World War II Veteran Series

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Fall 2007,
Fall 2007
Original Images:



Author: Frank Kildau

Is a smile always friendly? In the case of Frank Kildau's war experiences, the smile he got from a German pilot as he flew over after strafing Frank's gun placement wasn't friendly at all, but more of a smirk. Frank's battalion was in the process of taking the town of Pisa in Italy and they were dug in on one side of the Arno River and the pilot had just come within feet of hitting the center of the 40 MM gun placement. The bullets hit on both sides of the gun as Frank and other American troops hit the dirt. As the pilot flew over he smiled at Frank and the others as if to say, “I missed you, but watch out next time.” Frank could see the pilot's teeth as he flew over. This was Frank's closest call of the war. However, there wasn't a next time as Frank and his battalion advanced and took Pisa.

Frank Kildau was a farm boy from Mayville, a small town near Saginaw. He had married his late wife Dorothy before entering the Army. They moved to Ypsilanti and raised two children, Bonnie and George. Dorothy worked at Central Specialty while Frank was gone to war.

Frank's battalion was sent to Africa late in 42. On the way over the troop ship he was on was attacked by a submarine. The men watched as two torpedoes approached. The men scattered to safety as the torpedoes narrowly missed the ship. The convoy then outran the sub and made it in to port safely.

How would you like a trip to Morocco, Algiers, or Casablanca? In Frank's case it wasn't much fun as they traversed the upper part of the continent against strong resistance from the Germans. Soon they were the first to land in Italy and began the long trek north up the peninsula. At every turn they met resistance as they fought their way north. Frank's 40 MM Guns received plenty of action as they traveled. Winter complicated matters and the German Luftwaffe provided plenty of opportunity for targets. Frank wasn't sure of any definite kills but he was sure they made hits on opposing aircraft. When they were attacked by ground troops his Captain took a hit which struck his belt where his pistol hung. Miraculously the Captain was not hurt. Frank complimented the hospitality of the Italian people who were very cordial and were constantly bringing the American troops food. The battalion moved toward Pisa and when the city was taken Frank was given the honor of raising the American flag on the tower of Pisa. At every city taken the troops raised the American flag. They carried a generous supply of flags with them to raise in captured cities.

Frank returned from the war to settle in Ypsilanti. He eventually became the Electrical Union Business Manager, a position from which be retired.

The USS Grayson, a Destroyer, was heading back to the states through the Pacific immediately after the war when the Captain contacted the bridge from his quarters and said, “What is happening up there? We seem to be zig zagging.” The Officer on duty said he would tend to the matter immediately. It was 2:00 am in the morning and an 18 year old fuzzy-cheeked kid had been given the wheel of the ship by the officer on duty. It was the first and only time he had steered the ship, and he had sent the ship on a serpentine course. The fuzzy-cheeked kid was John Salcau, a signalman who was hanging out on the bridge during a boring voyage back through open seas. The duty officer had given him the chance to steer the ship for the first time. The seas were a little rough, thus the shaky steering. No one got in trouble, but that was John's last chance at steering the ship.

John's parents came over directly from Romania. His grandparents were peasants and his father wanted more for his family. His father started at the local bank in Sharon, Pennsylvania as a janitor and worked his way up to the position of Vice President. He had been a gardener for the President, who was impressed with his intelligence, and offered to send him to business school. He continued working hard and was eventually made Vice President. John's Mom had taught in Romania. The local Bishop in Romania recognized her mental capabilities and paid her tuition to high school and college. Upon arriving in the U.S. she began to work with teens in the community, teaching them Romanian songs and dances. John was sent to Quebec to a boarding school to have advanced studies. During his freshman and sophomore years John had seven classes per day, all difficult subjects.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked and the U.S. went to war, John's parents wanted him home so he finished high school in Sharon. He was drafted in September of 44 and given his choice, Army or Navy. He chose the Navy and did his boot camp in the Finger Lakes near Rochester, N.Y. He became a signalman and stayed for training. In the Spring of 45 he headed for Seattle by troop train. John was impressed by the many older ladies who waited at every small station and gave the boys cookies along the way.

He then boarded the U.S.S Grayson, D.E. 435, and headed for San Francisco, San Diego, and eventually Pearl Harbor with the rookie crew training all the way. The Grayson had already been at war since 42 and had suffered damages which required repair in Seattle. The new crew was uneasy as they approached Pearl Harbor because they knew the fighting was furious in the Pacific and they would soon be in it. They got orders to report to the front at Okinawa and headed out. None of the men knew that the U.S. had the Atomic Bomb or was about to drop it. Finally a message came, the bomb had been dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Japanese had surrendered. Thousands of American lives were spared with this news. An invasion of Japan was being planned and a long fight loomed ahead. The Grayson turned around and headed back to Pearl Harbor. The war was over. The ship ended up in Charleston, South Carolina, coming through the Panama Canal. John was reassigned to a Destroyer Escort in Norfolk and was eventually discharged in July of 46.

