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Private Joseph F. Merrell AKV-4 - History

Private Joseph F. Merrell AKV-4 - History


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Private Joseph F. Merrell AKV-4

Private Joseph F. Merrell

(AKV-4: dp. 15,200 (f.); 1. 455'; b. 62'; dr. 29'; s. 17 k.; cpl. 55;
Greenville Victory; T. VC2-S-AP3)

Private Joseph F. Merrell was laid down as Grange Victory (MCV hull 33) by the California Shipbuilding Corp., Los Angeles, Calif., 27 May 1944; launched 17 July 1944; sponsored by Mrs. Martin Durkin; and delivered to the Isthmian S.S. Co. for operation 25 August 1944.

Owned by the Maritime Commission and operated by the Isthmian S.S. Co., Grange Victory carried cargo in the Pacific during the remainder of World War II. Transferred to the Army Transportation Service after the war, she was renamed Private Joseph F. Merrell in 1947 and on 1 March 1950 was transferred, again, by the Maritime Administration to the Navy as T-AKV~ and assigned to MSTS, Paeific. On 8 March 1950, Private Joseph F. Merrell departed Yokohama for San Francisco on her first transPacific run for MSTS. A roundtriD from the west coast to Japan and the Philippines preceded the outbreak of hostilities in Korea and her return to war time cargo and plane ferry service. She arrived at Pusan for the first time 31 July and for the d~lration of the conflict supported units of the United Nations forces in Korea and United States forces in the Far East. Alternating runs to Japan, Okinawa and Korea with ones to the central and southwest Pacific during that Deriod, she maintained a similar schedule until 1956 with few interruptions, supply runs to Indo China in March and November 1953 and to the Aleutians in January 1955.

In July 1956 she transited the Panama Canal, delivered and recoived cargo in northern Europe, New York, Norfolk, and Davisville, R.I., and in November returned to the PacifiG. On 22 January 1957 she arrived at McMurdo Sound to deliver her first cargo to the Antaretie and in May she resumed her transPacific schedule. Over the next year she frequently returned to the Atlantic to earry supplies and equipment to Europe and in September 1958 returned to Saigon, after which she called at ports on the Indian Ocean, thence to Europe and back via the Suez Canal.

Redesignated AK-225 in May 1959, Private Joseph F. Merrell returned to the Antaretie during operations Deep Freeze '62, '63, '64, and '65 to support the men eondueting experiments and investigations on that polar continent. In 1965 she resumed transPacific runs and into 1970 has been employed in carrying cargo, including Coast Guard patrol boats for "Market-Time" use, across the sea lanes to South Viet Nam.


The Staten Island Ferry

Dongan Hills is a neighborhood located within New York City's borough of Staten Island. It is on the Island's East Shore. The neighborhood was originally known by two separate names, the western half being called Hillside Park and the eastern half Linden Park. Both were later renamed for Thomas Dongan, the Irish-born governor of the Province of New York after Great Britain acquired it from the Netherlands in 1682. The "hills" alluded to in the name are actually the eastern ridge of Todt Hill, and much of what is colloquially referred to as "Todt Hill" by most island residents is actually reckoned as belonging to Dongan Hills by more authoritative sources such as the Staten Island Advance. However, there is a section of Dongan Hills that actually contains large hills. This portion of the neighborhood is called, the Dongan Hills Colony. "The Colony" is located above Richmond Road and borders the neighborhood of Todt Hill.

Commision Date 1930
Gross Tonnage 2029
Passengers / Cars
Builder SI Shipbuilding Co. N
Engines Double Compound Steam
Propulsion Direct Drive
Horsepower 3,500
Length / Width 252' / 46'

Out of documentation in 1967.
Tompkinsville is a neighborhood in northeastern Staten Island in New York City in the United States. Though the neighborhood sits on the island's eastern shore, along the waterfront facing Upper New York Bay - between St. George on the north and Stapleton on the south - it is reckoned as being part of the North Shore by the island's residents. Tompkinsville is the oldest European village in eastern Staten Island. It was the site where early explorers replenished their fresh water supplies and was known in colonial times as the "Watering Place". In 1815, a settlement was established in the neighborhood next to the existing quarantine station by Daniel D. Tompkins, who was elected Vice President the following year. In 1817 Tompkins built a dock at the foot of present-day Victory Boulevard and began offering steam ferry service to Manhattan. In the early 1900s, the telephone exchange that served Staten Island's eastern North Shore was named after the neighborhood the name of this exchange became "Saint George" in the mid-190s, and "SAint George 7" when New York Telephone upgraded telephone service throughout New York City in December of 1930. Converted for All-Number Calling, the prefix "727" still exists on the island today, and is the sole survivor of the designations that existed in the 1920s


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The dramatic story of the priest who died on a Vietnam battlefield

In his death on the battlefield and in all his time serving men in battle, Fr. Vincent Capodanno completely ignored the basic instinct for survival. He cared more about serving and saving others than he did about himself.

Maryknoll Father Vincent R. Capodanno, a Navy chaplain who was killed while serving with the Marines in Vietnam, is pictured ministering in the field in an undated photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers)

Labor Day, September 4, 1967, in the United States was just like so many other Labor Days before: the last day before the start of school, a federal holiday, banks and stores closed, and people preparing to join friends and family for backyard barbeques.

But some 8,000 miles away in South Vietnam it marked the start of an epic 11 day battle known as Operation SWIFT. Today it is primarily remembered by military history buffs, as well as those who honor the memory of a Navy chaplain who lost his life after 30 minutes of battle, Fr. Vincent Capodanno, MM.

But what Father did during those 30 minutes not only earned him the Medal of Honor, it has propelled his beatification cause.

From Staten Island to South Vietnam

Born February 13, 1929, Capodanno grew up on Staten Island, New York, the youngest of nine children born to a Brooklyn-born mother of Italian ancestry and a father who immigrated to New York from Gaeta, Italy. According to his last surviving sister Gloria Holman, the home was a happy one, and “Vin” or “Junior” “was serious, his personality, more so than not, you know?”

His cousin Al Lambert remembers Junior, like his mother, had a fantastic sense of humor, and when he laughed, his whole body shook. He also says he was very fastidious.

Maryknoll Father Vincent R. Capodanno, a Navy chaplain who was killed while serving with the Marines in Vietnam, is pictured in an undated photo. (CNS file photo)

Capodanno heard his calling to the priesthood at age 18 and entered the Maryknoll Missionary Seminary at 20. On June 14, 1958, he received holy orders at the hands of New York’s Francis Cardinal Spellman.

His superiors first posted him amongst the aboriginal tribesman in Taiwan’s mountains. Then they stationed him at the order’s school in Hong Kong. The new assignment did not thrill him, but he went without protest.

By this time the Vietnam War had begun, and so Capodanno asked for and received permission to enter the Navy chaplaincy corps.

His cousin Al says he did this because “he always went to the need,” and he perceived the front lines is where there was the greatest need.

He received his commission as a chaplain on December 28, 1965, and was attached to the 1/7 (1 st Battalion, 7 th Marines) in April 1966.

Chaplains simply did not go out with troops on missions. They were told – and most were content – to stay in the rear where there was no fight.

Not Father. “Wherever the Marines were, Father Capodanno was there, in theater or in the mud up to his knees, said a Marine who knew him.

