WWII

George Luz, Jr. Remembers His Dad and the Men of Easy Company

Guest George Luz, Jr. shares stories about his father, George Luz, who was a paratrooper with E Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. They discuss the experiences of the men of Easy Company who fought with him during WWII, and the training, toil, camaraderie and sacrifices of this storied unit that was immortalized by Stephen E. Ambrose in his best-selling book, Band of Brothers.

Pillar of Easy Company

“One of the pillars of Easy Company,” was how Major Richard Winters described him. George Luz was born into a large Portuguese-American family in Fall River Massachusetts on June 17, 1921. Moving with his family to Rhode Island in search of work, Luz quit school in his junior year to help his parents and eight siblings make ends meet during the Great Depression. Incensed as many Americans were by the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Luz enlisted in the Army and, attracted by its elite status and the extra 50 dollars a month jump pay, volunteered for the newly formed airborne forces. Ordered to Camp Toccoa, Georgia, Luz arrived at the newly created home of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment to begin what he would later call, “the best three years of my life.”

George Luz, Jr.’s journey began when he was 9 years old in 1965 at the 101st Airborne Division Reunion at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. For over 53 years, he has been blessed to spend time with these men, their wives and their children. As we say good bye to each and every one of them, he feels it is his honor and privilege to share their stories.

Historical Events That Happened in August

This week Mark takes a look at some events that happened during the month of August in the Civil War and WWII, including the infamous Quantrill’s Raiders,  Nathan Bedford Forrest’s raid on Memphis, the Siege of Leningrad, and the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.

Image: Forrest’s raid into Memphis – Rebel attack on the Irving Prison.

WWII Pilot Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa: Naval Hero

WWII pilot, Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa, became a naval hero fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. Author, Ted Edwards, joins Mark to discuss his biography of Swede, Seven at Santa Cruz. The fighter pilot ace dive-bombed and helped sink the first aircraft carrier lost by Japan. The next day, he took off from USS Yorktown and out-flew and out-gunned three Japanese Zeros. We get a close up look at the battles of Santa Cruz and Coral Sea and learn how “Swede” Vejtasa became the only dive bomber pilot to be awarded Navy Crosses for both bombing and aerial combat.

Author Ted Edwards

Author Ted Edwards is a frequent contributor to the Naval Aviation News and uses his experience as a historian and author on other World War II aviators to capture the straight-forward fighter pilot that was at the core of Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa’s personality. In all, Edwards collects information from not only secondary resources, but also from primary sources such as letters, after-action reports, official records in the national archives research, and 11 interviews conducted by the author, to include an interview with Vejtasa himself. The combination of historical records and personal interviews throughout the book, combined with the ease of reading the material, help to present both a factual and personal account of Vejtasa and naval air operations in the Pacific theater.

This biography follows World War II fighter pilot ace Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa from his Montana home, through numerous World War II aerial battles, to his post war service as the Air Boss on USS Essex (CV-9) and Captain of USS Constellation (CV-64).

This work is the first biography on Vejtasa and clearly fills a void in previous literature. Anyone interested in learning about the pragmatic and sometimes abrasive fight pilot ace Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa, or about World War II naval aviation, would be well rewarded for the time spent reading this thoroughly researched and well written book.

Buy a copy of Ted Edward’s riveting Seven at Santa Cruz at the Naval Historical Foundation>>

Normandy and Brittany 1944 with Mort Sheffloe: Part II

Combat veteran Mort Sheffloe continues his discussion with Mark about Mort’s WWII experiences in Normandy and Brittany in 1944. Mort talks about Operation Cobra and being shot by a German sniper near Brest. He talks about his near fatal wounding, medical evacuation and recuperation. This is Part II of a two-part episode, and completes our series on D-Day and Operation Overlord in June 1944.

Normandy and Brittany 1944: WWII Vet Mort Sheffloe

Continuing our series on D-Day and Operation Overlord in June 1944, Mark relives his visit to Normandy with WWII Veteran, Mort Sheffloe. They discuss Mort’s experiences in Normandy and Brittany in 1944 while walking on Omaha and Utah Beaches and visiting various cafés. Mort describes the actions as well as his near fatal wounding by a German sniper’s bullet.

75th Anniversary of D-Day: The Beach Landings

On this 75th Anniversary of the D-Day, we continue with the discussion about launching the invasion and the beach landings on that day. Mark speaks with historian Marty Morgan and they give special attention to the Americans storming the formidable German positions at Omaha Beach and the fierce struggle that took place there.

Airborne: The D-Day Invasion

In continuing our study of D-Day for this 75th Anniversary Year, Mark talks about the invasion airborne operations. He and guest historian, Marty Morgan, discuss some of the actions and details of the paratroopers, including “the greatest feat of flying in the Second World War.”

Photo: General Dwight D. Eisenhower speaking with First lieutenant Wallace C. Strobel and men of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment on June 5, 1944. The placard around Strobel’s neck indicates he is the jumpmaster for chalk 23 of the 438th TCG. Strobel’s battalion was the first to drop into Normandy.

Operation Overlord: Deception Plan

Mark discusses the intricate deception plans that the Allies employed to confuse Nazi Germany about the location of the D-Day invasion. Will it be Pas de Calais as Hitler declares so convincingly? Or even Norway? Eisenhower is sure of one thing: it must succeed. There is no Plan B.

This week’s podcast is a continuation of a series of podcasts dedicated to the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. Last week in Operation Overlord: Planning the D-Day Invasion, Mark covered the lectures Stephen Ambrose gave at the University of New Orleans that dealt with the planning and preparation the Allies made for Operation Overlord and the selection of General Dwight D. Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander.

