Monday, May 25, 2020

Brothers Max Rudolph and Lorian PILGRIM Died Within a Month of One Another; 1944; MEMORIAL DAY 2020

Pvt Lorian D. Pilgrim 1918-1944
PFC Max R. Pilgrim 1920-1944

Lorian Daniel and Max Rudolph Pilgrim were born July 28, 1918 and April 1, 1920 respectively.  They were 4th and 5th of 9 children in a hard-working farming family in Thomson, McDuffie County, Georgia.  Max Rudolph enlisted 27 November 1941, a little over a month after his big brother Lorian enlisted on 10 october 1941 (both prior to Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941).

Lorian was sent to I Company, 1st Infantry Regiment, 6th Infantry Division, a little known unit that slogged brutal battles of combat and survival against the Japanese and the environment in the Pacific.  Rudolph (as Mas was known by his middle name) was sent to HQ Company, 3rd Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division- the famous 'Hell on Wheels' division.
Japanese emplacement, Lone Tree Hill, Maffin Bay, June 1944

Lorian trained for jungle combat at Milne Bay from January 1944 to May.  Late May 1944 came the order to combat load for his baptism of fire with the 6th Infantry Division at Maffin Bay, New guinea.  During the battle of Lone Tree Hill Pvt Lorian Pilgrim earned a silver star 24 June when: 

 "volunteering to neutralize an enemy position threatening the company CP, he wormed his way to the pillbox, where his flame thrower failed to function.  he returned for a can of gasoline, tossed the contents into the Japanese position, ignited the gasoline train, then released the contents of the flame thrower into the pillbox, completely destroying it". 
6th Infantry Division Patrol, Sansapor July 1944
By July 10 1944, the 1st Infantry Regiment of the 6th Infantry Division landed on an 800-yard front east of the Wewe River on the Sansapor Coast, New Guinea.  3rd Battalion landed a day later, and carried out intense patrolling in the area. 
6thID patrol, Sansapor, 1944

 Unfortunately, the biggest enemy of the 6th during their time at Sansapor was not the Japanese, but the mite-born bacterial infection of scrub typhus.  
More than 1,800 men were struck down with the infection.  During the horrific epidemic more than 300 men at a time were being treated in a medical clearing station meant for 200 men.  
On 30 August 1944 Pvt Lorian Pilgrim succumbed to the disease.

6th ID medical detachment during the August 1944 scrub typhus epidemic, Sansapor

66th Armored Regiment
in Carentan, France
June 1944

Both brothers experienced a brutal combat in June 1944.  Max Rudolph Pilgrim participated in the invasion of Normandy coming ashore on 9 June 1944 with HQ Co, 3rd Bn, 66th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division.  Within his first week of combat in France, the 66thAR helped defeat the German 6th Fallschirmjager (paratroops) Regiment and the 37th SS Panzer (armored) Division at Carentan. 

22IR riding on tanks of the 66thAR during the St. Lo Breakout, July 1944

Pfc Max Rudolph was killed on the during the drive for St. Gilles during Operation Cobra.  Combat Command A was a combat team of the 66th Armored Regiment and 22nd Infantry Regiment.  By the evening of the 25th 3rd Bn of the 66thAR and 22IR had reached the line that stretches approximately between Hebecrevon and La Doriere.  

The next morning they jumped off towards St. Gilles.  Unfortunately, exactly where Max Rudolph Pilgrim was killed is unknown, but it was between Hebecrevon/La Doriere and St. Gilles on 26th July 1944.  

At left is a google map of the line of departure between Hebecrevon/La Doriere the night of 25/26 July 1944. The arrow is the drive towards Saint Gilles where Pfc Max R. Pilgrim was killed June 26, 1944. 

Within days of Max's death, Lorian would begin fighting for his life during the typhus epidemic at Sansapor.  It is not known if during the 35 days before Lorian's death of Tsutsugamushi fever (scrub typhus) that he read of his brother Max's death in a letter from home.  

