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HISTORY

 

  THE FINAL DAYS OF TWO LOCAL VETERANS

BY GORDON GRAHAM, INDIAN RIVER VFW POST 7439, "THE COCHRAN-ROBERTS POST"

November 11 was celebrated at the end of World War I as a day of remembrance for the courage and patriotism of the men and women who served in the Armed Forces. This was known for a time as Armistice Day, but in 1954 Congress established this date as Veterans Day to honor all American Veterans.
This day is of particular significance to those of us who belong to the local VFW post, because we have members who served their country in World War II, the Korean War, Viet Nam and Desert Storm.

Over the years, Cheboygan County has provided its share of men and women who have responded to the call. Those who survived the carnage of war will never forget those who made the supreme sacrifice.

Time has a habit of dimming our memories and we tend to forget those, who, through their sacrifices, have left us with a legacy of personal freedoms unequaled in the world. In order to perpetuate the memory of two of the men from the area who paid the "ultimate price" during World War II, the charter members of the local VFW named their post the "Cochran-Roberts Post." This was to honor Pvt. Clifton Cochran and Sgt. Edward Roberts who were killed in Europe during the ground war that took place across France, Belgium, Holland and German after D-Day 1944.

What follows is an attempt, on my part, to identify with these two men who were active in our community at one time-oh, so many years ago-and, perhaps, remind us for a minute or two, of their sacrifices on this Veterans Day!

Cochran

CLIFTON H. COCHRAN

"Clint", as he was known, was born on May 12, 1912 and he grew up in Auburn Junction, Indiana. He was an avid hunter and fisherman and enjoyed the outdoors. When his two brothers-in-law, who lived in Indian River, offered young Cochran employment in their plumbing business here, it must have seemed to him an opportunity of a lifetime-he would have a job and he could enjoy trout fishing and hunting wild game. Zolman & Fisher was the plumbing company located here.

Cochran moved to Indian River and after working for the plumbing company for a time he was called into the Army by the Selective Service Board. He was sworn in at Fort Custer, MI and then sent to Camp Blanding, FL for his basic training. From there, he was transferred to Fort Meade, MD. Then he was shipped to England where the Allies were organizing a massive army in preparation for the invasion of Europe.

On the fourth day, following D-Day, Cochran landed in France with the 41st Armored Infantry, 2nd Armored Division, part of General George Patton's Third Army.

After several difficult battles with the best troops Germany had to offer, Pvt. Clifton Cochran was killed on August 6, 1944, 10 miles south of St. Lo, France by an exploding German artillery shell. The battle that took place in and around St. Lo has been chronicled in history books and in the movies as one of the fiercest battles on the European continent during W.W.II. His body was interred, temporarily, in a military cemetery in Normandy and later returned to the US aboard the US Army Transport, Haiti Victory, for final burial in his home town of Auburn Junction, IN.

Cochran was married to the former Dorothy Barager of Onaway, and they had two daughters, Sally and Sandra. Sally Beatty lives in Onaway and Sandra Freel lives in Millersburg. Clifton Cochran's wife remarried and lives in Onaway.

Roberts

EDWARD A. ROBERTS

"Ted", as he was known to his friends, was the son of Walter and Bessie (Wattson) Roberts. Walter Roberts was the manager of the local lumber company and he and his family lived in the big white house that was located just south of the yard. The house still stands at 3639 Straits Hwy.

Through interviews with those who were around at the time, I found that Ted Roberts was viewed as a typical young man, growing up in typical "small town America". He went to the local school, which ended in the 10th grade at that time, and then he finished his high school education in Petoskey. Word has it that young Ted had a penchant for cars and it is reported he had a heavy foot while driving - another youthful trait. Ted had a serious side to his personality and he went to work at an area mortuary, where he served as an apprentice, with the idea of becoming a funeral director some day.

