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World War II

June 18, 2019 - 1:34pm

Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C,I-Batavia) [center] introduces several veterans of World War II on the Assembly Floor last Friday.

Submitted photo and press release:

Coinciding with the legislature’s celebration of Flag Day and the founding of the Army, Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C,I-Batavia) had the honor of introducing many veterans of World War Two on the Assembly Floor on Friday.

“World War II veterans, ‘The Greatest Generation’ are an elite and special group and it is important to frequently recognize and cherish their role in defending America’s freedom,” Hawley said. “Many of these brave young men and women volunteered, sometimes lying about their age in order to answer the call of duty.

"Their courage and bravery helped shape and preserve American exceptionalism, and it was truly an honor to introduce and meet with them in Albany.”

Hawley, a veteran of the Ohio Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserves, is the son of a World War II veteran himself, R. Stephen Hawley, who fought in Burma as part of Merrill’s Marauders.

Hawley also hosts an annual trip to Washington, D.C., each September, the Patriot Trip, joining local veterans and their families on a tour of our nation’s military and political monuments.

June 4, 2019 - 1:04pm
posted by Virginia Kropf in D-Day, history, World War II, news, Normandy Invasion, pembroke.

Pembroke High School Social Studies teacher Greg Kinal gets a hug from a former student, Terry Hendry, of Oakfield, after his presentation on D-Day for the Medina Historical Society.

Having taught Social Studies at Pembroke High School or nearly five decades, it’s not surprising Greg Kinal has an above-average interest in World War II, especially D-Day.

Kinal, who will celebrate 50 years as a Pembroke teacher next year, gives about 75 speeches a year and does 40 presentations for historical societies.

“Most of my speeches are to adult groups and I try to pick topics each group would like,” Kinal said. “I have always been infatuated with the events of D-Day and it is a favorite of audiences.”

His interest in D-Day is also fueled by his family’s ties to World War II.

His father was a top turret gunner on a B-25, serving in North Africa and the Italian Campaign. He also had an uncle, Dr. Murl Kinal, who was a neurosurgeon and served as a medic at Normandy. Another uncle, George Frank Schultz, served aboard the USS Quincy and was the first ship to fire on occupied Normandy.

A few years ago, the family arranged for Kinal to take a ride in a B-25 Mitchell bomber at Hagerstown, Md., to celebrate his 70th birthday, but the weather turned sour and the flight was canceled.

Now they have made arrangements for the whole family to go back to Hagerstown this summer for the airplane ride in a B-25.

Kinal gave his talk on D-Day for a recent meeting of the Medina Historical Society at Lee Whedon Memorial Library in Medina. The presentation was timely as the world commemorates the 75th anniversary of the attack on Normandy this Thursday, June 6.

He started his talk by explaining prior to World War II, America had an army of 334,000. By 1943, the number had grown to 12 million, and was soon at 16 million.

In 1939, the United States made fewer than 1,000 planes a year. By the end of 1943, they were building 8,000 a month.

By comparison, in Ypsilanti, Mich., the average car built by Ford Motor Company had 15,000 parts. A B-24 Liberator had more than 1,550,000 parts. When Ford started making B-24s, they were turning out one every 63 minutes.

Prior to the Allied invasion of Normandy, the United States set up a fake base in England across from Calais, with fake tanks.

“They wanted the Germans to think we were going to come across the Channel to Calais, and they bought it,” Kinal said. “Instead, our troops were in Southern England.”

The battle for Normandy was called Operation Overlord, and the D-Day beach landings on its coast was code-named Operation Neptune. The invasion was originally scheduled for June 5, 1944, but the weather turned sour.

They finally got a break, and at 9:45 p.m. on June 5. General Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the command, “OK, let’s go” and 800 Allied planes left England with 20,000 paratroopers for the June 6 invasion, which was a Tuesday.

It was the largest seaborne invasion in history.

The 5,000 ships carried 155,000 troops on the first wave. The average age was 22.

The Germans used machine guns which fired 125 bullets per second, Kinal said.

Five hours later, the Americans were in control of Omaha Beach and by night the Allies were 10 miles into Normandy.

Next came the assault on Utah Beach, and when night came, the Americans had taken all five beaches of Normandy, Kinal said.

During the attack, 300 planes bombed the coast and 13,000 paratroopers jumped into battle. There were 800 transport planes and the ships carried 448,000 tons of ammunition.

The Americans thought they were doing the soldiers a big favor by feeding them a big breakfast of steak, eggs, pork chops and potatoes, not realizing they would mostly all become seasick.

The fighting left 4,414 dead on the beaches, of which 2,499 were Americans. German casualties, however, were estimated at 10,000, Kinal said.

Today, 1,700 Americans are still missing.

“This operation was not planned with any alternatives,” Kinal quoted General Eisenhower. “This operation was planned as a victory. That’s the way it’s going to be.

"We’re going down there and we’re throwing everything we have into it and we’re going to make it a success.”

