Pee Wee Herman’s Father Was a Fighter Pilot Who Flew for the RAF the US Air Force and the Haganah Air Service

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H/T War History OnLine.

 Milton Rubenfeld lead a very interesting life.     


Milton Rubenfeld

American comedian Paul Reubens might be more widely known for the fictional character he embodies, Pee Wee Herman. Reubens owes his worldwide fame to his quirky, childlike comedic persona, and has been present on both the big screen and television since the 1980s.

Reubens’ Emmy Award-winning children’s series, Pee-wee’s Playhouse, enabled him to grow a large fanbase, among children and adults alike.

Even though he is a well-known public figure, both adored and controversial, it remains largely unknown that his father was a WWII pilot ace, who served under three different flags and distinguished himself as a war hero on numerous occasions.

Yes, Pee Wee’s father, Milton Rubenfeld, flew combat mission for both the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force, before volunteering to fight on the Israeli side during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Paul Reubens in 1985 receiving Harvard Lampoon’s Elmer Award for lifetime achievement in comedy.

The history of Milton Rubenfeld came to attention after the release of a documentary, titled Above and Beyond in 2015, which focuses on the brave few who decided to use their flying skills in helping Israel defend its newly-founded borders.

Milton was born in 1919 to a Jewish family in the small town of Peekskill, New York. Prior to the war, he was a civilian pilot, who even served as an instructor of aerobatics at one point. As soon as Britain declared war on Germany, he decided to take part in the conflict. The RAF was accepting volunteer pilots from all over the world, as the Battle of Britain raged above the isles.

Spitfires during Battle of Britain. IWM

It was there that Milton first experienced combat. Once the United States had joined the war, he was already an experienced fighter pilot with several dogfights stacked around his belt. But it was three years after the war ended that he made his contribution to support the many Holocaust refugees who sought to rebuild the Jewish state of Israel.

In 1948, the Haganah, which was the predecessor of the Israeli Defense Force, had set up an agency in the U.S. in hopes of recruiting experienced pilots to join the Haganah “Air Service.” Milton was approached by Hyman Shechtman, one of Haganah’s chief representatives, and asked if he would help the struggle in Israel.

Milton immediately agreed and very soon he was running transport missions in and out of Israel. To form the basis of the Israeli Air Force, he and several other pilots embarked on a course in Czechoslovakia where they were to train using Avia S-199 aircraft. The Avia was a Czech airplane roughly based on the German Messerschmitt Bf 109, but it featured a flawed design which led many of the applicants to quit the course.

Nevertheless, Rubenfeld, along with four other pilots who all had prior combat experience, managed to pass the test and adjust to the unreliable Czech aircraft.

On May 20, 1948, the five pilots reported to Ekron Air Base (now Tel Nof Airbase) in Israel. As of the declaration of independence of Israel, Milton Rubenfeld, Modi Alon, Ezer Weizman, Lou Lenart, and Eddie Cohen were the only flying staff of the Israeli Air Force. Even though they had five pilots, there were only four Avia fighter planes available, so one pilot had to stay on the ground during each mission.

At the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli war, the existence of this miniature squadron of fighters was kept secret. Their first mission was to attack an Egyptian armored column that was on its way to Tel Aviv.

Israeli Air Force Avia S-199 in 1948.


Due to the lack of aircraft, Rubenfeld remained grounded during the first mission but got his chance to fly the day after. The first of the five to die was the South African pilot, Eddie Cohen. It remains unclear whether was he shot down, or his aircraft crashed due to technical issues.

Both Lenart’s and Weizman’s cannons got jammed during the flight. The Avia issue became more urgent than the invasion itself. The aircraft included defects such as the guns being unsynchronized with the propeller, and a tendency to ground loop. Weizman later commented that the main problem with the use of Avia S-199 was “the stress on the pilot. So much went wrong with the aircraft, it was nerve-wracking just climbing into one.”

Israeli Air Force Avia S-199 in 1948.

Nevertheless, the mission was successful — their strafing round managed to stop the Egyptian forces, as they feared that the Israeli Air Force might have been much larger than it really was. As for Rubenfeld, he and Weizman flew the only two airworthy planes just 12 hours after the first mission.

They attacked targets near Tulkarm, in the eastern sector of the front, taking out several tanks and armored vehicles. In a dogfight with an Egyptian Spitfire, Rubenfeld’s airplane was damaged. He managed to fly back to Israeli-held territory before bailing out somewhere above the Mediterranean Sea, just next to the settlement of Kfar Vitkin.

Milton crash-landed on the water and tried to swim ashore, but was too dazed and injured to put enough strength into the effort. During the fall he had broken three ribs, had several cuts and suffered an injury to his groin. Just when he was ready to give up, a miracle happened. He simply stood up ― and as he recalled in a later interview, “the water was only up to my knees. I’d been swimming for hours in the water I could have stood up in at any time. I didn’t realize it because I was so far out. The farmers …. were shooting at me as I was coming in out of the water. They thought I was an Arab pilot.”

Since he spoke no Hebrew or Yiddish, he shouted the only thing he knew so that the Israeli farmers would recognize him:

“Shabbos, gefilte fish! Shabbos, gefilte fish!”

It’s the name of a dish usually served for Shabbat. Rubenfeld later changed his statement to a less colorful one, admitting that he had no clear recollection of what he actually said, but that the farmers recognized him nevertheless.

Milton Rubenfeld

Anyway, the dish story sounded funnier, so it stuck as a local legend. As for the impact that he and the other four pilots made, the Israeli leadership agreed that it was tremendous. With just four planes, Rubenfeld and the others had delayed several offensives and acquired the badly-needed time for the ground forces to prepare and re-organize.

Rubenfeld’s crash also contributed to the defense of Kfar Vitkin, as the farmers managed to salvage a machine gun from the wreckage of his aircraft and use it to protect their village.


Possible Remains of WWII Tuskegee Airman Located in Austria

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H/T War History OnLine.

  Tuskegee Airman Captain Lawrence E. Dickson may finally be laid to rest and bring closure to his family.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) is investigating a crash site in the Alps. It is believed that the wreckage may be that of Captain Lawrence E. Dickson’s P-51 Mustang. Dickson was one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, the black fighter pilots who trained at the Tuskegee Army Flying School and served with distinction in World War II.

