In recognition of Veteran’s Day 2013, The Town and Country newspaper is proud to feature the stories of four local soldiers who paid the ultimate price in service to their country. Versions of these accounts were previously printed in the newspaper’s “Valley Past” column.
Lt. Col. Edwin Schall
The Civil War was the ultimate test of a people’s character. This bitter struggle of a nation
against itself was set with the drama of an intense story line of brother taking up arms against brother. Just as passionate were the unscripted roles cast when brothers took up arms and served side-by-side.
Edwin and Edward Schall were twin brothers, born on Feb. 15, 1935 in the town of Green Lane. Coming from a prominent and wealthy family, Edwin and Edward were able to attend the best schools in Montgomery County. Edwin decided to pursue a career as a lawyer, after obtaining some knowledge of military tactics. Edward chose to return home to take charge of the family business, the Green Lane Forge.
While Edward came home, Edwin enrolled in Captain Partridge’s Military Institute in Norwich, Vt. Upon completing his military training, Edwin obtained his law degree from the Ohio State Law School. He eventually returned to Norristown to open a law office, but ended up as the editor of the National Defender newspaper.
It was in 1858 when northern militias started to reorganize and strengthen as the threat of a southern rebellion grew. A young man by the name of John Hartranft, who had known the Schall boys for years, was appointed a colonel in the First Regiment, Second Brigade of the Pennsylvania militia. He called upon his old chums to help lead the unit. Edward was appointed to the rank of lieutenant colonel; brother Edwin a major in the unit.
The Legislature of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania commissioned all three as militia officers.
After serving several terms, Edward resigned his commission in order to return to Green Lane and help run the family business, which was engaged in important government contracts to supply the war effort.
Edwin was promoted to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the 51st Regiment on Sept. 17, 1862. The regiment fought in many key battles, including the famous Stone Bridge at Antietam. The 51st led the assault, carried the ground and won the crossing!
Schall took command of the regiment in 1863 when Hartranft was made a brigade commander. By the time they marched and fought through Vicksburg and the mountains of Tennessee, Hartranft had become the division commander and Schall commanded the brigade. It was in Tennessee that Schall and his command endured some of their worst moments of the war. They were forced to share meager rations of corn with their artillery horses and baggage mules, while staging the heroic defense of Knoxville during the autumn of 1863.
Also in 1863, during the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania, brother Edward left the forge to help raise another regiment. That unit was disbanded shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg. Edward then returned to Green Lane to continue to manufacture war supplies.
Edwin and his brigade returned east for the spring campaign in 1864. He passed unharmed through the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and the North Ann. On June 3, 1864, the day he re-enlisted, a sharp shooter’s bullet felled Lt. Col. Edwin Schall as he was leading an infantry charge at Cold Harbor, Va.
At his funeral services, friends and family remembered the words spoken by Edwin on the day an American flag was presented to him right before he left the comfort of his newspaper office for the brutality of war.
Somewhat prophetically he said, “We will return with this flag in honor, or fall in its defense.”
Edward left Green Lane shortly after that, and fulfilled his brother’s dream to become a respected and a successful lawyer.
Pvt. Alexander Myers
About 75 miles northeast of Paris, France, is a triangle-shaped area bounded by the towns of
Chateau-Thierry, Soisons and Reims. It was here in the summer of 1918 that the doughboys of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) would taste their first major victory of World War I.
It was a victory that most claimed to be the turning point of the “war to end all wars.” The performance of the United States troops in that battle put to rest the fears of our French and British allies as to whether the American GIs could be fearless fighters. That lesson and the sweet taste of victory that came with it had a bitter price tag. More than 30,000 allied troops were killed or wounded in this second battle of the Marne River.
One of the heralded units in that battle was the 28th Division, made up of volunteers from the Pennsylvania National Guard. Among the guardsmen was Alexander Meyers from Marlborough Township. Myers was born in Russia and came to this country with his family around 1908. His parents and his eight siblings settled in a small house on a 27-acre farm near the Unami Creek. They were proud people of little means.
