In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, TimesLedger Newspapers presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history.
Welcome to April 1945!
World War II in Europe was in its final weeks. The Red Army shock troops burst into the heart of Berlin and thrust a spearhead into the Potsdamer Platz,, not 400 yards from the place where Adolf Hitler may be directing the defense of his gutted capital. Moscow dispatches said the front lines had fallen apart and become a chaotic struggle swirling wildly through the ruins of the city. Soviet forces overrunning Tempelhof Airport find planes with engines running, waiting to evacuate Nazi bigwigs that will never come.
With the 87th (the Golden Acorn) Infantry Division, Tech Sergeant Joseph Schaetzl of 25-50 31st Street in Long Island City is resting in the woods east of Limburg with 120 other American prisoners under close watch by German guards. The Yanks are weary and starving.
Some of them had marched 150 miles in the month since their capture; they had covered over ten miles that day. No one pays much attention to the rumble of tanks that seem to be coming closer; they thought it was more Jerry tanks going to the rear.
The roar of exhaust comes nearer, the clanking of the bogeys can now be plainly heard. Then the armor comes into view. When the tanks begin spraying the woods with machine gun fire everyone hits the ditch. Suddenly, one of the doughboys mutters in a choking voice, ‘there’s a star on those babies.’ The reaction is stunning. The Nazi guards drop their rifles and start running away. The Yanks take to their feet and run off in the other direction.
Lt. Edwin Reeg of Woodside celebrates his 32nd birthday in explosive style, not with a cake and candles and a party, but with flaming tank cannons and machine guns that bring about the capture of a German town and 175 Nazi prisoners.
The lieutenant, a former NYC police officer, is the leader of a Recon Unit of the Second Armored Division. He negotiates with the mayor of a small town its surrender and gives them 30 minutes to run up the white flag. The allotted time passes slowly. There are no signs of a surrender. Reeg, who has now determined to take the town before his birthday is over, summons his tanks into position for an attack. A withering blast of shellfire at point blank range sets the town ablaze. Return fire is weak Reeg decides to go in for the kill. In less than an hour, 175 prisoners gave up. The town is in shambles.
He writes to his wife that his unit had recently freed 400 slave laborers in another Nazi town they overran. The Jamaica High School graduate, a two year State Wrestling Champion, volunteered for the army in May 1941, six months after he joined to the police force. He received an appointment as Second Lieutenant in 1942, and went overseas in 1944.
Two surprised Flushing brothers meet face to face on a Philippine battlefield. They are sons of Mr. and Mrs. Philip Abatelli of 42-19 209th Street, formerly of Astoria. It happens in Leyte, where Private Mario Abatelli, 26, was a member of an advance reconnaissance group scouting for a sign of the enemy.
A spearhead of the 77th Division makes contact and the two merge as the Japanese open fire. Before he knows it, Mario is fighting side by side with his brother Private Rudolph Abatelli, 21. Although flabbergasted by the unexpected meeting, they postpone amenities until later as they have some business at hand that needs attention. During a lull in the battle, they get together for some solid handshaking and backslapping. Then they go back into battle …
That is the way it was in April 1945!
For further info, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or www.astorialic.org.