WWII Veteran and Morgantown Caernarvon High School graduate J. Richard Long. Image provided.
The Tri-County Heritage Society will host a World War II program on Tuesday, October 23 at the Caernarvon (Berks) Municipal Building, Rt. 23, Morgantown, beginning at 7:00 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Historian, Jere Brady, of Main St., Morgantown shared the following:
“Our society was founded in 1970, Morgantown’s Bicentennial Year. That year they named me town historian and our group promoted the Bicentennial with various events. Eventually we published a book that earned us $3,000.With that money people suggested we start a historical society, I agreed to remain as historian if all the other officers and volunteers would stay. The organization’s name was expanded to include an area greater than Morgantown.”
Jeanne Pavlesich, an active volunteer said, “We have been working on an event to help us establish a history of our local World War II veterans. A war memorial dedicated to veterans who served from the Caernarvon (Berks) area is located at the American Legion in Joanna. The Society is especially interested in obtaining information of the veterans listed on the plaque.”
World War II veterans of the tri-county area and families of deceased veterans are especially invited to attend so that they can share their memories of the war. The Society has been trying to contact the veterans and their families to come out and bring their war documents .Those attending are urged to bring along their military information and photographs. Volunteers will be available for interviews and will have the ability to photocopy/scan your information. They will gladly tape an oral recording from a veteran.
The event is based on a military canteen theme from the war years. The canteen was part of the national United Service Organization (USO) organized on April 17, 1941. It was created to serve the GI’s morale and as a bridge for the troops nationally and overseas. USO clubs were financed by local voluntary contributions. Young women, mothers, food and entertainment made these canteens become ‘A Home Away From Home’ for the men and women of the Armed Forces.
During the initial days of World War II, when troop movements were considered a military secret, word about the pending arrival of troop trains were reportedly given by special agents only to head canteen officials. They in turn would alert other volunteers to come to the train depot by calling and saying “I have the coffee on.”
Ration Coupons, Victory Gardens, and War bonds, were all signs of the war at home. The troops knew that their loved ones were sharing in the sacrifice. Those attending will be able to view several displays depicting various aspects of the war years from the home front to the battlefront. Period music and light refreshments will be supplied- “They will have the coffee on.”
Here is one veteran’s story, John Fleming, 88, of Geigertown (uncle of town historian, Jere Brady):
“I was drafted at 19 by the Army and went to Camp Shelby, Mississippi for boot camp. My brother had enlisted earlier into the Navy. My work assignment was the motor pool because of my vehicle mechanics experience. I also served in the training division until the last six months of the war. I then found myself on a boat to Europe. We traveled through England, France, and Belgium, coming within 20 miles of the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ in a dense forest. The first week in combat we lost six jeeps by shrapnel hitting their radiators. I fixed them with used parts. We had six Weasel Studebakers’ (amphibious vehicles) which could get through heavy snow and could pull heavy ammunition and supplies which were needed on the front lines.”
His unit, Division 69 Infantry, relieved the 99th Division which had lost all their vehicles. Then they were sent in to pick up their dead. It was a bitter cold winter and they found that the men had frozen to death in their jeeps and on the ground.
He continued, “As we advanced the Germans shot over our heads and metal spikes rained down on us. We dug trenches covering them with logs to avoid getting hit. Pushing on we broke through the Siegfried Line (the border between Belgium and Germany). Our engineers blew it up. We marched on past small towns until we got to the Rhine River and saw that the bridge was out. We built a platoon bridge out of barges. The Germans were floating explosives down the river; we kept firing non-stop and destroyed them with fifty caliber machine guns.”
They met the Russians 450 miles later at Leipzig (which was the center of the German Camp.) They went house to house and took the city. There Alcatraz Prison held starving Jews and prisoners. They dug a trench, ate and then threw the garbage in and got ready to cover it. The prisoners jumped in to eat the garbage, He was horrified that these skeleton-like people could hardly even walk or move.
“We got news that the day before Hitler had committed suicide and the Germans would surrender. In front of me was a tank with 25 GI’s, one was standing up out of the hatch in celebration. Within minutes they were all slaughtered by 300 SS soldiers who were holed up in the nearby League of Nations Monument. They said they would never surrender. We put a smoke screen over us and poured gasoline into their vents until they came out and surrendered,” Fleming stated.
When the war was over, he returned to the States and settled in Geigertown, PA with his wife and child (who he had never seen). GI bill training secured him a job at Birdsboro Corporation for 44 years.
To this day he has nightmares about the war.
This is one example of what these men lived through. We thank them for their service to The United States of America and for our freedom.
A future publication of the information obtained at the event is planned for a later date.
For info on the World War II program contact: Jeanne Pavlesich @ 610-286-6464 or Barbara Rutz @ 610-644-2210.
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