“It all started March 16, 1943 when I officially entered the service of the United States Army. Except for trips made to Vidalia, Georgia to see relatives, I had never been away from home or Cincinnati. What a surprise I would have for the next three years.
“The first order I received was to proceed from Cincinnati Oh. to Fort Thomas, Ky. to report to the commanding officer for duty. Upon arrival we were outfitted with clothes two sizes too large and told we would grow into them.
“After a short stay, we were herded onto trains to be sent to a “secret” destination. Secrecy was always the order of the day and only guesswork was available. This was the Army way. We finally arrived at Camp Stewart, Ga., where we were supplied with tools and told to police the area, even though it was pouring down rain (like cats and dogs) and it was 3 o’clock in the morning.
“After eight weeks of basic training, I was assigned to an aircraft unit only to be told months later that the first company had been sent to India-Burma area only to experience huge losses.
Waco CG-4A or Flying Coffin
Our unit was disbanded and a cadre of non-coms and officers were then sent to Camp Pickens, Va. Our mission was to train others and we were delighted to find our trainees to be washed out aviation cadets heading for the infantry. We graduated the group and when last seen, they were headed for Europe.
“Within a few months we headed for Fort Ord, Ca. and were assigned to the 160th Infantry Regiment, a part of the 40th Infantry Division, which I believe became part of the 8th Army.
“Our next stop was to board the troopship USS President Polk, a ship that seemed larger than life. It looked like it couldn’t float, much less steam away on its own.
“After boarding, we took a 30-day cruise to New Guinea and then to New Britain for further combat training. Living conditions in the islands were miserable and within a short time, all the amenities of home were forgotten and living conditions of the natives became acceptable.
“During this time, many of us were transferred to the 115th Medical Battalion which was attached to the 160th Infantry, preparing for the invasion of the island of Luzon in the Philippines.
“On New Britain, we went on scouting missions and found many Japanese soldiers trying to escape from the chief city of Rabaul where they were pinned up by American forces. We would have small skirmishes and later find booby traps, land mines and many other devices designed to maim and kill our soldiers.
“On our last day on New Britain, we were told to pack our gear, load up and prepare to move. Rumors had it that the Liberation of the Philippines would be our goal. Being young, we were excited and along with our buddies we headed for the ship, feeling comforted by being together as one group.
“When we got to the ship and pulled out to sea, we were able to see that the Navy has amassed a huge fleet that extended from one horizon to the other. The sea was packed full of ships of all sizes and types. We were amazed by what we saw and it only verified our belief of our invincibility as a combat group.
“Oddly enough, we didn’t go directly to the Philippines, but anchored at Manus Island. This was a fueling and repair center. I recall going to the island via cargo nets and replenishing my cigarette supply and picking up a few beers, supplied gratis by the Army.
“After this short delay, we pulled up anchor and continued on to the Philippines. As we neared the island of Luzon, we experienced heavy air attacks by the Japanese air force as they carried out Kamikaze suicide strikes on ships in the group. A number of carriers were within sight and the attacks cleared many planes off their decks into the sea and many were on fire and smoking. It all had an unreal, movie-like atmosphere; real one moment and ghost-like the next. All ships in the armada were fighting back with tracer bullets and large guns filling the sky- with smoke.
“Finally, the troopship stopped near the place where we were to disembark, nets were lowered over the side and we prepared to climb down to our landing crafts. During this time, all hell broke loose and a ship next to us suffered a direct hit. It shuddered with smoke coming up from all areas of the ship and then it sank silently. We believe most of the crew was dead or injured. We saw very few people leave that ship.
“As we clambered down the side netting, a very large sea snake was laying at the bottom for all of us to see. Since the waves were high, due to the bombing, the ship would roll from side to side and each roll would bring us closer to the snake. Just when I reached the height of panic, the snake disappeared and I half fell and half jumped into the landing boat. The snake made my landing on the beach easier and my running toward the Japs a lot more intelligent.
“As the landing craft neared shore, we encountered small arms fire of medium intensity. As the front of the boat came down, we were exposed to the degree that fear took over and a dash was made to find cover. In my haste to jump off the craft, I found myself some feet under water, wondering what I would do next. At this point, I was pulled out by two corporals who put me on shore. I told them verbally and by my fiercest glare to forget the whole matter and to move out. I guess I should have learned to swim.
“We then moved inland for a short distance and dug shallow trenches. As night arrived, I could look up and see dog fights overhead and the amount of lead filling the sky. A number of planes on both sides came down that day. As the darkness got deeper, I could swear we were being surrounded as everything glistened in the moonlight and every moving thing would create great fear. I loaded up my trench with every ‘ weapon I had, from a pistol to hand grenades and waited for the enemy. He never came.”
