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Remembering citizen soldiers who 'came home' from USA; PENNSYLVANIA TROOPS MAY HAVE BEEN VISITING HOMELAND.

Byline: RACHAEL MISSTEAR West Wales Editor rachael.misstear@walesonline.co.uk

THEY were the US soldiers from Pennsylvania sent back to the land of their forefathers during World War II.

The 28th Infantry Division known as the "Keystones" arrived on Welsh shores in October 1943, based along the whole of the South Wales coastline from Porthcawl to Pembroke Dock.

But after settling into their "home from home", the bloody fighting that followed on Europe's battlefields tragically meant many would never return to their US homes again.

Now, 70 years on, their lasting impact on Wales is being remembered.

Their connection to the Welsh communities dated back to the late 17th century with the large-scale emigration of Welsh Quakers and then, in the 19th century, when Welsh coal miners emigrated to the anthracite and bituminous mines. As "citizen soldiers" they were the national guard unit who came from similar working class backgrounds to the inhabitants of South West Wales. To commemorate the 70th anniversary of their arrival a small volunteer-run museum is launching an international appeal for more information on the Keystones.

It is hoped a memorial to the soldiers can be created.

Seimon Pugh-Jones of the Tin Shed Experience 1940s museum in Laugharne has been interested in this particular division for decades, having producing a self-funded documentary - Operation Bolero - on the Americans in wartime Wales.

"It is the oldest division in the armed forces of the United States but the most interesting thing about these troops is that they hail from Pennsylvania and of course that area of America has a large Welsh community that dates back centuries.

"In a way a lot of the guys that were coming over to train in Wales were likely to be returning home to the land of their forebears," said Mr Pugh-Jones.

A memorial was recently unveiled in Mumbles to some of the American forces based in that area during World War II - the 2nd Infantry Division.

"Unlike the 2nd Infantry Division what is also notable about the 28th is that they were 'citizen soldiers'," added Mr Pugh Jones.

"We have been told some lovely accounts over the years by people who remember the red Keystones [worn on the shoulder sleeve of their uniform] of just how well these troops integrated into the Welsh communities.

"They made a huge impact on the local communities and left a large hole when they left. They are fondly remembered and well regarded by the local people."

After leaving Wales the division was posted to Wiltshire then landed in Normandy on July 22, 1944, and swept through Luxembourg and onto the German border where it sadly went on to suffer huge casualties in the Huertgen Forest at the "Battle of the Bulge".

During the war it is reputed the red keystone insignia of the division became known to the German forces as the "Bloody Bucket" such was the ferocity of the fighting from the men wearing it.

Of the 14,032 GIs that came to Wales with the 28th Infantry, many would never see their homes and loved ones again. More than 9,600 men lost their lives, with another 884 reported missing in action.

Matthew Hughes of the Tin Shed said it was hoped some sort of monument could be erected locally in honour of the men.

"The beaches of Amroth, Wiseman's Bridge, Saundersfoot and Tenby were all extensively used as practice grounds prior to the D-Day landings and would be fitting locations for a lasting reminder," he said. "General Eisenhower himself even visited the 110th infantry regiment of the division at Tenby in March 1944.

"We are currently working with a few organisations in Pennsylvania who are helping us appeal to veterans and families of veterans of the 28th. One such organisation is the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins Ice Hockey team who are hosting a Welsh Heritage night on St David's Day in conjunction with The Welsh Cultural Endeavour of Northeastern Pennsylvania. We are also appealing through the Americymru social network."

Brian Coe, vice president of operations at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, said: "The Welsh influence is apparent nearly everywhere you look in Northeast Pennsylvania and Luzerne County, from the rich coal mining history in the region to The Welsh Bethel Baptist Church in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

"When our ties during wartime were brought to our attention by the Tin Shed Experience, we were eager to help their research in any way possible.

We hope that our fans and the people of the Wyoming Valley will be able to assist in the organisation's research." | If you have any information for the appeal please get in touch via www.tinshedexperience.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

28th Infantry Division at Tenby in March/April 1944

A 28th Infantry Division re-enactor for the Tin Shed Experience 1940s museum in Laugharne
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:1U2PA
Date:Jan 4, 2013
Words:798
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