Dickson is one of the 27 Tuskegee Airmen that went missing in action during the war when his plane crashed on December 23, 1944.

According to Joshua Frank, an analyst with DPAA, if the remains are positively identified as Dickson’s, he will be the first of the 27 to be located.

The initial evidence is strongly pointing to the crash site as indeed being Dickson’s Mustang. DNA testing is still pending on the remains found at the site.

Dickson was 24 at the time of the crash. He was assigned to the 100th Fighter Squadron which was based at Ramitelli, Italy.

Just before Christmas in 1944, he led an escort of an unarmed P-38 Lightning photo reconnaissance plane over Nazi-controlled Czechoslovakia.

Aviation Cadets in physics class, Tuskegee Alabama, 1943

While heading into enemy territory, his plane developed engine trouble. The other P-51s stayed with him while the P-38 flew on to continue the mission.

Unable to find a spot to land in the mountainous region while his plane was steadily losing altitude, he ejected his canopy. The other pilots looked for signs of a parachute or wreckage, but they saw nothing. They believed he crashed near Tarvisio, Italy. There was no search conducted for him.

U.S. Army Air Forces North American P-51C Mustang fighters of the 332nd Fighter Group take off from Ramitelli airfield, Italy, to escort heavy bombers sent to bomb a German refinery for synthetic oil at Blechhammer (today Blachownia Śląska, Poland), on 7 August 1944. Note the P-51s have wing tanks for the extra fuel needed for such long missions.

Surviving Dickson was his wife, Phyllis. Phyllis passed away in December. She was 96. Dickson and Phyllis had one daughter, Marla Andrews who was two when her father died. Andrews is now 75 and residing in New Jersey.

After the war, the Allies seized German documents concerning downed Allied aircraft. Frank has compiled those documents into a report which the DPAA is using to open a new investigation into WWII crash sites in Italy.

On December 23, 1944, there is an entry in the records, but it is not in Italy. Instead, the crash is reported in Austria, six miles from the suspected site.

Frank was able to find the location of the crash with some help from local residents. The DPAA is working with the University of New Orleans, the University of Innsbruck, and the National World War II Museum to excavate the area.

Maj James A. Ellison reviews first class of Tuskeegee Airmen, returning the salute of Mac Ross, one of the first graduates. A BT-13 is visible on the left.

The actual plane was covered with a layer of moss. The trees around the wreck were scarred by the .50-caliber rounds that exploded while the plane burned.

The human bones found at the site will have their DNA compared to that of Andrews.

Marla Andrews said she never stopped trying to connect with her father. She called it “a questioning, a void,” and said she realized she would likely never find the answers to her searching questions.

Until 1940, African-Americans were prohibited from flying for their country. In 1941, pressure from civil rights groups and black media led to the creation of the Tuskegee Airmen, an all African-American aviator Army squadron.

Photograph shows Tuskegee airmen leaving the arachute room, March 1945.

The term “Tuskegee Airmen” is used to cover everyone involved in the Tuskegee experiment. It includes the pilots but also the navigators, mechanics, instructors, staff and other personnel who worked to keep the planes in the air.

The Airmen overcame discrimination and segregation to become one of the most highly respected and honored squadrons of the war. Their dedication and heroism directly led to opportunities in the military being made available for people of all races.

According to the official DPAA website, there are still over 72,000 American service members missing from World War II alone.

The Sky Was No Limit: The WASP Women Pilots of WWII

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H/T Mental Floss.

Sadly these brave women and their accomplishments have largely forgotten today.


Shirley Slade sat on the wing of a plane and looked off into an uncertain future. Slade—clad in her flight suit with pigtails guarding against Texas wind—was posing for the July 19, 1943 issue of Life magazine, and the composition between the aircraft and its operator was a juxtaposition spelled out in the cover headline: “Air Force Pilot.”

Slade was one of more than 1000 women who had been solicited by the U.S. government to enter an intensive seven-month training course that would make them the first female pilots to enter the Air Force. What had been a boy’s club was being forced into a kind of reluctant gender neutrality as a result of World War II and severe pilot shortages. By recruiting women, the Air Force could maintain delivery of aircraft, ferry supplies, and perform other non-combative functions that fueled the war efforts. Collectively, the group would become known as WASPs: Women Airforce Service Pilots.

While all of these women risked their lives—and more than a few lost them—they were not perceived as equals. Because they were designated as civilians, they were denied military honors and compensation. As the war wound down, men returning from combat jockeyed to take the WASPs’ places as active-duty pilots. Occasionally, the women would be used in target practice. It would be decades before the women of WASP would finally get their due.

America’s entry into World War II following the attack on Pearl Harborheralded a new policy of rationing. Food, materials, and manpower were doled out carefully, but demand for pilots quickly exceeded the available personnel. By 1942, the Air Force realized they would have to tap into new sources in order to continue their campaign.

Jacqueline Cochran had a solution: A pilot in her own right and a contemporary of Amelia Earhart, Cochran knew there was a strong contingent of female fliers who had licenses and had logged air time who could be recruited for support missions. She petitioned the Air Force, including commanding general Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold, to approve a training program that would ultimately relocate volunteers to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. Another pilot, Nancy Harkness Love, submitted a similar proposal.

WASP pilot Elizabeth Remba Gardner looks out from her plane while on a Texas runway


Cochran and Love were up against considerable resistance to involving women in military efforts. General Dwight D. Eisenhower once admittedhe was “violently against” the idea (before concluding that none of his concerns came to light and women were an integral part of the effort). Internally, there was concern as to whether women would even be capable of handling a massive aircraft like the B-29 bomber, so superiors hedged their bets by creating two organizations.

Love was put in charge of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS)—an organization to ferry planes—while Cochran was put in charge of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment, which did whatever the Army Air Corps required of it. A little under a year later, these two groups were merged into a single organization: the WASPs. This new group demanded that incoming women logged at least 35 hours of flight time before coming to Sweetwater. More importantly, the women would be considered civilians, not military personnel.

