Cochran, Philip G., COL

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Last Rank
Last Service Branch
Last Primary MOS
AAF 1065-Fighter-Bomber Unit Commander
Last MOS Group
Aviation (Enlisted)
Primary Unit
1944-1945, CBI Air Groups/Squadrons
Service Years
1935 - 1945



Eight Overseas Service Bars

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Home State
Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by the Site Administrator to remember Cochran, Philip G. (Terry & the Pirates), COL.
Contact Info
Home Town
Erie, PA
Last Address
Erie, PA

Date of Passing
Aug 26, 1979
Location of Interment
Trinity Cemetery - Erie, Pennsylvania
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

 Official Badges 

Honorably Discharged WW II Meritorious Unit Commendation 1944-1961

 Unofficial Badges 

 Additional Information
Last Known Activity
Cochran distinguished himself as a daring pilot commanding P-40 fighter planes in N. Africa and as the colorful leader of the 1st Air Commandos during the invasion of Burma. He became a colonel at the age of 33 and earned such honors as the Distinguished Service Medal and British Distinguished Service Order. The Erie native inspired cartoon characters Flip Corkin in “Terry and the Pirates" and Gen. Philerie in “Steve Canyon."

During World War I, the acrobatic and deadly aerial duels of high-flying pilots gripped the imagination of people on both sides of the Atlantic. In the decades that followed, the exploits of pilots were celebrated in motion pictures, novels, and comics, including “Terry and Pirates," a popular strip based around the exploits of Terry Lee, a dashing young world adventurer, created in 1934 by cartoonist Milt Caniff. 


Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, in 1910, Phil Cochran wanted to play football but was too skinny, so he made his way through Ohio State by waiting tables and singing in dance bands. After his 1935 graduation, Cochran found that his business degree earned him no job during the Depression, so he entered the Army Air Corps because “it looked like a good way to make a pretty easy living." And, at $75 a month, he earned more than a lot of people did in those days. Cochran soon developed into a first rate pilot.

When the United States entered World War II, Cochran was assigned to a P-40 fighter squadron based in Connecticut. Early in 1941, Cochran approached Milton Caniff, whom he had known at Ohio State, and asked him to design an insignia for the 65th Fighter Squadron group. Some months later, while watching Cochran and other pilots practice fighter airplane maneuvers near Groton, Connecticut, Caniff realized “what potential material they were for Terry characters." After America’s entry into World War II, Caniff had Terry join the United States Army Air Forces. On August 3, 1942, he gave Terry a new companion, the swashbuckling Captain Flip Corkin, whom he based on fellow Buckeye and real life hero: Lieutenant Philip Cochran. 

Cochran was soon at the front, having been assigned to lead a group of replacement pilots and planes to North Africa. Cochran’s group seemed forgotten in the mass confusion after the landings; wanting to see action, Cochran took charge of his recruits and took off in pursuit of the war, eventually settling into a small airfield in southern Tunisia. With no unit designation—his men called themselves the “Joker Squadron"—and using British equipment and repairmen, Cochran’s ragtag outfit took to the air, fighting German and Italian pilots, bombing ground units, and earning a reputation as a hard-fighting bunch of pilots. Even though he was an officer, Cochran fraternized with his pilots and considered them friends, which endeared them to him even as they respected his leadership. His deputy commander recalled that Cochran was “a colorful individual, a natural leader. He was aggressive, but not ambitiously so." American correspondents latched on to the colorful leader and soon his name was appearing in headlines around the country. His success also fueled a local war bond drive in Erie that netted more than $15 million in just over a month.

Back in the states to train pilots after the conquest of North Africa, Cochran was ushered into General “Hap" Arnold’s office for reassignment. Arnold, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Air Forces, wanted Cochran and his buddy John Alison to form a new air group to provide support for British forces, known as the “Chindits," who were in India preparing for the invasion of Burma. Under the command of Orde C. Wingate, another unorthodox leader, the British were preparing to push the Japanese out of Burma, but needed air cover. Cochran and Alison were tasked with providing it.