The Pilgrim family at Ft. Gordon late 40's, (siblings, in laws, parents, and friend) receiving an honor for
Pvt Lorian and Pfc Max Pilgrim's deaths

On 18 February 1949 C.W. Pilgrim, the brother's father would file for his sons to be re-interred at West View Cemetery in Thomson, Georgia.  
PFC Max R. Pilgrim's reburial paperwork
PVT Lorian D. Pilgrim's reburial paperwork

I was able to visit the Pilgrim family and speak to the last living relative of that generation.  Ms. A. Pilgrim graciously allowed me into her home and spoke about the anguish the family experienced when their beloved brothers were killed.  She spoke of how the girls of the town loved Lorian, and how Rudolph was full of life and fun.  She told me how Max Rudolph was hit in the face, and CW Pilgrim was adamant about looking into the caskets 4+years after his boy's deaths to be sure it was his sons.  News was sparse back then, and I only recently discovered the cause of death for Pvt Lorian Pilgrim on Sansapor.  Ms. Pilgrim (a widow of one of the original 9 Pilgrim siblings) allowed me to photograph the painted Army portraits of Lorian and Rudolph that are at the top of this article.  

The Pilgrim brothers are buried 

side by side in Thomson, GA 

*Maffin Bay and Sansapor photos from the 6th Infantry Division in WWII book.  66th AR photos from the 4th Infantry Division in WW2 book, and Photos of the portraits of Lorian and Max are mine and used with permission by the Pilgrim family. Grave photos are mine, original research by WWII FILES

Friday, March 20, 2020

Lt. Benjamin Cox; KIA 20 March 1944, Bougainville

Lt Benjamin Cox portrait, courtesy of his family 
 Today is the 76th Anniversary of Lt Benjamin Cox's death, and what would have been his 28th birthday.
Benjamin Cox was born March 20, 1916 in Portland, Maine to a large Jewish family. After college, he enlisted April 1942 and served as a 2Lt with 2nd battalion 129thIR, 37thID. Thanks to a fellow researcher, Mr. Hubred, I was alerted to the face that Lt. Cox served in F Co. 
In a letter to Benjamin's brother, Oscar Cox, Major General Griswold recounted the circumstances around his death. Benjamin's niece has graciously shared this with me.

"Lt Cox was in command of a reinforced platoon engaged in a counterattack against the enemy. Strong and stubborn resistance was met as his platoon advanced. He was hit by a mortar fragment and forced to take cover in view of intense rifle fire. A member of his Command was seriously wounded in an effort to aid him. Lt Cox was seen to rise to his hands and knees when he was hit again by a burst of machine gun fire. He was killed instantly."

Benjamin Cox's older brother Oscar Cox worked an attorney in Washington DC as a close adviser to President Roosevelt. After Lt Cox's death, the family received a letter from President Roosevelt:
"April 8, 1944
My dear Mrs. Cox,

I realize full well the grief that is in your mother heart as you mourn the loss of a loved and loving son, killed in defense of his country. I know that you have other sons to comfort you and I am happy to tell you that one of them, Oscar, is my trusted counselor and friend, a man of whom any mother may well be proud.

My heart goes out to you in deepest sympathy.
May God bless you and keep you.
Very sincerely yours,
Franklin D. Roosevelt"

The Bougainville campaign for the 129th was brutal and bloody. "Casualties in the 129th Infantry during the period of the main Japanese assault and in patrol action in the month of March 1944 were 83 killed in action and 422 wounded." In contrast the number of enemy killed in patrol clashes was 151; within the front lines 946, and in front of the barbed wire were 1,431. The Japanese troops that assaulted ruthlessly, wave after wave, were formidable and embedded perfectly into the deep jungle underbrush.

129th IR troops fighting on Bougainville, March 1944

Incredibly, on the day that Lt Benjamin Cox was killed, an article was released in the Boston Record, March 20, 1944- his 28th Birthday. A War correspondent had previously interviewed him and others about the campaign. At that time no one in the States had any idea Lt Cox had been killed. The article is transcribed below:

Boston Record — Monday, March 20, 1944


Bougainville, Solomon Islands (Delayed) (AP). Japanese troops drove fiercely against American lines on Empress Augusta Bay until half a dozen tanks came to the aid of hard pressed infantrymen and in fierce fighting turned back the fourth major assault since March 8.

A full regiment of Japanese imperial infantrymen attacked on a 50-yard front held by a single American platoon.

The assault “was the most vicious in this war and that includes Guadalcanal,” said Maj. Gen., Oscar Griswold of Elko, Nev., commanding Allied forces on Bougainville. He estimated Japanese casualties at between 5,000 and 6,000 for the eight days of fighting.

(A Guadalcanal dispatch dated March 19 listed Japanese dead at 1352. It reported there had been no attacks since the 15th, but there was still evidence that the Nipponese isolated and left to starve on Bougainville were solidly trying to mass for another push. Japanese artillery continued to shell the American-built Torokina and Piva air strips. United States destroyers shelled enemy positions and Navy and Marine dive bombers and torpedo planes attacked gun positions.)

