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Title: World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware
Author: James Diehl
Publisher: The DNB Group
Genre: Historical Nonfiction
World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware is a book unlike any other ever written. In its pages are profiles of 50 ordinary Americans who did extraordinary things during a time unlike any other in American history.
These are men and women who today call southern Delaware home. In the 1940s, these brave Americans put their lives on hold to fight for freedom and democracy against the horrific threat imposed on the world by Emperor Hirohito of Japan and German Fuhrer Adolph Hitler.
When Imperial Japan attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, the world changed forever. These men and women were a big part of that change; they fought to protect our freedom and our way of life.
Among the amazing stories you’ll read in “World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware” are:
- A United States Marine who was a part of the 1945 attack on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima. He was one of 17 members of his company who survived, a company that numbered more than 300 at the beginning of the attack.
- An Army soldier who was responsible for uncovering Adolph Hitler’s enormous, and illegally gained, fortune toward the end of World War II.
- An Army navigator who led a group of 500 B-29s over Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945, the day the Japanese surrendered to the United States.
- A United States Navy machinist’s mate who narrowly survived a Japanese kamikaze attack.
- A United States Marine who witnessed the horrific attack on Pearl Harbor from the deck of a nearby ship.
- Men who survived German prisoner of war camps.
- First–hand accounts from the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day invasion.
- Two black soldiers who served their country with pride during World War II.
- Men who liberated German concentration camps.
- A woman who served her country by becoming a part of the “Rosie the Riveter” movement.
- And much, much more.
Readers of World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware will also receive a bonus section on Fort Miles, the immense, heavily fortified military facility built to protect the mouth of the Delaware Bay and the city of Philadelphia from an attack by the German navy. Today, the fort is being renovated and will soon become one of the largest World War II museums in the country.
Ed Roberts will never forget the day American tanks rolled into Moosburg, Germany – more specifically into “the hole” the Germans called Stalag 7-A, a prisoner of war camp where the Pennsylvania native spent nine months as a guest of the German government during World War II.
It was, as a fellow prisoner later penned in his memoirs, a day when he saw 10,000 men cry. “You just can’t imagine the joy we felt after almost a year of making do under all kinds of situations,” Roberts says.
When American tanks rolled into the compound and started distributing K-rations, Roberts – who at the time was down to a mere 135 pounds – and his fellow prisoners started gobbling them down like they were candy.
“But after all that time, nothing tasted good,” he remembers.
As a prisoner of war in Germany, Roberts and his fellow captives called themselves kriegies – short for the German word kriegsgefangenan, which appropriately translates to “prisoner of war.”
As a kriegie, Roberts essentially had no rights. But when the American flag was raised over Moosburg in April, 1945, he realized his time in “German hell” was over.
Decades ago, former kriegies started the “Kriegie Klarion,” a monthly newsletter for those who suffered in German prisoner of war camps during World War II. Vernon L. Burda, who was in Stalag 7-A with Roberts, penned the following passage after the camp was liberated by American soldiers on April 29, 1945.
It still rings true to Roberts today.
“…for no apparent reason, a hush fell over the compound and all eyes turned toward the town in which stood two high church steeples. [More than] 20,000 eyes saw machine gun bullets splatter against the steeples – a period of quiet – and then it occurred. [It was] a scene, the happening of which brought tears streaming down the face of every single American prisoner of war there, and a sob from every throat.”
The passage continues: “We saw the greatest sight – the most emotional minute that we would probably ever witness. Raised before our eyes and flying defiantly above one of the church steeples was the symbol of our beloved land. The American flag!”
It was an emotional end to a fantastic journey that saw Roberts leave Pennsylvania State University and transverse the American landscape while training to become a fighter pilot. Joining the U.S. Army Air Corps on Nov. 11, 1942, all he ever wanted to do was fly.
“That was always my interest,” he says simply. “I took all kinds of physical and mental tests and, after that period, people in charge would say if you should be a pilot or a bombardier, or whatever. My classification was a fighter pilot.”
Roberts spent time training across the South, including stops at military facilities in Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Virginia and Florida. He even spent about a month flying P-47 Thunderbolts at Dover Army Airfield, now Dover Air Force Base. Finally, in the summer of 1944, he was sent to England and assigned to the 412th Squadron of the 373rd Fighter Group.
His unit was based on the beaches of Normandy following the D-Day invasion – Roberts says he’ll never forget the first time he flew over the famed beachhead.
“After the invasion, the Americans stayed in one place and they brought in all kinds of supplies,” says Roberts, who missed participating in the D-Day invasion by just two weeks. “Every free space on that beach was loaded down with supplies. It’s hard for people to understand the enormity of the whole thing. All we could see when flying over was hundreds of ships in the water and lots of supplies on the beaches.”
Taking off from Normandy to the south, Roberts says he would only be in the air for 400 to 500 yards before he was over enemy lines and, thus, taking enemy fire. He flew four missions before being shot down and taken prisoner – he still remembers it as if it was yesterday.
–Book excerpt from World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware