Four Celebrities Who Risked Their Lives For Their Countries In Wartime

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H/T War History OnLine.

I learned something new about Audrey Hepburn.

James Doohan and Audrey Hepburn

Many famous actors and entertainers achieved their fame on stage or in Hollywood, but some had eventful and remarkable lives before they entered the public spotlight. Various artists and musicians had already spent years in the military before they began the careers that made them famous.

From Allied troops on the D-Day beaches to Resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Europe, here are four celebrities who risked their lives in war.

Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks. Photo Credit

Before he became known as the comedic genius of The Producers and Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks worked on the front lines of WWII. He served in the 1104 Engineer Combat Battalion, 78th Infantry Division, as a combat engineer. He defused land mines in active war zones, risking death on a daily basis.

Brooks also faced active combat, fighting at the famous Battle of the Bulge. In later years he credited much of his dry wit to his time in the war, and while in military service his sense of humor was evident. When German soldiers began playing propaganda recordings through loudspeakers, the young Brooks set up his own speakers and blasted the music of Al Jolson, a Jewish singer, right back at them.

Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn


Before Breakfast At Tiffany’s cemented her place as an iconic Hollywood figure, Audrey Hepburn worked as a courier for the Dutch resistance against the Nazis.
It was not uncommon for children in the Netherlands to act in that role; they smuggled money, papers, and information with less likelihood of being noticed by the authorities.
Hepburn’s parents were staunch supporters of the Nazi party, making her willingness at a young age to support the resistance all the more impressive. When she was not running messages and carrying packages, she was donating what little money she had earned to the cause.
In later years, her remarkable story was promoted and her courage acclaimed, but her parents’ support for the Nazis was usually written out of the narrative.
When it is remembered, however, it makes Hepburn’s bravery all the more striking.
Jimmy Stewart

Jimmy Stewart

The star of It’s A Wonderful Life was first drafted in 1940, only to be rejected for being underweight. While others might have been relieved not to be sent into danger, Stewart actively set out to gain the required weight. As soon as he had, he headed back to be re-evaluated by the military and was accepted.

At first, due to his already established celebrity status, his commanding officers kept him away from the conflict. They used him for promotional videos or in training pilots, as Stewart already had extensive experience in that field.

Eventually, he managed to convince his superiors to move him overseas, to face real action in Europe. There he rose quickly through the ranks, often flying at the head of his unit to inspire the soldiers under his command. Four years after he joined the Army as a Private, Stewart was promoted to the rank of Colonel.

James Doohan

James Doohan.


James Doohan is widely remembered for his role as Scotty in the Star Trek series. The Canadian partook in active conflict long before he took to the screen.

When WWII broke out, Doohan joined the Canadian military and went to England for training. His first taste of combat came on D-Day, on June 6, 1944, when Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy.

Taking part in the largest amphibious landing in history, Doohan led his troops up the beach, shooting two snipers and finding defensive positions beyond a field of mines. Later that night, he was shot six times by a Bren Gun. Four of the rounds struck him in the leg, and one tore through his finger. The sixth would have penetrated his chest, had it not been blocked by a silver cigarette case his brother had given him some time before.

Doohan survived, although he lost the finger. He went on to become a beloved figure in television history.



Jarvis Richards, gas station owner and WWII veteran, dies

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H/T The Chicago Tribune.

R.I.P.Staff Sergeant Jarvis Richards.

Jarvis Richards was a World War II veteran who owned several gas stations in the Chicago area. (Family photo)

As a staff sergeant with the U.S. Army’s 1st Ranger Battalion during World War II, Jarvis Richards was leading a small platoon through a village in Belgium when he and his men came under Nazi fire.

After an intense firefight, Richards and three American soldiers were taken prisoner and lined up against a wall with guns pointed at them, according to his family. “He thought it was all over,” said his daughter, Darlene Schofield.

But, as he later told it, a tank rolled up and out climbed a German officer, who ordered the soldiers to hold their fire. He motioned Richards over, and with the help of a translator, conducted a brief interrogation, Schofield said.

