Journal-News , Wednesday, July 3, 2002
Sgt. Herndon found some humor amid World War II’s violence
By Jim Blount
Humor sometimes interrupted the horror of World War II, as Sgt. Doug Herndon discovered during the Allied breakout from the Normandy beachhead in July 1944. The Hamilton solider said the light incident began as he helped man a machine gun at the corner of a hedgerow.
"We saw a white flag about 150 yards away and two Germans walking toward us. One was carrying a brief case. We had been issued invasion money in England, and told that French francs would be worthless," Herndon said. "That [German] brief case was filled with francs, and we divided the contents 22 ways" -- 20 men in the platoon, plus two medics.
"Some guys -- believing the money was worthless -- were lighting cigarettes with it, or using it as toilet paper," Herndon said. "But after the St. Lo breakout, we were able to buy wine and food. One guy even bought a cow with the money. I wanted eggs, bacon and bread, and I told a French farmer. He could supply them and I paid him with that money, but I didn’t know how much I was paying. I remember that Frenchman grinning from ear to ear after I paid him."
"About 45 days later, we were paid -- with the same kind of francs we had," Herndon said. "Later, I still had $438 worth of francs that I was able to send home to my wife."
After the breakout, Sgt. Herndon earned a Silver Star in action near Douchy and Montargis in August, and a second citation, a bronze oak leaf cluster to the Silver Star, in fighting near Durstel in November. Dec. 8, 1944, the Fourth Armored Division was ordered to the rear for rest, refitting and reorganization after almost five months of combat.
But the respite was brief because Adolph Hitler ordered a massive counter offensive through the Ardennes. The Battle of the Bulge (Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 28, 1945) pitted about 600,000 Germans against almost 500,000 Americans and 55,000 British. Casualties numbered more than 82,400 Allies and 100,000 Germans before the attack was reversed.
Both sides coveted Bastogne, a key road junction in Belgium. The U. S. 101st Airborne Division occupied the city before German units surrounded it. Relief for the 101st -- short of food and ammunition in the cold, snow and fog -- was entrusted to Gen. George S. Patton.
His Third Army wheeled 90 degrees to its left before making a dash north into Belgium. Herndon said "we were ordered back into Luxembourg toward Belgium" and "found pockets of GIs in wooded areas, cut off and lost."
As Patton moved toward Bastogne, Herndon earned a Bronze Star "for heroic action near Tintage, Belgium, Dec. 23, 1944. Thanks to a combat commission, he had been promoted from staff sergeant to second lieutenant as he led the second platoon of A Troop, 25th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, at the head of the Combat Command A column.
"On the main highway from Arion to Bastogne, Belgium," the citation explained, "the enemy had laid a hasty mine field that was seriously that was seriously retarding the progress of the column. The enemy covered the mine field with small arms and machine gun fire, yet the lieutenant and his men forged ahead."
"Lt. Herndon personally removed five Teller mines and carried them fully 100 yards from the main road, thus enabling the Combat Command A column to advance," the citation said.
"Getting rid of that mine field was my toughest job," Herndon said. "I was in the lead vehicle, pulling mines off the road with a grappling hook. An officer was screaming to get going, that we were too slow, taking too much time. I was so frustrated that I picked up the last two mines with my hands."
The German siege ended Dec. 26 when the Fourth linked with the 101st at Bastogne. Herndon said "the next day they assigned our platoon to the 101st with the mission of clearing the area of snipers."
Later, Major-Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, said "if we are ever in a tight spot again, it is our hope that the Fourth Armored Division will be sent out to get us out."
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Journal-News , Wednesday, July 10, 2002
Herndon: ‘I’ll never forget sight of those bodies’
By Jim Blount
The grisly sights and experiences of war were familiar to Doug Herndon by April 1945. The Hamilton soldier had been in the Fourth Armored Division for nearly four years and in combat almost nine months. But April 5, 1945, he witnessed a new horror of World War II.
It was Ohrdruf, the first concentration camp liberated by Americans. Herndon, in a recent interview, said "we had liberated some Polish prisoners earlier, and because we needed numbers, we picked up two Polish boys in our platoon. They had talked about concentration camps, but we didn’t understand exactly what they were" until seeing Ohrdruf.
