Saturday, December 27, 2008

Six-Mile Run, Dec. 27: A Cold, Snowy Day

Right: The runner thaws out after his run.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Short Film Honors 95th Bomb Group and Horham, England

I made a short film yesterday with some new film software. Nothing fancy, but I combined photos I took in Horham in June with vintage shots of the 95th air base and personnel and put it to music. You can see it by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Berga WWII POWs Honored: Survived Hellish Nazi Death Camp--CNN Report

BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- The U.S. Army says it will honor the "heroism and sacrifice" of 350 U.S. soldiers who were held as slaves by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Bernard "Jack" Vogel died in a Nazi slave camp in the arms of fellow U.S. soldier, Anthony Acevedo, in 1945.

The decision by the Army effectively reverses decades of silence about what the soldiers endured in the final months of the war in 1945 at Berga an der Elster, a subcamp of Buchenwald where soldiers were beaten, starved, killed and forced to work in tunnels to hide German equipment.

More than 100 U.S. soldiers died in the camp or on a forced death march. Before they were sent back to the United States, survivors signed a secrecy document with the U.S. government to never speak about their captivity.

"The interests of American prisoners of war in the event of future wars, moreover, demand that the secrets of this war be vigorously safeguarded," the document says.

CNN last month reported the story of Anthony Acevedo, who was a 20-year-old medic when he was sent to Berga with the other soldiers. Acevedo kept a diary that details the day-to-day events inside the camp and lists names and prisoner numbers of men as they died or were executed. See inside Acevedo's diary »

That story prompted a chain of events, including hundreds of users urging their congressional leaders to honor the soldiers of Berga. Two congressmen, Reps. Joe Baca, D-California, and Spencer Bachus, R-Alabama, wrote U.S. Army Secretary Peter Geren and asked him to recognize the 350 soldiers.

Don't Miss
Lawmakers seek honors for soldiers held by Nazis
After 63 years, man learns of brother's death
Vet breaks silence on Nazi slave camp

The Army recently responded to the two congressmen, saying it is working "to determine an appropriate way to honor the heroism and sacrifice of these soldiers. We expect this review to be complete by March 6, 2009."

After learning of the Army's decision, Bachus said in a press release, "The courage and perseverance they demonstrated in enduring such inhumane conditions is awe inspiring, and I am pleased the Army has opened a more extensive investigation into honoring these men."
For the dozen of Berga survivors who are still living, the news came as a shock. Many had long ago given up hope that their country would ever recognize them for what they endured.
"It's amazing," said Morty Brooks, now 83, when informed of the Army plans. "It's a recognition that's many years past due. No particular notice was ever given to us by the government, and it should be part of the military's annals."

Acevedo, now 84, noted the ages of the remaining survivors -- all of whom are in their 80s. Some are in failing health. He said he hopes the Army can reach its decision before March, because of the possibility some could die before then.

"If they can do it a lot sooner, we would appreciate it much," he said. "I thank God I'm still able to communicate and express myself with dignity, and I'm hoping the other fellas are able to communicate also.

"I've always been proud to be a U.S. soldier. It did me some good, with God's help and faith. I'll pray for everybody, all my other fellas."

He said the 350 soldiers are heroes who "exposed our lives for our country, for democracy and freedom of speech." The soldiers, all of them survivors of the Battle of the Bulge, had originally been sent to a POW camp known as Stalag IX-B in Bad Orb, Germany. From there, the Nazis separated the 350 soldiers based on being Jewish or "looking like Jews" and sent them to the slave camp around February 8, 1945. Watch Acevedo describe treatment in the camp »
In Boston, Martin Vogel sits quietly in his home. His brother, Bernard "Jack" Vogel, died in Acevedo's arms at the age of 19 in April 1945. Bernard Vogel had tried to escape from Berga with another soldier named Izzy Cohen. Both were captured and forced to stand in their underwear outside the barracks for at least two days until they collapsed.

