Michelle Ann Kratts

Archive for the ‘Off to War’ Category

An American Soldier; the story of Private Jonathan Bowen

In LaSalle, Off to War on July 23, 2013 at 9:42 pm
Margaret, Jon and Brendan

Margaret, Jon and Brendan.  Jon is wearing his Purple Heart.

According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 16,112,566 individuals were members of the United States armed forces during World War II. In November 2012, it was estimated that approximately 1,462,809 American veterans from this war were still living. Most are in their 80’s and 90’s. This past week my son, Brendan, and I had the privilege of meeting with a veteran from World War II, Jonathan Bowen, and his wife, Margaret. Brendan has a great deal of interest in World War II and often surprises us with his knowledge of historical events of this period. He plans on joining the military one day himself. He was especially delighted to meet with Mr. Bowen and to hear what it was really like to be a private during World War II.

Jonathan Bowen 2

The back of this photograph reads simply:  Love Jonnie Bowen (1945, Germany)

Mr. Bowen, like my son, lived in the village of LaSalle, and attended local schools. In 1942, while a student at Niagara University, he received a notice to sign for a draft card for military service. This was just the beginning. For this notice would change his life. By April of 1943, he was officially inducted into the Army but was granted a continuation in order to allow him to finish his sophomore year of college. In June, he reported to Fort Niagara and trained for several weeks. Uniforms were issued at Fort Niagara. From there he was sent on a New York Central train to Camp Fannin, Texas, for 12 weeks of basic training. It was the middle of the night when he first arrived. The men slept on cots–some double decker. They were given their guns at Camp Fannin. They learned how to shoot and how to clean them. They marched. They crawled around on the ground while live rounds and grenades passed over their heads. They trained this way both in the day time and at night. They always carried their rifles. Training was rough for this boy from Niagara Falls. And hot. He especially recalls the stifling Texas heat and being thirsty all of the time.

Jonathan Bowen 1

Jonathan in his army uniform (possibly outside of his home in La Salle)

Scoring exceptionally well on the entrance tests for the military, Mr. Bowen was accepted into the Army’s Specialized Training Program (ASTP). Following basic training at Camp Fannin, he was sent to Philadelphia for eight weeks of study at the Drexel Institute of Technology. About five of the men were housed together at Hotel Philadelphia during this time period. Mr. Bowen remembers this as a pleasant experience—much more akin to how he had envisioned his life. He studied chemistry and physics. Unfortunately, the Drexel Institute of Technology was short lived. The war was at a critical crossroads and there was a great need for more troops. He was suddenly pulled from the training program and sent to another camp in Louisiana with the 84th Division, Company E, and then shipped off to the European Theater. Louisiana, during the summer, was also extremely hot and humid.

Following training in Louisiana, Jonathan went by troop train to New York and embarked on the sister ship to the luxury liner, Morrow Castle, to England. The ships filled with soldiers sailed in formation with convoy ships in the center, tankers next and destroyers on the outside. On the boat the men slept on hammocks. They landed in South Hampton, England, and stayed at Winchester Barracks, until they were summoned to Europe.

It was actually a beautiful Fall day when Jonathan and about 1,000 men landed upon Utah Beach. There was quite a bit of fighting ahead as many had come before them. He did not know what to expect however he was prepared for anything. They were sent on to Belgium where they lived in foxholes. There were no tents. Under constant shelling, his company (E Company) had three days on the frontlines, followed by two days of relief. It was during this time, about November of 1944, that Jonathan was wounded in an attack against the Germans. Not even realizing that he had been shot, another soldier noticed his foot was bleeding. He remembers that it had felt as if he had been hit with a stone. He was in the hospital tent for 7 to 10 days. Medics extracted the shrapnel from his left heel while buzz bombs whizzed overhead. After a brief recuperation, he was released and sent back to the 84th Infantry Division.

Jonathan 4

jonathan 5

Some Niagara Men wounded and missing listed in the Niagara Gazette. 

