Irish-American WWI veteran honored

Nearly a century after dying in the waning days of World War I, a young Irish soldier killed fighting for the US has been recognized by his adopted land.

Edmond “Ned” Brunnock, 28, emigrated from the Cork-Tipperary border to Dorchester, Mass., in the early part of the 20th century.

He enlisted in the American army in February 1918 and was sent to the trenches in France.

His unit – the 306th Division – was involved in a brutal battle with German troops at St. Hubert near Boureuilles near the Franco-German border on Sept. 28, 1918, less than six weeks before the end of the bloody four-year conflict.

Brunnock, a private, suffered severe injuries as he fought to save several comrades, and died of his wounds four days later on Oct. 1, according to the Irish Independent.

Continue reading

Renovated WWI memorial unveiled in DC

Overdue far too long, the restoration of the District of Columbia War Memorial was officially completed Thursday, some 80 years after it was first dedicated.

The elegant, columned, 47-foot-tall domed structure just west of the World War II Memorial honors the 20,000 Washington residents who served in World War I, and the 499 who died during the 1914-1918 conflict, according to the Washington Post.

It is the closest thing to a national World War I monument in the US. Today, of course, marks the 93rd anniversary of the end of First World War.

Situated off the national mall, just last summer the monument was water stained and time weathered, sitting amid overgrown trees, surrounded by puddles and cracked pavement.

“For too many years it was a lonely orphan on this part of the Mall,” Edwin L. Fountain, vice president of the World War I Memorial Foundation, told an audience at Thursday’s reopening ceremony. “It was a forgotten memorial to a forgotten war.”

Continue reading

Last Polish pilot from Battle of Britain dies

Unwilling to give up fighting the Nazis after their country was quickly overrun in September 1939, a small group of Polish pilots eventually made their way to Britain and offered their services to the Allies.

Altogether, 145 Polish pilots took part in the pivotal Battle of Britain, helping stave off the German assault and invasion that likely would have resulted if the Nazis had been victorious.

Tadeusz Sawicz, believed to have been the last of the Poles who took to the skies alongside the Brits in the 1940 battle, died this week at age 97.

Sawicz, who shot down three German planes during the war and damaged several others, went on to take part in several Allied operations throughout the remaining years of the war, including being attached to the US 9th Air Force in 1944 and escorting American bomber formations while flying a P-47 Thunderbolt.

Among the awards he received was the British Distinguished Flying Cross, the US Air Medal and the Vlieger Cruis, the Dutch equivalent of the DFC, according to The Telegraph.

The role of Sawicz and his comrades is relatively unknown, but because the Allies won the Battle of Britain by a narrow margin, some historians believe the outcome would have been different without the Polish aviators’ involvement.

Continue reading

USS Arizona survivor dies in Florida at 91

One of the few remaining survivors from the USS Arizona, sunk on Dec. 7, 1941, with the loss of nearly 1,200 lives, died late last week at age 91.

Vernon Olsen, then just 21 years old, scrambled to his battle station atop the after mast of the Arizona that fateful Sunday morning nearly 70 years ago when Japanese planes struck.

Years later, he would tell of seeing a Japanese bomber coming  in between the ship’s masts to drop a bomb while Olsen, manning a 50-caliber machine gun, waited helplessly for ammunition.

The plane was so close that Olsen could see the Japanese pilot grinning, he said in 1998 interview with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. When the bomb exploded, it all but obliterated the ship.

Continue reading

Color photos from a doomed expedition

Ernest Shackleton remains one of the great explorers of the 20th century. Although his most famous venture, the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, a quest to cross Antarctica from sea to sea via the South Pole, ended in failure, it also proved an enduring tale of survival and heroism.

The website How to be a Retronaut has posted color photographs from Shackleton’s ill-fated 1914-17 voyage to Antarctica, taken by the expedition’s official photographer, Frank Hurley.

Early in 1915, Shackleton’s ship the Endurance became trapped in the Antarctic ice. Hurley managed to salvage the photographic plates by diving into mushy ice-water inside the sinking ship in October 1915.

The photos, which can be viewed here, are as remarkable as the expedition itself.

Continue reading

Last US veteran of WWI turns 110

America’s last surviving World War I veteran turned 110 Tuesday, one of just three survivors of the Great War still alive.

Frank Buckles lied about his age in 1917 when he was 16 so he could enlist. The Army sent him to France, where he drove ambulances and motorcycles. After the armistice, he helped return German prisoners of war to their country.

Buckles was one of more than 70 million men and women worldwide who served in the “War to End All Wars,” the greatest conflict mankind had witnessed to that point.

Today, he lives with his daughter, Susannah Buckles Flanagan, at Gap View, W.Va.

Continue reading

B-24 pilot remembers fallen comrades


Jack Oliver of Naples, Fla., piloted 35 missions during World War II. He was one of the fortunate ones – the B-24 Liberator he flew had a couple of rather unflattering nicknames: the Flying Boxcar and, worse, the Flying Coffin.

On this Memorial Day weekend, The Naples Daily News has a nice profile of Oliver, recounting his service during “The Big One.”

Oliver, now 91, lost two of his crew and many of his fellow pilots in the fury of Hitler’s last stand during World War II. He remembers the intimate terror of German fighters streaking by his plane, one “so close I swear I could see the octane rating in German,” Oliver told the paper.

In the story, Oliver recalled his most harrowing mission, over Odertal, Germany, on Dec. 17, 1944:

“Nazi fighters began coming at their group a half hour before they reached their target. A report by Oliver’s engineer gunner, Charles Keller, tersely recounts seeing three B-24s go down.

‘Didn’t see any chutes, but was too busy to watch for them,’ it mourns.

The mission was disastrous; 12 of 28 bombers had been shot down.

‘They didn’t tell me until we arrived back at Toretta. They knew I’d be a little disturbed,’ Oliver says grimly. ‘No — terribly disturbed.’

His voice wavers when he speaks of the deaths of two of his own crewmen, navigator Peter Konapaka and nose gunner John Reiser. Neither died from enemy fire.

Oliver remembers most that he had just given Reiser permission to fly on another pilot’s plane for a final mission — the magic number that would earn Reiser a 30-day leave to go home and see his newborn son. The plane collided with another in a routine maneuver.

‘It was a milk run,’ Oliver says grimly.”

Oliver won the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 3 bronze oak leaf clusters, the European theater, the American theater; World War II victory medal, and the Distinguished Unit Citation with 7 Battle Stars.