Lt. RJ Marnell remembers, “Fr. Capodanno was … told several times it was not his job to go on patrols, fire sweeps, etc. Yet you had to watch him like a hawk as it was not uncommon to see a group of Marines running to get on a helicopter to go into battle, and all of a sudden this figure comes out of nowhere, no rifle, just his priest gear, and jumping in the helicopter before anybody could catch him. He wanted to be with his Marines and didn’t feel his job was simply to say Mass on Sundays.”

Eight months after his arrival, he transferred to the 1 st Medical Battalion at the Marines’ hospital in Da Nang. Toward the end of his first tour of 11 months, he applied for and was granted a second. In August 1967, his superiors attached him to Mike Company of the 3/5. (Each Company is known by a letter of the alphabet and is called not “A” Company, for instance, but Alpha Company, Bravo Company, Charlie Company, etc.)

Thus Father had only been with his new unit about three weeks when the fateful battle started. Knowing his second tour was drawing to a close, “He voluntarily extended here for another six months. He was just refused another extension and was due to go home in November.” 1

Former Lance Corporal Steve Lovejoy recalls, “Over the years I always believed Fr. Capodanno had spent at least three months with Mike Co., if not longer. In actuality, it was no more than four weeks!! He had that kind of impact. He treated us as if he was one of us, and that is how we related to him. Of course we had respect and understood his position, but the men accepted him as one of their own.”

Retired Col. Joaquin Gracida, then a staff officer with 3/5, relates, “One day while having our afternoon meal, one of the Lieutenants rushed into the tent, and when he reached our table said, ‘What kind of @#$% soup do we have today?’

The others seated there knew that Chaplain Capodanno was sitting at our table so we all, without saying a word, sat up straight and looked in the direction of Fr. Capodanno. Father, without missing a beat continued eating his meal, then looked at the rest of us and said, ‘If that’s the kind of soup he wants, let him have it.’”

‘Fear not: God is with us all this day.’

Talk with anyone who knew him in the service, and they will describe how his eyes would pull someone in.

Additionally, George Phillips of 1 st Platoon says he “had an innate ability to know when Marines needed to talk about something. And he would sit and wait in silence until the Marine was ready to talk [and] never move on until he saw the Marine had received some comfort…. But when you … were talking with him, it was like the two of you were in a cocoon. And nothing else was going on around you. You know, rockets, bullets, whatever, guys walking by. He kept his attention focused on one person at a time. Five or six guys sitting around, talking, and he joins them. He’d listen intently to the guy who’s talking, but ignore the other four. And when you were one-on-one with him, it was almost a mystical experience.” 2

One Marine recalled, “Sometimes he would just put his hand on your shoulder, and he’d make you feel great.”

Father simply put himself where he knew others would be. He would relax with other officers smoking his Camel cigarettes and, when allowed this, drinking the ration of two cans of beer. He would walk around where the enlisted men billeted. He got friends back home to send him candy, cigarettes, and St. Christopher medals, and retired Col. Joaquin Gracida says he would stuff his pockets full of these for the men.

Sometimes he would sit somewhere in the open, pull out his rosary, and start praying. Guys would sort of just gravitate toward him and join in. His Masses and prayers services were well attended (he “had no problems drawing a crowd on short notice,” says Col. Hill), and his sermons were concise but meaty, “on target,” and “comforting to Marines of any faith or … no faith at all.”

Phillips says Capodanno repeated one such message over and over: “‘Fear not: God is with us all this day.’”

September 3 was Election Day in South Vietnam. Because over 80 percent of South Vietnam’s electorate opposed the communists and voted against so-called “peace candidates,” the Viet Cong (guerillas with little or no training) and the NVA (aka, PAVN, North Vietnamese regulars, who were well trained and respected by the Americans) would attempt to disrupt voting.

As such GIs and their South Vietnamese allies would guard polling stations around the country.

This is what found the Marines of Company D, 1/5 at Dong Son village, eight miles southwest of Thang Binh along Route 534 in the famous Quế Sơn Valley (an area the size of the Shawnee National Forest). After polls closed, they dug in for the night and set up a perimeter to guard the Company (a Company typically consists of 150-180 men).

Around 4:30 a.m., Delta’s perimeter came under heavy attack by the NVA 2 nd Division. The communists had between 2,500-6,500 soldiers in the area. To aid Delta, the regimental commander sent in Bravo Company, but soon both outfits were pinned down under heavy fire in separate areas. By 8:30 a.m., with 29 Marines dead, Delta was under threat of being overrun.

At 9:37 a.m., the 5 th Marine Regiment ordered the 3/5 to aid Bravo and Delta. Though he had only Kilo and Mike Companies available, battalion commander Lt. Col. C.B. Webster told the Company commanders to prepare for a helicopter lift to the area of Dong Son.

While there is some disagreement about this, some assert Capodanno actually had permission to join the Marines in combat this day. Regardless, he hopped onto a helo with Mike’s 3 rd Platoon, and the helicopters left between 11:30 a.m. and noon.

The ride took roughly 30 minutes. Upon arrival, the helicopter pilot told Mike’s commander JD Murray the original LZ near Bravo and Delta was “too hot,” meaning there was too much enemy fire to risk a landing. The alternate LZ was to have been the one used by Kilo, about 1,000 meters away from the original landing site, but that, too, was unsafe. So the helicopters ultimately discharged Mike at an LZ in some dried up rice paddies roughly 2,500 meters away from Bravo and Delta.

The day was hot, humid, and clear as Murray prepared his men to head out in a wedge formation. In other words, 1 st Platoon would lead the way in a spaced out, single file line, 2 nd Platoon would fall into the same configuration some distance back on the right side, and the 3 rd Platoon would be even further back holding the left.

The march through lightly wooded terrain was relatively peaceful. Then just before they entered an expanse of dry rice paddies, 1 st Platoon’s Lt. Ed Combs later recounted that a little after 2:30, Bill Vandegriff, squad leader for the 1 st Squad, shouted to him that a tree “in the tree line just got up and moved.” Combs “told him if it moved again to shoot the son of a b—-.”

The tree moved, and Vandegriff shot.

Then proverbial hell broke loose. Combs says, “When he fired his rifle, it was like the 4 th of July coming in on us. The NVA opened up on us with everything they had, machine guns, small arms, mortars and rockets.” Unbeknownst to the Marines, five NVA battalions had been lying in ambush for them, each battalion holding 400-600 men. Every witness agrees: Had Vandegriff not shot when he did, the NVA would have slaughtered the Americans as they entered the rice paddies.

Murray sent 2 nd Platoon to aid 1 st Platoon.

Just before the battle commenced, 2 nd had passed some deep holes resembling bomb craters on their way over the top of a small knoll. As soon as the Marines came over the hill, they came upon another group of entrenched North Vietnamese soldiers who were hidden in a bamboo tree line. These PAVN dropped one mortar on the Marines, causing them to pause. As they got moving again, more mortars dropped on them.

The 2 nd had trouble reaching 1 st because this is when the NVA opened up on them. A book about SWIFT, Road of 10,000 Pains, says the heavily camouflaged enemy came at the Marines “in a flood, like water from a burst dam.” Lovejoy describes it like the sound of Niagara Falls. Another 2 nd Platoon soldier Fred Tancke recalls, “There was such thunderous, thunderous fire from that north tree line.” Marine John Lobur remembers, “There were so many bullets in the air, you could trim your fingernails just by sticking your hands up.”