Roughly 25,000 women applied; around 1900 were accepted and 1100 completed training. On their own dimes, these women streamed into Texas to begin the seven-month program that taught them every aspect of military flying except for gunnery duty and formation flying. Every day in the barracks included intensive lessons, physical fitness training, and studying. At night, the women would dance, sing, or play ping-pong. Lifedescribed their ambitions as “piloting with an unfeminine purpose” and noted that some of the women needed cushions in order to sit comfortably in planes designed for male bodies. Their mascot, a tiny winged sprite named Miss Fifinella, was designed by Disney, and the patch appeared on many of their jumpsuits and plane noses.

According to Life, the Air Force reported that the women were faster on instruments while the men “had better memory for details.” But in virtually every way that counted, the magazine wrote, there was no practical difference in ability.

Graduates were dispatched to bases around the country, though the most pressing job was ferrying new aircraft from factories to places like Newark, New Jersey, where the planes would make the jump overseas. The women shuttled 12,000 of these planes during the war. They also escorted military chaplains from base to base on Sundays for religious services and operated test flights for repaired aircraft to make sure they were safe to fly in combat. Sometimes, they’d be tasked with towing targets behind them so soldiers could use live ammunition for combat practice.

Simulated combat may have been nerve-wracking, but it was no more dangerous than the actual flying and the very real possibility that the WASPs would experience equipment malfunction or fuel issues. In the two years the squad was active, 38 women perished during missions. At the time—and for decades afterward—the families of those women were denied many of the basic privileges afforded to the families of their male counterparts. When a WASP died, her colleagues—not the government—would pitch in to pay for her burial. Their families were prohibited from putting a gold star in their windows, a sign of a military casualty, nor were they “allowed” to drape the American flag over their coffins.

On December 20, 1944, the WASPs were sent home. The war wasn’t yet over, but men returning from the front lines were dismayed that jobs they expected to find waiting for them were being occupied by women. Despite Cochran’s petition to have the WASPs permanently incorporated into the Air Force, Congress turned her down.

WASP pilots are photographed circa 1943


The pride the women had felt serving their country turned to confusion. By being classified as “civilians,” the WASPs found little respect for their efforts. When entering the workforce after the war, some even became flight attendants, as no commercial airline would hire a female pilot.

In the 1970s, the Air Force announced they’d be accepting female recruits for the “first time,” a proclamation that angered the surviving WASPs. Their efforts had largely gone unheralded, and now it seemed like the government was wiping them from history completely. Petitioning for recognition and receiving aid from fellow war ferry pilot Senator Barry Goldwater, they were finally granted military status on November 23, 1977.

As the WASPs aged, a handful got the chance to enjoy another honor. In 2010, the women were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their efforts. After flying 77 different types of planes over 60 million miles during wartime and being largely ignored for decades, it was recognition that was long overdue.

With 8 Silver Stars and 2 Distinguished Service Crosses, General John Corley Was Born To Lead

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Brigadier General John Thomas Corley August 4, 1914 – April 16, 1977.

To say Brigadier John Corley had an amazing career would be an unserstatement.

His awards would span two wars, and when it was all said and done, General John Corley would retire as one of the most highly decorated officers in the United States Army.

Most of his combat action would occur while he wore the ranks of Major through Colonel, but it became clear from the first time he heard the crack of a bullet fly overhead that this was an officer who felt most comfortable near the front with his men.  When the war in Korea broke out, Corley was one of a handful of Army officers personally requested for action by General Douglas MacArthur.

Corley had already established himself in World War 2 with one Distinguished Service Cross and 5 Silver Stars and would prove MacArthur’s faith in him true has he picked an additional Distinguished Service Cross and three more Silver Stars in Korea.  It would appear that leading in combat was his calling and this Army Officer was born at just the right time in history to put it all on full display.

A Hard Fought War

John Corley was born in 1914 Brooklyn, New York.  A short time after graduating from High School in 1932, he received an appointment to attend the United States Military Academy.  He proved early on that he was capable of a fight as he showed himself to be quite a force to be reckoned with in the boxing ring while in West Point.

He graduated in 1938 where an unconfirmed report continues to float around to this day that after being initially assigned to the Army Air Corps, a flight under the Brooklyn Bridge got him a quick reassignment to the Infantry.

BG John T. Corley
BG John T. Corley

Whether that lingering report is true or not, it would appear that the infantry is where such a man belonged and whatever it took to get him there was good for the men he would lead.  Corley would fight in World War 2 as a Major and then Lieutenant Colonel with the 1stInfantry Division.  Within days of storming onto the beaches of North Africa in late 1942, Corley would pick up the first of his 8 Silver Stars when he braved heavy small arms fire to scout out observation points for artillery observers.

Acting completely on his own initiative, as the battlefield dictated, his actions helped sway the battle in the favor of the Americans.  He wouldn’t leave North Africa without a Distinguished Service Cross as when a well-entrenched machine gun nest halted the advance of his battalion in Tunisia, Corley crawled to its rear under heavy fire and personally threw the grenade that silenced the gun.

D-Day – Normandy landings.

As the 1st Division pushed through North Africa and eventually invading Sicily, Corley picked up his second Silver Star in July of 1943 when he remained at the front of an assault force to maneuver his men in an attack against heavy resistance when other units had faltered and held back.

A theme was quickly developing that if you need to find Lieutenant Colonel Corley in the middle of a fight, just go look at the front which was not as common for other higher ranking officers.  After the fight in Italy, Corley would earn three additional Silver Stars for actions in Normandy on through to Germany by despising the rear with all the gear and feeling at home where the bullets would fly and the shells would rain down.

He also accepted the first unconditional surrender of the first German city to fall into American hands during the war, when he accepted the surrender of Aachen by Col. Gerhard Wilck.

The war would end with Corley as one of the most highly decorated officers of the conflict, but the outbreak of hostilities in Korea meant that Corley would have to make addition room on his uniform for a few more awards.

Military Insignia

Leading Best When the Bullets Fly

Just as soon as Corley jumped back into the action, it became quickly apparent that he had not forgotten the location of the front lines.  Colonel Corley would command the 24thInfantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division which, as a segregated regiment consisted of black enlisted men lead by mostly white officers.