 Thus was born the 1st Air Commando Group, comprised of fighters (P-51 Mustangs at first), B-25 bombers, helicopters, cargo planes (the big C-47s), and gliders. Wingate’s method of attack—long-range penetration—demanded special tactics. Using the gliders as attack aircraft, Cochran and Alison would fly behind enemy lines during in the initial waves of troop offensives, using jungle clearings as primitive airfields to enable the British and Indian troops to clear a larger area for the bigger transport planes to land. 

Naysayers abounded, telling Cochran that gliders could not be used in the jungle. But Cochran’s infectious optimism helped Wingate get through the tough times in early 1944. Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Allied theater commander, once informed Cochran that “you are the only ray of sunshine we have had in this theatre this year." When Project Nine got off the ground, Cochran’s last-minute reconnaissance revealed that one of two clearings was impassible. Even so, the operation proved a resounding success, when 9,000 troops landed 165 miles behind the Japanese front lines. Wingate’s interior raiding helped rout the enemy from Burma and pave the way for better supply lines to China. 

Following the end of World War II, Cochran returned to the United States, worked as a historical advisor to Hollywood filmmakers, and then came home to Erie. Here, he obtained a position in his brother’s business, Lyons Transportation Lines, became actively involved in local charities, and assisted in the development of Gannon College. Cochran died in 1979 of a heart attack while fox hunting in New York. Speaking after his death, Milt Caniff said that Cochran “had class. Nobody can ever define it, but you can sense it. He had the ability to always do and say the right thing at the right time. … Some people naturally rise above the crowd. He was one of them."

Beyond the Marker
William Ericsson, “Colonel Phil Cochran . . . A Final Salute. Erie Magazine
(October/November 1979): 8-11.
Distinguished Service Order

Medal and ribbon

Awarded by United Kingdom and Commonwealth

The Chinese Order of Cloud and Banner, 4th Class, given in appreciation for efforts in defence of China against the Japanese and indicating more than nine enemy aircraft shot down.
Other Comments:

Philip Cochran (January 29, 1910 – August 26, 1979) was an officer in the United States Army Air Corps. Cochran developed many tactical air combat, air transport, and air assault techniques during the war, particularly in Burma during operations as commander of the 1st Air Commando Group. Cochran was the inspiration behind characters in the Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon by Milton Caniff.

Early life


After earning a business degree from Ohio State University in 1935. Cochran enlisted as a pilot in the Army Air Corps because "it looked like a good way to make an easy living."

Cochran had known Milton Caniff at Ohio State and approached him in 1941 to design an insignia for his 65th Fighter Squadron. After watching Cochran's squadron, Caniff thought Cochran and his squadron had potential as characters for comics. Cochran became famous during the war as the model for the character Flip Corkin, a character in the comic strip Terry and the Pirates. Later on in life, Cochran became the model for another character in the Caniff comic strip Steve Canyon. Cochran's character was named General Philerie; a combination of his first name, Phil, and his hometown, Erie.

World War II


North Africa


Major Cochran led a group of replacement fighter planes and pilots to the North African campaign that he organised into the "Joker Squadron" named because the squadron had no number or official status. His Deputy Commander called him “a colorful individual, a natural leader. "He was aggressive, but not ambitiously so". Cochran soon found himself mentioned in press reports. One example was when flying his P-40, Cochran dropped a 500 pound bomb that skipped directly into the German headquarters at the Hotel Splendida, Kairouan, Tunisia. He destroyed telegraph wires by flying over them with a lead weight on the end of a wire attached to the wing of his pursuit plane, a tactic he would employ later in Burma. By the end of hostilities in the theater, he had shot down two German fighter planes.

Though a fighter pilot, Cochran flew the lead C-47 on Christmas Eve 1942 airdropping paratroopers of the 509th Infantry Regiment to destroy the El Djem Bridge in Tunisia as he knew the area.

Cochran developed a reputation for 'getting the job done', and had little respect for those he believed were needlessly obstructing him, regardless of rank. On one occasion, Cochran clashed with General Henri Giraud, commander of all French forces in North Africa. French ground forces, for whom Phil’s squadron was flying air support, had been badly mauled by army units under the command of General Erwin Rommel. In a meeting between Cochran and Giraud after the battle, Giraud shouted at Cochran, "There should be more planes, hundreds more!" Cochran retorted, "You’ve got to fight on the ground! You can’t hide behind a rock and have planes do the whole job." A few days later, Cochran received a letter from General Giraud, conceding that the former was correct. Not long after, Col. Cochran was awarded the Croix de Guerre medal by the French government.



