An incredibly touching interview with a Calgary veteran following his viewing of the premier of Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster.
It’s a rare occasion when I’m able to write about a WWII veteran from my hometown of Southbridge, Massachusetts. PortraitsofWar (this blog) was started in response to the passing of my grandfather; my interest and dedication to WWII history was fostered during my childhood, when my grandfather would regale me with tales of his experiences as an assistant driver in an M4A3 Sherman Tank as a tanker in the 777th Tank Battalion/69th Infantry Division during WWII. Without his inspiration, this website would’ve never been created.
This specific post is a long-awaited writeup related to a grouping I purchased last year. While cruising though an eBay listing, I noticed a last name in a auction heading that caught my eye – Walter Ciesla WWII ID Bracelet and Patches.
Growing up in Southbridge, Massachusetts, I knew a few Ciesalas from my middle school. I decided to click on the auction link and was amazed to see the ID bracelet’s inscription: WALTER CIESLA – SOUTHBRIDGE MASS.
Upon purchasing the group of items, which included the identification bracelet, a distinguished flying cross medal, an air medal as well as a set of 8th AAF patches, I quickly began researching the grouping. Given the fact that he was from my hometown, I began my research by tracking down his local address. At the time of his enlistment, Walter resided at 34 Plimpton Street, Southbridge, MA:
How close did we live apart? According to Google Earth, we grew up (60 years apart) 0.28 miles from each other. Walter and I likely hiked the same wooded trails and drove the same way to church and school. Not much has changed since 1940 in terms of roads, schools and churches.
Walter was shot down on mission over Yugoslavia in November of 1944 but somehow found a way to evade German observation in the area. He was wearing the ID bracelet at the time (these were always worn during flights to ensure body identification in case of crashing) and was able to eventually escape to freedom. The stories of his escape are likely lost to history, but we can always hope that a family member from Southbridge will stumble across this humble website and contribute some information to flesh out the story. It’s happened in the past with similar stories……………. I’m hoping it happens here………….
Walter J. Ciesla was born on August 22nd, 1922 to Joseph and Anna Ciesla (Zabek) in Southbridge, Massachusetts.
Walter enlisted and was selected as a member of a B-24 bomber crew. As a member of the Mason Crew of the 718th Bombardment Squadron, 449th Bomb Group, Walter Ciesla was shot down on November 8th, 1944 and evaded capture by the Germans. His crew members at the time were Verne J. Pinix, Gordon B. Tolman, Richard J. Slade, George P. Mason (pilot), William J. Williams and Michael J. Nosal.
Walter Ciesla was shot down in
As with all living things, we all come to a point in which we outlive our earthly existance. Walter J. Ciesla passed away on January 19th, 2000 and was listed in the DESEASED MEMBERS section of the 449th bulletin. Please see below:
eBay has been a consistent source of fantastic portraiture for PortraitsofWar for over five years. The material that pops up on the web is easy to acquire and makes for a fun and interesting research project. In this case, I was able to track down an identified photo of a US airman wearing a brim-up cap and sporting a light beard. The photo is identified on the reverse as a Harry Kolacinski.
Harry was born and raised in Milwaukee, WI. His major biographical information can be found below:
Harry’s 1936 Yearbook
Harry passed away in 1986
I have to admit that this is a first for me. 99% of my posts have been dedicated to photos mixed with the occasional letter and/or youtube video. This is the first time I’ve digitized a WWII record! The process was incredibly laborious and the results were scratchy and hard to listen to. Given the condition of the record as well as the limited audio digitization available, I think I did a decent job.
Here’s the story – I purchased a set of WWII “Letter on Record” wax and paper records produced by the USO in WWII. They were put out by the USO in affiliation with organizations such as the National Catholic Community Service. According to my research, over 350 recording booths were available during the war with a total production of 350,000 +/-. They were printed on wax and paper records using a recording booth where the sitter would talk while the machine “cut” their voice into the record. They were then sent home to be listened to by loved ones. I can’t imagine they were made to survive 70 years, but these two copies remain in decent condition. I purchased them for $1.50 each at a local flea market.
