Staff Sargent Thaubald – the War Years

Written By: Ted B Markley

Nostalgia is a natural reflex. Certainly there is much for the Crane Military Complex to be proud of in its muted 75th Anniversary celebration. Recently published, The World War II History of NAD Crane[1] by Tony Haag and Peggy Julian portrays much to admire. It portrays rural Hoosiers mentored by military experts striving to create a national defense treasure. Selfless service and anxiety for the nation were obvious throughout the account.

Seventy-five years ago the United States was not at war, but it was getting ready. Preparation extended well beyond the nascent industrial base reflected in the construction of an ammunition production facility in southern Indiana. It included the largest mobilization of military force in the nation’s history. During World War II, 16.1 million citizens served in uniform[2]. The following is an account on one Mid-Westerner’s service reconstructed from public records, private papers/photos, and family interviews. Until recently even the family of Staff Sargent Thaubald was not aware of the extent of his service.

George Harris Thaubald was borne on 14 January 1919 in Norwood, Ohio a suburb of Cincinnati. Being 21 years of age in the fall of 1940, he was required to sign-up for the draft. It was the first ever peacetime conscription in United States history. When the 01 October deadline for Selective Service registration rolled around, George enlisted with the 107th Cavalry Regiment (Horse/Mechanized), Ohio National Guard[3]. One can only speculate on George’s decision to enlist. He had to be aware that beginning August 1940 guard units were being called-up for twelve months of active service in war preparation.

1

Pvt. Thaubald Louisiana Maneuvers Summer 1941

Booted and spurred, the 107th Cavalry was activated on 05 March 1941 at their home stations. In Cincinnati, 350 guardsmen were “Federalized” at the Reading Road Armory (formerly the Cincinnati Riding Club). Meanwhile 810 guardsmen across Ohio at Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, and Ravenna were mustered into Federal service.[4] The “Cavalry” was in transition. Not only was their command structure being changed, they were about to experience a technological tsunami. On 15 March the troopers caught the evening train from Union Terminal. Accompanied by only 54 horses, company grade officers assured reporters that they would receive their full complement of mounts when they arrived at Camp Forrester, Tennessee.

Located at Tullahoma, Tennessee, Camp Forrester[5] was one of numerous training camps that popped up in preparation for the coming conflict.   While the 107th Cavalry was at Camp Forrester, they did not receive any additional horses. On 28 March, The Cincinnati Times Star reported that the unit had been fully mechanized and received the full complement of M-8 Scout Cars. Officers who were previously anticipating additional animals were reflecting on “horse soldiers” having to learn mechanical maintenance. Private Thaubald who had reported his civilian occupation as auto mechanic must have been right at home.

Evolution of Mechanized Warfare

The 107th Cavalry left Camp Forrester on the 10th of May for a series of maneuvers to test their newly acquired equipment. The maneuvers revolutionized the way the U.S. Army fought. They created a force capable of defeating blitzkrieg tactics.  Prior to computerized war games, most theories on tactics, techniques, and procedures had to be tested by massive amounts of troops in the field with mock battles between red and blue forces. The maneuvers in Tennessee, Louisiana, and the Carolinas played out from spring to late fall 1941.

Tennessee Maneuvers –Conducted late spring 1941 in middle Tennessee, then Major General George S. Patton conducted maneuvers with the 2nd Armored Division. During this field exercise, the Army validated that large armored forces could be successful using the cavalry tactics similar to former Confederate Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Louisiana Maneuvers – Conducted late summer 1941 around Northern and Western-Central Louisiana, including Fort Polk, Camp Claiborne and Camp Livingston. The exercises, which involved some 400,000 troops, were designed to evaluate U.S. Army training, logistics, doctrine, and commanders. Many Army officers present at the maneuvers later rose to very senior roles in World War II, including Omar Bradley, Mark Clark, Dwight Eisenhower, Walter Krueger, Lesley McNair, Joseph Stilwell, and George Patton.

