Yesteryear May 2015 Pocatello Tribune: ‘Nazis Surrender’ paper survives By Michael H. O’Donnell firstname.lastname@example.org “Nazis Surrender.” That was the bold and simple headline at the top of the May 7, 1945, issue of the Pocatello Tribune, the predecessor of the Idaho State Journal. The end of the war in Europe on May 6 dominated the front page with stories about the German military agreeing to unconditional surrender and German Gen. Gustav-Jodl asking the allies for mercy toward German civilians and soldiers. Another story told how Hilter’s body was well hidden after the leader of Nazi Germany had committed suicide more than a week before the allies managed to claim Victory in Europe. Another headline on the front page stated: “Hitler’s world dream at end at cost of trillion dollars and more than 6 million men.” A chronology of the war explained how it all began when German invaded Poland Sept. 1, 1939, followed with the invasions of Norway and Denmark in 1940. The Nazi armies would invade Russia the next year. Because of the alliance between Germany, Italy and Japan, when the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, America entered the war on Dec. 7, 1941. American, British and Canadian troops stormed the shores of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, and by March 7, 1945, had crossed the Rhine River into Germany. Russian troops were pounding German from the west. Another headline on the front page provided the best news for Idahoans who had family members serving in World War II. “First servicemen to return probably within weeks after cleanup of war area,” it stated. The lead in that story posed the question: “When will Johnny (G.I. Joe) come marching home again?” But the bulk of the Pocatello Tribune that day captures what was happening in Southeast Idaho that day or week. Junior High Night was being announced for May 9. The event, to be held in Pocatello High School’s auditorium, was going to feature the junior high band and chorus, as well as the Glee Club. The entire musical event was being directed by E.H. Erlandson. Also coming on May 9 was a meeting of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in American Falls. The name of the program was: “What establishment of liquor and anti-gambling laws means in the shaping of the lives of young people.” There was a feature story about how a U.S. Army nurse from Pocatello, Lt. Evelyn Bacheler, had survived an attack on her hospital ship, the USS Comfort, that was struck by a Japanese suicide pilot on April 27, 1945. “Saturday morning Mrs. Bacheler had the thrill of hearing See Tribune, Page 6 C M Y K
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Local man says he was just doing his job in WWII By Greg Eichelberger For the Journal
POCATELLO — By his 24th birthday, Clarence Vickrey had already participated in the D-Day Invasion, the Liberation of Paris and the Battle of the Bulge, and he was stationed in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, when one of the greatest conflicts known to mankind came to an end. Yet, for all of those monumental events in which he and other American soldiers took part, few had the feeling at the time that they were in the middle of something momentous. “We were just doing our jobs,” he said. “We were performing the tasks which were assigned to us and did not really think too much about what was going on outside of our operating areas.” Not that Vickrey, a member of the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps for three years, had blinders on (he had access to “Stars and Stripes” news publications and knew what was going on in other war-torn lands), but the admits having enough to worry about chasing the Germans through France, Luxembourg, Belgium and finally into the Fatherland. In the meantime, Vickrey, 93, and his comrades were bombed, strafed, shot at and generally harassed on a constant basis by the retreating Nazi troops, part of a great army that once held the greater part of Europe in its iron fist. He was even mistaken for a German soldier by his own troops at one time, but it was all part of doing what he had to do to help end the war and get home as soon as possible. In fact, for Vickrey, a native of Wyoming and a Pocatello resident for many years, those aforementioned battles were really not discussed by him until just few years ago. “At the time, I guess we were just too busy trying to survive and do our jibs,” he remembers. “It was only later, when I think back can I really recall all of the things we were involved in. I guess they were pretty important at the time, I mean we were fighting two very strong and determined enemies who did not give up easily.” Drafted in December 1942, he recalls his basic training in Sacramento, Calif. He was slated to be sent to the South Pacific, but suffered an infected wisdom tooth the day before. After his recovery, his orders were not just changed, but his destination was altered to the European Theater, and he was sent to England where he was soon training for the Normandy Invasion. “We trained for what seemed like a long time before we were finally ready to move out,” he said. Sometimes, this period was almost as dangerous as the actual invasion. In late 1943, “Operation Tiger” was the code name for one in a series of large-scale rehearsals for the invasion, which took place on Slapton Sands or Slapton Beach in Devon. Coordination and communication problems resulted in friendly fire deaths during the exercise, and an Allied convoy positioning itself for the landing was attacked by
