked out the #4 engine.  There was a severe gas leak in the No. 3 tank. Pilot 2nd Lt. Howard J. Bohle, feathered the engine, but the gas remaining was insufficient to take them back to England. He asked the navigator, 2nd Lt. John K. Brown, for a heading to Sweden.

They crossed the Baltic Sea and saw land through a hole in the clouds. At the same time, an ME 120 attacked the plane. It was shot down by the tail gunner, Sgt. M. Musashe, but must have radioed the ship’s position to the antiaircraft batteries because a barrage of flak was shot up. The plane was hit square, knocked out the #2 engine. The flight control cables were severed. The pilot could not recover control, so he ordered the crew to bail out.

When Kerr landed in an open field, he noticed a young boy watching him. Kerr asked him if this was “Svenske.” The boy replied, no, that it was “Danske,” and the Germans were close.

For the next several days, Kerr was assisted by members of the Danish Underground. He was taken to a harbor near the city of Copenhagen where he was joined by nine Danes who were escaping also. One was a young man of about 21 who had been condemned to death and had escaped from a prison near the city.

They boarded a small fishing boat and waited until 0620 hours when they proceeded cautiously from the harbor, avoiding German patrol boats and planes in the vicinity.

At 1000 hours, they were in international waters, within sight of Malmo. A Swedish fishing boat took them to shore. The group was taken to the police station where Kerr was separated from the Danes, interrogated, given a medical examination and ration coupons. He was then taken to the American Consulate office.

“I departed for Stockholm Wednesday night, arriving there 0758 hours, 11 May 1944. Lt. Herman F. Allen, of the Military Air Attaché office, met me at the station.”

It is a thrill for me to finally find documentation of the work my father was doing in Stockholm for the Military Air Attaché. I’ve heard about it, but this is the first airman interrogation report I’ve seen.

The last minutes of the Spirit of Wanette were so close to what could have happened to my Dad’s B-17, Liberty Lady. Both planes were over Berlin, hit by heavy flak and had engines knocked out. Both flew over the Baltic Sea, headed for Sweden. When the Liberty Lady landed, the crew feared they were in Denmark. Thankfully, they were not.

Kerr said that he was informed by local residents that four of his crew members were seen in custody of the Germans. That would have been Pilot 2nd Lt. Howard J. Bohle, Navigator 2nd Lt. John K. Brown, Bombardier 2nd Lt. Joseph J. Nevills, and Top Turret Gunner S/Sgt. Lawrence W. Rice. All went to POW camps.

The residents also told him that three men “were in the water and unable to get out.” Actually, there were four. Radio Operator S/Sgt. Henry Jensen, Ball Turret Gunner Sgt. John Derschan, Waist Gunner Sgt. Frank Gorgon and Sgt. Paul J. Mulhearn landed in the sea and drowned. Their bodies washed up on shore and were recovered.

S/Sgt. Michael Musashe was killed by the flak burst and crashed with the plane. The 303rd BG mission report states that the plane crashed in the Sea of Smaland, Denmark. He is officially an “MIA.”

Airmen DK – Allied Airmen in Denmark

I found an amazing website that chronicles each Allied airman that landed in Denmark during the war.  You can read each account in Danish and in English. Plus, there are maps that show where each crew member went down. These would be invaluable for a family member who might want to go to Denmark in honor of their relative who died there. I know it’s what I would want to do.

The Interrogation

When Herman Allen questioned 2nd Lt. Kerr, the first thing he would have asked for was a recounting of the crew’s mission. “Describe everything that happened in the plane before the jump.”

I am sure that when my father heard 2nd Lt. Kerr’s story, he realized just how close his own crew had come to suffering a similar fate.

2nd Lt. Kerr was back in England on May 28th. According to article 13 of the Hague Convention (V) of 1907, “A neutral Power which receives escaped prisoners of war shall leave them at liberty.” Instead of being interned, the practice in Sweden was for those who had escaped or evaded capture to be sent back to their bases as quickly as practically possible.