Carolina Maneuvers – Conducted late fall 1941 around southern North Carolina and northern South Carolina. The exercises involved approximately 350,000 troops and were designed to evaluate the Army’s training, logistics, doctrine and commanders.

Desert Warfare Maneuvers

Sargent Thaubald and the 107th were still on active duty when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The cavalrymen were most likely assigned to Fort Ord, California. From their new home, the 107th conducted patrols of the coast from the Golden Gate to Carmel. As the fear of a Japanese attack on California subsided, the unit was relieved of its patrolling duties on 06 March 1942. The 107th was reassigned to desert training in preparation for operations in North Africa. It was during this phase that the unit became completely mechanized.

2

05 June 1942

During a pause in the maneuvers and training, Sargent Thaubald took some time off for unfinished personal business. On 05 June 1942, Sargent Thaubald married his pre-war sweetheart and lifelong companion, June L. Kumler. June moved to California and worked in the state’s booming wartime economy

By August 1942, Sargent Thaubald and the 107th were at the Desert Training Center (DTC) in the Mojave Desert preparing for combat in North Africa.[6]  Major General Patton was the first commanding officer of Camp Young and the DTC. In preparation for a North African campaign, he needed training areas within the desert that would be suitable for the large-scale maneuvers necessary to prepare American soldiers for combat against the German Afrika Korps.

Based on personal photos and notes, Sargent Thaubald, June and friends took some time off in October 1942 in Carmel. It may be speculated that this was a little time to blow off steam before and expected overseas deployment to North Africa. Orders for the deployment never came. The invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch) on 06-16 November 1942 and the successful sorting out of expeditionary command issues eliminated the need for follow-on troops in North Africa.

Amphibious Warfare

In the closing months of 1942 and the beginning of 1943 three events took place that are unusual. First Sargent Thaubald was promoted to Staff Sergeant, which was well deserved. Second, he and June return to Ohio on furlough, which suggests some anticipated deployment. Finally and most unique, Staff Sergeant Thaubald was assigned to the Kiska Taskforce.

Kiska and Attu are two islands in the Aleutian Islands. Both were captured by the Japanese in June of 1942. The Japanese attack in the Aleutians was a feint to distract Admiral Nimitz (Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas) from the impending battle of Midway. The 7th Infantry Division had been repurposed by the Army as specialists in amphibious warfare rather than desert warfare. So they were tasked with recapturing the two islands. Elements of the 7th Infantry Division captured Attu in May 1943.

An explanation for the newly minted Staff Sargent being reassigned to the Kiska Taskforce was he was at Fort Ord and the 107th Cavalry was without a mission. From existing records, it is unclear how long he was assigned to the Kiska taskforce. According to private and official papers he was in route to Kiska by 11 July 1943.

Opposed amphibious landings were some of the most complex military operations of World War II. The Marine Corps and Navy had focused a good deal of attention on amphibious warfare in the interwar years much as the Army had focused on mechanized warfare. Operations in the Aleutians were the things of soldiers nightmares. Close to the Article Circle, the weather is persistently awful. The beaches are narrow and rocky with erratic sea states.   Based on the re-capture of Attu (12MAY43), the Kiska Taskforce was faced with a fanatical, suicidal enemy.

Having learned bitter lessons at Attu, American commanders made certain that their soldiers had better equipment and proper clothing for the assault on Kiska, code-named Operation Cottage, where they expected to encounter several times as many Japanese troops as they’d faced on Attu. However, when U.S. ships arrived at Kiska on August 15, 1943, the weather was strangely clear and the seas quiet, and the approximately 35,000 soldiers landed unopposed. Then, after several days of scouring the island, they discovered that the Japanese had evacuated the entire garrison several weeks earlier, under cover of fog. On August 24, when U.S. troops declared Kiska Island secure, the Battle of the Aleutian Islands ended.[7]

3

Pvt. Thaubald Louisiana Maneuvers Summer 1941

Judging from documents[8] and a battlefield retrieved weapon[9], Sargent Thaubald must have been assigned to some type of reconnaissance or intelligence function, but with the withdrawal of enemy forces that requirement was substantially reduced. Most probably Sargent Thaubald was caught up in occupation activities at Kiska. As the Signals Corps photo reflects he was maintaining his military bearing with a field expedient haircut. Irrespective he was back at Fort Ord by mid-December 1943 when he was reassigned to the 32nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron at Camp Maxey, Texas.

