SKI TROOPS BATTLE NAZIS IN EUROPE’S HEIGHTS A B-MOVIE QUEEN
AM E RICA I N
DAD FLEW WITH DOOLITTLE Stories the Raiders Told
The Magazine Of A People At War 1941–1945
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Join Monuments Men author & historian Robert Edsel on the paths of the heroes who rescued Europe’s priceless artworks from the Nazis. Meet original Monuments Man Harry Ettlinger! Visit the Louvre Museum, secret storerooms in the Maastricht mine, and Hitler’s Alpine retreat, the Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden.
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WWII April 2012 • Volume Seven • Number Six
26 TAKING THE X ON IWO X-shaped Airfield No. 2 was the prize that brought US Marines to rocky Iwo Jima. But it was a prize well guarded, and winning it would cost blood. By Eric Ethier
36 DAD FLEW WITH DOOLITTLE 70 years ago, Colonel Jimmy Doolittle and his 79 men flew a daredevil first raid on Japan. Today, children of the raiders share stories their fathers told. By Susan Zimmerman
42 MOUNTAIN MEN World-class skiers take up rifles and train to battle Nazis in Europe’s snowy heights with the 10th Mountain Division. By Joe Razes
50 GOVERNMENT GIRL A wartime Nebraska teen remembers moving to Washington, DC, living in cramped dorms, working long hours typing for the FBI, and dating the occasional fresh GI. By Melissa Amateis Marsh
departments 2 KILROY 4 V-MAIL 6 HOME FRONT: Who Wears the Pants? 8 PINUP: Maria Montez 10 THE FUNNIES: Supernurse 12 I WAS THERE: The Boy Learns to Fly B-17s 20 LANDINGS: Texas’s Surprising Pacific War Museum 22 WAR STORIES 23 FLASHBACK 58 BOOKS AND MEDIA 60 THEATER OF WAR: Kelly’s Heroes 62 78 RPM: Dinah Shore 63 WWII EVENTS 64 GIs: Down on the Tank Farm COVER SHOT: US marines are dug in during a clash with the Japanese the week after landing on Iwo Jima in February 1945. They’re fighting over Motoyama Airfield No. 2, the prize that brought them to the volcano island. US strategists planned to use the field as an air base for the bombing of mainland Japan, 750 miles to the north. NATIONAL ARCHIVES
AM E RICA I N
WWII March–April 2012 Volume Seven • Number Six www.AmericaInWWII.com PUBLISHER
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Heidi Kushlan 717-564-0161, [email protected] A Publication of 310 PUBLISHING, LLC CEO Heidi Kushlan EDITORIAL DIRECTOR James P. Kushlan AMERICA IN WWII (ISSN 1554-5296) is published bimonthly by 310 Publishing LLC, 310 Kelso Street, Harrisburg, PA 17111-1825. Periodicals postage paid at Harrisburg, PA. SUBSCRIPTION RATE: One year (six issues) $29.95; outside the U.S., $41.95 in U.S. funds. Customer service: call toll-free 866-525-1945 (U.S. & Canada), or write AMERICA IN WWII, P.O. Box 421945, Palm Coast, FL 32142, or visit online at www.americainwwii.com. POSTMASTER: SEND ADDRESS CHANGES TO AMERICA IN WWII, P.O. BOX 421945, PALM COAST, FL 32142. Copyright 2012 by 310 Publishing LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this issue may be reproduced by any means without prior written permission of the publisher. Address letters, War Stories, and GIs correspondence to: Editor, AMERICA IN WWII, PO Box 4175, Harrisburg, PA 17111-0175. Letters to the editor become the property of AMERICA IN WWII and may be edited. Submission of text and images for War Stories and GIs gives AMERICA IN WWII the right to edit, publish, and republish them in any form or medium. No unsolicited article manuscripts, please: query first. AMERICA IN WWII does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of advertisements or letters to the editor that appear herein.