The Fourth Armored Division had been told a concentration camp was in its path, "so we weren’t surprised," Herndon said. "They [the Germans] heard us coming, and the bodies were still smoking when we got there -- bodies 15 feet high."
"We weren’t there very long -- only about two to three hours -- but I’ll never forget the sight of those bodies," he said. American troops found more than 4,000 corpses. Most had been starved, clubbed or burned. Some had been shot as U. S. troops approached the forced labor camp. Ohrdruf, which had opened Nov. 6, 1944, had housed 10,000 prisoners.
The division -- including Herndon’s unit, the 25th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron -- spent the final month of the war in Germany, but not on a course toward Berlin. "We could have gone on to Berlin, no doubt about it," Herndon recalled. "Instead, we were ordered into Czechoslovakia, and we were about 50 miles from Prague when the war ended."
He said "the German 15th Army was between us and the Russians. They came into our lines in droves. They threw their guns into piles, happy to be within U. S. lines. Then we were told the Russians were coming for their prisoners." After some negotiations and verification, the Germans were turned over to the Russians.
In the interim, Herndon said, "the Russians were killing themselves" because "most of them didn’t know how to drive." He said the Russians "tried to drive German vehicles, including motorcycles. But they drove them recklessly -- into ditches and trees -- to their deaths."
When the Germans surrendered May 8, 1945, Herndon was a first lieutenant. During the Battle of the Bulge, he had earned a battlefield commission as second lieutenant, but didn’t hold that rank long. Thirteen days later he was a first lieutenant. "Some congressman complained that too many second lieutenants were being killed," Herndon said. "So General Patton put out an order -- all second lieutenants on the front line are now first lieutenants."
In the summer of 1945, Herndon returned to Hamilton and his wife of four years, the former Gladys Baldwin. But his military career wasn’t over. North Korea attacked South Korea June 25, 1950, and American forces were soon involved. He was recalled in December and sent to Korea as a tank platoon leader, although he had no training or experience in tanks.
"It was so different than Europe," Herndon said. "You fought for the high ground, and dug in and held it. The Chinese did the same thing. We fired at each other over a valley. You fired away until you destroyed them. Then you started firing at the next hill. By that time, they were digging in again on the first hill."
Herndon -- recipient of three battle honors during World War II -- earned his third Silver Star "for gallantry in action" with the 70th Tank Battalion, First Cavalry Division Oct. 9, 1951, near Mago-ri, Korea.
"As the friendly soldiers were attacking a heavily-fortified enemy-held hill, they were subjected to intense small arms, automatic weapons and artillery fire," the citation said. "Leading his platoon of tanks forward into the enemy lines with no infantry support, Lt. Herndon delivered such effective tank and machine gun fire on the hostile positions that they were greatly weakened and numerous casualties inflicted."
"Although he drew intense artillery and heavy mortar fire in his exposed position," the citiation said, "Lt. Herndon kept his tanks forward and continued to neutralize the Chinese positions, enabling the friendly troops to advance under his fire. Disregarding his personal safety, he materially aided in the success of the operation, inflicting numerous casualties on the enemy and greatly minimizing those of our own soldiers."
A truce ended the Korean War in July 1953 and a month later Herndon was out of the Army -- 12 years and three months after enlisting to "get my one year in the service over with."
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Journal-News , Wednesday, July 10, 2002
Hamilton passenger rail service in peril as Amtrak faces financial showdown
By Jim Blount
The future of railroad passenger service to Hamilton is in doubt again as Amtrak faces the most serious financial showdown of its 31-year life. The federal reform plan outlined last week by Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta creates doubt about the future of the Cardinal, the train serving Hamilton. The entire system, according to David Gunn, Amtrak president and CEO, could shut down in a few days without an emergency loan.
The government-backed system, formed in 1971, has included Hamilton service for almost 22 years on its Washington-Cincinnati-Chicago train.
