The Fifth Field

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So far The Fifth Field has created 147 blog entries.

Simon Wiesenthal

I was just reorganizing my desk and found some photographs almost twenty years old.  One was a picture from July 2002 when I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Simon Wiesenthal in his office in Vienna.

Nazi hunter

Simon Wiesenthal (above in his later years) was born on December 31, 1908, in Buchach, in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  His father was a wholesaler, who had left Russia in 1905 to escape the anti-Jewish pogroms.  The elder Wiesenthal was called to active duty in 1914 in the Austro-Hungarian Army at the start of World War I; he was killed in action on the Eastern Front in 1915.  Simon, his younger brother and his mother fled to Vienna, when the Russian Army overran Galicia.  In the ebb and flow of war, the family returned to Buchach in 1917, after the Russians retreated.  Simon attended the Czech Technical University in Prague, where he studied from 1928 until 1932.  After graduating, he became a building engineer, working mostly in Odessa in 1934 and 1935.  The next six years are unclear, concerning Wiesenthal’s life; he married in 1936, when he returned to Galicia.

After the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941, Wiesenthal’s mother came to live with him and his wife in Lvov.  Wiesenthal, a Jew, was detained by German authorities on July 6, 1941, but was saved from an Einsatzgruppe firing squad by a Ukrainian man, for whom he had previously worked.  German police deported Wiesenthal and his wife in late 1941 to the Janowska labor and transit camp and forced to work at the Eastern Railway Repair Works.  Every few weeks the Nazis would conduct a selection of Lvov Jewish Ghetto inhabitants unable to work.  In one such deportation, Wiesenthal’s mother was transported by freight train to the Belzec extermination camp and killed in August 1942.  On April 20, 1943, Wiesenthal avoided execution at a sand pit by firing squad, when at the last moment a German construction engineer intervened, stating that Wiesenthal was too skilled to be killed.

On October 2, 1943, the same German warned Wiesenthal that Janowska and its prisoners were about to be liquidated.  Wiesenthal was able to sneak out of camp and remained free until June 13, 1944, when Polish detectives arrested him in Lvov.  With Russian troops advancing, the SS moved Wiesenthal and other Jews by train to Przemyśl, 135 miles west of Lvov, where they built fortifications for the Germans.  In September 1944, the SS transferred the surviving Jews to the Płaszów concentration camp in Krakow.  One month later, Wiesenthal was transferred to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp.  While working at a rock quarry there, Wiesenthal was struck on the foot by a large rock, which resulted in the amputation of the large toe on his right foot.  The advancing Russian Army forced the evacuation of Gross-Rosen; Wiesenthal and other inmates marched by foot to Chemnitz.  From Chemnitz, the prisoners were taken in open freight cars to Buchenwald.  A few days later, trucks took the prisoners to the Mauthausen concentration camp, arriving in mid-February 1945.   When the camp was liberated by American forces in May 1945, Wiesenthal weighed 90 pounds.

Wiesenthal dedicated most of his life to tracking down and gathering information on fugitive Nazis.  His goal was to bring as many conspirators to the “Final Solution” as possible to justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity.  In 1947, Simon Wiesenthal co-founded the Jewish Historical Documentation Center in Linz, Austria, in order to gather information for future war crime trials. He later opened the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna.  Wiesenthal was instrumental in the capture and conviction of Adolf Eichmann.

Visiting Mr. Wiesenthal in Vienna, 2002

The author interviewed Simon Wiesenthal at his small office in the Jewish Documentation Center in central Vienna in July 2002.  During the visit, Mr. Wiesenthal said that there was one thing wrong with his book, The Camp Men.  Dismayed, French waited for the explanation.  “You were born 50 years too late.  You found how to look through their officer files to prove they had been in the camps, while I had to rely on eye-witnesses.  If you had been there to help me back then, I would have found more.  But you weren’t born yet!”

Wiesenthal wrote The Sunflower, which describes a life-changing event he experienced when he was in the camp.  He died in Vienna on September 20, 2005; his remains are buried at Herzliya, Israel.

Simon Wiesenthal2021-12-24T11:02:23-06:00

Montgomery Meigs


Sometimes you get the opportunity to work with a real American hero.  If you get really lucky, you serve again with that person a second time.  Such was the case with Lieutenant Colonel Montgomery Meigs, then a Cavalry Squadron Commander, and I was the C Troop commander in his unit.  Later, he rose to become the Commander of US Army Europe as a 4-star general, saw my name as coming up for reassignment, and asked me to be the Inspector General for the US Army Europe.  When I arrived in Heidelberg and reported in to his office, I asked him for his “Commander’s Intent” for guiding the tens of thousands of Army troops in Germany and other countries, and he replied: “We’re going to do that just like back in the Squadron.”