Once Kerr was back in London, the questions continued at RAF Intelligence Headquarters. He remembered this as an office located in an old building in central London, several levels below the street.

The details given were important. “List all military information which you observed or were told while evading. Give fullest possible details. (Airfields, troop encampments, coastal and interior defenses, AA batteries, radar installations, troop movements, results of allied bombing, location of enemy factories and ammunition dumps, enemy and civilian morale, etc. etc.)”

Who helped them? Where did they go and how? Certain information could be used in future classes taught to the airmen back at their bases.  Other specifics would show how well the underground resistance movement was working. How dangerous or how safe were certain parts of the country?  Examples of comments made by the interrogators:

  • Notice how closely the German searchers followed the evaders and the great risks run by the helpers.
  • Good advice on seeking out doctors and ministers in Denmark
  • Informants were told that most of the Germans on Bornholm are in the NW part of the island.

Escape Kits

from the National Museum of the US Air Force

from the National Museum of the US Air Force

Every airman was issued an escape kit, often a small plastic box carried in a leg pocket of the flight coveralls. Once safely in Stockholm, they were given a questionnaire: “Suggestions for improvement of escape equipment and training come largely from those who make use of them. Your report and comments will help others to evade capture or to escape.”  2nd Lt. Kerr didn’t use his aids box, he wrote, but other airmen’s reports had great suggestions, such as:

  • Chocolate bar good. Peanut bar is no good.
  • Compass: used it to navigate to Sweden by.
  • How did you spend the money? Denmark – for passage to Sweden
  • Suggestions you think will help other evaders and escapers? The phrase card was absolutely no use since it only had French, German, Dutch and Spanish. The people in Denmark speak Danish.
  • Take an extra pair of woolen socks.
  • Did you pay your guides? If so, how much?  Watch and ring.

Each airman had to sign a document swearing that he would not talk with anyone about his experiences. “Publication or communication to any unauthorized persons of experiences of escape or evasion from enemy-occupied territory, internment in a neutral country, or release from internment not only furnishes useful information to the enemy but also jeopardizes futures escapes, evasions and releases.”

This has been a long post, but I wanted to pay tribute to this crew whose final day in the skies over Nazi Germany started out so much like that of my Dad’s. One extra German fighter, a few more bursts of flak, and the men of the Liberty Lady could easily have had the same fate.

You can read more about Robert R. Kerr in the 2002 book, The Lucky Ones: Airmen of the Mighty Eighth by Erik Dyreborg. Kerr narrates the chapter titled, “The Long Walk Back from the Last Mission.”

We can never thank our veterans enough.

 


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Roswell Remembers Memorial Day 2015

2015 May 28
by Pat DiGeorge

Memorial-Day-2015Each year in my hometown of Roswell, GA, the Rotary Club and the City work together to organize what is reportedly the largest Memorial Day ceremony in the southeast. I’ve written about our Memorial Days before and how hard we work to honor all veterans and the sacrifices they made to protect our freedom.

Robert and Robin Olds … both legends in aviation history

This year’s featured speaker was Christina Olds. She wrote a book about her father, Robin Olds. Her father! I perked up right away.  Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds.  During the final years of his life, Christina’s Dad worked with her and with fellow fighter pilot/author Ed Rasimus to chronicle these memories, so important to the history of the Air Force.

Much of her family’s story relates specifically to what I’ve been studying in order to write about my own father’s war experiences…

The story begins with Christina’s grandfather. a pursuit pilot (what they called fighter pilots) during WWI. In the 1930s Lieutenant Colonel Robert Olds was commander of the 2nd Bombardment Group at Langley Field when the first dozen B-17s were delivered. The mission of his group was to develop a system of training for this new airplane, destined to become a strategic weapon. Robert Olds led B-17 flights around the world, demonstrating its performance as a record-breaking airplane.