Kinal lives in Elma where he says they have a veteran who was on the first wave of the attack on Omaha Beach. Each year, the fire company has a gun raffle in Elma, and this veteran is asked to pull the first ticket.

Kinal said he was just asked to give his D-Day talk in Bennington and many people showed up to hear him. There were even six or eight people who had fathers who landed in Normandy on D-Day.

Photo by Virginia Kropf.

July 11, 2016 - 5:20pm
posted by Julia Ferrini in events, middlebury, Linden, batavia, World War II, Germany..

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On July 4, 1944, 1st Lt. Leonard B. Fuller had written in a letter home: 

Well anyway, as I set here looking at these pictures it sure brings back some swell memories of all the hell raising and work I have done around home there. The picture of Doug by the garage there is o.k.! I sure would like to have my picture taken in that same spot.

It was evident in Leonard Fuller’s letters that he was very homesick, as he wrote about it often. His father would send him pictures of the farm, complete with captions. The photo he was referring to was of his young nephew Dougie Fuller.

On July 7, 1944, his P-51 Mustang was hit by flak over Blankenhain, Germany. The exploding shells shot from the ground forced Fuller to bail out of his aircraft. During his descent, his parachute collapsed when he appeared to be trying to avoid some trees and a barn. Subsequently, he fell to his death and was buried in the Old Cemetery in Blankenhain.

On Sunday afternoon, under an azure sky dotted with large white, fluffy clouds, friends and family gathered at the West Middlebury Cemetery on Koppe Road, East Bethany, to honor Fuller. Just two days prior, a similar event took place in Weimer, Germany. 

Citizens from two different countries, divided by war more than 70 years ago, united to pay their final respects to an American soldier.

Around April 2015, Bernd Schmidt, a historian from Weimer, contacted Donna Bonning. Bonning, who had been working on a project for the Sons of the American Revolution, posted a photo of Fuller’s tombstone on the Findagrave website in 2006. Come to find out, Schmidt had seen the photo she had posted and emailed her. Through several exchanges of emails and after finding a treasure of letters, photos documents, and a few artifacts in Wayne Fuller’s attic, a nephew of Leonard’s, the puzzle pieces of the last days of a local veteran began to form a picture.

“I enjoy photographing tombstones and sharing the photos with others,” Bonning said. “Once in awhile I have come across stones that cause me to stop and take a second look. Leonard's stone was one of those. But my thoughts didn't drift very far beyond those engraved letters and beautiful wings. I never really stopped to think about what he was like as a person. What his life was like. Who his family was. What was the meaning behind those words...Forever Honored. Forever Mourned. 

“I found out what that meant the day I laid eyes on the Missing in Action and Killed in Action telegrams that Wayne told me about. I 'met' Leonard on the day we opened up a box from the attic and saw the black and white photo of him in his dress uniform.”

Leonard apparently had quite a sense of humor as well.

Dec. 20, 1942

Well, I just got my picture in the noon mail so when I get to the post office to get some airmail stamps I will send it home. Get a load of General McArthur in the ruff.

Jan. 1, 1943

I got a letter from Betty yesterday and she said that she received my picture. From what she said about it, I think I better get up there and take care of things. Me, I like to have people tell me nice things like that to my face. I suppose I will have to put up with it because I realize that I am quite naturally good looking. Well, why shouldn't I be good looking? Look at my mom and pop. I should get at least a quarter for that remark.

Not only did Leonard miss his home and family, he was also a very patriotic man. On May 28, 1944 he wrote:

Say, you know I wish a lot of people in the States could see some of these forces that go over into Germany day after day. Boy, it really gives me a thrill to know that I am fighting with an outfit like we have over here. When you can see a thousand bombers in the air along with as many fighters, it really gives a guy the idea that there are others around that are over there for the same reason. Every time I go over there I thank my lucky stars that I am an American all the way around. 

In a witness statement from Air Corps Capt. Leslie D. Minchen of the 357 Fighter Squadron, 355 Fighter Group, Station F-122 dated July 7, 1944, Minchen wrote:

I was leading Custard Squadron when we attacked fifty plus Me 410’s. Lt. Fuller was flying number three in my flight. The F/A led us over a town where we got heavy accurate flak at about 7,000 feet. Capt. Haviland, who was flying my wing saw him jettison his canopy, but did not see him get out. Lt. Fuller called me on the radio and said he was getting out. I answered his call and he said he was okay. I did not see him bail out. Air Corps Capt. Leslie D. Minchen.

In 1949 the pilot’s parents, Buell and Clara Fuller, traveled through the Iron Curtain (via Russia) to visit his gravesite and sprinkled dirt from the family farm on his grave – taking small comfort in the fact that he was resting in at least some American soil.

An excerpt from an article written in the Farm Journal, May 1951, recounts the visit of Buell and Clara and a description of the events which lead to the first lieutenant’s demise:

The cemetery comes into view...The caretaker’s cottage is only a few feet from their son’s grave. Ten “foreign” solders are buried in the little plot: French, Italian and one American – Leonard B. Fuller. 