Alex was indeed proud of his adopted country and when he was of age, wasted no time in enlisting in the 7th Division of the Pennsylvania National Guard. His first taste of military service came in 1916 when Mexico was in the throes of revolution. Alex and the rest of the Pa. National Guard division served for a time along the border between Mexico and the United States.
On July 18, 1917, the unit was called into federal service and re-designated as the 28th Division. By June of 1918 they were in France as part of the first wave of the AEF. Within 30 days, they would come face to face with the enemy.
In July, it became clear that the Germans were getting ready to renew their assault on the towns near the Marne River. The allies decided to hold their positions then launch a counter offensive. Between Aug. 4 and 22, a tenacious battle was fought at the Vesle River. The Germans defended the towns of Fismes and Fismette vigorously, but with a fierce and determined effort, the allied counterattack prevailed.
It was during this phase of the battle that the hard fighting soldiers of the 28th were dubbed the “Iron Division” by the commander of the AEF, Gen. John Persing. It was also during this battle that the tough, young Russian immigrant became missing in action.
A year went by and the war was now over. Most of the soldiers returned home. In July of 1919, a grand welcome was held for the local boys who were back from the trenches of France and the horrors of that First World War. The event was staged on the grounds of the Perkiomen School. It was at this event that the fate of Alexander Meyers was presented to the public.
Patriotic speaker Fletcher Stites of Narberth spoke about the “Men of Iron” of the 28th Division and the boy who was the first Perkiomen Valley resident reported on the casualty list. In his oration he stated that during the memorable drive across the Vesle River, a party of American soldiers went out over the field to bury the dead. They found Meyers’ body, with his fingers tightly clutching his bayonet. Immediately surrounding him were the bodies of seven dead Germans who had fallen by the hands of one American, the Russian immigrant from the Upper Perkiomen Valley.
Petty Officer Stanley Wismer
In June of 1943, the graduating class of the East Greenville High School took part in a
special ceremony to unveil the school’s Service Honor Roll. The list contained the names of former students and graduates of the school who were in the armed forces at the time. The United States was in the midst of World War II and this remembrance was a tribute to the local citizens who answered the call to serve their country. Like most graduating classes of the period, the group contained young people who couldn’t wait to take their place in the armed forces.
Stanley Wismer was a member of that 1943 graduating class. While a senior at East Greenville High School, he was co-captain of the football team. The 1942 Black and Gold were reported to be the lightest, smallest and most inexperienced team fielded by the school in years. They only won one game that year, and only scored two touchdowns all season, but both events came against traditional rival Pennsburg High!
He enlisted in the Navy after graduation and was whisked from the peaceful confines of the Upper Perkiomen Valley to the Great Lakes Naval Training School. After graduating boot camp with the highest honors, he attended gunner’s school at Newport, R.I. He received advanced training at Washington, D.C.
Just one year after graduating from high school, he was part of the June 6, 1944 Normandy Invasion, known as D-Day. Serving as a gunner aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Laffey, he was able to return home for a brief leave before shipping out for the Pacific Theater of Operations.
Wismer was now a petty officer, and his service in the Pacific placed him at the invasion of Luzon and Leyte where General Douglas MacArther made his famous return. After that, he would take part in one more major battle. Operation Iceberg, as the invasion of Okinawa was known, planned for assembling the greatest naval armada ever – more than 40 aircraft carriers, 18 battle ships, 200 destroyers, and hundreds of support ships. More than 182,000 troops made up the assault force planned for Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945.
In mid-March, the American fleet gathered off Okinawa to begin the bombardment. Destroyers and other vessels served radar picket duty. This responsibility was one of the most dangerous, deadly and unwanted duties at the time. The ships were forced to remain at fixed stations to warn of approaching enemy aircraft and to direct carrier airplanes. The Laffey arrived off Okinawa during the night of March 24 to assume support services, including radar picket duty.
In early April the Japanese air force began using mass formations of hundreds of kamikaze aircraft. These deadly flights sank 30 American ships and damaged 164 others.
