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Dick Ellis Blog:
5/21/2020
Publisher’s Note: As referenced in the May-June 2020 print issue of On Wisconsin Outdoors, the Ellis column Memorial Day-Trading it all… directs the reader to this website for stories of Americans in battle during World War II and Vietnam.  Posted in the April 30 Ellis Blogs on this website Tanks in a Mine Field is the eye witness story of 709th Tank Battalion gunner John “Mike” Kunnen during the bloody battle of t...
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Dear Taylor

Publisher’s Note:

As referenced in the May-June 2020 print issue of On Wisconsin Outdoors, the Ellis column Memorial Day-Trading it all… directs the reader to this website for stories of Americans in battle during World War II and Vietnam. 

Posted in the April 30 Ellis Blogs on this website Tanks in a Mine Field is the eye witness story of 709th Tank Battalion gunner John “Mike” Kunnen during the bloody battle of the Hurtgen Forest in November, 1944 near Kleinhau, Germany. Discovered online, the account includes the graphic description of the battle and the deaths of three soldiers including Lt. Charles Ellis, one of six brothers from Wisconsin Rapids serving and the uncle of this publisher.

Posted immediately after Tanks in a Mine Field, please find A Grateful Survivor’s Story of Selflessness in Battle. This eulogy was given by Warrant Officer and LOH scout pilot Steve Ellis (this publisher’s brother) for Lou Rochat prior to Rochat’s burial in Arlington National Cemetery.  Shot down, severely wounded in Vietnam and under intense ground attack, Ellis and two door gunners were saved by Warrant Officers and cobra pilots Dan Rager and Rochat.  Learn what the heroic and unselfish actions of the two 21-year olds in 1970 meant for Ellis, of Wausau, and his family over the next five decades.

When Rager was asked years later by Steve Ellis why he disregarded consideration of his own life in making an extraordinary decision to save the shot-down crew he said, “When I was covering a scout, we all live or we all die.”

On Wisconsin Outdoors

On Wisconsin Outdoors

Cobra pilot Dan Rager made the call to attempt the rescue of the downed crew, including Steve Ellis, in Vietnam.

The blog below is a letter from this publisher to his daughter, Taylor, offered in the hope that she will not forget what men did for her own family, and for her freedom that enables her to do whatever she chooses to do.

Dick Ellis

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Ellis Blogs 5-18-2020

Dear Taylor

A Memorial Day message from a father to his daughter

Good morning Taylor Rae,

I’m having a little trouble believing you just turned 26. I’m certain it was last week when mom and I brought you home from St. Mary’s, all 6 pounds, 11 ounces of you strapped in the back seat of  a beat up old car to start your new life.  

I remember the day. We didn’t make it 300 yards from the hospital before the first crisis hit.  Mom and I looked at each other and I say, “Is she breathing? I don’t think she’s breathing.” Mom says, “I don’t think she is breathing!  She’s not breathing. Pull over!”  So we pull over on Lake Shore Drive in Milwaukee.  We screech to a halt, I dive in the back seat, rip off the blanket and…you were breathing. 

That’s a true story. Maybe that’s just what new parents do. We know nothing, except for some God-given reason we know that we would trade it all for you the moment you pop out and introduce yourself. From the start, Mom and I tried to instill in you the idea that you could go out and become anything you wanted to become; one of those gifts that comes with being born American.

On Wisconsin Outdoors

Taylor Ellis checks in with her parents. An eight year journey to becoming a pharmacist comes to an end.

Mom just showed me the photo that you texted today, decked out in medical scrubs. In one month you will have completed eight years of college, pharmacy school, and now this final residency. You worked hard for this; your personal chosen pursuit of happiness. Nicely done.

Today, though, I want to introduce you people close to our family and not so close, people willing to trade everything so that you, and everyone else, could do whatever you chose to do decades later and across the ages. May 25 is Memorial Day, a day for honoring and mourning military personnel who have died while serving the United States armed forces.  America has lost approximately 1 million of these extraordinary people since the War for Independence.

The stories to follow in part will better introduce you to three men who directly impacted your own family.  One is buried under a white cross in an American cemetery in Belgium. One is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, among 420,000 other American servicemen. And one is alive and well even though he was willing to trade it all for your uncle Steve Ellis and two others who faced certain death if he didn’t do what he did in Vietnam.

Those stories; Tanks in a Mine Field and A Grateful Survivor’s Story of Selflessness in Battle are found in the Ellis Blog on this website dated 4-30-2020. There is also an underlying story that you need to know, remember, and pass on to sons or daughters that you may have one day. For every soldier that fell, remember that the loss and pain is multiplied by many.  

I asked you recently if you remember Grandpa, who we lost when you were in grade school.  You said, “I even remember the smell of his aftershave. I remember a lot.”

On Wisconsin Outdoors

Home again 2nd Lt. Bob Ellis of the Army Air Corps would fly B-25s and B-17s stateside, Irene Ellis, Captain Don Ellis of the 347 Fighter Squadron would be shot down over Italy on October 4, 1944 in a P-47, Margaret Ellis,  2nd Lt. Arthur Ellis of the Army Air Corps would provide radar support for the 303rd Heavy Bomber Wing in England, Marie Ellis, Navy Lt. Fred Ellis would serve in the Pacific on the aircraft carrier, USS Langley.  When the flight deck was blown apart by a Japanese shell, repairs were made and American planes were taking off again 20 minutes later.  Forever missing; Tank Commander 1st Lt. Charles “Chug” Ellis of the 709th Tank Battalion would be killed in action in Kleinhau, Belgium November 30, 1944.

