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Brightwood Boys, The History of the Men from the North End of
Springfield, Massachusetts, During World War II
by Christopher P. Montagna

Going Home and Going Over


USS PringleAfter an overhaul at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, John L. Kelley and the men of the USS Pringle sailed to Pearl Harbor.  On November 11, 1944, the USS Pringle departed Pearl Harbor to take part in the invasion of the Philippines.  During the cruise,  the USS  Pringle bombarded enemy shore positions at Leyte, shooting down a Japanese plane and helped to sink the Japanese submarine I-46.


The sinking of I-46 was accounted in the December 1, 1944 edition of the Springfield Republican:


"Five inc guns from two destroyers of a squadron shelling the west coast of Leyte, sent a Japanese submarine to the bottom and left dozens of her crew splashing in the oil –covered waters.  The destroyers made ready to take the survivors aboard, but under the bright glare of searchlights the Japanese could be seen holding objects that looked like grenades and guns for safety ---- so the destroyers moved away."


In France, Alexander Samol and the men of the 550th Infantry Airborne Battalion had been fighting in the Maritime Alps as mountain troops.  They continued fighting until November, 1944 when the 1st Airborne Task force was disbanded and the battalion was moved to Aldbourne, England.  During that time, the 550th was attached to the 194th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 17th Airborne Division.  Alexander Samol was assigned to Company K, 194th (GIR).


In England, Adam Montagna was on MAA duty at a base dance on December 7, 1944.  Adam noticed a group of men fighting and proceeded to intervene.  During the altercation, he was rendered unconscious.  He awoke in the hospital some time later and was diagnosed with a concussion injury.  While stationed at Gillingham, Joe Montagna received word that Adam was injured and recuperating in Dartmouth.  Joe visited Adam at the hospital.   Although the war was over for Adam, Joe’s service would continue through Europe.


A week later, on December 15, 1944, Bert Sitek flew his 31st and final mission as an aerial gunner.  The days target was the marshalling yards at Kassel, Germany.  Bombing was done in Group formation. The results of the bombing were unobserved. Flak was light and no losses were sustained.


Adam Montagna was transferred the General Hospital in Plymouth on December 19, 1944.  With the downgraded role of the Amphibious Base at Dartmouth as well as the need for space at the General Hospital for returning wounded from Europe.  The decision was made to transfer Adam states-side for treatment.


Adam Montagna's tour overseas was over, he would be returning home.  On that same day, December 19, 1944, Joe Montagna and the 277th Combat Engineer’s departed Gillingham for Camp Hursey, located about thirteen miles north of Southampton. On December 22, 1944 the 277th departed Camp Hursey and arrived in Southampton that same day.  Joe and the members of the 277th embarked the liberty ship James B. Weaver at Southampton and arrived in Le Havre, France on December 26, 1944. 


In the Pacific, on December 29, 1944, Edmond Olbrych embarked aboard the USS Loundes at Maui, Hawaii.  The Loundes set sail on January 1, 1945 for practice maneuvers in preparation for the next campaign.


Also participating in the European Theater of Operation was elements of the 87th Infantry Division’s, 345th Infantry Regiment.  One of the members of First Battalion, Company B, 345th Infantry Regiment was Sherwood “Shed” Diamond, younger brother of Earl Diamond.  Shed enlisted in the Army on February 24, 1943. 


After infantry training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Shed Diamond and the 345th Infantry Regiment departed for the European Theater of Operation on October 17, 1944 aboard the Queen Elizabeth.  The Queen Elizabeth arrived in Scotland on October 22nd and the unit disembarked the following day.


After a month in England, the 345th boarded trains during the night of November 25th and marched through the streets of Southampton the following morning in route to the docks. The vessels bearing the foot elements arrived off Le Havre harbor in the early evening and anchored for the night. The next morning they moved inside the breakwater, and the troops went over the side into LCI’s for ferrying to the shore.  Motor convoys were waiting to carry the regiment to a bivouac area. The following day they arrived at the apple orchards of St. Saens near Rouen in the Red Horse Assembly Area. Rain, cold, fog, and mud combined to make life miserable.


On December 4, 1944, the men of the 345th boarded transport trains and would soon experience their first taste of battle.  The destination was Metz, France.  Soon after the unit’s arrival, German artillery began to shell the town.  Fortunately the regiment suffered no casualties.  The 345th fought in and around Metz until they were relieved by the 101st Infantry regiment on December 1, 1944. 


In the skies over Germany, Bert Sitek was riding in the ball turret of his B-17 on his thirtieth bombing mission as the men of the 457th approached Frankfort, Germany.  The flack over Frankfort tipped the B-17 over on its back, putting the ball turret and Bert where the top turret should have been,  “Suddenly I felt the plane lurch and the next thing I knew I was looking up at nothing instead of the bottom of the bomber” explained Bert. 


Bert went on to state, "Was I scared?  When I got myself orientated I realized we were on our back and that the plane was now below me instead of over me.  At first the thought flashed across my mind that I was being left behind.  Did you ever see a dog digging up a bone?  That’s the way I started to claw at the bottom of the bomber" explained Bert.


Loaded with four tons of bombs, the bomber fell from 30,000 to 12,000 feet before the pilot, Captain Harry Whitman, could pull it out of its spin.  Eventually the bomber was brought under control and then dropped deliberately to 300 feet to get under a cloud base.  "We got rid of our explosives on a railroad marshalling yard at Metz and then went down to 250 feet at which height we made it back to our own base, unharmed but still scared" said Bert.


In the Pacific, Lt. Cmdr. John L. Kelley was commanding the USS Pringle when the ship came under intense air attack while escorting a re-supply convoy.   Several ships in the convoy were sunk, while the Pringle shot down two planes.  On November 30th, a kamikaze crashed into her after deckhouse, killing 11 and injuring 20 men.  John L. Kelley would eventually be recommended and awarded a Silver Star Medal for his gallant actions during the battle.  The citation for the medal read:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Silver Star to Commander [then Lieutenant Commander] John Lawrence Kelley, Jr. (NSN: 0-78602), United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. PRINGLE (DD-477), in operations against enemy Japanese forces, while escorting a Re-Supply Echelon between Leyte Gulf and Mangarin Bay, Mindoro, Philippine Islands, from 27 December 1944 to 2 January 1945. When his ship sustained serious damage during a savage four-day battle with enemy aircraft, Commander Kelley directed his fire-fighting and damage control crews with skill and resourcefulness and, by his persevering efforts in the face of great personal danger, succeeded in maintaining the PRINGLE as a fighting unit in vital operations. Alert and courageous throughout this action, he contributed materially to the destruction of thirty-seven enemy planes which menaced his convoy and assisted in frustrating the attacks of numerous others. His leadership, initiative and devotion to duty upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Action Date: December 27, 1944 - January 2, 1945


Shed Diamond and the men of the 345th would be called into action again on December 14, this time in the vicinity of Remling, France.  Although Shed’s battalion would be spared, members of the 345th’s Second Battalion would suffer heavy casualties on December 17th in a battle in the Saar Basin, which came to be known as "Bloody Sunday".


On December 23, 1944 the Regiment was relieved and moved to Cutting, France.  The battalion spent Christmas 1944 in barns and homes located in and around the town.  However, the joys of Christmas soon gave way as word that the German Army had broken through the American lines along the German-Belgium border in what would become known as the "Battle of the Bulge".