On April 16, 1945, while the Laffey was at radar station No. 1, Japanese planes launched a relentless attack on the destroyer. The ship was hit with four bombs and five kamikaze aircraft during the onslaught.
Petty Officer Stanley Wismer was quick to man his 20-mm guns and begin firing upon the attackers. The words on his Bronze Medal citation state that “he maintained an accurate, steady stream of devastating fire against the enemy, blasting him into the sea before he could inflict damage on the Laffey. Rapidly expending his ammunition as the attacks continued unabated, he rallied emergency ammunition passers and kept the guns supplied and firing until he was fatally struck down by shell fragments.”
The 82-day campaign claimed more lives than the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In all, more than 170,000 deaths occurred from the battle. Okinawa was secured on June 22, 1945. Of the 68,000 American casualties, 16,000 were killed in action. Included in the more than 4,900 sailors who died during the battle was the 20-year-old East Greenville High School graduate.
PFC Robert Thomas Aliff
A half-century ago, the heroes and role models of America’s youth were different than
today. Some folks say we live in a time when too many youngsters look up to million dollar athletes with zillion dollar sneaker contracts or “bad boy” or “bad girl” singers and actors.
We can all opine on today’s idols – good or bad. After learning about a local Marine who served during the Korean War, I wondered what kind of a role model would entice an 18-year-old athlete from East Greenville to join the service in 1949 and spurn scholarships to five different universities including Clemson and Penn State?
Thomas Raymond Aliff was an outstanding baseball and football player for the East Greenville High School Yellow Jackets. His four-year high school football career was highlighted when the local gridiron team won the county championship in 1948.
Aliff was a “60-minute man” (as were most players) playing offensive and defensive tackle. His on-the-field athletic skills and classroom abilities garnered him five different football scholarships, but young Aliff had other plans after graduation.
He was determined to join the Marine Corps and make it his career. According to a newspaper account, Aliff “was inspired by the accomplishments of the legendary Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant Leland (Lou) Diamond.”
Diamond enlisted in 1917 and saw action in three wars. He was heralded as “the most famous of all ‘old breed’ fighting Leathernecks.” He was decorated and even offered an officer’s commission that he turned down saying, “No one is going to make a gentleman out of me.” His self-confidence and earthly manner endeared him to many. Those who trained under him attested to his ability as an instructor, leader and morale booster.
Aliff’s military record shows that he worked hard to live up to the standards of his role model. In 1950 the Citizens Committee for the Army and Navy, Inc. of New York City established the American Spirit Medal. The award was to be conferred on a new Marine “who best demonstrates the American spirit of honor, loyalty and exemplary conduct.”
Thomas Aliff was the recipient of the first American Spirit award in July of the medal’s inaugural year.
Aliff received his basic training at Parris Island, and trained at the Motor Transport School at Camp Lejeune, N.C. He shipped out for Japan in August of 1950 and on to Korea shortly after that.
The summer of 1950 saw the outbreak of full-scale hostilities in Korea. It was a conflict that would eventually lead to the direct battle deaths of 33,686 members of the American armed forces. It was on June 25 when the North Korean Peoples Army invaded the Republic of South Korea. Two days later, the United Nations proclaimed the attack a breach of world peace. The first United States Marines stepped onto Korean soil at Pusan on Aug. 2.
The 1st Marine Division made an unopposed landing on the east cost of Korea at Wonson. No enemy resistance developed until Nov. 2. On that day, and the ensuing week, the main supply route to Wonsan was continually cut. Though the resulting fire fights were on a small scale, a succession of North Korean attacks testified to the vulnerability of United Nations troops in a mountain area of few and poor roads.
PFC Thomas Raymond Aliff was serving with Company B, 7th Motor Transport Battalion of the 1st Marine Division near Wonsan airfield on Nov. 2, 1950. He was part of a convoy of trucks moving men and supplies inland that day. On a narrow mountain road, not far from the airfield, the transport fleet was ambushed and Aliff was killed. He was 19 years old.
We all share a responsibility to ensure that future generations of the Upper Perkiomen Valley will know the names of all of our veterans, understand what they did, appreciate their heroism and be inspired by their sacrifice.