A KILROY WAS HERE
Pondering Pants IN THE WORLD WHERE I GREW UP, WOMEN WORE SKIRTS AND DRESSES. My grade-school days weren’t that long ago, so maybe it was the Catholic schooling, 13 years of it (including kindergarten). Boys wore ties and jackets and trousers and shoes that required polishing. Girls wore dresses, a dull plaid, with knee-high socks. These outfits had little in common with the provocative “Catholic school girl” costumes some women wear to bars on Halloween. The dresses were sacks. The wearer could have been a midget football lineman as easily as a ballet dancer, and from a few paces away, an observer couldn’t tell the difference. The girls in my neighborhood, the Roxborough section of Philadelphia, did wear pants. But I wasn’t around them as much as the girls in class. After-school time was for playing street hockey or football, not chatting with girls. My primary female contact during those hours was my mom, and she wore dresses and skirts. (I probably have a photo I could run here, but it was the seventies, and I don’t want to tarnish her memory by incriminating her in some nauseating shade of polyester.) Mom did secretarial work in those days, and secretaries didn’t wear pants to work. And apparently 40 hours of habit a week died hard, as pants didn’t turn up on her that often at home, either. The topic of women wearing pants is on my mind because I just wrote about it for our Home Front department, a dozen or so pages farther into the magazine from here. When you read that (as I trust you will!), you’ll see that World War II was a turning point for women wearing pants. Dresses and skirts wouldn’t do for the millions of women manufacturing planes, tanks, and other war goods. After that, there was no turning back. Skirts and dresses didn’t suddenly disappear, however. The process was evolution, not revolution. By the time I got to high school, girls were allowed to wear an approved style of loose-fitting pant. At best, only a handful of them did. It may have been because the pants were dreadful, but maybe pants still didn’t seem quite right to those girls. Now, we’re mostly past those evolutionary days. Dresses are for proms, weddings, and see-and-be-seen society fundraisers. Skirts are for lawyers, executive administrative assistants, and cheerleaders—well, not even many cheerleaders anymore. Catholic school girls do still wear them, to school. For everyone else, it’s pants. During World War II, a lot of people fretted about pants crossing the gender boundary. Some sent nasty letters to magazine editors who had the nerve to run photos of women in pants. The world those people had known was changing, and they didn’t like it. Now pants are a given, but that doesn’t end the controversy. Now we worry about how tightly pants fit, or how low they’re slung on the hips, or how many holes are worn through them and where those holes are located. As for me, I think people should be more concerned about the disappearance of zoot suits.
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A V-MAIL SAVED BY HIS SONG TO MY SURPRISE and delight, the December 2011 issue cover read “Judy Garland Adds Cheer to a Sad Wartime Christmas Song” [a reference to 78 RPM, “Christmas Hope”]. My first reaction, which proved correct, was that it referred to a song written by a man who was a personal friend of mine. His name was Hugh Martin. I use the term “was” because in March 2011, Mr. Martin passed away. During one of our numerous and memorable meetings, Hugh revealed how one of his compositions saved his life during the Battle of the Bulge. In late December 1944, Hugh Martin was an infantryman and was dispatched with others towards Bastogne. The Germans had surprised Allied forces to the extent that the latter were suddenly on the defensive. By that time the film Meet Me in St. Louis had been released. A song from the musical had become a major hit. Hugh related that it wasn’t the one that has become a Christmas classic: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas!” The truck Hugh rode in was stopped. “Hugh Martin!” was called and ordered to disembark. He was then reassigned to a special services unit in the rear. The army had learned that Hugh wrote the nation’s number one song and was too valuable to lose his life in battle. Hugh spent the remainder of the war entertaining the troops and filling requests to play and sing the number that had kept him alive: “The Trolley Song.” MARK WESTON Hicksville, New York
first class of the Tuskegee Airmen, to which Benjamin O. Davis belonged, for the basic and advanced flying training at Tuskegee Army Air Field. George “Spanky” Roberts not only followed Benjamin O. Davis as commander of the 99th Fighter Squadron, but also preceded him as commander of that squadron. Both men took turns commanding both the squadron and the group. The 99th Fighter Squadron of World War II is now the 99th Flying Training Squadron, and the 332d Fighter Group of World War II is now the 332nd Expeditionary Operations Group. DANIEL L. HAULMAN chief, organizational history branch,