“As we proceeded toward Manila, we went through many small towns and villages where the Japanese had been and others where they attempted to fight, but soon retreated due to the overwhelming odds against them.
“As you might imagine, everyone needed a bath and as luck would have it, a small stream was found. Guards were posted and the perimeter was secured and we piled into the water. Our outfit had a Catholic chaplain assigned to it and – while we partially undressed, he removed everything but his combat boots. In short order, we became aware that female voices were coming from behind bushes the good father was facing. Needless to say, he turned a very deep red, as seen from his rear. He quickly put his clothes on and left the area. The matter was never mentioned again.
“After much trudging and very tired feet, we finally reached the outskirts of the city of Manilla. We found fighting in the old city, but elsewhere it had nearly stopped. Before we could get ourselves slowed down, we were taken to the docks and once again found ourselves aboard a ship. For the first time in my life, I got deathly sick and unfortunately did not recall the admonishment ‘Never face the wind.’ This added insult to injury!
“When we got to Panay, we found the Japs ready to fight. We needed to chase them clear across the island into a pocket where they eventually surrendered. Many, however, went into the mountains and we never saw them again.
“From the island of Panay we went to the nearby island of Negros which was also occupied by the Japanese. On both Panay and Negros, we met no Opposition on the beaches, but found the enemy entrenched in the jungle terrain.
“Soldiers on Negros were a larger and more determined force. As they were being driven between two mountains and sure defeat in the valley nearby, we met a company of Filipino soldiers coming toward us from the battle zone carrying bamboo poles with Japanese heads tied to them. We never reached the end of the valley, but we heard that the Japs never surrendered However, soldiers and their women and children died by hara kiri, or were killed by the head of the family. We saw no more than six or seven who survived and were brought to camp. Finally, things cooled down on the main island of Luzon, as well as Panay, Negros and most of the other islands, with only sporadic fighting reported.
“At some point, we all felt we might return to the good old USA. After weeks of relative calm, we waited for the War’s end. As we lolled around, we finally heard church bells ringing that signaled the end of the war. Our hopes shot up, but weeks later we heard rumors that we were going to Japan as an occupation force. You never really know the truth in service and we more or less forgot about this threat to our going home.
“In the meantime, the men of the 160th Infantry were awarded the Infantry Badge and our outfit was awarded the Medical Badge for performance of duty under actual combat conditions while attached to the 160th Infantry.
“However, the rumors did become fact and we were told to get our gear in shape. We unhappily boarded ship once again, griping all the way, as we headed for another unknown landing. We were out to sea for a long time when the Captain pulled out all the whistles and bells he had on board ship and everyone ran topside to see a large mine heading for the ship. We heard the crew yell out that it probably was a magnetic device and we grabbed anything that would shoot. As the Navy opened up, so did we.
“The ship maneuvered violently to prevent the obvious collision and serious damage to the ship. As we fired at the mine, it seemed to move away from the ship and all of a sudden it exploded and all aboard signed with relief. However, being soldiers, I doubt that we really understood the full seriousness of the situation.
“It was finally announced over the ship’s speaker system that we were not going to Japan, but would land soon in Korea. (What a horrible surprise!) Again, as land came into sight, we found ourselves with a large battle group of ships. From the size, you could swear that the war had restarted and we would be hitting the beaches again.
“As we left the ship for shore, we could see large crowds of people who evidently had come down to see Americans. They looked silently, without smiling. I don’t believe either side felt comfortable, not knowing the proper behavior of occupying forces. I guess we passed muster, since no one got hurt on either side.
“From Inchon, we boarded a Korean train. It stopped, every mile or two for repairs, or at least inspection. On one stop, we jumped off and bought apples, only to find out from the Medic on board that they were probably fertilized with human waste, making the fruit unfit for our consumption.
“After this miserable ride, we wound up in the city of Pusan. This is the capitol of Korea and it was to be our home away from home. To say the least we were unhappy and the way to the States seemed to be far off.
“The whole purpose of being in Pusan was to occupy and disarm the troops who were still stationed there. The job was unpleasant, the enemy was not happy and the area was filthy. It required policing of the kind you could not believe. The area we occupied was a Japanese headquarters company position that had been used as a toilet facility and required cleaning. The job was assigned to me and those in my platoon. It was a job that none of us will forget.
“Somewhere around November or December, 1945, I was told that my points were sufficient to start me on the way to the States. We again traveled by rail to the port of Inchon, where we’ boarded the USS Mendocino. Not many aboard believed the destination and doubts were everywhere. This remained their attitude until we touched ground in Seattle.
“In my final days, I was transferred to Camp Atterbury, In. As we got nearer and nearer, I got more hopeful that it had indeed ended. I was discharged from military service on 12 January 1946.
“What a trip and what an experience to travel this road once, but hopefully, never, never again.”