Lovejoy was pinned down with Lance Cpl. Al Santos of Fall River, Mass., to whom he gave his M16 because Santos’ had jammed. Then after firing one round, Lovejoy’s weapon jammed, as well. Indeed, according to Lovejoy, “JD Murray attributes 50 percent of our casualties to the fact that our M16s failed. We probably had 40 if not 60 percent failure that day.”

By this time, at most ten minutes had elapsed. Sgt. Larry Peters yelled for everyone to take cover back over the top of the hill. Tancke recalls that, “The Marines on the line quickly began to pull back and pivot back up the hill from the north to the south.” 3

Lovejoy, a radio operator, was trying to stay low out of the line of fire and lug his heavy equipment up the knoll with him at the same time. Lovejoy says “rounds were flying everywhere.”

Braving fire, blessing the fallen

All of a sudden, out of nowhere appeared Fr. Capodanno. He dragged Lovejoy to safety in a bomb crater. In addition to having saved Lovejoy, Father braved enemy fire to do the same with Sgt. Howard Manfra of Philadelphia. Tancke recalls being aware of Capodanno rushing around the battlefield exposing himself to unrelenting enemy fire to bless and comfort the fallen.

“I remember the cool look about him,” recalls the Lovejoy, “as though he was saying, ‘Do not worry, all will be OK.’ We had dropped some [tear] gas on the enemy, but it drifted over our position. I offered him my gas mask as I was down in a bomb crater and was not affected. He said, ‘No, you need it more than I do.’ We nodded to each other, and he left.”

Suddenly an enemy machine gunner appeared to the northwest and opened fire where Corpsman Armando Leal of San Antonio had gotten near Tancke. Like Father, Leal had been heroically going giving aid to the wounded. As he approached Tancke, who was kneeling down and firing at “enemy soldiers in the rice paddy,” 4 a bullet went through his leg, cutting his femoral artery. Tancke attempted to drag Leal up the knoll and into a crater, putting one finger in the wound to staunch the bleeding, and trying to fire at the enemy with the other.

Meanwhile a Huey gunship appeared above the fracas, the pilot firing rockets into the tree line and the gunner unloading bullets on the enemy with his machine gun until the ammunition ran out.

As Tancke struggled with Leal, Lance Cpl. Steve Cornell came down the knoll, stood over the pair and asked “if I needed help… I told him to get down.” 5 That was when a bullet pierced Cornell’s chest. Another Marine was also shot nearby. As they were pulled back over the knoll, Fr. Capodanno rushed to give them last rites.

At that moment, Tancke says, “a loud almost thunderous barrage of small arms fire came from the north tree line.” 6 Around this time, he and Leal neared the knoll’s crest.

Fifteen to twenty feet away, Tancke saw an NVA machine gunner grinning madly. The Marine momentarily left Leal, crawled a few feet, and aimed his rifle at the man. Click! His M16 double fed, causing it to jam, and he couldn’t clear the chamber. Tancke then reached for a grenade but couldn’t liberate it from his pouch because of his injured right hand. The Vietnamese soldier had a clear shot at Tancke but for some reason didn’t shoot. Tancke saw the Corpsman had bled out and died, however. Tanke turned to the east, took three or four steps, and then the gunner unloaded on Tancke, who quickly jumped into the shelter of a hole.

To the gunner’s west was the Platoon’s other Corpsman, David Phelps of Williamstown, NY, his body slumped over a Marine’s. He had jumped out of a crater to aid his comrade and received a mortal wound to the head.

Father Capodanno’s heroic death

Roughly 30 minutes into the battle, Tancke saw something out of his eye. Coming from his rear (the south) but heading to the west and then stopping to look north before heading in that direction was Fr. Capodanno. Tancke says he yelled at Father, “Watch out for the gunner!” and as Capodanno made his way north, presumably to aid a downed Marine, Tancke heard the machine gun’s loud BRAP! He estimates four to seven bullets pierced Father from the head down to his torso. The Padre fell where he was hit, and Tancke, who was at most six feet away, says he saw no signs of life in the fallen hero. Not long after this, a Marine crawled toward the machine gunner and took him out.

Several rumors surround Father’s death. One says he died of 27 bullet wounds. Another claims those wounds came from .50 caliber bullets. A normal machine gun bullet (e.g., a .30 cal) is about the size of a cigarette and will do significant damage. A .50 cal is about the size of a decent cigar. It can punch a hole through a railroad tie. If someone died from being shot 27 times with a .50 cal, not much of them would be left, yet Father’s body was recovered intact.

What Tancke believes happened is this.

After several hours, there was a lull. At some point 2 nd Platoon Sergeant James Marbury spoke of not seeing the enemy and wondered where they were.

“Just then an NVA soldier popped his head up behind the bush where Fr. Capodanno lay dead (6 to 8 feet away). My rifle was still jammed so I managed to get a grenade out of my pouch and with my left hand I lobbed it over the bush on top of the enemy soldier and Fr. Capodanno.” 7

This killed the soldier, but it might also explain the 27 wounds—not bullet holes—that were discovered on Father postmortem.

In addition to Father and the two Corpsmen, 14 other Mike Company Marines perished that day. Of the 165-178 men who went into battle, only 63-68 were physically unscathed the next day. By its end on September 15, SWIFT resulted in 123 Americans killed, including 51 from Father’s battalion.

But whether Marines lived, were wounded, or died, by all accounts, Father’s presence was a comforting one.

Lance Cpl. Jim Carter of Kingsport, Tenn. almost cried when he heard Capodanno had died. Other men openly wept. Battalion chaplain Eli Takesian, who gave the eulogy following Father’s funeral Mass, recalled that upon hearing of Capodanno’s passing, “It was as if a shroud had covered us all.”

He added, “We used to joke that troops shot in the back were often running away. It certainly was not so with Chaplain Capodanno, a courageous man, whose sacrificial act truly emulated Jesus Christ.” 8

“Somehow he just seemed to act the way a man of God should act,” said Ross Nutera, a 20-year-old corporal from Buffalo, NY. “I can’t believe he’s gone.”

“He saved my soul”

On the day of his death, Fr. Capodanno didn’t just save lives, he saved souls.

Critically wounded on the battlefield, Lt. Combs thought he would die. He asked George Phillips to baptize him. “Into the Catholic faith?” Yes, said Combs. “Of course Combs and Capodanno were friends.”

Byron Hill relates, “During my tour in Vietnam, I had been married for four years, but we did not have children. Father was curious about my family life, and we discussed having children. He once said to me, ‘When you get home, have babies. That is why God put you and your wife together.’

After returning home, he and his wife discussed in which church they would raise their daughter. That is when, having been “so inspired [by] Father Capodanno, that I realized I wanted to become Catholic.”

Fr. Capodanno’s chaplain’s assistant Henry Hernandez, Jr., recently said, “Not only did he save my life, but most important he saved my soul. He brought me back to the Church.”

Not only on the day he died but in all his time serving men in battle, Fr. Capodanno had an incredible ability to do the one thing that most of us could never do: Completely ignore the human person’s basic instinct for survival. He cared more about serving and saving others than he did about himself. In this he completely emulated Jesus Christ, Who taught us, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

This is why even if it takes 300 years for the Vatican to recognize Father’s sanctity, many believe there is no doubt that this icon of Our Lord and Savior is one of the saintliest men of modern times.

Today nine chapels and several streets and buildings are named after him. Several statues and memorials also stand in his honor.