sitting in the back seat as observers on flights just prior to solo flights. Goggles would be required for somebody up front, where they are more likely to get sprayed with oil from the engine or blinded by dust as they look out of the open cockpit. Note the stripes painted on the rudders of the planes. The horizontal stripes are 13 red and white stripes, while the leading vertical stripe is insignia blue. The army would carry these on their planes up until the Pearl Harbor attacks, but had already begun to dispense with them on camouflage-painted aircraft as early as February 1941. The subdued serial numbers and dull finish of the planes in the background makes me wonder if they might be considered camouflaged planes. If so, the date of this photo might be right around February 1941, when the paint schemes were in transition. RON LEWIS received via e-mail
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE I RECENTLY PURCHASED the latest edition of America in WWII [February 2012] and have only begun to dig into it, but I did focus on the very interesting article “Crash Course,” dealing with WWII pilot and aircrew training. In the photo on page 48, note all of the pilots on the left side of the column of aviators. Few of them have the goggles on, most have a lighter-colored uniform, and many of them look appreciably older than their counterparts on the right side of the photo. That tells me that the instructors are on the left and probably 4 AMERICA IN WWII
Air Force Historical Research Agency
I WAS THERE ON MOGMOG ONCE AGAIN, your magazine has brought back memories from long ago. The article about Mogmog [I Was There, “Holiday on Mogmog,” by Bob Hurmence, February 2012] took me back to 1945. The Astoria anchored in the Ulithi Atoll. We spent at least two rest periods on Mogmog. The picture with the article [on page 11] seems to have been of members of our crew. They were named Collier and Chevalier [in the upper left corner of the photo]. These men were inseparable. The other faces are very familiar, but 66 years takes the edge off such recollections with names. Two bottles of beer and an orange were our allotment. The main island of Ulithi was off-limits to anyone who was not stationed there. JIM MURO wartime seaman and gun-pointer, USS Astoria (CL-90), Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
RED TAILS CHIEFS I ENJOYED READING Eric Ethier’s article “Red Tails Chief,” about Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., in the February 2012 issue of America in WWII. I did want to point out a couple of minor errors: “Chief” Charles Anderson had been chief flight instructor of the Tuskegee Airmen only in the primary phase of their flight training, before they moved on to the basic and advanced flying training at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Lieutenant R.M. Long was the chief flight instructor of the
GREMLINS February 2012: “Crash Course”—The nose-down plane on page 26 is a Wildcat FM-2 rather than F4F; the planes on page 47 are in the North American BT-9/BT-14 family, not Vultee BT-13s. Send us your comments and reactions— especially the favorable ones! Mail them to V-Mail, America in WWII, PO Box 4175, Harrisburg, PA 17111-0175, or e-mail them to [email protected]
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A HOME FRONT
WhoWears the Pants? by Carl Zebrowski
by the time the gum-chewing secretary got on. Teachers Constance Bowman and Clara Marie Allen stood balancing themselves in the aisle. They took notice that the secretary “squeaked like a talking doll.” But that didn’t seem to bother the men filling the bus benches. “She always got a seat,” Bowman and Allen wrote in their 1944 book Slacks and Calluses: Our Summer in a Bomber Factory. “And since it could not be because she was lady-like, beautiful, or intelligent, we decided it must be because she wore a skirt.” Bowman and Allen were not wearing skirts. They wore skirts when they were teaching, but this was summer vacation in the middle of World War II, and they were working for the war effort at the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft B-24 bomber factory in San Diego. They were dressed for manual labor. That meant they were wearing pants. Pants were definitely not the norm for women in those days. But they weren’t exactly brand new, either. In the mid-19th century the American early feminist Amelia Bloomer was known for wearing pants. A trend was in its infancy. In the 20th century the activist Anna Louise Strong wrote that pants should be acceptable for women employed by factories, because skirts and dresses were unwise choices for those working around churning machinery that could grab loose material and pull in the wearer. With the advent of World War I, more women than ever headed into factories to work. The war created a job boom at the same time that millions of men were sent overseas to fight. As a result, women found themselves filling positions that hadn’t typically been available to their gender before. Many of these newly working women were wearing pants for the first time. But the HE BUS WAS PACKED FULL
COURTESY OF NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
6 AMERICA IN WWII
A government propaganda poster urges women to wear pants to work for safety and efficiency on the factory floor.
