A couple of Memorial Day reminiscences... good stuff!


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Preacherman
May 31, 2005, 01:48 AM
Friends referred these two articles to me as Memorial Day reminiscences. Excellent reading!

1. From the Star Tribune (http://www.startribune.com/stories/462/5429755.html):

First Yank in WWII Europe spoke quietly for all

Chuck Haga, Star Tribune

May 30, 2005

HUTCHINSON, MINN. -- Milburn Henke was a national symbol most of his life, a duty he bore with quiet dignity.

On Memorial Day, he would put on his service cap and join in the parade down Main Street, past the little cafe his dad had started in 1930. It was one of several cafes Milburn Henke helped run for 50 years, before and after World War II.

"We marched in the parade every year," Iola Henke said. "He was very proud to have been in the service."

Milburn Henke also would report on Memorial Day to the local cemeteries, where he paid his respects to the Hutchinson men who had gone to school with him, went to war with him and did not come home with him.

They didn't get the attention he did, in life or in death, which Henke thought was wrong.

"He said he represented all the men who landed over there," Iola Henke said. "He didn't take it as a personal thing, him being first."

But he was.

When the 34th (Red Bull) Division arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Jan. 26, 1942 -- just seven weeks after Pearl Harbor -- those thousands of young men from Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota were greeted as the vanguard of the multitudes who would liberate Europe.

With military bands, columns of British generals and the world's newsreel cameras all waiting on the dock, the Americans were told to pick one soldier to step off the troop ferry first -- the first fightin' Yank on European soil.

"There were nearly 4,000 of us," Milburn Henke said in a 1971 interview. "We landed in Belfast and were sitting around a long time doing nothing when the colonel came around looking awfully busy and bothered. Apparently he asked my lieutenant for a man, and the guy said 'Hey, Henke, you go with him.'

"I went, and that's all there was to it."

As Henke strode down the gangplank, bands struck up the national anthem. He paused, smiled and saluted, and a photographer's shutter clicked.

The picture of the young man from central Minnesota stepping off his ship and into history went all over the world, and Henke received newspaper clippings from every state and many foreign countries.

"I had a barracks-bag full," he said, "and my parents had two bags."

A general asked him whether he could talk to reporters.

"I can if I have to," he said.

He also spoke on the radio.

"But don't ask me what I said," he told an interviewer years later. "I mean, it wasn't anything like the first words on the moon.

"For a while there, with all the attention I got, it looked as though the Army's plan was for me to win the war single-handed."

He didn't, but he did take part in the North Africa landings and received a Silver Star in Tunisia, crawling under heavy German fire to reach a wounded officer and apply a tourniquet to his leg, saving his life.

He was about to invade Italy when a weapons carrier he was riding in rolled over and he suffered a fractured back. After four months in hospitals in Oran and Casablanca, Henke was sent home.

He and Iola were married in 1944 and spent their honeymoon in northern Minnesota, and at a cabin that Henke and his father had built before the war at Lake Stella, north of Hutchinson.

After another year in the Army, which he and Iola spent at Fort Benning, Ga., the war ended and the Henkes returned to Hutchinson, the hamburger shop and the Lake Stella cabin. They raised three children.

When he and the other local men in the 34th Division left at the start of the war, "that just took the heart right out of Hutchinson," Iola Henke said. "It was much smaller then. But everybody who was left pitched in and helped."

Fighting alongside friends from home was both a blessing and a curse. "He was with men he grew up with, and to see them get killed was really terrible.

"He wrote as often as he could, and I wrote about every other day. We numbered the letters to make sure we knew if any failed to get through. Of course, they were censored. And we didn't have TV like they do now, so we didn't know what was going on. I don't think I could have taken that."

Carl Henke displayed the famous picture of his son in his cafe. But he retired soon after Milburn came home, and Iola doesn't remember it hanging there.

"Milburn had pictures of himself at home that he put up," she said.

On the 25th anniversary of his moment in the world's spotlight, a Belfast TV station brought Henke back over.

"I'd like to say this," he said as he returned to the dockyards. "They say I was the very first American soldier on European soil. Fine, but there was nothing special about me."

The dockworkers disagreed.

They "hoisted him to their shoulders and, shouting and singing, paraded him around the dock," according to a 1967 Associated Press report. "The impromptu demonstration ended at Dineen's Saloon."

He was invited back in 1992 on the 50th anniversary, and Iola went along. "They took us all around to where they had done their [training] maneuvers," she said. "I had heard him talk about all these places, and then I was able to see them."

