68th anniversary of D-Day

American troops and supply vehicles splash ashore on the French coast during the D-Day invasion, in the wake of long lines of soldiers already moving inland (visible in the distance) on June 6, 1944. (Associated Press / News Tribune files)

Today, June 6, 2012, is the 68th anniversary of the D-Day invasion by Allied troops on the coast of Normandy, France, during World War II. Here’s an image of that day’s News-Tribune front page; click on the photo for a larger view:

Here are some more AP photos of D-Day, from the News Tribune files:

In this June 5, 1944 file photo, Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower gives the order of the day – “full victory – nothing else” – to paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division at the Royal Air Force Base in Greenham Common, England, three hours before the men boarded their planes to participate in the first assault wave of the D-Day invasion of Europe. (Associated Press / News tribune files)

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In this June 6, 1944, file photo released by the U.S. Army, U.S. paratroopers fix their static lines before a jump before dawn over Normandy on D- Day. (AP Photo/Army Signal Corps/News Tribune files)

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U.S. troops wade ashore to a Normandy beach from a landing craft on D-Day, June 6, 1944. (Associated Press / News Tribune files)

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American soldiers landing on D-Day left this memorial to a fallen comrade on the Normandy coast on June 6, 1944. (Associated Press / News Tribune files)

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For much more historical information about D-Day, check out this website created by the U.S. Army.

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Remembering Mike Colalillo, Medal of Honor recipient from Duluth

Sgt. Mike Colalillo of Duluth phones relatives in December 1945 with news that he’ll be meeting with President Truman later that month to receive the Medal of Honor. (News-Tribune file photo)

Mike Colalillo, a World War veteran and Medal of Honor recipient from Duluth, died Friday at age 86.

Here is the citation which accompanied his medal:

“He was pinned down with other members of his company during an attack against strong enemy positions in the vicinity of Untergriesheim, Germany. Heavy artillery, mortar, and machine-gun fire made any move hazardous when he stood up, shouted to the company to follow, and ran forward in the wake of a supporting tank, firing his machine pistol. Inspired by his example, his comrades advanced in the face of savage enemy fire. When his weapon was struck by shrapnel and rendered useless, he climbed to the deck of a friendly tank, manned an exposed machine gun on the turret of the vehicle, and, while bullets rattled about him, fired at an enemy emplacement with such devastating accuracy that he killed or wounded at least 10 hostile soldiers and destroyed their machine gun. Maintaining his extremely dangerous post as the tank forged ahead, he blasted 3 more positions, destroyed another machine gun emplacement and silenced all resistance in his area, killing at least 3 and wounding an undetermined number of riflemen as they fled. His machine gun eventually jammed; so he secured a sub-machine gun from the tank crew to continue his attack on foot. When our armored forces exhausted their ammunition and the order to withdraw was given, he remained behind to help a seriously wounded comrade over several hundred yards of open terrain rocked by an intense enemy artillery and mortar barrage. By his intrepidity and inspiring courage Pfc. Colalillo gave tremendous impetus to his company’s attack, killed or wounded 25 of the enemy in bitter fighting, and assisted a wounded soldier in reaching the American lines at great risk of his own life.”

Here are some photos of Colalillo from the News Tribune files, along with an article from when he received the medal.

It’s not like packing barracks bags, Sgt. Mike Colalillo learns from his sister, Mrs. Anthony Sisto, who shows him how civilians pack in this photo from December 1945. Mike is getting set for a ceremony in Washington in which he’ll receive the Medal of Honor from President Truman. Lending moral support in the preparations are Mike’s father, Carlo, and his niece, Diane, 7. (News-Tribune file photo)

This article ran in the News-Tribune on Dec. 18, 1945, the morning he received the medal from President Truman:

Mike is calmest of Colalillos

Eager family awaits CMH presentation today

By Gustaf A. Nordin, News-Tribune staff writer

WASHINGTON — Sgt. Mike Colalillo came to the world’s busiest capital Monday with his family and was the calmest of the Colalillos as they prepared for presentation of the Congressional Medal of Honor by the President of the United States today.

“What did you do to earn the Congressional Medal, Mike?” he was asked as an informal press conference.

“Oh, they’ve got a citation around here on it someplace” was the answer. Mike looked tough enough to be a sergeant, but his outward calm belied the fireball his friends say he was earlier this year on a battlefield near Untergriesheim, Germany. He certainly didn’t act the part of a Yankee infantryman who had blasted 25 Germans out of his path as he and his buddies went rushing in on what he calls “a pretty big battle, I guess.”

