Mosley21.jpg

 

 

Tuskegee Airman John Mosley

 

 

 WarGamers15.jpg

 

Bus Bergman and a Marines football game on Guadalcanal; then on to Okinawa

Other men in that game:

Bob Baumann 

Chuck Behan 

Bob Spicer (scroll down)

Dave Schreiner (scroll down)

 

CSU pitcher Don Straub: The final survivor of his dive bomber crew 

 

Rockies owner Dick Monfort named after his uncle, who died in Europe

 

 

The Death of Dave Schreiner

 

SchreinerMVP1.jpg 

 

(From Third Down and a War to Go) 

 

(Marine Dave Schreiner, from Lancaster, Wisconsin, was the Badgers' two-time All-American end

and 1942 Big Ten Conference MVP.)     

 

As the Okinawa campaign continued, the men of A Company grew even

fonder of Dave Schreiner.

 

“We were not foxhole buddies or anything like that,” recalled Private First

Class Ed Liguori. “He was my lieutenant. He knew me as Eddie. They all

called me Eddie. One day, we had gone two, two and a half days without

food or water. There were a few cans of cheese, but we didn’t have much

water. He disappeared. An hour later, he comes back up the hill where we

were in our foxholes, and he had a box on his shoulder. In it were extra large

cans of grapefruit juice. I still remember the color. They were tannish and

greenish cans, with no name on them or anything. I don’t know where he

stole it from or where he got it. But here he comes up this hill, and we all

took three slugs of that grapefruit juice. I can’t have grapefruit juice now

because of medication, but when I could, every time I drank grapefruit juice,

I thought of Dave Schreiner.”

 

“We had some officers who were, very frankly, assholes,” said PFC Jim

Harwood. “Most of the officers we had were good guys. They weren’t going

to run you up for some little infraction that didn’t make any difference anyway.

Dave was one of those types of guys who was lenient. He wasn’t going

to give you a lot of hell for nothing.”

 

On June 18, Schreiner wrote his parents on American Red Cross

stationery.

 

Dear Mother and Dad–

Rec’d letter of June 6 from you. Enclosed was a clipping about

Johnny Walsh. No I didn’t get any bronze star on Guam. I’ve still

got my medal. I can feel it when I put my hands behind me.

We’ve been eating very well of late. Fresh meat, good canned food

etc. And I’ve been sleeping a lot. Boy it’s good to rest.

Will write next chance I get. Don’t forget a company commander

is a pretty safe spot.

Much love,

Dave

 

★ ★ ★

 

On the night of June 19, Badger halfback Bud Seelinger, with the 29th Regiment, tracked

down Schreiner and gave him several cans of fruit. The two Badgers again

spoke of Baumann, and they were hopeful the fighting was coming to an

end. Japanese had died by the thousands, and the organized resistance was

lessening. But there was one more major pocket of resistance on the southern

end of the island, near a gap in the American lines. By then, runner Vic

Anderson had been wounded and evacuated, but he later heard from his

buddies that Schreiner was sent out on what Anderson and others view as a

needlessly dangerous mission near the west coast of Oroku Peninsula on June

20. Anderson said the mandate came from a “new silly-ass major who didn’t

know that we didn’t go out after dark or after 4 or 5 o’clock, when the Japs

would set up a lot of traps. He said, ‘Dave, you take that squad down there

and see if there are any Japs in that gully and valley.’”

 

Gus Forbus, who by then was in a hospital at Tinian in the Mariana

Islands, heard that an officer who joined the unit late in the battle ordered

Schreiner to check on the lines. “The report I got on it was that they were

putting in the lines for the night on the 20th, and he wasn’t satisfied,” Forbus

said. “He wanted Dave to check it out. He was an Annapolis man, but he

couldn’t pour water out of a boot.”

 

In 1993, John McLaughry wrote his memories of that day:

My platoon of M-7’s was assigned to provide fire support for the

1st Battalion in an attack on the last enemy stronghold at the

extreme southern point of Okinawa. The immediate objective was

some very rugged terrain, an escarpment of boulders, sheer rock

and caves . . . rising to nearly 300 feet. Prior to the attack Dave

was moving his company into the line adjacent to the company

our M-7’s were to support and I talked very briefly with him. He

then, with a couple of his men, disappeared into the rocky area

leading toward the Kiyama Gusuku hill mass.

 

So McLaughry remembered the patrol as a three-man mission, including

Schreiner, and he believed it had a theoretical legitimate strategic justification

in a prelude to an attack on the holdout Japanese troops. However, that

leaves unanswered the issue of whether the patrol could have been delayed to

the next day or was needlessly risky in the final stages of the battle.

 

Marine correspondent Don Petit’s later dispatch said Schreiner had walked

ahead to scout. According to the dispatch, gunfire from a cave suddenly

ripped into his left side. Vic Anderson said he heard it happened this way: “A

Jap with a Nambu machine gun stepped out of a cave and shot him.” Petit’s

dispatch said a grenade exploded and fragments tore into both of his legs.

McLaughry’s written recollections made it clear he was skeptical of Petit’s

version. McLaughry’s account:

The attack had not yet jumped off when word came that Dave

had been hit, shot by a sniper. There was no word on his condition.

Because of my platoon’s connections with Dave, over the

next few hours we tried to get as much information as possible

and did hear on good authority that a bullet had hit him in the

chest area, lodging in his spine.

 

Schreiner was shot in the upper torso. Despite the myths that spread both

immediately and over later years, that’s indisputable. The medics treating

him and those who saw him remembered the upper torso trauma years later

but weren’t sure if there were other wounds. That said, even those interviewed

acknowledged that they saw so many deaths, involving both friends

and those they didn’t know, that circumstances sometimes ran together in

their minds. Plus, they admitted the passage of nearly sixty years could make

memories—even of very jarring incidents—become foggy. So, Schreiner

might or might not have been hit by grenade fragments.

 

Regardless of the nature of his wounds, men from the patrol rushed to get

Schreiner back to the unit’s lines. William Ramey, a corpsman and pharmacist’s

mate, recalled working on Schreiner. He said he heard that Schreiner

had gone out on that advance patrol with a first sergeant. “We were trying to

get plasma started,” Ramey recalled. “He told me, ‘Doc, they pulled a sneaky

trick on us!’”

 

Some of the men, including Ramey, who also knew who Schreiner was

and respected him immensely, took that to mean that Schreiner had been

ambushed while accepting a surrender from Japanese. Word from the command

post later trickled in to support that inference. (Depending on one’s

definition of sniper, that could gibe with the story McLaughry heard.) Ramey

believed Schreiner meant “they tricked him into coming down and shot him.”

He didn’t remember Schreiner mentioning a white flag, but he drew inferences

and later heard others talk of a faked surrender. “It’s been a long time,”

Ramey said slowly. “But somebody’s last words like that, they stick with you

pretty good.” Ramey’s high regard for Schreiner, and his familiarity with

him, virtually guarantees he didn’t mix up the circumstances of Schreiner’s

injuries with anyone else’s.

 

Contrary to myth, many Japanese and conscripted Okinawans—about

10,000—surrendered on Okinawa. In Typhoon of Steel, the brother-author

team of James and William Belote noted that surrenders increased from an

average of about 50 per day from June 12–18, to 343 on June 19, and then

to 977 on June 20, the day Schreiner was wounded. Japanese soldiers indeed

were allowing themselves to be taken prisoner on the day Schreiner was on

his final patrol. Still, the Belotes wrote, the Japanese soldiers who surrendered

were exceptional, because most members of the 32nd Army still fought

to the death. U.S. estimates of the Japanese battle deaths on June 19 and 20

totaled 5,000.

 

Charles Pulford, a private first class posted to the headquarters company,

served as a runner for Barney Green before Green’s death. He said he was at

the command post the day Schreiner suffered his wounds. He didn’t hear

direct discussions between Schreiner and officers at the command post. Yet

he was adamant that word of those discussions spread through the command

post—along with the news that Schreiner was shot during a faked

surrender. Pulford wasn’t sure which officers came up with the plan, but he

said that planes dropped white pamphlets over the area. “The Japs were told

that if they wanted to surrender, they would wave these pamphlets,” Pulford

recalled. “I remember when the planes came over to drop them.” He believed

it happened late in the afternoon. Though his first thought was that it happened

on the day Schreiner was wounded, he wasn’t certain of that. But he

was certain that Schreiner contacted the command post on his patrol.