Cochran, by now a Lieutenant Colonel, and former deputy commander of the 75th Fighter Squadron John Alison were picked by General Hap Arnold as commander and deputy commander respectively of the 1st USAAF Air Commando Group. The 1st Air Commando, among other missions, was assigned the task of supporting Allied Long Range Penetration Groups invading Japanese-held Burma. Some of these forces were designated to fly in by towed gliders; all required resupply by regular airdrops during their missions, as well as air support. Under Cochran's command, the 1st Air Commando's C-47 pilots perfected the tactic of snatching loaded gliders from small areas of ground cleared of jungle vegetation into the air using stretchable nylon ropes, all while flying at 15 to 30 feet using breaks in the jungle canopy. Upon witnessing one of these demonstrations, the Allied theater commander, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten exclaimed, "Jesus Christ All Bloody Mighty!"

Col. Cochran ordered the 1st Air Commando to support ground troops without reservation: his sense of humor, aggressiveness, and willingness to risk his planes and pilots in daring support missions soon won the admiration of many officers and men of the Indian Army, who had up to that point had experienced only lackluster support from hard-pressed Royal Air Force squadrons. In particular, the news that Cochran would make light planes and gliders (snatched from the ground by low-flying C-47s) available to evacuate wounded men from combat greatly increased the morale of the long-range jungle penetration forces. One British commander summed up the change by stating, "The commanders' hopes and the soldiers' morale rose sky-high. Now, if we got hit in the middle of Burma, we would not be left under a bush to die." Cochran’s infectious confidence and unstinting support for Allied operations in Burma caused Admiral Mountbatten to remark to Cochran "My boy, you are the only ray of sunshine we have had in this theatre this year."

1st Air Commando was also called upon to perform ground support missions for the Long Range brigades, including bombing and strafing attacks. In one incident, where the group's P-51 Mustangs failed to down a single telephone line on wooden poles using bombs, the P-51's used a more daring tactic: "The lead plane swooped and banked...his lower wing tip ripped momentarily across an open space in the jungle, perhaps three feet above the ground...the second plane swerved...straight at us out of the land in a tight turn, wing tip brushing the ground...[We saw] telephone wire hanging around in festoons at the edge of the jungle."



Cochran was director of aerial scenes in the Howard Hughes film Jet Pilot starring John Wayne and Janet Leigh.

Col. Cochran eventually retired from the USAAF, returning home to Erie, Pennsylvania USA. There he joined his brother John's company, Lyons Transportation Lines, where he would eventually become Chairman of the Board.

Cochran also became active in charitable organizations such as the Pennsylvania Heart Association. He was a consistent supporter for Erie's Gannon University, and attended many USAAF reunions. Cochran died of a heart attack while fox hunting in Geneseo, New York in 1979.

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WWII - Africa Theater of Operations/Algeria-French Morocco Campaign (1942)/Operation Torch
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November / 1942
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November / 1942

