Posted in B-17, Friends, WWII

Tom Brewer – Hometown Hero

For Memorial Day, I am honoring the memory and the service of Maury Thomas Brewer or Tom Brewer as he was known in my hometown. When I was growing up, Tom lived next door to us and he taught Agriculture at the local high school. I didn’t realize until I was grown that he had been in the Army Air Corps during WWII, had been shot down and held in a Prisoner of War camp in Germany.

Originally from Big Sandy, Tennessee, Tom joined the Army Air Corps on March 3, 1943. After months of training at various places across the U.S., Tom was assigned to the 325th Squadron of the 92nd Bombardment Group, Eighth Air Force, at Podington airfield, near Rushdin in Bedforshire, England.

I couldn’t find a record of how many missions Tom flew. Rob Hutchings of the 92nd Bomb Group Fame’s Favored Few Facebook page sent me a document compiled for another airman, Tech Sergeant Walter E. Papunen. On four of the missions recounted in this document, Sgt. Maury T. Brewer was a waist gunner.

On Aug. 1, 1944. Brewer and Papunen flew with Pilot 2nd Lt. William F. Schramm to Orleans and Chateaudun, France. On Aug. 5, 1944, the mission was to bomb the airdrome at Hanover, Germany. On Aug. 6, they bombed an ME-109 plant in Brandenburg, Germany.

B-17 #42-107090 at hard stand at Podington Airfield

The mission on August 9, 1944, was to bomb the marshaling yards at Karlsruhe, Germany, near Munich, with 2nd Lt. William E. Schramm piloting B-17 #42-107090. They were hit by flak and the plane crashed at Echterdingen, Germany. All nine crew members survived the crash and were captured.

I cannot imagine what it was like for Tom’s mother, Mrs. Thelma Penick, when she received the telegram from the War Department telling her that her son was missing in action. It would be months before she was notified that he was a Prisoner of War.

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Brewer spent nine to ten months as a Prisoner of War (from Aug. 9, 1944, until his camp was liberated in April or May, 1945). The National Archives Records of Prisoners of War report for Maury T Brewer lists the camp he was held in as “Unknown.” A newspaper article reported that he was home on leave after being released from a Prisoner of War camp near Bitterfield, Germany. That information did not help since I could not find a POW camp listed in that area.

In my research about the German POW camps for my novel, Kitty’s War, I learned of conditions that ranged from poor to deplorable. Red Cross packages, when distributed to the men, supplemented the meager German-provided food. Medical care was provided primarily by other prisoners. The wooden barracks were poorly heated and the thin blankets gave little warmth during the bitter cold winter of 1944-45. Beatings and torture were not uncommon. The camps run by the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, were better than those run by the German Army or Navy, yet they were all miserable places. As the war grew closer to its end, conditions in the camps deteriorated since the Germans barely had enough supplies for their own military. When several of the camps were threatened to be taken by the Russians, prisoners were marched to other camps through terrible weather with next to no rations. Many died. This is sometimes called the “other death march” since few know about it.

Liberation by American, British or Russian armies brought joy to the Allied prisoners. After much needed medical treatment, the American ex-prisoners were transported back to the United States. Here is the newspaper article reporting Tom’s leave home to visit his family. He was discharged on November 15, 1945.


After the war, Tom returned to Big Sandy where he married Beatrice Price on December 2, 1945.

Tom passed away August 22, 2009, at age 86. He is buried in Middle Tennessee Veterans Cemetery. Here is a link to his obituary. Thanks to Tom and all the others who have served our country.

Also, thanks to the members of the 92nd Bomb Group (H) Fame’s Favored Few Facebook page for their help in compiling this information, especially Robert McHugh, John Davidson and Rob Hutchins.

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Posted in 276th AFA, Research, WWII

Two Books About The M7

I am always on the lookout for information related to the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion in which my father-in-law served during WWII. Recently I purchased two books about the M7 “Priest,” the mobile 105 mm Howitzer artillery piece utilized by the 276th AFA as well as by numerous other similar U.S. and British units. The British first called it “Priest” because the rounded machine gun mount resembled a pulpit.