Back with his company, he was immediately loaded into a truck and brought to the front lines and to the Battle of the Bulge. Lodged in foxholes on a hillside, he and the other men suffered terrible hardship. As weather conditions deteriorated, the Germans had decided to advance. They awaited the Germans in their foxholes. He recalls a time that he was on patrol and he and his group had noticed a lone German tank. They were afraid it may have been booby-trapped. The men dispersed and were shot at as they left. Upon returning with armor piercing weapons, it was determined that there were no Germans in the tank, nor was it booby-trapped. It was merely abandoned.

Another incident took place where three Germans were taken prisoner. The Americans were going through a pass, in single file, all the while Germans shot at them. These Germans were overcome and taken as prisoners.

Life was not easy for the privates. The artillery was neverending. They were in constant fear for their lives. They stayed in the same foxholes for long periods. In the field the men went weeks without showers and “trench foot” was a real concern as their feet were always wet. They had only K-rations for food. They included cans of cheese, instant coffee, chocolate bars, lemonade. Jonathan saw the Army, and the war, as a job that he needed to get done. He chose not to make close friends. Perhaps, it frightened him to become close to anyone, as he had witnessed so much sadness and death. However, as strange as it sounds, Jonathan did run into a classmate while serving overseas. A private named, Nick Napolitano, was also with the 84th Division.

Jonathan and the guys

“Hunsinger, Ackman, Cowan, Rico, Epley…Jon Bowen and Friends, Europe”

Jon is standing on the far right with mess kit.

As the Germans continued to withdraw, Jonathan’s company moved forward. The Americans rented houses in Belgium. He shared a couple of rooms with four or five other privates. They slept anywhere there was space. Soon they found themselves in Hanover, Germany. They were told not to fraternize with the Germans. Their motto was always: “kill or be killed.” However, they did speak with the Germans. He had a friend who spoke German well and he learned to speak German, too. Although he found Germany pretty and filled with beautiful trees, it was also a mess of tanks, equipment and bombed out villages. They were never sure when the war actually ended. At one point, they had been told it was over, but were strafed by a couple of airplanes. Some men were even wounded and possibly killed.

When the war had officially ended, Jonathan was sent to Reims, France. He worked as an agent on the railroad and had a nice place to stay where a German POW cleaned the rooms. He and the other men walked daily to the train station waiting for word that they would be going home. He lived comfortably in Reims and was able to spend some time in Paris and London. It may be during this time that he was able to see President Truman and General Eisenhower in person. He remembers that the soldiers had all of their bullets taken from their rifles during the visit of these two very important men—just in case.

Eventually, Jonathan was sent by train to Le Havre. During the stormy season on the North Sea they boarded boats and embarked upon a 12-day trip to New York City. While in New York City, he saw his girlfriend, Eleanor (they had met at Drexel), and then finally returned to Niagara Falls. Margaret was at Buffalo State College when the war ended. They were friends for some time and actually wrote letters back and forth during the war.

Following the war, Jonathan was intent on being a civilian once again. He left the Army as soon as possible and although he refused to wear civilian clothes (and wore his uniform until it wore thin) he had a difficult time adjusting to home life. His parents thought he was “funny.” All of his friends were getting back into their life, or had chosen to stay in the Army for some time. His parents had hoped he would return immediately to school—but he just was not ready at the time. Eventually he did return to school under the GI Bill and he pursued the career in science that he had originally set out to pursue before the war ripped him away. He and Margaret were married and lived happily ever after. They have two children: Jonathan, Jr., and Glenn; four grandchildren: Heather, Melanie, Nathan and Joshua; and two great grandchildren: Chloe and Anastasia One of their grandsons, Joshua, is serving in the Army and has spent time in Afghanistan.Margaret

Jon and Margaret’s Engagement notice in the Niagara Falls Gazette

March 29, 1947

Mr. Bowen has left the war behind him for now. It was over 60 years ago that he was a young private landing on a beach in France. I think my son and I were startled at how much he does remember of that strange adventure in Europe. And he doesn’t recall it with sadness or regret. He knew he had a job to do and he followed through without complaint. And, yes, he was lucky enough to come home and to live a full life and to meet on a hot day in July in the library with another young boy from LaSalle.

