2011 — ISSUE 3
3rd & 4th issues, 2011
Site donated by Hoch Publishing
Final Battlefield Tour planned
Eddie Polk has announced that Battlefield Tours Inc. is planning a final battlefield tour for the 99th Infantry Division, scheduled for May 24-June 4, 2012. Polk said he is working on the itinerary. More information will be published in the Checkerboard as it becomes available and a separate brochure also will be mailed soon.
Signed copies of Humphrey's book available
Signed copies of Robert E. Humphrey’s book, “Once Upon a Time in War: The 99th Division in WWII,” are available from Humphrey at a special price of $23. To order, send a check directly to him: Robert E. Humphrey, 2244 Swarthmore Dr., Sacramento CA 95825. Phone 916-920-8878. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
99ers participate in Memorial Day parade
Ten veterans of the 99th Infantry Division gathered in Washington, D.C., to take part in the 2011 National Memorial Day Parade along Constitution Avenue. The 200 units in the parade participated in memory of those who have died in each of our nation’s wars – from the Indian Wars to the Revolution, the war of 1912 and on up to Iraq and Afghanistan. First, the 99ers met at 11 a.m. in the parish hall of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill for lunch and storytelling. With them were about 35 family members or helpers. Some of the veterans’ stories brought tears; others brought laughter.
John Vasa, George Company, 395th
John Vasa was sitting at his assigned table observing the gathering of 99th Division veterans and their families at the final Saturday night banquet in Overland Park KS. This would be John’s 25th and last reunion. In 1986, after retiring from his farm near Holyoke CO, John and his wife Lil were finally free to attend reunions, something they had longed to do for many years. The 2011 celebratory gathering honored the four Belgian Diggers, Checkerboard editor Donna Bernhardt, and all the veterans. But the happy mood was tempered by the unspoken realization that the annual gathering of these WWII GIs had dwindled down to a few survivors. Old comrades who had fought for their country in a time of great peril had passed on, and the opportunity to recall old training and combat episodes, both humorous and tragic, had come to an end. Ninety years earlier John had been born in his immigrant grandfather’s farmhouse in a depopulated area of western Nebraska called the Sandhills, named for the infertile sandy soil that limited crop production to grass and raising small herds of cattle. In 1913, John’s Czech grandfather had been lucky enough to secure a section of land (640 acres) by lottery under the Kinkaid Act, an amendment to the original Homestead Act. Subsequently John’s father established his own farm when he took over his father’s homestead. The family had no electricity, only gas lanterns, no indoor plumbing, and no running water. The long, bitterly cold winters imposed an isolated, bleak existence, which would be repeated during the winter 1944-45 in eastern Belgium. At least in Nebraska John could find refuge under a roof with his parents and brothers.
Dauntless civilians receive Decoration for Distinguished Service
Six men hailing from Belgium, England and the United States have received the Decoration for Distinguished Civilian Service for their dedication and service to veterans of the 99th Infantry Division. While their nationalities are as diverse as the Allied Forces that fought World War II, they share the same vision – to pay homage to the 99th Infantry Division soldiers and the sacrifices they made as part of America’s “Greatest Generation.”
Challenged senior has last word
I thought about the 30-year business I ran with 1,800 employees, all without a Blackberry that played music, took videos, pictures and communicated with Facebook and Twitter. I signed up under duress for Twitter and Facebook, so my seven kids, their spouses, 13 grandkids, and two great-grandkids could communicate with me in the modern way. I figured I could handle something as simple as Twitter with only 140 characters of space.
If you or you are the next of kin of a veteran who has lost your medals, the U.S. Army Veteran Medal Unit can help recover them. A written request along with a copy of the DD Form 214 or other discharge papers or orders should be sent to the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), 9700 Page Ave., St. Louis MO 63132-5100. You can also use the NPRC website at www.vetrecs.archives.gov. If you never received your medals, there will be no charge. If requesting replacement sets, there will be a nominal fee. After the NPRC processes your request, you will receive a listing of medals authorized and the request will be forwarded to the Veteran Medals Unit. You can find more information and check your status request at www.veteranmedals.army.mil
Toasts, awards, speeches mark final banquet
The 62nd annual convention of the 99th Infantry Division Association drew to a close
July 23 with a reception and banquet. The 78th Army Band sounded mess call and sergeants-at-arms, Jesse Coulter and Howard Bowers advanced the colors. The band played “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag was recited in unison.
President recaps final reunion
World War II veterans of the 99th Infantry Division held their final reunion July 23-26 in Overland Park KS, a suburb of Kansas City. This was the 62nd annual convention held since 1950. About 360 attended, including 91 veterans, their wives, widows, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and guests. In 1944, when it went overseas, the 99th had 15,000 troops. A year ago, at the convention in Louisville, our officers and board of directors concluded that rather than have our organization die slowly as our membership dwindled each year, we should set a final get-together for those still living and able to share in a final farewell. At that time, they elected B.O. Wilkins president of the association. I was elected vice president.