“Images of War M7 Priest” contains over 200 photos of the M7, most in black & white and some in color. Descriptions accompany each picture and, in the combat photos, identify the unit in which the M7 served. On page 96 there is a photo of  soldiers of Battery C of the 276th AFA replacing the track on their M7. Although my father-in-law served in Battery A, it is exciting to see Battery C of the 276th represented in this book.

The book also provides various types of information about the M7. Discussions include its original concept at the beginning of WWII to the companies who designed and manufactured it.  Data on the different models and the number of each produced by which company is included as well as details on what was changed on each model. Technical data on the M7, on the Howitzer and on the organization of a typical battery is included in the appendix.

Photos show the M7 in different settings. There are training photos and pictures from North Africa where the British were the first to use it. The gun proved so effective it was used in Italy, in the invasion of France and the push across Europe to Germany. It was also used in the Philippines. Later the M7 saw service in Korea.

 

I also purchased a second book by David Doyle, “M7 Priest Walk Around.” This book provides detailed photos and explanations of many aspects of three different models of the M7. There are pictures of things like the tail lights, sprockets, idler brackets and ammo storage. Closeups of the driver’s position, various views of the Howitzer from the gunner’s viewpoint, the panoramic telescope for sighting the targets and numerous views from inside the fighting compartment fuel the imagination as to what it would have been like to the men who manned this mobile artillery piece.

For you technical nuts there’s lots to see and read about in this compact volume. Most of the pictures are of M7’s in museums rather than in combat, but some photos were taken before and during WWII.

These books were written by David Doyle and are available on his website David Doyle Books as well as other online outlets. David Doyle’s website features books on all kinds of military equipment, from armor to airplanes to vehicles to ships. He also has books about British and German military equipment.  I am getting nothing for recommending David Doyle’s books, just pointing them out anyone who may be interested.

 

Posted in Family, Old Movies, WWII

Communications With Loved Ones During WWII

In today’s age of technology we have a variety of ways to instantly communicate with our loved ones, even those who are serving overseas in the military. We have cell phones that allow us to communicate by phone call, by text, by social media apps like Instant Messenger, Snap Chat or Instagram. We can even communicate face to face using programs like Skype.

Not so during World War II. In the 1940’s the most used form of communication was the letter. Yes. Actual hand-written, paper letters. Many a romance blossomed through letters written over the long months and years of separation.

The telephone did exist, but long-distance telephone calls were expensive. You couldn’t dial the number and have your loved one answer, not if you were calling someone out of town. You had to get a long-distance operator and have her place your call. Yes, I said “her” because all the telephone operators were women. This wasn’t a wartime thing. Women were always used for telephone operators.

It would have been rare and extremely expensive to place an overseas telephone call during the war, although these were possible due to the undersea cables. But they were very limited. Roosevelt may have called Churchill in England but the average person could not call up their son stationed over there.

Another mode of communication used in the 1940’s was the telegram. Western Union operated telegraph offices in practically every town in America. If someone wanted to send an urgent message to a loved one far away, say a son stationed at a military base in another state, then they would go to the Western Union office and send a telegram. Western Union employed delivery boys or girls or older men to deliver telegrams from the telegraph office to the addressee’s home or office. Mickey Rooney earned an Academy Award Nomination for his role as a telegraph delivery boy in The Human Comedy. It is a little known film well worth watching.

Although telegrams could deliver joyful news, like the birth of a baby or a loved-one’s pending arrival, telegrams often conveyed bad news, like a death, so many people dreaded receiving one. The U. S. Government used telegrams to notify families when a soldier was killed, wounded or missing in action.

Telegrams and telephone calls weren’t instantaneous but, for the time, they were quick forms of communication. On the other hand, letters could take anywhere from days to weeks to reach their destination. Mail sent to soldiers or sailors overseas might take two weeks each way. And they might not arrive in the order they were sent. Pretty hard to carry on a conversation at that rate. And if the mail bag was blown up or sunk the letter never got to its intended recipient.

