Crofton civic group to dedicate trees to local World War II heroes

June 14, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

C. W. "Wes" Coghill, 75, a retired Army colonel from Crofton, crossed Germany's Sauer River with Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army in 1944, but says he wasn't a hero.

"I didn't have to lead the attack," he said. "The heroes were the people that crossed that river first. They had to scale those cliffs with people shooting right at them."

Crofton Civic Association officials believe every American who served during World War II was a hero deserving of recognition.

Tonight at 7, the association will celebrate Flag Day by dedicating a group of trees planted in memory of World War II veterans. The ceremony will take place on Crofton Parkway at Eton Way, near the Town Hall. The public is invited to a reception afterward at the Town Hall, where veterans will share their memories over cake and punch.

"I think it's a nice gesture," said Mr. Coghill, who spent two years on a glacier in Iceland, teaching soldiers how to fight in extreme cold.

In Europe, he served as an operations officer with the 5th Infantry. The advance through German-occupied territory was hectic. At times the Americans covered 90 miles a day. During one 25-day stretch, they lived on K-rations.

The surging army ran out of gasoline just as the Germans evacuated the fortified city of Metz on Sept. 3, 1944. By the time gasoline reached the troops three days later, the Germans were back.

The battle for Metz cost the Allies six weeks of hard fighting.

"That was a real crying shame," he said. "We were madder than hell that the supply people could not keep up with us."

But glory followed in the winter, when the 3rd Army breached the heavily fortified Siegfried line at the Sauer River.

After the war, Mr. Coghill served at the Pentagon, taught river-crossing and urban combat skills at Fort Benning and ran the ROTC program at the University of Richmond in Virginia for four years. Later, he oversaw ROTC for 93 colleges and universities in the northeastern United States.

His grandson, James Stuart Wells, graduated from West Point on May 28.

Retired Army Lt. Col. John Juba Sr., 71, also will be at tonight's ceremony. In his view, all Americans, including civilians, suffered during the war and contributed to the victory.

"Everyone did their part. We all saved the world," he said.

Mr. Juba was wounded in action in northern Burma, where as a combat engineer he helped open a road to China and kept it open for shipping supplies.

Crofton resident Ruth Phillips, now 69, had to wait until her 20th birthday in 1944 before she could enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard. She trained in Florida and served as a petty officer 3rd class in a Coast Guard office in New York. The man she replaced went on active duty.

Now retired, she remembers rejoicing on V-E Day with the throngs in Times Square, kissing strangers.

"Everyone was celebrating," she said.

Meanwhile, her future husband, then-Col. Bill Phillips, now 71 and retired, was serving as a communications specialist with the Army Air Corps in Louisiana, Texas and Okinawa.

"To us, we were just part of everybody," he said. "The people that were special were the soldiers in the mud and the airmen that were being shot down."

Mr. Phillips re-enlisted in 1947. The couple moved 20 times in 17 years. Their most exotic assignment was three years in Italy.

Ruth Phillips said tonight's celebration in Crofton should help people remember, "We are so free . . . Everybody hasn't had the freedom that we have always had."

Mr. Coghill said, "A citizen has certain responsibilities to look out for this country, and there comes a certain time when you've got to back that up by putting your life on the line."

He said there are many valid ways to serve your country, such as voting. He is troubled by people who don't vote.

"Why bother to fight for folks that don't appreciate what they've got?"

Mr. Juba said tonight's event should remind young people that "they have responsibilities to carry on our work . . . We saved the world. It's their responsibility to keep it safe."

Crofton officials also hope tonight's dedication will help Crofton earn recognition from the Department of Defense as a World War II Commemorative Community.

Towns recognized as Commemorative Communities receive a flag, educational materials about World War II, and a certificate from the secretary of defense. To earn Commemorative Community status, a town must plan three or more events per year from 1993 through 1995.

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