Back to the Cavalry

Camp Maxey was a training camp that sprouted during World War II near Paris, Texas about 100 miles northeast of Dallas. It was at Camp Maxey where Sargent Thaubald learned his trade as a Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron trooper. Reconnaissance tactics, techniques, unit organization and equipment were in a constant state of evolution during World War II, as the changing nature of war brought new concepts and missions to the recon units.

4

SGT John Catancse and M8 Scout Car August 1944

A great deal of emphasis in training was placed on avoiding contact, and not becoming decisively engaged. The purpose of reconnaissance units was to observe and report; if they were bogged down and slugging it out with enemy outposts or rearguards, they were wasting time and failing to accomplish their mission. They were the eyes and ears of the main force; if at all possible they were to report and bypass any light resistance, and locate the main enemy force or defenses.[10]

During the time at Camp Maxey, the 32nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron along with the 18th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron were folded into the 14th Cavalry Group. Sargent Thaubald was a noncommissioned officer in Troop B of the 32nd.

With nearly seven months training in Texas completed the 32nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron moved out to an embarkation camp near New York Port of Embarkation in July and August 1944. Camp Shanks in Orangeburg, New York is the probable Embarkation Camp where the 32nd stayed until they departed for Europe on 28 August 1944. The close proximity of Camp Shanks to New York City gave the soldiers of the 32nd an opportunity to see the bright light before shipping out. During this time, June and Sargent Thaubald had some time together at Coney Island.

Unfortunately, there are no longer any “official records” of ships carrying troops to and from their theaters of operation during World War II. “According to U.S. National Archive records, the Department of the Army intentionally destroyed all passenger lists, manifests, logs of vessels, and troop movement files for the United States Army Transports for World War II.”[11] Irrespective, based on the departure and arrival dates, it appears the 32nd sailed on the Queen Elizabeth and arrived at the Firth of Clyde, Glasgow Scotland on the 2nd or 3rd of September 1944. Lieutenant Colonel Paul A. Ridge was placed in command of the 32nd while it was in the United Kingdom.

The 32nd disembarked across Omaha Beach on 27 September 1944. They were committed to combat operations in support of the 83rd Infantry Division nearly a month later (24 October 1944) in the vicinity of Basse-Kontz, France. A new Executive Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Augustine “Patsy” Dugan, arrived in early November while the 32nd engaged in the vicinity of Our River in Luxemburg. Sargent Thaubald was wounded in his right wrist by and anti-personnel mine, 24 November 1944[12]. He returned to duty with the 32nd, 04 December 1944, which was supporting the 106th Infantry Division. On 15 December 1944, the 32nd shifted its operations to the Ardennes, a heavily wooded area near the German border. Sargent Thaubald’s unit, B Troop was in the vicinity of Andler, Belgium.

Battle of the Bulge

Spearheaded by the 18th Volksgrenadiers Division and 3rd Parachute Division and backed up by twenty-eight additional divisions, the German Army launched a winter offensive through the Ardennes on 16 December 1944. The 32nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron and the 106th Infantry Division[13] bore the brunt of the attack during the early hours of the Battle of the Bulge. The US 106th Infantry division was encircled in the opening hours of the attack, leaving two out of three soldiers killed or captured[14]. Weather was the unexpected accomplice to the German offensive; it was the coldest European winter on record. The entire front collapsed and the German Army advanced approximately 60 miles.

