The Ultimate Sacrifice and history

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The Ultimate Sacrifice and history

Honoring those who gave their tomorrows so that we could have our todays

The top item will be new every month or so, but see more of Tom Mueller's latest research on Facebook at

The story of a Milwaukee sailor

The United States celebrated Victory in Europe Day on May 8, 1945, and all ships in the Pacific fired salvos in salute to winning one zone of the war. But three days later, off of Okinawa, came a kamikaze attack on the aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill – one of the bloodiest days until VJ Day would come.

Those seeking the story of Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Mirko Tomac of Milwaukee will find an entire book about his death on May 11, 1945, when the suicide attack killed 390 sailors and Marines in a crew of about 2,600.

Tomac was 27 and from Milwaukee.

The book is “Danger’s Hour: The Story of the USS Bunker Hill and the Kamikaze Pilot Who Crippled Her,” by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy. It was published in 2008.

The book is riveting reading in all 515 pages, with several chapters devoted to the kamikaze program and to Yasunori Seizo and Kiyoshi Ogawa, who minutes apart somehow penetrated the Bunker Hill’s protective screen after other kamikazes had been shot down that morning. The book has much more about Ogawa than Seizo; hence the title having one pilot instead of two.

Kennedy also thoroughly covers the Bunker Hill crew in the months, minutes before and hours after the attack, plus their comments in reunions and interviews decades later. 

Each plane hit the Bunker Hill with a 500-pound bomb milliseconds before crashing into the ship; then came explosions of the carrier’s fully armed planes and extensive stores of ammunition and fuel, setting off fires.

Seizo's bomb hit first, then his diving plane. The book says the bomb “crashed through the flight deck, ripped apart a passageway in the gallery deck, then broke through the ceiling of the hangar deck, and shattered a hole in the ship’s port side before it finally detonated, about 20 feet outside the Bunker Hill, just above the water. Shrapnel tore through crewmen and gunners …. shrapnel penetrated the hangar deck where it ignited fuel tanks in parked aircraft and set off a series of secondary explosions inside the ship.”

The Zero crashed into planes on the crowded deck, and “within 30 seconds, most of the aft portion of the flight deck was ablaze.”

Then Ogawa’s bomb “penetrated the deck … at the ship’s most vulnerable point – adjacent the deck edge elevator and only 25 feet port of amidships.” His plane “smashed into the flight deck where it meets the hangar deck.”

Despite this damage, the fires were put out within about 10 hours, with the aid of several neighboring ships, and the carrier was stabilized. The entire aft part of the ship was what was damaged; the forward part was not. It eventually limped back to the United States.

As an aviation machinist’s mate, Tomac’s duties included assembling, servicing and repairing airplanes and engines, along with working on aircraft wiring, according to So he likely would have been amid the planes on the flight or hangar decks.

  Tomac is not named in the book, which despite its meticulous work does not have a list of those killed. But the Navy research database at puts him in the Bunker Hill losses. 

Tomac had been a Navy Reservist, according to the Gold Star book of Wisconsin Navy losses. 

His parents were Anna and Stephen Tomac of 2137 N. Palmer St. He was part of the post-war salute compiled by St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church in Milwaukee, on North Fourth Street (now Vel Phillips Street) to its 13 sons lost in the war. 

While a few dozen crew remained missing, the book says 352 men on the Bunker Hill were buried at sea the day after the attack, “the largest burial at sea of American personnel in the history of the U.S. Navy,” a mark that still stands today. The rites lasted from noon to sunset. Tomac is listed as being buried at sea, in records of the U.S. Battle Monuments Commission, and his name is on the organization’s Honolulu Memorial in Hawaii.

7 Civil War Medals of Honor in Milwaukee

Tom Mueller has researched and written about all seven Civil War recipients of the Medal of Honor who are buried in Milwaukee, and honored one at the very hour of his heroism 150 years earlier.

On April 2, 1865, Cpl. Milton Matthews of the 61st Pennsylvania Infantry captured the regimental flag of the 7th Tennessee as it was surrendering at Hatcher's Run near Petersburg, Va. 

Matthews was age 39 or 40 at the time and wound up in the Soldiers Home in Milwaukee, where he died in 1896. He was single and had no relatives in Wisconsin. He is buried in Wood National Cemetery at the home, which is next to the Milwaukee Brewers' stadium and very close to the freeway. The name is Matthews on the gravestone, but Mathews in Soldiers Home records.

