Friday, June 12, 2015

Walter Haydt KIA on Hinchinbrook Island Australia 18 December 1942

The naming of the Shoemaker-Haydt Legion Post #314 in Walter Haydt's memory is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.  Recently, Haydt's story was retold at a special Memorial Day Program at the Lehighton Area Middle School, as part of a new community initiative known as "Operation Never Forget" (click here for more information).  At that time, another area man, Ezra Kreiss was honored for his sacrifice during the war.  His story can be found clicking here.
The picture Walter sent home 
"Love Daddy" to
his daughter Janice.

 Walter was the third of Adam and Dora Haydt's six boys: James, Willard, Walter, Kenneth, Earl, and Raymond.  James died when he was just seven in 1919.  

Adam was a fireman for the Lehigh Valley Railroad working out of Perth Amboy New Jersey yard while living on Union Hill over the hill from Weissport.

Below here, please find the video played at the May 2015 ceremony that honored Kreiss and Haydt:

Brother Williard also served: he was in the Army artillery. 

Brother Earl suffered severe frostbite at the Battle of the Bulge and took a wound from shrapnel.  His feet were so frozen, he took a pair of boots from a dead comrade to save his own.

 Youngest brother Ray was 4-F due to his hearing and an irregular heartbeat.

Walter was a care-free young man who always had a smile on his face.  He loved to play the accordion.  He played in Art Webb's orchestra know as "Webby's Wonderboys," (A misnomer given the fact that they had a woman in the band as well.)

Walter was married shortly after graduating with a diploma from the Weissport School District but was divorced shortly before the war.  

He worked in the A & P grocery store.  He joined the war effort and was sent to the Army's radio operator school in Indiana.  He graduated from Class 20 there, on 13 May 1942.
An ever-present smile: 
His smile was one of
his brother Ray's fondest 
memories of
the man he said he 
idolized so dearly.
Walter's high school picture.

He was assigned to the 90th Bomb Group.  Their main mission was to fly the newly developed B-24 "Liberator" bombers into the Pacific Theater of war via Hawaii and Australia.

By December, Walter was assigned to a B-24 known as the "Texas Terror" to deliver it to the 90th Bomb Group.  They were taking off from Amberly, on the eastern edge of Australia from a dirt runway. 

It was said of these new, often times too short and crudely developed airstrips that visibility was normally a tenuous proposition.  Particualrly so, with the dirt whipped up due to the succession of propeller planes taking off


They were heading for an island known as the Iron Range.  It was considered the most forward of all Allied controlled airfields to be out of the range of Japanese fighter attack.

On 18 December 1942, the Texas Terror was the second to take off.  The following was taken from an excerpt from the flight journal of Pilot Lt. Wood:

"We encountered bad weather, so I dropped to sea level in an attempt to fly along the coast, but the visibility was zero, and there were so many mountains to the left of us, I proceeded to head out to sea.  I leveled off at 3,000 ft.  Twenty-minutes passed (blind) when my navigator screamed into the interphone that we had just missed a mountain to our right.  This meant that for twenty minutes I had been flying over land that was covered with 4,000 foot hills, while I was at 3,000 feet.  I immediately hit the throttles, increased the RPM and climbed out of danger, expecting at each moment to crash into unseen mountains.”  

Given the above first-hand account, it is presumed that this was the cause of Haydt's plane to slam into the side of Mt. Straloch on Hinchinbrook Island just off Austraila's east coast.  Up to this time, three other crews of B-24's leaving Hawaii were also lost in crashes.
Walter posing for first of two
contrasting pictures.
Walter seemed to have a good
sense of humor as seen by these
two contrasting shots.

Killed was the crew, Captain and Pilot James E. Gumaer Jr., Copilot 2nd Lt. Dewey G. Hooper, Navigator Lt. David B. Lowe, Engineer T/Sgt Waldo W. Keller, and Radioman S/Sgt Walter E. Haydt.
A close-up of President 
Roosevelt's letter
to Walter Haydt's family.

The crew was also transporting some casual company army personnel: Col. Carroll G. Riggs and Lt. Raymond F. Dakin of the 197th Coastal Artillery, as well as Captain Peter E. Kiple and Captain Carl H. Silber of the 36th Fighter Squadron of the 8th Fighter Group.  
Captain Silber in 

Also aboard, 1st Lt. John E Cooper Jr. of the 22nd Bomb Group and T/4 Michael Goldstop of the 1156th Quartermaster Company, most likely the man in charge of the large sum of Army payroll being transported.  One civilian was aboard, Robert Trevithick, employed by Pratt & Whitney of the United Aircraft Corporation.