Troop B, and probably Sargent Thaubald, was ordered to a static reconnaissance position on the road between Andler, Belgium and Wischeid, Germany midmorning of 16 December 1944. During the early morning hours of 17 December 1944, Troop B was attacked and surrounded. Being in a static position had denied the Troop one of its tactical assets, mobility. During the ensuing firefights, Sargent Thaubald was wounded by a piece of shrapnel in his right thigh[15] and was subsequently captured. The Sargent was one of between 4,000 and 7,000 U.S. soldiers captured during the opening phase of the Battle of the Bulge. Some estimate as many as 23,000 U.S. Soldiers were captured during the battle (16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945).

Prisoner of War

Following Sargent Thaubald’s capture, June received three notifications. First she received a telegram in late January 1945 from the War Department notifying her Sargent Thaubald was missing in action. Later she received a telegram from the War Department the Sargent Thaubald had been captured. Finally she received a German postcard notifying her of Sargent Thaubald’s address at Stalag XIII-D. While recounting his POW experience in 1988, Sargent Thaubald reported that he did receive news from home but only rarely.

By the winter of 1944-45, Germany had nearly 100 POW internment sites and housed 93,941 American POWs.[16] Life as a POW was difficult, often boring, uncertain and deprived. After nearly five years of continues war Germany was challenged to care for its own population. Prisoners of war were a burden to an already strapped economy.

Sargent Thaubald told Veterans Administration officials that he had taken care of his own medical issues and food during incarceration was sparse. Main staples in his diet were broth, bread, and occasionally beans or potatoes. While in captivity he was assigned to work details including maintenance on the POW compounds and loading and unloading boxcars. When Sargent Thaubald was captured he weighed 160 pounds, when he was repatriated (after 4½ months) he weighed approximately 80 pounds.

Sargent Thaubald’s POW experience is a murky odyssey. Following capture in the Ardennes, most prisoners were marched to Germany prior to boarding trains to their internment location. The first stop was Stalag XIII-C, at Hammelburg, Bavaria. While in route to this Stalag, Sargent Thaubald tells of his POW train being halted one very cold night on a strategic bridge over the Rhine River which was under attack. As the Allies moved in from the west, Germany continued to move the prisoners further south and east.

Stalag XIII-C, Hammelburg was liberated by the 14th Armored Division on 06 April 1945, but not before Sargent Thaubald was moved by train to Stalag XIII-D, Nuremberg, Bavaria. The Nuremberg facility was also evacuated on 16 April 1945 with the prisoners moving to Stalag VII-A, Moosberg, Bavaria with the 14th Armored Division in hot pursuit. Finally Sargent Thaubald’s odyssey ended with the liberation of Moosberg on 29 April 1945.

It is not clear how Sargent Thaubald got back stateside. He departed Europe Theater of Operation on 18 May 1945 and arrived stateside on 05 June 1945. Based on troopship movements, it is likely he embarked on the U.S.S Mormac Moon at Le Havre, France and arrived back in the states at Newport News, Virginia. It is highly probable that he spend the next two month convalescing at Wakeman General Hospital at Camp Atterbury.  Wakeman was the largest Convalescent Hospital in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was discharged from medical care on 21 July 1945.

Waning Days of War

According to Sargent Thaubald’s family, he and June spent the late summer days of 1945 getting reacquainted and further recuperation. Meanwhile, the Army did not discharge the Sargent. With the war raging on in the Pacific, the allies were preparing for the final assault on Japanese home islands. Operation Downfall was to commence in November 1945 and end sometime in 1947. Based on Japan’s fanatical resistance in the Pacific and particularly Okinawa, military planners predicted the United States would suffer a million casualties in Operation Downfall. The Army needed all the talent it could retain.

On 06 August 1945, the 509th Composite Group, U.S. Army Air Corps dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and flew the second mission on Nagasaki 09 August 1945. The following day, 10 August 1945, Japan notified the Allies that they would accept the unconditional surrender requirements of the Potsdam Declaration. Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender to his subjects on 15 August 1945. Paradoxically, the Soviet Union finally declared war on Japan the same day.

