More than 75 years ago, Frank Lembo wrote dozens of letters to his sweetheart while stationed in France during World War II.
Along with the usual posts, Lembo noted some pointed observations from his life as a battlefield GI. Fast forward to present time, and Lembo’s daughter took 86 of these letters and compiled them into a book, starring Leon Reed.
A presentation on the book, titled “A Combat Engineer with Patton’s Army: The Fight Across Europe with the 80th Blue Ridge Division in World War II,” is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Eldred World War II Museum.
Authors Lois Lembo and Leon Reed will lead the presentation.
According to a prepared statement, the presentation tells the story of the Third Army’s advance across Europe from four different angles. First, it uses the content of 86 letters from Sgt. (later 2nd Lt.) Frank Lembo, Squad Leader of the 305th Engineer Combat Battalion, along with his photos and other things he sent home, to give a GI level view of the war. He also uses the typewritten copy of his company’s diary and other after-action engineering reports to describe the engineers’ work to keep the army moving and also uses reports from the 80th Division’s combat units to describe the Advance of the Third Army. Finally, the authors describe the machinations at SHAEF headquarters that affected Patton’s advance.
The presentation begins with the fighting at Argentan and the breakout from Normandy and discusses the pursuit of the Third Army through France, the building up of German resistance at the Moselle, the 3-month Lorraine campaign that brought the Third Army on the borders of Germany, the German Ardennes Offensive, Patton’s promise that “I can attack with three divisions in 72 hours”, the 80th’s run to Luxembourg, the relief of Bastogne and the closing of the Ardennes , the spring campaign in Germany and discovery of the camps, and duty of occupation. The lecture provides a broad overview of Third Army warfare and insight into the work of engineers. It is illustrated with many unpublished photos.
Some of the observations from Frank Lembo’s letters:
• “This march to Berlin has its good moments. The French are as happy as can be, and they keep throwing bottles of wine and eggs at us… The other day our platoon was working where a bridge was blown up and we got about 160 eggs. They come in handy for breakfast. (August 1944)
• “We went down to the river and caught some fish… We dropped a few blocks of TNT in the river and the concussion killed enough for the whole platoon.” [November 3, 1944]
• “No, I can’t say when it will be over. We fight yard by yard once in a while, then struggle to hold each yard. Maybe something will break one of these days, but it’s going to be slow. (October 10, two days after the bloodiest day of the war for the division)
• “Things have been quite difficult the past few days and I have lost some very good friends. It hurts a lot when your own buddies leave. Well, there’s no point in continuing to think about them, may the dead rest in peace and the injured get well. (October 10, 1944)
• Description of his Silver Star mission: “I went on a mission the other night and four of us had a great time. Bad luck led us straight into a German outpost, and they fired a few shots at us. We didn’t do our job and no one was hurt. After the war, I’ll tell you everything, it’s rather humorous. [October 21, 1944]
Lois Lembo is a retired defense consultant who has worked on advanced manufacturing studies and defense industrial base planning for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the White House Science Advisor, and the Defense Technology Program. Air Force manufacturing. She is finishing her second book, on the formation of the 305th Engineers and the 80th Division during World War II.
Leon Reed is a former US Senate aide and professor of US history. He wrote three books on Civil War monuments, a children’s book on Jennie Wade, and two books on the 1860 election and the secession crisis leading up to the war.
Lois and Leon live in Gettysburg. They have three children, five grandchildren and four cats.