E-boats of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,000 American servicemen. The incident was under the strictest secrecy at the time because of the impending invasion and was only nominally reported afterward; as a result, it has been largely forgotten. During the actual event, Vickrey and the rest of the Signal Corps arrived at about 2 p.m., after many of the other waves coming ashore had been decimated. He recalls getting off the LST (landing vehicle) to a horrible sight. “There were American dead everywhere on the beach,” he said. “Some from being shot, but most from drowning. They were dropped off too soon in deep water, and the weight of their packs carried them beneath the water. “It was so terrible and I was kind of shook up, but we were trained to do a job and we just could not think about it. We knew we could do nothing for them and just kept going, getting a communication set up of field wire and rubber-cable that would eventu-
ally reach from the beach to Paris.” After fighting in France, American troops arrived at the outskirts of Paris in August 1944, finally liberating the city from four years of Nazi reign on Aug. 25. “I can’t say that the people of the city were necessarily happy, but they were more relieved than anything else to be freed of the German command,” Vickrey said, adding that his company was also in charge of hanging flags on the Eiffel Tower and the Arch de Triumph for the celebration. He also spoke of carrying a rifle, just as almost every soldier did, but not having to use it. “We were attacked by bombs and mortars many different times, but we never did any shooting,” he said. “I was also very lucky that during all of this, I was never hurt or wounded.” Next, as part of the First Army’s 5th Corps, his battalion occupied a fort in Belgium, which the Germans shelled four times a day (at meals and at midnight). Later, he took part in the Battle of the Bulge,
which lasted from Dec. 16, 1944, through Jan. 25, 1945, and was a major German offensive campaign launched through the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg on the Western Front toward the end of the war. The surprise attack caught the Allied forces completely off guard. The surprise attack caught the Allied forces completely off guard. United States forces bore the brunt of the attack and incurred its highest casualties for any operation during the war. The battle also severely depleted Germany’s armored forces on the western front, which Germany was largely unable to replace. German personnel and Luftwaffe aircraft also sustained heavy losses. “For 15 days straight, we were shelled and bombed,” Vickrey said. “It was very stressful. Also, a lieutenant from the 2nd Armored Division informed us that we were no longer members of the Signal Corps. He told us we were in the infantry now. We were assigned to cover a ridge and you could see the Germans over on another ridge, but they never came near us.” Once the Nazis depleted much of their forces, the handwriting was on the wall, but dogface soldiers such as Vickrey could not see it at the time. When the end finally came — on May 8, 1945. By that time, Vickrey was in Czechoslovakia (which the Germans had occupied in 1938). “There was celebrations in the streets, and the people were just crazy with glee,” he said. But, like the citizens of Paris more than a year earlier, he described the American troops as more relieved than anything else. And while many troops in Europe were sent to the South Pacific (the war with the Empire of Japan would last until August), Vickrey spent his final months in Pilsen before being sent to Colorado and mustered out. “There were no celebrations for us at the time,” he remembered. “They just put us on and off the boat like so much cattle.” When he finally arrived home, he was greeted not by maddened and excited crowds, but by below-zero temperatures, which delayed his homecoming even more. “I then went back to work, married my sweetheart, Mary (raising four children), and basically forgot about what we just went through; just like most of the men I served with,” he confessed. Later, though, he said he was asked to speak about his experiences for several newspaper stories. “I guess when I look back, there were a lot of important things we went through. Things we did not realize were so vital at the time. It was 70 years ago, but it seems like it was yesterday; I remember it so well.” Mary added that while a wall was built to honor veterans of the Vietnam conflict, it has taken almost seven decades to memorialize those who literally saved the world. “It’s a shame that it has taken this long,” she said. “It’s about time that these vets were recognized.”
