An American in the Czechoslovak Legion in WWI


Today’s post comes after a bit of head scratching and internet searching that eventually lead to an interesting discovery (for me) of a WWI story that has somehow remained unknown to me until this blog post. It involves the Czech Legions of WWI…

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Emil Stedronsky in WWI

The above photo, and the postcard below, were sent to a Mike Stendronsky of Cleveland, Ohio in the waning months of 1918 from his brother who had just arrived in France to fight as part of the Czech Legion. Check out the video at the bottom of this post to learn a little about the Czech Legion in WWI…

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American and Czech Flags

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Emil Stendronsky in France, 1918

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Emil’s WWI Draft Card

Gene Keessen: A Vietnam War Dentist in 35mm Kodachrome


I recently purchased a series of inexpensive (less than a dollar) 35mm Kodachrome color slides on eBay in hopes of identifying the men and women portrayed in the images. The slides were part of an estate sell out of an unnamed veteran who served with the 219th Medical Detachment during the Vietnam War. All the slides appear to be related to non-critical medical care “in country”.

My favorite slide from the purchase has to be a head-on shot taken of a dentist with the unit identified as Gene Keessen. He’s sporting an incredible blonde English pyramidal mustache (see guide below).

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Guide to basic mustache styles

And here he is in his full glory – I’m guessing this photo was taken ca. 1969.

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I’ve tracked Mr. Keessen down and am making my best attempt to send him/his family these slides. I hope they get a kick out of the mustache!

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Gene with a patient

Mystery WWII Concentration Camp Liberation – Research Help Needed!


Hey PortraitofWar followers! I recently acquired an incredible grouping of photographs taken by a US soldier during the liberation of a concentration camp/labor camp during the tail end of WWII. There’s not much to go by in terms of identifiable visuals, but there are images of German military officers marching in line to view the bodies, as well as a liberated person in front of a T28E1 US tracked anti-aircraft gun. Additional photographs show an American officer speaking to a line of US soldiers passing before a group of bodies.

 

Any thoughts or ideas? I hope to pass these on to an organization that can present and appreciate them, but I want to identify the material before doing so.

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A liberated prisoner tries on shoes for the first time in years

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The American T28E1

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A German collaborator? Commandant?

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German officers pass through the line

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US officers speak

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US officers speak

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Revolutionary Dreams: Can New England Raise the Spitfire?


As many followers will realize, I only deal with WWI and WWII situations with very limited deviation. In tonight’s case I was bombarded with questions from friends, colleagues and familiars in regards to the raising of the Revolutionary War ship, the Spitfire.

After chatting with the men and women involved in the cultural resource management team,

A gunship that sank during battle more than two centuries ago might finally be resurfaced from the depths of Lake Champlain and put on display.

On Oct. 11, 1776, the British and the United States fought what is considered the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War  — the Battle of Valcour Island.

The U.S. was led by Benedict Arnold, and even though the U.S. lost the actual battle, it ended up being strategic in the long run because the U.S. fleet stalled British plans to advance.

Most of the 16 U.S. ships in the battle sank. About 20 years ago, one of the gunboats in that battle, the Spitfire, was discovered intact on the bottom of Lake Champlain.

VPR spoke to Art Cohn, co-founder of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and principal investigator of the Spitfire since its discovery, about the plan to raise the ship and why people should care about old sunken boats.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. Listen to the full interview above.

VPR: Tell us about the Spitfire. How big was this boat and what shape was it in when you discovered it?

Cohn: “The Spitfire was one of eight ‘Philadelphia-class,’ we call it, gunboats: 54 feet long, three heavy cannon, eight swivel guns [and] a complement of 45 men. It was a classic battleship, small in scale for its times.

“And so it and the other American vessels fought the British at Valcour Island for five and a half hours, and the only reason they stopped was because it got too dark to see each other.

“And so as the British pulled back and blockaded, Benedict Arnold realized he could not sustain the engagement. And so he hatched a plan, very bold: He was going to row his fleet single file, with muffled oars and a shrouded light in the stern of each vessel, and so they could try to sneak past that British blockade that was set up specifically to stop them. And they pulled it off.

“But in the middle of the night, as they rowed south toward the protection of Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence and their guns, it was discovered that two of the gunboats were so badly damaged from the battle that they could not be kept afloat.

“And one of those boats, we now know, was the gunboat Spitfire. It was abandoned by its crew in the middle of the night, went to the bottom perfectly on its bottom with its mast still standing and its bow cannons still in place – which is the way we found it 20 years ago last Tuesday.”

Is there any danger to raising the boat? What are some of the pitfalls?

“I frequently say, ‘Finding the boats is the easiest thing we get to do; managing the boats is complicated.’

“And so as part of that due diligence management plan – so we found this boat, it’s intact on the bottom of Lake Champlain, it’s in a relatively stable environment. Is it OK there? Is that the best place for this boat? If the boat could speak would it say ‘Look, just take a deep breath and let me relax here for another hundred years’ or is there something else going on?

“We know that this boat, even at its great depth, will soon be completely encrusted by quagga mussels. That will ultimately increase the destabilization and degradation of the iron fastenings that hold this boat together.” – Art Cohn, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum co-founder

“And unfortunately we have determined through a separate study, done with the University of Vermont School of Natural Resources, that the mussels that will encrust this boat – it’s not encrusted yet, but looking over to the Great Lakes, which is our little window or crystal ball into the future – we know that this boat, even at its great depth, will soon be completely encrusted by quagga mussels.