Those memories are also a gift. Remember too that grandpa was one of six brothers from Wisconsin Rapids who served in World War II. Grandpa was a fighter pilot shot down in a P-47 over Italy on October 4, 1944, and captured.  He was badly injured including burnt hands and face, broken ribs and back injuries suffered in the cockpit fire and from colliding with the tail wing while bailing out. He spent three days eluding German troops before he was captured. When he was liberated from Stalag VII in Germany near the end of the war, he traveled to find his oldest brother Charles, or “Chug”, as the family knew him. He was informed by the Red Cross that Charles had been killed in action on November 30, 1944, less than two months after Grandpa was shot down.

On Wisconsin Outdoors

Taylor’s Grandpa Don Ellis in front of a P-47 in Europe. He would be shot down and captured on October 4, 1944 over Italy.

Grandpa was listed as missing in action because no other pilot in his 350th Fighter Group, 347th Fighter squadron saw his parachute on that final mission. Back home in Wisconsin Rapids, the Ellis family thought it probable that one son…your grandpa… was already dead when news came that Charles had been killed in action.

The youngest brother, Stan Ellis, now in Appleton remembers it all despite being 4 years old. Do you remember Tae, one of the sickening scenes in Saving Private Ryan?  Mrs. Ryan on her Iowa farm loses strength to even stand and settles to the porch floor as the chaplain and officer approach with news of her sons killed in action.  Not often, Tae, but sometimes Hollywood gets it right, and hits too close to home for many who know exactly how that feels.

On Wisconsin Outdoors

Lt. Charles “Chug” Ellis.  Purple Heart. Bronze Star.

“The Department of Defense had visited Chug’s wife, Clara, at her home in Stevens Point and told her Chug had been killed,” Stan Ellis said.  “Clara’s brother came over and told our family. Grandpa (Your great grandpa Tae) was listening to the radio when he came over. I remember Irene and Margaret were standing at the top of the stairs crying and screaming. I was 4 years old and it is forever etched in my mind.  Margaret was 19 years old.  She told me later that she never wanted to answer the door again. She was afraid it would be a chaplain.”

Uncle Charles has rested for almost seven decades under a white cross in the American Cemetery in Belgium named Henri Chapelle near Kleinhau. Henri Chapelle, one of many American cemeteries scattered across Europe, holds the graves of 8000 American troops killed in action.  Some were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions in dying for brothers in arms. More than 80 graves hold young American men who were systematically murdered after they had surrendered to Nazi SS Troops in an incident known as the Malmedy Massacre. There are 35 pairs of brothers buried there.  Three graves hold the Tester Brothers. As the host of the History Traveler said on Mother’s Day when I watched footage of the show to become better familiar with Henri Chapelle, “Gosh…some mom lost three of her boys over here….”

One of your uncles Taylor, my brother John Ellis searched for and found the eye witness account online detailing how Charles and other men died in one vicious battle, and then traveled as an airline pilot to Brussels to find Chug’s grave at Henri Chapelle. It’s a lonely place where Charles has rested with too many others.  John took the Brussels Metro from his hotel to the main train station, then a train operated by the National Railway Company of Belgium to Welkenraedt, a city about 73 miles east of Brussels. From the Welkenraedt train station, he took a bus to the town of Henri-Chapelle, a three mile ride north.

“I then walked about three miles further north down a country road to the cemetery,” John told me. “The road has quiet farm fields on both sides now, and views as far as the eye can see, but during WWII they were raging battle fields. During my walk up I imagined Dad (Grandpa) and our uncles walking with me, only now they were young and in their prime. Once at the cemetery it was easy to look up and locate Uncle Chug’s marker.”

On Wisconsin Outdoors

The grave of Lt. Charles Ellis rests under a white cross in the Henri-Chappelle American Cemetery, killed in a bloody tank battle in November, 1944 near Kleinhau, Germany.

“As I was about to leave, one of the caretakers asked me where I was from. When I told him my story, he said he thought that I was an American and offered to take some better pictures of Chug’s marker for me by trawling sand from the Normandy beaches over the face of it; this would make the name and dates show up better in a photo.”

Which brings us to Normandy Taylor, specifically Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. Normandy is the location of the most recognized WWII American cemetery in Europe, holding the remains of, and honoring, 9,385 of our military dead over 172.5 acres, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations.  The 10 grave sections within the cross-shaped cemetery include 45 sets of brothers, with 33 pairs of brothers buried side by side.

So men’s lives turn into markers and memories, because that is all we have. Within the burial sections at Normandy are 307 unknown graves. Perhaps they too are remembered because the American cemetery at Normandy also receives one million visitors every year. I hope so.

So Tae, from a proud father, here’s your story ending in a few sentences, and the best gift I can give you for everything you’ve gone out and taken in your short time on earth. Don’t become apathetic, complacent or unappreciative because you don’t know anything else but the luxuries that come from sacrifice that you had nothing to do with. And I had nothing to do with.  And most of us had nothing to do with. Do your best Taylor, to tell your own children these stories.  Realize that anything you own or hold, including being a pharmacist, is less important than your freedom. Trade everything for it, and to ensure that we keep it.

One million Americans and their families already did.

Love,

Dad