war was soon over, and pants gave way to skirts—though pants were now somewhat accepted as leisure wear. When World War II began two decades later, pants made a comeback. As in World War I, skirts weren’t the best choice of clothing for the factory, where women were now doing such tasks as crawling into the nose cones of B-24 bombers to weld. But there was that downside that Bowman and Allen discovered. When they wore pants—which identified them with stereotypically unladylike jobs in manual labor— they got little respect, not even from women. They told a story of going to a café on lunch breaks to get its coveted double-decker chocolate ice cream cones. One day they waited their way to the front of a long line only to hear a server with “Bonnie” embroidered on the sleeve of her soiled uniform growl at the customers ahead of them: “Whaddayawant?” She
gave it to Bowman and Allen even worse: “Shut up and wait your turn. I’ll get to you when I’m good and ready.” The women did not get their ice cream that day. In fact, after several foiled attempts to gain Bonnie’s favor, they gave up on ever getting a cone at that café. There almost seemed to be an organized effort against women wearing pants. On a wider scale than the anecdotal evidence Bowman and Allen gathered, there was cultural backlash. A Seattle newspaper, for example, made a typical reactionary plea, urging women not to “go berserk over the new opportunities for mannish clothing and mannish actions.” When Life magazine ran a photo of two Wellesley coeds wearing jeans, the editor was crushed by an avalanche of caustic letters from outraged readers. Self-appointed arbiters of what was right and wrong were up in arms. Despite all the opposition, by the time the war ended, pants had won. Women in slacks—on and off the job—were a common sight, and the stage was set for marketers, especially marketers of jeans, to sell to the new customer base. By the 1950s the classic Levi’s 501 copper-riveted five-pocket jeans patented in 1905 were on just about every teenager in the country. Twenty years later designer jean companies such as Jordache and Calvin Klein were putting their snug-fitting product on the bottoms of the disco-bound and the high school cheerleader alike. These days, a jeans aficionado can pay hundreds of dollars for a pair treated with chemical washes or sanded strategically by hand. The women war workers of World War II didn’t need to pay extra for pants that had a worn look. They supplied the wear and tear themselves—just as they supplied fuel for the fire of women’s fashion. Pants were here to stay. A
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MariaMontez Beauty was something Maria Africa Antonia Garcia Vidal de Santo Silas was born with. The exotic accent was acquired, while growing up in the Dominican Republic. Those and some charm went a long way toward making her a star. What she needed next was a name that could fit on a marquee. She chose Maria Montez, in honor of 19th-century cabaret dancer Lola Montez. In 1941 she moved to Hollywood and starred in the first of a run of Technicolor B-movie adventure epics that included White Savage (1943) and Cobra Woman (1944). Pinups of her began showing up on barracks walls all over the world. Dominican President Rafael Trujillo was a fan, as was French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont. Trujillo honored her with two national awards. Aumont married her, in July 1943, days before he left to fight for the Free French Forces. The couple reunited after the war in Europe, had a daughter, and moved to France in 1946. The family lived in a Paris suburb until September 7, 1951, when Montez was discovered drowned in her bathtub at age 39, apparently having suffered a heart attack. After her death she became an icon of camp style and has been an object of adoration in several films, most infamously in the controversial 1960s underground featurette Flaming Creatures, which director Jack Smith described as “a comedy set in a haunted music studio.” PHOTO COURTESY OF WWW.DOCTORMACRO.INFO
8 AMERICA IN WWII
A date that will live in infamy. – President Franklin D. Roosevelt
The Attack on Pearl Harbor December 2 - 8, 2011 Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours will lead another historial tour this year to honor and remember the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. We will attend and participate in the Pearl Harbor Symposium December 2 - 5, 2011. We will visit the historical sights on Ford Island and The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (The Punch Bowl). We will also attend the commemoration ceremony on December 7, 2011.