Christina-Old,-Memorial-Day-2015If you google the term “Bomber Mafia,” you will also find that Robert Olds was a charter member of this group of military theorists, thought by some to be deranged fanatics,  who believed that heavy bombers would be a critical force in an upcoming war and that there needed to be an independent Air Force. They were the politically incorrect visionaries of their time.

Grandfather Olds taught his son Robin how to name the planes landing and taking off by the sounds of their engines. Visitors to their home included the likes of Billy Mitchell, Hap Arnold, Tooey Spaatz, Ira Eaker, Beirne Lay, Eddie Rickenbacker …  All would make their marks in aviation history.

Even before the U.S. was in the war, Hap Arnold gave Robert Olds the job of creating a new organization to ferry airplane from the factories to the bases. This became the Air Transport Command. Olds was supportive of the idea of giving women pilots the job of ferrying these planes, a concept which soon became a reality.

Son Robin graduated from West Point, Class of ’43, in three years, his studies condensed due to the outbreak of World War II. After graduation and training, he flew P-38 Lightnings and P-51 Mustangs with the 479th and 434th Fighter Squadrons.  He never forgot his three missions over the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, watching helplessly as the Germans fired down on our boys from the tops of the cliffs. His orders were not to fire at anything on the ground, and with a heavy heart he obeyed his orders.

Fighter-Pilot,-Robin-OldsRobin Olds ended WWII as a double ace. He was 23 years old, and his career had only begun. On the back cover of Fighter Pilot, one author describes him as “the greatest aerial warrior America ever produced.” By the time he had been to Vietnam, to the Air Force Academy … by the time he had grown his signature handlebar mustache, Robin Olds had indeed become a legend.

You can read the story of the remarkable life of Robin Olds in Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds …  Christina’s next project is the biography of her grandfather, Major General Robert Olds. Can’t wait to read it!

Related Posts
Roswell Remembers 2009
Memorial Day 2010
Jimmy Doolittle’s Granddaughter

 

 

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Stockholm – The War in Europe is Over!

2015 May 8
by Pat DiGeorge
Stockholm on VE Day ~ May 7, 1945

Stockholm on May 7, 1945 in front of the Stockholm Concert Hall and the Orfeus statue

On May 7, word came to Stockholm that Germany had signed military surrender documents. It was a glorious sunny day. The church bells were ringing. My mother, Hedy Johnson, and her friends joined the Norwegians in the throngs who paraded through Stockholm. People were hanging out of their office windows, throwing papers to the street below. Toilet paper streamers hung from the buildings. Confetti fell like snow.

Open bed trucks and fancy convertibles, all overflowing with jubilant men and women waving to the crowds drove slowly down the streets alongside the buses and trams. Everyone was in a frenzy, singing, cheering, waving flags and bouquets of flowers. Hedy and her group made their way through the crowded streets to the Hôtel Anglais at Stureplan.  In addition to the Americans, the Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes jammed into the restaurant, dancing and singing. Champagne flowed like water. Hedy danced the jitterbug.

She sat down to rest next to a Norwegian who until just three weeks earlier had been in a German concentration camp for two years. He was so thin it was hard for her to look at him but they talked for a long time. “I’ll never forget his eyes; they were bulging,” she wrote the next day. The American Legation crowd ended up at Hedy’s apartment and stayed until 2 am. She slipped into her bed at midnight, couldn’t sleep but was able to rest her weary body. “I listened to the broadcast from London – would be wonderful to be there tonight. It certainly means everything to the people in London. One doesn’t get any such feeling here of course.”

The owner of her apartment building was furious about all the racket. The next day she told them that if any more noise came from their flat they would be kicked out! Some Swedes were not celebrating Fredsdagen, the Peace Day.

 


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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

Related Posts

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Mission 12c – March 6, 1944

Mission 12d – March 6, 1944

 


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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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