 

“Being there at the C.P.,” Pulford said, “I heard that Dave had called back

to find out what to do. They dropped these pamphlets, and evidently Dave

had seen Japs waving them. . . . He was told to take an interpreter and crawl

up there and see what he could arrange.”

 

Who told Schreiner that?

 

“I imagine it had to be the commanding officer at the C.P., or it might

even have been regimental,” Pulford said. “Then shortly after that, we heard

that he had crawled up there, and when he raised up to talk to them, they

machine-gunned him.”

 

Schreiner went in and out of consciousness after he was brought back to

the lines.

 

PFC Ed Liguori was in his foxhole when he heard someone yell, “The

lieutenant’s been hit!” He scrambled out of his foxhole and went to where

Ramey was treating Schreiner. “He was unconscious, breathing heavily, and

it was so sad,” Liguori recalled. “He wasn’t moving. He wasn’t talking. There

might have been a moan. They were giving him plasma. They were giving

him fluids through his ankle because the blood vessels collapsed. I didn’t

know anything about it at the time, being a young, dopey kid. But later,

when I was teaching, I learned about these things. They couldn’t find any

blood vessels in his arm, so they were administering plasma in his ankle. I

guess they found a vein down there.”

 

In a bizarre twist, PFC Cal Danielson—the young Marine from Rio, Wisconsin,

who as a teenager had met and worshipped Schreiner—was in the

area and also heard the word that Schreiner had been hit. He was with the

First Division’s 5th Regiment. “Somebody said, ‘Lieutenant Schreiner got

it!’” Danielson remembered. “I rushed over there. I’m not sure exactly what

I said—it was a long time ago—but I tried to say something about football

and how tough he was. I was pretty shook up.”

 

PFC Vern Courtnage, a driver who did work for companies in the battalion,

had transported Schreiner often, and he saw him right before he was

loaded onto a jeep to be taken to an aid station. “He was on the ground, on

a stretcher, with a covering over him,” Courtnage said. “The corpsmen were

working on him, and they loaded him into the jeep. My friend drove the

jeep; his name was Duane Carey. We loaded him onto that jeep, and everybody

was wishing him well, and he was conscious. The last words he spoke,

that I heard, anyway, were, ‘If any of you guys think I’m crying, I’ll get out of

here and kick the shit out of you!’ That stuck with me all those years.”

The men watched their lieutenant leave in the jeep. They had seen their

buddies die, they had crawled over bodies as if they were rocks, and they were

steeled to death, even as they knew it might come to them.

 

But, god, why Schreiner?

 

James Singley, the PFC in the weapons company who had served under

Schreiner on Guam, was near Schreiner’s company that day on Okinawa. He

immediately heard one of the inaccurate stories about Schreiner’s wounds.

“Word came down the line that Dave had gotten shot by a sniper right

between the eyes,” Singley said. “Now, when somebody who was well-liked

got shot, we always passed the word down the line. Word came down that

that’s what happened. You never knew whether it’s what happened exactly,

but that’s what came down the line about Dave.”

 

Obviously, if that had happened, Schreiner would have died immediately.

But it’s illustrative of the way stories—often inaccurate—spread among the

men.

 

Schreiner underwent emergency surgery at a field hospital. But there wasn’t

much hope. David Nathan Schreiner died the next day, June 21, 1945. He

was twenty-four.

 

The doctors let his buddies know that even if they had managed to save

him, he probably would have been paralyzed. “I was told he was injured in

such a way in the spine that he never would be able to do anything,” Mark

Hoskins said, the words catching in his throat even decades later.

 

The official dispatch makes no mention of a faked surrender. That raises

the question: Why cover that up? If Schreiner died as he gave the benefit of

the doubt to surrendering Japanese, that doesn’t render his death less tragic

than if he had been struck down by a sniper or a soldier emerging from

a cave. In fact, in June 1945, yet another example of Japanese battlefield

treachery would have been appropriate as the nation braced for an invasion

of the Japanese home islands.

 

However, if Schreiner’s death was the indirect result of being ordered to

try to arrange a surrender, and the pamphlet drop ended up endangering

Schreiner and others, there would be reason to create a more conventional

battle scenario for Schreiner’s death. It would save face for the officers who

had ordered Schreiner to attempt to arrange a surrender.

 

George Feifer’s book Tennozan discusses in depth the dilemma of American

troops when deciding whether to accept surrenders, given the horrific fighting

and barbaric Japanese tactics—and not just on Okinawa. Feifer doesn’t

claim to have discerned the actual numbers of Japanese and conscripted

Okinawans who died after trying to give up, but he makes it clear that the

number was significant. It also is clear that A Company added to that toll,

and part of that was a response to rumors of how the popular Schreiner was

mortally wounded. Again, it’s important to note that Schreiner was hit on

a day when Japanese and Okinawan surrenders were increasing. There were

strategic reasons to accept surrenders, if information about the location and

strength of surviving Japanese defenders could be gathered. But that didn’t

mean that all those signaling an intention to surrender were sincere.

 

“There was a bunch of us mad,” Ramey recalled. “Everybody thought a lot

of Dave. It made everybody so mad, they didn’t take no more prisoners. That

was the end of that outfit taking prisoners.”

 

Charles Pulford said, “Everyone was in shock. I remember that. And

everybody was mad. I mean, mad. . . . We decided not to take prisoners. But

we did let the civilians through.”

 

Danielson, the Marine from Rio, said that in his brief encounter with

Schreiner after he was wounded, he didn’t hear Schreiner say anything about

an ambush, but the word quickly got around that Schreiner had said something

along those lines before Danielson arrived.

 

Judy Corfield, Schreiner’s niece, said that her late mother (and Schreiner’s

sister), Betty Johnson, attended a Sixth Marine Division reunion in Chicago

in 1996. At the reunion, several members of Schreiner’s platoon told Johnson

that Dave indeed had been accepting a surrender, under a white flag,

from several Japanese. The story, handed down orally, was different from

the version Charles Pulford remembered from being at the command post.

According to the account Betty Johnson heard, Dave had been wary as the

small Japanese party approached him, and when the Japanese soldier in front

bowed, he had a rifle hidden behind his back. A Japanese man reached forward

and fired the rifle at Schreiner, and another tossed a grenade.

 

Connie Sherman, Schreiner’s longtime friend, recalled that after the news

of his death reached Lancaster, the story circulating around town was that he

had been shot in the back.

 

So there are conflicting stories about Schreiner’s death, and they almost

certainly will never be resolved. However he was mortally wounded, Schreiner’s

death on June 21 came just hours before Major General Roy S. Geiger

declared that organized resistance had ended and the island was secure. Geiger

had succeeded Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner as commander

of the forces when Buckner was struck in the chest by an artillery shell shard

and killed on June 18. Geiger’s declaration was premature; isolated resistance

and U.S. mop-up operations continued.

 

Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima, commander of the Japanese 32nd

Army, committed suicide on June 22.

 

Tenth Army commander Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell declared

the campaign over on July 2.

 

Bud Seelinger had lost two teammates on Okinawa. Other Seelinger buddies

were killed, too, but he couldn’t help being more torn up by the deaths

of Baumann and Schreiner. “He was just heartsick,” recalled his wife, Mary

Elaine Seelinger. “He was broken up.”

 

He wasn’t alone.

 

“Just a beautiful man died,” Vic Anderson said sadly, years later.

 

Not far from where Schreiner was wounded, a young Army sergeant with

the First Amphibious Special Engineer Combat Brigade, Henry Reese, also

took the news badly. Hey, Dave Schreiner got killed! Reese was from Monroe,

Wisconsin, and as a high school student he had met Schreiner during a visit

to his older sister in Ann Emery Hall. Reese also worked at his uncle’s restaurant—

Mickies Dairy Bar, directly across Monroe Street from Camp Randall

Stadium. “Dave’s death hit home, let’s put it that way, more than any other

over there for me,” Reese said. “I had seen him play football several times,

and he was kind of my hero.”