The eastbound Cardinal (No. 50), according to the schedule, leaves Hamilton at 4:41 a.m. Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and completes the 625-mile trip to Washington at 7:45 p.m. No. 51 departs Hamilton at 12:55 a. m. Monday, Thursday and Saturday and reaches Chicago, 295 rail miles away, at 8:37 a.m. Coach fares from Hamilton are $59 to Chicago and $99 to Washington.
The government reforms proposed last week include market-driven service without federal operating subsidies, the possibility of "carefully managed" private competition and shifting more responsibility for Amtrak financing to the states served by the system.
Butler County had six daily passenger trains April 30, 1971 -- two stopping in Middletown on the former New York Central, and two each serving Hamilton on the Baltimore & Ohio and former Pennsylvania railroads. When Amtrak started operating the next day, May 1, there were none in the county. It would be nine years before service resumed.
Amtrak's initial Cincinnati-Chicago route was over a former New York Central line through Indiana, not the former PRR tracks through Hamilton, as local officials had hoped. In 1974, the train moved to the old Chesapeake & Ohio route through Shandon and Okeana in the southwestern corner of the county, but made no local stops.
In 1978, the Chessie System abandoned the C&O tracks from Cincinnati through Cheviot to near Fernald, forcing Amtrak to relocate the Cardinal to former B&O lines from Cincinnati through Hamilton and Oxford, and then over the C&O to Richmond, Ind.
After a two-year campaign by local officials, Amtrak added Hamilton service to its daily two-way service. The first Chicago-bound Cardinal stopped in Hamilton at 12:50 p.m. Aug. 3, 1980.
Amtrak canceled the Cardinal for about three months -- Oct. 1, 1981, to Jan. 8, 1982 -- because of budget problems and poor ridership. When the train resumed, it ran three times a week in each direction instead of daily.
The last route change was in April 1986 when Amtrak was forced off the Indiana C&O line through Richmond, Muncie, Marion, Peru and Gary. It switched to the former B&O tracks through Connersville and Rushville to Indianapolis.
Butler County's first railroad -- the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton -- had its ceremonial opening Sept. 18, 1851. By 1878, the CH&D was operating 35 daily passenger trains to and through Hamilton.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, July 17, 2002
Immigrants constant part of Hamilton history
By Jim Blount
The integration of Hispanics into Hamilton's economy and society is the latest challenge for the city and its citizens. Hamilton has attracted immigrants since the 1820s and 1830s, when German and Irish workers arrived to build canals and turnpikes, and stayed to labor in the local shops and mills that developed because of those transportation improvements.
Germans continued to come throughout the 1800s. Starting in the 1880s and 1890s and continuing into the 1920s, they were joined by Italians and Greeks and smaller groups from other European regions. In the 1970s, some Vietnamese families relocated here.
A variety of factors caused each nationality to leave its home land -- mostly political and economic upheavals. Some were refugees from wars, most recently the Vietnamese.
Butler County had 39,912 inhabitants in the 1870 census with 10.9 percent (4,366 people) reporting their place of birth as Germany, Austria or Bohemia. Most of them were residents of Hamilton. Other immigrant totals that year included 1,574 from Ireland; 529 from England, Wales and Scotland; 227 from France; 77 from British America (Canada); and 66 from Switzerland.
But not all identifiable groups moving into the area have been born outside the U. S. Starting in the 1890s, Appalachians and African-Americans from the South were recruited by local industries. Employment was the magnet. Employers realized that it was the brightest and most ambitious who left their roots.
They provided the work ethic that transformed Hamilton into an industrial powerhouse. In many cases, the newcomers were willing to accept the most difficult and the lowest paying entry level tasks to prove themselves. They took jobs others rejected or filled labor shortages.
In Middletown in 1900 -- before the city had a steel mill -- the African-American population was just 197 people. The American Rolling Mill Co. (later Armco and now AK Steel) opened in 1900, and by 1910 Middletown had a black population of 405. Armco relied on European immigrants until the start of World War I in 1914. An expanding Armco recruited African-American men in southern states, helping to swell the city's black population to 2,805 in the 1920 census.
