Biographies/People (86)

Sunday, 10 November 2013 01:55

Sgt. Ramon Móntes, U.S. Army, WWII

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A little boy, who sold newspapers on the Santa Fe plaza and spoke mostly Spanish, would later cross in an ocean liner to Germany during WWII.

Ramon Móntes, an Army 78th Lightning Division heavy machine gunner, lost much of his hearing while protecting the strategic Ludendorff Bridge over the Rhine River as German forces fought desperately by ground and air to destroy the French border crossing. The capture of the bridge at Remagen would be a significant turning point in the war, saving many American soldiers and causing Hitler's army to retreat. Later, this important event was recreated in the movie, The Bridge of Remagenn

In an interview with the Albuquerque Journal, Ramon says: "For three solid days I fired that gun and the planes just kept coming," describing the 50-caliber gun that fended off Messerschmitt fighter planes. 

Ramon remembers capturing the earthen dam, a strategic victory that prevented the Germans from flooding the Rhone Valley. He remembered life on the Western front as German paratroopers descended from the sky on Christmas Day, and he recalled a dangerous post-war Europe where three young children set off a leftover German hand grenade.

He would return to his hometown, Santa Fe, in early 1946, and walk in his combat boots to the Santuario de Chimayo, carrying the rosary he wore around his neck during the war. This pilgrimage to Chimayo was done over hills as a promise he made if he would return home.  Ramon kept that rosary by the side of his bed the rest of his life. He passed away after a long and happy life on May 31, 2009, and was buried with his rosary. 
Voces de Santa Fe honors your memory. Rest in peace, Dad.  
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Sunday, 10 November 2013 01:00

Captain Allan MacGillivray II, USAF

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"In loving memory of my dad on Veterans Day: Captain Allan MacGillivray II USAF, 1941-1945. Died November 2, 2002"

by son, "Mac" Allan MacGillivray III

Voces honors your memory, Mr. MacGillivray. RIP

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Saturday, 09 November 2013 04:39

William Henry Mee, Sr. in WWII

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After Basic Training he reported into Fort Lee, New Jersey.  From there he was taken to Miami by train.  On the train because of his high IQ tests and the respect of the men in his unit he was made an Acting Corporal for transit.  This was in his record and would come back to him each time a new officer would size up the men under his command.  So my dad would always be offered another role in leadership; despite not liking the bureaucracy. 


At Miami, they disembarked and were marched to the beach in front of Miami’s largest hotels.  Some hotels were seized from German owners under the “Trading With The Enemy Act” ( these were the fanciest hotels right on Miami Beach.  The Germans had German tourists who would come to the United States and then take small cruise boats to Havana, Cuba for gambling and prostitution.  These hotels had the finest silk sheets, monogrammed bathrobes and towels monogrammed with the hotel’s logo.  The soldiers like my dad who stayed there just threw away the sheets, towels and robes after they got dirty and grabbed more out of the linen closets.  A lot of men kept the real silverware.  It was looting but hell, these were German owners.  The soldiers were finding out how the other half lived but they just didn’t have the servants to sustain it.  Many of the guys were from small towns and had never even stayed in a hotel before.  So it was quite a treat.  Some of the hillbilly-type of soldiers were teased by the other soldiers “about if they had ever slept indoors before.” 


The whole purpose for being stationed in Miami was to deal with the national emergency of possible Germans landing by submarine and seeking out the friendly German hotel owners for refuge.  It was thought that the German saboteurs would attack nearby shipyards to disrupt the war effort and then work their way through Georgia that had had a sizable German population since the American Revolution.  So my father had to do nighttime beach guard duty.  He marched 50 feet to the North and met his counterpart and did an about-face and marched 50 feet to the South where he met his other counterpart.  Because of the shortage of guns and worse yet the even dire shortage of ammunition, the soldiers were given an eighteen inch long Billy club.  My dad thought “what the hell is the Billy club good for when a group of German saboteurs run up from the water with guns in hand?”  It was a real sore point for him and made him question some of the Army’s other policies.  Secretly he wondered how we would win this war if they weren’t given the proper tools to fight it.


But the truth was that there were only a couple of hundred thousand guns in the entire Army, not enough to go around, and ammunition was even more limited.  It was essential for basic training that every soldier have the opportunity to fire a real gun with live ammunition after drilling to perfection with a dummy wooden gun.  Beyond that, the Billy club would do.  Probably several hundred thousand men were on that coast with that same experience.


Meanwhile, the Germans dispatched two u-boats with one four-man spy team each that would disembark to do sabotage.  One u-boat landed in New Jersey for sabotage in New York[1].  U-Boat U-584 with Kptlt. Joachim Duker in command, would take Edward J. Kerling, Herbert Haupt, Werner Thiel, and Herman Neubauer to the Florida coast.  Kerling and his three fellow would-be saboteurs landed at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, near Palm Beach, on June 16th. 1942.  Off they went by train to Chicago and Cincinnati to start their mission of destruction. U-584 sailed for home making it back to Brest, France on July 22.  The FBI caught all eight Germans and they were tried and hanged.