One Union Soldier by Beverly Bidak

In Civil War, Family Scrapbook, Finding My Grandfather's War, Off to War on July 2, 2013 at 1:05 pm
Grave of Samuel McGee, courtesy Findagrave

Grave of Samuel McGee, courtesy Findagrave

When I started researching my husband’s and my family histories years ago, it was my intention to give my sons a look into their families past. To help them understand who they are and where they came from. While searching, I have learned that genealogy is not just about names, dates and places. It’s about people, our ancestors, our famlies and how they lived and left their mark.

With the help of a fellow researcher, I have uncovered the story of one interesting person from my past, my paternal great-grandfather. Samuel A. McGee was a third generation American of Scot-Irish descent. He was born on 9 April 1841 in Young Township, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. He was the third of eleven children born to Robert and Catherine (Graffius) McGee and raised on the family farm. He was a farmer and lumberman.

When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Samuel was 20 years old. He felt it was his duty to serve his country so he went to Pittsburg and enrolled in the Union Army on 3 September 1861. He was mustered in Company F of the 105th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers Infantry as a private on 9 September for a three-year term. The 105th was also known as the Wild Cat Regiment because the men were principally from the Congressional District popularly known as the Wild Cat District embracing the counties of Jefferson, Clarion and Clearfield. The regiment’s field officers were: Amor A. McKnight, Colonel; W.W. Corbett, Lieutenant Colonel; and M.M. Dick, Major. Captain Robert Kirk headed “F” Company.

The regiment was ordered to Washington in October of 1861 and assigned to the 1st Brigade, 1st Division III Corp. in Camp Jameson near Alexandria, Virginia. While in the winter camp, the regiment was carefully and rididly trained. Upon leaving the camp on 17 March 1862, the regiment took part in the siege at Yorktown and the battles of Williamsburg and Fair Oaks. After a month spent on picket duty, the 105th was again in action at Glensdale and Malvern Hill and, by the time it reached Harrison’s Landing, the ranks were so reduced by wounds and sickness that less than 100 men were fit for active duty. The 105th was at Fredericksburg, after which it spent the winter in camp near Brandy Station. In May 1863, the regiment was engaged at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Colonel McKnight and Captain were killed in that battle.

On 3 July 1863, the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Samuel A. McGee was wounded when a shell passed through his right thigh. He was treated at a field hospital and then transferred, as a private, to Company G, 11th Regiment, Veterans Reserve Corp (Invalid Corps) where he spent the remainder of his enlistment in the hospital until he was honorably discharged on 8 September 1864.

Samuel returned home and to farming. He married Mary Jane Crawford on 16 August 1866 in Suthersburgh, Pennsylvania. Mary Jane, a teacher, was born 8 March 1843 in Marchand, Indiana County, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Allen and Nancy (Brown) Crawford. The couple set up housekeeping in Bell Township, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania. Samuel and Mary Jane bred and raised five chidren: William Clay (born 21 November 1867), Olive Murtle (born 13 May 1870), Crawford Herbert (born 16 July 1873), Robert Earl (born 2 May 1875) my grandfather, and Alice Bertha (born 2 June 1877).

The war injury disabled Samuel but did not incapacitate him. He stood tall at 5 feet 11 inches although the right leg was a little shorter than the left; he limped and suffered soreness and pain as the years went on. He filed for and received a small disability pension, $2.00 a month, in 1876 and he continued to work his farm and raise his family.

Samuel lost his wife in 1903. In November of 1910 he was admitted to and resided in the National Soldiers’ Home in Elizabeth City Clounty, Virginia, a national home for disabled veteran soldiers. In September 1911, Samuel took a 90 day leave of absence from the home and returned to Mahaffey, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, where he died on 17 November 1911. Samuel A. McGee and Mary Jane (Crawford) McGee are both interred at the Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Clover Run, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.

Mrs. Palumbo Serves her Country

In Off to War, The Italians of Niagara Falls, New York on April 12, 2013 at 6:23 pm

When her husband went off to war, Mrs. Anthony Palumbo also served her country. She worked as a
guard at Carborundum on Buffalo Avenue in Niagara Falls, New York.