 

In the hospital on Tinian, Sergeant Gus Forbus was beginning his long

recuperation from his leg wounds. A young Marine, another member of the

4th Regiment, came into his room.

 

“Sarge,” he told Forbus, “I’ve got some bad news.”

 

“Oh, shit,” said Forbus. “Don’t tell me Dave got killed.”

 

“Yup.”

 

Forbus broke down.

★ ★ ★

 

Schreiner’s final letter home arrived in Lancaster on June 25. He was

already dead. His parents didn’t know that as they opened the letter with his

return address in the left-hand corner.

Lt. David N Schreiner

Co A 1st Bn 4th Marines

6th Mar. Div.

FPO—San Francisco

 

And they read their son’s reassuring final line—the one about a company

commander being in a relatively safe position.

 

★ ★ ★

 

Judy Johnson, Schreiner’s niece, was three and a half years old. “I was visiting

my grandparents, which I did regularly, because I wasn’t in school yet,”

Judy (now Judy Corfield) recalled. “My mother would send me there to keep

them busy. I would spend a lot of time going back and forth to the Hoskins

home, too, which was only a block away, especially after Charles died and

Had was imprisoned. That kept everybody busy, taking care of Judy.”

 

The news arrived at the telegraph office the night of June 28, after the

office was closed.

 

Everyone in Lancaster knew the Schreiners’ habits. They were up every

day at 5:30 a.m. On June 29, the delivery boy arrived at the door a little after

7:00. He handed the telegram to Bert Schreiner. The proud father pulled the

sheet out of the envelope.

 

70 GOVT

WASHINGTON, D.C.

8:41 P.M., JUNE 28, 1945

MR. AND MRS. HERBERT E. SCHREINER

216 SOUTH TYLER

LANCASTER, WIS.

DEEPLY REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT YOUR SON FIRST

LIEUTENANT DAVID N. SCHREINER USMCR DIED 21 JUNE 1945

OF WOUNDS RECEIVED IN ACTION OKINAWA ISLAND RYUKYU

ISLANDS IN THE PERFORMANCE OF HIS DUTY AND SERVICE OF

HIS COUNTRY. WHEN INFORMATION IS RECEIVED REGARDING

BURIAL YOU WILL BE NOTIFIED. TO PREVENT POSSIBLE AID

TO OUR ENEMIES DO NOT DIVULGE THE NAME OF HIS SHIP OR

STATION. PLEASE ACCEPT MY HEARTFELT SYMPATHY.

A A VANDERGRIFT GENERAL USMC

COMMANDANT OF THE MARINE CORPS

 

It is one of Judy’s earliest memories. She stood at the window and watched

the delivery boy walk away, down the hill and back to the telegraph station.

“The bad news has arrived,” Bert Schreiner told his wife and granddaughter.

 

He did the best he could to comfort Anne. Then he called the Hoskins

and Carthew homes.

 

Doris Hoskins, Mark’s mother, knocked on the bedroom door. Mark and

Mary Hoskins still were asleep.

 

“You’d better get up,” she said softly. “I have some bad news.”

 

Both Mark’s and Mary’s parents had already been over to the Schreiners’

home. When his parents told him about Schreiner, Mark cried.

 

Almost immediately, he was called to the phone. The caller was a shaken

Harry Stuhldreher. The Wisconsin coach told Hoskins he was leaving for

Lancaster immediately. Hoskins rushed over to the Schreiners’.

 

Mark still sobbed years later, recalling the day.

 

★ ★ ★

 

Newspapers in both Milwaukee and Madison put out extras.

 

Oh, god, not Dave Schreiner!

 

The Wisconsin State Journal ’s front page headline:

 

Dave Schreiner Dies

Of Wounds on Okinawa;

Fiancee flying here

 

The story said that Ensign Odette Hendrickson, who had received degrees

in English and art from Wisconsin before joining the WAVES, was stationed

at Hunter College in the Bronx. She was reported to be returning to Madison,

where she would pick up her mother, Lula, and then head to Lancaster.

 

A Milwaukee extra story carried a full banner headline across the top of

the front page: “Schreiner Killed on Okinawa.” A huge picture of a smiling

Schreiner covered much of the top half of the page; the caption simply said,

“Lieut. David N. Schreiner.”

 

The July 5 issue of the weekly Grant County Independent carried the

entire Marine Corps dispatch describing Schreiner’s death, plus a boxed “In

Memoriam” statement from Stuhldreher. The coach declared: “At Wisconsin,

we called him ‘Big Dave,’ not because of his physique but because of his

all-around makeup. His personality, modesty, unselfishness, and friendship

all were big. His loss leaves a big vacuum—as big as Dave himself was in all

ways—in all our lives.” The story also said that in Lancaster “he was known

and idolized by the whole community. But the news of his death saddened

the whole state, for he was known to thousands throughout the country as

one of the great collegiate football stars of recent years.”

 

In the State Journal on July 1, Henry J. McCormick wrote:

 

If there was ever a better football player at the University of Wisconsin, I

never knew him. If there was a better end who ever played football any

place, I never saw him. And if there was a boy who wore his honors with

more modesty than Dave Schreiner, I never knew him.

It wasn’t so long ago that Dave’s father and I had a long talk. Naturally,

he was worried about Dave, but he was philosophical.

“Whatever happens,” said Mr. Schreiner, “I know that Dave is doing

what he wanted to do.” Mr. Schreiner reflected a moment. “You know,”

he said, “Dave had a chance to be assigned as a physical instructor when

he finished training, but he requested that he be given active duty. And

that’s the way it should be.”


 


May 30, 1999
Elmer_Gedeon1.jpg 
Big Leaguer, Michigan Wolverine Elmer Gedeon
By Terry Frei

 A few years ago as Memorial Day approached in Portland,

I was curious: How many major-league

baseball players had been killed in World War II?

 

The answer, as it turned out, was two.

 

One was Harry O'Neill, who caught one game for the Philadelphia Athletics
in 1939 and died on Iwo Jima in '45.

 

The other was outfielder Elmer Gedeon, who played five games with the
Washington Senators, also in 1939. The Official Baseball Yearbook of '45 told
me that Gedeon had 15 at-bats, three singles and a .200 average. He was a
big guy - 6-foot-4 and 196 pounds - from Cleveland. He died, the book said,
in France, on April 15, 1944.

 

That was his 27th birthday.

 

I found out what I could about Gedeon. Was he unique? In many ways, because
he was a gifted all-around athlete, he was. In another very crucial way, as an
American who served in World War II, he wasn't. That's why a monument to
Americans who died in World War II is overdue, and why our gratitude to those
who served and returned alive should be eternal. My father's college-football
career at Wisconsin, for example, was in the 1942, '46 and '47 seasons, because
he was flying a P-38 fighter inthe Pacific in the interim. And so many of us have
World War II service in our family tree.

 

So consider Elmer Gedeon a symbol.

 

The story of his first game was in the newspaper microfilm:

 

"WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 (AP) - Dutch Leonard won his 19th game of the season
Monday when his Washington team defeated the Detroit Tigers 4 to 2."

 

Gedeon's name was spelled "Gedgeon" in the box score below. But he was there,
playing right field. One at-bat, no hits, one putout, no assists.

 

The lead picture in the sports section that day was of tennis star Don Budge in London,
carrying a book under his arm. The title: "Hitler's Mein Kampf." The caption noted that
Budge "is studying Hitler," whose German troops had invaded Poland on Sept. 1. Britain
and France declared war on Sept. 3. World War II was two weeks old. Fifteen months
before the U.S. entered the war, Elmer Gedeon had played his first major-league game.

 

On Sept. 20, Gedeon's position was "m" - or what the boxes then labeled center field.
He went 3 for 4 in a 10-9 victory over Cleveland. Over the next three days, as Joe Louis
was winning a title fight with an 11th-round knockout of Bob Pastor and congressmen
were pictured with stacks of "peace mail" on the back page of the sports section ("Lest
we forget, let's stay out!") and Hitler was shown shaking hands in Danzig, Gedeon went
hitless his next three games.

 

He disappeared from the box scores for good.