And while there is an accusation against Colonel Corley that he downgraded a Medal of Honor nomination for a black soldier to a Silver Star, it appears that Corley’s willingness to lead from the front gained the respect of the mostly segregated unit.

By August 10th of 1950, He had picked up Silver Star number 6 when he again pressed to the front to coordinate the attack under heavy small-arms and mortar fire.  When a radio man was injured, he personally administered first aid and carried him back for evacuation.

24th Infantry Regiment advancing in Korea via
24th Infantry Regiment advancing in Korea

But as if Silver Stars were becoming a little boring to him, he would add another Distinguished Service Cross to his resume just a few weeks later.  Near Haman, Korea, his battalion was fighting to take hilly and mountainous terrain when they came under a withering North Korean counter-attack.

On multiple occasions when his company was beaten back by superior numbers, Corley rushed to the front and personally reorganized the retreating men to halt the enemy advance.  Under heavy fire, he personally called for fire missions with devastating effect on the enemy and brutal accuracy.

It just so happens that after this action Corley would go on to pick up two additional Silver Stars in Korea for you guessed it, leading from the front.  His later Silver Star citations would note that Corley would only return from the front when the Division Commander ordered him to do so.

Born to Lead

As one might imagine, Corley did pick up a Purple Heart as well due to constantly subjecting himself to enemy fire, but how this man walked away from battle after battle unscathed is remarkable.  When the men fighting at the front see a higher ranking officer side by side with them, it inspires confidence and gallantry in the soul of each man fighting.  When the battle seemed to be at its most grim moment, they could always count on John Corley coming along to inspire them to victory.

After the wars, Corley would go on to pin on his first star as a Brigadier General and serve in a variety of functions to include Director of the Infantry School’s Ranger Department.  He retired from the Army in 1962 and passed away in 1977 at the relatively young age of 62.  His children would go on to continue his military legacy and Corley lost a son in Vietnam.

The history of war would prove that some men just seem to thrive under the pressure of combat and the evidence would suggest that the calm of the rear command didn’t suit such a man like General John Corley.

MoH: 8 German soldiers moved in to try to capture one wounded Edward Carter – It Didn’t End Too Well

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Medal of Honor recipient Army Staff Sergeant Edward Allen Carter May 26, 1916 – January 30, 1963.

One look at the life of Medal of Honor recipient Edward Allen Carter and it doesn’t take you long to realize that this was a man who just wanted to get into the fight wherever he could find it.

His parents service as missionaries in Asia would mean the first fight he could find at age 15 was the Chinese National Army battling the Japanese in Shanghai. When that fight was no longer available to him, he decided to jump into the fighting taking place during the Spanish Civil War and fought with the Loyalist.

Then with the rest the world decided to get in on the fighting as well, this veteran of two wars would finally enlist in the United States Army to serve the country in which he was originally born. And while his race as an African-American would initially hinder his ability to fight in Europe, the man with the nose for it found his way to the action and picked himself up a Medal of Honor along the way.

An Early Start to the Fight

Edward Carter was born in California in 1916 to an African-American father and East Indian mother who served as missionaries. Their service would take them to India where he would spend many of his early years growing up and then eventually settling Shanghai China.

Fortunately, if you’re a 15-year-old young man looking for a fight in 1932, China Shanghai was the place. The Shanghai incident which would be a prelude to the greater Sino-Japanese war erupted and Edward Carter decided to fight on behalf of the Chinese.

Unfortunately, while he did see action, it was short-lived when the Army found out he was only 15 years old and forced him out.

Chinese military police fight during the Shanghai incident in 1932 via
Chinese military police fight during the Shanghai incident in 1932

Taking his combat experience with him, Carter would come of age and find his next opportunity for a fight in Spain. The Spanish Civil War erupted in 1936, and Carter jumped at the opportunity to serve as a Corporal in the socialist Abraham Lincoln Brigade which was an American volunteer unit opposing the fascist.

He was quickly able to distinguish himself, perhaps due to fighting his first war at age 15, and became a hardened veteran before most Americans had even contemplated the idea of war. However, when his side of the Civil War took a turn for the worse, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was forced to flee in 1938.

He subsequently made his way back to America where he met his wife and heading into his mid-20s contemplated settling down. But the world was not done with war yet and war was not done with Edward Carter. Just before the US entry into the war, Carter enlisted in the U.S. Army in September 1941 once again quickly established himself as a man who knew what he was doing.

Standing out above the average recruit, he was promoted to Staff Sergeant in less than a year, but his race and suspicions about his involvement with the socialist in Spain would hamper his military career.

From Suspicion to Gallantry

The Army quickly opened a counterintelligence file on Carter and monitored his activities due to his exposure to the socialist in Asia and Spain. His mail was read, his whereabouts reported, and the fact that he had a speaking knowledge of Chinese only seemed to add to the paranoia.

Finally, in 1944, he would eventually get his chance to at least get close to the fight, but was assigned to supply duties due to his race. One might think that a veteran of two wars could be of some use in combat, but it was a different era for the United States military at that time.

However, when replacements in the combat arms began to run short in December 1944, Eisenhower created a volunteer force called replacement command that allowed rear echelon soldiers of any race to jump into the fight.

African American troops serving in an anti-aircraft battery in Europe via
African American troops serving in an anti-aircraft battery in Europe

Carter enthusiastically volunteered despite the fact that he would have to accept a reduction in rank to private so as not to find himself in a position to command white soldiers. Wanting nothing more than to fight, Carter happily accepted and just as one might expect his experience showed up in a big way when it mattered most.

On March 23, 1945, Carter was riding on a tank when it was hit by a bazooka and caught fire. Without hesitation, Carter dismounted and led three of his fellow soldiers to engage the Germans forces.

Under heavy fire, two of the men were initially killed and the third wounded. Undeterred Carter pursued the enemy in a lone charge that resulted in him being wounded up to five times before he eventually had to take cover.

At that time, eight German soldiers moved in to try to capture one wounded Edward Carter. But little did the Germans know, those odds were not in their favor. At close range, Carter killed six of the German soldiers who attempted his capture and then captured the final two.

