Tag Archives: World War II

Eloise Reilly: The Centenarian’s Great Sequel

I was so glad this morning to run an upbeat story. Westporter Eloise Reilly turned 100 on Sunday, and — from a safe distance — her neighbors helped her celebrate.

I called her a “longtime Westporter, and still-very-active community member.” I didn’t know the half of it.

Today, alert and inspired “06880” reader Kristin McKinney sent along a profile of Eloise she wrote a couple of years ago, for the Westport Garden Club newsletter. In honor of Eloise, she graciously shares it with us.

She picked up her landline on the second ring, old school style, no email, no cell phone. Connecticut native and Westport Garden Club member since 1977, Eloise Reilly was cheerful, bright and as receptive as she could be, certainly she would meet with me tomorrow for a WGC newsletter profile.

She gave me directions; we agreed to meet at 10 a.m. Approaching her property and ascending the longish driveway I noticed the American flag hoisted proudly on a tall, metal flagpole. Ellen Greenberg tipped me off that Eloise served in some capacity during World War II, and seeing Old Glory so elegantly displayed convinced me that was indeed the case.

I parked, found the door after looping around the house which coincidentally afforded me a very nice glimpse of Eloise’s gardens, and gave a gentle knock. Two sets of beautiful eyes met me, Eloise’s piping blues and those of her two-year old rescue kitty who viewed me somewhat suspiciously.

Eloise Reilly, on her 100th birthday. (Photo/Darren and Sally Spencer)

I was invited in and led to a comfy chair near a large bay window where the next three hours passed like a New York City minute. Not having the advantage of searching a Facebook page or Linked In profile in advance of our interview, I proceeded conversationally, looking for common ground.

Eloise was charmingly forthcoming; our initial topic of discussion involved her very successful career as a human resources manager for advertising giant Young & Rubicam that began in 1953, and a second career after tiring of the NYC commute as a realtor with Helen Benson Real Estate.

Talk moved to her home, a beautiful structure designed and built by none other than Eloise herself in 1956, in a time and era where women “just weren’t doing those types of things.” I asked Eloise where she developed her fondness for gardening and asked if as a little girl, she spent time in her mother’s gardens.

The answer was not only yes, but it turns out that like Janet Wolgast, her mother knew the Latin names of every variety of plant, flower and shrub that is identified by the American Horticulture Society.

What is her passion? Growing from seed. Eloise shared that she loves watching things grow, geraniums in particular. As a curious seed novice, I asked about her method for obtaining them, her quick-witted response was, “Order them from Fark’s!”

Eloise Reilly, during World War II.

An interview with Eloise wouldn’t be remotely complete without going into detail about a period in her life which she describes as, “a fabulous experience. Never happened before, will never happen again.”

After reading an article in Life Magazine, Eloise discovered women could go overseas with the Red Cross. She applied unsuccessfully multiple times, each rejection letter specifying the same reason:  she didn’t meet the minimum age requirement of 25.

That year was 1943 and according to Eloise whose two brothers were in the Naval Air Corps, “1300 of Westport’s 7K residents were in active service, everybody and anybody enlisted.”

Not to be deterred, Eloise finally scored an interview in DC and in battling the age argument audaciously stated, “I’m not 25, the war is going to be over by the time I’m 25, but I’ll match my family against anybody you have in the Red Cross.” She was officially in.

Eloise Reilly became a member of the Clubmobilers, a unique unit of service recognized by U.S. Senate Resolution 471 dated May 23, 2012, for exemplary service during the Second World War. Clubmobiles, established in 1942 and conceived by Harvey Gibson, the Red Cross Commissioner to Great Britain, provided fresh coffee, doughnuts, entertainment and a listening ear to troops across Western Europe and eventually the Far East.

Eloise’s tour of duty took her through England, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Holland and Belgium, as she says, “zigzagging all over the place.” According to Eloise, “I learned to drive a six-wheel, two-ton truck with a double clutch and no power steering. We were assigned to a division, the 12th army group, and we had to meet them upon request in various towns or even countries. There were 8 trucks per group, 3 girls apiece, 24 in total. There was also a supply truck with two girls who could sing or play the piano.”