There is only sporadic gunfire now.

“This may mean,” the General declared, “that the Japs are withdrawing and taking up new positions, but I don’t know. Yesterday we thought the Japs were starting another Banzai attack, but it was pretty well broken up by nightfall and was not renewed today.

“The Japs’ newest attempt to break through our perimeter came on the American left flank Wednesday where an Illinois unit is fighting. Before noon Thursday the attack had been completely repulsed leaving the area littered with Japanese dead.”


Also telling of the attack, Lieut. Benjamin Cox, Portland, Me., said:

“We have counted 210 Japanese bodies in this area and there must be many more a hundred yards beyond. Those Japs were told there was a three years’ food supply in our perimeter and they surely fought to get in. They managed to occupy two of our pillboxes. Four or five men in one pillbox were wounded and had to be evacuated just before the Japs took it.

“They kept coming in spite of our heaviest fire. They’d burrow along like moles, digging little trenches to crawl in as they went. One of our hand grenades got one fellow digging in just three feet from our pillbox and a few minutes later there was another crawling in the same trench.”

Cox Takes Over

Cox, one of two officers left in his company, took over the platoon after its leader had been wounded. He said his platoon held despite the enemy charge and enemy mortar fire A half a dozen tanks came in and after a bitter struggle two pillboxes were retaken and a few Japanese remnants driven off.

“I visited the sector this morning,” Cox said. “And over a hundred Jap bodies lay scattered on a small section of flat land. Some were clustered around tree trunks and others were lying in open areas."

Lt Benjamin Cox dogtag
Lt Benjamin Cox's body was recovered and buried in a temporary cemetery on Bougainville. His body was later reinterred to Maine. 14 years ago an Australian military contractor was working in Papua New Guinea and purchased a US dogtag at a market. The tag had been found by a local. Mr. Dan O'Sullivan kept the tag and recently contacted the Maine Veterans Service Admin for help in getting the tag home. Due to the COVID-19, Mr. O'Sullivan's plans have been postponed to fly over and return the tag in person. I'm thrilled to share this miraculous turn of events.

Lt Cox's grave at Mt. Sinai Cemetery,
Portland Maine, courtesy of
Lt Benjamin Cox was beloved by his family and men. He perished in a roasting hot jungle, sweating and exhausted; beside his men who he led and cherished. On his birthday, and the anniversary on his death, we remember him.
Many thanks to Lt Cox's niece, Mrs. E.Cox of Maine. She generously provided the photos and resources for this memorial.
1- Lt Benjamin Cox
2- Photo of personal letter from FDR
3- the 129thIR in Bougainville March 1944
4- 129th infantrymen take cover while a tank blasts Japanese positions
5- Points of Japanese penetration along the front line March 1944- the 2nd Battalion took the brunt of it.
6-The found dogtag in Dan O'Sullivan's possession to be returned to the Cox family
7- Photo of Lt Benjamin Cox's grave at Mt. Sinai Cemetery in Portland, Maine

Saturday, June 22, 2019

7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Chinwangtao, CHINA

I'm really proud of this artifact, and have never seen another one like it.  It was given to me as a gift when a family was getting rid of their father's War items.  It is the author's opinion that this flag was given to the 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division Marines who occupied the Chinwangtao region of Northern China starting in October 1945. 

HOPEH Area of Operations, 1st Marine Division
(courtesy of "A Brief History of the 7th Marines,Div HQ, USMC, Washington DC)

Few people know about the long history the US Marine Corps has had in China.  Extending from 1818- 1949 the USMC had activity in China.  

There was a 3-fold reason why thousands of US Marines were diverted to Northern China following the surrender of the Japanese 2 September, 1945; 
1) to accept the surrender and disarm Japanese troops 2) to reinforce the Nationalist political party's dominance over a surging Communist party and 
3) to act as a buffer both in ideals and politics against Soviet imperialism.  
The 7th Marine regiment left Okinawa on September 26, 1945 and arrived in Tangku, China September 30, 1945; accepting the surrender of the Japanese October 6, 1945 in the Tientsin-Tangku-Chinwangtao areas.

