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WWII book about USS Juneau has local connection

By Virginia Kropf
Dec 1, 2018, 1:50pm

Rob R. Thompson, of Attica, has written 15 books, four of which were bestsellers, but his favorite so far is the story of the Sullivan brothers who were all killed on the USS Juneau during World War II.

Thompson will be at Le Roy’s Moose Lodge today (Saturday) to sign copies of "The USS The Sullivans" until 3 p.m. during the Le Roy Winterfest.

His book is not about the bombs, guns and steel which made up the ship, but rather it combines emotion, history and paranormal events surrounding the ship.

While researching for his book, Thompson spent three nights on the ship anchored in Buffalo’s Naval Park.

Thompson covers the history of the cruiser and details the life of Eugene Straub, originally of Darien, who was also lost aboard the Juneau.

During his research, Thompson located Straub’s daughter, now 75 and living in Utica.

The book is available online, as well as at the book signing.

Pembroke high students hear about Holocaust firsthand

By Billie Owens
Dec 8, 2010, 3:49pm

Here is a submission from the students in Pembroke High School's War and Holocaust Class. On Dec. 2 and again on Dec. 6, the class was visited by Ed Wiater, a local World War II veteran. Here's his story as related by the students he spoke with.

Mr. (Ed) Wiater grew up in North Tonawanda, and was drafted into military service. He eventually ended up with the 7th Army in the 14th Armored Division, and was part of a reconnaissance element that was given the task of finding the Germans.

As Mr. Wiater told us, “finding them wasn’t a problem!”

While serving in Europe during the spring of 1945, Mr. Wiater was sent to the area around Dachau, Germany. He explained to the students that the American forces had no idea what Dachau (a concentration camp) was, but that, “a putrid smell hung in the air.”

He vividly remembers the emaciated victims who seemed to simply come out of nowhere, and the box cars that were full of over 2,800 victims of Hitler's Third Reich. 

After being wounded just five days before the war was over, Mr. Waiter was sent to a hospital in Nice, France. Upon his recuperation, he was stationed near Dachau, and returned to the camp where over 35,000 victims of genocide perished.

Being fluent in Polish, Mr. Wiater was able to converse with the Polish soldiers who were at Dachau. They gave him a “tour” of this horrific mass murder site. He shared with the class that he stood in the gas chambers and crematoria; he witnessed the infamous “hanging tree” where hundreds of people were hanged for no reason at all.

He discussed how the inmates of Dachau were tortured by the prison guards and whipped for trying to simply help fellow inmates. Mr. Wiater’s message was one of remembrance.

We must never forget the mass genocide that was perpetrated in Europe from 1933-45 because those that condemn the past are doomed to repeat it, and as he pointed out, “the world did not learn from the Holocaust. Genocide has occurred again and again.”

Mr. Wiater came home from the war, and took advantage of the GI Bill. He enrolled in college, and eventually moved back to his hometown of North Tonawanda, where he became a journalist. He became the editor of the Courier Express (which ceased publication in 1982) in Buffalo. He continues to write editorial pieces for newspapers around the Buffalo area.

Mr. Wiater also was elected as a two-term mayor of North Tonawanda.

He has taken nearly 20 trips to Poland to help teach conversational English to polish students because as he said, “they know and can write English, but speaking it is a different ballgame.”

While on these trips, Mr. Wiater has made trips to numerous death camps across Poland and has paid respect to the nearly 6 million victims of the Holocaust.

The Pembroke War and Holocaust class was exceptionally fortunate for these two days to listen to the brief, yet so educational and enriching, story of a WWII vet named Ed Wiater.

 --The Pembroke Central War and Holocaust Class

Elba WWII military nurse looks back

By Gretel Kauffman
Jul 22, 2010, 1:30pm

When Ella Gex entered the Army as a nurse in October of 1944, it was because, well, she never considered not joining.

"It just seemed like the right thing to do," she says. "We felt we should. They were asking for nurses, and we were all single."

The "we" she is referring to is her graduating class at nursing school. Gex, now 89 and a resident of Elba, was born and raised outside of Detroit. Upon graduating from high school in 1939, she attended the Grace Hospital School of Nursing. In 1944, she joined the Army Nurse Corps.

"When we graduated (from nursing school), over half our class went into the service," she says. "We had decided that we would all go in together. We thought we would go in as a unit, but of course we didn't."

In March 1945, Gex was stationed at Vaughn General Hospital in Chicago, and in April she was sent to Fort Riley, Kansas, where it was determined who would be stationed where. Later that month, Gex's unit sailed from San Francisco to the Philippines. They arrived in Manila on May 17, 1945.

"I remember sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge," she says. "We suddenly realized we didn't know when we were coming back."

Gex's unit was stationed at the 315th General Hospital in the Philippines. While there, she also rotated temporary duty at the 89th Field Hospital, where she cared for casualties.

"It was my first time outside of North America, but you couldn't see too much of the [Filipino] culture because it was all banged up. I don't think they had a lot of amenities like we had, no electricity. There were generators at the hospital."

Despite the distance, she managed to remain close with some of her nursing school friends who were stationed elsewhere. She laughs, recalling one particular gift sent from a friend stationed in France.

"She sent me some Chanel No. 5 and it caused quite a stir at the camp. I was down at the 8th Field Hospital at the time, and the mail would only come once a week. The perfume was cream, and it sat there in the heat for a week and stunk up the whole camp. It was solid, but it just permeated. I felt sorry for those poor guys smelling Chanel No. 5."

When Gex left the Army in December 1945, she had earned four medals: one overseas bar, a Philippines Liberation Medal, an Asia-Pacific Campaign Medal with one Bronze Service Star, and a WWII Victory Medal.

After returning from Army duty, she went back to work at Grace Hospital for four years.  In 1949 she enlisted in the Navy Nurse Corps and received a promotion to Lieutenant, J.G. She reported to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland in October. While working there, she cared for many distinguished patients such as General Alexander Vandegrift, Fleet Admiral Earnest King, and her future husband, Navy pilot Don Gex.

"I would have liked to stay in the Navy," she reflects. "I really liked it. I loved the people that I met. Those friendships stay forever."

She shows me an old photograph of the Navy version of herself smiling next to two other nurses. "We were The Three Musketeers. Elaine was killed around 1960, but Ruthie and I still call each other two or three times a year."

Upon getting married, Gex left the Navy and moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, with Don (who was still enlisted), where they raised their children. However, after the death of her husband, she went back into nursing and spent 17 years with the American Can Company doing physical exams for coorporate officers.

She now lives in Elba, near her daughter and son-in-law, veterinarians Fran and Norm Woodworth.

When asked the differences between military nursing and regular nursing, she explains, "I think that (as a military nurse) you had more responsibility -- no, actually, I can't say that, because every life is just as important whether you're in the military or not. But the (military) nursing staff was just young kids who were given some medical training. You had more authority. But when it really comes down to it, no matter what, the care of the patient is still the primary thing."

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