View Full Version : Dallas man seeks to record WWII veterans story

01-03-2011, 07:19 PM
Interesting Article (http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/122710dnmetfootsoldier.8fbfe7.html)

By SCOTT K. PARKS / The Dallas Morning News

George Cone is among the legions of people urgently gathering the oral histories of World War II veterans before they die.

George Cone's fascination with World War II began when he was a child growing up in East Dallas during the 1960s. He rummaged through his dad's sock drawer to find a shiny war medal resting in a dark-blue box embossed with the words "Legion of Merit."
View larger Photography Photo store

But Cone has taken his campaign a step further: He's also interviewing the Germans who once tried to kill his dad on the battlefields of Italy.

He realized that he would never learn the complete story of what his father and his buddies faced at Anzio and Salerno without talking to German veterans who opposed them.

Cone estimates he has taken the oral histories of 20 German veterans, who are inextricably linked to the evil of Hitler and the Nazi party responsible for the genocide of 6 million Jews.

In Germany, Cone found the war a taboo subject.

"Their politicians say the veterans have to allow themselves to be called murderers," he said.

Cone's fascination with World War II began when he was a child growing up in East Dallas during the 1960s. He rummaged through his dad's sock drawer to find a shiny war medal resting in a dark-blue box embossed with the words "Legion of Merit."

Playing "army" with his brothers stimulated fantasies about his dad's combat experience.

"I was 4 or 5 when my older brother got this game with Army men," he recalled. "It included a spring-activated device that hurled a jeep up in the air like it had been blown up. And I thought to myself that my dad had seen things like that really happen."

Now 49, Cone reckons he has taken the oral histories of 50 or 60 World War II veterans, including many who served with his father in the 36th Infantry Division's deployment to fight the Germans in Italy.

Among the German veterans he interviewed was Guenter Halm, now 86. The artillery gunner won the Knight's Cross – Germany's equivalent of the Medal of Honor – after knocking out several tanks to stop an Allied advance during one battle.

Karl Koenig, a loader in a tank crew, was captured at Tunis and spent time as a prisoner of war in Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. Christian von Lucke commanded a Panzer tank regiment at the battle of Salerno.

"Von Lucke fought against my dad, and now we are friends," said Cone, who still becomes emotional about his father's wartime experiences.

"He told me that he looked out at the vast Allied armada assembled in the Bay of Salerno in September 1943, and he knew the war was over."

Today, 'no different'

Cone graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas and then attended Austin College in Sherman. Over the years, when he asked his father what he did to earn the Legion of Merit, he was met with the same nonanswer: "Son, I had the cleanest boots in the outfit."

"He just would not talk about it," Cone said.

Jack T. Cone, a tech sergeant who served in the Quartermaster Corps, died in 1991 and carried the secret to his grave.
Also Online

Link: George Cone's 'Lest We Forget'

During college, George Cone studied abroad in Germany and then returned to Frankfurt after graduation to work for a German bank. Today, he is married to a German woman, Manuela Scholten-Cone, who is a naturalized American citizen. They have three children, and everyone in the family, including Cone, speaks fluent German.

Cone, who makes a living in the oil business, has trekked to Germany at least eight times since 2000 to visit family and to indulge his hobby.

During the last decade, laudatory movies and books have elevated World War II veterans to hero status in the United States. Steven Spielberg's epic film Saving Private Ryan and television newsman Tom Brokaw's book The Greatest Generation come to mind.

In Germany, Cone said, "the old guys are constantly harassed, and they can't even publish where they have their reunions because left-wing radicals will attack them."

In 2001, Cone attended a reunion of German paratroopers in Braunschweig. A few decided to go to a cemetery to pay their respects to deceased comrades, and Cone went with them.

A gang of 15 or 20 men dressed in black, some with masked faces, approached the group and began chanting, "Murderers! Murderers! Murderers!" One of them confronted Cone.

"I told him to go away and let the old men honor their dead," Cone said. "He said he was going to whip me."