The Americans were taken to a nearby Nazi prisoner camp, where Richards withstood hard labor for several months before escaping and meeting up with Allied forces, Schofield said.

“He had a lump on the side of his head that never went away from the butt of a gun,” she said.

Richards, 93, of Schiller Park, a decorated World War II veteran , died of natural causes May 12 at The Grove of Northbrook, an assisted living facility, his family said.

As a prisoner of war, Richards slept in a dilapidated shack, was unable to bathe and was given minimal daily rations of cabbage soup and a potato. “He was skin and bones by the time he escaped,” his daughter said.

“He was my hero,” said Marvin Hanks, a Vietnam veteran who, for the past year, each month, has with his dog, Brandy, visited Richards at his bedside as part of the Lutheran Church Charities Kare 9 Military Ministry program.

Born in Evanston and raised in Wilmette, Richards was a graduate of the Glenwood School for Boys, a military academy. After serving in the National Guard, he joined the Army in 1943, trained with the 1st Ranger Battalion and was sent overseas.

Upon his military discharge in late 1945, Richards moved to California, where he lived for several years, before returning to the Chicago area. He owned and operated gas stations in Chicago and Glenview, and worked as a truck driver in construction before retiring.

“We owe guys like Jarvis a lot,” Hanks said. “It’s because of them that as Americans we’re free today.”

Survivors also include a son, Jarvis Jr., a daughter, Jacqueline; a brother, Oliver; and three grandchildren.

Services were held.

Hanns Scharff – Nazi Germany’s POW “Master Interrogator” Who Used Kindness Not Brutality

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H/T War History OnLine.

This is a side of Nazi interrogations that never gets told.

Left: Entrance to Stalag IV-B Photo Credit, Right: The Interrogator

The Nazis had a “Master Interrogator” who was so good at getting information out of prisoners that he became a legend. His methods were so effective that the US ended up adopting them. He didn’t use torture, cruelty, or any of the other techniques that the Nazis were famous for, however. He used something so unusual, it was mind-boggling.

Hanns-Joachim Gottlob Scharff was never meant to be either a Nazi or their best interrogator. Born on December 16th, 1907 in Rastenburg, East Prussia to a wealthy family, his father was an army officer who died during WWI.

Kętrzyn Castle, the old castle in the town where Scharff was born. Photo Credit

His maternal grandfather owned textile mills throughout Germany, so Hanns grew up in the family villa at Leipzig where he studied art. He also learned the family business, starting out with textiles and weaving before moving on to merchandising, marketing, and exporting.

To train him in sales, Hans was sent to Adlerwerke’s (a now defunct firm) South African branch for a year. He ended up doing so well that they made him the director of their overseas division – a role he served for the next decade.

He was a good salesman who knew how to handle people. While in South Africa he married Margaret Stokes, daughter of Captain Claud Harry Stokes – the British flying ace who scored five aerial victories in WWI.

Hanns-Joachim Gottlob Scharff

In 1939, the couple and their children went back to Germany for a vacation when WWII broke out. So now they were stuck.

As a German citizen, he was drafted by the Wehrmacht (armed forces) who sent him to Potsdam for training. His final destination was to be the Russian Front, but Margaret had other ideas.

Since Hans was also fluent in English, she realized that he had a better chance of survival if he were kept as far away from the war front as possible. So Margaret convinced the authorities to use him as an interpreter.

A telegram was therefore sent to Hans’ unit, ordering his transfer to Interpreters Company 12 in Wiesbaden. It arrived the day he was to leave for Russia, but when he got to Wiesbaden, the Military Police tried to put him with another battalion headed for Russia.

So Hanns called on family connections which got him to Kompanie XII in Mainz where he began his training in military organization. They promoted him to lance corporal in 1943 and finally sent him to Wiesbaden where he was given the exciting task of doing paperwork.