The military devised a method to both speed up the mail and to cut down on the bulky shipments. They called it V-mail or Victory Mail. The person at either end would write their letter on a special, V-mail form. After mailing the V-mail form would be photographed and put on microfilm. The microfilm would be transported overseas, to Europe or Australia or wherever, and at the other end the microfilm would be printed. This printed “V-mail letter” would then be delivered to the addressee.

So be glad you live in this modern age of instant communication. Or maybe not. Back during World War II when you wrote a letter you had to think about what you were going to say, weigh the words your loved on would read far away on some battlefield or home worrying about you. The letters were often saved and cherished for years, especially love letters from someone special far away.

My mother saved a box of letters my father wrote to her during World War II. Reading them not only told me about the events of the time but also gave me insight into who my parents were as young people, their thoughts and feelings. It’s the kind of thing this current generation won’t have thanks to our various technological modes of communication.

Posted in 276th AFA, Research, WWII

4th Armored Division Memoir – Battle Rattle

While researching the history of the 4th Armored Division during WWII, I came across a fascinating memoir “Battle Rattle” by Roger Boas. The memoir was written when Boas was older as an effort to convey to his family what he had been through during the war and how those experiences influenced the rest of his life.

The deeply moving account begins in the author’s early years and provides an insightful background as to his physical and emotional state at the beginning of the war. Although a practicing Christian Scientist, Boas was acutely aware of his family’s Jewish heritage. This gave him a perspective that was different from many American soldiers. A graduate of Stanford and its Artillery ROTC, Boas entered the Army as a Second Lieutenant in early 1942. The newly minted officer went through training in several locations around the country and was eventually assigned to the 94th Armored Field Artillery Battalion of the 4th Armored Division.

The title of the book, “Battle Rattle,” is a term Boas says was used to refer to the ailment soldiers suffered as a result of combat similar to the term “Shell Shock” used during World War I.  The term “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” which defined the psychological and physical disorder that results from experiencing various types of trauma, did not come into use until Boas was much older. As he says in the book, after World War II soldiers were given no assistance in returning to civilian life. No one acknowledged that military personnel who had been in combat might have problems that prevented them from settling down, from making sound decisions, from dealing with the stresses of everyday life. Many of these combat veterans had trouble holding down jobs. Some developed drinking problems. Some suffered from bouts of depression or raging tempers. Boas realized late in his life that he suffered from PTSD, as did many others, including my father-in-law.

The book is well written and provides many personal accounts of events during the war. One event in particular that affected Boas deeply was when he and another officer, Bob Parker, came upon the Ohrdruf Camp which they would later learn was a sub-camp of Buchenwald. Images of emaciated bodies piled up after being executed and partially burned bodies would stay with him the remainder of his life.

If anyone is wondering why I am interested in the 4th Armored Division, my father-in-law’s unit, the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, was attached to the Fourth Armored Division in March and April 1945. I wanted to learn more about the 4th Armored Division’s activities during this time. It was an added bonus to find a memoir of a soldier who had served in an Armored Field Artillery Battalion and whose experiences might be similar to those of my father-in-law.

There were differences between the two which affected each’s view of the war. My father-in-law was a sergeant assigned to one of the M-7 track-mounted artillery guns where Roger Boas was a lieutenant who served as a Forward Observer for the 94th AFA. Nevertheless, the memoir provided insight into the thinking of a soldier and how he dealt with his experiences. The account also provided vivid accounts of the action that the 4th Armored Division saw during the time the 276th AFA was attached.

Dad’s Gun

Another reason for my research is for my current work-in-progress. I strive to make the information about the war as accurate as possible. Roger Boas has provided me with insight into not only the mind of a soldier but also into his emotional responses to very stressful events. This will be invaluable in creating a realistic hero in my novel.

