Military Stories from World War II: the Rothschild Brothers, the King Brothers, and Alvah Chapman
In July, Historic Columbus will be celebrating our community's military history through the stories of our veterans. For the Thursday History Spotlights, we will focus on stories from World War II. Stories of our veterans from other wars are also being highlighted during the week on our social media. You can check them out here:
There are so many stories and the ones that will be featured merely scratch the surface. Thank you for celebrating our veterans with us this month!
Two wonderful books will be our main sources to honor our heroes:
Columbus Connections: A Collection of Wartime Stories by Lynn Willoughby and Saluting our Heroes: Part I - World War II by the students of the Shaw High School Service Learning Project, 2004.
The Rothschild Brothers Go To War Columbus Connections: A Collection of Wartime Stories by Lynn Willoughby (2007) During World War II, Irwin and Aleen Rothschild had good reason to be proud of their children. Three of their sons and their son-in-law served on active duty in the armed forces. A fourth son, Alan, served in the Naval ROTC and was medically discharged. Norman, the oldest, left Columbus with the very first group of draftees in the late 1930s. After bombardier school, he sailed for the South Pacific with the Fifth Air Corps. Middle son, David II, was stationed in the European theatre. Irwin went directly from Naval ROTC at the University of Virginia to serve first as a communications officer and eventually as the ship’s executive officer of the U.S.S. Stanly destroyer. Harvard Law School graduate Larry Rosenstrauch, who had met the Rothschild’s daughter, Laurette at a USO dance, serve in the Philippines as a warrant officer in the JAG Corps. In the vast South Pacific, Irwin Rothschild had a habit of running into people from home. He bumped into Richard Spencer om the Marshall Islands and stumbled upon his neighbor, Catherine Allen, a Red Cross worker in Guam. Then, as the Stanly patrolled the Philippines, Irwin learned that Norman’s APO had changed. This indicated his unite had moved, but censors prevented him from knowing where. On Christmas Day, when Irwin picked up the ship’s mail on Leyte Island, he asked the clerk if he knew where this particular APO was located.
David II, Irwin, and Norman Rothschild
“Six miles that way,” said the clerk pointing down a muddy road. The mud was so deep, in fact, that it took six hours to travel those six miles – one way. Even so, Irwin was determined to see his brother. The clerked picked up Norman in the mail jeep the next day and brought him back to the postal center where Irwin was waiting for him. When Irwin caught sight of his big brother, he was both relieved and concerned. Norman’s skin was yellow from repeated doses of quinine to ward off malaria, and he was skinny as a rail. Irwin took Norman back to the ship and made sure he ate well, but after a couple of days, the Stanly was called out to an emergency. Norman was dropped off in the middle of the night. Before he saw his brother again, Norman would earn four battle stars. Meanwhile, the U.S.S. Stanly saw a lot of action as it screened aircraft carriers. It bombed Iwo Jima while riding eighty-five-foot seas. It returned to that island a year later for the invasion, firing its anti-aircraft guns to clear the way for the six Marines who raised the American flag over the island. Serving on the radar picket line around Okinawa at station number one, the Stanly’s bow was pierced by a Baku bomb (a manned torpedo), and if it had exploded when it hit the ship as it was designed to do, instead of after it passed the vessel, all on board would have perished. Its squadron received the Presidential Citation for its service from the Soloman Islands to Okinawa.
Irwin and Norman on board the U.S.S. Stanly
After a year at Yale Law School, David Rothschild had joined the newly formed 302nd Ordinance Group, along with a dozen other Columbus men. Applying to Officers Candidate School, he accepted the first available appointment, which happened to be in the Quartermaster Corps. After other training, he traveled to England aboard the converted Queen Mary as it zigzagged across the Atlantic to avoid German U-Boats. He worked underground in an abandoned salt mine near Chelsea, then moved to headquarters in London’s Grosvenor Square to serve as the Section Chief of the General Supply Procurement Division for the six months prior to the invasion of France. The Allies were winning the air war, but the German V1 and V2 rockets pummeled London. While many were sleeping in the “tube” below ground, David’s billet moved four times. One night a rocket completely destroyed the nunnery next to his flat, killing the sisters and damaging his billet, but luckily leaving him unharmed. In the first days of the Normandy Invasion the planes landing on the beaches caused the flying sand to blind the troops. David worked with his counterpart in the British War Office near Trafalgar Square to procure goggles for the American invaders. As the war moved west, David moved with it. His vessel landed at Mulberry, near Utah Beach. Later, from his office on Paris’ famed Champs-Elysees, he procured everything the Army needed, including camouflage. By December 1944, he was living underground in Liege, Belgium.