Bored by the job, he jokingly told his superiors that he had calculated the cost of each hole his paper-puncher made (about 1¢). They weren’t amused, so he again explained that he was fluent in English and that his talents were being wasted.

Impressed, they sent him to the Intelligence and Evaluation Center West at Oberursel, outside Frankfurt. The facility was where they interrogated all captured non-Soviet Allied soldiers, and it was there that he became an assistant interrogation officer to two men.

Francis Stanley “Gabby” Gabreski

Hanns was not impressed with their techniques, however, seeing no value in brutality. Although the Germans had a list of approved and less-violent techniques, his trainers saw no reason to observe them.

Hanns, therefore, vowed that if he were in charge, things would change. They did in late 1943 when a plane crash killed the trainers. He was transferred from the Army to the Luftwaffe (air force), given an assistant, and put in charge of questioning captured US Army Air Forces (USAAF) personnel.

He wasn’t given a promotion, however, and so was allowed to wear civilian clothes. This impressed the American POWs who thought he had a higher rank than he actually did – setting the stage for what was to come.

New arrivals were scared, confused, and kept in isolation when not being questioned. Hanns got as much information as he could on the men, but divulged little, letting them believe he knew more about them than he actually did.

When they were being difficult, he told them that unless they could prove they weren’t spies, he’d have no choice but to turn them over to the Gestapo. Everyone knew of the latter’s reputation for sadism and were terrified by the prospect.

The old marketplace in the town of Oberursel. Photo Credit

Hanns had another secret weapon – kindness. He would befriend them, bring them food, and take them on walks in the surrounding woods. Sometimes, he’d even take them to the local zoo. One POW was even allowed to test drive a plane. None tried to escape.

His method, now called the Scharff Technique, was made up of four strategies: (1) befriend the prisoner, (2) let them talk but don’t press them for information, (3) pretend to know everything, and (4) use confirmation/discontinuation.

Confirmation shows that you value the person, what they have to say, and enjoy their company. Discontinuation is the opposite. Hanns would switch between the two, rewarding cooperative POWs with the former and punishing them with the latter.

His methods were so effective that prisoners didn’t realize they were giving away valuable information. He once suggested to a prisoner that chemical shortage caused American tracer bullets to produce white smoke instead of red. The prisoner shook his head and said it was meant to be a signal of low ammo – valuable intel to the Wehrmacht.

American anti-aircraft tracer fire lights up the sky during a Japanese air raid in 1945.

On July 20th, 1944 Francis Stanley “Gabby” Gabreski, the famous fighter ace with 34 kills to his name, was shot down. Despite his best efforts, however, Hanns couldn’t crack the man, but they parted friends and reunited in 1983. In fact, most signed his guest book before being sent off to other POW camps, and met with him after the war.
In 1948, he was invited to the US to interrogate Martin James Monti – the USAAF pilot who defected to the Axis in October 1944. The US Air Force was so impressed by his methods that they’re still taught in interrogations schools today. Hanns eventually became an American citizen and devoted himself to art.
You can see his mosaics at the California State Capitol Building, the Los Angeles City Hall, and the Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World, among others. Hanns died in 1992, but not before proving the old adage that you can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.


How 60 Coast Guard Cutters Saved Over 400 Men On D-Day

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H/T War History OnLine.

The story of the U.S. Coast Guard at the D-Day invasion is one that needs to be told.

400+ men own their lives to these brave men.

A British LCA in 1944.

“0530, accompanied invasion barges into shore under severe shelling attacks and with mines going up all around us. 0730, LCF-31 hit by shell 800 yards off shore, sinking immediately. While engaged in picking up survivors, a shell struck PC-1261, which disintegrated, scattering men and debris over a wide area. While so engaged, shells and bullets were falling nearby, and just after last man picked up, small landing craft only few hundred yards off shore blew up. Proceeded to spot and picked up all living survivors.” (CGC-16 Log.)