Amelita Ciambrone Palumbo

Amelita (Amy) Ciambrone Palumbo, guard for Carborundum Chemical Plant, Niagara Falls, New York, early 1940’s

Women Guards marching for a parade in Niagara Falls, New York, early 1940's

Women Guards marching for a parade in Niagara Falls, New York, early 1940’s



Photos Courtesy Patricia DiNieri

Letters from the Front

In Off to War, The Italians of Niagara Falls, New York on April 12, 2013 at 6:04 pm
Patricia Palumbo

Patricia Palumbo

Like many other little girls in Niagara Falls, the war in Europe was not so far from home for Patricia Palumbo.  Her father, Anthony Palumbo, was with the Service Battery, 116th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, US Forces, in the European Theater.

Here are some postcards from Germany from Private Anthony Palumbo to his daughter in Niagara Falls.

Click on the pictures for closer views.

Pockingpostcard backside 2

Postcard from Germany

Postcard backside









Photos Courtesy Patricia DiNieri

Anthony Palumbo, US Army

In Off to War, The Italians of Niagara Falls, New York on April 12, 2013 at 5:22 pm

Anthony Palumbo

Anthony Palumbo, of Niagara Falls, New York, was with the Service Battery of the 116th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, US Forces, European Theater.

Anthony Palumbo 2

Photos Courtesy Patricia DiNieri

When There is a Nazi in Your Family Tree

In Off to War, The Germans on January 31, 2013 at 3:11 am

My first cousin, two times removed, Hans Knuppel, and Rolf.
Berlin, 1940

My grandmother introduced me to genealogy at a very young age.  Just looking at her face I knew there was a string of people just like me–and that this string of people was endless.  I decided that I wanted to find each and every one of them.

My grandmother, Johanna Knuppel

My grandmother, Johanna Knuppel

The very last time I saw her she showed me scrapbooks filled with pictures of our family.  One photograph fascinated me more than the others. It was of a young man in a uniform.  I asked her about him and she explained that he was our cousin, Hans, from Germany.  He was wearing a German World War II era uniform.  I asked her if he was a Nazi.  She told me that, yes, our cousin was a Nazi.

It was a disturbing thing to encounter but I have learned since that time that the genealogist must follow one rule first:  do not judge.  It is inevitable that we will find all sorts of scoundrels in our family tree.    Our families are the history of the world.

My grandmother was a little upset by my anxiety over his picture.  But my trepidation was understandable.  I knew way too much about the Nazis and their work.  I had lived in Germany.  I had visited Dachau as a little girl.  I had seen the ovens.  But she was hurt that I had reacted this way.  To her, he was our cousin.  He was one of us.   And that was that.

I put all that away for some time until this Christmas.  My aunt gave me the picture of Hans.  So here he was, this Nazi officer, in my house.  What to do?  I thought.  I decided that I would put my emotions aside and be a good genealogist.  I would find out more about him.

But I hardly know anything at all about Hans. He is a complete stranger.  There is so much work to do.  And where to begin?

Luckily, there are some things that I do know.     His grandparents, Johann and Augusta Knuppel,  are my great great grandparents.  So forever backwards in that line of our family, we are the same.  Our family was from the Mecklenburg-VorPommern region of Germany.  This is the northernmost eastern section of Germany and part of what was known as Prussia.    I also know that Hans’s father was my great grandfather’s older brother, Albert Knuppel.  I wonder if he was named for his grandfather?   My great grandfather had been named for the same man, his father.

Augusta and Johann Knuppel

Augusta and Johann Knuppel, my great great grandparents

My great grandfather, also Hans Knuppel

My great grandfather, also Hans Knuppel

A most interesting breakthrough came to me only recently when my aunt Elaine found  a letter dated March 14, 1948, from my Uncle Albert to my grandmother, Johanna.   My friend, Nancy Deering, was kind enough to interpret it for me.  It brought me to tears.  So beautifully written, it was an attempt by my uncle to reestablish ties to his American family after a horrible and devastating war.  He had not seen my great grandfather, his brother (also Hans), since before 1914–because of another world war.  My great grandfather, a sailor on the Norddeutscher Lloyd lines, had found himself stranded in New Jersey when the First World War broke out.  He jumped ship and was never able to return to his homeland.  It had been a long time. But here, in this letter, my uncle sought to reestablish the family ties from across an ocean.