Eloise Reilly, as a Clubmobiler.

In the event of capture, the ladies were made second lieutenants and although this allowed them admittance into the officer’s club for a meal, they preferred to dine with the GI’s. The Clubmobilers found themselves living in tents, chateaus or even theoccasional, local bordello.

If they asked for directions to the powder room, most often the response was met with a nod toward the surrounding woods. Eloise remarked that in a world of men, the Clubmobiliers were placed on a pedestal, treated like sisters, aunts, mothers.  “They were protected,” said Eloise. “Nobody got out of line, the GI’s were self-policing.”

I asked Eloise if she was ever afraid and the answer was a resounding “no.”  While she admits to being apprehensive at times and despite some accidents and fatalities sustained by fellow Clubmobilers, she was never concerned for her own life.

In fact, her goal was to get to the Front.

FUN FACTThe Westport Garden Club is 96 years old. To Eloise, that’s almost a child.

Sigrid Schultz’s Secret

This week — as the world remembers the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz — alert “06880” readers Morley Boyd, Wendy Crowther and John F. Suggs share a stunning World War II discovery. 

Sigrid Schultz, in a portrait by her father Herman Schultz.

Last week, the Westport Museum of History & Culture opened a compelling exhibit about Sigrid Schultz. “Dragon Lady” honors the pioneering female reporter, social justice activist — and longtime Westporter — who played an important role in exposing the growing Nazi threat during the lead-up to the war, and beyond. 

 Yet no one knew how truly perilous that role actually was for Schultz — until now.

Boyd, Crowther and Suggs have spent several years researching this remarkable, often overlooked hero. In this exclusive story for “06880,” they share a stunning discovery. They write:

Serving as the Chicago Tribune’s Berlin bureau chief from 1926 to 1941, Sigrid Schultz masked her intense loathing for the Nazis in order to cultivate contacts at the highest level of the Third Reich. Among her many accomplishments, Schultz interviewed Adolf Hitler several times. She also fearlessly cast a barb at Hermann Göring for his failed attempt to have her arrested.

She boldly covered the persecution of Jews, was one of the first to report on abuses at the German concentration camps, and was once called “Hitler’s greatest enemy.”

She also had a big secret: She was Jewish.

This fact appears to have been missed by every scholar and historian who has studied her thus far — including her own biographer, and the Westport Museum.

In 1938, as tensions escalated in Germany, Schultz’s mother Hedwig left Berlin, and  bought a house on Westport’s Elm Street.

On the ship’s manifest, Hedwig is identified as “Hebrew.” According to traditional Jewish law, a person’s Jewish status is passed down through the mother.

The passenger manifest, identifying Hedwig Schultz as “Hebrew.” It says “DO” for “Ditto,” referencing the names above.

Back in Germany, as the persecution of Jews became more aggressive, Schultz likely wondered whether her lineage would be discovered and used against her.

In a 1940 letter to her Chicago Tribune publisher, she detailed the growing threats and attempts meant to intimidate her. She noted, “I’ve even been denounced as being Jewish…”

Four months later, after learning of failed assassination attempts on 2 of her best German sources, Schultz fled Germany for the house on Elm Street. Based on her extensive knowledge of Nazi Germany’s inner workings, she was recruited as a high level intelligence operative in the OSS, the precursor to today’s CIA.

When Schultz’s mother died in Westport in December of 1960, it appears that Schultz went to extreme lengths to obscure her Jewish identity.

On Hedwig’s death certificate, Sigrid wrote “unknown” in the space reserved for her maternal grandmother’s maiden name and birthplace.

In fact Schultz was quite close to her mother, having lived with her most of her life. She also personally knew both her maternal grandmother and maternal aunt, and was in possession of historic family documents (including those related to her maternal grandfather, Louis Jaskewitz).

We believe that Schultz would have been quite knowledgeable about her family tree. It’s doubtful she did not know her own grandmother’s maiden name and birthplace.

Schultz did confide in a few people.  One was her good friend, Ruth Steinkraus Cohen. In a November 10, 1986 interview with Sigrid’s biographer, Cohen said:

Schultz also divulged her secret to a young Staples student who interviewed her at her Elm Street home in 1976, as part of an assignment for Joe Lieberman’s English class.