By 1900, Hamilton's industrial work force was dominated by people of German and Kentucky origin or ancestry. It was described as a perfect labor combination for an industrial town. The Germans were highly regarded as craftsmen and for their attention to detail. The Kentuckians were known for mechanical skills and the willingness and ability to try to fix anything. It was often said that there were no hardware stores or repair shops in the hills of Kentucky; you had to learn how to keep things working.
Each group brought its culture, traditions and religion, and, in the case of those of foreign birth, their native language. For example, several Hamilton churches that now welcome a cross section of the community originally served either German or Appalachian congregations. Until World War I, German language was so common that Hamilton schools operated optional elementary schools where instruction was in that language.
The transitions haven't been without problems. Newcomers have encountered barriers, ranging from language problems to segregation and ethnic prejudices. In the 1830s, for example, newly-arrived Irish and Germans didn't always get along with each other.
By choice or social pressure, the city once had a range of neighborhoods where people shared a common culture and heritage. One was the area around North Third, North Second and Black streets, once known as "Little Italy."
Other Hamilton areas were dominated by Appalachians, African-Americans or families of German origin. Until about 1920, young people were expected to marry "their own" -- German Catholics to wed German Catholics and German Protestants to choose German Protestants as spouses.
Eventually, two world wars and a local disaster (the March 1913 flood) in the 20th century helped erase some of those imaginary social barriers and boundaries. Young men of all backgrounds were drafted for the armed services. On the home front, men and women of all races and national origins worked together in more than 125 Hamilton factories producing for the war effort. And, the flood -- which took about 300 lives here -- played no favorites based on ancestry.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, July 24, 2002
Where is Hamilton sculpture honoring Alexander Hamilton?
By Jim Blount
As the City of Sculpture, it seems fitting that Hamilton should have a statue of the founding father whose name was bestowed on the fort beside the Great Miami River in 1791 and later on the city that grew around that frontier military post.
Alexander Hamilton's accomplishment were many, too numerous to relate in detail in this column. He overcame a difficult childhood to become an outspoken critic of British rule of the colonies as a teenager, and in his 20s and 30s a stalwart in the American Revolution and the establishment of the United States government.
Hamilton was born out of wedlock in either 1755 or 1757 in the West Indies and was orphaned at about 11 years of age. In 1773, while a student at King's College (now Columbia University) in New York City, he began writing about political issues.
In 1775, he abandoned his education to form a volunteer company to fight the British. A year later, he rose to captain of an artillery unit that he led in campaigns in New York and New Jersey, including action at Trenton and Princeton.
His talent as a writer and his military success were noticed by Gen. George Washington. March 1, 1777, Hamilton was promoted to lieutenant colonel and appointed an aide-de-camp to the commander of the revolutionary army.
"As secretary and aide," wrote historian Allan Nevins, "Hamilton held a position of great responsibility, and his duties were by no means confined to giving literary assistance to Washington. He became a trusted adviser" until assuming command of a battalion in the summer of 1781. He won praise for his combat leadership in the climatic Battle of Yorktown.
Hamilton served in the Continental Congress (1782-83) and was instrumental in events leading to the convening of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. At that Philadelphia convention, he advocated creation of a strong central government. As the only New York delegate to sign the document, he was a major influence in the ratification of the Constitution. He collaborated with James Madison and John Jay in writing the Federalists papers that helped win support for the Constitution.
In 1789, when Washington became the first president under the Constitution, he chose Hamilton as secretary of the treasury. His prime mission was to stabilize the finances of the new government. During his tenure, Hamilton resumed his close friendship with Washington and became an important influence on his presidency.
As secretary of the treasury, Hamilton often clashed with another cabinet member, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton resigned in 1795 and resumed his law practice in New York. He never held office again, but didn't abandon politics and political wrangles.
An example was the 1800 presidential election, which was decided in the U. S. House of Representatives. Hamilton was a leader of the Federalist Party that dominated the House. In electoral votes, two Democratic-Republican candidates tied. They were Jefferson, a long time political enemy of Hamilton, and Aaron Burr, also a Hamilton political opponent. Hamilton's support of Jefferson was influential in the House vote that placed Jefferson in the White House.