In beautiful German he wrote of how he so deeply missed his younger brother and how he wanted nothing more than to send his love to all of his American kin. 

“I send you all from the old home of your father the sincerest greetings and wishes for your well being…”

In one of the most interesting lines he goes on to tell of the tragedy of the war and its effect on his family.

“Because of the unfortunate and disastrous war, we lost our house and home and unfortunately also our dear son…”

Letter from Albert Knuppel to Johanna Knuppel Barthel, 1948

Letter from Albert Knuppel to Johanna Knuppel Barthel, 1948

Their dear son was Hans, the man in the photograph.  I can’t help but wonder what the circumstances of his death may have been.  In my opinion it looks like he is in the uniform of the Luftwaffe, or the German Air Force.  Did he die over the skies somewhere?  I have no idea at this point.    I also found from a photograph that Hans had a wife and a daughter named, Klara.      According to the letter, my uncle Albert and aunt Ella made sure that they kept close to their son’s widow and their granddaughter, after his death.    Times were very difficult in March of 1948.  They resided in Berlin Steglitz, or West Berlin.

Mrs. Hans Knuppel and Klara

Mrs. Hans Knuppel and Klara

I don’t know anything more at this point.  I am at the beginning of an interesting journey back in time.  My hope is to rebuild my family, one story at a time.  We all have stories and we all have circumstances.  My great grandfather’s sons (twins), my uncles John Albert and Hans Delbert (yes, yet another generation of Hans Knuppels), were also veterans of the Second World War.  They fought under the American flag.  And both of my grandfathers also served with the Allies–one with the RAF and one with the 8th Air Force in England.  War is war and people are people.  I hope that one day I will be able to tell the complete story of my cousin, Hans Knuppel.

Michelle Kratts

Part 1: Finding My Grandfather’s War

In Arthur E. Barthel, Finding My Grandfather's War, Off to War on December 27, 2012 at 6:17 pm


My grandfather, Arthur E. Barthel


One of the reasons that I have always pursued genealogy was because of my grandfather, Arthur E. Barthel.  I barely knew him, but the little bits and pieces of the stories I have heard about his war service have intrigued me since I was a little girl.

There were whispers about my grandfather.  He was depressed at times.  I can see that sadness in his eyes in the pictures I have of him.  Later I learned that my grandfather suffered emotionally as a result of his service during the war.  In fact there is a card that was issued by the VA with his name and disorder imprinted upon it.   The disability for which treatment is authorized–nervous disorder.  In other words, PTSD–Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It was more of a secret than anything else back in those days.  Today it is more widely discussed as veterans return from our present wars suffering from the same disorder.  As a nation, we have finally come to a realization that war is a miserable affair.  Men and women inevitably have difficulty accepting the things that they have experienced during war.


VA Card 1 Nervous Disorder


Thanks to my aunt, who has recently uncovered an amazing treasure trove of information regarding my grandfather’s service, I may be able to find the details of this part of his life.  Researching World War II service is not easy.  It might be said that researching an individual who served during the Civil War is much easier–thanks to the huge fire of 1973 in which the majority of Army and Army Air Force Records were destroyed.

This series of stories will follow my search for my grandfather’s war and will hopefully aid you as you search for your grandfather’s war.

On Tuesday, January 15th, at 6:00, the Lewiston Public Library will be offering a free genealogy class to the public:  Searching our Ancestors Using Military Records.  This class, presented by Jim Lawson,  a FamilySearch Center librarian and expert in military records, will  include an in-depth look into locating and researching various American military records for genealogical purposes.  There will also be a presentation by the Daughters of the American Revolution. This will include details about membership as well as research methods for filling out the application. 