Student Pamela Wriedt-Boyd quietly took notes as Schultz spoke about the importance of maintaining journalistic professionalism –- no matter what.

By way of example, Schultz recounted a chance meeting with Hitler at the Hotel Kaiserhof in Berlin. Schultz had been chatting in the lobby with Göring when Hitler suddenly appeared. After Göring introduced the two, Schultz said that Hitler “bowed down, grabbed my hand, kissed it, then raised his head and with his eyes, tried to stare deeply into mine. That kind of soulful stare had always repulsed me, and I failed to show the appreciation he expected.”

As if to underscore the point of her story, Schultz added, “He didn’t know I was Jewish!”

Pamela received an “A” for her report. She provided us with a notarized statement attesting to the story Schultz told her that day.

While only a few people in Westport knew the truth about Schultz’s Jewish identity, her father’s relatives in Norway were never in the dark. We tracked down Schultz’s nearest living next of kin — a first cousin, twice removed — who lives there. He said:

Schultz was a pro at keeping secrets. There were many reasons her life and livelihood depended on it.

Our research continues. We are developing a more in-depth piece about Schultz that will not only cover this topic but others. Many have never been explored before, including her later life in Westport.

In the meantime, we are finalizing details of a bronze plaque that we intend to affix to a stone pillar on Elm Street near Schultz’s former house. (The home — located in what is now a parking lot — was unceremoniously torn down soon after her death).

The narrative on the plaque will be brief. But it will certainly make mention of the fact that Sigrid Schultz was a courageous Jewish American patriot, whose actions helped defeat one of the greatest evils the world has ever known.

Photo Challenge #203

Last Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I. It was also Veterans Day.

In honor of all the Westport service members who gave their lives throughout American history, I posted a photo of a plaque. It lists the names of 14 Westporters who died in World War II.

It’s an important piece of who we are. But where is it?

Those names provided a clue. Many more than 14 from this town were killed in action, in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific.

Those 14 soldiers, sailors and airmen were members of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. The plaque hangs on the church’s back wall, just inside the rear entrance.

It must be unnoticed by many. Sadly, no one knew the correct answer. Linda Amos was thinking “a church,” but she did not know which one. She came closest, until hours later Mary Cookman Schmerker nailed it.

Hopefully though, the plaque won’t be overlooked much longer. Christ & Holy Trinity congregants should seek it out. And because the church is used by so many community groups, others should find it too. (Click here to view the plaque.)

This week’s photo challenge, by contrast, is passed by every day by many Westporters. Still, how many of us actually see it?

(Photo/Mark Jacobs)

If you know where in Westport you’d find this, click “Comments” below.

Memorial Day: We Remember

On December 4, 1943, the Saturday Evening Post cover featured Westport illustrator Stevan Dohanos’ painting of our town’s Honor Roll.

It stood in front of the old Town Hall (now Jesup Hall and Rothbard Ale + Larder restaurants). The magazine called it “Honoring the Dead.”

In fact, it honored all the Westporters then serving in World War II. In late 1943, victory was not yet assured. It was a terrible time. Many of those whose names were outside Town Hall did not make it home.

Town Hall is now on Myrtle Avenue. Plaques across the street — on Veterans Green — memorialize Westporters killed in several wars. This is the one for World War II:

Veterans Green is also where a ceremony takes place, immediately after today’s parade (approximately 10:30 a.m.). Grand marshal Larry Aasen — 95 years old, and a World War II veteran — will deliver the keynote address.

So many Westporters have sacrificed so much, to ensure the freedoms we have today.

The brief Veterans Green ceremony is one small way by which we can honor them.

(Hat tip: John Gunn)

 

Veterans Reflect On War — And Peace

Westport is awash in war stories.

This year’s WestportREADS library book — “Regeneration” — shines a light on a British officer’s refusal to continue serving during the “senseless slaughter” of World War I.

On January 28, the Westport Historical Society opens an exhibit honoring Ed Vebell. Now 96, the longtime resident was a noted illustrator during World War II. He’s drawn and written about the military ever since.

