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Coincidences of History Brought Home

One of the interesting things I've discovered researching my relatives' activities in World War II has been the "coincidences" that resulted in the crossing of those people's paths.

Two examples will illustrate what I mean.

First, as followers of my blog might recall, my uncle, Corporal Dillon Summers, was a tank driver for artillery forward observers of the 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 3rd Armored Division, First Army, VII Corps.

He landed on Omaha Beach about two weeks after the D-day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. He went almost immediately into action, helping call in artillery bombardments of German positions inland. Dillon was subsequently involved in the heavy fighting in the bocage, the hedgerow country, where U.S. forces were bogged down for a time.

It was during the breakout from the bocage, code named Operation Cobra, on July 24-25, 1944, that Dillon's path crossed with that of my wife's uncle, Sergeant Paul Bagosy, albeit unbeknownst to either man.

On July 24, just minutes before the 3rd Armored Division was set to launch the attack, Dillon wrote a letter home. The letter included a reference to the aerial bombardment that was to prepare the way for the ground assault.

"I have been in a very nervous stage ever since I have been in France," he admitted. "I have been in the middle of two tank battles. . . . My tank was hit by fragments from a German 88 mm shell. Our Radio put out of commission. It was fixed under fire & we carried out our mission. I have been recommended for a Bronze star for Bravery. But tell you the truth, I was scared stiff. . . . I have Just seen this morning about 2800 Bombers Bomb a small Area in whitch I must go through in a few hrs."

Among those 2800 bombers, in one of the B-17 Flying Fortresses roaring over Dillon's head that day, was Sergeant Paul Bagosy, a tail gunner aboard the "Bolo Babe." He was part of the 546th Bombardment Squadron, 384th Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force. Paul's Sortie Report #5130 that day read:

"The 384th Bombardment Group (H) provided all three groups of the 41st A Combat Bombardment Wing on today's mission. This mission was primarily against enemy troops near the invasion front lines. Weather prevented attacks on the primary target, but the lead group did manage to bomb a road junction just south of the primary target. The high group [that included "Bolo Babe"] made two bomb runs in an attempt to attack the primary, but was unable see the target area. Similarly, the low group was preparing to make a second run on the primary when it received a radio message to abandon operations."

Paul didn't know until later that some of the bombs dropped that day fell on American troops, killing 24 and wounding 128 others. Dillon, on the ground, experienced it firsthand. The breakout was postponed until the next day.

On July 25, Dillon didn't write home, but Sortie Report #5169 showed that Paul again was over the bocage front, this time in a B-17 named "The Challenger." The report read:

"The 384th Bombardment Group (H) provided all three groups of the 41st B Combat Bombardment Wing on today's mission. The primary targets were troop and artillery concentrations ahead of an attack planned for moments after the bombing. The lead (Montreuil) [this included "The Challenger"] and low (La Chapelle en Juger) groups attacked their assigned aim points successfully, but the high group held their bomb because their target (Le Cheatel) was obscured by previous wings' bomb blasts."

Tragically, just as on the previous day, some of the bombs fell on American forces, killing 111, including Lieutenant General Leslie McNair, and wounding 490 others. Paul didn't know until later. Dillon, on the ground, knew it firsthand. Despite the fact that many units had to spend time digging out and nursing their wounded, the operation began, the German line was broken, and the race to the Siegfried Line was on.

Dillon and Paul never met. Both returned from the war with wounds, Dillon's physical and Paul's nervous. They went on with life and died natural deaths in old age. Dillon's nephew (I) grew up to marry Paul's niece (my wife).

The second seemingly serendipitous crossing of paths occurred in the Pacific Theater. When the war formally ended with the signing of the instruments of surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, the heavy cruiser USS St. Paul was anchored nearby. Aboard her was my future father-in-law, seaman Charles "Lefty" Dietterich, who was assigned to one of the ship's 5-inch guns.

Following General Douglas MacArthur's closing speech, an armada of U.S. warplanes of every size and description flew over in a show of force. Aboard one of the many B-29 Superfortresses in the armada was a young waist gunner, Sergeant Oscar Rule, with whom I would later attend church.

Charlie and Oscar didn't know each other at the time. After my wife, Charlie's daughter, and I were married, however, my in-laws visited us, attending church with us one Sunday. There, the two veterans met, and Oscar invited all of us to share lunch at his home. While there, Charlie commented on the large model of a B-29 hanging from the ceiling of Oscar's organ room. The two began sharing their wartime stories and discovered that both had been present on that historic day, one on the water of Tokyo Bay and the other in the air above it.

I'm sure that with so many millions of men serving in the military during the war, such path crossings were not rare. But when they involve one's friends and relatives, such as the two instances I discovered, they are special.

Have you discovered similar path crossings in your family's history? If so, preserve--and share--those memories with others.


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