News, notes and follow-ups

Category: World War II

One year ago: Lewis Millett


Retired Army Col. Lewis Millett, a veteran of three wars and a Medal of Honor recipient, loved his country and was eager to fight. So eager, in fact, that in 1941 he deserted the U.S. Army and joined the Canadians when the United States delayed joining World War II. He died one year ago today.

"I must be the only Regular Army colonel who has ever been court-martialed and convicted of desertion," Millett told, speaking about the minor punishment and subsequent promotions he received after he rejoined the Army and his brief desertion was investigated.

The Army's quick forgiveness paid off. Millett went on to fight in Korea, where he led a bayonet charge up a ridge known as Hill 180 that earned him the Medal of Honor.

The charge, in which he personally stabbed two enemy soldiers, was called by historian S.L.A. Marshall "the most complete bayonet charge by American troops since Cold Harbor," an 1864 Civil War battle.

In his 31-year career, which also included service in Vietnam, Millett was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, two Legions of Merit, three Bronze Stars, four Purple Hearts and three Air Medals in addition to his Medal of Honor.

"The man was born 170 years probably too late for his liking; there is zero question in my mind he would have been one of the original Sons of Liberty," said Mike Goldware, who was chairman of the committee that built the National Medal of Honor Memorial at Riverside National Cemetery in 1999.

For more, read Lewis Millett's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Lewis Millett at Wheeler Army Air Field in Hawaii during a 50th anniversary ceremony commemorating the end of World War II.

Credit: Associated Press

One year ago: John Scolinos

Scolinos John Scolinos was a Southern California baseball coach at Pepperdine University and Cal Poly Pomona who left a behind a much-heralded legacy of victory. He died one year ago at age 91.

Scolinos coached 14 seasons (1946-1960) at Pepperdine before becoming head coach at Pomona in 1962. There, he turned the program into a powerhouse, winning Division II national championships in 1976, 1980 and 1983.

He also won six California College Athletic Assn. championships and was named Division II coach of the year three times.

He retired in 1991 with a combined 1,198 victories and was inducted into the American Assn. of Collegiate Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1974.

"The good thing about coaching in a college atmosphere, a good atmosphere like this, is that it's constantly changing," Scolinos told The Times in 1987. "The kids keep it interesting. Every season is like a new life cycle."

Before coaching, Scolinos played semipro baseball and served in the Army Air Forces from 1942 to 1945.

For more on the baseball coach, read John Scolinos' obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: John Scolinos in 1987. Credit: Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times

Dutch author Harry Mulisch dies at 83

Harry Mulisch
Harry Mulisch, the Dutch author best known for his novels “The Discovery of Heaven” and “The Assault,” which became an Oscar-winning film, has died. He was 83.

His publisher said Mulisch died Saturday at his home in Amsterdam, where he had lived since 1958. He had cancer.

“With his death, the Netherlands loses one of its greatest literary sons,” said Robbert Ammerlaan, director of noted Dutch publishing company De Bezige Bij, in a statement Sunday. “Harry Mulisch leaves behind a peerless and unparalleled oeuvre.”

Born in Haarlem, the Netherlands, on July 29, 1927, to an Austrian-Hungarian father and a Jewish mother from Antwerp, Mulisch’s own life came to reflect the turbulent 1930s and war-torn '40s.

“I didn’t so much experience the war,” he once wrote. “I am the Second World War.”

His father, Karl, an army officer, had emigrated after Austria-Hungary was defeated in World War I. After Karl’s marriage to Alice Schwarz ended in divorce in 1936, Harry stayed with his father and was raised mostly by the family housekeeper. He grew up during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

During the war, Karl Mulisch worked at a bank that handled confiscated Jewish assets. His connections helped protect his son and ex-wife from being deported to Nazi concentration camps. After liberation, he was sent to an internment camp for three years for having collaborated with the occupying power.

For his son, the war became a recurring theme in novels, from “Het Stenen Bruidsbed” (“The Stone Bridal Bed”) in 1959 to “De Aanslag” (“The Assault”) in 1982 and “Siegfried” in 2001.

