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 Chapter History

Here is one very important bit of our Chapter history:

WHO WAS COL WILLIAM G. BREY?

The Redwood Empire Chapter awards scholarships to eligible students. This fund was established in memory of Colonel William G. Brey, here is a bit more about him:

COL Brey was instrumental in the establishment of the Redwood Empire Chapter of the Retired Officers Association in 1965 and served as its first president.

When COL Brey died in August 1981 at the age of 92, several members began thinking about what the Chapter could do as a memorial to him. It so happened that the Chapter had just hosted the annual convention of the California Association of The Retired Officers of America (TROA) Chapters we had a balance of approximately $2,000 remaining in the Convention fund. This money became the seed money for the establishment of the Colonel William G. Brey Scholarship Program. The fund has grown over the years as a result of fund raising activities as well as generous contributions by the Chapter’s members. Many of our member’s children and grandchildren have benefited from this worthwhile program.

Interest in COL Brey’s background was piqued when the Press-Democrat in their March 22, 2000 publication, noted in the “This Day in the Empire” section, that in 1950 COL Brey was the recipient of the Netherlands highest honor, the Order of Orange-Nassau, for his work in returning Nazi loot to the Netherlands. He was the director of the foreign exchange department at Frankfurt, Germany from 1945 to 1948 and was responsible for recovery of large amounts of gold bullion, art works and $8,000,000 in loose diamonds looted by the Nazis.

William Gregory Brey was born on August 22, 1888 in Madison Wisconsin. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee with a degree in Civil Engineering. He worked as a surveyor for the Southern Pacific Railroad helping build the railroad in the West.

He met and married Inez Matson in San Francisco. They had two daughters, Patricia and Anna Marie. Patricia is married to LTC Francis D. Ruth, USA (Ret). They live in Indian Wells, CA and are members of TROA Chapter there. Anna Marie lives in a retirement home in Vista, CA.

William Brey worked on the California Railroad Commission until World War I when he joined the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Coast Artillery. He served in France returning as a Captain and was stationed in San Francisco at Forts Baker, Barry and Miley. He and his family were transferred to Corrigedor in 1928 where his tour included a survey of the islands. Another sidelight, LTC Richard Delsi tells us that enroute to Corrigedor the ship spent a week in Hawaii. The Wives Club in Hawaii told the wives that they would take care of the children during the day so that the women could have time to shop have their hair done or just relax. They took the children on picnics and to the beaches. Back on the ship for the 15-day trip, several of the children including Anna Marie became ill. When they landed in the Philippines, the doctors there were unable to diagnose the illness but COL Brey was required to finish his tour of duty’. Mrs. Brey died in 1929 and he returned to Fort Monroe in 1931. He took Anna Marie to the Walter Reed Army Hospital, but they too could not reach a definite diagnosis. COL Brey had discovered that all of the children who were ill on the ship had been to the same beach in Hawaii. Years later the scientists discovered that in certain months of the year the waters were invaded by what is known as the “Red Tide”. Swimming in those waters at that time can cause serious illness.

After finishing artillery school at Fort Monroe, he was assigned to Fort Shafter in Hawaii for three years. Then on to Fort Wordon in Washington. His next assignment was in San Francisco where he taught R.O.T.C. at the University of San Francisco for two years. In the meantime he had remarried but was divorced in 1938. In November of 1940 his Regiment the 75th CAC was the first to be sent overseas to Fort Richardson, Alaska, with full combat equipment. In the fall of ‘41, he went ‘outside’ to purchase many fishing boats to be brought to the Aleutians. He was the duty officer at Fort Richardson on the night of December 7th and received the orders from General DeWitt at the Presidio to put the Alaska Command on alert, because the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

After his Alaska tour (which he loved) he was sent to Fort Riley and Washington, DC and then to Europe in 1945. He arrived in Austria and continued to Frankfurt/Main in Germany where he became the CO of the Reichsbank on General Lucius Clay’s staff. This was the foreign exchange depository where all of the Nazi loot was brought. Our government spent more than two years and many dollars researching ownership. Over 33,000 carats of diamonds were returned to the Ascher Diamond Factory in Amsterdam. Gold bars were returned to Hungary along with art works. Probably his most important assignment was being in command of the distribution of the Deutch Mark in 1948. This was the turning point in the German economy. The highly secret “Operation Bird Dog”, subtitled “Arco” and “Susie” (his two German hunting dogs), the Marks were printed in the USA and shipped to Bremenhaven. There they were put on the mail train, which always traveled under military guard and would not raise suspicion when the Deutch Marks were on board. This took a matter of months and finally in June 1948 the exchange took place. It was handled in a typical military operation, trucks were loaded and sent to the furthest destination in the French, British and U.S. Zones, timed to arrive simultaneously at the banks which were closed for 24 hours. German citizens were then able to get 60-120 Deutch Marks per person. After that they were required to show proof that their old Reichmarks were legitimate, hopefully to stop the black market. Actually within five days there were counterfeit Marks in the marketplace. He really enjoyed his tour in Germany and had many friends to hunt and fish with. He also had a cousin in Bonn, Cardinal A. Muench, the Popes Emissary. He was in Germany when his two granddaughters were born.

He returned to the United States in 1948 and retired in Santa Rosa. He attended then Episcopal Church where our TROA member LTC John Cassil, was a member. One Sunday morning as they were having coffee with COL Brey, John introduced him to Thomas Gale. COL Brey broke in and said “Cassil you can’t introduce us, because we were Lieutenants together at the Presidio under Black Jack Pershing”.

His daughter Patricia, who was particularly helpful in supplying all of the background material for this article, said that when he retired he wanted a chicken ranch, which never materialized. He was a contractor and built several houses on a street now called Brey Road off of Montgomery Drive. He was very active in the community, particularly in relation to handicapped children and knew Charles Schultz who contributed time and money on behalf of handicapped children. His daughter Anna Marie was handicapped due to the illness related to the “Red Tide”.

He moved to a home at 3300 Midway Drive. During his last illness he was cared for at the London House Convalescent Hospital.

Click on PROGRAMS to learn how to apply for the scholarship.

Also see the Subchapter page for the history of development of our Subchapters.