A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

History: Matawan Township War Dead, World War II

Page 54 of "Township of Matawan (1857 - 1957)," published by the Matawan Township Centennial Celebration Committee, contains a list of six (6) Matawan Township honored dead from World War II.
  • Robert H. Bennett
  • William T. Gross (sic - should be William T. Cross)
  • George A. Durante
  • Charles A. Kaleda
  • John J. Short
  • William F. Starkey, Jr.

The 6 Sep 1945 edition of The Matawan Journal featured this tribute, including the photo to the right:

"Major Robert H. Bennett, 37, husband of Mrs Mildred (Kelly) Bennett, Wilson Avenue, Matawan, and son of Mr and Mrs Walter Bennett, of Dorcester, Massachusetts, was killed in action in Germany April 18, 1945. He was attached to the 44th Infantry Division as a member of the Allied Military Government."

Robert was born about 1909 (age 31) in Massachusetts when he was enumerated in Brooklyn, New York in the 1940 Federal Census. The census said his occupation was Assistant Executive of a trust company. The census said he had been a resident of Matawan in 1935.

Robert's relationship to Gilbert Bellows, head of household, was enumerated as "partner" in the 1940 Federal Census. Gilbert was 25 years old and a clerk at a meat packing company. Gilbert's younger brother James was also in the household. Robert was listed as married, while Gilbert and James were single.

Robert's widow was born Mildred Kelley about 1909 (21 NJ), according to the 1930 Federal Census, when she was enumerated in the Matawan household of Thomas (51 NJ) and Marie (47 France) Kelley. The census showed that her father, a farmer, was born to English parents, while her mother was born to French parents. Mildred had a sister Isabel (22 NJ) in that enumeration.

Below is an excerpt from the chronicle of the 44th Infantry Division, which suggests that Robert might have been killed during an onset of an Allied attack on Ehingen, Germany.

"Moving across the Rhine at Worms, 26 March, in the wake of the 3d Division, the 44th relieved the 3d, 26-27 March, and crossed the Neckar River to attack and capture Mannheim, 28-29 March. Shifting to the west bank of the Main, the Division crossed that river at Grosse Auheim in early April, and engaged in a 3-week training period. Attacking 18 April, after the 10th Armored Division, the 44th took Ehingen, 23 April, crossed the Danube, and attacking southeast, took Fussen, Berg, and Wertach, in a drive on Imst. Pursuing the disintegrating enemy through Fern Pass and into Inn Valley, the 44th set up its CP at Imst, Austria, on 4 May." (Combat Chronicle, 44th Infantry Division, Center for Military History)

Ancestry's World War II and Korean Conflict Veterans Interred Overseas says Maj Robert H Bennett died 15 Apr 1945 while serving with the Headquarters of 44th Division. He earned the Bronze Star, the French Croix de Guerre with Silver Gilt Star, the Purple Heart, and additional US Army awards. The French medal was awarded for being mentioned in despatches at the corps level.

He is buried at the Lorraine American Cemetery and Monument in France.


The 6 Sep 1945 edition of The Matawan Journal featured this tribute, including the photo to the right:

"Pfc. George Durante, 20, son of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Durante, 49 Gerard Avenue, Matawan Township, was killed in action on August 2, 1944 in France. He was a member of the 23rd Infantry Division."

The 24 Aug 1944 edition of The Matawan Journal had the following article:

"Pfc. George Durante Missing In Action
Had Been In Invasion Of France; Brother Injured In Pacific

Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Durante, 40 Gerard Ave., Matawan Township, for the second time in about six weeks, have received sad news concerning their sons in the armed forces. Monday a telegram came from Adjutant General Ullo advising them that their younger son, Pfc. George Durante, 20, had been reported missing in action in France since Aug 2.

On July 7, Mr. and Mrs. Durante were notified that their other son, Pfc, I.uke A. Durante, 23, a Marine, had been wounded in action somewhere in the Pacific war theater, presumably in the Marshall Islands. However, subsequent word from Luke revealed that  he is recovering from the foot injury which he received. (See 13 Jul 1944 edition of The Matawan Journal for reporting on Luke's injury, including a photograph.)

George, who attended St. Joseph's Parochial School and was graduated from Matawan High School, entered the army July 13, 1943. He was previously employed by the Hanson-Van Winkle-Munning Company in Matawan and later by the Central Railroad in Elizabethport,

An infantry man, he received his basic training at Camp Wheeler, Ga, and was stationed at Fort G. Meade, Md. prior to leaving for overseas in January of this year. He participated in the invasion of France and in his last letter to his parents, written on his birthday, July 28, told them he had been awarded an expert rifleman medal which he was sending home.

George and Luke are the Durantes only sons. They have three daughters: Loretta, living at home, and two who are married, one residing in Perth Amboy and the other in Paterson."

George lived in his parents' 49 Gerard Avenue household in Matawan Township in the 1940 Federal Census. Lawrence (51 Italy) and Rose (48 Florida) Durante Lawrence was a laborer with the steam railroad. George's siblinlgs were Helen (29), Loretta (24), Luke (18) and Lawrence (12).