“De Aanslag” describes the coming of age of Anton Steenwijk, a boy whose family was killed by the Germans in retaliation for the murder of a collaborator. The sole survivor, Anton later tries to piece together what happened that fateful day. Translated into more than 20 languages, the book was made into a Dutch film that won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for best foreign-language movie.

Mulisch published what was considered his greatest work, “De Ontdekking van de Hemel” (“The Discovery of Heaven”), in 1992. Bringing together mystical, biblical and historical themes, the plot pivots on how humanity has disappointed God, who now wants to withdraw his contract with man as set out in the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.

Mulisch receivedseveral awards, including the P.C. Hooft Prize in 1977 and the Dutch Literature Prize in 1995. In 2007, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Amsterdam, which he considered his crowning achievement -- “at least, as long as I haven’t received a Nobel Prize yet,” he was quoted as saying.

-- Bloomberg

Photo: Harry Mulisch in October 2008. Credit: Robin Utrecht / EPA

One year ago: Claude Levi-Strauss

Levi-starussClaude Levi-Strauss was a French philosopher who is widely considered the father of modern anthropology because of his then-revolutionary conclusion that so-called primitive societies did not differ greatly intellectually from modern ones. He died one year ago at age 100.

Levi-Strauss' years spent studying tribes in Brazil and North America led him to the conclusion that the myths and cultural keystones of primitive peoples revealed an intelligence no less sophisticated than that of Western civilizations. Those myths, he argued, all tend to provide answers to such universal questions as "Who are we?" and "How did we come to be in this time and place?"

The philosopher and sociologist was briefly a warrior when World War II broke out and Germany invaded France. When his country was defeated and occupied, he gained employment at a school in Montpellier, but was soon fired because he was Jewish.

He lived in the United States for the rest of the war, working for the New School for Social Research in New York and serving as a cultural attache in the French Embassy in Washington. He returned to his home country after the war was over, earning his doctorate in anthropology at the University of Paris in 1948.

He had become a leading influence in France by the mid-1960s, though by the 1980s his ideas were being supplanted by those of the so-called post-structuralists, who argued that history and experience were far more important than universal laws in shaping human consciousness. More recently, however, his views have come back into popularity.

For more on his journeys, thoughts and influence, read Claude Levi-Strauss' obituary by The Times' Thomas H. Maugh II.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Claude Levi-Strauss in 2005. Credit: Pascal Pavani / AFP/Getty Images

Robert Katz, who wrote about Italian history, dies at 77

American writer and historian Robert Katz, whose meticulous reconstruction of an infamous Nazi massacre in Rome brought him fame and sparked a trial over whether he defamed the pope, has died in Italy, his family said Thursday. He was 77.

Katz, who had been a longtime resident of the Tuscany region in Italy, died in a hospital there on Wednesday. His wife, Beverly Gerstel, told the Associated Press that the author died from complications from cancer surgery.

Katz wrote extensively on 20th-century Italian history in books, essays and articles, some of which were made into films. In "Days of Wrath," Katz chronicled the 1978 kidnapping and killing of Aldo Moro, a former premier, at the hands of the Red Brigades. In "The Battle for Rome," he looked at the months that followed the fall of Benito Mussolini at the end of World War II.

But it was his book "Death in Rome" — and the subsequent movie based on it, called "Massacre in Rome" — that made the biggest splash. The book dealt with one of the worst Nazi atrocities in occupied Italy, the 1944 slaughter by German troops of 335 innocent Italian men at the Ardeatine Caves in retaliation for an attack by Italian partisans the day before.

The book, first published in 1967, stirred controversy because it suggested Pope Pius XII did not intervene to stop the massacre even though he knew about the Nazis' plans. When the movie came out, a relative of the late pontiff brought a lawsuit against Katz.

According to Katz's website, a two-year criminal trial ended with the author being convicted and sentenced to 14 months in prison for defaming the pope's memory. The verdict was overturned on appeal and later the case was dismissed by Italy's highest court, the website said.

Years later, the movie based on "Days of Wrath" about the Moro case also caused controversy for taking the view that Moro's death could have been prevented. His book "The Cassandra Crossing, " about European train travelers exposed to Bubonic plague, was made into a film starring Sophia Loren, Burt Lancaster and Richard Harris.