World Wars I and II — and Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan — come together at the WHS on Sunday, February 4 (3 p.m.). “On the Front: Veterans Reflections” offers insights into how war affects people, communities — and the peacetime that follows.

A panel of veterans — from World War II on — will provide their thoughts. But, says WHS education and programs director Nicole Carpenter — the hope is for plenty of questions and interactivity.

Ed Vebell is one of Westport’s honored — and few remaining — World War II veterans. Last May, he was grand marshal of the Memorial Day ceremonies.

“Obviously, the Historical Society’s mission is to remember where we’ve been,” she says. “But veterans are an important part of America today. Every discussion we have — whether it’s about foreign policy, healthcare, whatever — involves veterans.”

This is a poignant time in history, she notes. “We’re losing World War II veterans every day. We need to hear their voices before they’re gone.”

She hopes people will ask provocative questions — leading to an “open, progressive discussion.”

That’s important. After all, it’s what every veteran in history fought to protect.

Westport’s Amazing World War II Families

It may be an American record.

During World War II, 8 of the 12 Cuseo sons left Westport, to enlist in the armed forces.

Fortunately, only one — James — was killed.

The Cuseo family in 1935 or ’36. Daughter Mildred is missing.  Father James and mother Lucy are in the middle.. (Photo courtesy of Woody Klein’s book “Westport, Connecticut.”)

But when the Cuseos’ mother, Lucy, died in 1943, her daughter said it was due to her “broken heart.”

Lucy was buried here with military honors. American Legion members served as pallbearers.

The Cuseos’ contributions to World War II were astonishing. But in terms of sacrifice, none made more than the Wassell family.

Four sons enlisted. All were pilots. Three were killed in action — all within 15 months of each other.

Charles P. “Pete” Wassell

Before the war, Harry — the oldest — helped design fighter planes in Stratford. He, his brother Bud and other Westport men started the Westport Defense Unit, to teach marksmanship.

He enlisted in the Army Air Force after Pearl Harbor. A 2nd lieutenant, he died in Iceland in 1943 while ferrying aircraft to the European Theater.

Frank L. “Bud” Wassell Jr.

Like Harry, Bud left college because of the Depression. The 2 sons worked with their father, Lloyd, in starting the Wassell Organization on Sylvan Road. A very successful businessman, he had worked as personal assistant to George Westinghouse, founder of Westinghouse Electric.

The company invented and sold production control equipment, becoming instrumental in expediting the efficiency of defense contractors. A 1st lieutenant flight commander, Bud was killed in 1943 in a midair collision, while a flight instructor in Florida.

Harry B. Wassell

Pete — a 1940 Staples High School graduate — left Middlebury College to train as a pilot in the Civil Air Patrol. He transferred to the Army Air Force, and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant navigator.

He served in the China/ Burma/India Theater, and died in 1944 after his B-24 aircraft was hit by antiaircraft fire while attacking a Japanese cruiser.

The 4th son — George — was a member of Staples’ Class of 1943. But he left high school in 1942, to enlist as an aviation cadet. Appointed a B-17 aircraft commander at the age of 18, he was recalled from overseas duty when his 3rd brother Pete was killed. He served as a B-17 pilot instructor through the war’s end.

George Wassell with his parents, Lloyd and Georgene, by the Westport train station on Railroad Place in 1943 or ’44.

George turned down a full engineering scholarship to Cornell in order to join his father in the Wassell Organization.

Pete left behind a child, born 2 months after his death. Harry had a daughter, Patty, who still lives in Westport. George married Betsy Schuyler in 1945. They raised 6 children in Westport.

George and Betsy Wassell at Longshore, not long after the war.

When Lloyd moved his family to Westport before the war, he and his wife Georgene bought several acres of land on Mayflower Parkway. He built a large house (by 1930s standards), and planned to give building lots to his 6 kids: the 4 boys, and daughters Pat and Betty.

World War II sabotaged all that. But George and Pat did build homes there after the war. George added a pool, 3-hole golf course and tree house. The property became a great attraction for lots of cousins, and tons of neighborhood kids.

Longtime Westporter Jono Walker — George’s nephew — remembers those times fondly.

