Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Scribbler II: Spring 2013
In keeping with Memorial Day, this is a special issue of “The Scribbler,” as we celebrate our towns’ surviving WWII veterans-Russell Fitzgibbons, Carmine Guica, Jim Hasson, Edward Kolenda, Dr. Seymour Leven and Kenneth Winot, as well as WWII vets from Cavendish who now reside elsewhere: Paul Ahonen, Jr. , Glendon Bemis; Gordon Durand; Vincent Guica; Antoni Janowski; and Wyeth Tiemann. Edwin Farrar lives part of the year in Cavendish and winters in Florida.
The Cavendish Historical Society (CHS) is currently compiling a list of Cavendish WWII veterans, which will include those who enlisted while living in Cavendish and those who relocated here after the war. If you have any information on these veterans, please e-mail to email@example.com, mail to PO Box 472 Cavendish VT 05142 or call 802-226-7807.
During WWII, 168 men from Cavendish went to war, serving in every branch of the armed services and in nearly every area where American soldiers, sailors and flyers were sent. Six men were killed in action and several were wounded. Imogene Baxendale, the only woman to serve, was an Army nurse.
Over the years, a number of veterans moved to town and helped to shape its future. Among them was Art Briggs who became the fire chief of District #2 (Cavendish). Having extensive experience fighting fires in the Army Air Force, he organized the volunteer fire fighters and help to see that CFD became legally incorporated.
This spring the CHS’s Hands on History program has been working on a WWII unit with children who are being home schooled as well as the 6th grade at Cavendish Town Elementary School. As part of the 6th grade program, three of Cavendish’s surviving WWII veterans met with the students telling them of their war experiences and answering their questions. Robin Bebo-Long the sixth grade teacher, video-taped their presentations, which is available on-line.
Jim Hasson started school at the age of four. When Pearl Harbor occurred in 1941, his high school class quickly emptied, but he was too young to enlist. In 1943, he was leaving the post office and noticed a poster showing a Seabee jumping off a road grader with a Thompson Machine Gun. He said, “that’s the job for me.”
He enlisted as a Seabee at the age of 17 and he remained one until he was 60 years old, when he retired. More than 325,000 men served with the Seabees in WWII fighting and building on six continents and more than 300 islands. In the Pacific, where most of the construction work was needed, the Seabees landed soon after the Marines and built major airstrips, bridges, roads, gasoline storage tanks, and Quonset huts for warehouses, hospitals and housing.
Jim was first assigned to Pearl Harbor, where he built timber rafts for airplanes. He then was sent to Quam. After the war, Jim became a plumber, but continued with the Seabees. He was 41 when he went to Vietnam and also served in Cuba during the Castro years. He particularly liked his stint in Bermuda, since he wasn’t being shot at.
Another Seabee veteran, who is well known to CHS, was Craig Rankin. A landscape architect, his skills were needed both in Europe and the Pacific. He had a number of “war” stories he wrote and talked about. In one, he describes how he was responsible, for escorting the heavy weight champion, Gene Tunney, around the New London Submarine Base. Tunney’s job was to inspect physical fitness programs of Naval posts and bases. “After lunch, we visited the diving tower in which every submariner is trained in the use of the Momsen Lung, an escape technique. The tower consisted of a huge cylinder of water 100 feet high, with an attached airtight room at its base. Trainees sat on benches in the room while air-pressure would be gradually increased to equal the pressure of water at the bottom of the tank. Putting on the Momsen Lung, you then pass through doors into the bottom of the water tower and climb up hand over hand along a rope in the center of the tank.... Tunney was introduced to the two tank officers...The tank officers asked Tunney if he would to go through this tank. Tunney politely refused, offering some excuse, but the young officers were determined parties. After about ten minutes of this, Tunney turned and walked away. Then he stopped and confided in me, “I just cannot go into that tank. All my life I’ve had a fear of water. I hope some day to overcome this fear.” He spoke so humbly, it sounded like a different person. “
Carmine Guica and his two brothers, Vincent and Frank, enlisted and were stationed in the Pacific. Carmine was stationed in some of the highest attacked areas-Guam, Philippines, Okinawa and Iwo Jima. He described how they lived two to a Foxhole, taking turns staying up at night. As he wrote in his autobiography, “We were on the beaches where we set up our anti-air craft guns. Most of the fighting was back in the hills. The action we saw most was firing at the Jap planes. They never bombed us too much as their greatest target would be the ships. When we had an alert, all personal were called-cooks, clerks, and KPs. [Carmine was a cook.]. ...We used to go on the hill where the refuges were and talk to them. They spoke English well and they used to tell us how strict they had to live under the Japanese rule. I did get very sick there for a few days. Just about every one was affected. They said it was Dengue Fever or something like that. The Engineers made fresh water for us from the salty ocean water. There sure was a lot of deep mud on Guam. After we got our kitchen set up the engineers also made ice that they delivered to us every day. We did get a lot of Spam. There were so many ways we served it....For fresh meat we had a lot of goat meat from Australia.”