According to Ray Haydt, the waiting wore the family down.  The crash occurred in December, and they heard nothing about the incident or anything of Walter's whereabouts until the following February when military personal visited the home.

But he was still considered Missing In Action and the army was hopeful for a possible rescue or recovery before they considering classifying him as dead.  Over a year later, some Aborigines of the island made an important discovery.

While searching for tin along the streams below Mt Straloch, the Aborigines found remnants of burnt U.S. currency, which doubtlessly turned out to be remnants of the payroll the Texas Terror was carrying.

"Those two years of waiting were extremely difficult for everyone...I saw how it wore the life out of my parents," Ray Haydt would say many years later.

Today, the crash site is memorialized in many ways.  A cross was erected years ago while a more permanent one listing those on board was installed near the base of the mountain.  Much of this work was conducted by a son of one of the victims, Carl Silber Jr.
Lt. Cooper's dog-tag returned 
to the family.

Over the years, various pieces of memorabilia have been turned over to family members, namely Lt. Cooper's dog-tag as well as various parts of the plane.  The crash site is amid some rugged terrain only accessible to the heartiest of climbers, and even then, a successful climb can be cippled by rain-swollen creeks.
Walter's daughter Janice 
smiles with
her father's hat.

~Please click on this link to be taken to YouTube to see the wreckage in a video shot recently by a climber.  Among the more salient images, near the end, you will find a close-up shot of Walter Haydt's radio.

Fortunately, Walter Haydt fathered a daughter named Janice before he entered the war.  She was raised by her mother and step-father in Lehighton.  And Janice and her husband had two daughters, Jodi and Jennifer. 

Take one look at Janice's smile is a reminder that more than Walter's smile survived.
Walter Haydt plays the accordion for Art Webb's "Webby's Wonderboys."
The remains of the crew were buried together in Fort McPherson National Cemetery in Nebraska, 
the home-base for the 90th Bomb Group.  
Flowers were provided by Lehighton Area Middle School's "Operation Never Forget" inMay 2015.  
The 1945 newspaper clip announcing
that the Lehighton Legion Post #314
would bear Walter's name.

Cross erected at the top of Mt
Straloch near the still visible
remains of the B-24 "Texas

Cross near the base of Mt Straloch,


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Ezra Kreiss KIA the English Channel 28 April 1944

Recently, the life of Ezra Kreiss was presented to the Lehighton Area Middle School through the efforts of the “Operation Never Forget Club.”  He was killed on April 28th 1944 by a German S-boat in the English Channel.

Ezra Kreiss's Slatington High Class of 1939
Senior Portrait.
Kreiss was the son of Joseph and Minnie and was a 1939 graduate of Slatington High School.  His father, and later Ezra, seemed to possess a jovial disposition, a trait that would be handed down through the generations of Kreiss's.

For most of his young life they lived on a farm until Joseph became the manager of the local A & P Grocery Store.  After high school he was employed by the Burroughs Adding Machine Company.

He was a faithful member of his Slatington Brethren Church which shared their pastor with the Salem Bible Fellowship Church on Cypress Street in Lehighton.
The 1 January 1943 wedding picture of Ezra
and Madeline (Haas) Kreiss.

That is where the Madeline Haas family went to church.  It was a surprise to all (except for Rev Bean) when they announced at the New Year’s Eve Ceremony of 1942 that they would be getting married in the new year.  So, fifteen minutes into 1943, the two were wed.

Ezra had already been inducted into the Army the previous August.  He was sent to training in California for quartermaster training.  His new wife Madeline would later join him there as well as in Fort Lee Virginia just prior to his shipping off to Slapton Sands, Devon, England in January of 1944.

He knew full well he was to be part of the yet to be disclosed invasion of the continent, he knew he would be part of penetrating Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall.’  As for the specific time and place, that was only known to a few men between the Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower and Kreiss’s command.
Ezra and Madeline: a most handsome couple.

Eisenhower wanted to test them, to put them through hell, through sea-sickness and live munitions slamming the beach.
Joseph showing the Kreiss sense of

Ezra was a special son, his mother’s favorite according to his last surviving sister Esther. “He loved farm work.”  She remembered him flopping the tedded hay onto a wagon in long smooth over-head arcs on the neighbor’s farm.  And since she had no way of earning money of her own, Ezra shared a portion of each of his Burrogh’s Adding Machine p
Ezra's mother Minnie.  These were
among the photos found in his
aychecks with her.