“The Wassells never dwelled on their tragic history,” he says. “At least none of us kids ever felt it. The house was constantly filled with great joy and life.”

As for George and Betsy: They moved to New Hampshire in 1974. He died in 2010, age 85. She is now 89, and lives in Maine.

The Wassell brothers’ 2 sisters are still alive. Betty is 98, in Florida, and Pat is 89, in Colorado.

The brothers and their parents are all buried at Willowbrook Cemetery.

(Hat tips: Eric Buchroeder, Jono Walker and Bud Wassell)

After 70 Years, A Flag Heals War Wounds

“06880” reader Hiroshi Asada sends along this astonishing story:

Last February, Westporter Harold Gross — a World War II veteran (11th Airborne Division) and member of a Japanese Language Group at the Westport Library –met Barbara O’Hare at the Los Baños Prison Rescue dinner in Manhattan. The annual dinner honors those who participated, and the prisoners they saved.

Barbara’s father was with the 11th Airborne Division’s 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment. On February 23, 1945 they participated in one of the most successful rescue operations in modern history: Along with Filipino guerrillas, they rescued more than 2,100 Allied internees held behind Japanese lines.

At the 70th anniversary dinner, Barbara showed a discolored Japanese flag her father obtained in the Philippines during the war. She kept the flag after he died.

There are handwritten messages on the flag, but neither she nor Harold could read them. He suggested that Barbara bring the flag to one of our library meetings so that I — a native speaker of Japanese — could see it. In April, Barbara brought the flag and other items.

The 70-year-old Japanese flag.

The 70-year-old Japanese flag, on a Westport Library table.

She wanted to find surviving family members of the original owner, so the flag could be returned to them.

During WWII, it was common for Japanese families to ask relatives, friends and neighbors to put their names on flags. They were given to soldiers as farewell gifts — or perhaps good luck charms — when they left. I heard about such flags, and saw images in movies, but this was the first time I saw a flag like that in person.

I kept the flag to study it. Some of the Chinese characters (Japanese write in Chinese as well as Japanese characters) are in fluid cursive style, which I had trouble reading. So I sent pictures to my mother and aunt in Japan, both of whom had studied and practiced Japanese calligraphy.

One of the challenges is that the soldier’s name is not written on the flag. There is no geographical information either. I figured we probably could not find where the flag came from.

But on the flag are more than 60 names, along with farewell messages for the unidentified soldier. As I finished listing the names on a sheet of paper, I realized more than half shared the same last name: Tachigami. It is an uncommon name.

Perhaps, I thought, the soldier’s last name was Tachigami. I felt he must have come from an area where extended family and relatives lived nearby. He was likely from a rural town — or at least not a major city.

A close-up view of some of the messages and names on the flag.

A close-up view of some of the messages and names on the flag.

My detective work began. First I searched the internet. I found only a few hundred Tachigami households in Japan. They’re concentrated in a relatively small area – in and around Fukushima City, about 100 kilometers east of Hiroshima.

I became more optimistic, and thought I might be able to find someone who knows who the soldier was. I used social media and made international calls. But the effort led nowhere.

While unsure what to do next, I learned from one of my wife’s friends that Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has an office that might help us find a surviving family member.

I contacted them immediately, sending pictures that showed details on the flag, along with my comments, observations and analysis. I did not hear back for a while. Hope faded.

But in mid-November, 7 months after starting this search, a letter arrived from the government agency. They located Hideko, the oldest daughter of the soldier.

I confirmed that her last name is on the flag. I could tell the handwriting was of a child. They are indeed from Fukuyama City.

I called Barbara. Of course, she was very excited.

Hiroshi Asada, with the flag.

Hiroshi Asada, with the flag.

Hideko, 81, is the only surviving daughter of Kakuichi Tachigami. He was in the Japanese Navy, and sent to the Philippines. Hideko was 10 or 11 when the war ended, so she was very young when Kakuichi left his family. He probably died in the Philippines, where the 11th Airborne Division was at that time.

I have not spoken with Hideko directly. But I talked to her son, Kazuhisa, and daughter-in-law over the phone. Hideko spends a couple of days a week in a special care facility. While she has good and bad days, her son told me that she does remember the flag.