Bernhardt organizes final reunion
Donna Bernhardt, the shy editor of the Checkerboard, has organized the last reunion of the 99th Division. A native daughter of Marion KS, Donna began working at the Marion County Record while in high school and married her sweetheart Dennis Bernhardt after graduation. Bill Meyer, editor of the Marion County Record and the Checkerboard, hired her to work in the mailroom and edit copy. In 1980 she began to set type for the Checkerboard and then progressed to assembling and editing the articles and photos on a computer. Her duties increased as Bill Meyer, a demanding editor, realized that this young, quiet woman was unusually capable. In 1994 Bill and Joan Meyer asked Donna to accompany them to her first 99th reunion in Denver. There she met many of the vets she had come to know through correspondence, phone calls, and submitted articles, for she had assumed the job of keeping track of the members and sending out subscription renewals. Donna remembered Denver as a wonderful experience because the 99ers treated her as if she were part of their family.
Taylor conducts moving tribute to lost comrades
Chaplain Arnold Taylor conducted the final memorial service July 22 during the 62nd annual convention of the 99th Infantry Division Association. VFW Post 7397, Lenexa KS Color Guard, presented the colors. The past presidents in attendance followed the colors.
Board of directors meet
The board of directors of the 99th Infantry Division Association met July 22 at the Doubletree Hotel, Overland Park KS, during the 62nd and final convention of the association. Those in attendance were Phil Benefiel, J.R. McIlroy, Herb Knapp, Harry McCracken, Hal Etter, Sully Sullivan, Harry Clifton, Howard Bowers, Jesse Coulter, Norman Zuckerman, Glenn Bronson, Tim Nugent, Donna Bernhardt, and guest Sam Notkin.
General membership meeting
The membership meeting of the 99th Infantry Division Association was called to order at 9 a.m. July 23 by President Phil Benefiel. The sergeants-at-arms advanced the colors and the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag was recited.
Final convention registration list
John W. "Jack" Rue
John W. “Jack” Rue, 91, S/394, Reston VA, died Sept. 20, 2011. He was a motor transportation officer for the 394th Regiment and was promoted to captain during the Battle of the Bulge. He was a life member of four veterans’ organizations. Jack marched in many Memorial Day Parades in Washington, D.C., and association Chaplain Arnold and Lilian Taylor attended his funeral. Survivors include three children; two granddaughters; and three great-grandchildren. Haskell Wolff, 87, H/394, Dumas AR, died Jan. 16, 2010. He was proprietor of Wolff Brothrs Department Store in Dumas. Survivors include his wife, Elaine; two children; and a grandson.
Belgium travel: A living remembrance
Veterans Day, to Americans, comes once a year. But in this little town in Belgium, it comes once a month. On the first Sunday of each month, Marcel and athilde Schmetz open the doors of the Remember Museum 39-45, a treasure or World War II history house in a large, converted barn set in the rolling farmland of the Walloon region. The pair gives guided tours in English, German and a handful of other languages to a small group of lucky visitors.
Explaining the silence surrounding Elsenborn Ridge battle
Early in December 1944, the little town of Bastogne was a resting area in which many war correspondents enjoyed some R&R. Throughout the tragic days which saw fire and blood covering the Ardennes these reporters wrote numerous “articles” dated Bastogne December 1944. After 24 hours of imposed silence the same name was mentioned many times per day in various newspaper articles and broadcast on the radio. At Saint Vith you could not find a war correspondent. Obviously none were available in Elsenborn or Montjoie (Monschau). Just as one cannot mention Waterloo without thinking about Cambronne’s famous word, it is impossible to mention Bastogne without having someone adding “Nuts!” This “historical” word was uttered by Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe. The two are inseparable. There is not a book written concerning the Battle of Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge) that does not devote many paragraphs, if not pages, to this episode. Neither generals Clarke nor Hasbrouck in Saint Vith, nor Colonels Butler or O’Brien in Montjoie (Monschau), nor Generals Lauer or Robertson at Elsenborn and Col. Daniel at the Butgenbach estate had the free time to pronounce a historical word. If they ever did there were no war correspondents there to capture and relay them. They all did their duty with the goal of being efficient. They didn’t try becoming popular by carrying revolvers decorated with mother-of-pearl grips, wearing defused hand grenades hooked up to their shoulder straps or go to the front line to take potshots at the enemy. This usually provoked the enemy to retaliate and caused unjustified losses to the GIs.
