Category Archives: World War II

Missing In Action, But Not Forgotten


Like my great-great uncle twenty-seven years before, Second Lt. Samuel Gordon Leftenant went missing in Europe while fighting in a war. But his sisters haven’t forgotten. An empty coffin was recently buried in Arlington in his honor, below a gravestone with his name and surrounded by comrades. His remains have never been found.


‘It was . . . a fascinating place . . . ’

“ . . . one of the last links to the FDR White House . . . ”

George McKee Elsey

A man who served in uniform and was assigned to the White House during World War II has died. He was “one of the last living links to the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt.” After the death of FDR, he worked for Harry Truman.

George M. Elsey “was a young naval officer assigned to the top-secret White House intelligence office during World War II. He observed military strategy sessions and attended international conferences with Roosevelt and Truman, and may have been the last person to have been acquainted with the two presidents, British statesman Winston S. Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.”

He personally witnessed key events in history. He was at Omaha Beach on D-Day — June 6, 1944 — the cross channel invasion of Nazi-occupied France, and oddly stood guard in the White House Map Room throughout the planning of D-Day which began the year before. And he was with Truman when he decided to go nuclear on Japan.

A photo of the White House Map Room during the war

“Elsey was 24 when he went to work in the White House Map Room in 1942. Security was so tight that Roosevelt’s Secret Service agents were not allowed inside. Not even the vice president could enter the room, which held records of presidential communications with other heads of state and the country’s most sensitive military plans.”

The walls were covered with maps and charts. Pins marked the locations of ships at sea. Troop movements were recorded in erasable grease pencil.

“Churchill . . . visited the White House several times during the war. He sometimes came into the Map Room late at night, smoking his cigar, when Mr. Elsey was one of the few officers on duty.”

He witnessed history.


‘So That Future Generations Never Forget’


It’s great to see this on the front page of the hometown paper. Two Pearl Harbor survivors.

“I am so impressed to this very day with the bravery and cooperation among the guys during the attack. There isn’t an American who wouldn’t be proud of what we did that day.”

But it’s not just a day to remember and honor our veterans. It’s also a stark reminder to be prepared, to be ever vigilant.

“We really dropped the ball, and it’s bothered me ever since. It should not have happened.”

Let’s take note of that, in this era of suicide bombers and terrorists.


Wisdom from Wiesenthal

 Some of the bad guys from World War II: Hitler, Goering, Goebbels & Hess.
Some of the bad guys from World War II: Hitler, Goering, Goebbels & Hess.

The other day I heard someone on the radio mention a quote, and yesterday I went looking for it. I believe it was about or said by Raoul Wallenberg, passed on by Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal.

Anyway, I have not tracked it down, but I did find some great material: some quotes of Mr. Wiesenthal. So here are what I consider his best pithy notes of wisdom.

The first is on the nature of mass murder.

“What connects two thousand years of genocide? Too much power in too few hands.”

The second is about two men, giants in the history of the 20th century.

“There is no denying that Hitler and Stalin are alive today… they are waiting for us to forget, because this is what makes possible the resurrection of these two monsters.”

The third selection I found very probing, insightful. It is about Nazi Germany, though could also be applied to Soviet Russia, and other less infamous nation-states.

“We know that we are not collectively guilty, so how can we accuse any other nation, no matter what some of its people have done, of being collectively guilty?”

Lastly, Wiesenthal gives some advice on listening. I can understand not wanting to talk about life during the time of Hitler and Himmler, when so few stood up and shouted “Stop!”

“The new generation has to hear what the older generation refuses to tell it.”

I don’t know of any Nazis in the family, but I have run into many relatives refusing to talk about this or that. Of course, it only gets my curiosity revved up.

I’ll keep looking for that gem from or about Wallenberg.


Bob Burgess, Boss

It’s nice to see a tribute to my old boss. I worked for him back in the Nineties. He lived in Wallingford, a neighborhood in Seattle.