 

The 1941 American League Red Book carried biographies of the Washington rookies,
including one Elmer Gedeon, "recalled from Charlotte. Gedeon, famous as a track man
at the University of Michigan, is very fast and shows signs of being a big-leaguer in another
year."

 

But there was no evidence of Gedeon ever playing another game, so I set out to find out
more about him.

 

The Cleveland phone directory listed 97 Gedeons. There was one Elmer. A son, perhaps?
No, said the woman who answered: Her late husband was named Elmer, but he wasn't
the one who attended Michigan and played for the Senators.

 

Thinking of his middle name, I tried the John Gedeons. Mrs. John F. Gedeon 
sympathized and told me that the name was so common in her area because
immigrants from Metzenzeifen, in the Sudetenland, were prone to settle in Cleveland.
And Gedeon was a common last name in their native land, she said.

 

The 10th Gedeon, Charlotte, said, yes, she was Elmer's third cousin.
"He carried my grandmother's casket," she said. "Oh, he was a handsome fellow."

 

She told me to call Robert Gedeon, Elmer's first cousin, and gave me the number
for one of the nine Robert Gedeons in the phone book. Bob Gedeon was happy to
talk about Elmer.

 

"We were only a year apart," Bob said, "so we were very close."

 

They used to play in Cleveland's Brookside Park. "One time we were ice skating
and I went through the ice, up to my neck," Bob said. "Elmer slid across the ice
on his belly and pulled me out."

 

He told of Elmer's athletic heroics at West High, then at Michigan in football,
track and baseball. Football, too? You bet, said Bob, a retired foundry worker.

 

Bob talked about Elmer surviving a 1942 crash during training in North Carolina. 
Elmer won the Soldiers Medal, Bob said, for pulling crewmen out of the burning plane,
and needed skin-graft surgery because he was badly burned. Clippings from the
Cleveland Plain Dealer confirmed the account, adding the facts that Elmer was the
navigator on the flight and also suffered three broken ribs.

 

"The last time I saw him," Bob said, "he told me, "I had my accident. It's going
to be good flying from now on.' He said he had used up his bad luck. That didn't
turn out to be true."

 

Bob said Elmer's widow, Laura, moved to Florida. As far as he knew, Bob said,
she no longer was alive. Bob said that when Elmer was inducted into the Michigan
Hall of Honor in 1983, Bob received Elmer's plaque because he was the closest
relative who could be located.

 

The Michigan press guide confirmed that Elmer had lettered in football from
1936-38, playing with renowned backs Tom Harmon and Forest Evashevski.
The school's sports information department added some more details. (They
came from a young student intern who, I could tell, had no idea about Gedeon 
until he did the research for me, but he was wide-eyed and impressed.) Gedeon
also won two letters in baseball and track, hitting .320 for the baseball team and
holding American indoor records inthe 70- and 75-yard high hurdles.

 

Evashevski, the retired University of Iowa coach and athletic director, was living
in Petoskey, Mich., when I contacted him. "Oh, "Ged' was a super guy," Evashevski
said on the phone. "He was a very, very humble person for a guy who had all his talent."

 

Evashevski said they both belonged to the Phi Delta Gamma fraternity. "He recruited
me," Evashevski said. "I asked him what kind of guys they had. He said, "Well, all of them
are about like me.' I joined. But the thing was, there couldn't be too many like him."

 

Evashevski said Gedeon was a good, not great, football end, but was remarkable in
the spring sports. "He'd win the hurdles, then change uniforms and play for the
baseball team," Evashevski said.

 

The Cleveland Plain Dealer sent me some copies of its Gedeon clippings.

 

One 1938 headline jumped out: "He's Too Good For His Own Good."

 

In June 1939, a week before commencement, Gedeon signed with the Senators,
choosing baseball over a possible berth on the 1940 Olympic track team. (The '40
Games later were canceled.) He joined the Senators when they came to Cleveland in
mid-June, prompting this headline in the Cleveland Press: "Campus to Majors in 24
Hours - Saga of Gedeon."

 

He got in those five games that season. He wasn't ready for the majors, but it seemed a
matter of time. He spent the next season with Charlotte in the minors, went back to
Michigan to coach the freshman football team in the fall of 1940 and was preparing for
another shot with the Senators when he was drafted in March '41.

 

He spent some time in the cavalry forces, then transferred to the Air Corps. When
his plane crashed during training in August 1942, Elmer was serving as navigator. He
suffered broken ribs and the burns on his back, hands, cheek and legs when he pulled
his crewmates from the wreckage.

 

When he was awarded the Soldiers Medal in Tampa, the Cleveland Press headline
said: "Gedeon Honored With Huge Parade."

 

By April 1944, he was based in England and flying the B-26 in missions over France.
The Allied invasion of the European mainland was six weeks away. Gedeon wrote to
his wife on April 19, then left on a mission the next day.

 

He didn't return alive.

 

The Baseball Encyclopedia is five days off on his date of death. Below that, all you see
is that Elmer Gedeon appeared in five big-league games.
The reason he didn't have a chance to play more is what the national day of
remembrance is all about.
 
Dude Dent, Colorado A&M
 
Dude.jpg

In that 1942 Colorado-Colorado A&M game,

one of the Buffaloes’ standouts was center Don Brotzman, a senior

from Merino who later was a long-term U.S. Congressman. His teammates

called him “Meatnose,” because of all the shots he took to the nose as the center.

From his home in Alexandria, Virginia, he vividly remembered the game’s

opening kickoff , because he looked downfield and spotted his buddy,

Aggies’ star Lewis “Dude” Dent.

 

The previous summer, Brotzman worked on a state highway department

crew on the Western Slope. “We laid oil roads over there, and I was the night

watchman for all the equipment,” Brotzman said. “I also drove a state highway

truck.” Dent was driving a truck for an oil-drilling operation in the same

area and living in Craig. Their paths crossed. “Dude was a really good athlete

and he had a hell of a lot of character,” Brotzman said. “He kind of took me

under his wing and we went to a lot of dances over there on the Western

Slope.”

 

All summer, they teased one another about their upcoming meeting on

the field that fall, and they popped off about who was going to hit whom

fi rst—and how hard.

 

When the kickoff dropped right into Dent’s hands, Brotzman had a free

run at his friend. “Man, I hit him a good shot,” Brotzman said. On the ground

together, they laughed about it.

 

*   *   *

 

Dent starred in everything at Craig High, graduating in 1939. At A&M,

Dent was the region’s best fullback and he also played basketball and ran track for

the Aggies. He worked as a busboy in a campus cafeteria.

 

Perry Blach said of Dent, “We looked up to him, and he was always there

when we needed him.” John Mosley added, “I did a lot of blocking for him.

We had a great experience together. He was a great friend in showing that I

didn’t need to fight all my battles all by myself.”

 

While at A&M, Dent married Mildred Bach, a fellow student from Denver.

In 1943, when athletic directors voted Dent the best all-around athlete

in the Mountain States Conference, he was in the Army reserves and serving

as a physical training and commando tactics instructor on campus. He had

taken field artillery instruction in advanced ROTC. When he was called to

active duty in May 1943, he was four hours short of receiving his mechanical

engineering degree.

 

“There’s plenty of chances for glory in the armed services,” he said in an

Associated Press story. “As a matter of fact, if the Army looks as good to me

from the inside as it does from the outside, and if I’m any good as a soldier,

I’ll probably make it my life career. . . . If the Army doesn’t like me, or I don’t

like it, I’ll come back after the war, make up the four hours and go on with

my engineering.”

 

Four other products of A&M’s Advanced ROTC program—Wayne

Seaman, Al Hoff man, Irv Ferguson, and Gordon Rutherford—went through

training with Dent at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. “After that, some of us got into a

battery executive school for a month, and Dude and I were in that,” Seaman

told me from his home in Evans, Colorado. “We’d had a lot of experience

with live ammunition, more so than a lot of guys in the division we ended up

with. After that, you had a list of choices where you could go, and the Fourth

Armored Division was getting ready to go overseas, and we were kind of

gung-ho. A bunch of us signed up for that, and they took the fi ve of us from

A&M. Dude, Al, and I went into the same battalion, the 94th Armored Artillery

Battalion.”

 

Ferguson was assigned to a tank battalion and Rutherford went to another

artillery battalion.