In this episode, Mark dives into Operation Fortitude, the grand plan to fool Hitler into thinking the invasion would come somewhere other than Normandy. Eisenhower had to resolve four major issues for the D-Day invasion: where, when and how to launch and the need for a deception plan to ensure that the Germans would be surprised.

Operation Fortitude

Eisenhower and his staff were to resolve four major issues for the D-Day invasion: where, when and how to launch and the need for a deception plan to ensure that the Germans would be surprised. This necessity hatched the plan for “Operation Fortitude.” It was a grand plan to fool Hitler into thinking the invasion would come somewhere other than Normandy. Fortitude North led the Nazis to believe the Allies were preparing to invade Norway. Its counterpart, Fortitude South, directed their attention to the Pas-de-Calais in France near Dunkerque and the Belgian border.

Fortitude North

In the northern operation, a team of two dozen British officers went to the the upper reaches of Scotland and began filling the airwaves with fictitious radio messages. These fake transmissions duplicated the traffic that would simulate the build-up of an actual army preparing for a Nordic invasion. Requests for crampons used for ice climbing, ski bindings, instruction manuals for engine maintenance in extremely cold weather, wooden warplanes on Scottish airfields and fake tanks that accompanied dummy divisions pointed to Norway as the Allied target. It was enough for Hitler to keep 13 Wehrmacht divisions and 150,000 Luftwaffe and Navy personnel in that country—not defending the Atlantic Wall in Normandy.

Fortitude South

Fortitude South was just as confounding. In addition to phony radio traffic, dummy landing craft floated in southern England ports while inflatable and papier-maché tanks dotted the fields. Movie industry stagehands built a bogus fuel depot at Dover and spies reported heavy troop activity there. All this suggested the invasion target was Calais. Perhaps the piece-de-resistance of the southern operation was the use of Lt. General George S. Patton as a decoy. The Germans thought of him as the Allies’ best general and were certain he would lead the invasion. He commanded the First U.S. Army Group composed of actual and fictitious units: the Third Army was still stateside, the British Fourth Army was fictitious and 50 more imaginary divisions were about to leave America to land at the Pas-de-Calais to support the invasion.

The Deception Plan

While some of these divisions did exist, the deception plan caused the Germans to believe that 89 Allied divisions were at the ready with enough landing craft to send 20 in the first wave of the attack. In reality they might be able to send six divisions. Eisenhower was gravely concerned about the shortage of landing craft and equally adamant about keeping the coastal areas of England secure. The success of the invasion was paramount; there was no Plan B.

Operation Overlord: Planning the D-Day Invasion

Mark begins his series of podcasts dedicated to the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, discussing Operation Overlord, the planning of the D-Day invasion. He includes excerpts from  WWII lectures that historian Stephen E. Ambrose gave at the University of New Orleans, covering the preparation the Allies made for Operation Overlord. By December of 1943 the United States and Great Britain agreed that they were going to open a front in northern Europe with an invasion of France.

Choosing the Supreme Allied Commander

When British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Josef Stalin in Tehran that November, the Soviet leader expressed his anxiety and asked them who is going to command the invasion? When they replied that they had not yet chosen, he didn’t take them seriously. “If you don’t have a commander, you don’t have an invasion.” However, they were planning and the first obstacle was to pick the commander.

Roosevelt wanted General George C. Marshall or else his distinguished career may be forgotten and the President felt he deserved a field command. Dr. Ambrose used the analogy that “everyone remembers U.S. Grant, but how many today revere his chief of staff?”*

However, as chief of staff, that would mean moving him from Washington, D.C. to London and it would actually position him as a subordinate to General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower, who would take over as chief in Washington. It would create a situation that would be diplomatically untenable. Roosevelt asked Marshall directly who the commander should be and Marshall said, “That’s not my decision to make.”

General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower

Ultimately the choice was General Eisenhower and Roosevelt even had Marshall pen the message to transmit to Stalin (Marshall actually saved the original handwritten note to give to Eisenhower as a souvenir). With the choice made, in January 1944, “Ike,” who had the perfect temperament to deal with the major Allied players, arrived in London to take over as Supreme Allied Commander.

Eisenhower and his staff were to resolve four major issues: first, where to stage the attack? Second, how do we keep the Operation a surprise? Third, when do we launch the invasion? And finally, the Allies had to devise a deception plan to ensure that the Germans are surprised.

Eisenhower and the other British and American officers at the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) accomplished these tasks. How they got it done is the subject we study in depth on the Operation Overlord and D­-Day to the Rhine Tours.

*Lincoln’s Chief of Staff was Henry W. Halleck. Dr. Ambrose did his doctoral dissertation on Halleck and subsequently turned it into his first book, Halleck: Lincoln’s Chief of Staff (1962).

Ghost Army of WWII – Part II

Mark continues his discussion with Rick Beyer about the 23rd HQ Special Troops, aka the Ghost Army, and the series of deception operations that took place once we had American troops on the ground in Europe. As an author and filmmaker Rick gives an excellent portrayal of the vital and technologically amazing work this unit produced in WWII. Wizardry is a more than apt term for it and one need not wonder why the U.S. Army kept it under wraps for so long.

A story about the Ghost Army by correspondent Kelly Cobiella ran on NBC Nightly News Sunday, April 28, 2019. The piece featured veterans Bernie Bluestein and Gil Seltzer, as well as video from the area along the Rhine River where Operation Viersen took place.