Operation Torch (initially called Operation Gymnast) ( 8 - 16 November 1942) was the British-American invasion of French North Africa during the North African Campaign of the Second World War which started on 8 November 1942. Background A map of Allied convoys heading from the British Isles to North Africa. The Allies planned an Anglo-American invasion of northwestern Africa - Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, territory nominally in the hands of the Vichy French government. With much of North Africa already under Allied control, this would allow the Allies to carry out a pincer operation against Axis forces in North Africa. The Vichy French had around 125,000 soldiers in the territories as well as coastal artillery, 210 operational but out-of-date tanks and about 500 aircraft, half of which were Dewoitine D.520 fighters - equal to many British and U.S. fighters. In addition, there were 10 or so warships and 11 submarines at Casablanca. The Allies believed that the Vichy French forces would not fight, partly because of information supplied by American Consul Robert Daniel Murphy in Algiers. The French were former Allies of the U.S. and the American troops were instructed not to fire unless they were fired upon. However, they harbored suspicions that the Vichy French navy would bear a grudge over the British action at Mers-el-Kebir in 1940. An assessment of the sympathies of the French forces in North Africa was essential, and plans were made to secure their cooperation, rather than resistance. German support for the Vichy French came in the shape of air support. Several Luftwaffe bomber wings undertook anti-shipping strikes against Allied ports in Algiers and along the North African coast. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was given command of the operation, and he set up his headquarters in Gibraltar. The Allied Naval Commander of the Expeditionary Force would be Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham; his deputy was Vice-Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, who would plan the amphibious landings. Allied operational plans Planners identified Oran (a large port with plentiful airfields within range of Gibraltar to facilitate the build up of Allied land-based airforces) and also Algiers and Casablanca (important ports and the major administrative centres) as key targets. Ideally there should also be a landing at Tunis to secure Tunisia and facilitate the rapid interdiction of supplies travelling via Tripoli to Rommel's forces in Libya. However, Tunis was much too close to the Axis airfields in Sicily and Sardinia for any hope of success. A compromise would be to land at Bone, some 300 miles (480 km) closer to Tunis than Algiers. Limited resources dictated that the Allies could only make three landings and Eisenhower who believed that any plan must include landings at Oran and Algiers, had two main alternatives: either to land at Casablanca, Oran and Algiers and then make as rapid a move as possible to Tunis some 500 miles (800 km) east of Algiers once the Vichy opposition was suppressed; or land at Oran, Algiers and Bone and then advance overland to Casablanca some 500 miles (800 km) west of Oran. He favoured the latter because of the advantages it gave to an early capture of Tunis and also because the Atlantic swells off Casablanca presented considerably greater risks to an amphibious landing there than would be encountered in the Mediterranean. The Combined Chiefs of Staff, however, were concerned that should Operation Torch precipitate Spain to abandon neutrality and join the Axis, the Straits of Gibraltar could be closed cutting the entire Allied force's lines of communication. They therefore chose the Casablanca option as the less risky since the forces in Algeria and Tunisia could be supplied overland from Casablanca (albeit with considerable difficulty) in the event of closure of the straits. Eisenhower in accepting this pointed out that the decision removed the early capture of Tunis from the probable to only the remotely possible because of the extra time it would afford the Axis to move forces into Tunisia. Intelligence gathering In July 1941, Mieczysaw Sowikowski (using the codename "Rygor" Polish for "Rigor") set up "Agency Africa", one of the Second World War's most successful intelligence organizations. His Polish allies in these endeavors included Lt. Col. Gwido Langer and Major Maksymilian Ci┼╝ki. The information gathered by the Agency was used by the Americans and British in planning the amphibious November 1942 Operation Torch landings in North Africa. Preliminary contact with Vichy French To gauge the feeling of the Vichy French forces, Murphy was appointed to the American consulate in Algeria. His covert mission was to determine the mood of the French forces and to make contact with elements that might support an Allied invasion. He succeeded in contacting several French officers, including General Charles Mast, the French commander-in-chief in Algiers. These officers were willing to support the Allies, but asked for a clandestine conference with a senior Allied General in Algeria. Major General Mark W. Clark - one of Eisenhower's senior commanders?was dispatched to Cherchell in Algeria aboard the British submarine HMS Seraph passing itself off as an American submarine and met with these Vichy French officers on 21 October 1942. With help from the Resistance, the Allies also succeeded in