The proudest Colalillo in Washington this week is Carlo, the hero’s father. He complained of a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He has had it for two months, but doesn’t attribute it to excitement over his son’s return from the European war one of the country’s top heroes. Mike returned two months ago.

The rest of the Colalillos from Duluth were not to be left behind. Patrick, a brother; Mrs. Patrick Sisto and Mrs. Anthony Sisto, sisters; and Mrs. Lorraine Colalillo, sister-in-law, were on hand for the biggest event in their lives.

The women battled Washington’s Christmas shopping mob Monday afternoon. Mike, along with three other Congressional Medal recipients who will be honored by the country at 12:30 p.m. today, were in the hands of war department personnel. The sergeant was issued a new uniform for the occasion. He went to Capitol Hill for a brief visit.

President Truman presents the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Mike Colalillo of Duluth in Washington on Dec. 18, 1945. (News Tribune file photo)

The 20-year-old lad who went to West Junior high school in Duluth and turned to earning his own living early in life is considering the GI Bill of Rights to further his education. But he doesn’t know yet what he will study.

He will drive a truck for his brother, Patrick, a mechanic shop operator in Duluth, “until something better might turn up.”

The Colalillos plan to leave here Wednesday, returning to Duluth.

Papa Colalillo works at the Zenith Furnace Co. in Duluth when he is well, and is amember of the AFL Coke and Gas Workers’ union.

Mike was asked, “Aren’t you a bit excited about meeting the President?”

“I guess so,” he answered. But you wouldn’t believe it. His superior officers commented on the side later that he wasn’t as calm when he rescued a buddy and knocked more than a score of Germans out of action during a second push on a major objective.

A captain with the group took me aside after the conference with Sergeant Colalillo. Very simply, with a genuine feeling of affection in his voice, the captain said of the sergeant:

“There goes one swell fella.”

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Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich shakes the hand of Medal of Honor recipient Mike Colalillo of Duluth during a ceremony at the Duluth City Hall on May 25, 1978. (News-Tribune file photo)

Mike Colalillo stands next to a bust of himself after it was unveiled at Duluth City Hall on May 25, 1978. (News-Tribune file photo)

Colalillo returned to Duluth after receiving the Medal of Honor, and worked for some time at the Port Terminal. In May 1978, with Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich and Vice President Walter Mondale on hand, a bust of Colalillo was unveiled at Duluth City Hall.

In 1995, near the 50th anniversary of the act of heroism that earned Colalillo the Medal of Honor, the News Tribune’s Mark Stodghill visited with Colalillo, and wrote this column….

Mike Colalillo of Duluth, pictured here in May 1995, was presented with special license plates in recognition of receiving the Medal of Honor. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

Medal of Honor recipient a down-to-earth hero

By Mark Stodghill, News-Tribune

Maybe it was Mike Colalillo’s melodic Italian surname.

His quiet dignity.

His surprising shyness.

His touch of greatness.

As I sat across the table from Colalillo in his rural Duluth home, I was reminded of American sports legend Joe DiMaggio. Both men share all the aforementioned qualities.

I interviewed the great DiMaggio once and have read a lot about him. Ernest Hemingway thought enough of DiMaggio’s fame to mention the Hall of Fame baseball player in “The Old Man and the Sea.”

Colalillo is mentioned in a book, too. It’s titled “America’s Medal of Honor Recipients.”

While DiMaggio is a sophisticated legend known across America, Colalillo is something more — a down-to-earth hero, but he isn’t widely known in his hometown.

The 69-year-old native Duluthian is uncomfortable being labeled a hero, but after a long hesitation said, “I suppose I am.”

You bet he is.

Fifty years ago, Colalillo risked his life to save his Army company during an attack against enemy positions near Untergriesheim, Germany. His actions resulted in him receiving the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for bravery that can be given to an American serviceman.

In this undated photo, probably taken in fall 1945, then-Pfc. Mike Colalillo of Duluth, stationed with the U.S. Army 100th Division’s 398th Infantry in Germany, writes home to his dad with news that he has been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. (U.S. Army photo / News-Tribune files)

Yesterday, on Armed Forces Day, a plaque honoring the World War II veteran was scheduled to be dedicated on Mike Colalillo Drive on West Duluth.

Colalillo appreciates his latest honor, but wasn’t looking forward to having to make a speech.

“I’ll have to thank the dignitaries who are there to speak and thank the people who came out to wish me a good fortune, but it’s going to be short and sweet,” he said on Monday.