Grandson searches for proof to obtain records
My name is Cadet 4th Class Daniel M. Bradley. I am a student at the U.S. Air Force Academy. I have a question that may be obscure and even unanswerable, but I figure the least I can do is ask. My dad and I have spent a lot of time trying to put together a collection of my grandfather’s war medals, and we have had a lot of issues. My grandfather was Pfc. Daniel Bradley and he served in the 99th during World War II. I never met him because he died long before I was born, but my dad always tells me about the kind of man he was. His war medals, diary and other effects have been either misplaced or sold by other members of the family, so my dad and I tried to get some of his medals back through the U.S. government (copies of the medals). However, we could only prove some of his medals; most of his war records were lost in a fire before records were kept electronically.
Inquiry tells cousin's story
I received some responses to my first posting about my cousin, Pfc. Raymond P. Emmer H/394, which eventually led to my corresponding and speaking with Bill Warnock, author of “The Dead of Winter.” This excellently researched and written book reveals many of the details of Ray’s final days in the 99th Division. Warnock was quite helpful and I was able to speak with William B. Williams F/394, who was with Ray the night he was killed in action. Also, I’ve been able to speak with Bill Zimmerman, the brother of SSgt. Fred Zimmerman, Ray’s squad sergeant.
Book is a tribute to Greatest Generation
Author S.J. Dennis has announced the release of his debut novel, “Simone.” Written as a tribute to men and women of the Greatest Generation, the story traces the travels of a Seattle area veteran who returns to the scene of the Battle of the Bulge for a unit reunion and uncovers long-suppressed memories of the dark days of winter in 1944. He also finds Simone, a Belgium woman who nursed him back to health when he was wounded in the battle. Discovering Simone threatens to disrupt both of their predictable lives. “I focused on a topic I’m familiar with; world war II and members of the Greatest Generation. I was able to combine those interests and tell the story of how the war impacted lives decades after,” said Dennis. “It’s rewarding to see how readers have related to my characters, drawing comparisons with people in their own lives.”
Ivan Bull and sons retrace steps on the battlefield
The first time my father traveled to Europe was in the hold of a boat built to haul bananas. He was a 19-year-old Iowa farm boy, sailing on the USS Marine Devil with approximately 1,700 other young men recently inductedinto the Army. He was assigned one canvas shelf to sleep on in a stack of eight shelves set 18 inches apart in a frame of pipes. The convoy zigzagged slowly for 11 days while the men on the ship endured seasickness, bad food and cold seawater showers. The convoy also carried bombers, gasoline, tanks, weapons and ammunition. All these were thrown into World War II against the veteran forces of Nazi Germany.
Memoirs of a Dogface: A Delta son goes to war
Haskell Wolff’s roots are in the Arkansas Delta. Born in Tillar on July 28, 1922, he has resided in Dumas since moving there with his parents, Sam and Sadie Wolff, when he was two and a half years old. Now 76 years of age, he is proprietor of Wolff Brothers Department Store, a family business that has served 12 small towns in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi Delta since the beginning of the century and has been a Main Street landmark in downtown Dumas since 1925. During Haskell Wolff’s youth, Dumas was a town of about 1,000 people. Since before the Civil war, the community has been primarily agricultural, and the dominant crop of the area is cotton. Wolff Brothers Store provided goods for the community members, and people came there from town as well as from out in the country for their clothes and dry goods. As a consequence, Haskell Wolff knows most members of the community, and he greets them by name when they come into the store.
Nephew searches for Robert Gerdts
I am searching for information about my uncle, Robert Gerdts, who was from Washington PA, and served with the 99th. Uncle Bob was a great guy who never talked of his time in World War II. Although I spent a bit of time with him, I never learned of his service until after he died. Any information would be much appreciated. David Turner
9157 Wellspring Ave NW
North Canton OH 44720
Denis Huston of Ocean Shores WA, was awarded a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor earlier this year. He was to attend a ceremony of presentation but had to cancel because he was hospitalized with complications following open heart surgery. Huston said the French Consulate in San Francisco CA, sent a letter and the award for service during the Normandy Campaign in 1944. At that time, he was stationed at Cherbourg in the Post HQ Ordnance, collecting mines and other ordnance.
John Rarick's story is told
Returning from Indiana on my Christmas furlough, sometime the first of January 1944, as I got off the train in Baton Rouge, MPs grabbed me and without even allowing me to go back to my campus quarters or recover any of my personal property, placed me on a train filled with other GIs. We were told that the ASTP program was closed and we were assigned to and being sent to the 99th Infantry Division at Camp Maxey TX. What a revolting shock! While at LSU visiting the USO Center in Baton Rouge, we occasionally bumped into men from the 99th who were then stationed at Camp Van Dorn MS. Most agreed they were the dirtiest and most slovenly looking soldiers we ever came in contact with. We knew they were infantry and on maneuvers and probably didn’t bathe for weeks at a time. They literally lived out of a barracks bag. But to think that we were being delivered into that bunch was a genuine shock for a bunch of college GIs.
Return to current issue
BACK TO TOP