slipping French General Henri Giraud out of Vichy France on HMS Seraph, intending to offer him the post of commander in chief of French forces in North Africa after the invasion. However, Giraud would take no position lower than commander in chief of all the invading forces, a job already given to Eisenhower. When he was refused, he decided to remain "a spectator in this affair". Battle The Allies organized three amphibious task forces to seize the key ports and airports of Morocco and Algeria simultaneously, targeting Casablanca, Oran and Algiers. Successful completion of these operations was to be followed by an advance eastwards into Tunisia. The Western Task Force (aimed at Casablanca) comprised American units, with Major General George Patton in command and Rear Admiral Henry K. Hewitt heading the naval operations. This Western Task Force consisted of the U.S. 2nd Armored Division and the U.S. 3rd and 9th Infantry Divisions; 35,000 troops in a convoy of over 100 ships. They were transported directly from the U.S. in the first of a new series of UG convoys providing logistic support for the North African campaign. The Center Task Force, aimed at Oran, included the U.S. 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, and the U.S. 1st Armored Division a total of 18,500 troops. They sailed from Britain and were commanded by Major General Lloyd Fredendall, the naval forces being commanded by Commodore Thomas Troubridge. The Eastern Task Force, aimed at Algiers?was commanded by Lieutenant-General Kenneth Anderson and consisted of two brigades from the British 78th and the U.S. 34th Infantry Divisions, along with two British Commando units (No.1 and No. 6 Commando), totaling 20,000 troops. During the landing phase the force was to be commanded by U.S. Major General Charles W. Ryder, commander of the 34th Division, as it was felt that a U.S.-led invasion would be more acceptable to the French defenders than one led by the British; many British troops wore American uniform, for the same reason.Naval forces were commanded by Vice-Admiral Sir Harold Burrough. U-boats, operating in the eastern Atlantic area crossed by the invasion convoys, had been drawn away to attack trade convoy SL 125. Some historians have suggested the timing of this trade convoy was an intentional tactical diversion to prevent submarine attacks on the troop transports. Aerial operations were split into two, east of Cape Tenez in Algeria, with British aircraft under Air Marshal Sir William Welsh and west of Cape Tenez, all American aircraft under Major General Jimmy Doolittle, under the direct command of Major General Patton. Curtiss P-40s of the 33rd Fighter Group were launched from United States Navy escort carriers and landed at Port Lyautey on November 10. Additional air support was provided by the carrier USS Ranger, whose squadrons intercepted Vichy aircraft and bombed hostile ships. Casablanca Flyers that was distributed by the Allied forces in the streets of Casablanca, calling the citizens to cooperate with the Allied forces. The Western Task Force landed before daybreak on 8 November 1942, at three points in Morocco: Safi (Operation Blackstone), Fedala (Operation Brushwood, the largest landing with 19,000 men), and Mehdiya-Port Lyautey (Operation Goalpost). Because it was hoped that the French would not resist, there were no preliminary bombardments. This proved to be a costly error as French defenses took a toll of American landing forces. On the night of 7 November, pro-Allied General Antoine Bothouart attempted a coup d'etat against the French command in Morocco, so that he could surrender to the Allies the next day. His forces surrounded the villa of General Charles Nogus, the Vichy-loyal high commissioner. However, Nogus telephoned loyal forces, who stopped the coup. In addition, the coup attempt alerted Nogus to the impending Allied invasion, and he immediately bolstered French coastal defenses. At Safi, the landings were mostly successful. The landings were begun without covering fire, in the hope that the French would not resist at all. However, once French coastal batteries opened fire, Allied warships returned fire. By the time General Harmon arrived, French snipers had pinned the assault troops (most of whom were in combat for the first time) on Safi's beaches. Most of the landings occurred behind schedule. Carrier aircraft destroyed a French truck convoy bringing reinforcements to the beach defenses. Safi surrendered on the afternoon of 8 November. By 10 November, the remaining defenders were pinned down, and the bulk of Harmon's forces raced to join the siege of Casablanca. At Port-Lyautey, the landing troops were uncertain of their position, and the second wave was delayed. This gave the French defenders time to organize resistance, and the remaining landings were conducted under artillery bombardment. With the assistance of air support from the carriers, the troops pushed ahead, and the objectives were captured. At Fedala, weather disrupted the landings. The landing beaches again came under French fire after daybreak. Patton landed at 08:00, and the beachheads were secured later in the day. The Americans surrounded the port of Casablanca by 10 November, and the city surrendered an hour before the final assault was due to take place. Casablanca was the principal French Atlantic naval base after German occupation of the European coast. The Naval Battle of Casablanca resulted from a