The last words Bernard Vogel ever uttered were "I want to die, I want to die." Listen as Acevedo tells brother of victim: "I held him in my arms" »

Martin Vogel, 82, said that "since learning of my brother's death in 1945, a week has not passed that I don't think of his untimely death. Many questions had gone unanswered during this time."
After talking with and the few remaining survivors, he said, "My thoughts have come into a clearer focus. I have learned of the last few days of [Bernard's] life and what horrendous event took place prior to death. This has at least crystallized the uncertainty of his death and brought a close to this chapter."
Vogel still gets emotional talking about his brother's death. He wrote his thoughts so he wouldn't cry talking about it.
He continued, writing that questions remain on many issues, including the fate of his brother's captors and "the unwillingness of the Army to publicly document the capture and imprisonment of these soldiers. ... The least is I now know Jack died with friends near him, giving him comfort in his last moments."
The two Berga commanders -- Erwin Metz and his superior, Hauptmann Ludwig Merz -- were tried for war crimes and initially sentenced to die by hanging. But the U.S. government commuted their death sentences in 1948, and both men were eventually set free in the 1950s.
Charles Vogel, the uncle of Bernard and Martin, was outraged at the decision. At the time a powerful Manhattan attorney, he petitioned President Harry Truman, Secretary of State George Marshall and Defense Secretary James Forrestal to overturn the commutation.
Charles Vogel also helped form a group called "Berga Survivors" after the war in which some of the slave camp soldiers would meet to discuss the best way to pressure the government to honor them and allow them to testify against Metz and Merz.
In a bulletin from one of their meetings in early 1949, the "Berga Survivors" appeared optimistic the government would act. "Your cooperation now is doubly important, for things are beginning to break our way," the bulletin says. "A little enthusiasm, a little more cooperation, a little more action will accomplish a great, great deal now."
It adds, "You can aid in the campaign to get Washington to procure full justice for us."
More than six decades later, it appears the work of the original "Berga Survivors" group was not in vain. Most have since died, but the few who remain alive say they will never let their fellow soldiers be forgotten.
"It's finally gotten to a point where the Army is coming to their senses after they had ignored us in the past," Acevedo said. "Why the silence all these years? It's time to recognize all these soldiers who sacrificed their lives." has located 14 Berga soldiers who are alive and will keep working to find if any others are still living.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Emerson High School flies Over Iraq with Pilot Mike Emerson

Air Force pilot Mike Emerson.

Back when I was teaching school and coaching in rural Wyoming, I met a young man named Mike Emerson. Mike attended Rock River High School, about 17 miles down the road from our own town of Medicine Bow, Wyoming. Rock River was even smaller than Medicine Bow. As a cross-country coach, I got to see all the kids from the other schools run each week during CC and track. Rock River rarely had enough kids to field a 5-man cross-country team, but there was one kid--one tough, smart, scrappy, gutsy kid--named Mike Emerson who made a big impression on me. This was back in the years 1985 to 1989, so obviously Mike is no longer a high schooler but most likely in his late thirties or early forties.

About a month ago through the wonders of the internet I reestablished contact with Mike. He was at that time--and still is---deployed to Iraq as an Air Force pilot, flying some type of huge aircraft, possibly a C-130, to different parts of Iraq. Mike will be coming home in a few weeks, God willing.
Crew Photo.

Big-ass bird! Note the Wyoming National Guard logo on the tail.

Mike was very interested that I taught at a school named Emerson High School. After all, that's his name. He asked if he could buy a couple of shirts with the Emerson name and logo on them. Instead, Principal Wendy Cavan donated the shirts and I put them in a box and mailed them to Iraq via the APO.

Mike sent this picture of the Emerson shirt in the cockpit of his aircraft.
Thanks, Mike, for your service, and come home safely.
Sunset over Baghdad, by Mike Emerson.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Correction on The Melting Pot Story: The Mistake Was Mine

The man who researched and discovered the B-17 'The Meltin' Pot' in the Irish Sea was stated incorrectly in a previous blog. Here is the correct version:
Seamus Carey researched and found the 'The Meltin' Pot' in the Irish Sea.
I made a mistake in my reporting of this. My friend Jack Scoltock, in Ireland, never made the claim to have discovered the ship. The mistake was all mine, and I regret it.
Jack writes:
"I did not say I found or dived on the Meltin' Pot, at any time.Seamus and several members of the Inishowen Sub Aqua Club searched in an area where it was well known the Meltin' Pot went down. Seamus and four other members of the club found the wreck in 2001. I began to write about it and did a few years research after the discovery. A former member of the club contacted Lee Kessler and he sent a few pages of what happened to the Meltin' Pot. Then Lee and I began our contact. When he told me Curt Melton, Captain of the plane was alive I was put in contact with him. Through my correspondence I put him in touch with the teenager who rescued him and some of the crew as the plane went down.It's all there in my book."

Again, I take full responsibility for my incorrect reportage, and extend my apologies to all involved. Rob

Never Forget....

Remembering Pearl Harbor--and a Chopper Pilot Named Dale Garber

Pilot Dale Garber and his Chopper, Vietnam.
My friend Paul Dillon sent me a wonderful post today, and I'm passing it on to readers on this anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day.