Interestingly, I realized that Hideko and my parents are around the same age. In fact, Kazuhisa and I was born the same year, 1960 — 15 years after the war ended.

Barbara will come to Westport from New Jersey to see the flag one last time, later this month at the library. We’ll take a picture of her, Harold and me, then send the flag to Japan. She is also considering the possibility of personally delivering it to the family.

This has been a special experience for me. I am glad Harold suggested Barbara bring the flag to our meeting. Also, without the library’s Japanese Language Group, Harold and I might not have had a chance to know each other — and this search with a nice ending would never have happened.

The Japanese Language Group -- and the flag -- at the Westport Library. A's detective work began here.

The Japanese Language Group — and the flag — at the Westport Library. Hiroshi Asada’s detective work began there.

“And A Nightingale Sang” In Westport

The Westport Country Playhouse‘s current production — “And a Nightingale Sang” — is a love story about a working-class British family in World War II.

Though the effects of war were felt much more strongly in Europe, the US — and Westport — was hardly unaffected.

Theatergoers are reminded starkly of that, thanks to a video the Playhouse produced. It drives home the play’s central theme: that in times of personal and historic unrest, the human spirit still grows.

The video includes Westport Town Crier newspaper clippings (with many familiar names, like the 8 Cuseo brothers who served); ration books; a Connecticut War Garden card, and air raid instructions for our town.

The play’s title is based on a popular 1940s song, “And a Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” It’s a haunting tune — and an equally powerful video and show.

(“And a Nightingale Sang” runs through June 27. For ticket information, click here.)

Thanking Our Veterans, On Their Special Day

For some Westporters, Veterans Day is a holiday. For others, it’s business as usual.

No matter what today is, all of us — all Americans, really — should take time to reflect on the millions of men and women who, over the years, have sacrificed greatly to serve our nation, and the world.

Here are just a few of the many Westporters who deserve our deepest gratitude.

———-

In March of 1944 Emanuel (“Manny”) Margolis turned 18. He was a student at the University of North Carolina, but lacked a deferment. Drafted into the Army, he was chosen as a candidate for Officer’s Training School, and taught Morse Code.

Sent to England as a forward observer radio operator, he carried a 100-pound radio on his back. He weighed just 118.

PFC Manny Margolis, age 18 in June 1944.

PFC Manny Margolis, age 18 in June 1944.

He went to France and Belgium, to the Rhine River. The Germans had blown up all but 1 bridge crossing — a railroad bridge near Remagen. Made of wood, it was not meant to handle heavy tanks and artillery. The Army sent 100 engineers to remove dynamite, and shore it up.

Manny was among the first in his unit to be sent over the bridge. Radio operators had to report back to artillery how far to set their cannon fire.

Manny was not far into the woods on the other side of the bridge when the Germans began firing. He lay down behind a tree, and was shot through the leg and kneecap. He asked to be sent back to his unit, but his war was over. It was March 17, 1945 — 1 day before his 18th birthday.

The Army got some tanks and artillery over the bridge, but it collapsed with 100 engineers working on the underside. Many were killed.

Luckily, Manny’s leg was not amputated. He had 3 major operations in England, and more after returning home in the spring of 1946. He was awarded a Purple Heart, went back to UNC and graduated in 1947.

Manny Margolis, at a Town Hall ceremony. (Photo/Craig Skinner)

Manny Margolis, at a Town Hall ceremony. (Photo/Craig Skinner)

Thanks to the GI Bill, Manny went to Harvard. He earned a master’s and Ph.D. in international law. He taught at the University of Connecticut, then was accepted at Yale Law School with 1 phone call (no LSATs or interviews).

Manny worked for civil rights and civil liberties for 55 years, and lived nearly all his adult life in Westport. He died in August of 2011, at 85 years old.

———-

Stanley L. Englebardt landed on the beach at Normandy a couple of days after the initial assault. He saw action on the front line during the Battle of the Bulge. Initially a corpsman, he was put into infantry when the Germans broke through Allied lines in 1944. A longtime Westporter, he died this past March.

Stan Englebardt, age 18, soon after entering the Army.