Posted in Family, History, Old Movies, WWII

“Meet Cute” during WWII

In the movie “The Holiday” (2006), Eli Wallach’s character explains to Kate Winslet’s character what a “meet cute” is in the movie business. “It’s how two characters meet in a movie,” he says. In other words, it is the scene where something brings the hero and heroine together and often the chemistry between the two is evident from the start.  In Romantic Comedies the writers try to make the meeting something awkward or unusual or “cute.”

Holiday (2006)
Eli Wallach and Kate Winslet

The term isn’t used as often when referring to novels, but romance novels always have a scene where the hero and heroine meet. There is a “meet cute” scene even if it’s not “cute.”

When I hear how couples met during WWII, I imagine the “meet cute” scene. I go on to ask what brought them to this point in their lives and how did their relationship develop into lasting love. Many had challenges such as parental disapproval, religious differences, physical separation due to the military, differences in social status or simply their own uncertainties. These challenges create conflict within the love story. Yet the challenges are overcome.

In real life the initial meeting may not seem so dramatic. Yet to those involved, it was life changing. My in-laws met on a blind date and, incredibly, married twelve days later before he shipped out. I wrote a post about Frank Towers who met his wife-to-be at a church social held for soldiers far from home, a social he didn’t want to attend. I wrote in another post how Irving Grayson’s future wife saw him showing off his skills at a skating rink. All these are “meet cute’s.”

In my novel, Kitty’s War, the hero and heroine first meet when she pulls him from the surf and saves his life, which is less of a “meet cute” and more of a dramatic encounter. Their second meeting is the awkward, unsure moment we think of as a “meet cute.”

Of course, plenty of couples knew each other before the war started. Maybe they went to school together or lived in the same town. Even in these instances, the war accelerated their desire to get together and see where their mutual feelings took them.

What makes these meetings during WWII unique? Many couples would never have met if it hadn’t been for the war. Servicemen trained far from their homes in different places across the country before going overseas. Other men and women met while serving overseas in the military. Even defense plant workers moved from their home towns to cities where factories and shipyards had geared-up for wartime production. In these places far from home, lonely men and women found each other. And the war added an element of urgency to the romantic relationships.

“The Clock” (1945) with Judy Garland and Robert Walker is a good movie example with a “meet cute” in a train station. A soldier on 48 hour leave in New York City meets a girl in Pennsylvania Station. The two fall in love before he ships out.

The Second World War caused a great mixing in our population. Millions of men and women moved all around the country during the war. Most had never traveled very far from home.  They were exposed to different cultures, different scenery and different climates. My mother told of eating Italian food for the first time while renting rooms from an Italian family in Florida. My father-in-law saw the ocean for the first time when he sailed across the Atlantic to fight in Europe. Raised in New England, Frank Towers trained in the humid heat of Camp Blanding, Florida. They had so many unique experiences.

During World War II, many young Americans found love in unexpected places. Just imagine all the different “meet cute” scenes.

 

Posted in 276th AFA, WWII

Memorial Day Tribute to Joaquin Arambula

On Memorial Day we remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. I recently learned a little more about one of those fallen heroes – Private Joaquin Arambula who died November 29, 1944, in France, at age 19. Joaquin served in the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, the same Battalion as my father-in-law, Dewey Paul Whitaker.

Joaquin Arambula was brought to my attention by Darren Lanier and Tim Lanier, the grandson and son of Jacob J. Lanier who served, along with Arambula, in Battery “B” 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. Pvt. Jabob J. Lanier shared stories of his close friend Joaquin whose memory remained with him for the rest of his life.

Jacob Lanier

Jacob J. Lanier told his family of the events surrounding Arambula’s death and how he mourned his friend. The 276th held a position near Freybouse, France, on November 23, 1944, Thanksgiving Day. The Germans began shelling their position and their Lieutenant called to Lanier and Arambula to go up to the road and stop an approaching Army mail truck before it came under fire. Both men ran toward the road. Pvt. Arambula was ahead of Lanier as they ran through some nearby woods when a German artillery shell came in and hit close to the two men, mortally wounding Arambula. He was evacuated to a field hospital where he died a few days later.

