Saturday, April 30, 2011

The POW Diary of John Teune. Crash Over Romania, Part Two of Three.

The Teune brothers in their Army Air Corps uniforms. John is second from right.

I awoke to find myself falling thru space, feeling as though I had nothing on. The last I remebered, I was encumbered with all my flying paraphernalia such as steel helmet, flak suit, oxygen mask. Now for some seconds I received an awful scare . . . thinking that maybe my parachute was off also. I looked and saw the rip cord handle which I immediately grabbed and jerked. I must have lost consciousness once more because I didn't feel the jar when the parachute opened. Just one week before, I changed from a chest pack which has to be flipped on to a heavy cumbersome seat pack which had to be worn all the time. The Lord took care of me all the way. When I came to, I noticed an oxygen cylinder and a few other plane parts falling past. I looked up to see if any were coming down on me, but I only noticed the lovely parachute and the smaller one flitting on top the main parachute. I felt the cold air and then a severe pain in the buttocks. I felt back there to find out the extent of the wound . . . rather gory, kicked the leg if I could still use it . . . tried to hold the wound together. Then, looking about me I saw smoke from Ploesti, planes high above it and about 150-200 feet away another parachutist to whom I waved. He did not return the greeting. Upon looking downward, I saw an anti-aircraft gun (these were 120 mm guns), directly below me, belching flame every few seconds. I reached for the shroud line and tried to guide it away . . . rather futile. I used both hands, may have moved some. I was weak and gave up . . . prayed some and remained hazy all through the descent. Getting into warm air, my pain grew.

The POW Diary of John Teune: Crash Over Romania. Part One of Three.

John Teune, second from right.

May 5, 1944

Early in the morning about 5 a.m. we went to "briefing." We were told the target was the Romanian oil complex at Ploesti. It was our first trip to Ploesti, our 13th bombing mission. Col. Steed was in the lead ship. Our position was "Easy 7"; "Easy 5" dropped out and we fell in and nothing out of the ordinary occurred. Beck was at the controls. We came into the target area and received a hot reception of flak. One half-minute later we must have received a direct hit . . . terrific noise and vibration and we had no control of the plane. I found out later the plane broke in two. I flipped open the safety belt latch and tried to get out of the seat. The plane was going almost straight down as I leaned back, reaching to grab the armor plate behind the pilot's seat attempting to reach the opened bomb bay doors. All this occurred in two or three seconds, then it felt that we were crashing, like we were hitting the ground. I lost consciousness.

The POW Diary of John Teune: Training

The Teune brothers in their Army Air Corps uniforms. From left to right: Henry, Garret, John, Peter.

I made my decision to enlist in the Army Air Corps on October 14, 1942 and went to Ft. Sheridan, Illinois and then on to Nashville, Tenn. for more testing. I recall the test for depth perception was crucial for pilot training.

After passing all physical and mental exams I began basic flying at Lakeland, Florida, then Courtland, Alabama and twin engine school at Columbus, Mississippi where I received my wings and Lieutenant bars on August 30, 1943. My orders read: Heavy Bombardment, Mountain Home, Idaho, where our flight crew was put together. We practiced bombing in a B-24 Liberator at Muroc Dry Lake, California (Note: Today is is known as Edwards Air Force Base where the astronauts land occasionally in the Space Program). This training took place in October and November of 1943. We left the States from Florida on December 24th, just before Christmas. I missed my fiance and family so very much. We spent Christmas in Natal, Brazil and then flew across the Atlantic Ocean to Dakar, Africa, on to Marrakech, Morocco and landing for the night at an air field in Tunisia. The next morning our pilot, George Rawley, was walking along the edge of the air field and picked up an odd piece of metal which proved to be an anti-personnel bomb leftover from combat with the Germans in North Africa. It blew up, killing the pilot and injuring two crew members (gunners). It was a sad experience for a crew just starting out. I flew the rest of the crew to our base at Cerignola, Italy. I had never landed the plane from the left seat (pilot's seat) before, flew across the Mediterranean Sea near a combat area . . . but God was my Co-Pilot. From there we were part of the 15th Air Force, flying in formation to gargets in Italy, Austria, Germany, Yugoslavia, and Romania.