“Rush to Join Uncle Sam’s Sea Forces…”

In Off to War on December 7, 2012 at 6:06 pm

By December 10, 1941, Niagara men (and some Canadians) were willing to lay down their lives for their country.

They were accepted for enlistment at the United States Post Office building in Niagara Falls. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor it remained open 24 hours a day, seven days a week in order to handle recruits.

A Christmas Miracle in Niagara Falls

In Christmas, Off to War on December 7, 2012 at 4:37 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

John L. Madera

It was shortly after the bombings at Pearl Harbor when Mr. and Mrs. Fred Madera, of 501 Hyde Park Blvd, received the news by telegram.

“The Navy department deeply regrets to inform you that your son, John Loughton Madera, seaman second class, USN, was lost in action in the performance of his duty and in the service of his coutnry.  The department extends to you its sincerest sympathy in your great loss…”

John was a young man, not yet twenty, and he had been recently employed with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as a latrine orderly in Niagara Falls.  It was stated in the Niagara Falls Gazette, that Seaman Madera had the distinct honor of being “the first Niagara Falls man officially reported killed in action in the war since the United States entered...”

But the strangest thing happened and it must have come like a mother’s prayer on the evening of December 16.   Another telegram arrived.  Posted by airmail from the Fleet post office, Pearl Harbor, it said the following:

” Everything is ok with me.  Please dont worry about anything.  I will write a letter later when I get a chance….”

The letter was from John, himself.  Because of Navy censorship it was impossible to determine the time or date the stamp but local postal officials believed that the postcard would have required at least three days to be received here in Niagara Falls from Pearl Harbor.  In other words, it had been written AFTER the attack.

John’s family was not new to this sort of thing.  His father, Frederick George Madera, was a hero of the First World War.  He had served with the Canadian and American armies and had received numerous decorations including a Purple Heart for wounds received in action.  Following the war he was very active in veterans organizations.  He was the organizer and the first president of Branch No. 51 of the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League.  John’s brother, Frederick, also served in the Army during the Second World War.

After a little investigation it was found that other cases of men “killed in action” were also erroneous.  The Navy’s records were incomplete and casualty reports were often wrong.  As some of the enlisted men had neglected to report back to their officers during the attack, they were assumed dead–especially if they were known to have been on or near ships which were damaged or destroyed.  If there was no record stating that they had reported to officers, it was assumed that they were missing or dead.  Following the complaints that naturally arose from this situation, the Navy “promised more information within a few days.”

But John L. Madera–our Niagara Falls guy–was very much alive.  He survived that fateful day in December and served faithfully throughout the war.  He lived a long life and passed away in South Carolina on September 27, 1998.

And it might be said that that there was a woman in Niagara Falls named Grace Madera, the mother of a young man reported dead, who believed in miracles that Christmas of 1941.

It’s Been a Long, Long Time…

In Cemetery Plots, Off to War, St. Joseph's Cemetery Records, The Italians of Niagara Falls, New York on November 30, 2012 at 9:16 pm

We stumbled over his grave one day in St. Joseph’s Cemetery–quite by accident.  Winter white and washed away from many years of sun and snow and ice,  Anthony W. Salamone stands strong and bright.  He is certainly hard to miss.

But I’m sure he was missed.  First reported “Missing in Action” on March 4, 1944, the fateful letter from the War Department came to 457 12th Street a few weeks later.

“Killed in Action”

Someone’s heart was broken when that letter was opened.  He had only recently written to his mother that he had only “a few” more missions to complete before he would be granted a furlough.  He said he would be back home in Niagara Falls soon.

Technical Sergeant Anthony W. Salamone was a gunner in the Army Air Corps.  He graduated from Niagara Falls High School and had attended Niagara University.  He was an employee of the Electro Metalurgical Company at the time of his induction into the Army.

Anthony was killed in action over Frankfurt, Germany, on January 30, 1944.  He had been serving with the 526th squadron, 379th group, U.S. Air Force, in England.

Anthony Salamone finally returned home to Niagara Falls at 8:00 am on June 15, 1949.

salamone pic