Idahoan saw horrors of war up close By Greg Eichelberger For the Journal Don Christensen was thrust into a world conflict and faced the fiercest of enemies several years before he could even vote. The Downey native who now calls Pocatello home was just 18 years old when he received his draft notice in 1944. “The letter read that I was recommended by my friends and neighbors, but I still haven’t found out who those rats were,” he said, laughing. It wasn’t that Christensen did not want to serve his country, it was that he still had a few more years of living to do before he wanted to. After all, the average age of the combat soldier in World War II was 26, and he was, well, a lot younger than that. But time, tide and Uncle Sam wait for no man, so he and hundreds like him were transported to Camp Roberts near Paso Robles, Calif., for basic Army infantry training. “Nothing really exciting happened there,” he recalled. “Except that you had to watch out for tarantulas in that desert.” After leave, he was sent to Paris, Texas, were he departed for Great Britain. He trained there for 17 weeks and was soon deposited into France, where the Allied invasion (D-Day) had taken place months before. “I thought that this was a heck of a way to run a war,” he said. “We on one side of a river, and the Germans were on the other. There was some kind of peace treaty, I guess, because none of us shot at each other — we just look at each other and waved.” That soon came to an end, however, and bullets and artillery shells filled the air. “All hell broke loose,” he said.
Don Christensen today and in 1946 with two French women. The U.S. troops chased the enemy into Belgium until Dec. 16, when the Nazis counterattacked. The event turned into the Battle of the Bulge, a major German campaign launched through the dense Ardennes Forest in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg toward the end of the war. The surprise attack caught the Allied forces completely off guard. “All I remember was that it was cold, we tried to hide, and they really surprised us,” said Christensen, who was a member of the 99th Infantry Division at the time. “They threw everything they had at us and, for a while, it was pretty scary, but it
just wasn’t enough,” he said. The U.S. troops soon regained the advantage when the weather cleared and forced the Germans to retreat into their own country. Christensen remembers being on the German-Belgium border when he heard the radio broadcast of their unconditional surrender on May 8. “We were tired, hungry and not in much of a celebratory mood,” he said. “We were just glad no one was shooting at us anymore.” By that time, he had seen more than his share of death and destruction. Still 18, he saw comrades killed in training and in battles. A good friend who was lying several
feet away died in a mortar attack, and he has no idea how many men he had to shoot during the heat of the conflict. “I don’t want to think about it,” he said. “You have a job, and you try to get them before they get you, but I just don’t want to think about it.” He did have one claim to fame, though, when he asked Gen. George Patton (commander of the U.S. Third Army) why he didn’t get out of his Jeep and walk with the regular soldiers for a bit. To Christensen’s complete surprise, “Old Blood and Guts” did just that, marching with the dogfaces and engaging them in friendly conversation. Having dodged quite a few bullets in Europe, Christensen dodged his biggest after V-E Day. “We were supposed to go Japan or some place in the South Pacific, when our ship lost a prop(eller),” he said. “Another boat came and fixed it, but then they just turned around and took us home. By the time new orders came in, the war there was over, too. That was an amazing stroke of luck.” Mustered out in Salt Lake City in 1946, he returned to Idaho where he began a career as a truck driver and then construction. He married his wife, Dorothy, (who passed away three years ago) and raised two children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. “That was 70 years ago, but many times it seems like just yesterday,” he said. “I wouldn’t go back there for all the money in the world, but I also would not trade that experience for a million dollars. It’s something we did because we had to do it, and we just didn’t ask any questions. We don’t talk a lot about it, and there isn’t a whole lot of us left.” No wonder they call Christensen and his kind the “Greatest Generation.” C M Y