The constant bombing Carmine was exposed to resulted in major hearing loss. He would eventually return to Cavendish, where he worked for GE until his retirement. Like many of the other veterans, he was in the reserves after the war.
Seymour Leven, originally from Grand Rapids, MI, had several reasons for enlisting: to keep up with his older brother; his dislike of school (he had already finished two years of college) and most important, he had family in Lithuania who were forced into the concentration camps. Seymour thought that Hitler was evil and needed to be stopped. Initially in officer’s training school, he was moved into gunnery and bombardier training. Instead of going to Europe, he was sent to the Pacific as a tail gunner on a B-29 bomber. At one point, Seymour’s crew was sent stateside for additional training. While it was top secret at the time, it later became apparent that his flight crew was among those that would be the back up for the Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Completing 23 aerial combat missions, Seymour’s division, located on Saipan was featured in the War Department’s film The Last Bomb-1945 U.S. Army Air Forces Bombing Japan. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-zvatnERuA
After the war, Seymour took advantage of the GI bill to complete college and medical school. He would eventually work with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and has worked with combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Cavendish is unique in that in also had a Russian WWII veteran. Nobel prize winner and Soviet dissident, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote. In 1941, a few days before the beginning of the war, I graduated from the physics and math program of Rostov University. With the war’s outbreak, because of restrictions due to health, I became driver of a wagon train and with it spent the winter of 1941-2. Only later-again thanks to mathematics-was I transferred to artillery school, where I completed the accelerated course by November 1942. At that time I was appointed commander of a reconnaissance artillery battery and uninterruptedly held that position during my military service, never leaving the front, until my arrest in February 1945... I was arrested on the basis of censored extracts from my correspondence with a school friend in 1944-5, basically for disrespectful remarks about Stalin, although we referred to him by a pseudonym. [the mustached one]” Aleksandr was to be in prison for eight years and then was sent into exile for three more years. These experiences were reflected in his books “The First Circle” and “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch.” In 1974, when “The Gulag Archipelago” was published to universal acclaim, Aleksandr was once again exiled from his homeland. The result was that he lived 18 of his 20 years in exile in Cavendish, VT.
Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices. President Harry S. Truman
To all of our Cavendish veterans, and those who continue to serve, thank you for a job well done.
Upcoming CHS Events
June 2 (Sunday): CHS Museum Opens for the Season 2-4 pm
June: A tour of the Cavendish Power Plant and the site of the Fitton Mill. The tour is being planned with Green Mountain Power. The event is scheduled for June.
July 6 (Saturday): CHS’s Annual Summer Fest and Plant sale, starting at 8:30 at the CHS Museum. The Cavendish Stone Church will be open from 10-2 pm
July 27 (Saturday): Cavendish town wide tag sale. The Cavendish Stone Church will be open from 10-2pm.
Consider a 181st Poem
The Vermont Humanities Council is launching it’s Vermont Reads 2013-Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry, the Cavendish Historical Society is encouraging readers to explore the poetry of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who lived in Cavendish from 1976-1994.
I well remember the very widespread custom, back in the South, of “twilighting.” Carried over from before the Revolution, it might have also been fortified by the meager, perilous years of the Civil War. Yet this practice had come about much earlier. Was it born of the months-long warmness of the Southern dusk? Many became accustomed never to rush lighting their lamps; yet, having completed their chores (or tended to the livestock) before nightfall, they were in no hurry to get to bed. Instead, they emerged outside to sit on dirt ledges, or benches, or just lounged inside with the windows wide open—no light to draw in bugs. One after another they would sit softly down, as if lost in thought. And long remained silent.
If someone did speak, it was quietly, delicately, unobtrusively. Somehow, in those exchanges, no one got fired up to argue, or to reproach spitefully, or to quarrel. Faces could barely be made out, then not at all; and, lo, one began to discern in them, and their voices, something unfamiliar, something one failed to observe through the prior course of years.
A feeling would take hold of everyone, of something impalpable and unseen that descended gently from the dimming after-sunset sky, dissolved in the air, streamed in through the windows: that profound seriousness of life, its unfragmented meaning, that goes ignored in the bustle of day. Our brush with the enigma that we let flit away.
If you have not joined the Cavendish Historical Society, need to renew your membership, and/or would like to be a volunteer, please complete the form below and sending a check, payable to CHS, to CHS, PO Box 472, Cavendish, VT 05142. All contributions are tax deductible.
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