George T Cross is buried at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France, according to Ancestry's World War II and Korean Conflict Veterans Interred Overseas records. He was with the 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.

I found the following map of northwestern France in early August 1944 and a chronology of the 2nd Infantry Division's actions leading up to George's death circa 2 August during the St Lo breakthrough.

Northwestern France: The Breakout, August 1944
"After training in Ireland and Wales from October 1943 to June 1944, the 2d Infantry Division crossed the channel to land on Omaha Beach on D plus 1, 7 June 1944, near St. Laurent-sur-Mer. Attacking across the Aure River, the Division liberated Trevieres, 10 June, and proceeded to assault and secure Hill 192, the key enemy strongpoint on the road to St. Lo. With the hill taken 11 July 1944, the Division went on the defensive until 26 July. Exploiting the St. Lo break-through, the 2d Division advanced across the Vire to take Tinchebray 15 August 1944." (US Army History, Combat Chronicle, 2d Infantry Division)

The 6 Sep 1945 edition of The Matawan Journal featured this tribute, including the photo to the right:

 "Sgt. William Cross, 26, son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas C. Cross, 105 Atlantic Avenue, Matawan, was killed in action on June 9, 1945 (sic) in the invasion of Normandy. He was a member of the 12th Infantry, 4th Division."

The 29 Jun 1944 edition of The Matawan Journal announced that a requiem mass had been celebrated that morning at St Joseph's Church for Sgt. Cross, who was killed in action in France on June 9, 1944. The newspaper said that William was the first Matawan man killed in the Allied invasion of Europe.  He had been serving overseas since January 1944 and was part of the 12th Infantry, 4th Division when he died. He graduated Matawan High School and was operating his own Esso station on Route 9-4 when he signed up for the military. His parents were Mr. and Mrs. Thomas C. Cross of 105 Atlantic Avenue. His sister, Martha, lived at home and worked for the Matawan War Price and Ration Board.

The 1930 Federal Census showed Thomas (36 NJ) and Ruth (33 NY) Cross with son William (12 NJ), daughter Martha (5 NJ), and Thomas' uncle, Albert Ryder (64 NY). They lived on Atlantic Avenue in Matawan. Thomas was employed by Standard Oil Co. Albert was a laborer at Matawan Tile Co.

I found this detailed account of what the 12th Infantry Regiment was doing on 9 Jun 1944, which could be what William was doing if he died in battle that day.

"On 9 June the regiment took the enemy strong point at the Chateau de Dodinville near Joganville. The chateau, a large walled-in stone building, was stubbornly defended. Six Sherman tanks from Company B, 746th Tank Battalion, outflanked the chateau on the west, while the 1st and 2d Battalions, at the cost of heavy casualties, fought into it from the south. Both battalions then continued northward and reached positions 2,000 yards northwest of Joganville. The 3d Battalion made a spectacular advance and reached positions 1,500 yards northeast of Montebourg, on the edge of the regimental objective and far in advance of units on either flank." (Breaking the German Line in the North: Utah Beach to Cherbourg, US Army, pg 103)

I could find no record of a gravesite for William, either overseas or locally, including St Joseph's Cemetery in Keyport.


The 6 Sep 1945 edition of The Matawan Journal featured this tribute, including the photo to the right:

"Pvt. Charles A. Kaleda, 25, son of Mrs. Antoinette Kaleda, 33 Broadway, Matawan, was killed in action in Italy on January 25, 1944. He was attached to the chemical warfare division."

The 27 Jul 1944 edition of The Matawan Journal reported that Charles Kaleda's mother had just received a War Department telegram announcing that her son was no longer missing but had been killed in action. The newspaper provided some background as follows:

"Pvt Kaleda was inducted.in the army on Apr. 1, 1943 and received his training at Camp Wheeler, Ga., and Texas, and was sent overseas in September 1943. He was in North Africa and Sicily and was then transferred to Italy. He was attached to the Chemical Warfare Division.

The Kaleda family moved to Matawan about three years ago from Shenandoah, Pa., where Pvt Kaleda was born. He attended the public schools there and upon moving to Matawan, he was employed by the Architectural Tiling Co., and was with the New Jersey Shipbuilding Co. in" Perth Amboy at the time of his induction. His father, Peter Kaleda, died several years ago."

Peter (55 Poland) and Antoinette (49 Poland) Kalezta lived in Shenandoah, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania in the 1930 Federal Census. Peter was a coal miner. He and his wife came to America in 1904 and 1906, respectively. Charles (12) was the youngest of five children in the household.