I wondered how Colalillo’s life would be different had he not received the medal.

“I have no idea, but it didn’t change me,” he said. “I’m still a shy guy who doesn’t like to talk about himself.”

Colalillo treats fame like perfume. It’s great to be around and wonderful to smell, but he wouldn’t want to swallow it.

Fame came to him in December 1945 when he and members of his family entered the Oval Office of the White House and watched President Harry Truman put the Medal of Honor around Colalillo’s neck.

“He (Truman) said, ‘I’d rather have the medal than be president,’ ” Colalillo remembered. “I just said, ‘Thank you.’ ”

According to the citation accompanying the medal, here’s part of what the 19-year-old, 5-foot-11, 145-pound Colalillo did on April 7, 1945:

Under heavy enemy fire, he ran forward firing his machine pistol. When his weapon was struck by shrapnel and rendered useless, he climbed to the deck of a friendly tank, manned a machine gun and while bullets rattled about him, fired at an enemy emplacement killing or wounding at least 10 hostile soldiers and destroying their machine gun.

He destroyed another machine gun emplacement, killing at least three and wounding an undetermined number as they fled.He then helped a wounded comrade to safety over several hundred yards of open terrain, rocked by an intense enemy artillery and mortar barrage.

What does Colalillo remember about it?

“I don’t like to remember it to tell you the truth,” he said. “I was scared Very scared. The feeling I had was to shoot or they’d shoot me. It was something you had to do. I think of how your friends got killed alongside you. That comes back to you once in a while.”

To truly understand how Colalillo found the courage to do what he did on that day in Germany you probably had to be there.

We can be thankful he was.

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Here are a few more photos of Mike Colalillo from the News Tribune files:

Sgt. Mike Colalillo with his family in December 1945, shortly before leaving to receive the Medal of Honor from President Truman in Washington, D.C. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Sgt. Mike Colalillo of Duluth tinkers with his car a few days before leaving for Washington to receive the Medal of Honor from President Truman in December 1945. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Mike Colalillo of Duluth, pictured here in November 2001, shows the Medal of Honor he received for his heroism while serving in World War II. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

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70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack

Today, Dec. 7, 2011, is the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that launched the United States into World War II. It’s hard to believe that the youngest survivors of that fateful day are now in their late 80s, with most in their 90s.

Here is an image of the front page of the News-Tribune from the day after the attack – Dec. 8, 1941. Click on the image to access a large-size view on which you can read the text (you may need to click a second time to get the full-size view):

And one more interesting Pearl Harbor-related item…

This is an audio clip of an early NBC radio report on the attack, relayed from radio station KGU in Honolulu. I have seen some references to this being the first eyewitness media report of the attack to reach the mainland U.S., although I am not sure of that:

The news the reporter is dramatic on its own, of course. But what adds to it for me is the static-filled, cobbled-together transmission – and thinking how an entire nation was gathered around radios, waiting to hear that first live report from Hawaii that would change the course of history.

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Listen to a 1954 interview with the last surviving Union Civil War vet

The previous Attic post contained bunches of photos and stories on Albert Woolson, the last surviving Union Civil War veteran who died in Duluth in August 1956, at age 109.

Amid the yellowed, brittle news clips about Woolson in the News Tribune archives was a cryptically-labeled cassette tape. I found a cassette player, popped the tape in and discovered that it was audio of a 1954 interview with a then-107-year-old Woolson.

The audio quality is poor (since they didn’t have cassettes in 1954, I assume the one in the News Tribune files was dubbed from an old reel-to-reel audio tape). Also, at that time Woolson was quite hard-of-hearing and, understandably for his age, it can be a bit difficult to understand what he is saying. But it isn’t every day that you get to hear a Civil War veteran talk, so I’ve digitized some excerpts from the tape, and you can listen by clicking the links below; here is the first:

Woolson interview – Part 1

To give you some idea of what Woolson is saying in response to the questions (which he is given on slips of paper, because he can’t hear), he starts out by giving his place of birth, and then his age. Then he goes a bit off-track and says that, as a boy, he saw actor John Wilkes Booth perform on stage – the same John Wilkes Booth who shot Lincoln in 1865. Woolson talks about the assassination, too – mentioning how Booth yelled “Sic semper tyrannis” (thus always to tyrants) after shooting Lincoln, among other details.

According to news accounts from the time, Mr. Woolson had a great interest in history, and it seems that he wanted to share that interest with the interviewers. He has some details wrong, but the value in this recording isn’t necessarily historical accuracy – it’s the chance to hear the voice of someone who was born 164 years ago.

