Displaying items by tag: Veterans
While going through some old newspaper clippings we came across an article about a local historian, civil rights activist, and veteran, Dr. Martha Settle Putney.
Martha Settle, Spice Yearbook 1935, HSMC Archival Collection
Martha was born in Norristown on November 9, 1916. She graduated from Howard University in 1939 and received her master's degree in history the following year. Unfortunately, Martha faced discrimination and was initially unable to find a teaching position. She ultimately became a statistical clerk with the War Manpower Commission.
Martha continued to experience discrimination while working at the War Manpower Commission, so she decided to join the Woman's Army Corps in 1943. She was assigned to basic training at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. She became a first lieutenant and eventually commanded a unit of Black medical technicians at Gardiner General Hospital in Chicago. During her service, Martha was credited for helping to establish policies regarding equality for all members in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Newspaper clipping from Norristown Times Herald, HSMC Collection
After being discharged in 1946, Martha decided to go back to studying history. She earned her doctorate in European history in 1955 from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Putney became a history professor at Bowie State that same year. She chaired the history and geography department until 1974. Dr. Putney went on to teach at Howard University until she retired in 1983.
As a historian, Dr. Putney authored two books and several articles. One of her books, When the Nation Was in Need: Blacks in the Women's Army Corps During World War II, details her own experiences in the WAC. Dr. Putney died on December 11, 2008 at age 92 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Joe Holley, “Bowie, Howard Historian Martha Putney,” Washington Post. Monday, December 22, 2008. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/21/AR2008122102051.html
Judy Baca. "How One Woman Made a Difference: Norristown native's past chronicled in Tome Brokaw's 'Greatest Generation'". Times Herald. Monday February 22, 1999.
We have a guest blogger for this post. HSMC volunteer Eleanor Jones researched and wrote about a Medal of Honor recipient from Spring Mount, Montgomery County. Thank you Eleanor!
The One-Man Army - Alton Warren Knappenberger
by Eleanor Jones
What do you think of when someone mentions military achievement? In serving and protecting, The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor against enemy forces. The receivers have filled newspaper articles, remembrance anniversaries, and walls of lists. However, the personal undertaking can still be lost on many.
Alton W. Knappenberger is one such individual to receive the Medal of Honor. In World War II, Knappenberger was stationed in Europe in early 1944, during the Anzio Campaign. Born on December 31, 1923 in Coopersburg, PA, at the age of twenty, he was recognized by his familial dispatches to be, "chiefly responsible for preventing serious losses to his outfit in a battle in which every officer and non-commissioned man in his company became a casualty." One man's influence in tragedy cannot be ignored even in our modern times.
Copy of a Newspaper Article in the Family Files at HSMC
In Cisterna di Latina, a town 30 miles from Nazi-Occupied Rome, Knappenberg's unit was moving from Italy's beaches to an open field. With bodies on either side of him being shot down, he felt unattended and exposed. Assuming none of his superiors were left to give commands, Knappenberger was left to act on his own will against the enemy ahead of him. He ran forward in a zig-zag for up to forty yards as bullets shot passed him. He avoided grenades and shot down Germans. He stood his ground for several hours finding security behind a knoll, laying flat or occasionally kneeling. Six survivors remained and joined Knappenberger on the knoll. The remaining company's commander ordered them to return to their regiment, unaware there was no regiment to return to. Sixty Nazis were found dead after the Unites States troops took the ground. The 20-year old private did not have a scratch on him. Knappenberger's Medal of Honor Action date was February 1, 1944. When he was presented with the medal he was called, "a blasted one-man army," by General Mark Clark.
Alton W. Knappenberger, Photo from Congressional Medal of Honor Society
Knappenberger reminisced about the shift in response to his medal. He said, "Everybody wanted to talk to me about the medal. Now very few people know I have it." Locally, the medal lost its significance once the threat itself diminished. His life carried on when he returned home in August of 1944. He quickly married his first wife Ruth. Eventually he married his second wife, Mary. He had six children. Alton Knappenberger died on June 9, 2008 in Pottstown, PA. In World War II, 464 people were awarded the Medal of Honor. While he is proud of his service to earn the medal, he admits, "I was scared all the time I was over there. I just did what I had to do. You go in there and just try to get them guys before they get you." Alton Knappenberger's service in one day saved countless lives. The horrors of war and the strength of veterans must remain remembered and not be overlooked.
Stories of Sacrifice. “Alton W Knappenberger: World War II: U.S. Army: Medal of Honor Recipient.” Congressional Medal of Honor Society, 2022. https://www.cmohs.org/recipients/alton-w-knappenberger.
, David. “A Reluctant Hero.” The Morning Call, 30 Jan. 2019. https://www.mcall.com/news/all-altonknappenbergerhero-story.html.
Last, First. “Salford Medal of Honor Man Modest About his Exploits.” The Times Herald, July 26, 1962.
If you’ve ever attended the Historical Society’s Memorial Day observance at historic Montgomery Cemetery, you’re probably familiar with the Grand Army of the Republic. This national association of Union veterans of the Civil War, had hundreds of posts across the country. One local Montgomery County post, the Zook Post, purchased several plots at Montgomery Cemetery for the burial of members who couldn’t buy plots of their own.
Adorable children at the G.A.R plot
The G.A.R. wasn’t the only organization for Union veterans, however. Norristown was also home to a chapter of the Union Veteran League. This group was much smaller than the G.A.R. because it had stricter rules for admittance. In order to be a member, one had to have volunteered for three years of service before July 1, 1863 (when the draft went into effect) and served for at least two years.
This morning, I came across the roster of post 94 in Norristown. It lists 56 members, all enrolled from 1891 to 1893. The roster lists the members’ names, place of birth, residence, occupation, plus contains information on their service.
Some members were wounded or captured, and the roster notes that, too.
From the roster, it looks like this post was founded July 9, 1891.
The group was founded in Pittsburgh in 1884 and lasted until about 1939 (the Grand Army of the Republic survived until its last member died in 1956). While neither group ever expanded to include later veterans (the Veterans of Foreign Wars was founded for them in 1899 by veterans of the Spanish – American War), the G.A.R. was succeeded by the Sons of Union Veterans.
Since it was a smaller group with no apparent successor, information on the organization is hard to find. This roster was ended up with member Samuel E. Nyce, who donated it to the Historical Society in 1910.