Montgomery Cunningham “Monty” Meigs, former Commander, U. S. Army Europe (USAREUR,) was born in Annapolis, Maryland on January 11, 1945.  His father, a lieutenant colonel and tank battalion commander, had been killed in action in France exactly one month before his son was born.  The great-great-great grandnephew of Montgomery C. Meigs of Civil War fame, the younger Meigs graduated from West Point in 1967.  He served as a cavalry troop commander and a squadron operations officer in Vietnam.  After receiving a Ph.D. in history at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and attending the Army’s Command and General Staff College, he taught in the History Department at West Point, spending one academic year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an International Affairs Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Lieutenant Colonel Meigs assumed command of the 1st Squadron, 1st Armored Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Armored Division in June 1984.  Two years later, he attended the National War College as an Army Fellow and then served as a strategic planner on the Joint Staff for three years.  Colonel Meigs then returned to USAREUR and assumed command of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division on September 26, 1990, later fighting in “Operation Desert Storm.”  Promoted to brigadier general, Montgomery Meigs commanded the Seventh Army Training Command in Grafenwöhr, Germany, as well as serving as Chief of Staff of V Corps and Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations of the U.S. Army, Europe, and Seventh Army.  He later commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Bosnia, and after receiving a fourth star, became the commander of the U. S. Army in Europe.

After his retirement in 2002, Montgomery Meigs served as a professor at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, director of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) and as Visiting Professor of Strategy and Military Operations at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is also the President and CEO of Business Executives for National Security (BENS), a national security public interest group.  He resided in Austin, Texas, until he died on July 6, 2021, after a long illness.

It was an honor to have known him.  A lot of people are going to miss him.  I remember standing in a watch tower and sitting in a Jeep overlooking the Czech border back in the Squadron years ago.  Sometimes we would talk about our fathers, or about the Army, and how just doing a good job was more important than getting a medal or being promoted, and if you did a good job the rest would take care of itself.

And now I believe that he has finally met the father he never knew and that is also more of a reward than any promotion or medal could ever be.

Montgomery Meigs2021-08-26T14:06:30-05:00

Master Sergeant John C. Woods


John C. Woods on troopship — this photo and several other photos of Woods in The Fifth Field were graciously supplied by the Associated Press archives

During World War II, Master Sergeant John C. Woods served as a hangman assigned to the Loire Disciplinary Training Center at Le Mans, France; in his capacity, he hanged at least twenty-three soldiers – and possibly up to thirty-five – and was the assistant hangman for five others in the European Theater of Operation.
Woods was born in Wichita, KS on June 5, 1911.  Woods, who came from a broken home and was placed in the custody of his grandmother and grandfather when his parents were divorced when he was ten, completed freshman year at Wichita High School, but the dropped out.  He enlisted in the Navy in 1929, but deserted.  Authorities apprehended him, convicted him by a Summary Court-Martial and dismissed him for being mentally unstable and unsuitable for military service.
He received a dishonorable discharge from the Civilian Conservation Corps after six months in 1933, when he went AWOL and refused to work.  Prior to his induction in the Army on August 30, 1943, he lived in Eureka, Kansas; he was married to Hazel Chilcott on September 30, 1933 in Eureka, Kansas; the couple had no children.  At his Army induction, he was listed as having blue eyes, brown hair with a ruddy complexion, standing 5’4½” tall and weighing 130 pounds.
He reported to Fort Leavenworth, KS to begin training on September 19, 1943; he was assigned to Company B of the 37th Engineer Combat Battalion in the 5th Engineer Special Brigade on March 30, 1944.  Woods may have participated in the landings on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 with his unit.  He was attached to the 2913th Disciplinary Training Center in October 1944; orders in December 1944 show him assigned to the Provost Marshal Section in the Headquarters of the Brittany Base Section.  Woods was formally assigned to the 2913th DTC on February 12, 1945; on May 7, 1945, he was assigned to the Headquarters of the Normandy Base Section, but was attached back to the 2913th for duty.  On September 3, 1945, Woods was released from attachment and assigned to the Headquarters CHANOR Base Section.
Woods gained international fame in October 1946, as the official hangman for the International Military Tribunal at Nürnberg.  There, he executed ten senior German military and civilian officials previously convicted of egregious crimes against humanity, crimes against peace and war crimes.  During his career as a hangman, he reportedly executed 347 men, but this is a large exaggeration.
Woods was accidentally electrocuted on July 21, 1950 on Eniwetok Atoll.  He is buried in the city cemetery in Toronto, KS, a small town sixty miles east of Wichita, next to his wife.  John Woods was awarded the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (with one campaign star), the Good Conduct Medal, the Occupation (Germany) Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and a Distinguished Unit Badge.
John C. Woods was a central figure in The Fifth Field, but he deserves his own biography that is now in the making!

Master Sergeant John C. Woods2016-07-26T13:53:18-05:00

Marksmanship Training

Skeet Range (Fort Stewart)

The best years of my life were spent in the United States Army Infantry.  I was lucky enough to be a rifle platoon leader for fourteen months and then a weapons’ platoon leader for three more.  Then, undoubtedly because the lieutenant colonel who was the battalion commander was leaving and would not have to put up with me, I became the scout platoon leader for the battalion.

