2018-02-08 / Personalities

Memories surface for OLLI members with relatives who fought in WWII

Frances Cowart (left) and speaker Bill Cosgrove discuss her father who was a POW from the battle at St. Vith. Frances Cowart (left) and speaker Bill Cosgrove discuss her father who was a POW from the battle at St. Vith. Several OLLI members had relatives who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the largest and bloodiest battle of WWII. Memories surfaced in the context of the recent program by Bill Cosgrove who focused on the smaller battle for St. Vith, a Belgian city and transportation hub essential for moving military supplies from the coast.

This presentation was given at the Washington Affiliate, OLLI@UGA, session February 5 at the Episcopal Parish House.

In an effort to reclaim territory lost after the Normandy Allied invasion, the battle was an effort by the Germans to reach Antwerp and the coast, splitting the Allied forces. In mid-December, it involved 400,000 German and 600,000 Allied troops. Total casualties numbered over 200,000. The Bulge had an 85-mile base which stretched 75 miles eastward into Allied-occupied territory.

From their conversation after the class, Cosgrove immediately recognized the army unit in which the father of attendee Frances Cowart served. She noted she remembers her father well. He was taken as a POW and had a 50% disability due to injuries. “He never really recovered, physically or emotionally, and died when he was 61,” she said. Mrs. Cowart has had several conversations with Cosgrove since the lecture.

A relative of Albert Long, Milton Long, a 95-year old Bulge survivor who lives in South Carolina, is in relatively good health, but another survivor, Charlie Raffini, “lost over a hundred pounds as a POW from the Bulge, but he also recovered and worked hard for years in the construction business here,” said Long.

An uncle of Ann Garrard Mansur was a January, 1945, fatality in the battle at St. Vith. Mansur visited the site about 15 years after the battle. “I was in my early teens but recall the visit very well,” Mansur said. She has also talked with Cosgrove several times since his visit.

Joe Harris, who invited Cosgrove to speak, had an older brother, Henry, who was in the battle with the 32nd Signal Corps Construction Battalion. He operated a bulldozer, necessary for installing communications systems, and also served as jeep repairman and driver for high ranking officers. After a few weeks in the Pacific Theater and discharge from the service, Henry continued his bulldozer and heavy equipment interests in Washington.

This session was Consgrove’s second visit to OLLI in Washington. Earlier he spoke about the sole survivor of a B-17 shot down near Schweinfurt, Germany. “You are a great audience, I’d like to come back,” Cosgrove said.

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