Carl Godwin: an American Hero
Since I started writing for the Record Newspapers, I have written on a variety of topics. In the process I have, of course, written about things I did not have much personal connection to and I have written a few articles that ended up meaning something.
In the process of interviewing people and writing about them I have made some new friends. Writing historical articles has been a learning process. However a chance remark by an old friend led me to write the story that means the most.
My friend had returned to West Orange after being away for a number of years. We drove by the Carl Godwin Auditorium and wondered who Carl Godwin was.
His statement to me made me realize I did not really know anything about Carl Godwin either. I knew that he was from West Orange and had been killed in World War II. I knew where his grave was and had taken a picture of it. I had slightly known his father as a member of the West Orange school board.
When I thought it over, I wanted to know more. The result was that I wrote “A Hero We Never Met.” The story was published in the Record in June 2009. Godwin was killed in action in June 1944.
After the story was published I received an email from Mike Godwin, Carl’s nephew. Mike’s dad was Ed, Carl’s brother. Ed had also been in the service in World War II. He was in the 40th Division in the Pacific Theater.
Ed survived the war, unharmed, and died in 2003. Mike wrote that as the oldest grandchild he had inherited Carl’s Purple Heart medal from his grandparents.
The next day I received another email; this one was from John Godwin, Carl’s other nephew. John gave me some information that I had not discovered about Carl’s service.
John Godwin is the town manager at Fairview. John has built a website to memorialize veterans from that area and has included his uncles on the site.
John uncovered information about Carl’s service and also included excerpts from some of Carl’s letters home.
John related that Carl knew he would be entering the service and dropped out of school and went to work at Levingston Shipyard to make a little money before he entered the service. Ed had gone to work there after he finished high school.
After being drafted Carl was sent to Fort MeCellan, Ala., for basic training. He was due a short leave after finishing basic training, but casualties in Europe had been high and there was a demand for replacements, so Carl’s leave was cancelled and he was sent to New York for transport to the European Theater.
He probably went to a replacement depot in Naples. He was assigned to Company G, 2nd Battalion, 141st Regiment, 36th Infantry Division. The division had suffered heavy casualties at Salerno and in the disastrous, failed crossing of the Rapido River.
Carl was 19 years old and his letters seem to be both youthful and mature. In a letter written in December, 1943, he thanked his family for a cake he had received in the mail and also his grandmother for some pecans; “They sure were good,” he wrote.
February 9, 1944, in a letter written by candlelight, he confirmed he was in Italy and said, “Don’t worry about me, because I am OK.” In one letter he told them he had not written because he was not able to get paper. Another letter related that he was chewing candy he had gotten in some rations,”and it tastes good, because you don’t get much.”
In May, 1944 the Americans staged an amphibious invasion at Anzio. The 36th was brought up from the south to assist the invasion. Carl saw combat and was in the capture of Velletri.
Before the battle began he had written what would be his last letter home.
“Boy, the Americans are sure cleaning out the Germans over here. They can’t hold out much longer,” he wrote. He told his parents he had received a letter from the pastor of the church at West Orange and also asked about his brother, Ed.
On June 4, the Americans entered Rome, then went north in pursuit of the German army. On June 17 at Campagnatico, the 141st Regiment caught the Germans and Carl’s outfit, the 2nd Battalion was sent forward in the attack.
Carl’s parents received a telegram informing them that he had been wounded. Later they received a letter from President Franklin Roosevelt that stated he had been killed in action.
“The President…has awarded the Purple Heart, established by George Washington at Newburgh, New York, August 7, 1782, to Private First Class Carl H.Godwin…for military merit and for wounds received in action resulting in his death June 17, 1944.”
In addition to the Purple Heart he was also awarded a Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with bronze service star, the World War II Victory medal and the World War II Service lapel button. The letter and the medals hung on the wall of Carl’s parents for many years until they were passed to Ed and then to Mike.
Carl was buried in a temporary military cemetery in Tarquina, Italy. In March, 1949, nearly five years after his death, his body was exhumed and returned home to be buried in Evergreen Cemetery.
He had been the first boy from his school to die in combat. On October 15, 1950, the Carl Godwin Auditorium was dedicated in his honor. It was the first auditorium in Orange and served the community for decades. For a few years it was out of service, needing repairs. In 2010 the auditorium was refurbished and returned to service.
Writing about Carl and meeting Mike and John by email has given me a feeling like I had known Carl. Carl was just an average small town teenager who like so many young men of his generation. when faced with the fact that they were going to war and may not come home, did what they had to do, when they had to do it, and did it well.
The fresh faced kid in the high school picture was a true hero. Thanks Carl, for your sacrifice.