 

The 94th Battalion arrived in Europe in late 1943. “Dude and I had one

leave together in London,” Seaman said. “We went our separate ways once we

got there, but we went back and forth together.”

 

Lieutenant Lewis S. “Dude” Dent was killed in action near Troyes,

France, in August 1944.

 

When I talked with them, his teammates didn’t know any details about

his death, but they had heard that he had been awarded the Silver Star. A

photo taken at the couple’s northwest Denver home accompanied the vague

news story in the Denver Post. It showed his widow, two-and-a-half-year-old

son Richard, and infant daughter Cheryl.

 

Wayne Seaman and Roger Boas, an eighty-seven-year-old retired car

dealer and political figure in San Francisco, filled in the blanks about Dent’s

death when I spoke with them in 2009. Boas explained that he and Dent

were in a pool of forward observers with the 94th Armored Field Artillery

Battalion as the unit moved toward German-occupied Troyes. Boas, who

served as the battalion adjutant, said Dent was told the night before the battle

that it was his turn in the forward observer rotation.

 

The next day, Dent and his driver were in an open jeep, ahead of the U.S.

forces advancing toward Troyes over huge expanses of open ground. Boas was back at

the command center. “We heard Dent give fi ring coordinates on the radio, or

try to, and all of a sudden, we heard him scream,” Boas said. “That was when

the bullets hit him.”

 

Seaman said, “I was in a tank. We were in what I call desert formation,

spread out, going into this town. A German popped out of a foxhole and

sprayed Dude across the stomach. I heard he jumped out of the jeep and said,

‘Keep going.’ But that was hearsay because I was nowhere near him at the

time. We went into Troyes and I heard about Dude there.”

 

In the Pacific, CU star Don Brotzman heard about Dude’s death. “I just felt

terrible,” he said. “I felt like I had lost a great friend. I had lost some others, of

course, but I thought about it a lot. I still remember hearing it, so precisely.”

Of the original group of five Aggies, Rutherford also was killed in action.

Ferguson later became A&M’s baseball coach. Hoffman was killed in a plane

crash shortly after the war. Seaman worked for the Colorado Game and Fish

Department for thirty-one years, primarily as a fish biologist and researcher.

Dent first was buried in France. His remains later were brought back

to the United States, and he was re-interred in the Golden Gate National

Cemetery near San Francisco. 

 

 

 

Perry Blach, Colorado A&M

Blach.jpg

Perry Blach’s family had been ranching in the Yuma area since his grandfather

came over from Austria and homesteaded, building a two-room sod

house in 1887. His father, Ambrose, was born there in 1889. Perry starred in

sports for Yuma High School while participating in 4H and Future Farmers

of America activities.

 

In 1941, Blach went off to A&M. The next year, he was a sophomore

lineman, not starting but getting a lot of playing time, including in the loss

to Colorado.

 

Blach was called up from the Army Reserves in May 1943, but was

granted a four-month extension to help his father farm that summer. After

his September induction, he was attached to the newly formed 738th Field

Artillery Battalion. “We had eight-inch howitzers and all the trucks and

equipment that went with them,” Blach told me in his Yuma home.

“I was in firing direction. I fi gured the firing data for those guns.”

 

Blach went ashore with his unit Normandy’s Utah Beach about a month

after D-Day. “Everything was quiet at that time there, but all the wrecked

landing craft was still in that harbor,” he said. “We were on a three-quarter

ton, what we called a ‘carry-all.’ It was a big pickup and we pulled a trailer

behind that with a lot of our equipment on it.”

 

On the first night and the next day, the 738th moved 178 miles, much of

it under German shelling. “We ended up in a little town, and by that time, the

Allies had so many prisoners, they didn’t know what to do with them,” Blach

said. “Th ey pulled us off the road and gave us barbed wire. We strung barbed

wire and we guarded prisoners for fi ve or six days. You take everything away

from them. I still have some of their pocketknives down in the basement.

Th en the rear echelon caught up with us and took over the prisoners. They

put us with the 4th Armored, the 80th Infantry and the 35th Infantry, and

that was in Patton’s Third Army.”

 

After about three weeks of rough going, Blach and his buddies arrived

at the Moselle River, near the German border. “Tanks were ahead of us, but

if they ran into something they couldn’t soften up, we’d pull the eight-inch

howitzers off and blast ’em and go on,” Blach said. “My job was to figure the

range and the altitude. I enjoyed that part of it because I always knew where

we were, because we had good maps. When we got to the river, we were out

of gas and out of ammunition. If the Germans had known that, they could

have walked back across that river and taken all our equipment. We drained

the gasoline out of everything but four trucks to be able to send those trucks

back to Paris for supplies.”

 

After the infantry division was pulled out to help in the Battle of the

Bulge, Blach’s group moved from Luxembourg into Germany and went all

the way across the country, including through Frankfurt, well to the south of

Berlin. Th ey were fired upon by artillery and snipers, and the closest Blach

came to getting killed was when he attempted to repair a generator in the

open and was subjected to fire from 88-caliber artillery. At one point, a muddied

and fatigued Blach was crossing a road in Germany when he heard a

jeep racing up behind him. He turned and saw stars—three stars on the jeep.

Blach saluted General George S. Patton, and as he passed by, Patton saluted

back. Th e forces moved into Czechoslovakia, where Blach was amused

to hear natives ask, “You going to fight the Russkies?” Then the Germans

surrendered. “Th e Czech people rolled out the beer every night and had big

dances to celebrate and invited the GIs to join them. They made us pull out

and turn it over to the Russians, and everybody was sick. We really felt sorry

for them.”

 

After German occupation duty, Blach was switched to the 945th Field

Artillery and had orders to go with that unit through the Suez Canal to the

Pacifi c to join in the war against Japan. “We were still in Germany when

they dropped the first bomb on Japan,” Blach said. “Th ey put us on hold and

dropped the second bomb, and the war ended.”

 

When Blach was discharged, he bought the ranch next to his parents’

outside Yuma in 1946 but returned to school and played for the Rams again

in 1946 and 1947. “School was easier because I was older and I knew what I

wanted,” he said.

 

Blach served on the CSU alumni board for twenty-four years, became

a major financial booster for the university and the athletic department, and

renowned for his Hereford cattle. He and his wife, Teresa, had nine children.

 

Blach died in 2011.

 

Bob Spicer, Colorado

 Spicer.jpg

2004

With Veterans Day three days away, a former University of

Colorado guard, Bob Spicer, here represents a generation.

In the fall of 1946, when Spicer returned to the Boulder campus after

a three-year absence, he announced to CU coach Jim Yeager he wanted

to play football again.

 
Remembering Spicer as a freshman letterman for the 1942 Buffaloes, and
as a tough guard from Leavenworth, Kan., Yeager welcomed him back.

Yeager didn't ask Spicer many questions.

   

Neither did the team doctors.

  

In fact, as Spicer remembers it, he didn't even have to take a physical.

  

"If you were walking, you were OK," Spicer said with a laugh last

week from his home in Park Ridge, Ill.

  
In the locker room, or at his fraternity house, there was just something
about Spicer that discouraged extensive interrogation. One could tell.
He didn't want to talk about what he did during the war. Some knew
he had been a soldier. Some knew he was a Marine. They didn't know
many details.

 

"I didn't want to think about it too much, much less talk about it,"

Spicer said. "Keeping quiet was the way to go."

In the immediate post-war years, when so many men were arriving back

on campus and attending school on the G.I. Bill, Spicer's veteran status

didn't make him unique.

 
The circumstances did.

 

His right eye was fake, a $75 piece of cosmetic glass.

 

He didn't tell anyone. Not his coaches. Not his teammates.

 

So needless to say, he also didn't relate the story of how he lost his eye.

It happened after he had played one year of football for the Buffaloes.

When Spicer was a freshman in 1942, the Buffs went 7-2. The fall term

ended prematurely, Spicer recalled, because wartime allocation of resources

meant "they couldn't buy enough coal for the furnaces." Spicer went home,

and then traveled to Kansas City, Mo., to enlist in the Marines.

  

"I wanted to go," he said, simply. "It was my duty."

  

As a sergeant, he came ashore with the Marines at Bougainville, the

largest island in the Solomons, in November 1943. "We secured

part of the island to build a landing strip," he recalled.