In one of his last letter’s home, he wrote to an aunt, stating, “Aunt Annie, pray a lot yourself, because unless we pray, we really can’t be anything worthwhile at all.”

The gravesite of Maryknoll Father Vincent R. Capodanno and his parents is seen at St. Peter’s Cemetery in Staten Island, N.Y., April 27. Father Capodanno, a U.S. Navy chaplain was killed while ministering to dying and wounded Marines in Vietnam. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

2  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8uYC6O0cCA and author’s interview with George Phillips.

3  Deposition given by Fred Tancke to the tribunal investigating Fr. Capodanno’s cause for the Archdiocese of Military Services.


Command structure

There are nine titles (referred to as ranks) in the New York City Department of Correction.

From highest to lowest, the uniformed ranks are:

TitleInsignia
Chief of Department
Bureau Chief / Deputy Chief
Assistant Chief / Supervising Warden
Warden
Deputy Warden in Command
Deputy Warden / Facility Administrative Chaplin
Assistant Deputy Warden / Chaplin
Captain
Correction Officer/Correction Officer Investigator

There are certain civilian leadership positions in the agency which have power equivalent to the high ranking uniformed personnel. If they outrank a present uniformed officer, they are saluted due to agency customs and courtesies.

From highest to lowest, the civilian leadership ranks are:

TitleInsignia
Commissioner
First Deputy Commissioner
Deputy Commissioner
Associate Commissioner
Assistant Commissioner

The Commissioner is the highest ranking official in the agency and is in command of all uniformed and civilian personnel.


Breaking the City of Kings: The Battle for Nuremberg, 1945

The medieval city of Nuremberg, once the seat of power for German kings, became the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of World War II in the month of April 1945. As American forces closed in to seize the former bastion of Adolf Hitler’s political power, fanatical Nazis mobilized for a battle of total annihilation and executed German civilians. The siege of Nuremberg would see American troops locked “in bitter fighting with the enemy, as Nürnberg reverberated with the sound of weapons of war and smoldered in its ruins,” according to U.S. Army 7th Infantry historian Nathan White in 1947.

Nuremberg was a fortress of National Socialism under Hitler’s regime. During the Middle Ages, the imperial city was a nexus of German might—a center of art, culture, industry, trade and centralized rule. After coming to power in 1933, Hitler and his followers capitalized on the city’s imperial past and associated Nuremberg with their ideals of empire and world conquest. Hitler’s political favor brought a boon of prosperity and prestige to the city, and Nazi interests were largely welcomed by residents.

The city became a hotbed of virulent racism and anti-Semitic violence. During the 1930s, Jewish residents were beaten and publicly humiliated by mobs, stripped of their property and executed. The city hosted extravagant public performances to boost racial pride—most notably the Nazi Party Rallies, which combined displays of military might with political speeches, sport performances, light shows and festivals. Nuremberg rallies seemed visually spectacular to the international public. Although members of the international media denounced Nazism, tourists from all over the world attended the rallies. The outbreak of World War II brought a halt to the opulent spectacles. However, during the war, the city of Nuremberg continued to host annual events commemorating Nazi ideology.

As Germany’s Third Reich collapsed under invading Allied forces in the spring of 1945, eyes on both sides zeroed in on Nuremberg. The Allies viewed the city as a high-value target its capture was essential to break German morale. The Nazis were aware of Allied intentions to seize their imperial city—and had no intention of yielding it without a fight to the death.

By the time the battle-weary men of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division rolled towards the city through the forested valleys of Bavaria, Heinrich Himmler had issued orders on April 3 that any male occupant of a residence who showed a white flag was to be shot immediately. Civilians in the vicinity of Nuremberg were given steel helmets, armbands, and firearms during the first week of April and ordered to resist invaders at all costs.

Civilians panicked. Radio propaganda broadcasted victory—but signs such as escaping POWs and German deserters caused doubt. Fear led to accidents with weapons—in Schwabach, a Volksturm militia man accidentally shot electrical wires while target practicing, and two boys, ages 12 and 14, were injured while attempting to prepare an explosive device. A mob of panicking townspeople raided a military grain silo—the violent brawl left a 16-year-old boy dead.

The Nazis commenced a reign of terror to suppress civilians as the Americans approached. A man in Brettheim who took away weapons from Hitler Youth was executed. Two local officials, including a mayor, were also killed for refusing to sign the death sentence. The three were hanged in the town cemetery and their bodies were left on display with an S.S. poster, which deemed them “cowardly, selfish, and disloyal traitors.”

Local commander Werner Lorleberg of Erlangen, a small city just north of Nuremberg, was murdered by an unknown assailant during his attempts to negotiate surrender with Americans. Civilians in Nuremberg who refused to take up arms were hanged. A 19-year-old Ansbach student, Robert Limpert, was denounced for sabotaging the Nazis and was hanged from the town hall gate as American troops encircled Nuremberg. Resistance was crushed.


American troops moving through Nuremberg, April , 1945. (National Archives)

Additionally, Hitler had already issued his “Nero Decree”— ordering German cities to self-destruct rather than fall into enemy hands. Nazi and S.S. officials in Nuremberg systematically prepared demolitions and rigged entire sections of the city to explode on command. However, the local radio personality, Arthur Schöddert, a popular organist and broadcaster known as “Uncle Baldrian”, charged with broadcasting the self-destruct signal—called “Code Puma”—failed to do so at the last minute. Instead Schöddert ended his final broadcast with the words: “I bid farewell to my listeners. Maybe one day we will hear each other again.”

American forces were met with furious opposition as they hemmed in around the outskirts of Nuremberg on April 16. The 3rd, 42nd and 45th U.S. Infantry divisions met with feverish violence from three German battle groups: S.S. troopers of Battle Group Dirnagel, Luftwaffe officers in Battle Group Rienow, and the 1st Battalion of the 38th S.S. Panzer Grenadier Regiment. Added to this, local residents shored up fierce resistance. They included the desperate Volkssturm militia and radicalized Hitler Youth, as well as an estimated 150 city firemen and 140 city police officers who fought as infantry.

Nuremberg became a hell of small arms fire, grenade explosions and tank blasts. Nearly all the windows of houses and apartment buildings contained nests of snipers it took the American soldiers hours to clear city blocks. The Germans used bomb craters to create camouflaged dugouts.

Nuremberg’s Thon district presented some of the most gruesome urban combat. Civilians wielded Panzerfaust antitank grenade launchers, inflicting many casualties to American troops. The Germans also hid themselves in the debris, and as a result, American soldiers were ambushed from all sides. The stealth and vehemence of Nuremberg’s defenders required that American soldiers carefully clear every building during their advance. Room-to-room battles unfolded in some apartment buildings, as the army faced fanatical resistance. It took the U.S. infantry several long, hard hours to clear four apartment blocks. Tanks accompanied the soldiers forward.

“The Germans used every trick in the book to hold the city,” according to a history of the 3rd Infantry Division published by the U.S. Army in 1947. Aside from small arms fire, the U.S. infantrymen encountered mines and even German corpses rigged with booby traps.

Panzerfausts were fired from top-story floors and rooftops at the American armor, but to the sorrow of the enemy, as the armor would wheel and practically blow them into the sky with rapid fire,” according to the U.S. Army.

The Germans continued to fight, however, using the medieval fortifications to launch attacks as the city disintegrated into a smoky inferno.