In these positions (I hesitate to call them jobs because I was having too much fun), as I look back, I can see that I did not spend as much time as I should have ensuring that every soldier in the platoon was a crack shot.  I should not have been satisfied when one of our soldiers qualified sharpshooter, or God forbid, marksman.  I should have made the whole platoon shoot until everyone achieved expert or dropped down exhausted.  I was always able to achieve this level, but that was because I loved to shoot and would buy ammunition out of my own pocket to fire as often as I could, and if I was not the best pistol shot among the officers in the battalion, I was darn close.

The same feeling should have been present when I was a company commander at Fort Benning and an armored cavalry troop commander back in Germany.  But the higher you go, the more requirements are placed on your unit and you seem to have even less time for the really important things.

As an older officer, I was able to read about pivotal battles throughout history and one thing that struck me was that the side that could shoot the best most likely would win the battle.  This conclusion really struck home when I walked the Little Bighorn half a dozen times in preparation for writing Custer’s Best.  Seeing the skirmish lines in the valley and atop what would later be called Reno Hill, both locations occupied by Company M of the Seventh Cavalry, it became obvious that most of the troopers in the company couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with their rifle shooting.

“Most” isn’t really accurate; my conclusions were that maybe only four or five men were actually expert with their weapons and that included the company commander and the first sergeant.

After I retired and spent time out east, we moved back to Illinois and I met a few guys who urged me to go skeet shooting with them, a sport I had never tried before.  Of course, the first few times I was terrible.  I was firing a shotgun of course, with each shell discharging perhaps 500 tiny pellets, but the targets were all moving very fast.  These little disks, called birds, came almost straight at me on some shooting stations and went away from me on others.  Often they cris-crossed in front of me, requiring that I shoot two targets in a matter of just a couple of seconds.

I got better and better and then it struck me.  We should have shot skeet in the infantry; in fact, every soldier in every branch should have shot skeet.  First, skeet forced me to keep both eyes open when I shot, which greatly increased my field of vision and my awareness of what was going on around me.  Second, I finally started to understand the concept of lead and how the intent was not to fire directly at a moving target, but to fire at a point where I believed the target would be when the round got out there to the same point.

Third, skeet was fun and competitive, which makes anyone do better, especially soldiers who are quite competitive by nature.  Fourth, shotgun ammunition is a WHOLE lot cheaper than rifle ammunition and this would really count with unit training budgets seemingly shrinking year after year.  Finally, skeet pellets travel only a small fraction of the distance a rifle bullet will travel.  This makes it easier to set up a skeet range and can be done with available distances as little as a couple hundred yards instead of the large range fans that traditional small arms need.

Many military posts have skeet ranges.  Try your hand at it and then take some non-commissioned officers out to shoot skeet and watch them compete against each other in marksmanship as if their lives depended on it.

Because on the battlefield, it will.

Marksmanship Training2015-08-17T12:19:28-05:00

Looking for Information

If you are a related family member of these soldiers, PLEASE Email me; I need additional information on them and hopefully a picture in uniform.  I can also provide additional information on them to you.

Looking for Information2013-02-23T18:30:16-06:00

Landsberg Prison in Lieu of Sharks

(November 26, 2012)  After extensive research, there just isn’t enough to do a book on shark attacks and the survivors of the USS Indianapolis.

With that project on hold, have started a historical novel on Landsberg Prison, with Dante, and his sidekick Virgil, coming back and redoing a new version of Dante’s Inferno, featuring Auschwitz, Landsberg, Plötzensee Prison, the Wannsee Conference and Lublin, Poland and Operation Reinhard.  This will be the author’s first attempt outside of pure non-fiction.  It may become an E-book.

Landsberg Prison in Lieu of Sharks2013-01-13T16:50:49-06:00

New Info on Germany’s Most Prolific Hangman

(October 14, 2012 — Washington)  Another research trip to the National Archives uncovered information on Johann Reichhart, probably Germany’s most prolific hangman of the last century.  See how the U.S. Army hired Reichhart to hang dozens of his former employers in the Historical Sketches section.

Regarding the USS Indianapolis, our search found dozens of survivor hand-written accounts of the sinking, as well as finding that the Navy “sanitized” the archives’ file in the early 1990s of information regarding burials at sea of the dead.

New Info on Germany’s Most Prolific Hangman2013-01-10T17:28:36-06:00

Company L and Shark Attacks?

(September 2, 2012)  Now that Stalingrad is in to the publisher, there are two future projects that are starting to get interesting.  One is another company history of the 7th Cavalry to go with that of Company M.  It would be about Company L and Lieutenant Jimmy Calhoun.  A second book project may be on the USS Indianapolis, concentrating on the exact scope of the shark attacks against the men in the water after the ship sank.  Send an email in if you have any preference and we’ll see where readers’ interests are.

Company L and Shark Attacks?2013-01-10T17:26:51-06:00
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