Here’s a second clip, in which Woolson gives his take on a meeting of Gens. Grant and Lee at the end of the war. Again, Mr. Woolson was not at that meeting – and the historical accuracy of his account is questionable – but he WAS in the Union Army at the time of the surrender, and reports of those events certainly left an impression on him. As in the first clip, it can be a bit hard to understand all that he is saying…

Woolson interview – Part 2

I’m not sure of the origins of the interview. From the audio, I know it was conducted by Bob and Carl Wombacher (spelling?) and Jim Bernard in August 1954. If anyone can provide more context for the interview, please post a comment or send an e-mail to akrueger(at)duluthnews.com.

Last Union Civil War vet dies in Duluth, 1956

A few hours ago, the Associated Press reported that Frank Buckles, the last surviving U.S. veteran of World War I, died at age 110. You can find more information here.

That sparked memories of Duluth’s own “last veteran” – in our case, it was Albert Woolson, the last surviving Union veteran of the Civil War, who died in Duluth on August 2, 1956, at age 109.

There are a lot of stories and photos of Woolson in the News Tribune archives; some of those items are included below. Unfortunately, many of the photos are lacking specific dates and caption information, but most are from the 1950s.

Duluth resident Albert Woolson, the last surviving Union veteran of the Civil War, circa early 1950s. (News Tribune file photo)

ALBERT WOOLSON DIES

Last survivor of Union army succumbs at 109

Duluth News-Tribune, Aug. 3, 1956

Albert Woolson died quietly in his sleep yesterday, and an era died with him.

As a final salute to the last man of the Civil War’s Union army, national figures will meet in Duluth Monday at his funeral.

His passing brought a flood of regrets, from the President of the United States to the nurse who tended him at St. Luke’s hospital.

Funeral services for the 109-year-old veteran will be held at 2 p.m. Monday in the Duluth National Guard armory. …

Mr. Woolson died at 9:45 a.m. after lying in a semi-coma since last Saturday. Members of his family were at the bedside when death came.

In Washington, D.C., President Eisenhower, who always sent greetings to Mr. Woolson on his birthday, said the old soldier’s death “brings sorrow to the hearts” of Americans.

In a statement, the President said:

“The American people have lost the last personal link with the union army.

“His passing brings sorrow to the hearts of all of us who cherished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War Between the States.” …

Mr. Woolson’s funeral procession will consist of 109 Army National Guardsmen, one for each of his years of life. … Burial will be in Park Hill cemetery.

Albert Woolson (center) at a ceremony in front of the St. Louis County Courthouse, circa early 1950s. (News Tribune file photo)

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Schoolchildren gather to greet Albert Woolson of Duluth, the last surviving Union veteran of the Civil War, circa early 1950s. (News-Tribune file photo)

Woolson was a celebrity of sorts during his final years. A special News-Tribune history issue published in 1970 contained this retrospective of Woolson’s life:

WOOLSON BECAME FAMOUS

Nine years before Duluth was platted as a village, a boy was born in Watertown, N.Y., who later became the most famous war veteran of the future city at the Head of the Lakes.

When he died Aug. 2, 1956, Duluth and the nation lost a symbol of more than a century of Americans.

Albert Woolson, born Feb. 11, 1847, was the last of more than 2.6 million Boys in Blue who served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Thousands mourned his passing, and his funeral was attended by high government and military officials. More than 1,500 attended last rites in the Duluth Armory, thousands lined the route of the four-mile procession to Park Hill Cemetery, and 2,000 bowed their heads at the sound of the bugle’s final “Taps.”

Woolson’s father was a cabinet maker, painter, builder of fine furniture and a musician. A soldier in the Union Army, he was injured in the battle of Shiloh in 1862. He was mustered out of service and sent his family money to come to Janesville, Minn.

When President Lincoln issued an appeal for troops, Albert, then 17, enlisted in October 1864 as a volunteer private in the First Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment. He started in the drum corps. He served as head drummer boy and later became drum major.

While with the regiment, he saw a “most glorious sight.” It was Sherman’s march to the sea through the heart of the Confederacy.

The drummer boy, who also like to play the cornet, was mustered out in September 1865 and returned to Minnesota. In later years, talking about the Civil War, he said, “We were fighting our brothers. In that there was no glory.”

For 16 years in St. Peter, Minn., he was a wood turner in a furniture factory. He also played cello and guitar with a 20-member band and was general manager and treasurer of a minstrel group.