On April 19, the Americans closed in on the ancient citadel in the heart of Nuremberg—once the castle keep of the Holy Roman Emperor, it sported a massive stone wall and strongly built watchtowers.

One watchtower, the Laufer Tor, became a stronghold in a bizarre combination of modern combat and medieval siege warfare. U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Telesphor Tremblay and his men engaged in a pistol duel with no less than 125 German snipers holed up inside the tower. As in ancient times, the defenders used the tower as a high vantage point to stave off invaders from the keep’s walls. The siege only ended after the Americans introduced a barrage of bazookas to the fight, and the tower’s occupants surrendered.

The U.S. Army issued orders in German via loudspeakers to convince the remaining opposition to lay down their arms:

“Your city is completely surrounded and the old city has been entered in several places. People in the occupied part of the city are being treated humanely. Your unconditional surrender will be accepted under the following conditions: Raise white flags over the buildings and open all entrances to the inner city. Otherwise you will be destroyed. We will not wait, so act quickly.”

When no surrender was forthcoming, the soldiers brought an M-12 assault gun forward and began blasting the walls of the medieval fortress, firing direct hits at the keep wall and gates.

“Twenty rounds of the hard hitting big stuff were fired point-blank. But the old wall stood up under the terrific pounding with huge chips flying everywhere,” wrote White.

Germans at the St. Johannis gate surrendered, while American infantry breached a hole in the wall and allowed the remainder of the 3rd Division to enter.

On April 20, Hitler’s birthday, the struggle for Nuremberg came to an end. The day was initially overshadowed with grim expectations—the Americans anticipated attacks from diehard Nazis on the symbolic anniversary.

The German Werewolf terrorist organization was expected to strike each member had pledged to kill an American soldier. And, true to predictions, Nazi forces in the old city launched a massive counterattack at 4 a.m. that day. The assault was so fierce that it nearly succeeded in repelling U.S. troops from their positions. The attackers used automatic weapons, grenades and Panzerfaust launchers.

However, they were soundly defeated by the determined valor of the American infantrymen, who rose to many daring acts of bravery during the bitter fight. Five members of the Third Infantry Division, from the 15th and 30th Regiments, would receive the Medal of Honor for the courage they displayed during the Battle of Nuremberg, including First Lieutenant Frank Burke, Captain Michael Daly and Private Joseph F. Merrell.

In a strange stroke of destiny, the city was ultimately taken on Hitler’s birthday. A group of tired yet victorious American soldiers stood on the main city square on a day that would normally have been celebrated with Nazi fanfare.

On April 22, American soldiers unfurled the Stars and Stripes over the Nazi Zeppelin Field, the scene of Hitler’s past glory. Lieutenant General Alexander M. Patch decorated the conquerors of Nuremberg for gallantry from Hitler’s former speaking platform. The men sang the popular anthem, “Dogface Soldier,” to celebrate their victory.

The gigantic stadium beyond them, where vast crowds had cheered and smiled for the Third Reich, was now a ghostly scene. Six huge bomb craters scarred the field once illuminated by Albert Speer’s “Cathedral of Light.” Swastika flags hung lifelessly from the 200 flagpoles lining the charred ruins. The Americans destroyed the last apparition of Nuremberg’s Nazi exaltation by detonating the stadium’s 20-foot-tall swastika with a 200-pound TNT charge.


Private Joseph F. Merrell AKV-4 - History

From New York Press, March 24, 1998

S t. George, a city set upon a hill, the seat of Richmond County, is my hometown. On clear days, I look from my table across the Upper Bay to the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, the Lower Bay, the sea, and the horizon, where the distant Atlantic Highlands sink into mellow blueness.

Merchantmen lie for hours or days at anchor, waiting for space in the Port of Newark or lightering cargo to a barge or coastal tanker. Other vessels pass, day and night: pleasure yachts, container ships, tug boats, auto transports, cruise liners, guided missile frigates. Fogs change this utterly. Here, the sea vanishes, then the bridge, the bay, the mansard-roofed 1881 brick mansion next door. Out of the swirling mist come the foghorns’ moans, punctuated by the deeper calls of the ships, feeling their way through the channels.

Despite radar and radio, the mists are still dangerous: in 1981, the Staten Island ferry American Legion was rammed amidships by a Norwegian merchantman during a heavy fog, seriously injuring several passengers and putting her out of service for months, her side smashed in the shape of the freighter’s bow.

Yet foggy or clear, twenty-four hours a day the ferries toot their diesel horns once as they depart the ferry slips at St. George on their five-mile voyage for Whitehall. The old names remain. Ferrymen are traditionalists. Sailing ferries were traveling the Upper Bay before the War of 1812, long before the five-borough City of New York was even a dream. Hence Whitehall and St. George, rather than Manhattan and Staten Island.

F rom St. George, the ferries bustle past the little pepperpot lighthouse on Robbins Reef. In the last century, when its keeper died in the line of duty, his widow was given the job in lieu of a pension. It was round-the-clock work. She lived in the lighthouse with her children. Every morning and afternoon, in all weathers, she rowed them to and from St. George, where they attended the public schools. They are all long gone the lighthouse is automated.

No trip is the same. Early morning skies can be delicate pink and silver, with the waves like mother of pearl. Or the horizon can be a thin line of fire, with a band of light sky beneath and rolling thunderheads above. The sunsets are often riotous with colors—outrageous scarlets, magentas, and purples, born of the pollutants emitted from the refineries along New Jersey’s Chemical Coast.

An incoherent would-be evangelist sometimes wanders the boat, his unmemorable ranting punctuated by “Praise God!” Cameras always click at the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island as the boat begins rounding Governor’s Island to head into the Whitehall slips. Some evenings, the ferry is full of raucous, obnoxious drunks. The Manhattan skyline often seems a beatific vision, and I can only imagine my peasant grandfather’s emotions when he first saw New York from the deck of an immigrant ship in 1905.

/>I f you have a choice, take one of the old car-carrying ferries, the John F. Kennedy, the American Legion, or The Gov. Herbert H. Lehman. Like their steam-powered predecessors, their second decks have outdoor seating at the bow and stern, and the third decks have a roofed promenade. Both classes of newer passenger-only ferries—the enormous Samuel I. Newhouse and Andrew J. Barbieri, and the tiny Alice Austen and John A. Noble—lack outdoor seating. You might as well be on the subway.

Another ferryboat, the tiny Michael J. Cosgrove, sometimes moors at St. George for maintenance and repairs. She handles a .37 mile run up in The Bronx, from City Island to Hart Island. Although she is only sixty feet long, her passengers never complain of overcrowding. Most make only one trip, for her terminus is Potter’s Field.

Although the last steam ferries were built only fifteen years before the Kennedy class diesel boats, their melodious whistles sound no longer. The Cornelius G. Kolff and Private Joseph F. Merrill became prison hulks at Riker’s Island in 1987. After the Verrazzano was decommissioned in 1981, the City docked her at Pier 7, Staten Island. For the next two decades, people endlessly discussed converting her to a waterfront restaurant as a Connecticut businessman did the 1938 steam ferry Miss New York. Using her for something was better than letting her rot in the mud, like the old ferries Dongan Hills and Astoria, now at their last moorings among a hundred hulks off Rossville in the Arthur Kill.

