by Beth Dodd:
In honor of Veteran’s Day, I decided to take a look back at our nation’s greatest and most terrible conflict, World War II, and the sacrifices made by the people of Teller County during those dark days. Thanks to the magic of the internet, I am able to share the stories of some of the fifteen local men who gave their all in service to our country. Please remember that freedom isn’t free. Thank you to all of our veterans past, present, and future.
PFC Francis E. Chirgwin of Teller County served with the Army’s 31st Infantry Regiment in the Philippines. The Philippines were attacked first by air and then by a large ground force in December 1941 soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor. American and Philippino forces fought the Japanese for four months, retreating to the Bataan Peninsula before they were forced to surrender. PFC Chirgwin was killed in action on April 6, 1942 during the Battle of Mount Samat, the final battle for the Philippines before the surrender on April 9, 1942. Chirgwin is memorialized at the Manila American Cemetery. Of the 1,600 members of the 31st Infantry who surrendered to the Japanese in April of 1942, 800 of them would die in the Bataan Death March or during their subsequent imprisonment.
2nd Lt. Everet A. Coppage left Teller County to serve with the 8th Air Force, 91st Heavy Bombardment Group in Europe. He was the bombardier on the Sky Wolf II, a B-17 stationed in Bassingbourn in East Anglia, England. On April 17, 1943 the Sky Wolf II made a bombing run to destroy an aircraft factory in Bremen, Germany. The plane was badly shot up by German fighter planes on the way there. In spite of being injured when a 20mm shell exploded in the bulkhead near him, Coppage dropped their bombs on target. The plane was attacked again while leaving Germany, and Coppage was injured a second time. He bailed out, but did not survive. The Sky Wolf II, its windshield shot out, #1 engine burning, electrical system and flight controls out, with badly damaged wings and fuselage, crashed ten miles south of Aurich in Ostfriesland, Germany. Besides Coppage, four other crewmen from the Sky Wolf II died, and all six planes in their squadron were shot down. Coppage is buried at the Ardennes American Cemetery in Neuville-en-Condroz in Liege, Belgium.
PFC Charles E. Joslin was born on September 2, 1923 in Laramie, Wyoming. Before the war he worked for a mine in Deadwood, SD. Joslin came to Cripple Creek to find work due to the closing of the mines around Deadwood in the spring and summer of 1942. Joslin enlisted in the Army on July 29, 1942 in Denver, Colorado. He was sent to Europe on November 2, 1942, for training in England. On June 6, 1944, a.k.a. D-Day, PFC Joslin was part of the Allied Invasion of Normandy, France. According to the records of the order of battle, PFC Joslin’s unit, the Headquarters Battery of 58th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, landed on Omaha Beach within the first three or four hours of the invasion. PFC Joslin was 19 years old on his first and last day of battle. He was killed in action in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. PFC Joslin is buried at the Normandy American Cemetery in St. Laurent-sur-Mer, France.
PFC Wesley Daw was born in Divide, CO on Christmas day in 1913. In June of 1942, he went to Pueblo to enlist in the army and soon found himself fighting the Germans in northern France with the 318th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division. He was probably at the battle of Falais Gap in August of 1944, and part of General Patton’s subsequent rapid pursuit of the retreating German army across France. By September, the speed of Patton’s advance had outstripped his fuel supplies and his troops dug in and began the campaign to capture Lorraine, France. They took the town of Nancy on September 15, but the Germans fought viciously to try to reclaim it in the week that followed. PFC Daw was killed in action, probably near the town of Nancy in Lorraine, France on September 26, 1944. He is buried in the Lorraine American Cemetery in Saint Avold, France.
Lt. Col. Clarence H. Smith a.k.a. “Smitty” was with the Army’s 45th Infantry Regiment’s Phillipine Scouts when they surrendered to the Japanese at the end of the Battle of Bataan on April 10, 1942. He was taken prisoner and probably held at either Bilibid or Cabanatuan Prison Camp. After surviving 2 ˝ years as a POW, he was loaded with more than 1,700 hundred other prisoners onto the Japanese freighter Arisan Maru to be taken to Formosa for forced labor. On October 24, 1944, the Arisan Maru was sailing in the Bashi Straits in the South China Sea when it was torpedoed by an American submarine, probably the USS Shark, which had no way to distinguish it from any other Japanese ship. Although a number of prisoners survived the sinking of the Arisan Maru, nearby Japanese destroyers refused to pull them from the water. All but nine of the prisoners died at sea. The crew of the USS Shark was also lost that day. Lt. Col Smith is memorialized at the Manilla American Cemetery in the Philippines.
Teller County’s 2nd Lieutenant Walter E. Barnes spent his time in the war with the U.S. Army in the 378 Infantry Regiment, 95 Infantry Division. The 95th sailed for England in August 1944, and after a month of training moved on to France. They experienced their first combat as part of Patton’s 3rd Army on October 19 at the Moselle Bridgehead south of the heavily fortified town of Metz in Lorraine, France near the French border with Luxembourg and Germany. The 95th helped capture the town of Metz from the Germans by November 22, and got the nickname the “Iron Men of Metz.” They pushed on toward the Saar River on November 25 and entered Germany on November 28. The day after the 95th Infantry left Metz, Lt. Barnes was killed in action. He died in Metz-en-Couture, France on November 26, 1944 just three weeks shy of his 30th birthday. Barnes is buried at the Lorraine American Cemetery in the village of Saint Avold in northern France.
World War I veteran Alfred Bebee and his wife Nettye of Victor had four children, but lost two of them in World War II. PFC John N. Bebee was in the Army’s 104th Infantry Regiment, 26th Infantry Division. He was sent to France after D-Day and was killed in action in Luxembourg during the American counter-offensive in the bitterly cold Battle of the Bulge on January 5, 1945. He probably died near Donnal, Luxembourg while his unit was in a defensive position, recovering from a prolonged effort to take the Wiltz area. He was 22 years old.
John’s younger brother PFC Eben R. Bebee enlisted in the army right out of high school at age 19 and served with the Army’s 383 Infantry Regiment, 96 Infantry Division. After six months of training, he was sent to the Pacific and killed in the last great battle of the war. He died on Okinawa during his first day there on May 19, 1945.
The Bebees brought their sons home and buried them together at Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs on May 10, 1949. Their little sister, Mary Sue Bebee Thomas of Colorado Springs just passed away this summer on June 13, 2013 at age 84. She would have been 16 and a student at Victor High School in 1945 when her brothers died in the war.