Marines on parade through Tientsin, China October 1945
(courtesy of "A Brief History of the 7th Marines", Div HQ, USMC, Washington DC)

According to the History of the 7th Marines, 

"Upon arrival, the 1st Battalion received further orders sending the unit to Chinwangtao on 1 October 1945.  Under LTC Gormley, the 7th Marines succeeded in bringing to an end the fighting that sporadically erupted between the Communists on one side and the Japanese and their Chinese allies on the other. ...Although technically the fighting had stopped in China, Marines did not come to view their assignment there as one normally associated with a peacetime garrison force.  They were instructed to prepare for an eventuality including combat with hostile units. And on occasions fighting did break out between Marines and Communist Chinese soldiers. In conjunction with safeguarding of the railroad, detachments were placed along the route in fixed positions- the most common being bridges and train stations.  Their mission was to make sure that rail traffic, especially coal destined for Shanghai, moved uninterrupted along the line.  The regiment remained occupied in this task for nearly 6 months.  Often the outpost units were little more than the size of an average infantry squad.  The duty was lonely and dangerous with the men not having, at least initially, adequate quarters, clothing, or rations to endure the harsh winter of North China." 

7th Marines guard a train on the Tientsin-Chinwangtao Railroad
(courtesy of "A Brief History of the 7th Marines", Div HQ, USMC, Washington DC)

E.B. Sledge (who had seen heavy combat already with the 1st Marine Division) was diverted to China after the fighting stopped on Okinawa.  He wrote in his book "China Marine":

"The First Marine Division's three infantry regiments, the First Marines, the Fifth Marines, and the Seventh Marines, were stationed in Tientsin, Peiping, and Chinwangtao respectively.  The battalions of the division's artillery regiment, the Eleventh Marines, were attached to the infantry regiments as they had been during combat-- for no one knew what might come to pass.  If after knocking off the Nationalist units in the area, the Communists decided to seize the three mentioned important cities, combat-weary Marines would be under fire again.
The First Marines and attached artillery in Tientsin and the Fifth with their artillery support in Peiping lived in considerable comfort, billeted in steam-heated buildings.  It was a comfort broken only by occasional patrols and railroad-escort details through a countryside raided by "bandits", "guerrilas", bona fide Communists, or other threats. 
The men of the Seventh Marines weren't so lucky in Chinwangtao, down where the Great Wall of China meets the sea.  Many of them had to bivouac in pup tents in the snow-- miserable enough to most anyone but particularly to these men, many of whom had lived in the steaming tropical heat of the South and Central Pacific islands for as much as two years or more.  Furthermore, the "unfriendly troops" in the Seventh's area were more aggressive than they were around Peiping or Tientsin."

The withdrawal of the 7th Marine Regiment occurred in early 1947, with the regiment sailing back to the US the 3rd and 5th of January.  It was a blow to not only the 1st Marine Division, but all Marines stationed in China to withdraw from China.  Up until the last days of their time there, Marines were in position, ready, and continually fighting the Communist Chinese guerrillas.  The orders to withdraw were a tough pill to swallow.  
This is a very brief overview of the 7th Marine Regiment and of the 1st Marine Division activities in China.  More articles will follow; including a tribute to 4 11th Marine Regiment men KIA on 29 July, 1946. 

*The author would like any former Marine who was there to please reach out and verify the reason and existence of the flag the author owns.  It's her opinion that the flag was given in support and friendship of US Marine Corps settling in the Chingwangtao area in October-November 1945.  While there were many Marines in the 1st half of the 1900's in Chinwangtao, this flag was acquired during the WW2 era.  The author has never seen another one like it.  Thank you.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

USN WW2 Veteran Burial Place Discovered 40 Years Later

There are not many details I can give about this project in terms of names (in order to protect the privacy of the family), but there was a great success today in terms of an exciting discovery.
I've been in touch with a family whose father served as a Seabee in the Pacific in WW2. His tour of duty was extensive throughout many islands in the Pacific. He enlisted quite young and turned 18 while overseas in 1944.  

Sadly, he left his wife and young baby daughter in Kentucky and moved to Southern California after the War. They never saw or heard from him again. He died penniless and as a homeless man on the streets of LA in 1979 at age 53. The family was able to see that he was cremated per a death certificate acquired decades later, but never could find his ashes. 