This is how June 6th, 1944, began for the crew of CGC-16. They were part of a group of US Coast Guard patrol boats assigned to the Invasion of Normandy during World War 2. On paper, their mission was simple: assist any allied ships in distress. In practice, though, it proved to be anything but.

A map showing the Naval Bombardments, and landing zones of D-day.

The plan to have Coast Guardsmen rescuing ships in the invasion originated only a matter of weeks earlier. President Roosevelt requested that Admiral Ernest M. King, chief of naval operations, create a small group of rescue ships to help lower the casualty count at D-Day. Knowing the Coast Guard had the experience and ships necessary, King then contacted the Coast Guard Commander, Vice Admiral Russell R. Waesche.

Waesche selected the 83-foot cutters of the “Matchbox Fleet”, small wooden ships used for antisubmarine patrols off the coast. 60 of these small, lightly armored ships were sent over to England to prepare for the invasion.

A German “E-Boat” torpedo boat. Its similar appearance to the Coast Guard’s 83 foot cutters nearly cost the lives of 4 crews.

From the very beginning of the action, it was clear nothing would go according to plan. Most of the cutters formed up with the rest of the fleet around 05:30 AM, often to a mixed reception. While some troop ships simply told these small craft to stay back out of the fire, HMS Hind almost fired on four of them. There was a constant fear of German torpedo boats hindering the invasion, and from a distance, the German and American vessels looked similar. Other vessels, though, understood the usefulness of the small ships and greeted them enthusiastically. And despite the early SNAFUs, these ships proved their worth during the battle. Out of the 60 ships, three especially distinguished themselves.

Photograph of CGC-1 During D-Day.

CGC-1 is a clear example of the kind of rescues these ships performed, and the dangers they faced. Attached to the Omaha Beach Assault Sector, CGC-1 joined the force at 06:00 AM on June 6th, just as the entire fleet began steaming towards the Nazi Atlantic Wall.

Its initial duty was to escort a group of LCVPs towards the beaches. But two miles off the shore they spotted a sinking British LCA. The cutter rushed to help, knowing that hypothermia could kill in minutes, rather than hours. The British soldiers and sailors were already feeling its effects and were too weak to climb up the side of the cutter.

Without a second thought, the Coast Guardsmen on board tied lines about their waists and jumped into the freezing water. They pulled and pushed the survivors up and on to the deck, saving 28 men in total. They then sped back to get them medical attention at a waiting hospital ship. But the freezing water wasn’t the only trouble these men faced.

LCVPs preparing to hit the beaches during the invasion of Normandy.

CGC-35 braved a burning sea to rescue a British crew. They had found a burning LCT, full of fuel, oil, and ammunition. The fuel had spilled out into the surrounding water, and immediately went up in flames. The crew was sitting on a floating bomb, trapped on all sides by flames licking up at the steel hull. Despite the amazing risk, the small, WOODEN, cutter drove into the flames, up to the side of the landing craft. To add to the danger, the cutters had fuel tanks amidships, full of high-grade gasoline.

But thanks to the Coast Guardsmen’s bravery, the British crew was able to exit their sinking vessel, and be taken back to the safety of a hospital ship. For their actions that day, the crew of CGC-35 was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, by the British First Lord of the Admiralty.  While every ship had a harrowing story that day, one truly stood above the rest.

LCTs loading in England before D-Day.

CGC-16, nicknamed “The Homing Pigeon”, was the most successful rescue ship on D-Day. Her operational day started at 05:30 AM on June 6th when she met with the rest of her convoy group. They immediately joined the invasion force, as the entire fleet sped towards the Normandy coast. CGC-16 was placed directly behind the landing craft of the Red Beach at the Omaha Sector. The Germans had placed mines, and underwater obstacles to slow the invasion, and these proved effective.

CGC-6, notice the unauthorized skull and crossbones on the superstructure. It also appeared on the crew’s helmets.