Then Pier 7 collapsed into the harbor. Years of neglect can do that to a dock. (Perversely, cleaning up the river helped, too, since marine borers, for which a neglected pier is bread and butter, can now live in the harbor’s oxygenated water.) So a tugboat took the Verrazzano to Brooklyn. At least the City’s planning and execution seem consistent: when the tugboat’s captain arrived at Erie Basin with a 269-foot ferryboat, no one had told the Basin’s management that he was coming.

H ow did St. George get its name? It has little to do with the warrior-hero and martyr, always shown astride his rearing white horse, his lance impaling a dragon. Until 1886, the ferries landed at Clifton, further down the East Shore, the northern terminus of the Staten Island Railroad, an isolated short line controlled by the Vanderbilts (when it wasn’t in receivership). The future St. George was called Ducksberry Point, was undeveloped and even unpleasant waterfront real estate owned by one George Law, an entrepreneur regarded as something of a minor scoundrel but with a sense of humor.

There was also a man with a vision named Erastus Wiman, a bit of a hustler himself. (His first name is a Latinized version of the Greek erastos, meaning “beloved.” It was not a condition he would know throughout his life.) Born in 1834, Wiman came to Staten Island as an agent for R. G. Dun & Company of Toronto, which later evolved into Dun & Bradstreet. His manor house overlooking the Upper Bay was one of the finer residences on the island. If he had moved to Louisiana, he would have gone into oil. Having come to Staten Island, he went into real estate.

To enhance his investment’s value, he improved local transportation. In 1884, with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’s financial support, Wiman merged the ferries with the railroad to form one company, the Staten Island Rapid Transit. He wanted a new terminal for the Manhattan-bound ferries at the northernmost point on the island, where he had an option to buy George Law’s land.

The option was expiring and Wiman was short of cash to complete the deal. According to local historian William T. Davis, Wiman asked Law for an extension of time, promising only to name the new ferry terminal “in Law’s honor, but…with a title Law could hardly expect to earn either on his own or in his lifetime. Law thought it was all a fine idea [and] gave Wiman what he wanted.”

T he B&O had an agenda: its own terminal facilities on New York Harbor. Wiman sold Robert Garrett, the B&O’s president, on building it at St. George. Wiman begged and borrowed every dollar he could and bought acre upon acre of Staten Island waterfront property, all of it mortgaged to the hilt as well. The B&O’s money financed the extension of the Staten Island Rapid Transit–from St. George along the island’s north shore over a huge railroad bridge to New Jersey. Once the connection was in place, Garrett and Wiman envisioned having the B&O’s passenger trains terminate at St. George, where passengers would take the ferries to Manhattan. They saw an enormous freight terminal, with barges carrying B&O freight cars throughout the harbor, and perhaps even a transatlantic shipping terminal, so passengers might pass from trains to liners. St. George would have become a great seaport. Erastus Wiman would have become filthy rich.

It never quite worked out. Garrett’s health failed and he lost control of the B&O, which went into receivership in 1891. The St. George project resulted in a big ferry terminal and freight yards, but no more. The B&O’s passenger trains never came to St. George. Two years later, R. G. Dun & Company accused Wiman of forgery. He was convicted in 1894, although the verdict was reversed on appeal. His empire of real estate, ferries, and railroads flew apart like autumn leaves in a high wind.

Ten years later, Wiman died. He kept his fine house to the end. But a week before his death every stick of furniture he had–save his actual deathbed–was auctioned off for the benefit of his creditors. After his conviction, even the Staten Island Rapid Transit changed the name of its ferryboat from Erastus Wiman to Castleton, after one of Staten Island’s towns. />

The Staten Island Rapid Transit gradually dwindled to a passenger commuter line, losing its last freight customers in 1979. The great Arthur Kill railroad bridge, still the largest vertical lift span in the world, was embargoed from 1991 to 2007, when freight service was restored along part of the North Shore line, still Staten Island’s only link to America’s railroads.

E ven the one mayor who had great dreams for Staten Island saw them fail. John F. “Red Mike” Hylan, Mayor from 1918 to 1925, was an old-fashioned Democrat from Brooklyn with a full head of red hair and an enormous mustache. With Thomas Jefferson, he would have “strangled in their cradles the moneyed corporations, lest their organized power oppress the people.” M.R. Werner, a New York World reporter, said wrote that he was “…possessed of…the loudest voice east of Omaha.”

When he spoke from the steps of City Hall, small children burst into tears at 23rd Street, and the echoes of his eloquence drowned out the low moaning of the tugboats as they skittered down the bay. His tonal quality is hard to describe it was somewhere between the trumpeting of an enraged elephant and the rumble of underground blasting, and the miracle was that his passionate outcries did not split his throat from ear to ear.

Hylan apparently enjoyed fighting more than winning. His was the kind of open mind that sometimes, as Damon Runyon observed in another context, “should have been closed for repairs.” He dreamed of building a free port in Stapleton, a ten-minute walk from St. George, and spent millions of tax dollars on piers, warehouses, and rail connections.

Unfortunately, first the Congress of the United States declined to cut tariffs or pass special legislation to exempt the Stapleton free port from them. Then, container ships replaced the old freighters. There was no incentive to rebuild the Stapleton facilities. The warehouses fell into ruin, the piers collapsed into weathered stumps, and the railroad tracks were paved over.

Hylan envisioned a railroad tunnel under the Narrows from Staten Island to Brooklyn, linking the SIRT with the subway of the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Company in Bay Ridge. His eloquence was so persuasive that the B&O lent $5 million to the SIRT for complete third-rail electrification comparable to that of the BMT. The City even began digging the tunnel.

Then Hylan was defeated by James J. Walker at the 1925 Democratic primary. After Walker took the oath, he canceled the project. (Some years later, asked why he had appointed Hylan a Judge of the Children’s Court, Walker replied, “So the kids could be judged by their peer.”) Hylan Boulevard, which bears his name, runs from Victorian photographer Alice Austen’s gingerbread cottage on Upper New York Bay at Clifton across the South Shore to Tottenville, on the Arthur Kill, across from Perth Amboy.

E ven the Homeport, the naval base built a decade ago in the hope that some defense dollars might drop into the local economy, was scheduled for closing before it was finished. Most of the money and jobs went to out of state contractors. Stapleton’s streets are still lined with shuttered bars and night clubs.

Thus, Staten Island is the isle of forgotten dreams and St. George, the fruit of a real estate deal, its sleepy capital. St. George’s relative poverty has encouraged development elsewhere, so it has become a backwater with convenient transportation. Its ethnic and religious diversity are astonishing its quiet streets are lined with buildings from the bombastic to the boarded-up: courthouses like classical temples a Babylonian movie theater a Carnegie library a 1920s Georgian bank, and numerous Victorian gingerbread mansions, ranging from exquisite restorations to rundown boarding houses.

Above all, almost literally, is Borough Hall, a Beaux Arts French chateau with an Italian Renaissance tower (its narrow windows presumably ready for the Borough President’s use in pouring molten lead on his enemies), its illuminated clock guiding the ferries home, its bells gently striking every hour. Architecturally incoherent yet romantic, imposing, and homey, Borough Hall has dominated St. George without oppressing it for nearly a century.

Erastus Wiman no longer schemes in his manor house. The SIRT’s old camelback steam locomotives no longer wheeze about the St. George railroad yards. But the ferries still run, quiet largely reigns, and beyond my window the wooded hills roll down to the sea.