Their eldest brother Paul was a minster in Indiana.  Amos, the next brother did what he could to avoid farmhouse drudgeries.  

But not Ezra, he not only had the patience to sit with Minnie but it seemed to bring a cheerfulness down into his bones. 

Esther looked up to Ezra with wonderment.

And so too, did his new family, the brothers and sisters of his wife Madeline.  Madeline was the oldest daughter of Calvin and Rebecca Haas of Haas’s Store in Lehighton.  

Madeline and Ezra lived at the store for short stretches, they were like second parents to the other six Haas children : Miriam, Mildred, Robert, Ruth, Hilbert, and BetteMae.

He wrote them many letters with advice and cheerful banter, always signing off as “Your Big Brother, Ezra.”  He’d tease Robert about the Slatington cagers defeating Lehighton while sending him his old sergeant stripes with sketches of how to sew them into position.  
Ezra Kreiss letter to his young brother-in-law Robert Haas.

He chided Ruth to keep Hilly and Bette away from the newly papered walls with their crayons, which was the reason which necessitated the interior makeover to begin with.
On the night of April 27th, Ezra was part of the live-fire practice run known as “Operation Tiger.”  This was just five weeks before D-Day.  Eight U.S. Tank Landing Crafts (LSTs) were loaded with men, munitions, tanks, and trucks.  

All loaded to the hilt with supplies and gasoline for what could have been the actual invasion as far as any of the men were told.

The Americans were to be escorted by two British patrol ships to protect the extremely slow, easy targets of the LSTs (they cruised at 12 knots), however only one of those ships appeared that night. 

~Below please view the video played at the May 2015 
Memorial Day Ceremony that honored Kreiss and Haydt:

One of the surviving truck drivers from the mission said the moment he figured the mission was just a practice was when his commander slipped and told him to remember to drive on the left hand side of the road after the beachhead was secured.    

Two LSTs were sunk: LST-531 and LST-507.  They were torpedoed by German S-boats, ‘schnell’ meant ‘fast’ in German but known to the Allies as ‘E-boats,’ the ‘e’ stood for ‘enemy.’
This is an actual picture of the German S-boat that sank LST-531.  These
high-speed boats had two torpedo tubes and carried only four torpedoes.
These craft were designed for a quick in and out assault.  A British
billionaire purchased this boat and is in the process of restoring it.  He
intends to offer a fitting tribute to the men killed: to launched 638 poppies
from the torpedo tubes over the wreckage of LST-531 in the English

Men had to act quickly: Dive into the ring of burning oil and gas atop the frigid forty-four degree water or stay on a ship that would go down in seven minutes, hence pulling them down in the action.  

They were loaded for battle: they had their “Mae West” life-preservers wrapped about their waists and their top-heavy packs above.  Many drown with their feet in the air.

About 700 were burned, drown, or succumbed to hypothermia.  Of those missing, eight were said to know the true plans, the time, date and place, for D-Day.  The next day, search and rescue were able to locate each and every one of those officers; hence many other KIA’s were recovered in the process.
Ezra Kreiss's dogtags.  The address was Haas's Store at
5th and Coal Streets in Lehighton.

Another 300 were killed when the convoy continued onto the beach at Slapton Sands to finish the exercise.  Eisenhower ordered friendly fire to come from the HMS Hawkins.  Through a communication error, men were never told the safe parameters of the beachhead that was selected for its close resemblance to Utah Beach in Normandy. 

Eager for safety and encountering no resistance, the men pressed through the beach area to the rear.  In doing so, they placed themselves under the fire of the Hawkins.  The Hawkins fire was well-placed.  The men were never told where on the beach to stop.

Nearly 1,000 men killed in this exercise.  This was the deadliest training accident to that date.

Ezra’s body was first buried at Brookwood and later interred at American Cemetery at Cambridge in 1956.

Madeline delivered a son on 21 January 1944, less than two weeks after Ezra shipped off to England.  Among the letters he sent home to his family, he mentioned the need for more pictures of his son, Ezra Junior.  The pictures of Madeline and his baby, along with the pictures of his parents above, were found in the wallet that were returned to his widow.

Robert Haas at Cambridge Cemetery.  He looked
up to his brother-in-law.
Madeline’s brother, Robert “Bobby” Haas was the first to visit the grave while on duty for the navy in the 1950s.  Madeline visited in the 1960s.  
This hand-drawn map was sent by Robert Haas to his sister Madeline in the 1950s.

At the chapel, there is a book of the dead under glass in which one page is turned each day.  On the day of her visit, the book was open one page shy of Ezra’s page.