Today; after 2 hours of phone calls and a trail though Los Angeles County bureaucracy, I spoke with a kind and wonderfully efficient, professional man at the Los Angeles County Crematorium and Cemetery (Mr. Garnett). He was able to find the archived log of when this USN Veteran was cremated, where his ashes was stored for 5 years, and where he was buried in a mass grave of unclaimed ashes in Los Angeles. For the year he was cremated (1980), there were 998 unclaimed cremated remains buried together in a mass grave.
We now have his final resting place. While so many questions about his life may never be answered, this is one 40 year old mystery surrounding this soul that is solved.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

PCF Yandell Guinn Cambron, Post-humous Silver Star; KIA 10 August 1945 Mt. Puloy, Luzon, Philippines- E Co. 20th IR, 6th ID

PCF Yandell Guinn Cambron was born in Meadow, Terry, Texas on 25 June, 1925.  He was just 4 years old when his mother, Edna Cambron passed away on 13 October, 1929 from an acute obstruction due to a femoral hernia.  He was then raised with his father and 7 older siblings (4 sisters and 3 brothers).  By 1940 he and his family were living in Sulphur Springs, Texas where he attended Sulphur Springs High School.  He is pictured at age 16 in 1941 from the Sulphur Springs High School Yearbook. 

 Yandell was working in for a U.S. government post in an engineers majors field in Greenville, Texas when he registered for the draft on his 18th birthday, 25 June, 1943.  A little over a year later he enlisted into the US Army; September 5, 1944.  He was sent as a replacement to the 20th Infantry Regiment, 6th Infantry Division in the Pacific.  He fought with the 20thIR, 6thID on the Luzon Campaign in the Philippines.  It was hot season when he arrived; the heat was stifling; the bugs relentless, the sun scorching his light-skinned face.  Drinking water was always warm, marches through the mountains and trails they fought were enough to make a pack mule lay down and refuse to budge.  The roads were little more than widened trails, winding through valleys and hills.  The rains were torrential and they slogged through rivers and sucking mud.  But above all the Japanese were dug in at every twist or turn in the trails, jungles and mountains; fighting to the death; taking as many American boys and Filipino fighters with them.
According to the 6th Infantry Division history "Luzon Final Phase"  PFC Cambron's death occurred during the assaults of Mt. Puloy in Ifugao territory.  I've combed through the maps and files of this assault, and have noticed a mistake.  The reports reference locations in vicinity of Antipolo, but Antipolo was several hours away.  It is my opinion that the location of Mt. Puloy (not noted on current maps) near "Antipolo"  is actually the ridgeline and mountain directly Northeast of ASIPULO.  While the 6th Infantry did indeed fight in and around Antipolo February-April 1945 to work to break the Shimbu Line, they were no where near Antipolo in July/August 1945.  However, the mountain and ridge described in the reports and on 6thID maps would be the unmarked mountain and ridge northeast of Asipulo, and directly northwest of Kaigan, southwest of Lagawe; with the Hungduan valley to it's west.  You can see the bowl-shaped valley on the east side of the Mt. Puloy ridgeline that is still today the ancient and beautiful rice terraces of Ifugao territory.

From 7-10 August, Company "B", 20th Infantry, tried to find a way to knock out the resistance atop MT. PULOY without success.  The enemy covered the trail from commanding positions which could not be outflanked.  It was now apparent that a frontal assault to take the crest would be extremely costly.  
During the same period, Company "C" probed along the trail leading southwest from PACDAN, encountering slight resistance, until relieved by elements of the 2nd Battalion, 20th Infantry, on 9 August. 
In the meantime, Company "A", 20th Infantry, attacking north from PACDAN on 7 August, finally gained the top of a narrow, knife-edge ridge to the southwest of Mt. Puloy on 9 August.  Attempts to attack to the NW from this position were stopped by heavy fire and adverse terrain precluded any maneuver by friendly troops.
The enemy, during the period, was aggressive and made several small night counterattacks.
At this time, Ifugao scouts reported the existence of a new trail, leading over the southwestern part of Mt Puloy, which had been developed by natives in the area to avoid Jap units disposed along the main trail.
The 20th Infantry, therefore, ordered the 2nd Battalion to reconnoiter this route with the view of attacking in this direction and by-passing the main Jap positions, while the 1st Battalion contained the enemy to their front.
On 10 August, Companies "E" and "F", 20th Infantry, consolidated positions gained about 1,200 yards west of PACDAN against scattered opposition."

It was here that PCF Yandell Cambron was killed while "leading the way up a steep hill, killing four snipers before losing his life at near the crest."  He posthumously earned a silver star for his actions of valor. He was barely 20 years old.
The fighting continued for another 5 days on and around the extensive 2 mile ridgeline of Mt. Puloy before the War was declared over on 15 August, 1945. 

