Sunday, February 17, 2008

Local Heroes

This being December 7, 2007, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I thought I'd look up some of my local heroes - Ed Hill, Tom Kelly, McGraw, McGuire, and Leo and Bill Kelly, my uncle and father, all of whom were of the Greatest Generation, and were the kind of men no one else could be unless they lived what they lived through. Namely World War II.

I had never heard of Ed Hill until one day I was walking through the Washington Street Mall in Cape May, on my way to the Ugly Mug, when I stopped to read a memorial marker that I had passed hundreds of times without bothering.

It is a simple granite marker with an inscription that commemorates Hill as a local Cape May native who died at Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

But when I stopped by the local VFW post, nobody knew anything about Hill, and after calling every Hill in the Cape May County phone book, I failed to find a relative who could tell me anything about him.

Then I got The Book - The U.S. Senate Committee report on Medal of Honor Recipients 1863-1978 "In the name of the Congress of the United States," Committee of Veterans Affairs, February 14, 1979.

Among the World War II Medal of Honor citations Edwin Joseph Hill gets one paragraph on page 578, which reads:

Rank and organization: Chief Boatswain, U.S. Navy. Born: 4 October, 1894, Philadelphia, Pa. Accredited to : Pennsylvania. Citation: For distinguished conduct in the line of his profession, extraordinary courage, and disregard of his own safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. During the height of the strafing and bombing, Chief Boatswain Hill led his men of the line-handling details of the U.S.S. Nevada to the quays, cast off the lines and swam back to his ship. Later, while on the forecastle, attempting to let go the anchors, he was blown overboard and illed by the explosion of several bombs.

The book was given to me by Kenny Robinson, the pro shop manager, caddy master and starter at the Atlantic City Country Club, a Korean War hero himself, who had obtained The Book from Tom Kelly, a Longport attorney and Medal of Honor recipient who died of a heart attack in a Bally hotel room, wearing his medal, following a dinner and golf tournament.

I met Tom Kelly at the Longport Inn, in Longport, N.J., which is no longer there, but at one time was a fine restaurant where all the Atlantic City/Margate/Longport bigwigs and power brokers gathered. It was there that Tom Kelly told me what he did to earn - you don't "win" the Congressional Medial of Honor.

Reading Tom Kelly's citation from his book, p. 593:


Rank and organization: Corporal, U.S. Army, Medical Detachment, 48th Armored Infantry Battalion, 7 Armored Division. Place and date: Alemert, German, 5 April 1945. Entered service at Brooklyn, N.Y. Birth: Brooklyn, N.Y., G.O. No. 97, 1 November 1945. Citation: He was an aid man witht he 1st Platoon of Company C during an attack on the town of Almert, Germany. The platoon, committed in a flanking maneuver, had advanced down a small, open valley overlooked by wooed slopes hiding enemy machineguns and tanks, when the attack was stopped by a murderous fire that inflicted heavy casualities in the American ranks. Ordered to withdraw, Cpl. Kelly reached safety with uninjured remnants of the unit, but, on realizing the extent of casulaties suffered by his platoon, voluntarily retraced his steps and began evacuating his comrades under direct machinegun fire. He was forced to crawl, dragging the injured behind him for most of the 300 yards separating the exposed area from a place of comparative safety. Two other volunteers who attempted to negotiate the hazardous route with him were mortally wounded, but he kept on with his herculean task after dressing their wounds and carrying them to friendly hands. In all, he made 10 separate trips through the brutal fire, each time bringing out a man from the death trap. Seven more casualties who were able to crawl by themselves he guided and encouraged in escaping from the hail of fire. After he had completed his heroic, self-imposed task and was near collapse from fatigue, he refused to leave his platoon until the attack had been resumed and the objective to leave his platoon until the attack had been resumed and the objective taken. Cpl. Kelly's gallantry and intrepidity in the face of seemingly certain death saved the lives of many of his fellow soldiers and was an example of bravery under fire.

Among the details I remember Kelly telling me were his running with a man on his shoulder, a machine gun bullets hitting around his feet and him thinking of his grammar school nun whipping him with a ruler to run faster. Then, when he finally made it to the machine gun nest that killed half his platoon and wounded most of the rest, Kelly said that the machine gun was being manned by a 12 year old school kid. He said he had to keep others with him from killing him.

One of the few surviving medal of honor recipients, Tom Kelly said the medal was almost a burden, as it followed him around whereever he went.

He said that they promised him that a community athletic or medical building would be named in his honor in the German town of Almert, where the action took place very late in the war, but they were going to wait until after he died, because he could still do something discraceful that would possibly negate his combat herotism.

Well Tom Kelly never discraced himself and I occassionally wonder if they ever named that building after him in Almert. Will have to to there sometime.

There is a building named after McGraw, McGraw School in East Camden, around the corner from where I spent the first 18 years of my life and where I went to Kindergarden.