 

His unit moved on to another island, Emeru, by then calm,

but went back into action on Guam.

  

By late 1944, he was on Guadalcanal, where the Sixth Marine Division

was formed and he was the starting quarterback for the 4th Regiment

in a rough-and-tumble, scoreless Christmas Eve touch football game

against the 29th Regiment. Both rosters included NFL and college stars.

  

Okinawa was next. In the Battle of Sugar Loaf Hill, a week-long siege

of heroism for the Marines, many of Spicer's buddies died. He suffered

a shrapnel wound in his arm. "I was looking when I should have been

ducking," he said.

 

Spicer went off the lines, but returned a week later wearing a bandage.

In the final stages of the Okinawa fighting, when he and his unit

encountered a trench full of Japanese, he took a grenade fragment in

his right eye.

 

"That's what I think, anyway," he said. "You don't really know. I got

back in the hospital and my eye started scratching and it got all puffed up,

real big. They said they had to take it out."

   

Nearly 3,000 Marines died on Okinawa, including 12 who played in

the Christmas Eve touch football game.

 

 "I wondered why it was them and not me," Spicer said. "Nobody

could answer that."

 

Released from the Marines in January 1946, Spicer learned to

navigate with a limited field of vision. "You have no depth perception,

but that doesn't really figure into it where I played," he said.

  

He got good enough at it to prevent it from becoming an issue with his

coaches, Yeager in 1946 and 1947, and then Dal Ward in 1948. Starting

at guard in his junior and senior seasons, Spicer also was the Buffs' captain

in 1948, CU's first year in the Big Seven Conference.

 

Incredibly, he also played catcher for the CU baseball team. As a right-handed

hitter, at least, he could focus with his left, or lead, eye. "The worst thing was,

I couldn't follow pop-ups," he said. "My batting average wasn't very high. I either

hit home runs or struck out."

 

After leaving CU, he was a news editor for a Burlington, Iowa, radio station, and

then got into the banking field in the Chicago area. "I went in as a trainee and then

became an officer," he said.

  

He and Nancy Spicer have been married for 55 years and have five children and 17

grandchildren.

"Three times a week, I go to kidney dialysis," he said. "Other than that, I guard

the television set."

  

Two years ago, Spicer got a new glass eye. "First one was $75, this one was $750,"

 he said, adding he didn't have to pay for it. "That's how I measure inflation."

  

To Bob Spicer and all veterans, ex-football players or otherwise:

Thanks. We owe you.

   
(Bob Spicer died in 2006.)
  
  
  
 

 

42BadgersBWnames1.jpg

In this team picture taken on the first day of practice

in 1942, Don Pfotenhauer is sixth from left in the back

row. His number (14) is only partially visible. Mark Hoskins

is wearing No. 42 in the second row. In many cases, the

Badgers' practice jerseys didn't match up with their game

numbers.  


   

Badger POWs: Mark Hoskins and Don Pfotenhauer 


 

Mark Hoskins, from Lancaster, Wisconsin, and Dave Schreiner’s friend

since childhood, was a starting halfback and the co-captain of the 1942

Badgers. He ended up a B-17 co-pilot in Europe and was slated to move

over to the left-hand seat after a mission on June 27, 1944.

 

Don Pfotenhauer was a sophomore reserve halfback from Escanaba,

Michigan. He was a sergeant with a machine gun unit and one of

Several Badgers who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

 

                                                      *   *   *

LANCASTER—Lieut. Mark Hadley Hoskins, star right halfback on

the 1942 Wisconsin football team, is missing in action over Hungary,

the war department today notified his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mark

Hoskins, Lancaster.

 

Lieut. Hoskins, pilot of a Flying Fortress, had been based in Italy. The

message said he had been missing since June 27.

 

Lieut. Hoskins and a fellow townsman, Dave Schreiner, now in the

South Pacific with the Marines, made grid history at the university and

were known as the “Touchdown Twins” after they made good as sophomores.

      Wisconsin State Journal, 1944

 

The word soon came, however, that Hoskins had been able to bail out after German fire struck his plane, and after hiding out on a Hungarian farm, he was captured on the ground, wound up in the notorious Stalag Luft III, the “Great Escape” camp.


The camp had five compounds. Hoskins was in the South Compound, used for American officers and largely populated by airplane crews. Opened in September 1943, it was the last part of the camp constructed and was the most secure. Each barracks, with the floor raised off the ground to discourage tunneling, had fifteen rooms. When Hoskins arrived, about eight Americans were bunking in each room. Later the number was as high as fifteen.


The Germans told Hoskins and other new arrivals that they would treat escape attempts harshly, and it wasn’t bluster. After a mass escape by 76 British, Dutch, and Norwegian prisoners from the North Compound on March 27, 1944, most had been recaptured—and fifty had been shot.


 Five hundred prisoners had pitched in to dig three tunnels, which they named Tom, Dick, and Harry, and Harry was the one used for the flight.

 

As Hoskins quickly discovered, despite the executions, the Americans in the South Compound continued their attempts to construct an escape tunnel of their own.

                                                       *   *   *

At the outset of the Battle of the Bulge, the Americans came under heavy German fire and suffered significant casualties. Former Badger Don Pfotenhauer’s unit eventually found itself surrounded. As the men went to sleep one night early in the battle, “our officers told us to pray and think of our loved ones at home,” Pfotenhauer wrote. “We didn’t know who would be alive tomorrow at that time.”


The next morning, Pfotenhauer’s two remaining guns opened fire on the Germans. “I could see them drop and we must’ve hit 15 or 20 of them,” he wrote. Both the company commander and a major “left us there, and the rest of the officers ran around like lost ducks, [except for] one who tried to organize our mortars to fire on the tanks.” But there wasn’t enough ammunition, equipment, or men. The odds were too great, the result inevitable. A corporal raised a white flag.

 

 “We broke up our rifles, machine guns, glasses, compasses, and mortars, but I forgot to destroy my hunting knife, and the damn Jerries got it,” Pfotenhauer wrote.


The Germans forced the Americans to march out.


"I thought of my loved ones at home,” Pfotenhauer wrote. “How would they take it? Would they be ashamed of me? Would they be able to stand up to the shock when I would be reported MIA? When I thought of them, tears came to my eyes.”

 

 *  *  *


At Stalag Luft III, Mark Hoskins discovered the South Compound was a society unto itself, with the American officers governing. The Germans held roll call twice a day, and other than that the prisoners largely were on their own. The officers ordained that no breakout could be attempted without approval from the escape committee, also known as the “X Committee.Af”


After the failed escape attempt in spring 1944 by British, Dutch, and Norwegian prisoners, the American officers ruled that German-speaking soldiers would be at the front of the line in any mass American escape attempts, because they would have the most chance of surviving on the run. Anyone wanting to try an individual escape through the fence was supposed to seek permission from the X Committee, and if approved, he would be given maps, money, and wire cutters.


The head escape officer (code-named “Big X”) at Stalag Luft III was Lieutenant Colonel Albert P. Clark of the 31st Fighter Group. Clark had been a POW since his plane was shot down over France in July 1942. Hoskins and all the later-arriving pilots were in awe of him, both because of his status and, more importantly, because he was instrumental in the Americans’ largely surreptitious organization.


In his memoir 33 Months as a POW in Stalag Luft III, Clark wrote that the Germans had tightened up considerably in the summer of 1944. The Germans, he wrote, suddenly placed limits on stockpiling food from Red Cross shipments and began harassing the prisoners more often with needless roll calls and inventories of their possessions. Life at Stalag Luft III, never a picnic, was getting even tougher.


In addition to the barracks, the American compound had a separate theater building where prisoners could gather, put on shows, or stage other activities to pass the time. The Germans had allowed the prisoners to build it themselves, and the construction took place from October 1943 to February 1944. The prisoners made the building’s four hundred seats from Red Cross boxes.


By the time Hoskins was a POW, five months after the theater was completed, the Americans, under the supervision of the X Committee, had started to tunnel from the building and under the nearby fence. The tunneling, undertaken in shifts, was painstaking and perilous work, and everyone was painfully aware of the failed British-led escape attempt—and the retribution.