Stan Englebardt, age 18, soon after entering the Army.

———-

Donald Snook was a B-17 pilot in the 369th Squadron of the 306th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force. He was stationed at Thurleigh Air Force based north of Bedford, England during World War II. He flew 24 missions over Europe, and remained there with the Occupational Air Force until July 1946.

Don is now 91. He lives in Westport with his wife, Katherine.

———-

Bob Beeby served in the South Pacific during peacetime, just after the Korean War.

Bob Beeby

Bob Beeby

As a naval aviator he flew an anti-submarine aircraft to hunt for typhoons. With technology less advanced than that in today’s Prius, he went through the walls of a typhoons 1,500 feet above sea level, directly into the eye. He took readings with a sextant, and radioed the storm location to the fleet, in case they had to relocate.

Aircraft were often damaged by storms. Pilots risked their lives on emergency landings. Bob was one of them.

He has lived in Westport for 50 years. He logged over a million air miles a year as CEO of the international division of a major corporation. He is generous in time and spirit, and a loving father and grandfather.

———-

Byron Miller was a Special Forces radio operator in Vietnam. For the past 38 years, he's been a psychotherapist  in, and resident of, Westport.

Byron Miller was a Special Forces radio operator in Vietnam. For the past 38 years, he’s been a psychotherapist in, and resident of, Westport.

———-

Tom Feeley at Fort Benning Airborne School, 1962.

Tom Feeley at Fort Benning Airborne School, 1962.

———-

Robin “Bob” Custer Sr.  graduated from technical school in 1965, with a degree in drafting. He then served in the Army, seeing combat duty with the 1st Infantry Division (the “Big Red One”) in Vietnam from 1967 to ’68.

For years, Bob has played a big role in Westport. He’s been the sexton at Greens Farms Congregational Church for over 20 years (giving students on the Jennings Trail Tour the church  history), is quartermaster at VFW Post 399, and always marches in the Memorial Day Parade.

Bob Custer, standing amidst the flags he loves.

Bob Custer, standing amidst the flags he loves.

———-

Jay Dirnberger served with the 1st Cavalry Division in South Vietnam, in 1968.

Jay Dirnberger served with the 1st Cavalry Division in South Vietnam, in 1968.

 ———-

Kendall Gardiner Anderson was in Vietnam, with the U.S. Army

Kendall Gardiner Anderson was in Vietnam, with the U.S. Army

Kendall Gardiner Anderson's husband, Lt. Cdr. Robert Gavin Stewart Anderson, served in Cyprus with Her Majesty's Royal Navy. After moving to Westport and becoming a naturalized US citizen, he served his town on the Board of Finance and as second selectman.

Kendall Gardiner Anderson’s husband, Lt. Cdr. Robert Gavin Stewart Anderson, served in Cyprus with Her Majesty’s Royal Navy. After moving to Westport and becoming a naturalized US citizen, he served on the Board of Finance and as second selectman.

 ———-

And let’s not forget the Gilbertie family. John S. Gilbertie Sr. volunteered in World War I, and was awarded medals by the US, French and Italian governments for bravery.

He enlisted at 17 — just 12 years after emigrating from Italy — and served as a scout behind enemy lines in the Argonne forest, among other locations. He became a founding members of Westport’s Joseph J. Clinton VFW, was grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade, and helped organize Memorial Day ceremonies on Jesup Green for many years. His name is on the Doughboy statue on Veterans Green (with the Italian spelling, “Ghiliberti”).

John’s son Mario went to Korea. Anthony, who was younger, was a member of the Army National Guard.

Several grandchildren also served. Jay was in Vietnam, and was a member of the 1st crew of the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy. Marty was in the Navy CBs during Vietnam. Tom joined the Air Force in the 1980s, while Peter was in the infantry then.

Trevor — a great-grandson — recently returned from Afghanistan, with the Army National Guard.

———-

Thanks to all the Westport veterans we’ve mentioned — and the many, many others who also served proudly served us, over so many years.

 

Doc Doubleday: The War Years In Westport

Doubleday Field — between Saugatuck and Kings Highway Elementary Schools — honors “Doc” Doubleday. From 1923 to 1957, he served the Westport YMCA as physical director, then membership director.