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Henderson recalls wild VE Day celebration By Michael H. O’Donnell email@example.com POCATELLO — Boyd Henderson remembers the day the war with Germany ended as if it were yesterday. He was a major in the U.S. Army and in Austria when the news broke on May 8, 1945. “It was broadcast all over,” Henderson said about Victory in Europe or VE Day. “Everyone was so happy it was over.” American troops began celebrating almost immediately. “Too many of them got drunk,” Henderson said. A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Henderson didn’t celebrate with alcohol, and he recalls Army headquarters actually sent out a notice about two days after VE Day telling soldiers to lay off the booze. The war had been a long endeavor for the 96-year-old veteran. He earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for wartime action that began in North Africa and ended on the border of Germany. When U.S. troops liberated Italy, Henderson remembers standing 30 feet from Pope Pious XII during the Pope’s thank you speech to American troops in Vatican City. He was personally chewed out by Gen. George S. Patton for not wearing a tie in the African desert and once crawled though a minefield to rescue a wounded soldier. He suffered shrapnel wounds in his back but after a brief stint in an Army hospital ended up back in the fight. Henderson now lives in the Veterans Home in Pocatello, and he said he’s one of only four World War II veterans at the nursing fa-
cility. “There’s very few of us left,” Henderson said. Boyd joined the U.S. Army with is twin brother, Ralph, and the two of them were in the same unit. That changed when they reached North Africa, and the military split the two brothers into different units. Boyd was placed with a unit of tank destroyers. Boyd said he only saw his brother twice for the remainder of the war. But just because Germany surrendered, the danger wasn’t over for Boyd. As a major in charge of a convoy, Henderson was transporting American equipment back and forth through Russiancontrolled portions of Germany when he was taken prisoner by the Russians. “I was at a checkpoint with a truck, and this Russian soldier looked at my pass and then motioned for me to get out of the truck,” Henderson said. “I kept showing him the pass, but he took his machine gun off his shoulder and pointed it at me.” At a Russian checkpoint, Henderson was taken from his truck and moved to an abandoned building with four stories and locked in a room. “I was interrogated for five days and accused of spying on Russia,” Henderson said. “I was about to lose my mind.” Eventually the Russians let him go, and it put him on a fast-track back to America. He said he remembers how happy he was to see his wife and baby boy when his troop train arrived in Salt Lake City. “I couldn’t wait to get home,” Henderson said. But the memories of the war still haunt the former major.
Photos by Michael O’Donnell/Idaho State Journal
Pocatello’s Boyd Henderson can still wear his WWII uniform from when he was a major in the U.S. Army. “I get teary-eyed when I think of some of the men we lost,” Henderson said. The man he remembers the most was a young sergeant and good friend who was killed by a German machine-gunner while they were on patrol. “He fell across my legs and knocked me to the ground,” Henderson said about his fallen comrade as tears filled his eyes. “He lives with me today.” At right: Boyd Henderson “liberated” this Nazi flag that was flying outside a post office in Rome, Italy, during WWII. He also scooped up a German helmet.
POW in WWII said German guards just left one day By Michael H. O’Donnell firstname.lastname@example.org POCATELLO — Vernon Byington, who had spent a winter in a German POW camp, knew something was up on May 8, 1945, because all the guards were gone. “We had heard artillery in the distance, but when we woke up that morning, they (the German guards) we just not there,” Byington said. Pvt. Byington and some other American soldiers walked out of their camp and found some bicycles. “We just biked around the German countryside until we came upon an American convoy a couple of days later,” Henderson said. That’s when he got the official news that the war was over. Byington had been drafted and saw his first wartime duty in Italy after completing training in Oregon. He still remembers the drudgery of hiking in the desert sand of eastern Oregon. “That was terrible and it didn’t do us a bit of good,” Byington said from his room at the Pocatello Veterans Home. Of course the practice marching in deep sand did have some benefits. “We walked our way all the way up through Italy,” Byington said. The young soldier was responsible for the
Vernon Byington, World War II and today Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR, in his squad and he had to use it to stop sniper attacks several times. “If we took sniper fire, I’d spray the whole area and we’d move on,” Byington said. The veteran said he never went to check for bodies, but was satisfied as long as the sniper fire stopped.