Later, when Burr lost the New York governor's race, he blamed the setback on Hamilton and challenged him to a duel. July 11, 1804, in Weehawken, N. J., Burr's single shot felled Hamilton, who died the next day.
If Hamilton isn't revered as much as his contemporaries -- including Washington, Jefferson, Madison and John Adams -- it may be because of his often combative personality, according to Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers, The Revolutionary Generation.
"Once Hamilton encountered a major obstacle to the advancement of any cause in which he believed, he instinctively hurled himself onto the offensive, never looked back and waited for no stragglers. Whether the objective was a British parapet at Yorktown, the admirations of the legal and merchant elite in New York, or the ratification of the Constitution, Hamilton's pattern was the same: to unleash his formidable energies in great bursts of conspicuous productivity; imposing his own personality on events in an ostentatious, out-of-my-way style," said Ellis in his 2000 book that won a Pulitzer Prize.
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Journal-News , Wednesday, July 31, 2002
Frederick B. Rentschler advanced flight
By Jim Blount
Although his family has been prominent in Butler County business, industry and banking for more than a century, the exploits of Frederick Brant Rentschler are little known in his native area. He earned his place in the National Aviation Hall of Fame for aviation advances and contributions to national defense from World War I through the early years of the Cold War.
To students of flight development, he is as familiar as such better known pioneers as Wright, Boeing, Martin, Sikorsky, Curtiss, Vought and other contemporaries. Fame eluded Rentschler because he shunned daring stunts and didn't attach his name to a plane or the engines he perfected. His reputation was established backstage in drafting rooms, in shops and foundries and in board rooms -- not in a pilot's seat.
More familiar are some of the companies he formed or directed: United Airlines; Pratt &Whitney; Wright-Martin Corp.; Wright Aeronautical Corp.; United Aircraft Corp.; Hamilton Propeller Co.; Sikorsky, Chance Vought; and Hamilton Standard.
Although he wasn't involved in aviation until the age of 30, Rentschler earned the nickname "Horsepower" as a pioneer in development of the air-cooled engine, the helicopter and engines for jet bombers.
When inducted into the hall of fame in 1982, it was because he "was a pioneer in the development of reliable aircraft engines" and for "establishment of the first transcontinental airlines, helped manufacture the first practical helicopter and produced advance design propellers and other vital aircraft components."
He was born Nov. 8, 1887, in Hamilton, a son of George A. and Phoebe Schwab Rentschler. His brothers included Robert, who died while in college; Gordon, who became a prominent international banker; and George, who headed the General Machinery Corp. and Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton. His sister, Helen, married Sidney D. Waldon, also an aviation pioneer as well as an officer of GMC and B-L-H in Hamilton.
Frederick Rentschler was graduated from Hamilton High School and Princeton University before starting his business career in Hamilton in 1909. That year, he joined the family-owned Republic Motor Car Co. that built Republic cars from 1908 until 1914. When the auto company closed, he joined other family businesses, including work as a molder and machinist.
With American entry into World War I in 1917, he entered the U. S. Army, which utilized his industrial experience and knowledge of motors acquired while associated with the Republic. The 30-year-old first lieutenant was assigned to inspect the manufacture of European-designed aircraft engines in a Wright-Martin plant in New Brunswick, N. J.
The American company built Hispano-Suiza engines under a French license until the Nov. 11, 1918, armistice caused cancellation of the contract and the collapse of Wright-Martin.
It was Rentschler's introduction to aviation -- his career for the remaining 39 years of his life. "When we entered the war in 1917," he wrote later, U. S. "knowledge and experience in aviation was hopelessly behind that of any of the great powers." Rentschler said "the importance attached to aviation in World War I was badly overplayed as a factor for winning the war. It was spectacular, it greatly added to the morale of the fighting forces, but actually the types of ships and conditions made it a comparatively impotent weapon."
Those observations -- and Rentschler's determination to correct the U. S. aviation deficiencies -- ended his plan to return to Hamilton after completing his military service.
Instead, he founded the Wright Aeronautical Corp., starting with facilities formerly operated by Wright-Martin and some engineers once employed by the defunct company.
Rentschler accomplishments after 1919 will be covered in a future column.