Veterans Day Tribute to Orville Kessler

Kessler.Orvilleat St. Marks Venice

Orville Kessler at St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice, Italy

My cousin posted this wonderful picture of her dad, Orville Kessler, on Facebook this week. I had never seen it before and knew it was what I wanted to post today.

We don’t have a comprehensive understanding of my great-uncle Orville’s military service (yet!), but have pieced together the following:

Orville Kessler was inducted into the Army 21 May 1942 at Ft. Des Moines, Iowa and discharged 29 December 1945 at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. He served as a cook in the 310th Medical Battalion attached to the 85th Infantry Division.

Orville’s family supplied the following information:

* Orville signed up as a non-combatant because of his deeply held Christian conviction that it would be wrong to kill anyone.
* He talked very little about his experiences in the service.
* The picture of him standing by the fountain in Italy was found folded in a book after his death. None of his family had seen it before.
* Under battles and campaigns his discharge papers list Rome Arno (22 January 1944 – 9 September 1944), Northern Apennines (10 September 1944 – 4 April 1945), and Po Valley (5 April 1945 – 8 May 1945) – all in Italy.
* He was either in The Philippines or at the Suez Canal on his way to the Pacific Theater when the war ended. (More research needed!)

Kessler.Orville.85th_Division_SSI.svg

Shoulder Sleeve Insignia of the 85th Division

The 85th Army Division was known as the “Custer Division” and, although hard to see in the photograph, it looks like Orville has the Custer Division insignia on the sleeve of his shirt.

army_cook_pin_ww2I don’t see a pin on his uniform, but the motto on this WWII Cooks and Bakers pin is certainly true: No Army Marches Far Without The Cook.

As I said, we don’t have a lot of information about his service, but from the little research I did today, I picked up a few clues as to some of what he may have experienced.

Cook.Ft. Meade2234-Plaque_xHe probably attended an Army School for Cooks and Bakers. It would be interesting to know where he received his training. His family says that Orville was very good at baking pies and cookies and an expert at oatmeal. The plaque at right, from the Fort George Meade Museum in Maryland, gives a brief glimpse into the typical curriculum.

I found a short autobiography titled “A Cook’s Experiences in World War II,” written by Joseph A. “Buck” Craton, who was a cook in the U.S. 3rd Army, 65th Infantry Division, 869th Field Artillery Battalion, Headquarters Battery. We may not think of a cook as having much engagement in “warring,” but part of his story, which takes place in Germany, shows that we would be wrong in making that assumption:

This section is about me shooting down a plane. I’ll begin by describing how we operated in a large city. Our battalion consisted of headquarters (which I was in), four batteries of artillery, and one battery of anti-aircraft. Headquarters and anti-aircraft set up in the center of town, then each of the others set up on the corners. Our mess truck was equipped with a revolving 50 cal. machine gun mounted in the roof of the cab. If enemy planes attacked, no one would fire until they were in the circle of fire. One particular day I was alone with the mess truck and was serving coffee to our sergeant major. No one else was around. Suddenly there was a squadron of M.E. 109s overhead. Well, when all our batteries opened up they were so busy trying to get out of the circle of fire, I don’t remember their firing a shot. It was at this point the sergeant major told me to use our gun. I always liked to fire those things, so I jumped in the truck and picked out a target. When you fired a large machine gun you could see the tracers and know exactly how you were doing. No one else was firing at my plane. The sergeant yelled to me, “Lead it a little more.” You could see the tracers going into the tail of the plane. I took his advice and, lo, I got him! Smoke started streaming from the plane, and suddenly I got this feeling in the pit of my stomach. I thought, “God! I have just killed a man!” But suddenly I saw the canopy fly off and I saw a parachute open and I felt good again.

And one more story from a cook serving in the 85th Mountain Infantry Regiment in the Apennines (yes – we think Orville was there) – as told by and about Cpl. John Stone:

Stone was one of about a dozen cooks in the 85th Mountain Infantry Regiment who could set up a hasty field kitchen and, within 30 minutes, serve hundreds of Soldiers in feeding lines.