But while vessels had to worry what was below them, they were also being shelled by the German shore batteries ahead of them. One craft, LCF-31, an anti-aircraft boat was hit by a German shell at 07:30 AM, less than half a mile off the shore. CGC-16 immediately sped to her rescue. Once all men were off the LCF, a 173-foot patrol craft, PC-1261, was also hit. The small, 83-foot cutter picked all 90 survivors out of the water, then head off to a hospital ship.

An LCF (Landing Craft Flak), similar to LCF-31, which sank at D-Day.

USS PC-815, in the same class as PC 1261.

These cutters were never designed to hold more than about 20 wound personnel, in addition to their 13-15 man crew, but the often did so. In CGC-16, the men were crammed into every available space, with weapons and wet clothing piled around the gun mount on the bow and any wounded men unable to stand lying on the deck. From the engine room to the crew quarters, there wasn’t an inch of unused space.

CGC-1 Tied up to an LCT, next to the Samual P. Chase, one of the hospital ships at D-Day.

Once the cutter offloaded the 90 men, she sped out to find more. Finding an LCT, sinking and on fire, the Coast Guardsmen responded quickly. They knew that if the ammunition and fuel on board were to catch fire, nearly everyone present, including them, would be killed. They rescued all survivors they could find and began pulling away. But one survivor told them there was a man still on board, whose legs were badly injured. Coxswain Arthur Burkhard, Jr. tied a line around his waist and made his way towards the LCT. They knew it was only a matter of time before the fire reached the fuel and ammunition, but the small cutter remained next to the transport.

Burckhard found the wounded man and picked him up. He brought him to the ship’s rail, but at this point, the cutter had to back off, for fear of being crushed by the much larger ship. Burckhard ran out of options, and threw the wounded man off the side of the ship, diving in after him. They quickly got a line under the wounded man’s arms and hauled him aboard. Just as Burckhard and the last survivor were crawling back on the cutter, the transport finally capsized, and sank; they made it off just in the nick of time.

CGC-16 sped back to the hospital ships and offloaded her wounded. By the end of the day on June 6th, 1944, the 15 man crew of CGC-16 had saved 126 souls, more than any other ship present that day. For their bravery, the entire crew, which included a war correspondent, was awarded the Bronze Star.

By the end of operations on D-Day, Rescue Flotilla 1 had saved over 400 of the soldiers from the stormy sea. They were eventually disbanded in December 1944, after saving a grand total of 1,483 souls.





The Cost Of War: Emotional Drone Footage Of Margraten American Cemetery


H/T War History OnLine.

My uncle Private First Class Frank Walters is one of the 8,301 military dead buried there.

He is buried in Plot A Row 18 Grave 7.

Uncle Frank and his fiance Francis Rice

A Large number American soldiers who were killed in Europe during World War II were buried there, thousands of kilometers from home. The Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial is one place where Americans were buried. The Cemetery is situated in the village of Margraten, 10km east of Maastricht. It is the only American cemetery in the Netherlands.

The cemetery has much history behind it. It is near an ancient highway between Cologne in Germany and Boulogne in France. The highway was built in Roman times and used by Julius Caesar. It was used later by other famous military leaders too – the Emperors Charlemagne, Charles V, Napoleon and Wilhelm II.

In 1940 Hitler had used this highway to invade the Netherlands. Four years later, the Allies forced them to retreat from the Netherlands by the same road.

This footage is taken by a drone. We first see the memorial tower. Then we come to the cemetery itself, covering 65.5 acres (26.5 hectares). The cemetery entrance leads to the Court of Honour with its pool, in which the tower is reflected. At the base of the tower is a statue commemorating the suffering of women during the war. The visitor centre is to the right of the tower and a map room to the left. Inside the map room, are three maps which illustrate the operations of the American armed forces. The Tablets of the Missing, along the sides of the court, list 1,722 names. Those individuals that have been since identified are marked with a rosette.

Inside the tower is a chapel. The lights and candlesticks, as well as the flower bowl, are the gift of the government of the Netherlands.

8,301 military dead are buried in the burial area. Their headstones are set in curves, and a path of trees in the middle of them ends in a flagpole. Each Memorial Day (28th May) the dead are commemorated.