Larry Rosenstrauch, Norman, Laurette, David II, Irwin, Alan, and Matile Rothschild
at the family home on Flournoy Drive
After Germany surrendered, Captain David worked in Frankfurt’s Supreme Headquarters Compound, one of the few buildings not leveled by Allied bombs, to rebuild war-ravaged Germany. The secret Potsdam Conference was being planned so that heads of state Truman, Churchill, and Stalin could meet to decide the postwar fate of Germany and also discuss how to defeat Japan. Because the Russians had stripped Berlin Clean, Rothschild had to procure from the American occupation zone everything the leaders would need, from linens and dishware to furniture, and send them via convoy to Berlin. Armed with a telegram from Supreme Commander General Dwight Eisenhower, David visited each Army headquarters, explained the secret mission, and secured its assistance. For all his accomplishments during the war, David received a Bronze Star, a battle star for Northern France, and two Army Commendation ribbons. In April 1946 when David’s ship sailed into New York Harbor, the sight of the Statue of Liberty took his breath away. He, his brothers, and his brother-in-law had seen a lot of the world in their years of service. Now it was time to build a private life. From Fort Dix, Davis caught a ride to New Haven and re-enrolled in Yale Law School. He and his brothers, Irwin and Norman, joined the family textile business. Larry Rosenstrauch set up a law practice in Columbus. Norman died in 1998. Today, from opposite ends of the country, Irwin and David continue to guide the business begun by their grandfather.
The Sons of Buford and Lillian King: A True Band of Brothers Columbus Connections: A Collection of Wartime Stories by Lynn Willoughby (2007) Buford and Lillian King and their five sons lived a quiet life on Forest Avenue in Columbus. Eldest son Buford was born in 1918 during the first world war; twins Edwin and Everett came along two years later; then Jack and finally Jimmy filled the King household to its rafters. Then came World War II, and one by one the King boys went off to war. Buford, Jr. volunteered in 1942. He served in the Ninth Infantry Division in the campaigns for Africa and Sicily before taking part in the Normandy invasion. Not far behind their big brother, the twins Edwin and Everett graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1942, and together the Captains King flew to England to serve as flight commanders and P-47 pilots of the famed, single-seat “Thunderbolt.”
Edwin, Buford, and Everett King
Within another year, Jack and Jimmy had also enlisted. Jack was a lieutenant at Camp Blanding, Florida, and Jimmy was a private with the anti-aircraft artillery at Camp Stewart when Buford and Lillian received the heartbreaking news that within one week’s time, Buford had been wounded at St. Lo, France, and Everett was shot down in a dog fight with German Messerschmidts nearby. Only twelve days before the city of Paris was liberated. Everett was among a group of American planes providing air cover to the Allied assault on the French capital. They had bombed a German convoy and were on their way back to base when a formation of the Luftwaffe engaged them, and a fierce air battle ensued. Edwin had been on leave in London when the incident occurred. As soon as he learned that his twin was missing, he rushed to the village of Clairefontaine on the outskirts of Paris only to learn that his brother had died in the fall when ejected from his plane. Edwin’s burden of loss doubles as he wrote his family to tell them Everett was dead:
Thirty-six years later the wreckage of Captain King’s plane was discovered in the French forest by a hiker. After some investigation, the plane was identified as Everett’s. The local authorities tried to learn something about this American hero but to no avail. In 1984 on the fortieth anniversary of King’s death, the village dedicated a monument to Everett in a ceremony that included many dignitaries, civilian and military, French and American. Edwin King, who had remained in the military until 1971 and earned thirty-one service medals during World War II, Korea, decided to travel with his children back to France in 1994 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Everett’s death. The village of Clairefontaine honored them as visiting notaries and showed them the spot in the forest where Everett’s plane hammered into French soil. Though his remains were returned to Columbus, the villagers of Clairefontaine will ever revere Everett King for his sacrifice that summer day in 1944.
