August 11, 2010

Benjamin Kaiser, Kenneth A Helseth and Roy T Fran

Benjamin Kaiser was killed in Italy in World War II. His brother is looking for information about his death. 

Kenneth A Helseth and Roy T Fran were with him when he was wounded.
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On Sun, Aug 8, 2010 at 4:31 PM, Al and Carol Kaiser  renorph@charter.net  wrote:

Dear Mr. Hullinger:

My name is Al Kaiser and I am a brother to Benjamin L. Kaiser who was killed some where near Anzio Beachhead. I am trying to find any information about the death of my brother. From what I understand they were clearing mines when one was detonated. One other died with my brother, and 2 were wounded. 

Kenneth A Helseth and Roy T Franz were wounded and I was wondering if any of these soldiers are still alive today or if you have any information about these 4 soldiers.  My brother was in the National Guard in Hot Springs, South Dakota when they were deployed.  If you have any information about the death of my brother, please get in touch with me.  

My e-mail is: renorph@charter.net

Thank you.

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Hi Al: 

Yes, I knew Ben Kaiser but not very well. He was mobilized with D company from Hot Springs and was moved to B Company when the Division was reorganized into the "triangular" structure just before we went overseas in Jan. 1942. 

I had been in A Company but was in the hospital at that time.  However I have a copy of a hardcover book,  " South Dakota in World War II" which lists the men mobilized with the 109th guard  units and Ben Kaiser is listed on page 67  "23 Kaiser, Benjamin L. - Killed in action near Vara Italy on June 21, 1944  T/5.”  

He is pictured with D Company on page 68. Then on Page 198 and 199 is the following: "The next few days were to witness a series of casualties in or near the neighborhood of Leghorn. 

Leghorn was one of the best seaports in Italy and quite essential to the  progress of the American Army further north and area about Leghorn had been abundantly mined.  On the 20th of July Ben L. Kaiser of Hot Springs and Machnik were killed, and Kenneth A Helseth, Huron, and Roy T. Franze, were wounded by the explosion of an S-mine on the beach one-half mile south of Vada."  That reference to Franze and Machnik is the only mention of them in the book !!!  Also the Vara and Vada are the spellings in the book and not my typo!!

We have had reunions in Rapid City for many years but I doubt that anyone will make it this year. Sorry I can't help more. 

Clif Hullinger 

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Clif Hullinger:

Thank you for answering my e-mail and giving me what information you know about Ben. I do have the hard copy of South Dakota in World War II. I was hoping that I may be able to make contact with Kenneth A. Helseth and Roy T Franz if they are still alive.  They were on the same mission as Ben and were wounded when trying to clear that mine field.  

Is there any way you can put the word out to see if either are still alive?  Maybe there is some one else out there that might remember that particular tragedy 1/2 mile south of Vada, Italy.

I really do appreciate all your efforts in trying to get this documented.

Thanks again:

Al Kaiser
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We will put the word out on the109th Engineers Blog and on the 34th Infantry Division Facebook Page.


Craig Hullinger
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Success: And interesting that this connection was made on the 65th anniversary of the end of WW II in Europe.


Hi Al and Carol:   I have just received and forwarded (I hope !) history of Vernon Jackson's experience in "our war".   The title is misleading since it reads like it is from Lorraine Gear but it is a very good history of Vernon Jackson's experiences.  We were in the same company and I can vouch for his general accuracy although almost 70 years have slipped by and there has been some other "slippage" too!   However he includes the details of Ben Kaiser's death that you will be very interested in. 


The German  S-mine was a very effective antipersonnell device.  When tripped, a small charge blew a cannister with a larger charge surrounded by many ball bearings or shrapnel would explode and kill people  for many yards around.  There are very few seconds between the two explosions but there is time for someone to throw himself on the mine and minimize the effect of the second explosion.  He says that Ben's body was broken up which suggests that might have happened.  You can e-mail Vern at the above address or call him in CA at 805-474-4104.   
-- 
Clif Hullinger
2320 W 113th Place
Chicago, IL 60643
773 253 5426
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 Ben Kaiser and John Machnic


Excerpted from Vernon A. Jackson's remembrances of World War II
Written July 2010






"Then there is my own private terror, again not in combat. A lieutenant took Joe Pauley and me to a beach somewhere north of Rome. It was a lovely sand beach a hundred or so yards long, with trees at the north end and buildings and a long pier at the south end. I guess someone wanted to go swimming there.
The trouble with the beach was a continuous series of tank mine patterns for its full length. Each pattern was about 30 yards long by 10 yards deep. They were Italian mines—wooden, canvas and with mostly plastic detonators and probably sixty mines in each pattern, four rows with mines six feet apart.
They were not hard to find because some were exposed by blown away sand. By noon Joe and I had exploded probably three hundred mines, ten at a time with a block of TNT on each with detonators wired in series. Then the pattern changed and between each anti tank mine was an anti personnel mine—the dreaded “Bouncing Betty” S mines.
We had gotten well into one such pattern when the Lt. came back, I guess to see if we’d blown ourselves up. His reaction was, “This job is too big for two men. I’ll get a line platoon out to help.” Forty men to replace two men!
The Lt. left and when the platoon (about forty men) arrived we introduced two key GIs, Ben Kaiser and John Machnic, to the mine pattern where we had been working. Both were fully capable and experienced with mines, so Joe and I left and went to the far end of the beach and started working back, leaving them and their NCOs to plan their work.
 In about thirty minutes we heard a big bang and saw body parts flying. Something had triggered an S mine. I suspect it was booby trapped or a “hang fire” (partially activated detonator). In the four to seven seconds that Ben Kaiser had to think—between the detonator activation “pop” and the S mine coming out of the ground—he must have decided to try to keep the mine in the ground with his own body.
It cost Ben and John Machnic their lives. Two men were wounded by S mine pellets. We had a 4 x 4 weapons carrier (pickup truck) and hauled the two wounded, Ken Helseth and Ray Franz, to a field hospital. We returned to find we still had the job of reassembling Ben and taking his and John’s bodies to grave registration.
Somehow even death can seem routine in some circumstances. At the time, his heroism wasn’t obvious. Decades later, when I was reviewing explosions that contributed to my hearing loss, I finally recognized the heroic act by Ben. He spared his platoon buddies from many casualties. If his platoon hadn’t taken over, Joe and I perhaps would have been the casualties . (There is more story here. Please see special write-up and picture in the accompanying album.)
Since recognizing his very heroic action I’ve contacted Benny’s relatives in South Dakota and a brother and nephew in California who were most thankful to have knowledge beyond the simple military notice and especially of the almost certain act of heroism."

Vernon Jackson






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