The cooks ensured Soldiers had their rations for the frontlines as the division forged ahead in the Apennines. Stone said the kitchen crew, which typically set up more than five miles back, dug a hole in the ground for a field oven and then stacked sandbags around it for the stoves.

“The meals were good, hearty, meat-and-potatoes type of meals with any vegetables that were available,” he said.

Stone said U.S. units often fed the Italians fighting on the Allied side. In turn, the partisans shared their spaghetti, pizza and lasagna, and U.S. Soldiers got to enjoy a taste of the surrounding countryside.

Stone, who got to stay in the mountain village homes of a few of the families, said the partisans were simple people, just like him, wanting to protect their families, their land and their way of life.

After major battles at Riva Ridge, Mount Belvedere and Mount Gorgolesco, Soldiers returned to base camp for food and much-needed rest.

“It was good to cook the Soldiers what they liked,” Stone said. “War’s a tough row to hoe. People who love each other and take care of each other help make it a great outfit.”

The division broke out of the mountains in April 1945. On the way to Po Valley and Lake Garda, Stone and his comrades marched through many booby-trapped areas. Bombs detonated in trees, under the snow and behind rocks.

The 85th Infantry Division saw a lot of combat, and as a part of the Medical Battalion, I am sure there were many sights and sounds that Uncle Orville may have been loathe to remember. I hope this post provides some insight as to what Orville’s military service may have been like and I look forward to our family doing additional research.

A photo gallery related to medical units in WWII.

Fred M. Webber Comments on Regents’ Prayer Decision: “Not a Great Tragedy”

BS Segregation Baltimore Miller Bros.jpg

Fred M. Webber 1962

It is surprising how frequently the news today echoes the news of the 1960s. As one example, courts in 2014 are hearing cases concerning prayer in public meetings and whether a Bible curriculum written by the conservative Christian and owner of Hobby Lobby can be taught in public schools. On June 25, 1962, the Supreme Court delivered a decision on Engel v Vitale, a case involving a state-written prayer for use in the public schools in New York.

Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.

“As supervisors of the state’s public education under New York law, the Board of Regents wrote this classroom prayer in 1951. Formal religion has no place in public schools, they said, but ‘teaching our children, as set forth in the Declaration of Independence, that Almighty God is their Creator’ would give the ‘best security’ in dangerous days. They recommended their prayer to local school boards; some accepted it, including the board in New Hyde Park, which voted in 1958 for the prayer to open each school day.” (1)

The parents of ten students in the Hyde Park school system objected and asked a New York court to stop the use of the prayer. The state court upheld the use of what became known as the Regents’ Prayer in the schools. In 1961, the Supreme Court accepted Engel v Vitale for review. And on June 25, 1962, the Supreme Court reversed the state court’s decision, saying that it violated the First Amendment’s ban against the establishment of religion. The court ruled that “any state-sponsored prayer, even if it is denominationally-neutral, represented an unconstitutional effort to promote religion and an infringement of the wall of separation that the Constitution set up between church and state.” (2)

As one can imagine, the decision sparked a great controversy, with a number of prominent church leaders and politicians speaking out against the decision.

President Kennedy was asked about the decision during a press conference on June 27, 1962:

And later that day, Fred M. Webber, General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Baltimore, spoke briefly at a celebration of the the 110th anniversary of the founding of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Baltimore. Fred M. Webber addressed some of his comments to the Supreme Court decision and recommended that people “read and heed” what President Kennedy had to say. He is quoted as saying:

“I find it a little difficult to think that the striking down of that prayer is a great tragedy.”(3)

1962.06.28.Newspaper Prayer Comments

1962.06.28.Newspaper Prayer Comments 2

I’m with you, Uncle Fred.

***
If you would like to read more about Fred M. Webber, click the Fred Myron Webber tag/link at the bottom of this post.

Sources:
1. “The Warren Court, 1953-1969.” The Supreme Court Historical Society. http://www.supremecourthistory.org/history-of-the-court/history-of-the-court-2/the-warren-court-1953-1969. (June 23, 2014).
2.  ”Religion in Public Schools: Engel v Vitale.” Digital History. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=3&psid=1197. (June 23, 2014).
3. “Cleric Says Court Ruling Is Not ‘A Great Tragedy’.”The Baltimore Sun.” JUne 28, 1962. Pg. 48.