The WWII POW Diary of John Teune: Preface

The four Teune brothers, all safely home from their Army Air Corps service. John is second from the right.

Last spring, my Aunt Ruth sent me an absolute treasure: a copy of the WWII, POW diary of her husband, my uncle John Teune. I have her permission to post some of it here. Part of it is reminiscences after the fact and part is a diary he kept while a prisoner after being shot down over Romania in May of 1944.

The POW Diary of John Teune

Preface: A Chronicle of WWII

Sunday, December 7, 1941, was a calm and peaceful winter day. As we were walking home from church we were informed that the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor Naval Base in the Hawaiian Islands. What a shocking report . . . our country . . . betrayed in a crisis of devastating loss of life and honor. Now we remembered the warning given when we read about the Japanese making guns out of the scrap iron we were selling to them. Just the thought of betrayal and injustice welled up a fierce patriotism for Americans.

The war in Europe had been going on for several years. Although our citizens wanted no part of joining the war in Europe, the United States Government was indeed sending war supplies to England. Germany replied by sinking our supply ships. Those were dark days for our country and our leaders.

Our country formed the Selective Service System whose duty was to call up the men for combat training in the Army or Navy. By 1943 most young men were either drafted or enlisted in one of the services. A good percentage of the homes had service flags in their windows and a star representing their son or daughter indicating a family member was in the service of their country. My parents' flag had four stars -- four sons all serving in the Air Corps in various capacities.

The whole country geared for all-out war. Factories making civilian goods changed to making war material. Gas, oil, sugar, and meat were rationed and booklets with stamps were issued to each family. Tires were re-treated and speed was cut back considerably. All in all, it was a hassle. Everyone was patriotic and men and women in service wore their uniforms with pride.

I made my decision to enlist in the Army Air Corps on October 14, 1942, and went to Ft. Sheridan, IL, and then on to Nashville, Tenn. for more testing.

Americans Posing in front of the Arc de Triomphe

My father, Garret Teune, a tailgunner in the U.S. Army Air Corps, is standing on the far right.

Monday, April 25, 2011

An American B-26 Crew

A B-26 crew that flew during 1945. My father is standing on the far right. His parents had been born in the Netherlands but as a first generation Dutch-American, he was there to help liberate Nazi-occupied Europe.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Letter from Jimmy Michels

Jimmy Michels in the foreground in this photograph of the first flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima.

He signed this letter Jimmy Michels but everywhere else he's called "Michaels." I figure the guy would know how to spell his own name as he writes a very good letter! Jimmy was one of the initial flag-raisers on Iwo Jima and he is seen in the foreground of the above-photograph. This letter was given to me by a vet who knew Jimmy personally and was very upset about all the attention given to the flag raisers in the iconic Joe Rosenthal photograph.

April 28, 1945

Dear Fellow Workers –

It gives me great pleasure after a tough campaign on Iwo Jima, being back at our previous camp once again for a good rest and to reorganize, and be able once again to resume my correspondence with you.

First of all, I wish to thank the Whiting Corporation and the Whiting Girls’ Club for everything they have sent me. Whiting, I must say, certainly lives up to its slogan “Whiting Never Forgets.” To this I will say “I will never forget Whiting.” Might I say there is a very outstanding part the workers of Whiting have played in this war. To this I refer to blood donors. In action on Iwo Jima I have seen what an important necessity it was in saving many a fellow. To these donors, I wish to express my highest praise and pray their health may always be of the best.