Katz also wrote on the case of Erich Priebke, a former Nazi SS captain who was extradited to Italy from Argentina in 1994 and convicted in Rome for his role in the Ardeatine Caves massacre.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Katz moved to Italy in the mid-1960s, first living in Rome and then in a country house near Arezzo in Tuscany.

"I was following a grand old tradition," he said about his move to the Italian capital in 1964. "It had been created by some of the great American writers and artists of the 19th century, and like them, I'd set out to pursue and court the 'mistress of the world.' "

Katz is survived by his wife Gerstel, sons Stephen and Jonathan, and three grandchildren.

-- Associated Press

Kwa Geok Choo, wife of Singapore's first prime minister and mother of current premier, dies at 89

Kwa Geok Choo, the wife of Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, and the mother of the island-nation’s current premier, Lee Hsien Loong, died Saturday after suffering a stroke two years ago. She was 89.

Born in 1921, Kwa first met Lee in the late 1930s when they studied in Raffles Institution, where she was the only girl in an all-boys high school. At Raffles College several years later, they competed for the Queen’s Scholarship, which allowed recipients to study at either Cambridge or Oxford universities.

Kwa was the top student in English and economics, besting Lee to his “horror,” he said in the first volume of his memoirs dedicated to her. World War II interrupted their studies, and Lee left Singapore in 1946 to study at Cambridge after the Japanese left. Kwa joined him a year later after she won the Queen’s Scholarship, and they both graduated with law degrees.

She married Lee in December 1947, and they had two sons and a daughter. She was regularly seen accompanying Lee at state events and overseas visits.

Lee said he could afford to give up his career as a lawyer and follow his convictions to enter politics because of Kwa, according to the book “Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas.”

“My great advantage was I have a wife who could be a sole breadwinner and bring the children up,” Lee was quoted as saying. “That was my insurance policy. Without such a wife, I would have been hard-pressed.”

The couple and Lee’s brother founded law firm Lee & Lee in September 1955, according to the legal company’s website. Kwa and her brother-in-law, Lee Kim Yew, ran the firm after Lee became the city’s prime minister from 1959 to 1990.

Their elder son was sworn in as Singapore’s third prime minister six years ago, replacing Goh Chok Tong, who took over as premier in 1990. Lee now has the role of minister mentor.

-- Bloomberg

One year ago: Paul Fay


Paul Fay was a longtime friend of President Kennedy who wrote about their relationship in his 1966 book "The Pleasure of His Company" and served as undersecretary of the Navy in Kennedy's administration. Fay died one year ago.

Fay met the future president in 1942 in Rhode Island. Their first meeting, in a story befitting the Kennedy legend, was during a touch football game that Kennedy joined in progress. Fay was there for torpedo-boat training and Kennedy was his instructor.

Both served in World War II, and both survived confrontations with the Japanese. Kennedy's boat was struck in the darkness by a Japanese destroyer and sank, and Fay's boat was struck by a torpedo. Fay later received a Bronze Star. The two men became close while rooming together after the incidents.

In his book, Fay disclosed previously unknown details of the Kennedy's life, including the president's exasperation during the botched Bay of Pigs landing in 1961 and his mixed thoughts on getting married.

Fay's father, Paul B. Fay Sr., was president of Fay Improvement Co., which built roads and sewers throughout San Francisco. Fay returned to San Francisco after leaving government in 1965, taking over the business and eventually turning it into a consulting firm.

For more on President Kennedy's close friend and the secrets he revealed, read Paul Fay's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Paul Fay spends Easter 1963 with President Kennedy in Palm Beach, Fla.

Micky Burn, World War II commando and writer, dies at 97

Micky Burn, a British journalist, novelist and World War II commando who flirted with fascism, embraced communism and helped save the life of Audrey Hepburn, has died. He was 97.

Burn died Sept. 3 at his home near Porthmadog in northern Wales after suffering a stroke, his friend James Dorrian said Monday.

Capt. Michael Burn took part in one of the war's most daring raids, an amphibious assault on the French port of St. Nazaire, code-named Operation Chariot, in March 1942. The plan was for commandos to ram a destroyer into the dock and then blow the ship up, while troops stormed ashore to destroy German installations.