Recently, a daughter of Robert Haas, who conducts work for the military, visited the grave exactly seven days after “Operation Never Forget” placed flowers there.  She poignantly observed his was the only grave decorated with flowers.  

As the years passed, Madeline Kreiss eventually married another veteran of the war.  However, there is little question as to who was her one true love. 

Over the years, the thought that haunted her the most, was the fact that she knew Ezra couldn’t swim.  The other part, was never seeing his face again.
This touching photo of a mother and her first and only child baby Ezra
was one of 7 pictures found in Ezra Senior's wallet and was most likely the
last picture he looked at before boarding LST-531 on the night of
27 April 1944.

Ezra junior with his Aunt Ruth,
Madeline's little sister at
Camp Mitzpah in
Allentown mid-1940s.
Though Ezra Junior was an only child, his only child daughter was determined to have a large family of eight happy and healthy children.  All of them seem to possess the same contagious smile and infectious laugh of their grandfather lost at sea.
One of the 7 pictures Ezra had
in his wallet.  Wife Madeline
at the corner of the family store.
Ezra and Madeline's only
child on a first day
of school.
Flowers purchased by the "Operation
Never Forget" Club on 28 April 2015.  These
were the only flowers on any of the 3,900 American graves.
Above is Mildred "Sis" Haas Garvin with her
little brother Robert behind the store.
Robert would take over
the family business in the early 1960s.
The oldest Haas siblings in front of the store at 5th and Coal Sts: Miriam, Madeline (center), and Mildred.
Madeline Haas Kreiss on right with her son Ezra and his daughter along
with 6 of their 8 children from the 1990s.  Madeline died in 2008.

"Operation Never Forget" Successfully Launched

Recently a new club was formed at the Lehighton Area Middle School known as “Operation Never Forget.”

A group of students began exploring the lives of some area men who served in World War II.  

Their research led them to two men: Ezra Kreiss and Walter Haydt.   (Click their names for their complete stories.)

The lives of these two men were highlighted in the LAMS Memorial Day Program on May 22, 2015.

The entire student body was present for the program as well as surviving members of the Kreiss and Haydt families.

Students launched a unique fund drive.  Unlike other drives that are competitively motivated, this one was different.  

Each homeroom of students was asked to make a personal commitment for a greater good, to give a small personal sacrifice for an unseen, unknown higher purpose. 

The results were fairly remarkable.   

Each student was asked to give fifty cents.  The Operation Never Forget Club hoped to raise $200 to $300.  Through their efforts, over $500 was raised.

Results were revealed at the LAMS Annual Memorial Day Program.  Flowers were placed on EzraKreiss’s grave in Cambridge England as well as on the grave of Walter Haydt’s grave at Fort McPherson, Nebraska.

Then at the main community Memorial Day services at Lehighton Cemetery on Monday May 25, members of the club were on hand to distribute over 200 fresh cut flowers to the public so that they could be strewn onto the graves of the community’s fallen veterans.

The gesture made an impact.

Members of the town were touched.  Some were grateful, teary-eyed, and moved.  One older man saying he hadn’t seen this type of gesture since he was a very young boy.

Grown sons and daughters placed the donated flowers on the graves of their fathers, their former school teachers and other servicemen they remembered hearing about as young children.

The Shoemaker-Haydt American Legion Post #314 Commander Kevin “Spike” Long commented, “I’ve attended many Memorial Day Services over the years and many of my fellow veterans had been saddened by the lack of flowers brought by the public for the segment of our program for ‘children will strew flowers onto the graves.’    It is the least we can do for those who secured the blessings for us all.”

The impetus and momentum of “Operation Never Forget” looks to carry enough charge to become a new Lehighton Area tradition.  Plans are already moving forward to improve and expand the program for next year.

More on Ezra Kreiss on this blog, followthis link.

Flowers were purchased for both Ezra Kreiss's grave in Cambridge England
as well as Walter Haydt's grave in Nebraska.  More information is available
in separate posts on this blog.  Kreiss's grave was visited by his niece just
seven days after they were placed there on the anniversary of his death.
Of the 4,000 American graves there, his was the only one decorated.

Ezra Kreiss with his Lehighton bride, the former Madeline
Haas.  They were married on January 1, 1943.  More of his
story can be found be clicking here.

Walter Haydt's family lived on Union Hill.  He was
known as the first area WWII death and so the Shoemaker-
Haydt Legion Post was partly named in his honor.
More of his story can be found by clicking here.