College was his next goal and he enrolled in John Carroll University in Cleveland, which ended his 52/20 club money and started his G.I. bill support. Every serviceman, when discharged, got $20 per week for 52 weeks. Then if they started college, the G.I. bill took effect. After graduation from John Carroll University he came to Ann Arbor and enrolled in graduate school at the University of Michigan. That is where he met Jane. She was actually dating another guy when John met her. Jane saw how broke John was and she suggested he give blood at the clinic where she worked and he would get money for it. He then offered to take her to dinner and that is how it all started. They settled in Ypsilanti and had two children, Christopher and Jill. John eventually became an Elementary Principal and subsequently Assistant Superintendent of the Ypsilanti Public Schools where he retired. He and Jane enjoy relaxing in Arizona during the winter months.

With the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war was almost over. Ellis Freatman found himself in Okinawa where there had been a furious battle just days before. His job as a Lieutenant in charge of an American platoon was to rout the Japanese out of extensive caves throughout the island of Okinawa. He had a Japanese assistant from Osaka who helped by telling the Japanese soldiers in Japanese that the war was over. Some believed, some did not. They were dug in and it made the job very difficult. Ellis and others scoured the caves for Japanese soldiers. Had the bomb not been dropped, Ellis would have been part of an invasion force of the Japanese islands.

Perhaps Ellis Freatman's success in tennis had a bit to do with his success as a foot soldier. He was always a winner in tennis and was one of the best players to ever come out of Ypsilanti. His high school achievements included being State Champion two times. Academically, he was always outstanding and was the President of his class for three years. He found himself drafted in the Army in January of 43 and was sent to Camp Maxie in Texas for training as a foot soldier. His academic side came out, he took tests and was sent to Virginia Tech for Officer Training. There he met his best friend, Howard Gray, who became a fighter pilot and was wounded. They still see each other today in Florida. He was then sent back to Maxie for additional training as a platoon leader. He went from Corporal to Lieutenant and was shipped to Okinawa in 45. During his spare time there he built a tennis court and a basketball court for the men and devised a shower system which was very popular. These efforts were completed in addition to the cave routings. His direct superior, Frank Linsky, who played college basketball and was an All American, made sure he got the materials necessary to build the courts.

He was discharged in 46 and entered Michigan State Normal College where he played tennis on the MSNC team and was named Captain. Two years later he decided to transfer to the University of Michigan and study law, concentrating solely on his studies.

Happiness came his way as he was introduced to Marilyn Begole by Jim Burrell of Burrell Monuments and they were married in 1952. She was a teacher in Milan for several years in English and Speech. When they started their family she retired and was a stay-at-home Mom. They raised two children, the late John, and Ellis Jr. who were both tennis stars like their Dad.

Ellis's law practice flourished and he built his first office at 108 N. Huron in 1953, the site of the old A.C. Walker Store. The law practice still exists even though Ellis has retired. Ellis and Marilyn now enjoy retirement and live in Florida during the winter.

Imagine never getting seasick despite making countless trips overseas on Merchant Marine ships, and never getting hit by a torpedo, even more important. Gordon Cahours was a tough kid who didn't fear anything. He signed up as a high school graduate on a coal ship in 1940 to take a voyage. He liked it so well that when the war was imminent in 1941, he went to New York to join the Merchant Marine. His first trip was on a cargo ship with war supplies on board. It was a fast ship with a fast crossing of seven or eight days. The U.S. Maritime Service utilized volunteers like Gordie to man ships for delivery of war goods to Europe and the Pacific. Gordie did this for 36 months and decided that he was tired of being just a seaman and enrolled in Officers Training School in the U.S. Coast Guard in London, Connecticut.

From that time on, Gordie would eat in the Officer's Mess on white tablecloths. These men were the backbone of the war effort, taking vital supplies to Europe. Gordie became a navigator and helped command many Merchant Marine ships on the Atlantic crossings. On one crossing his ship, the Moses Cleveland got shot up while they were headed for Egypt to pay the oil workers. Aboard they had many boxes, filled with silver coins which were to be used to pay the men. Gordie and his Captain were anxiously awaiting the possibility that the cranes might accidentally drop one of the boxes so that they could get a souvenir. However none were dropped. His Captain chose him for all his trips because he liked the way Gordie worked as Navigator. Usually the Captain did most of the navigating. On one run they had 100 ships in the convoy and were loaded with bombs and explosives, headed for Port Said. They made it safely. On the return trip, they took 300 oil well drillers.

Fog complicated the crossings. As they zig zagged to avoid submarine attacks, they came close to colliding. Visibility was very limited and space between ships for turning was also limited. This gave Gordie some anxious moments. Other destinations were Casablanca, Italy and the Indian Ocean.

Gordie got the sea out of his system at war's end. He completed college in 1947 and got his first job in teaching from Ernest Chappelle who was Superintendent in Ypsilanti. Two years prior he had married his high school sweetheart Virginia, who he knew as a child growing up. After several years teaching in Ypsi he was offered a job in industry, serving a seven year stint with Ford Motor Company. He decided to return to teaching and took a job as a fifth grade teacher in Livonia. This led to an opportunity in Southgate in elementary school administration as a Principal, a position he held until his retirement in 1980.