During the war, about 400 Miami hotels were used by the armed forces to station troops.  Some starting in 1940-41 to train British and Russian airmen.[i]


When they first marched to the beach, the soldiers were told to find a room in the three hotels and await further orders.  The officers and non-commissioned officers left the area.  As men started going into the one hotel, a group of Southern White men standing on the steps to the entrance, started yelling at some Blacks---saying something to the effect that “Niggers shouldn’t sleep where decent White people would be sleeping after the war.”  My father seeing the commotion and being respected by both the White men and Black men in his unit, went up the steps.  He said there must be a way to accommodate the colored soldiers since they were fighting for our country.  The Southerners told him he was a Yankee and he didn’t understand the Southern culture.  My father stressed that there was an abundance of rooms and there was no need to fight over it.  He was told that niggers should sleep on the ground and not in the beds of White people. My father then said the only compromise was to make the first two hotels off limits to colored soldiers and the third one open to the Colored soldiers. 


The commotion, almost near riot stage, brought a couple of White officers to the scene.  One of them fired into the air and they asked everyone to calm down and the crowd did.  The commanding White officer asked “what was going on here.”   The White Southern ring leader explained his position and the Black soldiers just snarled back in return.  Someone said that this guy had a solution and pointed to my dad.  The officers asked him to explain.  My father then said the only compromise was to make the first two hotels off limits to colored soldiers and the third one open to the Colored soldiers.  A lot of men echoed their approval of this idea, with the resounding of “Yeah, yeah” and the Commanding White Officer was left no choice but to order it.  A few minutes later, as the angry crowd, that was on the verge of a riot, dissipated to find their own rooms, an officer from Alabama[2] came up and asked my dad his name.  He then said that he would be watching him closely and if he ever did the slightest thing out of line he would throw the book at him.  He said something to the effect in a southern drawl, “I don’t know who you are, or where you are from, but I’ll be watching you.”  My dad said it sent a chill down his spine, and the words would come to haunt him.


There are apparently no records of this conflict even with the gunshot occurring.  But my father wound up on Kitchen Patrol a lot after this after being ‘blacklisted’ by this officer (there are some other personal stories of KP in this account later on). 


A few days later, he saw the same officer and was giving him what my dad termed a “shit-eating grin,” when the officer sought to discipline him.  The officer ordered him to dig a hole on the beach 6’ x 6’ x 6’ and when he was done to come get him.  When he finished he went for the officer.  Then the officer ordered him to fill in the hole.  Then he had him dig it out again and fill it in again.  Then the officer told him to report for Kitchen Patrol. 


Kitchen Patrol or “KP” for short, was often considered the Army’s worst job and as an initial universal disciplinary action.  It was also a status thing---that once your unit knew you were on KP you were suppose to be humiliated in front of the other soldiers and therefore singled out and defeated as a ‘rebel leader.’  You were then supposed to conform to the Army system.  The absolute worst thing on KP was to peel potatoes.  It was a job that was demeaning and intended to break the spirit of the recipient of the punishment.  The first day of KP he peeled a lot of potatoes and pulled the eyes out of them which started to really get his hands very itchy and red to the point he could barely use his hands.  So the next day, he carved the potatoes down past all the eyes with his knife and each potato was carved down to about an inch in diameter from the 2-3 inch potato that he started with.  The Chief Cook (a Master Sergeant with over 20 years in the Army) came in and saw these puny potatoes and asked what happened.  The Cook started turning red and shaking like he was going to explode like a tea pot.  The Cook exploded and started yelling about the waste of food that this was, and how food could not be wasted in a war.  He simmered down and collected himself and calmly asked: “what were you thinking?”  My dad stated that he didn’t like digging for the eyes in the potato since it made his hands itch.  They pulled him the next day from peeling potatoes and gave him other little cleaning jobs that kept him out of the hair and sight of the Cook, until his two weeks on KP were up.


My dad never received his temporary rank of Corporal as a permanent promotion; however, he was well received in the crap games that the Black soldiers ran behind the hotel.  They taught him secrets that would serve him well in later years in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, Nevada.


[1]  New Jersey had had several pro-Nazi rallies of an organization called the “German American Bund.” They had a camp in northern New Jersey called Camp Nordland opened on July 18, 1937 .The plot in the port of New York was foiled by the Mafia after Lucky Luciano was released from federal prison to help in the war effort.

[2]  Many of the officers were from the South and had graduated from VMI, the Citadel, VMI, Texas A&M and other military academies.  They often hung around in groups of Southerners.

[i]  The Army established three major schools on Miami Beach: the Replacement Training Center, the Officer Candidate School and the Officer Training School. In 1942 the Army spent over $3 million on the Beach. By 1944 those schools occupied almost 400 hotels on the Beach plus the Nautilus and Biltmore hotels which had been converted into hospitals.


The federal government paid hotel owners $20 per man per month, which was considerable less than the normal seasonal rate. The dearth of tourists, however, made the owners happy to get any amount for their rooms. The government’s payments also had the added benefit of being spread evenly throughout the year rather than being limited to a short winter season.


Private schools like Embry Riddle and the University of Miami, which trained British aviators before the United States entered the war, continued to train allied pilots and navigators throughout the conflict. The Armed Forces’ schools also trained allied troops in South Florida.


Well over 600,000 men trained in southern Florida during the war. Twenty-five per cent of the Army Air Force’s enlisted men and 20 per cent of its officers trained on Miami Beach. The Navy processed over 50,000 men through its subchaser school and over one-third of the naval gunners in the Pacific learned their trade in Hollywood. Besides the Americans, over 3,300 Brazilians went through the subchaser school and 1,016 men from seven different countries learned how to use sonar in Key West.


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