Long story short, Cone got into a fistfight and suffered a black eye.

The incident gave him "street cred" with the old Germans. He became their "bare-knuckled hero." They presented him a badge of honor on a plaque engraved with the words "Bund Deutscher Fallschirmjäger" – Organization of German Paratroopers. He keeps it among his extensive collection of World War II souvenirs.

Today, Cone said, the German veterans he interviewed "are no different than my dad or any other veteran."

During the war, he said, they had one source of information.

"And that was the propaganda channel. It was their youth, and they played the cards they were dealt," Cone said. "They fought until the bitter end, knowing they were going to lose."

Near the end, Cone said, the Germans "took off their helmets, threw them on the ground and capitulated. They went back to their destroyed country, beat the mortar off the rubble of bricks and rebuilt their country."

Telling the 36th's story

The 36th Infantry Division swept up National Guardsmen from all over Texas. Cone estimates that 30,000 soldiers rotated through the unit during the war.

Using his videotaped interviews with veterans, he wants to produce a documentary on the invasion of Salerno to bring recognition to the 36th.

"They were the spearhead of the invasion of Salerno, where we cracked Hitler's Fortress Europe a full nine months before D-Day," he said.

Whether any of the surviving veterans will be alive to watch the finished film is problematic.

Now in their 80s and 90s, they are dying at the rate of 800 a day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. An estimated 291,000 veterans will have died this year. Some experts predict they will all be gone by 2020 except for a few outliers who live past 100.

Some of them like to talk about their wartime experiences and some don't.

Fred Baldino, 88, a retired mail carrier in Burbank, Calif., parachuted into Sicily as a member of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. He fought his way through Europe and had been wounded twice by the time he was 21.

Cone attended an 82nd Airborne convention several years ago and met Baldino. They became friends and the old paratrooper is now among those who've told their stories on video.

"It doesn't bother me to talk about it," Baldino said. "I am very appreciative of George's interest in the war. Even to this day, people find out I was in the war and they thank me for my service. George is respectful like that."

After years of indulging his hobby, Cone now has his own body of memories. He remembers standing on the beach at Salerno with his father in 1984. As soon as they walked onto the sand, the old man's demeanor changed. You could see the fear on his face.

"The beach had been mined and booby-trapped with explosive devices during the war," Cone said. "So, he told me, 'Son, don't go out there.' And I said, 'Yes, sir.' Later, after he calmed down a bit, we walked back to the beach and talked about it."

For those who might want to take the oral history of a veteran, Cone has this advice:

"You've got to prod and push to get them to talk. But do it softly. There are so many bad memories they don't want to talk about."

George Cone's Website Lest We Forget (http://lestweforgetww2.com/)

01-03-2011, 07:57 PM
Heroism doesn't suffer politicians.
I once worked with a man that was in the 82nd during all of that and all he had to say was " Weren't no _ _ _ _ing fun. "

01-03-2011, 08:34 PM
That was an iteresting read Smoke.. That guy Cone getting a black eye protecting aging German Paratroopers rates him high in my book also.

When I was a kid there was a German Veteran named Mr Goring (spelling?)
That lived near me. We kids looked at him in Awe back in the 1960s. Wow A real live German Soldier. We were slightly afraid of him as he had a bad temper. He had been a POW in the states liked it and returned. At least that is what my dad said. One thing that came to mind after reading your post.
When my grandmother was put into a rest home, I stopped to vist. We were looking out the window at the State Highway department's men fixing the road.. She said Is that the Germans out there. I said no those are guys from the state. She said no those are Germans... The war prisoners they fix the road.. "Can you get them to bring them out to the farm, I need some help. They are good at fixing things those Germans are"
"Real smart they are"

I asked her did the Germans work on the farm? She said oh yes the Army brings them around to work.. They are very nice. Ask them if they can get them again. She was out of it on one hand, but very clear on the other.
German POWs had indeed worked all over the area here and I assume the farm from 1942 to 45.