3 Rabbis, a Priest, and a Presbyterian Minister …

walked into the Mandell and Ballow deli in Baltimore on February 7, 1962.

But they didn’t walk into Miller Bros. restaurant that day.

The group also included Dr. Furman Templeton, director of the Urban League in Baltimore – an African-American. They were refused entrance to the segregated restaurant.

After learning that my great uncle Fred M. Webber had participated in the 1963 March on Washington, I immediately started searching the internet to see what else I could find. I was excited by a link to Google Books.

The link took me to page 56 of Glimpses of Jewish Baltimore by Gilbert Sandler. Curious, I thought, since Fred wasn’t Jewish, but there was Fred M. Webber’s name on the first page of the chapter titled “Demonstrators: Baltimore Rabbis Confront Segregation.” And scrolling down to page 57 was a picture of Fred M. Webber! (The picture immediately below is the one referenced in the book, but does not appear in the book.)

BS Segregation Baltimore Miller Bros.jpg

Clergy standing outside Miller Brothers Restaurant after being refused entrance

The chapter begins:  ”Awakening on the morning of February 8, 1962, the Jews of Baltimore were stunned to see in their morning newspaper, a two-column picture that, for the Baltimore Jewish community, would close one era and open another. The picture would please some, disturb others and become the talk of the synagogue circuit.

The caption beneath the picture described the event depicted: Demonstrators: Five clergy and the Urban League director stand outside segregated restaurant that refused to serve them. They are from left: Rabbi Abraham Shaw, Rev. Fred M. Webber, Rev. Joseph Connelly, Rabbi Morris Lieberman, Rabbi Abraham Shusterman, and Dr. Furman Templeton.” (1)

In the weeks preceding the clergy protest, several restaurants in Baltimore had been picketed by biracial groups of college students who had previously been refused service. As reported in the Baltimore Sun newspaper, the clergy randomly selected two restaurants known to be segregated and called to inform them that they were coming – to give the restaurants “every advantage.” The clergy also notified the press. The protest was timed to coincide with the opening of the Maryland General Assembly, which was to consider public accommodations legislation that would desegregate all restaurants and hotels.

Although the group was seated at Mandell and Ballow and stayed for a half-hour lunch, the restaurant’s comptroller explained that the group was seated out of deference to the clergy and that the restaurant would remain segregated until passage of the public accommodations legislation. (2)

1962.02.08 Fred M. Webber newwspaper 1

1962.02.08 Fred M. Webber newspaper 2

I’m sure I read another source (but I can’t find it now!) that said that the clergy wanted to pay a visit to one Jewish restaurant as part of their protest. Mandell and Ballow fit the bill.

Shortly before the clergy protest in early February, Mandell and Ballow deli had experienced an embarrassing incident in which a “group of Israeli sailors, all originally of Yemenite extraction, had gone to the deli and been denied service because of their dark skin.” Once the manager learned the men were foreign Jews, they received apologies and were seated. (3)

Following the incident with the dark-skinned sailors, the deli was picketed by a youthful labor Zionist group and, the following week, the Baltimore Board of Rabbis urged Jews not to patronize restaurants that discriminated.

I’m guessing the deli management didn’t want any more bad publicity the day Fred Webber and his clergy colleagues showed up for lunch.

While researching this, I found a wonderful website with many personal stories told by civil rights activists in the south. Rosalyn Garfeld Lang picketed Mandell and Ballow and shared this and other stories. Check out http://crmvet.org/.

To view a photo of the clergy standing outside Mandell and Ballow deli that day, search for Glimpses of Jewish Baltimore and include Fred M. Webber in your search terms.

If you would like to read more about Fred M. Webber, click the Fred Myron Webber tag/link at the bottom of this post.

(1) Sandler, Gilbert. Glimpses of Jewish Baltimore. Charleston, SC: The History Press,
2012.
(2) Nordlinger, Stephen E. “Clergymen Demonstrate Against Bias.” The Sun. Feb. 8, 1962.
(3) Lang, Rosalyn Garfeld. “A Baltimore Girl Sits In.” http://crmvet.org/nars/balt61.htm
(June 15, 2014).