Being the wily veteran that he was, he used the two prisoners as cover from the enemy fire as he crossed back over the field.

A Medal of Honor Never Seen

The captured German soldiers provided valuable intelligence and those who witnessed Carter’s actions couldn’t deny his inexplicable capacity for combat. Due to his race, he was initially awarded the Distinguished service cross rather the Medal of Honor many believed he duly warranted.

Carter would recover from his severe wounds that day and return home hoping to pursue a future career in the military. However, post-World War II fears of socialism were at an all-time high and he was denied reenlistment in 1949 because of his prior affiliations from the Spanish Civil War.

Edward Carter died of lung cancer in 1963 and took with him a remarkable story that belongs in the halls of history. When subsequent investigations decades later examined whether soldiers had been denied the medal of honor due to race, Carter’s name was quickly evaluated.

In 1997, Pres. Bill Clinton posthumously awarded Edward Carter the Medal of Honor. And while Carter may never have gotten to see that medal or live to see the day when his exploits were truly appreciated, his undeniable gallantry and commitment to the fight are an inspiration for all who would have the courage to pick arms and enter into the fray of combat.

The diseases that saved not killed people

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H/T Beyond The Band Of Brothers.

These doctors were very brave creating a fake contagion to save Jews from The Holocaust.

A fake contagion saved people from the Holocaust – not once, but twice.        

In the fall of 1943, Allied forces landed in Italy. The country capitulated shortly thereafter but German troops immediately took over much of the country, continuing the fight. At around the same time, a new contagion reared its head at the Fatebenefratelli Hospital that stood on a small island in the Tiber River in downtown Rome. Named “Syndrome K” or “K Syndrome” by the local doctors, it caused convulsions, bodily deformation, dementia, paralysis and an inevitable death by asphyxiation. It was extremely contagious. It was also completely fictional, invented by hospital workers as a ploy to save Jews from Nazi persecution.

Giovanni Borromeo, the director of the hospital

The idea of a fake disease was concocted by three doctors: Giovanni Borromeo, the director of the hospital; Vittorio Sacerdoti, a young physician, and Adriano Ossicini, a psychiatrist. The two younger doctors had good reason to fear the German occupation force themselves. Sacerdoti was a Jew whose uncle was Borromeo’s old mentor. He had been given refuge on the island and the chance to work under a false name after Italy’s anti-Semitic laws deprived him of his job. Ossicini was an anti-fascist and a member of the Catholic Resistance Movement who only managed to avoid imprisonment thanks to his Vatican connections. They enjoyed a measure of protection as the hospital was built in the Middle Ages and was still owned by the Order of St. John, also known as the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God, making it an extraterritorial zone where Italian laws did not apply.

Vittorio Sacerdoti

The hospital overlooked Rome’s Jewish ghetto and the doctors could see the persecution of its inhabitants whenever they looked out the window. “K Syndrome” was invented to allow Jews to take refuge in the hospital under the guise of treatment. To the Germans, the name evoked Koch’s Disease, another name for tuberculosis, and the description was enough to keep them away from the K Syndrome wards during their raids of the hospital. The doctors themselves associated the name with Albert Kesselring, the German commander in charge of occupied Italy, and Herbert Kappler, head of German security and police services in Rome, who was later responsible for the Ardeatine massacre.

Adriano Ossicini

The exact number of Jews saved by Syndrome K is unknown but is probably between two dozen and a hundred. One of them was 10-year-old Luciana Sacerdoti, Vittorio’s own cousin. She remembered a German raid with these words: “The day the Nazis came to the hospital, someone came to our room and said: ‘You have to cough, you have to cough a lot because they are afraid of the coughing, they don’t want to catch an awful disease and they won’t enter.’”

The Fatebenefratelli Hospital today

This wasn’t the only time an epidemic was faked to protect the victims of the Nazism. Two Polish doctors, Eugene Lazowsky and Stanisław Matulewicz created a false typhus epidemic to protect the inhabitants in the area of their practice. Their ruse began when a Polish man visited Lazowsky, who himself previously escaped a German POW camp by climbing over the wall and riding away on a horse cart. The man explained that he had been rounded up to work in a Nazi labor camp but was given a two-week leave to visit his family. However, as his time was up, he found himself unable to return to forced labor. If he ran away, his family would have been sent to a concentration camp. Seeing no other way out, he was contemplating suicide.

Matulewicz (left) and Lazowsky (right)

Matulewicz had earlier discovered that people injected with a vaccine made of dead typhus bacteria showed up positive on tests without actually contracting the disease. The doctors gave the man such an injection, then took a blood sample and sent it to a German lab. There it was detected as a positive and the man given a permanent reprieve from forced labor.

Lazowsky loved animals

The doctors started using the ruse on a large scale, habitually giving “protein stimulation therapy” shots to local Poles whose minor illnesses exhibited symptoms similar to typhus, such as a fever, a cough, a rash or aches. The patients weren’t told of the true nature of their shots but they reliably showed up typhus-positive on German lab tests. Eventually the entire area, comprising around twelve villages, was declared an epidemic area by the authorities and the Nazis started avoiding the area as much as they could. This came too late to save the local Jews, who were already rounded up by then, but it brought a measure of safety for local Poles, as well as any Jews who had fled there from elsewhere

Polish boy looking through the door of a building quarantined for typhus

There was, however, one big problem with the “typhus epidemic:” nobody was dying of the deadly disease. This was noticed by the German authorities and a team of doctors was sent to investigate. Lazowsky gathered the weakest, sickest-looking locals, gave them vaccine shots and left them in a dirty room. While the senior German doctors were plied with a full table of Polish food and vodka, their younger, less experienced subordinates were sent to inspect the patients. Scared of the sickly group and the unhygienic circumstances, they quickly took blood samples, which were guaranteed to be false positives, and left without conducting a serious examination. Altogether some 8,000 people in the area were given a reprieve from Nazi excesses, thanks to deadly bacteria that weren’t even there.

Matulewicz with his wife


Fight on – the Story of an Australian Sailor Who Went down with the Ship While Firing His AA Gun from Underwater

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Seaman  Edward “Teddy” Sheean  Royal Australian Navy   December 28, 1923 – December 1, 1942.