A wooden framework encloses the Fuller grave, within which a fine-leaved boarder of green, carefully trimmed, sets off a bed of marigolds. Grouped around the white cross are delicate waxen blossoms of tuberous begonias...

...The villagers watched the two planes fighting to a finish. Suddenly the American plane was hit, and from it parachuted the pilot. He seemed to be maneuvering to avoid a clump of trees and a barn, to land in a cleared filed beyond. About 200 feel from the ground, the ‘chute suddenly collapsed and crashed to earth. They rushed to help him, but he had died instantly...

“The passage of time doesn’t make these things easier,” said Genesee County Historian Michael Eula, Ph.D. “His life resonated with me on several levels. I saw, in photos, a man shouldering responsibilities a young man should never have. They rose to meet the challenge of war.

“The conflict was not to be seen as what it was against, but what it was for...Freedom to enjoy liberties...The war was about a daily reality of what one was sure of and familiar: To return home for a meal, their girl, family, and friends. The ultimate tribute would be that maybe someday, the sacrifice of those like Fuller’s would be to avoid the sacrifice of so many of young people. May they never be forgotten.”

Leonard flew 40 missions in the P-51 Mustang and logged in 180 combat hours in a four-month time period.

According to Acepilots.com, North American Aviation originally designed the Mustang in response to a British (England) specification. The first prototype was started in April 1940 and was delivered to England for test flights by the end of 1941.

The first Mustangs were powered by the Allison V-1710 engine. While it was a good engine, it didn’t operate well at high altitudes. 

In April 1942, a British test pilot, Ronald Harker, while impressed with the plane, suggested that it would be a natural fit with the Rolls Royce Merlin 60-series engine – well-suited to high altitudes. The first Merlin-equipped Mustang, the P-51B, flew in November 1942. At 30,000 feet, the plane reached 440 mph, almost 100 mph faster than the Allison-equipped Mustang at that altitude. 

As it worked out, Craig Wadsworth, of the Geneseo War Planes Museum, was instrumental in having not one, but three P-51s do a “flyover” during the memorial ceremony.

“When I spoke with the pilot for Quick Silver at the airshow, Scott 'Scooter' Yoak, said he was going to bring along a few friends,” Bonning said. “Could it be any more amazing than that? In spirit I think of Leonard and two of his fighter pilot friends. One being Francis Eshelman who took the very last picture of Leonard’s P-51 – named MYRT II; and the other being Joe Engelbreit, who wrote a letter home to Leonard’s parent’s a month after his plane was lost. He still had no idea that Leonard was declared KIA (killed in action).

“When I see the one (photo) of Joe I imagine that he is looking to the sky and thinking of his friend and hoping his friend makes it back okay. They all flew in the same missions together.”

In a letter dated July 8, 1944, Air Corps Capt. W. H. Rush sent a “Missing Aircrew Report” to Commanding Officer, 355th Fighter Group, AAF Station F-122, APO No. 637. It stated in part: 

On July 7, 1944, at 0635 hours, Lt. Fuller piloting aircraft OS-E, took off from this field on an operational mission with the 357th Fighter Squadron. His call sign was Custard 82... This office had no radio contact with Lt. Fuller during the flight.

When Lt. Fuller failed to return to this base with the 357th Fighter Squadron, this office immediately notified combat operations.

Every effort was made to contact Lt. Fuller...

Leonard was born in May 1921 in Linden. He attended Linden grade school, graduated from Batavia High School in 1939, and belonged to the Bethany Grange. He enlisted in Air Corps on Oct. 20, 1942 in Buffalo. He trained in San Antonio, Uvalde, San Angelo and Mission, all in Texas.

On Oct. 1, 1943 he was commissioned second lieutenant. On Feb. 29, 1944 he sailed for England and was based at Steeple-Morden Field with the 8th Air Force 357 Squadron, 355 Group, 65 Wing Fighter. 

At the time of his death, he was credited with destroying seven-and-one-half planes and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Purple Heart.

In September 1950, his remains were brought to the United States and buried in the family lot in West Middlebury Cemetery. 

Although Wayne didn’t know his uncle, the loss of the man hit him at the laying of the wreath, and noted, with a slight twinkle in his eye, that part of his plane is buried with him.

In a recent email sent to Bonning, Schmidt wrote:

After 72 years we in Germany also wish to think of the victims of this war because we have these so-called enemies to THANK for our freedom and the ending of the war.

The old and young inhabitants of Blankenhain where Leonard crashed on July 7, 1944 and where he was buried for some years are very interested in information about Leonard. After all, the crash in their town is also a part of their history. And hatred and being enemies are long forgotten.

This past week…on July 8th, residents and guests of Blankenhain held a ceremony of remembrance for American Airman Leonard Fuller at the Old Cemetery in Blankenhain where he was buried for six years. Up until recently he was almost forgotten and unknown. However he now has a name again; we know his story and the suffering of his parents. Leonard is also not forgotten in Germany.

See related: Honoring the sacrifice of a fallen hero

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Editor's note: The above two photos were submitted by Donna Bonning.

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