“The soil there was quite sandy,” Hoskins recalled years later. “As they would dig, they would protect the integrity of the tunnel by putting boards along the roof and the sides. You had bunkboards in your bunk, and each month or so they’d come along with a requisition of so many boards from this one room. We were sleeping with fewer and fewer boards all the time. Our mattresses were filled with wood shavings and sawdust, so it was more uncomfortable all the time.”


One tricky part of the process was getting rid of sand and dirt from the tunnels. Prisoners started “projects” above ground just to create an excuse for having loose soil exposed so they could mix in dirt from the tunnel. 

 

The ostensible goal, of course, was to eventually provide a means of escape, but more realistically—given the slow progress under the conditions and the previous mass escape attempt—the project was a way for the prisoners to preserve their own sense of collective defiance and hope.

 

For Hoskins, day-to-day life in camp was a fight against boredom and malnutrition. Men in each room drew cook duty for a week at a time, and they were assigned “stooges,” or helpers, in one- or two-day stints. The cooks for all fifteen rooms in a barracks had to take turns using the single tiny stove, primarily working with food from the International Red Cross. The prisoners learned to make cakes from ground-up crackers, and the Germans contributed bread—horrible bread—and a soup that wasn’t much more than gruel. Occasionally, the Germans would taunt the prisoners by presenting the soup with a cow’s head still in the pot. The weekly Red Cross parcel for each prisoner included one can of powdered milk, Spam, corned beef, liver paste, salmon, cheese, margarine, biscuits, instant coffee, jam, and prunes or raisins, plus one small box of sugar, two chocolate bars, two bars of soap, and five packs of cigarettes. The diet added up to stubborn cases of dysentery, severe weight loss, and other problems.


Barter and bribery fueled the camp’s underground economy. Prisoners took unwanted portions of parcels from the Red Cross or from home to the compound’s trading post, where they bartered mainly for clothes, food, cigarettes, and reading material.

 

The Americans followed BBC war news on a homemade radio. “They got the radio by working on the guards,” Hoskins said. “As soon as you could get something on a guard, you’d have them by the balls. You’d give them a cigarette, and they weren’t supposed to take cigarettes. You’d get them to take one, then another the next day. You could always hold that over them, tell their superiors. So they were able to get things like parts of radios. This was a vast group of guys with different skills. We had radio people who could make their own radios if they got the works.”


(Cigarettes were so significant as barter, the Germans finally ruled in late August that each room could have no more than 500 cigarettes per man on hand. The rest had to be in a central pool. It was a way to discourage the bribery.)


The other way to assemble a radio, Hoskins recalled, was to have a prisoner get one part in a Red Cross parcel and another prisoner receive another part in a different parcel. Slowly the men would accumulate enough parts.


“The bread the Germans issued was unlike any bread that you ever saw,” Hoskins said. “There was a lot of sawdust in it. Well, the prisoners with the radio would hollow out this bread and keep their radio in there. Every noon this one guy would turn on the BBC for news. . . . There would be eight or ten runners who would take that news by word of mouth to the different barracks. So we could follow it quite well. We knew what was going on.”

 

 In the camp’s camouflaged language, the men called the radio the “canary” and the war news “soup.”

 

On September 11, the Germans ruled that each prisoner would now receive only half of a Red Cross parcel. Two weeks later, the Germans handed out literature emphasizing that they followed the rules of war set forth by The Hague Convention but insinuating that the dastardly Allied tactics were making the Germans doubt the wisdom of their civility. The implication: The executions of the British prisoners after their capture would be the order of the day if other prisoners followed their lead. One flyer, reprinted in Clipped Wings, declared, “Stay in the camp where you will be safe! Breaking out of it now is a damned dangerous act. The chances of preserving your life are almost nil! All police and military guards have been given the most strict orders to shoot on sight all suspected persons. Escaping from prison camps has ceased to be a sport!”


The prisoners continued to use the theater virtually every night, which helped camouflage the ongoing tunneling. The events included plays, musicals, and reviews. The prisoners wrote a few of the shows and staged others after copying scripts from anthologies. Participants dressed in women’s clothes for the female roles. The productions included The Invisible Duke; Bishop’s Candlesticks; Veni, Vidi, Vici; Amazing Doctor Clitterhouse; You Can’t Take It with You; The Front Page; and Room Service. Hoskins played a role in the musical Kiss and Tell, which included a band on stage. He also sang in the camp glee club, which practiced and performed in the theater.

 ★ ★ ★


On January 27, Hoskins was in the audience in the South Compound’s theater, watching a prisoner production of You Can’t Take It with You. Suddenly, at about 9:30 p.m., the South Compound’s senior American officer, Colonel Charles G. Goodrich, stepped onto the stage. He announced the Germans were evacuating Stalag Luft III and said the prisoners had to be ready to march out momentarily. (Hoskins remembered Goodrich saying they had an hour to get ready. In his memoirs, Albert P. Clark said Goodrich announced that they had a half-hour. Regardless, the march didn’t begin until about ninety minutes following Goodrich’s announcement.)


Russian forces under Marshall G. K. Zhukov were only about twenty miles away. The Germans didn’t want the British and American officers freed to rejoin the fighting, even though most of the men were emaciated. The evacuation of ten thousand prisoners, including two thousand Americans, began at 11 p.m. The prisoners marched in the bitter cold through the night, dumping prized personal belongings—including letters from home—in the snow along the way in attempts to lighten their loads and increase the chances of survival. Many collapsed and had to be left behind to freeze to death.


The next morning, the prisoners finally were allowed to rest at the small town of Grosselten. They had walked about twenty miles. “We were at a place with some barns, and we slept in the hay,” Hoskins said. “They got us out the next day, and we traveled a good ways until we came to a town called Moskau. [An alternative spelling, including  in Clipped Wings, the remarkable yearbook-type work published after the war was Maskau.] They put us in a glass factory. The workers were all gone, but it was heated because of the fires from the glass machines. A friend of mine from my room slept that night on the floor of a glass furnace.”

 

 They resumed the march the next day and made it to Spremberg, a small German town that served as headquarters for a German tank unit. The prisoners were gathered in a square and encircled by tanks.

 

 “I thought, ‘Jesus Christ, this is it,’” Hoskins said. “I thought they were going to use those tanks on us. But they just used them  to keep us from doing anything.”


The prisoners jumped and moved to keep from freezing. Then they were loaded onto trains. The cars were packed, and the stench was choking.


“Those cars were called ‘forty and eight,’” Hoskins said. “They were freight cars made to carry forty men or eight horses. They a lot more than that in each car. They must have marked ‘Red Cross’ on the top, or something like that, because they had notified the bombers we were on this train so they wouldn’t attack us. And they didn’t. 

 

 “There were a certain number of guards on the train, not one per car. The train would have to stop every three or four hours to let the men out to go to the bathroom. The trouble was there weren’t enough guards to open all the cars simultaneously. They’d start at one end of the train, and by the time they got to the other end, everybody was ready to go again. Here you’d be crapping in the snow and have to finish and have to hustle back in the car.”

 

On the third night of their journey, the prisoners arrived at Moosburg, twenty-two miles northeast of Munich. The prisoners had to stay in the boxcars until the next morning, when they were moved to nearby Stalag VII-A. Stalag VII-A made Stalag Luft III seem like the Waldorf-Astoria. It had been built to house 10,000. Eventually the camp held 110,000 prisoners, including 30,000 Americans. Tents were wedged between barracks, and most of the prisoners didn’t have beds and slept wherever they could find space. But news of Allied successes filtered into the camp, and the prisoners were hopeful they would be liberated—unless the Germans violated rules of war by staging mass executions.

 

One day, Hoskins sat on the steps outside his ramshackle barracks. A fellow  Kriegie walked by, stopped, and did a double-take. “Mark?” It was one of Hoskins’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity brothers, John Merrill, a B-26 pilot who had been shot down in early 1945 and moved around to several camps. He had arrived at Stalag VII-A the day before. “He had been a Kriegie longer than I had, and he was very thin,” Merrill recalled. “But he was the same old Mark.”