Alabama Marine Who Died At Tawara In WWII Is Returned Home For Burial

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Marine Corps Pfc. James O. Whitehurst.    

Pfc. James O. Whitehurst

Marine Corps Pfc. James O. Whitehurst, of Ashford, Alabama, was 20 when he was killed on the island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll in the Gilbert Islands during a battle with the Japanese in World War II.

He was a member of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2ndMarine Division. They were trying to take the small island from the Japanese and met a strong defensive effort from the enemy. Around 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed, and over 2,000 more were injured during the fighting which nearly wiped out the entire Japanese defensive force. Whitehurst was killed on the first day of the fighting, November 20, 1943.

Even with heavy casualties, the victory in Tarawa was a huge success for the US Navy Pacific Fleet. Having access to the Gilbert Islands gave the US Navy a base to further their Central Pacific Campaign against Japan.

Immediately following the battle, fallen US soldiers were buried in several cemeteries on the island. In 1946 and 1947, recovery operations were undertaken on Betio by the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company. Whitehurst’s remains were not among those recovered.

In June 2015, History Flight, Inc., a non-government organization, alerted the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) to a gravesite they had discovered on Betio Island. They believed there to be 35 US Marines buried in the cemetery. The remains were turned over to the DPAA in July 2015.

The DPAA used dental and anthropological evidence to identify Whitehurst’s remains. They also used circumstantial and material evidence.

DPAA expressed their appreciation to History Flight, Inc. and the partnership they share in recovering fallen US servicemen around the world.

Whitehurst’s remains were returned to his family for burial with full military honors. He was buried on April 12th in Cowarts, Alabama, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency reported.

16 million Americans served in WWII. Over 400,000 of them died during the war. There are still 73,070 unaccounted for from WWII.



Audie Murphy Was One Of America’s Most Decorated Veterans – Here He Talks About His WWII Experiences

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H/T War History OnLine.

The story of the bravery of Audie L.Murphy is a story that needs to be told and retold over and over.

One of the most highly decorated American soldiers of World War II, Audie Leon Murphy, was born on the 20th June 1925.  His life story was an incredible mix of heroism and acting – heroism because he was one of the bravest and most successful warriors the United States of America ever produced and acting because, when his military career ended, he turned his attention to Hollywood and became an international celebrity in a film career that spanned 21 years.

Murphy received a vast amount of awards and decorations both from his own country and from France and Belgium. These include the American Campaign Medal, the French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star, Campaign Medals for the Middle East, Africa and Europe, the French Legion of Honor, French Croix de Guerre with Palm, the World War II Victory Medal, the Army of Occupation Medal, the French Liberation Medal, the Belgian Croix de Guerre and the American Medal of Honor and Legion of Merit. In total, Murphy received 33 awards and medals.

Some of Audie Murphy’s medals. Wikimedia Commons / Michael Barera / CC BY-SA 4.0

Amongst these was the prestigious Medal of Honor, which was awarded to Murphy after he single-handedly held off a company of German soldiers at the Colmar Pocket and then, incredibly, even after being wounded, led a counterattack.

The Germans scored a direct hit on an M10 tank destroyer, setting it alight, forcing the crew to abandon it. Murphy ordered his men to retreat to positions in the woods, remaining alone at his post, shooting his M1 carbine and directing artillery fire via his field telephone while the Germans aimed fire directly at his position.

Murphy mounted the abandoned, burning tank destroyer and began firing its .50 caliber machine gun at the advancing Germans, killing a squad crawling through a ditch towards him. For an hour, Murphy stood on the tank destroyer returning German fire from foot soldiers and advancing tanks, killing or wounding 50 Germans.

He sustained a leg wound during his stand and stopped only after he ran out of ammunition. Murphy rejoined his men, disregarding his own wound, and led them back to repel the Germans. He insisted on remaining with his men while his wounds were treated. For his actions that day, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

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