I did some graphic design and other computer work for him. I also mowed the grass at the apartment complex where he lived, which he owned. He called his little operation Burgess and Associates.

Mr. Burgess was a vet. He served during World War II in the Pacific theater. I am sure he had many stories to tell, but he only told me about them briefly.

He was more concerned with the direction of the country. A very conservative and religious man.

One man in particular drew his ire, retired newsman Walter Cronkite. Cronkite had helped found a liberal interest group called The Interfaith Alliance. Bob wanted to counter it with a group he called The Outer Faith Alliance. His heart may have been in the right place, but, of course, our efforts didn’t amount to much.

I am glad I got to know him a little. Sadly, his wife had died before I started working for him.

Who Is Captain Fromke?

Today, occupying my time while waiting for a computer to open up at the library, I started browsing a newspaper database and came upon a distant cousin, a sea captain no less. From the news reports I skimmed briefly, I learned that Capt. Henry Fromke worked for the Hamburg Amerika Line.

He was a German. I don’t know if he was a committed Nazi. But, of course, some of the American papers played up the Nazi angle.

In 1940 he ordered, probably on orders from his superiors, the scuttling of a cargo ship off the shores of Tampico, Mexico. Four Allied ships, possibly given to the Brits by the Americans through Lend-Lease, demanded the surrender of the vessel and crew. The United States had not yet entered the war.

Capt. Fromke was still working in 1957, my first encounter with him in the papers. He had just arrived on a new ship in Portland, restoring a passenger route which had been abandoned for 12 years. The Oregonian had a nice feature on the ship and the captain, including two photographs. One of the man, another of the ship.

I wonder what happened to Captain Fromke. It is possible he is still alive, though I am doubtful. I will see if I can track down more information about him and his family.


The Incredible Story of Americans and Germans Fighting the Nazi Menace, Together

I’ve been reading about this fascinating story of a battle at the end of World War II where American soldiers and French prisoners of war fought alongside Germans against hardcore Nazi SS units. Hitler had already died by his own hand, yet some die hard Nazis refused to accept defeat. A man has researched it thoroughly and penned a book, The Last Battle.


Rutabagas & Potatoes

Today I came upon an obituary for a German man named Egon Wilhelm Erwin Boldt.

He was born on Christmas Eve in 1935 in Stettin, Pommern, Germany.

He lived through the Second World War and saw many hardships and atrocities, including his city being bombed by the Americans during the day and the British by night. He and his family lived on rutabagas and potatoes they could gather in the fields. He helped distribute food and clothing sent by the Church after the war.

In 1951 Egon and his family went to America. Described as a serial entrepreneur, he was active in many businesses and trades.

“He loved America and always expressed his thankfulness for Her freedoms and opportunities.”


Remembering the Jews of Bytów

There aren’t any more of them living in the town. Any descendants are likely scattered around the world. Perhaps most are in Israel.

Like Jews throughout Germany, those living in the town of Bütow were driven out by the Nazis. How many died, in the gas chambers and elsewhere, is unclear.

In 2011, remnants of the Jewish cemetery were discovered, which was destroyed during Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, in 1938.

To honor and commemorate the Jewish residents, a monument is being planned. An obelisk, to be completed by November 2013, will stand at the former site of the Bytów synagogue.

A plaque will read: ‘Pamięci Społeczności Żydowskiej Ziemi Bytowskiej, Bytów 8-9.11.2013 r. (In memory of the Jewish community in Bytów, Bytów 8-9.11.2013).

The monument will be unveiled on November 8th, which marks the 75th anniversary of torching down of the synagogue. The plaque will bear the Star of David and inscriptions in Polish, English and German. The idea has been discussed in Bytów for a few years. However, the discovery of matzevos on Wery Street set the plans in motion. One year ago, a committee for commemorating the Jewish community, headed by Prof. Cezary Obracht-Prondzyński, was set up. Over the past year, committee members were looking for materials, documents and other traces of Bytów Jews and their culture.