sortie of French cruisers, destroyers, and submarines opposing the landings. A cruiser, six destroyers, and six submarines were destroyed by American gunfire and aircraft. The incomplete French battleship Jean Bart which was docked and immobile fired on the landing force with her one working gun turret until disabled by American gunfire. Two American destroyers were damaged. Oran A transport of 116 Supermarine Spitfires sent by sea was assembled in just eleven days at North Front, Gibraltar. The Center Task Force was split between three beaches, two west of Oran and one east. Landings at the westernmost beach were delayed because of a French convoy which appeared while the minesweepers were clearing a path. Some delay and confusion, and damage to landing ships, was caused by the unexpected shallowness of water and sandbars; although periscope observations had been carried out, no reconnaissance parties had landed on the beaches to determine the local maritime conditions. This was in contrast to later amphibious assaults such as Operation Overlord in which considerable weight was given to pre-invasion reconnaissance. The U.S. 1st Ranger Battalion landed east of Oran and quickly captured the shore battery at Arzew. An attempt was made to land U.S. infantry at the harbour directly, in order to quickly prevent destruction of the port facilities and scuttling of ships. The operation code named Operation Reservist failed, as the two Banff-class sloops were destroyed by crossfire from the French vessels there. The Vichy French naval fleet broke from the harbour and attacked the Allied invasion fleet but its ships were all sunk or driven ashore. French batteries and the invasion fleet exchanged fire throughout 8-9 November, with French troops defending Oran and the surrounding area stubbornly. Heavy fire from the British battleships brought about Oran's surrender on 9 November. Airborne landings Torch was the first major airborne assault carried out by the U.S. The U.S. 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment flew all the way from Britain, over Spain, intending to drop near Oran and capture airfields at Tafraoui and La Sania respectively 15 miles (24 km) and 5 miles (8 km) south of Oran. The operation was marked by weather, navigational and communication problems. Poor weather over Spain and the extreme range caused widespread scattering and forced 30 of the 37 aircraft to land in the dry salt lake to the west of the objective. Nevertheless both airports were captured. Algiers Resistance and coup As agreed at Cherchell, in the early hours of 8 November 400 French Resistance fighters staged a coup in the city of Algiers. Starting at midnight, the force under the command of Henri d'Astier de la Vigerie and Josu Aboulker seized key targets, including the telephone exchange, radio station, governor's house and the headquarters of 19th Corps. Robert Murphy took some men and then drove to the residence of General Alphonse Juin, the senior French Army officer in North Africa. While they surrounded his house (making Juin effectively a prisoner) Murphy attempted to persuade him to side with the Allies. However, he was treated to a surprise: Admiral Franois Darlan-the commander of all French forces was also in Algiers on a private visit. Juin insisted on contacting Darlan, and Murphy was unable to persuade either to side with the Allies. In the early morning, the local Gendarmerie arrived and released both Juin and Darlan. Invasion On 8 November 1942, the invasion commenced with landings split between three beaches, two west of Algiers and one east. Under overall command of Major General Charles W. Ryder, commander U.S. 34th Infantry Division, British 11th Brigade Group from British 78th Infantry Division, landed on the right hand beach, U.S. 168 Regimental Combat Team, from U.S. 34th Infantry Division, supported by 6th Commando and most of 1st Commando on the middle beach while U.S. 39th Regimental Combat Team, also from 34th Division, supported by the remaining 5 troops from 1st Commando landed on the left hand beach. British 36th Brigade Group from 78th Division stood by in floating reserve. Though some landings went to the wrong beaches, this was immaterial because of the extremely low level of French opposition. All the coastal batteries had been neutralized by French resistance, and one French commander openly welcomed the landing Allies. The only fighting took place in the port of Algiers itself, where in Operation Terminal two British destroyers attempted to land a party of U.S. Rangers directly onto the dock, in order to prevent the French destroying the port facilities and scuttling their ships. Heavy artillery fire prevented one destroyer from landing but the other was able to debark 250 Rangers before it too was driven back to sea. The landed troops pushed quickly inland and General Juin surrendered the city to the Allies at 18:00.
My Participation in This Battle or Operation
From Month/Year
November / 1942
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November / 1942
Last Updated:
Mar 16, 2020
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54th Engineer Battalion

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  77 Also There at This Battle:
  • Badyl, Kenneth
  • Carratelli, Horace, 1st Sgt, (1941-1945)
  • Fisco, Richard, S/Sgt
  • Maxwell, Robert Dale, Cpl, (1942-1945)
  • Williams, Wilbur
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