Remember our veterans

Dec. 04, 2012 @ 04:15 PM

Sgt. Claude Connell - Member of the Greatest Generation

 Served from September 1, 1942 to November 19, 1945

Born in Union County, N.C., Claude was a welder and employed by the Bethlehem Fairfield Ship Yards, Baltimore, Maryland, when he decided to volunteer in the Army Air Corps in 1942. He was 22 years old and was sworn in at Charlotte, North Carolina. Claude was sent to New Orleans for 8 weeks of basic training, and assigned to the 16th Service Squadron and sent to Camp Craft, South Carolina, and assigned as an Air Frame Welder. Shortly afterward, the 16th hit the road for Walterboro Army Air Base, Walterboro, South Carolina. There they serviced B-25’s under field conditions, which is one advantage the 16th Service Squadron had over some of the other service outfits being sent overseas. The squadron claimed the honor of having served every type of combat plane used in the theater of operations.

The squadron was sent to staten Island, New York, and then to Oran, North Africa. At first the outfit didn’t receive much recognition, but soon was rated as one of the best units of its kind in the Italian Theater of Operations. There were times when they wished they had access to the tools they had in the states. However, they managed to get the job done - some way or another. Claude and his fellow welders/mechanics were very clever, especially in rigging up an original bomb release on damaged fighter-bombers. The bomb release rigging proved to work and created recognition from fighter groups that the 16th could solve unique problems.

The 16th was then deployed to Naples, Italy for several months servicing damaged planes of all types. On February 3, 1944, we were ordered to load our trucks with equipment and drive to Modra, Italy, on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. We pitched tents for sleeping due to the lack of buildings. We also raised larger tents to house the various equipment tools and welding materials. It during this time that I received my Good Conduct Medal.

We were kept busy working, which was repairing damaged planes. We were alerted o an “air raid” that started at 3:15 a.m. until 3:30 a.m. Five days later, we had another air raid, beginning at 1:30 a.m., lasting to 2:15 a.m. Several bombs were dropped. Three bombs landed behind our area. Not much damage. April 24th, we packed and loaded most of our equipment, and moved to Caserta. After cleaning up the area, we played baseball. That evening we were alerted of an air raid that began at 9:15 p.m., and lasted until 190 p.m. This was the biggest air raid we experienced so far in Italy.

 After May 22nd, we began to receive and fix braces that hold the belly tanks for the P-47 Dive Bomber/Fighters. We were treated to a movie that showed the 79th Fighter Group strafing and bombing done by the outfit we fixed we fixed their belly tanks for the P-47’s dive bomber. We were kept busy fixing the braces, belly tanks, bomb release handles, and tail wheels of many P-47’s. Other planes we worked on were the P-38, P-51 fighters and B-24 Bombers (the Doolittle model that bombed Tokyo) & B-17 Fighting Fortress. We also serviced many Douglas Cargo Planes that also dropped paratroops.

For awhile rumors were spread that we were to move again. Fourteen days later we were ordered to load all equipment on the trucks to move out at 5 p.m. However, the orders were cancelled. The next morning we finished loading the trucks and cleaned up the area. We finally received orders to move out at 7:30 a.m. and proceed to the docks and unload equipment on boat #33. We went back to our area and got all our personal equipment and were on the boat that night. We left port at 12:30 XX: destination - Corsetce. We docked and unloaded all our equipment, and went to the staging area, where we received our orders to proceed to the Serriga Air Base. We set up our tents and proceeded with our work schedules. Much of our work was welding bomb release handles; made four braces for gun racks and repaired radiators. I started building a tail stand for a p-47, and welded two bomb release handles.

We were put on alert, to be ready to leave on a 24 hour notice. Next day we tore down tents and packed all equipment, loaded on trucks and ready to move. We cleared camp and left at 12:30 p.m., arriving at the staging area. We spent the night, and loaded on a boat, and left Celina, Corsica. Our destination was St. Raphael, France. We were moved to a variety of locations to weld and repair many fighter planes..

Claude’s promotions included Private First Class: March 1, 1943, in Walterboro, South Carolina. Corporal, June, 1943, in Oran, NorthAfrica, and Sergeant, October 1, 1943, in Beretta, North Africa.

 Following Claude’s discharge in November 19, 1945, Claude went to Wingate College and then transferred to Wake Forest University, graduating from Southeastern Seminary with a Masters in Divinity. He continued his life calling as a Pastor, and retired in 1982, after 37 years.

 American Legion Post 208 members are honored that you are a fellow Legion member, and for all your outstanding service to our Country. The Legion salutes you! Your service was well done, and you are a faithful servant.

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