The raid was a success and a great morale booster for Britain, but losses were heavy -- of the 28 men under Burn's command, 14 were killed. Burn was wounded but fought on until he was captured by German troops. Newsreel footage showed him flashing the “V for victory” sign as he was led away. After the war, he was awarded the Military Cross for his actions during the raid.

Burn was especially proud of his role fighting Nazi Germany because as a youth -- and, he later said, “to my eternal shame” -- he had flirted with fascism.

Visiting Germany as a young journalist in the mid-1930s, he met Hitler through his friend Unity Mitford, the Nazi-sympathizing daughter of an aristocratic English clan, and attended a Nazi rally at Nuremberg. He later recalled with embarrassment how he had greeted Hitler with a Nazi salute and told him, in German, that he was very popular among English youth. Hitler gave him a signed copy of “Mein Kampf.”

“He was extremely ashamed of his own role and the degree to which he had been taken in,” said Dorrian, who is completing a documentary film about Burn's life. “He thought Hitler was doing a good job getting rid of unemployment in Germany and giving, in his own words, Germany back its soul.”

Burn was born into privilege in 1912, the son of a royal official, and educated at private Winchester College. He won a scholarship to Oxford University but dropped out after a year to travel around Europe -- staying with assorted high-society figures including Alice Keppel, former mistress of King Edward VII -- before becoming a journalist.

Strikingly good-looking, he attracted both male and female admirers. His lovers in the 1930s included Guy Burgess, a left-wing British intelligence officer later revealed as a Soviet spy.

“Guy was the catalyst, the man who drew him away from fascism toward communism,” Dorrian said.
“We suspect Micky was being groomed by him” as a Russian agent, Dorrian said. “I think the war intervened just in time.”

Increasingly aware of the dark side of Nazism, Burn enlisted in the army reserve in 1937 while working as a journalist for the Times newspaper, and after war broke out in 1939, he joined a commando unit.

After his capture at St. Nazaire, Burn was sent to the prisoner-of-war camp at Colditz Castle in Germany, where he was one of a small team operating a secret radio. Burns would listen to BBC news reports, taking down he details in shorthand, then brief the other prisoners.

While in captivity, he also studied for an Oxford degree and wrote a novel, published in 1946 as “Yes, Farewell.”

“It was a pivotal moment in his life,” Dorrian said. “Before that it was all castles and villas and posh people. Then he was sent to Colditz and had time to reflect.”

At Colditz, Burn received a Red Cross parcel after an acquaintance, Ella van Heemstra, recognized him from newsreel footage of his capture. After his release, Burn returned the favor by sending food parcels to Van Heemstra in Holland, where she and her daughter, Audrey Hepburn, were malnourished, reduced like many Dutch people to making flour from tulip bulbs. He also sent cigarettes, which Van Heemstra sold on the black market for penicillin to treat the seriously ill Hepburn.

After the war, Burn reported for the Times from Eastern Europe before moving to Wales, where he put his socialist principles into practice by running a mussel-farming cooperative -- it was a financial disaster -- and wrote novels, nonfiction books, poetry and an autobiography, “Turned Toward the Sun.”

Dorrian said that Burn rejected orthodox communism but kept his left-wing views to the end. Of all his achievements, he was proudest of his poetry.

In 1947, Burn married Mary Booker, who died in 1974.

-- Associated Press

One year ago: Larry Gelbart

Mash-writer Larry Gelbart, who developed the Korean War comedy "MASH," was called a comedy progidy by some of the very best comedians out there. He died one year ago at his Beverly Hills home.

"Larry Gelbart was among the very best comedy writers ever produced in America," said Mel Brooks, whose friendship with Gelbart dated to when they both wrote for Sid Caesar's comedy-variety show "Caesar's Hour" in the 1950s. Gelbart "had class, he had wit, he had style and grace. He was a marvelous writer who could do more with words than anybody I ever met," Brooks said.

The award-winning Gelbart shared an Emmy for "MASH" in 1974 and shared three Emmy nominations during his time on Caesar's show. He also made a mark on Broadway, co-writing the book for the hit musical "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," which won a Tony for best musical.

In his 1998 memoir "Laughing Matters," Gelbart said the challenge of "MASH," which became the work for which he is best known, was being funny without ignoring the human suffering of war.