Four Remembered and Honored from Clinton County, World War II

On Water Street across from the Clinton County Courthouse sits a monument. This monument reads as follows: “Through this portal lie the names of the gallant and courageous men and women of Clinton County that served their country during the 2nd World War (Dec. 7, 1941 – Sept. 2, 1945). This veterans memorial was duplicated from the original of 1968, modified and dedicated August 15, 2005, completed Oct. 2010 in tribute of their loyal and honorable service and in recognition of the “heroes” of this war as denoted by a Gold Star or Purple Heart.”

This structure not only names those who went to war from Clinton County, but also lists those who did not come home. Memorial Day recognizes those who gave their life for our country. These brave peoples names are eternally written on the walls of this memorial on Water Street.

For this week’s tribute to our fallen heroes, I chose 4 names at random from the Honor Roll and researched their lives and sacrifice for the freedoms we have today
.We remember S/Sgt. William C. Ammon

The news rang out in local newspapers in early-May, 1945. “S/Sgt. William C. Ammon, son of Daniel C. Ammon of Renovo, died July 17, 1942 at Camp Cabanatuan, Philippine Islands, while a prisoner of the Japanese, and is buried in Luzon” (an island in the Philippines). “This information was conveyed in a letter received by Mr. Ammon from the General Headquarters of the USAAF in the Pacific, dated Aug. 31, and signed by Major C. W. MacEllven…Mr. Ammon had learned earlier of Sgt. Ammon’s death, but did not know where he died, or where he was buried.”

Another local newspaper reported more detail related to Ammon, “A letter conveying the information, signed by General MacArthur said: “I have lost a gallant comrade and mourn with you.” It went on to mention that Ammon enlisted in the Army on December 17, 1939, serving in the 28th Bombing Squadron of the Air Corps while he was stationed at Clark Field in the Philippines. “When the Japanese overran Corregidor and Bataan, Ammon was taken prisoner. The formal report as of May 7, 1942, was that he was missing in action, though each year since a “missing in action” report has been the only information the father has received about his son.”

William Ammon who was thought to be missing in action in 1942 had died in a Japanese camp. Local reports make it sound like it was unknown what happened to Ammon until 1945 when the official news of his death was released.

In 1949 a newspaper article surfaced with the title of “S/Sgt. Ammon to be returned for burial.” William C. Ammon was coming home to Clinton County. “The body of S/Sgt. William C. Ammon of the Air Force has been returned to the United States for burial…his remains were among those of 425 Americans who gave their lives in World War II which were returned from the Pacific area aboard the transport Private Joseph F. Merrill.”

We remember Second Lt. Edward P. McKeague

Local newspapers reported the headline of Second Lieutenant Edward P. McKeague’s passing in August, 1944. “Second Lieutenant Edward P. McKeague died as a result of injuries in action over France, according to an announcement by the War Department…McKeague, a fortress pilot, bailed out of his blazing plane into the English Channel after taking part in an invasion supported bombing attack. He died in an English hospital.”

Other newspaper reports also mention that, “McKeague leaves behind a widow and two children 20 months and 6 months of age.” Remarkably, “the day before, Lt. McKeague bailed out, he and his brother S./Sgt. Albert J. McKeague who is flying as a heavy bomber gunner from another English base, met and were photographed together…it was their first reunion since August, 1942, when Lt. McKeague entered the AAF.”

We remember Pvt. Paul E. Wertz

Private Paul E. Wertz was 18 years old when he went to war. The Renovo Record reported his passing in May, 1945, about 3 weeks after he died.

“Pvt. Paul E. Wertz, 18, son of Mrs. Emma Shank of Farrandsville, was killed in action in Germany on April 16, according to word received by his mother.” “An infantryman, he went overseas last Fall…he attended Lock Haven High School, and was employed at the Renovo Shops before entering the army.”

We remember Pfc. Alvin D. Smith

The Renovo Record ran an article on July 17, 1944 that Pfc Alvin Smith was killed in battle. The date of his death was June 6, 1944. To those familiar with this date, it was the D-Day, the largest seaborne invasion in history. More than 160,000 Allied forces landed along a 50 mile stretch of French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France.

“A Lock Haven boy who was killed in action was Alvin Smith, on June 6 in France.” “Rumors were current in Renovo today that several more local servicemen were either wounded or killed, but up to present time there was no confirmation.”

It was reported that in October, 1944, “Mr. and Mrs. William J. Smith have received the Purple Heart awarded posthumously to their son, Pfc. Alvin D. Smith, who was killed in the invasion of France June 6.”


Originally built in 1951, it was used by the Staten Island Ferry. Harold A. Wildstein_sentence_2

Originally called the Private Joseph F. Merrell being the last two steam ship ferries along with the Cornelius G. Kolff for the Staten Island ferry. Harold A. Wildstein_sentence_3

It took on the name of VCBC until the name was transferred to another barge. Harold A. Wildstein_sentence_4

It was later named after Wildstein, who was a NYC Correctional Civilian Staff worker whom was murdered in a robbery. Harold A. Wildstein_sentence_5

As the population on Rikers Island decreased, the use of the Harold A. Wildstein declined. Harold A. Wildstein_sentence_6

In 2002, it was shuttered for inmate use, and was put up for sale. Harold A. Wildstein_sentence_7

In 2004, it was sold for scrap metal and docked in a dock in New Jersey. Harold A. Wildstein_sentence_8


Veteran Stories

Congressman Michael Grimm presents the American Flag and bronze star to the family of WW II vet Hebert Frankel in his New Dorp office. Candle lighting ceremony during the Holocaust Commemoration Sunday, April 8, 2013 at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in West Brighton.(Staten Island Advance/ Bill Lyons).

Reflections

Staten Island Holocaust Commemoration April 7 th , 2013, Bnai Jeshrun Honoring World War II Veterans

On April 30 th , 1945, the day that Adolf Hitler committed suicide in Berlin, the headline of the Staten Island Advance read: “7 th Mows Down Munich Die-Hards, Overruns Torture Camp.” “While…General Patton’s Third Army, swept up thousands of political prisoners…” the paper reported, “Yanks killed or captured 300 SS Guards” at the “notorious Dachau concentration camp—the first and blackest of the political death camps established in the early days of the Hitler Regime.” At Dachau, the U.S. 7 th Army liberated 32,000 political and religious prisoners, including at least 20,000 Jews, who greeted their rescuers with “hysterical joy.” One of the veterans here tonight, Sgt. Issac Cohen, a Combat Engineer in Company A, 287th Battalion, who I had the honor to interview, witnessed the devastation shortly after liberation. As a Brooklyn-born, Jewish-American soldier, whose parents immigrated from Greece, Cohen experienced acts of anti-semitism in army training camp in Alabama. Thus the moment of entering Dachau was particularly poignant. As Sgt. Cohen sadly recalled the moment: “There were bodies piled up in warehouses and railroad cars. Survivors were running around, who were so run down, had lost so much weight. Truthfully, we got sick watching it all. That’s the situation we talked about and we will never forget in our lifetime what we’ve all seen.”

On the day Dachau was liberated, the Staten Island Advance also shared the news that Private first class William Kwasnaza of West Brighton, was freed by Russian Soldiers from two years in a Nazi Prison camp, and more tragically 21-year old Lloyd Ikefugi, graduate of Curtis HS, assistant scout master, born in New Brighton and now namesake of a park there, who was killed on the Italian front while serving in the all Japanese-American 442 nd Infantry.