Milburn Henke died in 1998, age 79. He was buried in Peace Cemetery north of Hutchinson. Veterans will see that a flag marks his grave for Memorial Day along with the graves of others who 63 years ago stepped off a ship in Belfast harbor to bands playing, generals saluting, people cheering.

"I was just sort of picked out of a hat," he once said. "But I never tried to downgrade what it meant: the symbol of America sending its boys to Europe to help win the war."


2. From the Houston Chronicle (http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/front/3203199):

May 30, 2005

A thanks on hold since 1941

[I]British Marine saved from the sea finally to meet his Houston rescuer

By ROSANNA RUIZ

As a young merchant mariner, Roy Murray, now 84, spotted survivors of a German U-boat attack afloat in the South Atlantic. In June, he will go to England to visit some of those men.

Roy Murray Jr., a young merchant mariner from Houston, had just taken over the evening watch aboard a U.S. cargo ship sailing off the African coast in November 1941. He expected a quiet shift.

A few miles away, where World War II was already blazing, an exhausted British Royal Marine private named William Gill drifted numbly in a packed life raft, watching his mates die of exposure, injuries and vicious fish and shark bites. Hundreds of others had already died in a Nazi torpedo attack of their ship, the HMS Dunedin, three days earlier.

Suddenly, a flash on the horizon sent Murray running for a pair of binoculars and hurrying to an upper deck of the SS Nishmaha. When another wave crested, Murray clearly made out the small craft with Gill aboard. He blew his pocket whistle, setting in motion the rescue that pulled 72 men from the South Atlantic.

Next month in Portsmouth, England, Gill and two other Dunedin survivors will finally meet the man they can thank for the last 64 years of their lives.

During a telephone interview from his home in Brighton, Gill, 84, said he intends to greet Murray with "two words that say everything: 'Thank you.' "

Back in Houston, Murray, 85 and a retired Ship Channel pilot, said the reunion will be recognition simply for "doing a good job, in a professional way."

"I don't know about being a hero," he said. "Nobody was shooting at me."

Gill and Murray are both grandfathers now, and the years have grayed their hair. But the events of Nov. 27, 1941, are clear to both.

"I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I can remember that day," said Murray, who joined the Merchant Marine in 1937 after graduating from St. Thomas High School.

It was Thanksgiving, and Murray dined on a turkey dinner with the captain and other officers. At 5 p.m., he returned to the bridge and relieved the other third mate. A moment after taking over, he noticed Gill's raft.

The Nishmaha had been en route from West Africa to Philadelphia, but drifted off course when an engine was shut down for repairs. Otherwise, the men of the Dunedin may never have been spotted.

Three days earlier, on Nov. 24, the crew of that ship had little time to grab supplies after being struck. The German vessel fired three torpedoes at the Dunedin. Two torpedoes found their marks, and the ship sunk almost 20 minutes later.

In all, 419 Royal Navy sailors and marines perished when the ship went down or died later at sea. About 250 were able to scramble onto rafts or instead clung to debris, floating among large patches of oil.

The U-boat surfaced and circled the survivors. In defiance, the men broke out into There'll Always Be an England at the sight of the enemy vessel.

"It was bravado or release of tension, certainly a sign of defiance," said Gill, explaining that he and the other men were fearful of being shot at by the Germans. After a few minutes, the vessel dove back into the water.

During the hours that followed, the survivors' numbers dwindled. Some drowned or died of injuries, exposure or bled to death from severe bites from dog fish and barracudas. Sharks were also a constant threat. Gill resisted the fierce temptation to drink seawater.

"That's one of my most vivid memories aboard the raft," he said.

Of the 22 men who scrambled aboard Gill's raft, only three lived long enough to be rescued.

"As they died in the raft of exhaustion or whatever reason, we had to tip them over the side," Gill said.

He had pushed the memories aside until recently, when pressed by his son, Stuart Gill, who has written a book about his father's rescue.

"I can recall a certain numbness. Patience. Not hoping and praying like mad. I don't remember praying. I always believed in God and always felt that spirit there to help people," Gill said. "I don't remember too many of my emotions."

It took about five hours for the men of Nishmaha to retrieve all of the survivors, beginning at about sundown and continuing into the night. With only a 37-man complement, nearly everyone had to help in the rescue. Murray had to cobble together men from the engine and stewards departments to work as oarsmen for his boat, the third deployed from the Nishmaha.

About a quarter-mile from the ship, with darkness fast approaching, Murray heard the screams of men awaiting rescue. They took in six and continued farther out when they encountered about two dozen more in another raft.

Once aboard the Nishmaha, the men were fed and given cots and blankets. The seriously injured were treated and bandaged. Five of the rescued men died during the first 12 hours and were buried at sea with military honors, Murray said.