Gelbart's more than 60-year career began in radio during World War II when he was a 16-year-old student at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. He made an impression writing for comedy shows, even being allowed to continue that work during a stint in the military.

For more on the comedic genius, read Larry Gelbart's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Larry Gelbart. Credit: Los Angeles Times

One year ago: Gertrude Noone

Gertrude-noon Gertrude Noone was a 44-year-old insurance policy clerk for Travelers in Hartford, Conn., in 1943 when she enlisted in the Women's Army Corps.

A year ago, right before she died at age 110, she was the oldest known living military veteran in the world.

Noone rose to the rank of sergeant first class during her service, which began during World War II. She was chief clerk of the large dispensary at Ft. Myer, Va., by the time she left the Army in 1949.

Former Secretary of the Army Pete Geren honored her in March 2009 in recognition of Women's History Month and the Army's Year of the Non-Commissioned Officer. He visited her at her Connecticut nursing home and called her "a woman who has served with great distinction."

Noone, born Dec. 30, 1898, in Ansonia, Conn., was one of 10 children in her family. All nine of Noone's siblings predeceased her. The most recent was her sister Esther Balogh, who served as an Army nurse during World War II and died in 2003 at 103.

For more on the woman who was the oldest known living military veteran, read Gertrude Noone's obituary by The Times.

--Michael Farr

Photo: Gertrude Noone in uniform while she served in Women's Army Corps, and later in life at her nursing home last year. Credits: Courtesy of the family, left; Richard Messina / Hartford Courant

One year ago: Dina Gottliebova Babbitt

Babbit Dina Gottliebova Babbitt never got her pictures back.

Babbitt, a Holocaust survivor who died one year ago, fought for more than 30 years to retrieve portraits that she was forced to paint of fellow prisoners while she was imprisoned at Auschwitz concentration camp. She credited the paintings, which are kept at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, for saving her life.

A young art student when she was deported to Auschwitz, Babbitt drew a "Snow White" scene on a wall of a children's barracks to help soothe the youngsters. Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi doctor who performed hideous experiments on prisoners, heard of her talents and ordered her to paint portraits as mementos for his racist theories.

Babbitt said she told Mengele she would rather die if her mother was not also let out of a group of Jews scheduled to be gassed. Her mother was allowed to live. Her father and her fiance died elsewhere in the Holocaust.

After World War II, Babbitt went to Paris and became an assistant to American cartoonist Art Babbitt, one of Disney's "Snow White" animators. They married and moved to Hollywood and later divorced. She worked in animation at various Hollywood studios.

Then, out of the blue in 1973, the Auschwitz museum notified her that it had the paintings.

Despite her long campaign to reclaim the paintings, the museum has insisted that artifacts proving Holocaust history should be in their original setting.

For more, read Dina Gottliebova Babbitt's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Dina Gottliebova Babbitt. Credit: Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times

One year ago: Walter Cronkite

For two generations of Americans, one man was the epitome of broadcast news: Walter Cronkite, who died one year ago. The CBS anchor -- with his steady baritone voice -- informed, guided and reassured the nation through the tumultuous 1960s and '70s. He was widely regarded as the most trusted man in America.

Cronkite aimed for a straightforward, objective news delivery style. He rarely showed emotion, but when he did, it was a national moment. Images of him tearing up at the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and chanting "Go baby, go!" as Apollo 11 lifted off for the moon are burned into the nation's memory.

After a rare moment of commentary in which Cronkite declared the Vietnam war unwinnable, President Lyndon Johnson reportedly turned to an aided and said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America." Many observers speculated that this was a major reason Johnson decided not to run for a second term -- and offered to negotiate with the North Vietnamese.

Cronkite was so prominent in American life, that it is from his role covering political conventions that the term "anchorman" was born -- a testament to his central role in the broadcasts.

When Cronkite famously signed off the news with "And that's the way it is," many Americans believed him.

"Walter was truly the father of television news," Morley Safer, a correspondent for CBS' "60 Minutes," said in a statement. "The trust that viewers placed in him was based on the recognition of his fairness, honesty and strict objectivity."

For more about the famed anchorman, read Walter Cronkite's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Walter Cronkite. Credit: CBS


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