I looked up McGraw in The Book, and there he is, on page 623:


Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company H., 26th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Schevenhutte, German, 19 November 1944. Entered service at: Camden, N.J. Birth: Philadelphia, Pa., G.O. No. 92, 25 October 1945. Citation: He manned a heavy machinegun emplaced in a foxhole near Schevenhutte, Germany, on 19 November 1944, when the enemy launched a fierce counterattack. Braving an intense hour-long preparatory barrage, he maintained his stand and poured deadly accurate fire into the advancing foot troops until they faltered and came to a hault. The hostile forces brought up a machinegun in an effort to dislodge him but were frustrated when he lifted his gun to an exposed but advantageous postion atop a log, courageously firing. He silenced a second machinegun and then made repeated trips over fireswept terrain to replenish his ammunition supply. Wounded painfully in this dangerous task, he disregarded his injury and hurried back to his post, where his weapon was showered with mud when another rocket barely missed him. In the midst of the battle, with enemy troops taking advantage of his predicament to press forward, he calmly cleaned his gun, put it back into action and drove off the attackers. He continued to fire until his ammunition was expended, when, with a fierce desire to close with the enemy, he picked up a carbine, killed 1 enemy soldier, wounded another and engaged in a desperate fire-fight with a third until he was mortally wounded by a burst from a machine pistol. The extraordinary heroism and intrepidity displayed by Pvt. McGraw inspired his company to great efforts and was a major factor in repulsing the enemy attack.

Then right under neath of McGraw, on the same page 623, is

McGUIRE, THOMAS B., Jr. (Air Mission), who McGuire Air Force Base is named after.

His citation reads:

Rank and organization: Major, U.S. Army Air Corps, 13th Air Force. Place and date: Over Luzon, Philpine Islands, 25-26 December 1944. Entered service at: Sebring, Fla. Birth: Ridgewood, N.J. G.O. No.: 24, 7 March 1946. Citation. He fought with conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity over Luzon, philippine Islands. Voluntarily, he led a squadron of 15 P-38's as top cover for heavy bombers striking Mabalacat Airdrome, where his formation was attacked by 20 aggressive Japanese fighters. In the ensuing action he repeatedly flew to the aid of embattled comrades, driving off enemy assaults while himself under attack and at times outnumbered 3 to 1, and even after his guns jammed, continuing the fight by forcing a hostile plane into his wingman's line of fire. Before he started back to his base he had shot down 3 Zeros. The next day he again volunteered to lead escort fighters on a mission to strongly defended Clark Field. During the resultant engagement he again exposed himself to attacks so that he might rescue a crippled bomber. In rapid succession he shot down 1 aircraft, parried the attack of 4 enemy fighters, 1 of which he shot down, singlehandedly engaged 3 more Japanese, destroying 1, and then shot down still another., his 38th victory in aerial comat. On 7 January 1945, while heading a voluntary fighter sweep over Los Negros Island, he risked an extremely hazardous maneuver at low altitude in an attempt to save a fewllow flyer from attack, crashed, and was reported missing in action. With galian initiative, deep and unselfish concern for the safety of others, and heroic determination to destroy the enemy at all costs, Maj. McGuire set an inspiring example in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.

I also knew of a Medal of Honor recipient who died in Somers Point, having lived on Gibbs Avenuue, just down the street from 77, my good friend John "Wolfman" McGonigle, also a distinguised Vietnam Veteran I was proud to know.

There was an obit from the local paper that I saved for Louise Schmidt, wife of Oscar Schmidt, Jr.

SCHMIDT Of Gibbs Ave., Somers Point, N.J. April 18, 1980. LOUISE H., (nee Fischer) Schmidt, age 74 years, wife of the late Oscar Schmidt, Jr. Funearl services will be hed Mon. Evening 8 P.M. at The Middleton-Stroble Funeral Home, 304 Shore Road, Somers Point, N.J. Int. Arlington National Cem., Arlington, Va. Expressions of sympathy may be made by donations to the Somers Point Rescue Squad. Friends may call Mon. eve. 7-9.

Written in handwriting was "Cong. Med. of Honor."

In Th Book, p. 461, Schmidt's Citation from World War I reads:


Rank and organization: Chief Gunner's Mater, U.S. Navy. Place and date: At sea, 9 October, 1918. Entered service at: Pennsylvania. Born 25 March 1896. Philadelphia, Pa., G. O. No. 450, 1919. Citation: or gallant conduct and extraordinary heroism while attached to the U.S.S. Chestnut Hill, on the occassion of the explosion and subsequent fire on board the U.S. submarine chaser 219. Schmidt, seeing a man, whose legs were partially blown off, hanging on a line from the bow of the 219, jumped overboard, swam to the sub chaser and carried him from the bow to the stern where a member of the 219's crew helped him land the man on the afterdeck of the submarine. Schmidt then endeavored to pass through the flames amidship to get another man who was seriously burned. This he was unable to do, but when the injured man fell overboard and drifted to the stern of the chaser Schmidt helped him aboard.

Then Schmidt retired to Somers Point and lived quietly and unassuming among his neighors.

While I was preparing this, a radio report mentioned that there are only 32 World War II Medal of Honor recipients still alive, now that two have recently died - Solomon LeBlac and Sylvestre S. Herrera, the latter being a Mexican-American.

My uncle Leo Kelly died on the USS South Dakota, during the battle of Guadacanal,, in the Pacific, which I will detail later, and my father William E. Kelly, Sr., flew B-17s in the 8th Air Force, that I'll get into as well.


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