The discs were recorded by a Eugene “Gene” Daly who was stationed at an Army Air Corps base in Charleston, SC during the war. He was a member of Crew 620 of Sub Unit E. I’m not entirely sure what this group did but it may have to do with sub patrol on the East Coast. It was sent to Bunny Echenique of 122 Bedford Ave, Grant City, Staten Island, NY in February of 1945.
I played the disc on my record player at 33 speed and held my iPhone up to the speaker and recorded what played. I could hear a slowed down version of human speech so I knew that the process was working. From there I sent the audio file to my computer where I fiddled with Audacity to tweak the speed. I was able to speed up the voice by 1.6X. A voice from 70 years ago played on my speakers. From there I created a video with the actual record as the visual and posted it to youtube. Listen for yourself! I still have a few additional sides to record, but this one gives you the general feeling of Gene Daly’s “letter on a record”.
Casual followers of this blog will know that the majority of my slides and photos are mainly portraits and posed scenes, although a few capture moments of combat, the vast majority of WWII snapshots floating around the web were taken at leisure during down-time after combat. A recent set of photos to come into my possession show an uncommon view of front line fighting. This is my third set of photos of this type, the other two being from the 99th and 42nd Divisions. This set comes from a veteran of the 347th Infantry Regiment of the 87th “Golden Acorn” Division.
Many more to come!
Half the fun of winning a new group of WWII photos on eBay lies in the research and presentation of the material. After recently having placed the winning bid on a set of 50
or so WWII photos of what appeared to be some sort of beach landing, I quickly realized that I had something more important in my possession.
After asking the gracious seller a little bit of info about the provenience of the lot, I soon found out that the photos came from the estate of a deceased WWII veteran from Santa Rosa, CA. Al Pellegrini was the skipper of the LCT-535 during the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach, and either snapped, or was given these photos as a memento of his time aboard the 535.
According to a 1994 article by Gaye LeBaron of the Press Democrat,
“Ensign Albert J. Pellegrini of Santa Rosa, California, came early to the invasion of Normandy. He landed his LCT 535 about 10 minutes ahead of H-Hour on the sands of Omaha Beach, earning the distinction of being the skipper of the first American vessel to land on the French coast on June 6th, 1944.”
Wow! What did I stumble across with this innocuous looking eBay listing? I hope to present these photos to show the world the faces of the first men to land on Omaha Beach on that fateful day nearly 70 years ago.
Many more photos to come!
Earl Denzil Reese
I recently purchased a mystery grouping of WWII photos off my favorite internet auction site and stumbled across the wonderful story of Earl Reese and his wartime experiences while with the 99th “Checkerboard” Division during WWII. The full story starts out on a sad note, but I hope to honor Earl and his life achievements by publishing his story here on PortraitsofWar.
After purchasing a grouping of 50+ images from an eBay dealer back in April, I became interested in the details pertaining to the man who took the photos. He had a knack for writing blurbs on the back of photos, something not many soldiers did at the time. The content was first rate; the unknown soldier seemed to be in a front line unit that saw a good amount of action. I contacted the seller in hopes of finding some additional information to help me piece together the identity of the unknown GI. I’ve done this in the past with varying amounts of success. Most of the time the seller knows nothing about the photos, or maybe only a first name or general geographical area the fellow was from. In this case, the seller had a small treasure trove of information about the soldier.
After attending an estate sale in Santa Barbara the friendly eBay seller was rummaging around through some paper bins outside and found the life memoirs and photos of Mr.Reese. Some family member or estate executor threw away the entire life work and memories of Earl! He generously sent me the complete memoir manuscript and photo collection as a gift. I plan on digitizing the wartime section of the memoirs, which constitute three or four chapters of the 30+ volume.