A sector of SE Mt. Puloy, showing part of the ridgeline, rice terraces, and the formidable jungle/mountain terrain

PCF Yandell Cambron's body internment paperwork 19 August, 1949
PCF Yandell Guinn Cambron was reburied in the West Hill Cemetery of Sherman, Texas.  

Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff, Silver Star, Purple Heart, KIA 11 July 1944, F Co, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division

WW2 2nd ID patch
I discovered the story about Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff (of the 2nd Infantry Division) in a most unusual way.  
I get requests from colleagues all over the world to find WW2 combat veterans whose war artifacts have been found or acquired by military enthusiasts, metal detectorists, historians, collectors, or a civilian coming upon it by chance.  This request was no different.  However, the dogtag in this story, and how it was discovered was unique. 
Mr. Bradley is a friend in the UK, and we've worked on a few WW2 files regarding US Army dogtags and artifacts found on battlefields in Europe. 
Scott Bradley of WW2
Treasure Hunters
Mr. Bradley's father had rescued the tag in question from a pile of junk about to be sent to recycling.  It was pure happenstance he was there that day and took a moment to flick through the bits and bobs of metal about to be sorted and smelted at a recycling centre.  He gave the tag to his son, and due to it's deteriorated state it's story was not pursued further for a few years. 
Spring 2019 Mr. Bradley reached out to me to see if I could divine who the tag once belonged to and perhaps was there a veteran still alive or a family who might want it?

The photo of the tag as it was sent to me early 2019

Without a doubt, this was my most difficult case yet... not in terms of tracking the family, but in terms of simply reading the tag.  I spent several hours playing name games and working through combinations of letters and locations to cross-reference which surname the tag belonged to.  Finally the search bore fruit and I hit upon the KALMIKOFF family.  
Abraham Kalmikoff was born to Russian-Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, NY September 10, 1920.  He enlisted in the US Army February 1941 (listing he was born in 1919 instead of 1920) after working as a shipping/receiving clerk and completing 3 years of high school.  He married Mary Rabichev and they had one child, Barbara Kalmikoff, born December 1943. 

Someone erroneously wrote on the photo that Pvt Kalmikoff was KIA during the Battle of the Bulge
(photo preserved and kept in the family archive of Abie's cousin Anne Kalmikoff Miller)

Soon Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff was overseas with F Company, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.  They crossed the English Channel onto Omaha Beach on June 7, 1944 (D-Day +1) near near Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer.  (This brief overview of their combat record belies the cost the 2nd Infantry Division endured during combat from 12-16 June as they tried to take Hill 192.  1,200 casualties over a few days grounded the division into defensive positions around Hill 192, sometimes sharing the same hedgerow with their German counterparts. It was not until a month later when the final assault for Hill 192 commenced.)  

"Attacking across the Aure River on 10 June, the division liberated Trévières and proceeded to assault and secure Hill 192, a key enemy strong point on the road to Saint-Lô. After three weeks of fortifying the position and by order of Commanding General Walter M. Robertson, the order was given to take Hill 192. On 11 July under the command of Col.Ralph Wise Zwicker the 38th Infantry Regiment and with the 9th and the 23rd by his side the battle began at 5:45am. Using an artillery concept from World War I (rolling barrage) and with the support of 25,000 rounds of HE/WP that were fired by 8 artillery battalions, the hill was taken."

Pvt Abraham's silver star citation states that: 

"Pvt Kalmikoff was a runner for the weapons platoon of Company 'F', 38th Infantry, during an attack in the vicinity of St. Jean-des-Baisants, France.  The supporting tanks were unable to cross the road until a suitable site was found which would be clear of mines for passage into the fields beyond.  
Private Kalmikoff, without hesitation, voluntarily went forward of our lines, braving the enemy artillery and small arms fire.  With disregard for his personal safety, he selected a route of advance for the tanks and directed fire on the enemy strongpoints before being killed.  Private Kalmikoff's actions aided materially in reducing the enemy strong points and in allowing the company to advance."