Ted enlisted in the Army on January 8, 1941, nearly a year before the fateful attack on Pearl Harbor. It is understood that he received his training at Fort Bragg, NC as part of the 60th Infantry Division.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor, war was declared and it was not long before this country was called upon to become an active partner in the war in Europe. German troops occupied practically all of Europe and they were riding roughshod across North Africa. The British asked for our help in an effort to restrain German General Rommel and this became America's first participation in the ground war - there in the sands of the Sahara Desert.

American troops were put ashore in French Morocco at three points near Casablanca in late 1942. One of these areas was at Port Lyautey and it was there that Sgt. Ted Roberts and the 60th Division entered the war.


Let me interrupt at this point to tell you that my search for information on his military background, led me to a diary that Ted Roberts kept after he went ashore at Port Lyautey. His diary covers a period of time from February 1, 1943 to November 20, 1943, during his time in North Africa and Sicily.

What follows are some selected snippets from pages and pages of Ted's journal that afford us a rare opportunity for some insight into what his life was like as an infantryman.

Ted's first entry was dated Feb. 1, 1943. It reads-
Port Lyautey, Africa. "Tonight, knowing we would be leaving for points unknown in the morning, we visited several friends and bid then good-bye."

From there Ted headed east by train, a train made up of narrow gauge boxcars he called "40 & 8's", reminiscent of W.W.I, when they shipped 40 men and 8 horses in similar cars.

Wed. Feb. 3-"Sand, sand, sand and more sand across the barren waste of desert," he wrote.

"Stopped from time to time and had a can of beans and a cup of coffee."

"Every stop we were hounded by dirty Arab kids begging for 'chew gum', 'Bon-Bons', cigarettes and matches."

Thurs. Feb. 18,43-"Nearly froze to death last night, cold, raining with mud up to my ankles, no shelter - had to sleep on the ground."

Fri. Feb. 19,43-"20 mile march in cold rain - soaked to the bone." "C-rations and coffee."

Thurs. Feb. 25, 43-"Couldn't get enough water to shave. Sure needed it - haven't shaved since we left the olive grove 7 days ago."

Sun. Feb. 28, 43-"B-17 Flying Fortresses flew over today - had fighter escort - headed for the Kasserine Pass where the British have about 150 men holding on."

Fri. Mar 5, 43-"Told to prepare for German paratroopers."

Sun. Mar 7, 43-"Got package from Bessie, cigarettes, candles, peanuts. Guard duty 4-6."

Sun. Mar 14, 43-"Saw our first German planes this a.m. Went through Lebesta Pass, German mines all over the place. Many German and Italian trucks etc. destroyed. Attacked by 3 "Jerry" planes. Ran and looked for a hole. Hit the ground and all hell broke loose. Lead was dancing all around us and the pilot cut a streak in the road directly behind us. Truck mounted 30 cal.. machine guns cut loose and tracers were flying over us as well. The planes were not more than 50' off the ground. I thought to myself, "My God, will this never end?"

"I turned to see one of the planes smoking and it tried to gain altitude, but couldn't. I saw a white streak in the air and thought it was smoke, but it was the pilot's parachute. The plane erupted into a mass of flames and crashed a short distance away. We jumped into the truck and took out after the pilot."
By the time we got there, the pilot had gathered up his chute and tried to hid in the tall grass. Other troops joined in the hunt and one of them fired several shots into the area and the pilot jumped up and threw his hands into the air. He was a young man about 18-20 and he spoke English. He was singed and black from the smoke. His chute was torn to shreds, but he seemed to be unhurt otherwise and they took him away and turned him over to the Air Corp. Got part of his chute as a souvenir."

Sun. Mar 21, 43-"Col. Rhodes briefed us today. The 60th's mission is to go through to Mandia, on the coast and cut off the Germans, leaving the crack 21st and 10th Panzer Divisions at the Mareth Line for the British. The 60th is moving to Maknassey-a German ammo dump. Pulled guard duty - the password, "Throw Balls!"

Tues. Mar 30, 43-"150 new replacements came in from Ft. Hamilton, Brooklyn. They left the states March 5 and arrived in Oran March 19.

