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Men of the Army's 729th to gather once more

September 21, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - The flier announcing the 50th reunion of the 729th Ordnance Co. reminds veterans planning to attend that there is a ramp leading into the Antrim House restaurant in Greencastle, Pa., where the gathering will be held on Oct. 4.

It won't be the first ramp ever used by the men of the 729th. They walked down ramps on the landing craft that carried them to Omaha Beach on D-Day more than a half century ago. The company was part of the 29th Division, one of the first Allied units onto the beaches that day in June 1944.

The company was more than 100 men strong then. Included were 87 original members from southern Franklin County, Pa., and Washington County in February 1941 at Fort Ritchie when it was mobilized. Draftees added later joined the 729th on D-Day and on its march across Western Europe to victory the following May.

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Time did what Nazi artillery and bullets couldn't do. Only one man in the 729th was killed in action, but today only four remain from the original volunteers who joined from the Waynesboro area, said Thomas Shindledecker, 73, of Greencastle. "It doesn't seem possible that we're the only ones left from here," he said.

His surviving buddies are Joseph Spangler, 76 and Robert Royer, 78, both of Waynesboro, and John E. Bonebrake, 74, of Quincy, Pa.

Bonebrake said there were approximately 36 men from the Waynesboro area in the outfit in February 1941. It was mobilized for just one year, but that changed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

"We were working our way back home. We were at Camp A.P. Hill in Virginia when we heard the news. We were frozen in for the duration, plus six months," Spangler said.

The outfit officially was changed from the 104th Quartermaster Corps to the 729th Ordnance Co. in the fall of 1942 while it was being shipped overseas on the British liner Queen Mary. The vessel had been converted to a troop ship and was on its way to Scotland.

Royer said the ship was about three days from docking when it rammed a British light cruiser and split it in two.

"We saw it happen. We were standing on the after deck. That ship sank in seven minutes. There were no survivors. We saw men die," he said.

The job of the 729th was to keep vehicles and fighting equipment going in battle, the vets said.

"Our job was vehicle maintenance. When something got blown up, we fixed it or replaced it. We kept the 29th Division rolling," Royer said.

"We were supposed to be further back from the front lines," Shindledecker said. "I never thought we were going to be assault troops, but that's what we were on D-Day."

Royer said this is the 729th's last reunion. They have been held every year since 1947, he said. About 100 people are expected, including the four local vets, family members and friends, plus members from the surrounding area and those who have moved away.

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