For his actions in battle, Byington has two Silver Stars and a Purple Heart for being wounded by shrapnel from a mortar shell. “I got wounded, but I stayed and just kept going,” Byington said. One memory that really stands out is the great gardens the troops found as they moved
their way through Italy. “They had the sweetest watermelons,” Byington said. His involvement in the war took a bad turn after Byington and a small force had secured a town in Italy. “The company said they would be behind us, but they didn’t show up,” he recalled. When the Germans launched a counterattack, Byington and some young recruits were taken prisoner. They were eventually taken to cattle cars on a train and hauled to Germany. “We spent three days and two nights in those box cars,” Byington said, adding they were fed one piece of bread and some thin soup each day. Before he left the POW camp where he lived from October of 1944 until May of 1945, Byington had lost 40 pounds. Just before the war ended, he said U.S. prisoners were being used to help farm nearby land and Germans would smuggle the Americans fresh loaves of bread. “I’ve never had anything better than that German bread,” he said. After the war ended, Byington came home to Downey, where he had graduated from high school. “All I wanted to do was get back home,” Byington said. “But sometimes I wonder if I should have just rejoined the army.”
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Tribune Continued from Page 1
her daughter’s voice in a radio transcription made on the Comfort after she reached port,” the story said. “Lt. Bacheler described her experience when the plane exploded in the ship’s surgeries (operating area). She was blown into the air and onto the stirrups holding the patient to whom she was giving an anesthetic. The patient was killed.” The story concluded by sharing what the Army nurse told her daughter at the end of the radio communication. “All well and fit. Please don’t
worry. All my love, Evelyn,” the last paragraph read. Inside the newspaper there was a section called “Around Town.” Here are some of the events that made print. Officers of the First Presbyterian Church were installed. Two children were born Sunday at General Hospital and St. Anthony’s Hospital. They were a son to Mr. and Mrs. John Bernstein and a daughter to Mr. and Mrs. John Richardson. The Gem Valley Fair Association filed articles of incorporation with the county clerk and a marriage license was granted to Verl Bair, 26, of Burley, and Madge Harris, 20, of Pocatello. There was also some bad news in the Around Town section.
Police reported that a coupe belonging to Virginia Deaton had been stolen on South Fourth Avenue and Orville Lowe had reported tools stolen from his garage on North Fifth Avenue. Elvin Gottifredson was charged with operating an Idaho Egg Producers truck at speeds up to 35 miles per hour on North Fifth Avenue. There were also a number of advertisements in the newspaper that give some perspective about prices back in 1945. Safeway had the main grocery store ad. Red snapper fillets were going for 47 cents a pound. Lamb chops were 40 cents a pound and sliced, “unblemished” cow’s liver was 35 cents a pound. Pint jars made by Kerr were
going for 59 cents a dozen and asparagus was on sale for 13 cents a pound. Kraft macaroni and cheese was being sold for 9 cents a package, and milk was 24 cents for a two-quarter bottle. With Mother’s Day coming up, the newspaper also had advertisements from Fargo-Wilson-Wells, Montgomery Ward, Molinelli’s Jewelers and The People Store trying to coax family members to buy gifts for mothers from them. Montgomery Ward was selling rayon twill slacks for $3.98. One of the most compelling pieces featured in the May 7, 1945, newspaper was a front page message from the Associated Press titled, “If the Dead Could Speak.”
Here’s what a portion of it said: “I wish I could join you in this celebration. I wish I could fall down on my knees, as many of you are doing, and thank God that it’s over in Germany — at least the worst of it. Yes, I’d like too throw my hat in the air, like the rest of you, and drink a victory toast, and sing in the streets that this is V-E Day. “But I can’t because I’m not there with you. Oh, don’t stop what you’re doing. I never was a killjoy, and believe me, I’d join you if I could. You’re entitled to a little time out after the first half — or the first quarter, if it turns out to be that. I’m afraid I won’t be around for the rest of the war. You’ll have to win it without me ... without quite a few thousand of us.”
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