“That will ultimately increase the destabilization and degradation of the iron fastenings that hold this boat together. That’s been one of our findings. And not so far into the future, this boat is going to be a pile of lumber on the bottom, not the fabulous archeological time capsule it is for us now.”

What do you propose doing if you’re able to bring up the Spitfire successfully?

“We’re proposing building a ship conservation facility in Burlington, Vermont. That would be where the boat, if it was recovered, would go for its conservation.

“It would stay in that facility for the next 12 to 15 years undergoing this conservation treatment. The public would be invited in to see this; we would have programs and exhibits.

“And we’re also proposing that when the boat was completed, we would transfer the boat to an exhibit facility to be placed on the New York side of the lake for exhibition and interpretation of the Battle of Valcour Island in perpetuity.”

“This boat is a direct and tangible connection to 1776 and the formative moments of this country and this society evolving into the United States of America that it is today.”

How much is it going to cost to recover the Spitfire?

“We estimate over 25 years and with the things that I’ve just mentioned – the two facilities, the staff and everything that would go into this – we are estimating a high budget of $45 million.

“We have done a preliminary economic analysis study to suggest if we spent the money over time in this way, might there be some benefits, economic benefits, to the community. And right now, the strong indication is that if we invested this money in this way, we would not only save this shipwreck – we would create an economic engine for the region.”

Why should put all this time, effort and money into recovering a ship that’s over 200 years old?

“To me, the answer is ‘It’s priceless.’ This boat is a direct and tangible connection to 1776 and the formative moments of this country and this society evolving into the United States of America that it is today.

“How do we understand those principles? How do we get at those things? And I’ve been an advocate for a long time – you know, go back to the source, go back to the time period, read the letters, read the journals, read the reports. And I think it gets us a much better view of the country that has evolved and how we keep those principles alive.”

WWI Elite French Mountain Regiment Poses for a Group Photograph


eBay is a strange way to acquire antique photographs that have captured significant periods of world history. Here at PortaitofWar.com we strive to provide an interesting set of completely politically-disengaged weekly posts to highlight the importance of the first and second world war to a modern audience.

Two weeks ago I took a leap and purchased a photograph of a WWI foreign unit that  I’ve been unable to identify until tonight:

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eBay Listing Buy-it-Now listing

159 ème REGIMENT D’INFANTERIE ALPINE

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The 159th Alpine Infantry Regiment of the French Army

The photograph above depicts a 23 man group of French Chasseur Alpine soldiers with the 159th Infantry Regiment. See below for close up shots:

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The berets and insignia of the 159th

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159th

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Cuff insignia?

Norwich, Vermont Veteran Clinton Gardner’s D-Day Experience


The following post was originally written (not by me) and posted to the Dartmouth Library blog. I’m including the entirety of the post in hopes of spreading the good word about Mr. Gardner and his work during WWII.


On June 6, 1944, Clinton Gardner, Class of 1944, found himself digging a foxhole on Omaha Beach as part of the D-Day invasion of German occupied Europe. The landing area was already strewn with bodies and the Germans were raking the incoming allied forces with artillery and machine gun fire. Gardner, a Lieutenant in the artillery, was not about to move any further inland until the infantry made a hole in the German defenses, and that did not seem to be about to happen.

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Clint’s Battle Damaged M-1 Helmet w/ Hawley Liner

An incoming round suddenly exploded in front of him. His head snapped back and then a curtain of blood blinded him. In his memoir, D-Day and Beyond, Gardner recounts how he stood up and staggered toward two of his fellow officers wiping blood from his eyes. The two officers stared at him in horror. Then he reached up and felt his helmet. There was a gaping hole, large enough that he could get two hands into it. Gingerly he felt around and found that he could feel a soft, mushy surface that he assumed must be his brain. Sick and disoriented though he was, he managed to get his first aid kit out and pour sulfa powder into the hole and then stuff it full of gauze.

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A Letter Home

Unable to walk or speak properly, Gardner watched as his unit packed up and began to move inland, following the infantry who had suddenly begun to advance. The other officers told him that they would send medics back for him. He was soon alone on the beach with a handful of wounded and dying soldiers, all of whom would have been killed by German mortar fire had not a group of British troops happened along. The British moved the wounded Americans up the beach to a sheltered area among some rocks.

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Rutland Herald Article

After 23 hours wounded on the beach, a group of medics finally arrived and moved Gardner and the others to a field hospital in Vierville. There Gardner made the happy discovery that what he had felt through the gash in his helmet was not his brain, but badly lacerated scalp tissue. Though his skull was scarred, it was not broken. Getting the helmet off was another matter: it took three doctors and a fair amount of pulling and twisting as the edges had curled in and were imbedded in his scalp. Eventually Gardner was sent back to England to recover, but that was not the end of the war for him. Later he would find himself being bombed by friendly fire during Battle of the Bulge and still later he would serve as the American Commandant at Buchenwald following its liberation.

Gardner’s helmet remains, to this day, the most damaged helmet whose wearer survived his wounds.

To see Clint Gardner’s helmet or to read his letter home ask for MS-1109. A guide to the collection is available. To read his book, D-Day and Beyond, ask for Alumni G1728.