Robert N. Going’s new book, “Where Do We Find Such Men?” is a conscientious chronicle of Amsterdam’s involvement in World War II. What emerges is a portrait of how all-encompassing the war was in the lives of the American people, on the battlefields and at home.
Parades begin and end Going’s book. On Oct. 23, 1940, Amsterdam National Guard Company G held a big parade as their unit was activated for what they thought was one year of federal service. After the war, what may have been Amsterdam’s biggest parade took place on Sept. 15, 1945, with more than 4,000 participants and an estimated 30,000 onlookers.
Many members of Amsterdam’s Company G died fighting Japanese human wave attacks on Saipan in 1944. Among the Saipan casualties were Staff Sgt. Peter J. Sanzen, Pfc. Paul P. Sierota, Sgt. Edward R. Golenbiewski, Pfc. Daniel F. Slusarz and Capt. Clinton F. Smith.
The war claimed 180 lives in Amsterdam, deaths that were documented in Going’s earlier book. “Honor Roll: the World War II Dead of Amsterdam, N.Y.”
The first local casualty was William E. Hasenfuss Jr. from a family of nine children on Northampton Road. Hasenfuss had flown airplanes at an airfield in Perth before enlisting in the Army in 1939. He died at Hickham Air Field in Hawaii during the Pearl Harbor attack. Japanese airplanes shot up the B-24 bomber Hasenfuss and his ground crew were working on. Every member of the ground crew was hit.
Going’s book includes excerpts from the wartime diary of Edward T. Hartigan, the eldest son of Amsterdam’s chief police detective, who was in his late 30s when he served with Merrill’s Marauders, commanded by Gen. Frank Merrill in the China-Burma-India theater of operations.
Hartigan wrote, “The climate is a bitch. It rains for days until there’s a sea of mud. Takes an hour to walk half a mile, you sink right in the slime up to your knees. Then the sun comes out and the temperature goes up to about 120. Too hot to breathe and no shade anywhere.”
Heroes on and off the playing field, the Bigelow Sanford Uniteds Soccer Club sent members to fight in all parts of the world. Dr. Rene Juchli was an Amsterdam physician who treated the most notorious war criminals. Gertrude Sanford Legendre, heiress of Amsterdam’s Sanford carpet fortune, became a spy and escaped to Switzerland after being captured by the Germans. Amsterdam native Kirk Douglas, who became a movie star, served as an ensign in the U.S. Navy but was discharged in 1944 after contracting amoebic dysentery.
Pfc. Jack Blanchfield at age 20 ended up commanding a company of prisoners of war who outwitted their Nazi captors in 1945 and made it to safety to the American lines as the war was ending. Going calls Blanchfield, who died last November, one of his true heroes.
Going wrote, “There aren’t too many of these folks left. It’s time we said thank you.”
Going is a native of Amsterdam, an attorney and former judge who evidently has been preparing to write this book since he was a child.
Going wrote, “I remember when ‘The Longest Day’ came out at the Mohawk Theater, which Dad usually called the Strand, a mere 18 years after the real event, and I asked Dad if he’d been there (at the Normandy invasion). No, not on D-Day but two weeks later.” The book is dedicated to Francis J. Going, the author’s father.
Going’s book is available through Amazon.com and at The Old Peddler’s Wagon, The Book Hound and Walter Elwood Museum in Amsterdam.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.