Generations of members knew Doc as the friendly face behind the front desk. Scott Smith — the Y’s current communications director and resident “story teller” — sent Doc’s son Ed’s remembrances along to “06880.” As we celebrate Veterans Day, it’s a great look back to the 1940s, and the impact of World War II. 

The war was a very depressing time. Westport lost some 40 young, vibrant boys and men.

When my dad stayed late to close the Y, he would peck away at the typewriter. I finally asked him about it. He said he wrote notes to all the young men he knew in the service all over the world. He had a 3×5 card file with the name and address of each serviceman, their likes and dislikes, friends’ names, hobbies, etc. He said they needed to know that we at home cared about them.

Every so often he came home with a tear in his eye, and a heavy heart. Another Westport boy had been killed.

Doc Doubleday (standing, far right) with other Westport YMCA officers.

Doc Doubleday (standing, far right) with other Westport YMCA officers.

During the war years Al Bresslin, who was then the physical director, set up a “commando course” in the gym. There were parallel bars draped with mats to climb over, a low balance beam (footbridge), flying rings to swing over an imaginary river, a large pipe to crawl through, and finally a straight dash to the finish line. Everyone was timed weekly. Bill Krause was always the fastest.

There were all kinds of clubs at the Y: chess, checkers, airplane model building, stamp collecting and boxing. We had ping pong and pool tournaments.

Dad would ask why he didn’t see one or another of my friends at the Y anymore. Sometimes their parents didn’t have the $2 membership fee. He somehow came up with the money, and a Y membership card would magically arrive at the boy’s home. It meant so much to them.

Doc Doubleday playing banjo, with Westport teenagers. Eric ("Rick") von Schmidt -- who went on to great fame as a folk singer -- is the guitarist on the right.

Doc Doubleday playing banjo, with Westport teenagers. Eric (“Rick”) von Schmidt — who went on to great fame as a folk singer — is the guitarist on the right.

At the height of the war, all able-bodied men were off fighting. In the summer, farmers called Doc at the Y for labor. He’d round us up. We got on our bikes and headed out early mornings to hoe cabbage, pick tomatoes and corn, weed onions, etc. My friends and I were 12-14 years old. A 10-hour day, for $2.50, was good money for us.

In the fall, Herb Baldwin asked Dad to find kids to pick apples at his Bayberry Lane orchard. We got 3 cents a bushel, but it was fun. We’d pick and eat, then take a break and throw the bad apples at each other.

One day, Mr. Baldwin loaded us in a truck to help a friend on a farm in Fairfield. At noon we went up to the big garage to eat our lunch. Mrs. Rudkin offered us great homemade bread. The farm was named after a big tupelo tree that grew on the property. They’re also known as pepperidge trees. Imagine that: I was there at the beginning of Pepperidge Farms!

On August 17, 1945 the Westport Town Crier headlined pictures and names of all the young men who didn’t come home. My dad said, “Eddie, keep this paper. Every Memorial Day, take this out and look at it. Then say a prayer and thank all those who served our country.”

I have that newspaper today. Every Memorial Day I re-read it. It still hurts, almost 70 years later.

Ed Doubleday -- Doc's son -- reads the Town Crier from V-J Day every year.

Ed Doubleday — Doc’s son — reads the Town Crier from V-J Day every year.

When the war ended, the town celebrated V-J Day with a big gathering on the front steps of the Y. Soon, the boys began to come home. Some came to the Y first. They’d walk up to the front desk, throw down their duffel bag, reach over the desk, throw out their hands and say, “I’m home, Doc!” Tears formed in their eyes, and his.

Doc retired from the Y in 1957, and moved with my mom to Florida. She passed first. We lost Doc in 1972. He was 87.

Doc loved his years at the Y. I hope he will be remembered as someone who did what he could to make Westport a better place to live, and raise a family.

(This story is part of the Y’s 90th anniversary celebration. For more, click here.)

On August 17, 1945 the Westport Town Crier honored all the local boys who died in World War II.

On August 17, 1945 the Westport Town Crier honored all the local boys who died in World War II.