Ancestry's World War II and Korean Conflict Veterans Interred Overseas records say that Charles served with the 83rd Chemical Battalion and went missing 26 Jan 1944. He was awarded the Purple Heart and is missing and presumed dead. A monument in his honor is located at the Rome and Sicily American Cemetery and Memorial, which is in the Anzio Province of Rome, Italy. Ancestry records show him being inducted into the Army from Pennsylvania, which seems to be an error.
CWS soldier deploying smoke along the Rapido River, Jan 1944. (CMH Pub 10-1, pg 71)
The chronology of US involvement in Italy during World War II suggests that Charles died in the first Battle of Monte Cassino, which began 17 January 1944 and involved a number of attacks into early February. The third phase, which began 24 January and lasted eight bloody days, involved an attack on Cassino from the north. Attempts to ford the Rapido River with heavy equipment were frustrated by heavy flooding.

Charles would have been involved in the deployment of smoke pots to mask the advancement of forces, much like the man in the photograph above during the same battle. CMH Publication 10-2, pg 202, includes the following excerpt regarding the deployment of smoke in battle situations (including river assault crossings) by the Chemical Weapon Service:

"In Italy pots also graduated from harbor defense and invasion defense to forward area defense. Troops employed them to screen supply routes, bridge construction, river assault crossings, tanks, ammunition dumps, troop concentrations, ground operations, and even to hide mortar flash."  


The 6 Sep 1945 edition of The Matawan Journal featured this tribute, including the photo to the right:

"Pvt. John J. Short, 20, son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Short, Sr., 2 Gaston Avenue, Matawan, is assumed to have been killed on October 4, 1944 in France. Private Short was first declared wounded and later as missing."

The 5 Apr 1945 edition of The Red Bank Register (pg 3) featured this tribute:


The War department has informed Mr. and Mrs. Charles Short, Sr., of Matawan, that their son, Pvt. John J. Short, previously reported as wounded and missing, must be presumed dead. He went overseas early last summer and was reported to have been wounded October 4. He was reported missing January 22. He was a graduate of Matawan High School and was employed by the Bendix corporation in Red Bank prior to entering the service.

A family tree on Ancestry.com says John J Short was born 1 Dec 1923 to Charles Henry and Margaret (Bogardus) Short. The tree says he died 4 Oct 1944 in France.

The 1940 Federal Census shows John Short II, age 10, born in NJ, living with his parents, Charles Sr (51 NJ) and Margaret (49 NJ) Short, sisters Helen (21) and Patricia (3), and his father's brother (John's likely namesake) John S Short (49 NJ). They lived at 19 Gaston Avenue in Matawan Township and had lived in the same town in 1935. Charles and his daughter Helen worked at the tile factory, he as a laborer and she as a tile sorter (for one-third the wage).

Note: In the 1940 Federal Census, 2 Gaston Place belonged to Grace Della Pietro and family. Grace was widowed and her four sons ranged in age from 17 to 28 years. Presumably the house came available in the next five years and the Shorts acquired it. Perhaps the boys went to war and/or married and the house no longer suited them?

John enlisted in the US Army for World War II on 29 Dec 1943 at Camden, NJ, according to Ancestry's enlistment records.

John is buried at St Joseph's Cemetery, Maple Place, Keyport, according to a headstone application filed by the cemetery in 1948. The application said Private Short served in the 2nd Infantry 5th Division..


The 6 Sep 1945 edition of The Matawan Journal featured this tribute, including the photo to the right:

"Pfc. William F. Starkey, Jr., 24, son of Mr. and Mrs. William Starkey, Atlantic Avenue, Matawan, was killed in action in Germany on November 17, 1944, while serving with the infantry."

The 1930 Federal Census shows William Starkey, age 10, born in NY, living with his parents, William (35 NY) and Lillian (29 NY) Starkey and sister Helen (8 NY).William was a laborer at the tile factory..

The 1930 Federal Census said William and Lillian married about 1918. Perhaps William served in WWI andthey married after William returned from that service?

The 1920 Federal Census shows William (24 NY) and Lillian (19 NY) living in Brooklyn, New York, where he was a laborer in a brass foundry. William Jr had not yet been born when the census was taken in January 1920.

Ancestry has a copy of the application William's father submitted to the US Government in 1949 to obtain a gravestone for his son at Cedarwood Cemetery, Keyport, NJ. The form provided the following: William F. Starkey, Jr, was born 19 Apr 1920, died 17 Nov 1944, and served in Company B, 406th Infantry Regiment, 102nd Infantry Division. Check out Find-a-Grave for a photograph of his gravestone.

The US Army's history of the 2nd Armored Division in the European Theater of Operations (pg 428) says the First Battalion of the 406th Infantry was attached to the 2nd for only a few weeks in the month of November 1944, when William was killed.  This history mentioned that the 2nd's Headquarters in Rhineland, Germany moved from 1/2 mile east of Palenberg on 11 November to 1 mile southeast of Ubach on 17 November. (Wikipedia has an article on Ubach-Palenberg.) William very likely was killed in early fighting in the second phase of the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, an Allied offensive known as Operation Queen. The Germans offered unexpectedly heavy resistance because they were massing seasoned troops in preparation for what the Allies would call the Battle of the Bulge.


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