And now I would like to give you a brief story of our campaign on Iwo Jima. The length of it was 36 days, D-day being February 19. The first 3 days we spent advancing towards the base of Mt. Suribachi on the South end of the island. This was done under heavy mortar fire from the Japs. The third day after reaching a point approximately five hundred yards from the base of the mountain, I met with my first slight mishap. Five of us fellows were occupying a 10 foot crater, and a mortar landed directly in the center of it. It wounded 2 other boys, and I caught a small piece in my thumb. Fortunately for us, the crushed volcanic ash (resembling cinders) kept the mortar from spraying the hole completely. The remaining 500 yards we had to advance through heavy brush and many pillboxes. As we did this, I saw for myself what a splendid job our Navy and Aircraft had done in demolishing the greatest percentage of them. After reaching the base, we made our way to one side of the hill and stayed there that night. We also stayed there the next day with some opposition from the Japs on the hill. The following morning we received word that we would ascend the 540 feet to the top of the hill. The honor of this was bestowed on our platoon. So with one of our lieutenants in the lead, we did this and received no opposition until reaching the very top where the Japs threw grenades at us from caves. Several of our boys spotted them, and they were hastily removed from the battle with flame throwers.

A big thrilled followed as we places the very first flag on the top of Mt. Suribachi. Later in the day another of our platoons came up with a larger flag and pole and replaced the smaller one.

We remained dug in on the hill for four days. Several nights Japs tried to creep up and tear down the flag, but the boys were always on the alert and they were extinguished rapidly. The next day of the campaign (or the 4th on the hill), we received word that progress on the north end of the island was very slow, and we were needed badly. So shortly after noon, we packed our equipment and marched 3 miles down a dusty road (very hot also) to the north end. Arriving late in the evening, we stayed several hundred yards behind the front lines, dug in, and had a fair night’s sleep.

The following morning, we moved up and relieved another outfit from the lines. It was here a very great surprise awaited us. As we were advancing close to the lines, we saw we would be confronted with ridge after ridge, and that meant up and down the rest of the way out with caves everywhere. The first week on the north end Jap opposition was heavy and our casualties were very high. After this it turned out to be a battle with snipers. Every time we crossed an opening or had to advance over a ridge, we usually had a least one man hit. Fortunately for me, the Lord was always with me, and I made it safely on these occasions. The latter half of the campaign turned out to be one grenade battle after another. This was especially at night. (Oh, yes, we did use grenades on the Mt. Suribachi end, and our casualties were very heavy there also.) The Japs crept up on our foxholes and would throw grenades. For every one they threw, I believe we sent ten back and chased them away. I’m sure those who came back the following night were different ones and did not know what a reception was in store for them. The Jap attacks at night proved to no avail as our casualties were very small.

The 12th last night of the campaign I met with my second little mishap. While sitting slightly high in our foxhole, a bullet grazed off the palm side of my left hand. Lucky for me, it only formed nothing more than a callous.

The third last day and my last mishap was a bruise on my left arm muscle from a large piece of rock. At that time as we were having a battle with the Japs, one of our other outfits was flowing a cave. This large piece of rock came hurtling towards our foxhole and struck me before I could avoid it. The pain was very great for an hour leaving the arm useless. However, it eased up, but the arm was sore for two days.

The following day we were informed the island was considered secured, and that we would move back. This also was very good news. The morning of our departure indeed was a very sad one for me. Our entire regiment, that is what was left of it, marched down to our 28th Regimental Cemetery, and a ceremony was held. As I entered through the large gate, I actually broke into tears thinking of all the swell buddies I had lying there. After the ceremony I attended our Church Services and offered up prayers for the boys. The cemetery was a pretty place with a white picket fence all around it and all white cross grave markers.

It certainly was a pleasure to board ship later that day and once again sail the Pacific – and I hope never to see Iwo Jima again. That concludes my little story of our first campaign, and I do hope you enjoy it.

Our camp here is the same as we had left it. Oh, yes, we do have a few new additions. These are Red Cross huts where we can acquire coffee and doughnuts. We also have several more snack shops where we can purchase steak, hamburger, and hot dog sandwiches. These spots certainly meet with our approval, because between supper and breakfast, or I should say in the evening, our appetite usually bothers us. Our movies are as many as ever, and here lately I have become a bug for them – attending them almost every night.

Our new training schedule will begin this coming Monday. From all appearances, I am sure these boys with their training under their belt completed, will once again make “E” Company of the 28th Regiment a very good outfit. Of course, that is my judgment, and I hope I am correct.

I believe now I had better bring this letter to a close. And might I ask one little favor of you? Previously I had promised Charlie Wells and the night shift welders to write them of my experiences. If this letter is given to Charlie, it would save me a considerable amount of time writing so much again. I am sure you will do this, and my thanks for such.