Mueller placed a picture of the Tennessee flag on his grave between 8:30 and 9 a.m. and reading him this passage from a very thorough recent book by William Thomas Venner, "The 7th Tennessee in the Civil War," in which the unit had been surrounded.

"One Yank, Milton Matthews, darted forward and ripped the 7th Tennessee flag out of the stunned Tennessean holding it. A Federal officer recorded the feat, saying Matthews 'dashed into a squad of Rebels who had gathered round a beautiful stand of colors, and … knocked down the color bearer, seized the colors as they fell, and rushed on to another portion of the field.'" 

The other MOH recipients buried in Milwaukee include two who earned it in the same week in 1864, and two others who earned it at Vicksburg on the very same day in 1863. Five of the MOH men are buried at Wood, and the other two at nearby Calvary Cemetery.

A combat engineer unit is fading into history

There now are only six known survivors of the Army's 286th Combat Engineer Battalion in World War II. The latest death was of a 93-year-old lieutenant who was only 18 on VE Day.

Above are the senior NCOs in the HQ Company. Tom Mueller's father is on the left. Carrying the American flag is Robert Tynes, who will turn 100 in April 2020.

This photo was taken near Bad Mergentheim and Loffelstelzen, Germany, and was provided by Michael Missal, national inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs. His Dad, Harold, is on the far right. Harold became a judge in Connecticut, and exchanged holiday cards every year with Bill Mueller, of Madison, Wis.

"Building the Bridges to Victory" tells the story of the 286th in the climactic months of World War II, from England to France to Germany to a concentration camp and into Austria. It was attached to various divisions, such as the 63rd and 36th, and the 101st Cavalry Group, for various times. At other times, it was attached to elements inside a division, such as inside the 12th Armored.

The book covers what the engineers did, saw and felt as they performed tasks like constructing Bailey bridges, digging mines out of roads and fields, and blowing up booby-trapped obstacles. Infantry and armor did not go very far without the work of these engineers. Some members of the battalion, including the author's father, who was on recon, then confronted the Holocaust. 

The book is privately printed and sold only by the author, and is not available from retailers. A few years ago, some of the remaining veterans of the unit, plus a daughter and a spouse, nobly stepped forward to renew the supply, ensuring it will be around for another decade or more, long after the vets are gone. Request information here.

Wisconsin from Civil War to Afghanistan

The City of Oak Creek, Wis., has placed this book in a time capsule in the new City Hall, where it will reside for 50 years. Libraries across Wisconsin have it a bit more accessible. 

The book has two chapters about the patriotic DNA of the city – its dozens of men in the Civil War and the four whose names are on its American Legion and VFW posts (one from World War I, one from WW2 and two from Vietnam). Oak Creek did not become a city until 1955, but was Oak Creek Township before that. 

In each chapter of this comprehensive tribute to those who made the Ultimate Sacrifice, the book tells the story of men and women from all across the state who were part of a historic event or period. It features several dozen men and women from the Civil War, Afghanistan and the many other conflicts in-between. The earliest Wisconsin death that is detailed was an Oak Creek soldier on Dec. 31, 1862, at Stones River, Tenn.; the latest is that of a Mayville soldier in January 2012 in Afghanistan.

Two chapters are devoted to the 40 Wisconsin MIAs in Vietnam – the most extensive coverage of them as a group in decades, if not ever. Some have been identified in recent years.

The book is available from Amazon and other Internet publishers. If you want to see the copy that is in the time capsule, come to Oak Creek in August 2065. 

Life and death in the heart of the century

If someone in your family fought in Korea, and / or if you were a kid during this era, this book should be on your shelf.

More than 170 front pages of newspapers from several Wisconsin cities and from around the nation are utilized to report the Korean War, the many other crises that President Truman handled, and daily life in the exact middle of the century. The result is a blend of war news and Americana that other books do not attempt.

Particular emphasis is placed on the author's hometown of Madison, Wis., where horrible war developments shared page 1 with such things as the arrival of a new elephant at the local zoo.

The book profiles several men from all over Wisconsin who died in Korea – ranging from the first month of the war to the last days – and interviews 15 who fought there. It is now out of print, but still available from the author. Signed copies are available by clicking "Contact Us" on the menu bar at the top of this screen.

Honoring five lost in France 75 years ago: Same state, same fate, same date: Aug. 1, 1944

The Army's 28th Infantry Division began arriving in Normandy in the last days of July 1944 and moved up to the front. Five Wisconsin boys lasted only a matter of days -- all would be killed on Aug. 1.