Thurs. Apr. 15, 43-"Swam in the Mediterranean Sea. The beach was almost as nice at Burt Lake and water nearly as cold as it is back home in April."

Sun. Apr. 18, 43-"Crossed the border between Algeria and Tunisia. Hear that Zykeman had been killed."

Roberts reports seeing his first "chain saw!"
Sun. May 2, 43-"Discovered lots of abandoned German equipment. Saw a chain drive saw and it was a beautiful piece of machinery. It was about the size of a two-man buck saw and a sharp chain blade that ran around a piece of steel. It had two handles on one end and a pulley on the other. They used it to cut down trees."

Sun. May 16, 43-"Bizerte in ruins. Navy and PT boats and landing barges everywhere."

Thurs. July 29, 43-"Oran. Got to the docks, carried everything we had to the ship. Destination unknown."

Sat. July 31, 43-"Saw land at 6:45 a.m., made harbor at night. Palermo, Sicily. Air raid before leaving ship."

Mon. Aug. 2, 43-"Took off for the front-through Gangi, Nicosia and Troina. Heavy artillery barrage all night."

Thurs. Aug. 18, 43-"Memorial service near Troina. 63 Graves, each with white cross and the man's dog tags hanging from them. As far as I was concerned, the service was for Pfc. Theodore S. Borowski 36124565 Hq. Cl. 60th Inf. He was from St. Clair Shores, MI. Ran over a mine with his truck, was wounded badly and died on his way to hospital. Buried at 9th Div. Cemetery, Troina, Sicily Aug. 10, 1943. 84 German graves nearby."

Wed. Sept. 1, 43-"School would be ready to start if I was home, so I'm as well off over here."

Thurs. Sept. 8, 43-"Got news that Italy had surrendered to the Allies as of Sept. 3. Went to see Al Jolson-very entertaining, along with being a fine singer. He posed for lots of pictures."

Sept. 21, 43-"Transferred to Company "G" 60th Inf. Div., 2nd Platoon, 3rd Squad. Met Larry Lahaie from Cheboygan, who is 1st Sgt."

"Had a Division review for General George Patton. I was 4 down and 2 in from old "Blood and Guts" himself!

At this point, Ted Roberts' diary reads-"Palermo, Sicily to Portsmouth, England Nov. 9, 1943 to November 23, 1943.
"Got up early, loaded on trucks and headed for the docks. When we got there, had to carry everything we owned about 2 miles to the gangplank. Stood in rain then went aboard the USAT Santa Paula. Figured there were 5000 EM and Officers and 60 nurses on the ship. Once again we were on the water. Followed the coastline of Africa."

Sun. Nov. 14, 43-"Went through the Straits of Gibraltar. It looked just like the Prudential Insurance ad. Rough out on the North Atlantic and got colder as we headed north."

This is where Ted Roberts' diary ends.

We know, however, that he landed in Portsmouth, England on or about November 23 and at that time he became part of the largest force ever assembled in the history of warfare, in preparation for the D-Day landing in France on June 9, 1944.

Through interviews with Chuck Wattson of Indian River - a cousin of Ted Roberts I learned that Ted was wounded several times after landing in France and at one point his wounds were so bad he had to be shipped to a surgical hospital in England for proper treatment. There he met another cousin, 2nd Lt. Betty Wattson, Chuck's sister, an Army nurse. One can only imagine what conversation took place - an angel of mercy, and a cousin yet?

Upon recovery, Sgt. Ted Roberts was returned to duty once again and on December 12 he was killed in action in Germany.

Pvt. Cochran and Sgt. Roberts were but, two, among thousands, who lost their lives during World War II. Since then Korea, Viet Nam, Desert Storm and other conflicts have added to their number.

On this special day among veterans, how about pausing for a minute or two and remember those who "paid the price!" And while you're at it, don't forget those confined to VA hospitals across the country.

Above all, remember - Freedom is not Free!

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