Not a day passed between the December 7 th , 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor—a day that, as President Roosevelt said, will live in infamy–and the end of World War II, without sacrifice made by those in uniform. “Thank you for our liberty” are words we must say, words that were said to veterans like Private first class Edwin Petrozzula of Staten Island when he helped to liberate Belgium in the Battle of the Bulge. My brief remarks attempt to capture the contributions of Staten Islanders, men and women of all religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds. I will pay special attention to the one dozen veterans or their descendents who told me their stories in person and who often made me cry but also feel proud to be an American and a teacher of the Holocaust and World War II. It is a great honor to be speaking here today.

The Allied military effort brought an end to the war and the Holocaust. 1 million New Yorkers, or just over 12% of each borough, including Brooklyn and Staten Island, served directly in the effort to end Nazi tyranny and restore democracy to Europe. Among the 21,000 Staten Islanders who served were pilots like Arthur Huss and Robert Connelly (the late husband of Elizabeth Connolly), who served stateside and Burt Bleiman in the Panama Canal Zone. They were supported by the efforts of countless other volunteers and civilians on Staten Island who bought war bonds, worked in munitions factories or gave blood. Organizations like the Red Cross sent local women such as Eleanor Miller of Thompkinsville (May 21, 1943) to help troops in Africa and around the world. ***

Let us focus tonight, however, on the critical final two years of the war. With the U.S. Fleet battling Japan in the Pacific, the Allied armies embarked on a campaign in North Africa. Among those fighting in General Patton’s Army was a graduate of Port Richmond High School, William Criaris of Bull’s Head, Chief Warrant Officer (later), 94 th battalion, one of 35,000 troops who landed at Casablanca. William was one of 41 men from the Greek Orthodox Church of Staten Island who served in WWII.

After defeating Italians and Germans in North Africa, the Allies began the invasion of Italy. Jim Luzzi of Oakwood, formerly of Brooklyn, saw his first day of combat on New Year’s Day 1944—in Operation Shingle, the attempt to take Anzio Beachhead. For 123 days, he was under constant fire, along with other Staten Islanders like Alexander Lamanna, father of Mary LaManna, and 150,000 other allied soldiers. Already once wounded with shrapnel in his leg, Luzzi and other American soldiers feared the 350-pound shells that Anzio Annie, a long-rang artillery gun, delivered. Luzzi remembers: “When we started the break-out, that’s when the fighting was the fiercest. We advanced and liberated Rome, but kept fighting sporadically until June 4 th .” Luzzi fought alongside Mariners Harbor resident Tony Moody, a rifle platoon leader with the Army’s 28th Infantry Division who designed the Battle of the Bulge monument that stands in Wolfe’s Pond Park today. [Winston Churchill credited the Anzio campaign with diverting troops from D-Day and saving many Allied lives during the Normandy invasion. ]

Giving the order for the D-Day landing on June 4 th , 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower warned: “the eyes of the world are upon you. “ The task, to eliminate Nazi tyranny over the oppressed people of Europe” “will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped, and battle-hardened….“ Sergeant William A. Morris, raised in West Brighton was an eyewitness to the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. He waited hours in the waters off of France for the order to lead his men to Omaha Beach. Hearing the bullets, they were “scared as heck” he confessed. When the gangplank opened, water flooded up to their necks, but far worse was the “terrible site in the waters. Blood and body parts. There are no words to describe the horror…worse than the bodies on Omaha beach were those in the waters.” Under fire of bombs and large boulders, Morris guided his men in 16 supply trucks from the beach to the top of the mountain. One of 75,000 Americans to land in Normandy, with an equal number of British and Canadian fighters, Morris and his men in 369 th CAAA, an African-American regiment, drove up against the enemy to liberate France and Europe in the next major confrontation at the Battle of the Bulge.

Morris speaks every year to youth at PS 19 about his experiences.

In a final counteroffensive, the Germans drove through the densely forested Ardennes Mountains in Belgium. Private First Class Edwin Petrazzolo trained in radio and anti-aircraft detection, constantly on the move to avoid capture, often found himself dangerously isolated with his equipment as they tried to cross the Rhine. .As the war ended, Petrazzolo became an eyewitness to the suffering in one of the Buchenwald sub-camps, Camp Dora. This camp served as an underground factory for creating V-1 and V-2 bombs for the Germans. The 3 rd Army Division that liberated the camp brought the few remaining inmate to hospitals and forced German townspeople move the dead bodies they found. At our event tonight, Sy Bosworth will also be discussing his reaction to witnessing Buchenwald, including seeing lampshades made with human skin. He used his Yiddish to communicate with German soldiers and as a New Yorker disobeyed a racist order from his commander. As we will hear, Sy Bosworth participated was face to face with a German soldier in the Battle of the Bulge.

The Battle of the Bulge ended in January 1945, but the fighting wasn’t over. Just shy of his 20 th birthday, Private Joseph Merrell of Company J, 15 th Infantry Regiment, 3 rd Infantry Division, was pinned down by two machine guns as they marched towards the German city of Nuremberg. Using rifles, pistols and grenades, Merrell killed 23 Germans in a 1-man attack, and disarmed weapons which, in the words of his commanding officers, “would have decimated his unit had he not assumed the burden of the assault and stormed the enemy positions with utter fearlessness, intrepidity of the highest order, and a willingness to sacrifice his own life so that his comrades could go on to victory.” Private Joseph Merrell lost his life in an unparalleled show of bravery that earned him the United States highest military decoration, the Congressional Medal of Honor and a monument stands on Victory Boulevard in his honor.

Nor was the fighting over in the Pacific Theater—On March 19 th , 1945, John Byrnes story, a 20-year old gunner and airman on the USS Alaska, witnessed unparalleled devastation when a Kamikaze fighter in the Battle of Okinawa hit U.S.S. Franklin, killing almost 800 American servicemen. I could hardly bear to listen to his testimony in 2013, 70 years later. “We had to bring some of the bodies aboard our ship,” John said. “You see things you can’t believe are possible. You feel the pain—that’s when all your sense in your body go to work. You smell the fumes from the shells, you see what shrapnel can do. The bodies we brought up from the Franklin….I never saw half a man’s body burnt and disfigured and the other half still in one piece. That’s what you get exposed to at war. You have to learn to accept it.”

Just as the Staten Island community read about these loses, they had read about the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom and heard from German Jewish refugees who fled to safety here, joining congregations like Bnai Jeshrun (founded in 1884) where we stand today. According to Navy Nurse Bea Victor, it was the reports about Nazi persecution of Jews that motivated her to enlist. At the wars end, Holocaust survivors joined our community in significant numbers.

World War II resulted in an estimated 55 million deaths worldwide. It was the largest and most destructive conflict in history. Near and far, over 250,000 Americans, including more than 400 Staten Islanders, gave their lives in the war. Although almost 70 years have passed, we must never forget the sacrifices of the men and women determined to stop Nazi tyranny, bringing an end to the Holocaust.

I’d like to end with the words of Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel when he spoke last year at Wagner College on Staten Island: “Memory brings us together….Remember that hope is not a gift given from God to us hope is a gift, an offering, that only we human beings can give to one another.” What gave hope to Europe’s Jews throughout the war and saved lives of millions, the determination of the men and women in the American and Allied military, continues to inspire us today on this important day to remember and to hope “Never Again.”


Watch the video: Today in History September 4th. #shorts (May 2022).