Here are some excerpts from "The Wisconsin 3,800" about how that came to be:

Amid the slow progress after D-Day, with the Allies advancing in a period of weeks a distance that optimistic planners had thought would take only days, Eisenhower considered the possibility of another beach landing elsewhere to take the pressure off Normandy. “The 28th Division, trained for amphibious operations and originally scheduled for the Overlord assault, had remained in England in ... reserve, ready to execute a subsidiary amphibious operation if necessary. The only amphibiously trained force still uncommitted 20 days after the invasion, the 28th Division was released ... to the First U.S. Army Group on 26 June with the condition that it be used only in an amphibious assault” (Blumenson, 1961, p. 187).

On July 13, that proviso was withdrawn, and 10 days later the 28th began the move to France. It arrived at Omaha Beach July 26 and 27.

Pvt. Martin Miller (on the cover) was a carrier of ammunition and Sgt. Ken Miller was a leader of a squad of riflemen; both of them in Company A of the 112th Regiment. Pfc. Andrew Popielarski was in D Company, a weapons group that included heavy machine guns and mortars, and Pfc. Billie Weiss was a rifleman in Company F. Pvt. Harvey Hyllested was in the 110th Regiment.

Popielarski (of Milwaukee) and Hyllested (Rice Lake) were only 20. Weiss (Baileys Harbor) was 11 days shy of his 23rd birthday. Ken Miller (Appleton) had turned 24 less than a month earlier, and Martin Miller (Dane and Waunakee) was almost 25.

They were the ONLY Wisconsin deaths anywhere in the world on Aug. 1, among those who are buried overseas or MIA. If a body was brought home, the soldier is not in the database of and it is next to impossible to find.

The boys were part of what became known as the Breakout from Normandy. At the end of August, the 28th marched past the Arc d'Triumph in liberated Paris, the only American unit to do so. It was not an honor; rather it was merely a troop movement, the book explains.

Signed copies of this book are available by clicking "Contact Us" on the menu bar at the top of this screen. The book also is available from Amazon and other Internet publishers.

Justice for 2 Civil War vets more than a century later

A Civil War veteran who died in 1913 and was buried with the wrong last name on his tombstone has received a corrected marker and flowers from his home state of Indiana. 

Here is the new tombstone for Michael Carroll at Wood National Cemetery in Milwaukee. The old stone, with the name of Michael Curran, is shown above.

Members of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War from the Milwaukee area and from Carroll's hometown of Valparaiso, Ind., worked to create a ceremony to dedicate the new gravestone. The peony is the state flower of Indiana, and as karma would have it, that was the very week the flower was in bloom. 

The issue was found in the late stages of my 15-month project to catalog all Civil War graves at Wood.

On Veterans Day, I was cross-checking graves in a walkthrough vs. what we had found in databases, looking for anyone we may have missed. I decided to monitor his entire row in section 19. The soldier in grave 65 was Curran on the stone, but he was not anywhere in the VA database or However, my mentor Virgil Matz soon found that the man named Carroll was in that exact grave in the VA and, with the same date of death as the phantom Curran. There was no such man named Curran in the 9th Indiana, Co. H, but there was a Michael Carl, which was a known alias used by Carroll.

Pvt. Michael Carroll was in the 9th Indiana for 10 months beginning Feb. 28, 1862, and then the 4th U.S. Cavalry for the rest of the war. He fought at Shiloh, Corinth, Stones River, Chickamauga, many spots in the Atlanta Campaign and finally in the Battle of Nashville. He was age 66 when he arrived at the Milwaukee Soldiers Home in October 1893. 

An unmarked Civil War grave in Oak Creek, Wis., was found with Tom Mueller's help, and a tombstone was  installed. A large dedication ceremony was held, attended by about 18 descendants of Pvt. William Kolbow of the 28th Wisconsin Infantry. Kolbow was killed by a train in Mueller's neighborhood in 1885, leaving a widow and eight children. 

The grave was reported to Mueller after the Oak Creek Historical Society published two pieces of his  comprehensive research about the township in the Civil War. About 140 men served and 27 died; many of them buried in faraway graves or MIA. Mueller walked all cemeteries in the township (the current cities of Oak Creek and South Milwaukee) and reports there are more than three dozen graves of Civil War soldiers, now including Kolbow, along with a few "maybes."