Personal sacrifice has always been the pinnacle of heroic acts in war. When a man is ready to give his own life in order to save the lives of his brothers-in-arms, it is a sight to admire and pay great respect to. One out of many such endeavors which happened during WWII is most definitely the valorous act of an Australian seaman, Edward “Teddy” Sheean.

Sheean was born into a family of fourteen children in Lower Barrington, Tasmania, in 1923. In 1941, he joined the Australian Navy. Five of his brothers had already enlisted in the Armed Forces and Teddy wanted to follow in their footsteps, as the country was facing its worst time of peril.

He was stationed on the Bathurst-class corvette HMAS Armidale as an Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun loader when his wartime adventure began. Little did he know that he would be the man whose courage and sacrifice saved the lives of his fellow sailors.

The first year of the war went rather dully for Teddy Sheean, as HMAS Armidale was bestowed upon routine escort duties just off the coast of Australia and rarely encountered the Japanese. But in November 1942, all of that was about to change.

Teddy Sheean c.1941

At that time, a small Australian commando unit was stationed on Timor, a Pacific island under the colonial rule of both the Dutch and the Portuguese, located just north of the Australian coast. The island was under threat of Japanese invasion and HMAS Armidale, along with ships Kuru and Castlemaine, was sent to evacuate the Aussie troops, together with some 150 Portuguese settlers and 190 Dutch soldiers who were stationed on the island.

The invasion of the island was a direct threat to the Australian mainland and the operation was of utmost importance for securing the Indonesian archipelago.

The garrison was to be replaced with 50 Dutch guerrilla fighters who would engage in sabotage operations against the Japanese invaders until a counter-attack could be organized. Armidale and Castlemaine were sailing together and were supposed to meet up with Kuru in order to proceed towards Timor.

Due to bad weather, Kuru’s arrival at the port of Betano on Timor was delayed for three hours. Armidale and Castlemaine failed to meet up with the third ship and were in the meantime harassed by Japanese aircraft. First, a single fighter started strafing and bombing the corvettes. The commanding officers of both Armidale and Castlemaine agreed that the attacks were about to become more frequent and, since they had failed to meet up with Kuru, they decided to apply evasive maneuvers.

HMAS Armidale in Port Moresby harbour c. September 1942.

Their predictions quickly became very true ― a squadron of Japanese bombers was already on their tails. Two more attacks soon followed, bombing and strafing the ships with machine guns. Strangely enough, both vessels came through with minor damage and without casualties.

In the meantime, Kuru had already reached Betano, collecting 77 of the Portuguese refugees and one critically wounded Australian commando. The ship set sail for Darwin, realizing that they had failed to accomplish the rendezvous with the other two corvettes. By a stroke of luck, they managed to spot the ships on their way back and exchanged a portion of Portuguese passengers with HMAS Castlemaine.

HMAS Armidale and HMAS Castlemaine received orders to continue the operation on their own. Then suddenly, the Japanese bomber squadron was inbound. The ships went their separate ways and the Japanese pilots decided to follow Armidale. The corvette proved to be easy prey for the Imperial bombers, who dispatched two aerial torpedoes and achieved a direct hit.

The situation aboard Armidale was clear ― abandon ship. In the midst of the growing panic and confusion, Ordinary Sailor Teddy Sheean was assisting the evacuation, selflessly running back and forth in order to save as many as his fellow sailors he could. During this action, he was shot twice with 7.7×56mm bullets coming from a Japanese fighter’s machine gun.

Members of the Sheean family c.1941. L to R, back row: Edward (Teddy); Frederick. Front row: James (father); Mary (mother); William.

He was badly wounded, receiving a shot in the back and one in the chest. Sheean decided to go down with the ship. Strapping himself into the aft Oerlikon 20 mm cannon, he fired away, shooting a Japanese bomber down and relentlessly gunning the harassing aircraft as his comrades-in-arms were loading the rescue rafts.

One sailor’s testimony put his actions into words, which later served for his posthumous decorations:

“During the attack, a plane had been brought down and for this, the credit went to Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean. Teddy died, but none of us who survived, I am sure, will ever forget his gallant deed … When the order ‘Abandon ship’ was given, he made for the side, only to be hit twice by the bullets of an attacking Zero. None of us will ever know what made him do it, but he went back to his gun, strapped himself in, and brought down a Jap plane, still firing as he disappeared beneath the waves.”

Sailors reported that they could still see tracer bullets raging up towards the air even when the ship was well underwater. Sheean kept firing until he drowned, his stiff dead finger still holding the trigger.

The Royal Australian Navy Collins-class submarine HMAS Sheean (SSG 77) arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii (USA), after participating in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014.

Armidale‘s commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander David Richards, made a posthumous mention in dispatches about the “bravery and devotion when HMAS Armidalewas lost,” dedicated to Teddy Sheean.

The story of Sheean’s valor and sacrifice remains legendary within the ranks of the Australian Navy. A Collins-class submarine was named after him ― HMAS Teddy Sheean ― adopting the motto which best illustrates his determination that shines as an example for others ― “Fight on!”

Blazing trails – Daughter of Foreign Service Officer served in WAC in WWII, and later in CIA

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H/T War History OnLine.

The story of Doris Van Wickel is an amazing story.

War History online proudly presents this Guest Piece from Jeremy P. Ämick, who is a military historian and writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.

Bruce Berger, of Jefferson City, Missouri, has a number of reasons to take pride in the memory of his mother. Not only did she demonstrate her patriotism while supporting her country in the Women’s Army Corps in World War II, years later, after her husband passed away, she was able to raise three sons while at the same time completing a career in an American intelligence agency.

Born November 19, 1915 in Brooklyn, New York, Doris Van Wickel was the daughter of  Jesse Van Wickel, who was at the time serving as a Foreign Service Officer for the United States. Due to his chosen career field, his daughter was exposed to many cultures while growing up in several different countries.

“My mother lived in several places in her youth to include Shanghai, China; Jakarta, Indonesia; The Hague; Netherlands East Indies; and England,” said Berger. “Until 1939, most of her time was spent outside of the United States,” he added.