Woolson came to Duluth in 1905 from Ontonagon, Mich., where he had worked in mills and logging camps. In Duluth, he worked at various jobs. He was a stationary engineer and also did pattern work.

Albert Woolson in his 80s, circa early 1930s

He retired at 85 to “take life easy” and after the death of his second wife in 1949, he made his home with his daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. John Kobus, 215 E. 5th St. Of his 14 children, four daughters survive: Mrs. Kobus, Mrs. Robert H. Campbell, 628 N. 40th Ave. E., Mrs. Arthur E. Johnson, 132 E. Arrowhead Road; and Mrs. Josephine Burtt, in California.

Duluth became increasingly fond of Albert Woolson as the years went by, and he looked forward to interviews with newspaper, radio and television reporters.

On his birthday each year he was deluged with greetings from throughout the nation and foreign countries. He tried to answer all personally. On his 106th birthday he received more than 8,000 cards.

In later years, Mrs. Kobus took on the mammoth task of answering greetings and inquiries, and in about the last three years of the old soldier’s life, she was helped by Dr. J.F. Robinson through the David Wisted-Zenith City post of the American Legion.

Mrs. Kobus, who used to write at least 200 letters a month when her father was alive, says many persons have continued to send Christmas cards.

Inquiries are still received, mainly from older persons and young children interested in history. Mrs. Kobus appreciates notes from the younger, because “my father just loved children.”

Albert Woolson shoveling snow outside his home at age 106, circa 1953. (Duluth Herald file photo)

Even after his 100th birthday, Woolson took walks along Fifth Street or shoveled snow from the walk of his home. And one of his proudest moments came in 1952 when he was elected to Duluth’s Hall of Fame.

The death of Woolson also meant the end of the Grand Army of the Republic and the last existing post which, fittingly enough, was named after Col. Joshua B. Culver, one of Duluth’s prominent early citizens. Culver was among the first to enlist in the Union Army and later became active in many political and business enterprises in the city.

Woolson was among early supporters of Gen. Eisenhower in the White House. Only a few hours after learning of Woolson’s death, President Eisenhower said:

“By the death of Albert Woolson, the American people have lost the last personal link with the union army. His passing brings sorrow to the hearts of all of us who cherished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War Between the States.”

Albert Woolson of Duluth with one of his ubiquitous cigars, circa early 1950s. (News-Tribune file photo)

One last excerpt, from the News-Tribune’s coverage of Woolson’s 109th birthday on Feb. 11, 1956:

Albert Woolson is 109 today and his eyes are set on a horizon of peace for all men.

The eyes may be dimming, but his thoughts and his voice are not.

In booming tones that belie his recent illness, the sole survivor of the Union Army of the Civil War trumpeted:

“The business about war is all nonsense.” …

Never one to let an opinion go by, Woolson likes to talk about the future.

“I see a peaceful life ahead of us, if the Lord lets us live,” said the old veteran who today starts on his 110th year. …

Woolson makes no bones about his favorite president – Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. He’s an expert on Grant’s life and times.

“Now there was a great man,” Woolson declared. “No palaver about that fellow. No nonsense, either.” …

Albert Woolson at a ceremony in Duluth with granddaughter Frances Kobus, circa early 1950s. (News-Tribune file photo)

Woolson still loves to recite poetry. Last week he rattled off “Just Before the Battle, Mother” and “Minnehaha, Laughing Water” with no prompting.

He loves to talk of old times and remembers his service at Chattanooga, Tenn., with surprising vividness.

“Those nine-inch cannon on high ground there were nothing to fool with,” he recalled. Woolson, then a drummer boy, once was given the opportunity to pull the lanyard and has never forgotten the thrill.

From Fort Blackmore, Va., the hand of friendship was extended yesterday by John B. Salling, 109, a Confederate veteran.

In a statement to the United Press, Salling said “that old scutter is one of my best personal friends.” Scutter is defined by Webster as “one who runs, scurries.”

Salling sent birthday greetings and expressed the hope “that we can meet before we get passed to the Great Beyond.” …

(Woolson) says he remembers seeing Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C., in 1859 on a trip there with his father. (Woolson also said he cast a vote for Lincoln in 1864 at age 17, under special rules that allowed Union soldiers to vote even if underage).

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Funeral procession for Albert Woolson, August 1956. (News-Tribune file photo)

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A rifle team fires a volley over the grave of Albert Woolson during burial services in August 1956. (News-Tribune file photo)

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Here is a short YouTube video clip of Woolson from the 1950s:

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A statue of Woolson stands outside the Depot in downtown Duluth.

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