Pvt Kalmikoff's Silver Star Citation courtesy of Scott Kalmikoff

Referring again to the "St. Lo" report from the 'American Forces in Action Series, Historical Division, War Department the following actions of 11 July, 1944 are described: 

"Because the 38th Infantry line was curved back on the right, Company E on that wing began its attack at H-30 minutes in an attempt to straighten the regimental line. The uneven line resulted from a bloodless advance made on 1 July by the 3d Battalion, 38th Infantry, which pulled a "sneak play." Observing that the Germans on this front were withdrawing from their outpost line (OPL) to the MLR at night, to avoid ambushes by our patrols, the 3d Battalion took advantage of this procedure by a night advance. The move netted 800 yards, without fighting, on the left (east) but only 400 yards toward the division boundary. The enemy made no attempt to retake the OPL. At 0630 the 38th Infantry launched its main assault toward Hill 192, the 2d Battalion on the right and the 1st Battalion on the left, following 100 yards behind a rolling barrage. The regiment was reinforced by two companies of the 741st Tank Battalion, a company of the 2d Engineer Combat Battalion and a company of the 81st Chemical Mortar Battalion.

Company E on the right ran into stiff opposition almost immediately, as it tried to reach the small ridge commanding a draw leading up to the hamlet of Cloville. Here was one of the enemy strongpoints, already known as "Kraut Corner," fanatically defended by half a company of Germans who had survived the heavy artillery pounding prior to the attack. The 2d Platoon of Company E tried to work its way up to the first hedgerow in the fields, but was unable to advance because of automatic weapons and mortar fire. The enemy's mortars were registered on the hedgerow lines and blanketed all routes of advance. The 3d Platoon was sent in to give support; a few men succeeded in working their way near enough to the enemy position to throw hand grenades, but got no farther. The defenses of Kraut Corner finally gave way when the 1st Platoon got around the east side of the strongpoint. Scouts streaked along the flanking hedges, supported by BAR's, machine guns of the infantry, light mortars, and the two machine guns on a tank. When eight or ten riflemen penetrated the enemy defense, resistance crumbled, and 15 prisoners were taken. Three paratroopers who still held out were eliminated by a tank dozer which buried them under five feet of dirt.

Company E took more than an hour to clear Kraut Corner. To the left, Company F was moving more rapidly against lighter opposition. By the time Company E had passed the strongpoint, Company F had crossed the Cloville-St-Georges-d'Elle road, hitting and turning the weak flank of the enemy. Less than three hours after the jump-off, the left platoon of Company F entered a small wood near the west nose of the hilltop. Company E at this point was a quarter mile behind, trying to enter Cloville. The advance of the 2d Battalion had settled into a frontal field-by-field battle, accompanied by some house fighting in Cloville and le Soulaire. The enemy positions in Cloville had been shelled heavily by American artillery and both villages were badly damaged. Roofs had been blown off, walls shattered, and the streets were blocked by rubble. The enemy infantry, supported by automatic weapons, a Mark III self-propelled 88-mm, and a Mark IV tank, used the cover of the rubble in an attempt to hold Company E in Cloville. An American tank, after a brief fight, knocked out both the Mark III and the Mark IV, paving the way for infantry to move in and mop up the village. An hour and a half was still required before Company E completed this task and could move into the fields south of Cloville.

With Cloville taken, the 2d Battalion pushed its advance along the west slope of Hill 192, bypassing the village of le Soulaire, Company E going to the west and Company F to the east. At approximately 1700 the assault units reached the St-Lo-Bayeux highway and the infantrymen began to cross the road one at a time. The tanks were held up because of rough, wooded terrain and the fire of antitank guns and bazookas which covered both the highway and the roads running south from it. They finally slipped across on the left of Company F.

By the end of 11 July the 2d Battalion had organized and was defending the ground along the St-Lo-Bayeux road. It was the only assault battalion of the 2d Division to reach its objective that day, having advanced approximately 900 yards on an 800-yard front. The work had been done by two companies; Company G, which had not recovered from its losses of 16 June, remained in reserve during the day, suffering 17 casualties from enemy artillery fire."

It is my opinion that Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff was killed during the tedious crossing of the St. Lo- Bayeux highway.  The tanks were held up, and finally crossed to the left of Company F.  While infantrymen were slipping across the road one at a time, braving being an easy target during the sprint of their life; Pvt Kalmikoff was running back and forth, exposing himself, and working to find a suitable spot for the tanks to cross successfully.  It was here, in the harsh and bright sunlight of a waning summer's day in Normandy, about 5-6pm that he was killed.  

Pvt Abraham ("Abie") was mourned and deeply missed by his family; and the daughter who never had the opportunity to know him.  One interesting aspect of his military career stands out.  He enlisted in February 1941 and by July 1944 he was still a Private.  While none of the people who knew him are still living, I believe Abie was larger than life, a rebel, driving his commanding officers a little crazy, having no patience for 'ridiculous army rules', but was one helluva soldier and friend....and his brothers in arms loved him for it.  