Mission to Leipzig by Alvah Chapman Columbus Connections: A Collection of Wartime Stories by Lynn Willoughby (2007) February 20, 1944 was an eventful day for our crew of the 614th Bomb Squadron. The targets at Leipzig, Germany provided the focal point for what was only the twelfth mission for my crew. Our B-17, “Battlin’ Betty” (named after my wife) was scheduled to fly as the deputy lead for the division, which meant that we were the second airplane into Germany and the second airplane over the target. The target was of such significance and involved penetration so deep into enemy territory that we were concerned over what we knew would be considerable opposition. We had heard stories from veteran pilots. They warned us of the danger for a B-17 crew to be shot out of formation. Without the protection of the formation, German fighters would inevitably destroy an aircraft.
Chapman's plane, Battlin' Betty, with dedicated ground crew
All of our training was put to the test on this mission when two German Messerschmidt fighters knocked out two of our four engines. We were sitting ducks. I knew the “safe return” key was getting from our formation height of 25,000 feet to a much lower altitude where there might be a convenient cloud deck where we could hide from the fighters. However, if we “glided” down, we were still vulnerable to German fighters. In training, I had performed what is known as the “falling leaf maneuver” and I knew I could save lives. The airplane would appear to be spinning out of control, essentially enabling us to descend altitude at a rate of 4,000 to 6,000 feet per minute. We arched the nose upward until the plane almost stalled, and then we began to fall. It was a delicate maneuver because if we dove down too fast, the speed would cause the wings to collapse. We fell to 2,000 feet where we surprised everyone by leveling out. No one was more surprised than the German pilot who had, maybe out of curiosity, followed us down. I still recall the look of astonishment on his face, just yards away, when our turret gunner, Tech. Sgt. George S. Wilson, thoroughly blew him out of the sky.
Major Alvah H. Chapman, Jr.
We ducked into some clouds and knew it was going to be a challenge keeping the airplane aloft for a long limp home. It was a tough flight at low altitude across Germany, Holland, and the Channel. Two engines were out, as were the trim tabs. The two remaining engines were still going full blast just to keep us at 2,000 feet. Our navigator, Charles Millard Smith, skillfully navigated our crippled B-17 around many flak gun emplacements during the journey home. Six hours later, our airfield at Deenethorpe was a welcome sight. Our plane was given priority to land, but even when we touched down at the normal spot on the runway, we learned that the brakes were gone. The hydraulic brake line had been nicked by flak and, when initial pressure was applied, the line ruptured. We could see the end of the runway approaching fast. Major Silver and I were able to apply full power to the outboard engine and spin the plane off the runway over the grass, which slowed us until we came to a stop. “Battlin’ Betty” came to rest directly over the hardstand where the ground crew normally serviced the airplane. I was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the mission, but my greatest reward was having God’s blessing and deliverance. Without it, none of us would have made it home.
Chapman, second from left, with officers of the Battlin' Betty
Columbus native Alvah Chapman became Squadron Commander for the 614th Squadron of the 401st Bomb Group in December 1944. This group earned the distinction of being the second best in bombing accuracy in the history of the 8th Air Force while also having the second lowest personnel losses. But of the ninety men who flew across the Atlantic from America as a squadron to serve in England in 1943, only thirteen were neither wounded nor shot down during World War II. Major Chapman was among the lucky thirteen. He left the Air Corps in 1945 and returned to Columbus where he followed in his father’s footsteps as an executive of the Columbus Ledger Enquirer, eventually becoming chairman and CEO of the Knight-Ridder newspaper group.
Next week: We will highlight more stories from our World War II veterans. If you aren't already a member, we hope you will join us! I also want to encourage you to follow Historic Columbus on Facebook and Instagram for more posts on our community's history. Thank you all for your continued support of Historic Columbus! Elizabeth B. Walden Executive Director