Until I hear from you, best regards and the best of health to everyone.


Pfc. James Michels

The Flags of Iwo Jima

(Photo by Bob Campbell)

I met Mr. John Storcel, US Army, in 2011, in North Riverside, Illinois, at a WWII veteran's event. After the program, I wanted to shake the hands of as many vets as possible and say something to them that would somehow express my admiration for their service. The last conversation I had was with Mr. Storcel.

A friend and fellow member of the North Riverside Veteran’s VFW Post 6869, Mr. Storcel told me, had been a man named Jimmy Michels, one of the marines who had raised the first American flag on Iwo Jima’s strategic Mt. Suribachi during the Marine’s month-long struggle to take the tiny volcanic island from the Japanese in 1945. The second flag-raising, conducted only hours later, immortalized by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal and captured on film as well, had not been staged – the marines had been told to raise a new flag and they did so without acknowledging the presence of those who had come to record the event -- but the second flag-raising was almost a reenactment of the first, completely eclipsing it in the national consciousness.

This fact really bothered Mr. Storcel and when he learned that I was a writer, he offered to send me some information on the incident and told me to also watch Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers,” based on the book by James Bradley, son of John Bradley, one of the second flag-raisers. I too have a distinct aversion to the re-writing of history for ulterior motives and, according to Mr. Storcel, the motive in this case had been completely monetary. So I watched the film, ready to be angry. Instead, I came away very sad.

If I had anger, where was I to direct it? At Joe Rosenthal? According to a piece he wrote in Colliers ten years after the fact, when he heard about the initial flag-raising, he climbed up Mt Suribachi in order to capture it on film but when he got there the first flag-raisers were already on their way down and weren’t interested in having their picture taken again; their moment and their flag had already been photographed, thanks very much. As the new flag was going up, Rosenthal snapped it just in time. It hadn’t been staged for his benefit and it hadn’t even been his idea, else he would have taken it from a different angle and captured some faces. But it was a brilliant (if nearly accidental) shot and I’m sure it made him a lot of money but that’s because he happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Should I be angry at Chandler Johnson, the commander who ordered the second flag to be raised? That whole story is merely human foible, nothing more. The Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, was so taken with the excitement of the initial flag-raising that he insisted that the flag should be his personal souvenir. Nothing doing, said Colonel Johnson, in so many words. That flag belonged to the battalion that had risked their lives to place it there, no one else. So he ordered a new flag to be raised on the mountain with the excuse that a larger one would be more visible.

Should I be angry at those in the war department who pressured the three surviving flag-raisers to go on the war-bond tour? Sure, maybe, but money was definitely needed to beat the Japanese, the country that got us into the war by nearly decimating our navy and who had decided that most of Asia existed for the purpose of Japanese domination. Because Rosenthal’s brilliant photograph created an unforgettable image, and because the young men in the photo went on tour, money was raised and the Americans eventually put an end to the fascist Japanese government.

Who was at fault then? The war, plain . . . but not so simple. War is hell, always has been, always will be, and as long as wars exist, money will be needed to buy weapons with which to kill more of the enemy’s soldiers than he can kill of yours. This was one war where the distinction between the good guys and the bad guys was crystal clear and the good guys won. And as a result -- apart from the shameful Allied allowance of the Iron Curtain -- millions of people were released from oppression. But before the happy ending could occur, the good guys needed money. Three young men, pawns, if you will, of the good guys, were pressured into behaving as if there had only been one flag-raising.

Ira Hayes, a Native American, one of the surviving raisers of the second flag who was taken on the tour against his will -- “kicking and screaming” -- with the other two survivors, couldn’t take the farcical element of the whole thing. Johnny Cash tells us that he died face down in watery ditch, a victim of post-traumatic stress and alcoholism; an excellent marine who couldn’t cope with civilian life. He wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last. But his story is heartbreakingly sad, as sad as all of the grey areas in the horrible and sometimes necessary thing we call war.
(“Islands of Hell: The US Marines in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945”)