Paul writes: "As most of you know, on this day, Dec. 7, in 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor suddenly jolting America into the shooting part of WW II. What you don't know, nor should you unless of course you were there, is that on that same day twenty-six years later in 1967, 40 clicks (kilometers) south of someplace called Da Lat, South Vietnam, my friend Dale Garber, was shot down. It also happened to be his 24th birthday. He was then, and thankfully still is today, a pilot. If you know Dale, you'd know that he was born to be a pilot. If it has wings or rotors on it, he can fly it.

In 1967 he was with the 117th Assault Helicopter Company flying a "Charlie Model" Huey gunship. His call sign was "Sidewinder 3." On this particular Dec. 7, an American Special Forces listening post set up in the boonies to listen and snoop around, had been way too quiet for way too long. The 117th was ordered to insert South Vietnamese paratroopers into the area to have a look around.

Dale was flying the lead in an element of 4 gunships protecting 15 "slicks" (troop carrying helicopters) carrying the South Vietnamese troops. When they got to the landing zone, Dale went in to mark the area with smoke and to check it out. Command and Control had reported the area "safe," but when Dale made his pass over where the Special Forces guys were supposed to be something did not feel right. Command and Control again insisted that there had been no recent activity reported in the area.

As the "slicks" were beginning to make their final approach Dale radioed the other gunships that he didn't care what the reports were, he was going back down for another look. The enemy must have known that he suspected something because as Dale banked left and started to climb out from his second pass "Sidewinder 3" began receiving heavy ground fire.

His crew chief was hit in the shoulder. Immediately "Sidewinder 3" began returning fire and radioed for the "slicks" to abort the landing and get the hell out of there.

The gunships began working over the periphery of the landing zone with mini-guns, M-60 machine guns, and rockets. Heavily loaded with troops and their weapons, the "slicks" were trying as hard as they could to leave but were "low and slow." Dale came back around and got behind them to cover them from the rear. His gunship would be the last one out, and the last one through the enemy's gauntlet of fire.

Except that he didn't quite make it. His crew chief had been shot again and his M-60 door gun blown apart, both mini-guns had been shot-up and quit working, the rocket launch system had been shot away and the few rockets left were full of bullet holes. The chin bubble had been blown away and the hydraulic system had apparently been hit because Dale was losing cyclic control... and he noticed that the collective had been shot in two. Happy Birthday, Dale!

All that was left for them to do was to look for a nice soft place to crash. They flopped down in a muddy rice paddy northeast of the landing zone they had just left. Dale tried to shut down the engine but the controls had been shot-up so badly that the engine wouldn't shut off.

So there they sat, in the mud, in a shot-up helicopter, taking inventory of the situation with the engine idling. About that time pieces of the helicopter began to fly off as they came under intense fire again.

Dale, his co-pilot, wounded crew chief, and the other door gunner got out of the helicopter and began firing back with whatever weapons they had that were still working. A "slick" tried to come in and pick them up but was driven away by heavy ground fire.

About that time the gunships retuned and began vaporizing the tree lines with mini-gun fire. From out of nowhere a "slick" plopped down next to them. Dale got his crew and wounded crew chief into the helicopter and its pilot, Lt. Butch LaRoue, somehow managed to get the overloaded aircraft into the air and on its way out of there.

All 15 "slicks" made it safely back to Da Lat with no casualties. "Sidewinder 3" was the only gunship lost. The Air Force came back the next day and reported "Sidewinder 3" still sitting in the mud with its engine idling. They then blew it up.

As it turned out, the Special Forces post had been overrun the day before by a regiment of North Vietnamese with all of the Americans killed. The North Vietnamese knew we'd be coming to look for our guys, and they were sitting there waiting.

On this day, Dec. 7, when we reflect back upon Pearl Harbor and that "day that will live in infamy," I ask you to also take a brief moment to remember another Dec. 7, and remember Dale Garber and ALL our Vietnam vets, and their courage and sacrifice. They deserve so much more than what they got. Their victories were never reported, and their bravery either scoffed at by those who had none, or taken for granted.

As with all of our vets, never pass by an opportunity to thank them for their service. For without them backing them up, all of our fancy words about freedom and democracy mean absolutely nothing. And please, the next time you see a Vietnam vet, please be sure to WELCOME HIM OR HER HOME! Thank you and... WELCOME HOME, DALE! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!"

Thanks, Paul, for a great story. And may I add....Welcome home, Dale and Happy Birthday! -Rob