Morning report for the day Pvt. Arambula was wounded.

Jacob Lanier felt both guilt for having survived the blast and sorrow for the loss of his friend. In later years, Lanier often thought how close he came to dying that day. The fact that he didn’t run as fast as his buddy not only saved his life but also enabled him to return from the war and have a family, something his friend Joaquin didn’t get to do.

Joaquin when younger
Joaquin before the war

Joaquin Arambula, the son of Frank Arambula, was from Enid, Oklahoma. Since Joaquin could not see very well without his glasses, his family was upset when he was drafted. After training, Pvt. Arambula landed on Utah Beach on August 25, 1944, with the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. They journeyed across France and joined the fight in Eastern France with Patton’s Third Army. The 276th fought valiantly that fall in several engagements, including repulsing the German counter-attack at Landroff, before Pvt. Arambula’s tragic death.

Of the three Arambula brothers who served in World War II, only Joe Arambula came home after serving in Europe where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Their other brother, John M. Arambula, died November 16, 1943, age 20, while serving in the 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division in Italy.

Joaquin’s brother Joe

 

 

 

Pvt. Joaquin Arambula is buried near Saint-Avold, France, in the Lorraine American Cemetery. His brother John is buried in the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy (Find-a-grave). To locate service members buried overseas or missing you can search on the American Battle Monuments Commission website.

So it is with sadness that we remember these young lives cut short by war. We honor their memory and their sacrifice. And we honor the sacrifice of their family, who lost so much so that we could have the freedom we enjoy today.

Many thanks to Darren Lanier for tracking down the family of Joaquin Arambula and to Joaquin’s family for sharing their pictures and their story.

My World War II romance novel, Kitty’s War, is available on Amazon, ITunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and The Wild Rose Press.

 

Posted in B-17, History, WWII

B-24 Witchcraft and P-51 Mustang

Last February when we went for a ride on the B-17 Nine-O-Nine, we also got an up-close view of the B-24 Witchcraft. The Collings Foundation had three WWII vintage airplanes on display that day and all flew passengers. The third plane was a P-51 Mustang or, more specifically, a TF-51D Mustang which is a two-seated training fighter. Since it was in the air most of the afternoon, we didn’t get as close to the fighter.

While researching for my novel, Kitty’s War, I read up on America’s two heavy bombers trying to decide which one to use in my story. The B-17 won out but I was impressed by the B-24’s capabilities.

The B-24 Liberator was a heavy bomber designed by Consolidated Aircraft. It’s design was more modern than Boeing’s B-17. The B-24 had a faster speed, heavier load capacity and the ability to fly at higher altitudes. Many crews preferred the B-24 over the B-17, but the B-17 had a reputation for making it back to its home base despite heavy damage. The B-24 had a tendency to break up when heavily damaged, especially when it hit the water. That’s because of the structure and location of the bomb bay. 

I climbed inside the Witchcraft to get a feel for the aircraft. Pictures from inside show the ammunition boxes and the oxygen bottles. Looking from the waist gunner positions behind the wings forward through the bomb bay you can see all the way to the bombardier’s seat.  The walkway through the bomb bay was wider and less obstructed than on the B-17. I didn’t get into the nose of the B-24 where the Bombardier sat.

 

The B-24 was the plane that Jimmy Stewart flew during his time overseas in WWII. If you saw the movie “Unbroken,” Louis Zamperini was shot down over the Pacific in a B-24.

While inspecting the aircraft before we went on our flight in the B-17, we met a WWII veteran. James Connelly was there to take one last flight in a B-24, the same plane he flew in during WWII. During the war Connelly flew twelve missions before his B-24 was shot down over Germany. He then spent nine months in a German POW camp. Mr. Connelly was fascinating and I hope to talk to him again.

I got some pictures of the P-51 fighter as it sat on the runway ready to take off with a lucky passenger.