Records maintained by Van Wickel indicate that in the early 1930s, she attended the Malvern Girls’ College in Great Malvern England and later completed coursework at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Columbia University in New York.

During her early years abroad, she acquired proficiency in seven languages to include German, French, Dutch and Chinese. She also worked for companies in Holland before returning to the United States, where she was hired in 1941 by the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department in New York.

WACs operate teletype machines during World War II.

“The work she did with the War Department was confidential,” said Berger. “In 1942, she became an assistant economic analyst with the Board of Economic Warfare in Washington, D.C. There she acted as an assistant chief for the Southwest Pacific Unit and researched conditions of the occupied Netherlands, East Indies and M alaya.”

In October 1943, she made the decision to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC)—an organization created during World War II to allow women to support the war effort by serving in non-combat positions. As Berger explained, his mother completed her WAC boot camp at Ft. Des Moines, Iowa.

Military records indicate Van Wickel was discharged at the rank of technical sergeant on February 16, 1945 and the following day was appointed a second lieutenant. She remained on active duty as an intelligence research analyst until February 18, 1946, spending her entire period of military service at the Pentagon and achieving the rank of first lieutenant.

“While my mother was with the WACs, she met my father in Washington, D.C. after he whistled at her as she walked into a hotel,” said Berger. “Apparently, they dated for awhile and then married.” He added, “My father had served in the Army and after the war worked for the Census Bureau. My mother was eventually discharged from the WACs after she became pregnant with my oldest brother.”

The family remained living in the Washington, D.C. area where Van Wickel Berger’s first son, Ken, was born in 1946; a second son, Darrell, born in 1948; and Bruce, the youngest, was born in 1949. Sadly, Berger explained, his father passed away from Hodgkin’s disease in Janauary 1953, leaving behind their mother to raise three young boys.

Doris Van Wickel Berger retired from the Central Intelligence Agency in 1970. She remained a contractor for the CIA for a couple of years before retiring to Florida, where she passed away in 1989.

“After my dad passed, my mother worked a couple of months for the Census Bureau and was then hired by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the spring of 1953,” Berger said. “She went on temporary duty assignments to places like Iran, Hong Kong and Thailand while us boys went to boarding school at Girard College in Philadelphia.”

The intrigue of their mother’s new chosen career field soon drew the boys into an exciting adventure when she brought them to live in Saigon in early 1962. While her sons were attending school during the day, Van Wickel Berger was involved in operations that remain shrouded in relative secrecy.

“She never talked too much about what she did and always joked that if she told us, she would have to kill us,” Berger chuckled.

Berger and his brothers have pieced together many facets of her service in Vietnam, which included her invovement in coordinating flights for “Air America”—a covert passenger and cargo operation operated by the CIA during the Vietnam War. The pilots, Berger noted, would deliver goods needed by various hamlets and bring their produce back into towns, collecting military intelligence during the process.

When the situation in Saigon grew more dangerous in early 1965 following bombings of locations such as a movie theater, Van Wickel Berger sent her children back to California to live with her brother. In 1967, she was sent to Udorn, Thailand, where she worked closely with the 7th Radio Reseach Field Station and was involved with radio intercepts.

Doris Van Wickel enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II and served as an intelligence research analyst. After her husband passed away in 1953, she went to work for the CIA. Courtesy of Bruce Berger



“My mother returned to the United States in 1970 and worked at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, retiring later the same year,” said Berger. “She then went on to work for them as a contractor for a couple of years before retiring to Florida.”

The former member of the WACs and CIA agent passed away in 1989 from emphysema and was laid to rest alongside her husband in Arlington National Cemetery. As Berger went on to explain, although his mother may have at one time embraced the possibility of a “traditional” lifestyle of raising a family, the adventure that became her life demonstrates she was a woman before her time.

“When my father died, I think that my mother felt the American dream wasn’t really holding true for her—being married, having a nice house and raising children. But,” he paused, “I’m not really sure that ideal would have lasted for her.”

He continued, “My mother would joke during the 1960s and 1970s, at the time when women were burning their bras for equality as part of the women’s liberation movement, that she was working as a field operative for the CIA in several war zones.

“She was a trailblazer as a woman, not only because she served her country in uniform in the WACs, but she went on to demonstrate the value women could offer by working for the CIA at a time when women really had to fight to get a job that wasn’t just clerical in nature.”

He’s Called The Ghost, Has The Same Medal Count As Audie Murphy, And Is Virtually Unknown

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Lieutenant Colonel Matt Louis Urban (born Matthew Louis Urbanowicz) August 25, 1919 – March 4, 1995.

By the time a man earns seven Purple Hearts and lives to talk about it, he could either be described as one of the luckiest men alive or perhaps just one of the bravest.  At the very least this is a person who has proven he won’t quit even under the direst circumstances – even when those circumstances include being shot in the neck.

Such is the case of Matt Louis Urban, or as he was more appropriately known: “The Ghost.” By the time World War 2 ended, the Ghost would be awarded the Medal of Honor along with seven purple hearts, two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars with a V, and a number of other honors making him one of the most highly decorated soldiers of the war.

For Urban, it seemed he did his best fighting when wounded and with each Purple Heart, one could always expect to find an act of inexplicable gallantry to follow.

Destined for Gallantry

Matt Urban was born August 25, 1919, in Buffalo, New York to an immigrant Polish Catholic family. After High School, he would go on to attend University at Cornell where he ran track and proved an accomplished boxer along with joining the ROTC. He joined the regular Army in 1941 and went on to receive a 2nd Lieutenant Commission before serving in seven Campaigns in the coming war and rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

While his story before the war it not unlike most men of that era, it was his ability to take a hit and then keep on fighting that would distinguish him.

US Army soldiers and jeeps on their way to the front lines, Saint-Lô, France, July 1944.

Throughout the war, Urban would find himself wounded time and time again and yet would often have to be wrestled and dragged away from the fight by his own men – even after being severely wounded. Once he even left a hospital without permission and hitchhike back to France to join his men at the front.