After 10 days, the remaining 67 survivors were handed over to British authorities at the closest British naval base, the port of Trinidad.

It was Dec. 7, the day Pearl Harbor was attacked.

"People on board were so good. It really showed American generosity to its full limit," Gill said. "It was absolutely superb. They couldn't have done enough for us."

A few years ago, some of the Dunedin survivors banded together to form the Dunedin Society, of which Gill serves as president. In March, after a nephew told him about the power of Google, Murray came across the society's Web site and contacted the group.

"It never occurred to me to go on the Internet," Murray explained. "I just thought I'd let them know who I was."

A series of e-mail ensued, and the arrangements for next month's meeting were made.

In the Merchant Marine, Murray traveled to nearly every part of the globe except Antarctica. He was ultimately promoted to captain and worked later as a ship pilot at the Port of Houston. He is now retired.

"I just put the phone down from talking to my father who is overwhelmed you have found us," Stuart Gill wrote Murray in an e-mail. "Since you were on watch, it was you who saved his life. As his son, I cannot adequately put into words what that means. If there were some way that you and he could meet it would be just perfect, and it would enable my father to thank you properly after all these years for what you did."

Murray, his wife, Evelyn, and their three daughters will fly to England June 17 for a week. Two other Dunedin survivors, Jim Davis and Les Barter, will also attend the reunion.

Gill's sons, Stewart and Michael, and others are making arrangements.

Murray smiled at the prospect of swapping war stories with the Dunedin men.

"I have to meet these old guys," he said.

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4570Rick
May 31, 2005, 03:20 AM
Very good articles. Thank you Preacherman. I just watched two programs. One about the 2+ year build up to D-day, and the other on the contributions of the Merchant Marines.













And Thank You to all who have served.

Kaylee
May 31, 2005, 09:15 AM
And Thank You to all who have served.

Amen.

I went to visit grampa at the VA Cemetary yesterday (unlike many from WWII, he had a long life after the war, though I only barely remember him). Just up the row from him was a fresh stone for a Marine seargeant KIA in Iraq... he had been just about my brother's age when he was killed.

As I was wondering about his family and how they were getting on.. they showed up to visit him. Sad day, but God help us if we ever stop remembering.

Husker1911
May 31, 2005, 09:54 AM
My dad is 80, flew 31 missions as waist gun in a B-17 out of Italy in '44 and '45. He rarely even mentioned his service until I was in my mid twenties. My two brothers and I kept asking about it, and it seems the times changed and became right for him to speak of it. I'm duly proud of him, too.

I lost an uncle (I wasn't born yet) over the skies of Belgium when his B-24 was shot down. Another uncle was waist gun aboard a Fortress, flew with the Eighth out of England. He saw the ????. Flying daylight missions, unescorted by fighters once they were barely over France. They suffered massive losses. My unc, though officially uncredited with it, believes he shot down a Luftwaffe fighter. Over the years I saw Burle shoot pheasants around Venango NE. A dead shot, I believe what he says. He brought home his service 1911A1.

Dad tells of a mission where they lost an engine while circling to gain altitude to cross the Alps, enroute to their target. They kept going, but it took more fuel to do so. They bombed the target, and fuel became critically low on their return. They jettisoned all extra weight, their oxygen tanks, their guns and ammo. They dropped the ball turret. Air/Sea rescue was notified, and they were in danger of ditching into the Adriatic. It was cold, and men didn't live long in that water. But they made it to an emergency runway on a small island. It was a short runway, and they overshot the landing field a little. As the pilot gunned the throttles to turn around, they ran out of fuel.

Dad saw planes next to his own shot down by flak, antiaircraft cannon. He describes the sound of his plane being hit by flak like being inside a quanset building and someone throwing gravel against it from outside. He saw VE, victory in Europe. But he still owed the Army Air Corps a few more missions. He furloughed home to Silver Creek, NE for a time, and then was enroute on a train to the west coast to transition to B-29s and join the war in the Pacific. Naturally, he wasn't happy about that. He was on the train when word of the nuking of Hiroshima came. He gets downright angry at the notion of apologizing to Japan for those bombings.

I had the opportunity to fly aboard a restored Flying Fortress with Dad and two siblings two years ago. I wish you could have seen my father that day. He was a young man again! It was a marvelous experience, one I'll always cherish.

That's my family's stories. Through the actions of brave men like these, and all others active and retired, I didn't have to serve in the armed forces. But I honor those who did and those now serving. Thank you for your service.

P95Carry
May 31, 2005, 12:53 PM
Thanks Peter - enjoyable reads.

I salute and remember all our forces and allies, past and present - so many now departing this mortal coil but I sincerely hope, never forgotten.

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