5After 4 years, 11 months, and 2 days of service to his country the Sargent Thaubald was Honorably Discharged at Camp Atterbury on 02 September 1945. Poetically, it was the same day of the surrender ceremony orchestrated by General MacArthur in Tokyo Bay. Staff Sargent George H. Thaubald earned the following medals during his time in the U.S. Army: Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster (indicating two wounds); Prisoner of War Medal; Army Good Conduct Medal (indicating 3 years of good conduct); American Campaign Medal (for service in the continental United States); Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one Campaign Star (Kiska campaign); European, Africa, Middle East Campaign Medal with two Campaign Stars (Rhineland and Ardennes campaigns) and World War II Victory Medal.

After the War

As with millions of others who served during World War II George eagerly returned to civilian life determined to make up for time lost. He and his bride returned to Cincinnati and settled-in. Expanding on his mechanical abilities he became an entrepreneur, owning several SOHIO Service Stations in Ohio. Later, he reminisced that he taken had only one month off between the time of his discharge and his post-war career. The couple had two daughters. They treasured their family life and grandson. He and June happily continued with their life together until age and illness robbed them of their temperament. George passed away on 10 January 2003 and his life mate joined him on 29 September 2006. Indeed, reflections of times past are tinged with nostalgia. Irrespective, is there and question why this was known as the “Greatest Generation?”

“We have shared the incommunicable experience of war, we have felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top. In our youth our hearts were touched with fire.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Footnotes:

[1] Julian, Margaret “Peggy” and Anthony “Tony” Haag. The World War II History of NAD Crane: From Wilderness to the Navy’s Most Productive Naval Ammunition Depot. December, 2015. Blurb.com, San Francisco, CA. http://www.blurb.com/b/6856367-the-world-war-ii-history-of-nad-crane

[2] “By the Numbers: the US Military,” The National WWII Museum, New Orleans.   Retrieved: 19MAY16 http://www.nationalww2museum.org/learn/education/for-students/ww2-history/ww2-by-the-numbers/us-military.html

[3] The 107th Cavalry Regiment (Horse/Mechanized), Ohio National was a decedent organization of the 1st Ohio Volunteer Cavalry. Captain Edgar Garfield Oberlin, the first Commanding Officer of NAD Burn City/Crane, was an enlisted soldier in the 1st Ohio Volunteer Cavalry during the Spanish American War.

[4] 05 March 1940, The Cincinnati Times-Star.

[5] The US Air Force Arnold Engineering Development Center not occupies what was Camp Forrester.

[6] Family scrapbook photos.

[7] “Battle of the Aleutian Islands,” History.com. Retrieved: 22MAY16 http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/battle-of-the-aleutian-islands

[8] Translation of a Japanese Doctor’s Diary of the defense of Attu

[9] Arisaka Type 2 Paratrooper Rifle

[10] Rottman, Gordon L., World War II U.S. Cavalry Groups: European Theater. Osprey Publishing Ltd., Oxford, United Kingdom, 2012.

[11] World War Troop Ships, 1944 Troop Ship Crossings, retrieved 16 August 2016: http://www.ww2troopships.com/crossings/1944b.htm

[12] Department of Veterans Affairs, St. Petersburg Regional Office, Rating Decision for G H Thaubald, file number 08 570 585, dtd, 03/23/2000

[13] The 106th Infantry Division was the last Division trained at Camp Atterbury during WWII and only recently arrived in theater.

[14] Noted Hoosier author, Kurt Vonnegut, was among the members of the 106th Infantry Division who were captured at the Battle of the Bulge.

[15] According to Veterans Administration documents Sargent Thaubald removed the piece of shrapnel and bandaged it himself. It healed while he was a POW.

[16] Guests of the Third Reich: American POWs in Europe, retrieved 17 August 2016: http://www.guestsofthethirdreich.org/home/

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