By the time Normandy rolled around, Urban would already find himself wounded by shrapnel from his time in Africa and the subject of several gallant actions worthy of accommodation.  In Tunisia, he sparked a counterattack against all the odds when the Germans attacked, and his unit began to retreat. He continued to press the attack and rushed a German with only his trench knife, stabbing him to death.

After that, he grabbed the German’s gun and sent their own ammo back at the charging Germans with a devastating effect. As the Germans mounted a counterattack, Urban was wounded and would reluctantly earn the first of his many Purple Hearts.

But Urban wasn’t sent home and was ordered to aid in the effort to invade Normandy. Between the 14th of June, 1944 to the first week of September, Urban would prove his North Africa heroics were just the opening act.

Refusing to Leave the Fight

Assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division on June 14th he and his company were near Renouf, France when the company came under an intense barrage of tank and small arms fire. They immediately began taking heavy casualties from the relentless and withering tank fire, and Urban knew he had to take action if his men were to survive.

He grabbed a nearby bazooka and a man to carry the bazooka rounds, and together they charged through the hedgerows to find the enemy tanks raining destruction down upon their friends. Urban and his ammo carrier managed to avoid taking any hits from the small-arms fire and eventually found the two tanks firing on the other men.

Urban took careful aim at the first tank, then blasted it. He then reloaded and carefully aligned the sights before sending the round toward the enemy. This knocked the second tank out. The company then surged forward and drove off the remaining enemy soldiers.

Heavy fighting in the hedgerows of Normandy via
Heavy fighting in the hedgerows of Normandy

The day’s heroics weren’t over for Urban and his men. Near Orglandes, France a few miles away, Urban was leading his men forward when they came under fire from a 37 mm tank gun. Urban was hit, but as the men moved to evacuate him, he physically fought them off and went on to lead his men to set up defenses to secure their position for the night.

It became clear through the night that he was badly wounded and in need of evacuation but still Urban refused to relent.   Despite the obvious wounds, the next day he led his Company in an attack where he was again hit. Seriously wounded his men got help, and he was evacuated to England for the time being.

A month later Urban was still recovering from his wounds when word arrived that the unit was being devastated in the hedgerow fighting in Normandy. Urban was not the type of man to lie on a cot while his men took fire and checked himself out of the hospital.

He hitched rides all the way back to the front at St. Lo, France and there he found that his men had just departed for the opening stages of Operation Cobra. Despite a serious limp which slowed him down, Urban raced ahead to reclaim command of his company.

Back in the Fight

Once he made it, he found the attack was stalled and in serious danger of faltering. Two of his support tanks had been destroyed, and the third was operational but with no gunner, and no tank commander, it was useless and going nowhere. So Urban rounded up a lieutenant and sergeant and ordered them to take over the tank and use it to take out the enemy defense. Both men ran to the tank and scaled it, but the Nazis were waiting and opened up, killing the two before they could get in the tank.

Urban once again took immediate action. Though crippled by his leg wound he charged toward the tank, totally disregarding his own safety. Injured, and fully aware of the enemy accuracy, he threw himself into the fire, climbed the tank and took over the machine gun turret. There he sent scathing fire back at the enemy position with such a devastating effect that his men counterattacked and destroyed the Nazi positions.

60th Infantry soldiers alongside of a Sherman “Rhino” tank in Belgium

Later in August, Urban was wounded twice more and once in the chest by shrapnel. Still suffering from all his prior wounds, that didn’t stop him from taking over command of 2ndBattalion. Even though he was in a command position and in no expectation to be on the front lines, Urban was not willing to sit out a fight.

In early September, at the Meuse River close to Heer, Belgium, Urban personally led a charge against Nazi small-arm positions, mortars and artillery. In open terrain, he was struck in the neck by enemy fire. After the shock had subsided, he realized he couldn’t speak above a whisper and must have finally known he was dangerously close to death.

Once more he would not let his men take him out of the battle until he was sure the US forces had beaten back the Germans and took the Meuse River Crossing.  With success ensured and bleeding heavily from the neck, Urban finally relented to leave the fight.

Matt Urban receiving the Medal of Honor in 1979 via
Matt Urban receiving the Medal of Honor in 1979

In 1944, Major Max Wolf filed a report recommending Urban for the Medal of Honor.  However, when Major Wolf was killed in action, the report was misfiled lost to time until 1979.  When an inquiry was made why his actions didn’t warrant the Medal of Honor, the missing report was found, and the Army finally finished the paperwork.

In 1979 he received the Medal of Honor from President Jimmy Carter and the long overdue thanks of a grateful nation.  The man who likely should not have survived the war continued to press on until he passed away in 1995 from a collapsed lung.

Country’s oldest WWII vet gets surprise ride on private jet ahead of 112th birthday

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H/T Fox News.

Happy 112 Birthday Richard Overton. Hand Salute.

The country’s oldest WWII veteran, who turns 112 next month, got a surprise ride on a private jet to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture. (Facebook)

When you’ve made it to 112 years old, there’s probably not much that surprises you.

But Richard Overton, the country’s oldest WWII veteran and possibly third oldest man in the world, was given an early birthday present last week that he’ll never forget.

On Saturday, Overton got to fly from his home in Austin, Texas to the nation’s capital by private jet to tour the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The trip came together after Overton mentioned to billionaire businessman and philanthropist friend Robert F. Smith how he’d like to visit the museum someday. Smith, who’s donated $20 million to the museum, asked Overton, “What are you all doing this weekend?” and the next morning, the men were on their way, The Washington Postreports.

During his visit, Overton received a surprise call from retired four-star general and former secretary of state Colin L. Powell, who’s on the museum’s board and checked out the exhibit featuring Barack Obama, whom Overton has met a couple times.

The grandson of a slave, Overton served in the Army during WWII and fought in a segregated unit, according to Dallas News. He spent the remainder of his career working in furniture stores and later worked as a courier before retiring at 85.

He now spends most of his time hanging out on his “throne,” what his cousin calls his front porch, where he meets with the regular stream of visitors who want to meet him.

As he approaches his 112th birthday on May 11, Overton told The Post the secret to his longevity is smoking cigars and drinking whiskey, which he still does to this day.

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