 

For the next few weeks, the two Phi Delts passed some of the time talking over old times—and fraternity brothers Dave Schreiner and Crazylegs Hirsch. Hoskins was frustrated because he knew little about how his pal, Schreiner, was faring in the Pacific. Allied air traffic in the area was heavy, mostly involving P-47 and P-51 fighters attacking German targets and B-17s heading to Munich. Artillery thundered in the distance. Red Cross parcels were temporarily delayed, so for a time the German gruel was the prisoners’ only sustenance.

 

 The Germans became more lackadaisical in their control of the prisoners, who could wander from compound to compound. In late April, the artillery barrages began flying over the camp, toward Moosburg.


 “I had never heard artillery close up before,” Hoskins said. “It was scary as hell, kind of a shriek or like a sheet being ripped.”


During the second night of overhead artillery, the prisoners heard German trucks leaving the camp. In the morning, most of the guards were gone. On Sunday, April 29, some prisoners climbed onto the roofs of the buildings and watched American tanks closing in. They took cover during the ensuing one-hour battle outside the camp between the Americans and the remaining Germans. In mid-afternoon, tanks from the Army’s 47th Tank Battalion rolled into camp.

 

Another of Hoskins’s and Merrill’s fraternity brothers, Jack Dewitt, was outside the gates, with a unit held in reserve. Dewitt, in fact, was the former Phi Delta Theta  president from Lancaster who had been so instrumental in landing Hoskins and Dave Schreiner as pledges.

 

Dewitt knew his friend Hoskins was in there somewhere, and he started inside to look for him before reluctantly deciding it would be a long shot. He couldn’t take the chance of his unit being ordered to move while he was wandering.


Ten months after his mission to Budapest, Hoskins was liberated.


Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker the next day. And the day after that, General George S. Patton Jr. visited the Americans at Stalag VII-A.


“There was no place for us to go,” Hoskins said. So, after several more days at the camp, he and many of the prisoners were taken to Englestadt, about fifty miles away. “It took about three or days for the planes to come and get us,” he said.


“[At Englestadt] we went into a factory that manufactured alpine equipment for the German army. There were hundreds of thousands of skis there. We discovered that if you put the skis between two abutments, that would give you a place to sleep. So we slept on the skis for a couple of nights. Finally, the planes came.”

 

The planes took the men to Rheims, France, where they received much-needed medical attention. Hoskins weighed 135 pounds, down 55 from his playing (and flying) weight.


“We were given shots, and they started filling us with food.”


The war was over in Europe.

 


 Hoskins and his teammate Don Pfotenhauer could have compared prison camp experiences and found themselves nodding in recognition of the similarities.


As the allies closed in on Stalag IX-A, where Pfotenhauer was interned, the Germans’ actions became even more bizarre. The camp authorities finally declared that if four hundred Americans volunteered to be marched farther east, presumably to be used as pawns in upcoming negotiations, the remainder could remain behind for likely liberation by the advancing U.S. troops.


The healthiest felt it was their duty to volunteer, so Pfotenhauer did. “We weren’t trying to be heroes,” he later wrote in his journal. Facing uncertainty, Pfotenhauer read Bible psalms the night before leaving.


The next day, March 29, when the Americans and their German escorts reached the closest road, the guards disappeared. An astounded Pfotenhauer and the other Americans were free. “We were so happy, we cried,” he wrote.


After troops from the Third U.S. Army arrived on March 30, the Americans went back to Stalag IX-A, which the Germans had deserted. The tables turned: German prisoners were brought there by U.S. troops, and Pfotenhauer didn’t mind being assigned guard duty. “I had a Jerry rifle [and] ammo, and was just waiting for one of them to make a break,” he wrote.

                                                               *   *   *


The liberated Mark Hoskins returned to the United States on a ship, landed in New York, and caught a train to Chicago, where he was reunited with his wife. Mary was ecstatic to see her husband. “I got there before the train came  in, and it was terrific,” Mary recalled. She had known he had lost weight, but still she was shocked when she saw how thin he truly was.


She also had to break something to him: His brother, Charles, the best man at their wedding, had been killed in Luxembourg while serving with an infantry regiment with Patton’s Third Army. Like Mark, Charles had originally been reported as missing in action, but that report—in early 1945—was followed in a couple of weeks by confirmation that he was listed among those killed. Mark’s family had decided not to tell him about his brother’s death in a letter.


Mark met with his surviving brother, Billy, at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, and he and Mary took the Zephyr to Dubuque, where they met up with his parents. Then Mark arrived in Lancaster, and he and Mary stayed at his parents’ home, by then the residential part of the city’s funeral home.

 

One of the first stops he made was to visit Dave Schreiner’s parents.

 

 

Irene12.jpg

"Madison Gillaspey never came back"  

 

September 26, 2012: Today, I was emailed that picture.

The woman is Irene Smith. 

I'll get to her story, but first, the background.

After the 2004 publication of Third Down and a War to Go: The All-
American 1942 Wisconsin Badgers
, I heard from Arlene Chandler, who had
 been the fiancee of Bob Baumann, one of my father's two teammates on that
 team who had been killed in the Battle of Okinawa.

Arlene passed along letters and pictures from her time with Bob, when she
 was Arlene Bahr, and I included the material in the paperback Third Down
 and a War to Go
.


Today, I was reminded that Arlene and so many others lost sweethearts
 during the war, men with whom they had talked about spending lives
 together.
 
I received the email from Cindy Smith in Montrose, Iowa.

She told me she had come across my November 2000 Denver Post story that
 served as the starting point for Third Down and a War to Go. She had been
 searching for information on a World War II pilot named Madison Gillaspey.
 She started checking after attending an air show in Burlington last week with
 her mother, Irene Eck Smith. When it was announced that the third Friday in
 September was an annual day of remembrance for American POW and
 MIA, Irene was moved to tell her daughter more about losing her fiancee
 during World War II.

His name was Madison Gillaspey.

Irene called him "Bud."

Madison and Irene Eck had attended high school together in Argyle, Iowa,
 were long-time sweethearts and were engaged to be married. While he was
 serving in the Pacific, she took flight lessons and was on the verge of taking a
 solo flight as a pilot herself when she got word that Madison was missing in
 action and presumed dead. Irene told her daughter that she was heartbroken
 and never flew again. Irene eventually met and married Cindy's father,
 Wendell Smith, taught grade school for many years, and now is a widow.

My dad was in the 26th Photo Squadron, whose pilots were entrusted with
 the one-man P-38 fighters reconfigured into reconaissance planes. They flew
 them unarmed, with the cameras replacing guns. They flew alone or in 
two-plane missions over Japanese targets, taking pictures in advance of the
 bombing runs.

My Dad had told me of how a small group of flyers in the 26th Photo
 Squadron, grouped together by the accident of the alphabet, had become
 close. Ed Crawford, Jerry Frei, Don Garbarino, Madison Gillaspey and
 Ruffin Gray. They made a pact that they all would come through the war
 alive. Because of an alphabet cutoff after training Gray ended up with
 another unit, but he remained in touch.

In February 1945, my father caught up to his unit, by then at Lingayen in the
 Philippines, after a brief leave. He saw one of the P-38s taking off.

Here's what he told me, years later, and this was both in the Post article and
 in Third Down and a War to Go

“I asked one of our people, ‘Who’s that?’ He said it was Madison 
Gillaspey,
 and he was going on a low-level mission to Ipo Dam. I went 
over to the
 squadron area, to the others’ tent. It always was Ed Crawford, 
Don
 Garbarino, Madison Gillaspey, and me. But while I was gone, they’d 
moved
 another pilot in with them when they got to Lingayen, so I was going 
to go
 get a cot and be the fifth.”

He didn’t have to get the cot.

“Madison Gillaspey never came back,” Jerry Frei said. “No one ever knew
 what happened, but we lost two planes over Ipo Dam."

My dad remained in touch with the other men in that tent over the years.

They missed Madison Gillaspey.

That at the top is of Irene at the Keokuk (Iowa) National Cemetery,
 where Gillaspey has a memorial stone, though his remains never were found.

And here's Argyle, Iowa, High's Class of '41, with both Irene and Madison.
 They're in the top row. Irene is the second from left, Madison is at the right.

Argyle.jpg

P38Gillaspey.jpg


Madison Gillaspey as a P-38 pilot