Scott Kalmikoff introduced me to one of the last people who saw Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff alive.  I had the pleasure of speaking with Derek Burke on the phone about his time with Abraham Kalmikoff.  Just before the Normandy invasion Pvt Kalmikoff and one of his buddies traveled to Harpenden, Hertfordshire to visit the British side of his mother's family that he had not met before.   His mother and father's families had emigrated to the UK and USA from Belarus.  His mother's sister's family had moved from London to the countryside where they were safe from the death and destruction London and surrounding areas were enduring at the hands of Hitler's brutal bombs.  Pvt Kalmikoff stayed several days with his Aunts, Uncles and cousins.  Derek Burke was a very young child at the time, but still has a few warm and loving memories of Abraham Kalmikoff.  He remembers Abraham playing with him and tossing him into the hay piles.  Abraham also taught Derek two songs from America, the bluegrass classic "Deep in the Heart of Texas" and Bing Crosby's "Don't Fence Me In".  The news of Pvt Kalmikoff's death was something that shattered the hearts of the families, both in the UK and US.  Mr. Burke recalled the visit of Rebecca "Riva Leyka", Abraham's mother in 1952.  She was able to travel to visit her son's grave in Normandy.  Later in life when Derek visited Abraham's grave, his elderly Aunts sent their blessings and grief.  Derek also recounted much more sorrow the extended Kalmikoff family shouldered during the War.  A large Jewish family, originally from Shklov, Belarus, many of their relatives and friends still in Shklov were brutally executed by the German killing squads (including Sondercommando 7b) starting in the summer of 1941.  Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff's fight was personal and deep.  His loss is ever poignant against the backdrop of the darkness of fate his extended family suffered.  

Pvt Kalmikoff was eventually buried in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-Sur-Mer,  Plot I Row 17 Grave 29.
Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff's Grave in Colleville-Sur-Mer; 
courtesy of the Kalmikoff family

The mystery of how the dogtag came to be in England may never be solved.  The tag was sent to a recycling centre during a house-clearing process after it's unknown resident died.  The Bradley father and son were quick to retrieve and protect this fragile tag for several years.  Pvt Kalmikoff's tag is now in route to be united with his beloved daughter, Barbara.  This reunion would not be possible without the expert assistance of the Kalmikoff family historian, Rabbi Scott Kalmikoff of New York. 

Barbara and her mother Mary, Abraham's daughter and widow

Rabbi Scott Kalmikoff, family historian

When there is a death due to combat, a deep soul hole of missing and grief is formed in a family; even unto several generations.  The agony of loss of the young men who have fallen in wartime is beyond the scope of language to describe.  Mr. Bradley of the UK, Rabbi Scott Kalmikoff of New York, and myself are so thankful to have met one another in this full-circle way; 78 years after Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff enlisted in the US Army. His dogtag bears the effects of violence, and I'm utterly grateful it was not deteriorated more when I began to examine it via the photograph above.  

We salute you Pvt Kalmikoff, and honor your memory.  

Pvt Abraham Kalmikoff's spirit was bright, joyful, free, determined, courageous and loyal unto death.  Poetically, the refrain from Bing Crosby's "Don't Fence Me In" is a fitting sentiment to close the telling of his story and to remember his spirit and sacrifice: 

"Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies
Don't fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don't fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evenin' breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don't fence me in"

Thursday, May 16, 2019

UNKNOWN African-American WW2 Naval Chief Petty Officer and beautiful woman Margie

I'm publishing these photos in as large a format as they will scan.  I found them together in an envelope at an antiques mall in Knoxville, TN.  "Margie" is the beautiful woman's name in the 3 photos below.  The Chief Petty Officer's name is unknown.  The back of one of Margie portraits is dated 1944.  However, based on the sailor’s ribbon bars, I believe his photo was taken post-WW2.  I'm going with chief petty officer based off his cap. 

I'm working to make out which ribbon bars he is wearing on his suit and what city he is in.  
So far I'm thinking top to botton, L to R:
1) Navy and Marine ribbon
2)American Defense 
3) Philippine Liberation Medal
4) ????
5) Asia-Pacific w/ 3 campaign stars
6) American Theater Campaign
7) Navy good Conduct

The stories of our African-American WW2 heroes are largely not understood or known. I'm working on a series of African-American soldiers from the deep South who enlisted and fought in the War.  
Please contact me directly if you know these people, recognize the city or house, or if you can offer a correction to my working identification of his ribbon bars or rank—