IWO JIMA: WAR IN THE PACIFIC March 5-16, 2012
World War II Tours in 2012 D-Day to the Rhine, June & September Operation Overlord, June & September Band of Brothers, May & August WWII in Poland, September In the Footsteps of Patton, June Italian Campaign, October
A THE FUNNIES
Supernurse by Arnold T. Blumberg
IMAGES COURTESY OF GEPPI'S ENTERTAINMENT MUSEUM, WWW.GEPPISMUSEUM.COM
POLICE OFFICERS , firefighters, doctors, nurses. Superhero comics often went out of their way to make it clear that those were the real heroes. It was inevitable that some of them would make the transition to comic book hero. Early in World War II, there was Pat Parker, War Nurse. The British medic Pat Parker began plying her caregiving trade in May 1941 in Speed Comics No. 13. One issue later, Harvey Comics in New York City had taken over the title from original publisher Brookwood Comics and begun crafting a more stylized identity for her. By No. 15, Pat had grown tired of getting too much personal publicity and hid beneath a costume, a rather generic supersuit with Wonder Woman–like boots. She settled into a bona fide superhero persona. Wonder Woman herself had debuted in December 1941, only one month before Pat got her new outfit, so Pat holds a place in
history among the earliest superheroines. Her eventual colleagues the Girl Commandos have a similar distinction, as the first all-girl supergroup, with multiethnic costumed crusaders Ellen, Penelope, Mei, and Tanya battling the evil Axis powers. The Girl Commandos first appeared in April 1943 in Speed Comics No. 26, co-created by Jill Elgin, the artist for Pat Parker. Through the end of the war, Pat Parker and the Girl Commandos continued to assist the Allies. Their last adventure appeared in March 1946 in Speed Comics No. 42. Although Pat wasn’t active very long, she proved that nurses were as heroic as any superhero. Of course, anyone who lived through the war already knew that. A DR. ARNOLD T. BLUMBERG is an educator and the author of books on comic books and other pop culture topics. He resides in Baltimore, Maryland.
Top left: Pat Parker, War Nurse, debuted in Speed Comics No. 13 in 1941. Right: Pat originally wore a nurse’s uniform and concentrated on caregiving. Center left: After Harvey Comics in New York City took over the title, Pat donned a new Wonder Woman–like outfit and adopted a superhero persona. Bottom left: Pat teamed up with the multicultural Girl Commandos when this first-ever all-girl supergroup appeared in 1943. 10 AMERICA IN WWII
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I WAS 7, MY FATHER TOOK ME to visit the little airport about two miles from our house [in St. Louis, Missouri]. He told me we were going to see airplanes but, of course, that really made no impression until I saw one. That airplane was the most magnificent thing I had ever seen. While we were standing there, observing the landing strip from the other side of the fence, an unexpected thing happened: the pilot, a tall blond man dressed in jacquard pants, goggles, helmet, and flight jacket, walked over to the chain fence and asked my father if I would like to take a closer look at the interior of the plane. The man wasn’t just any pilot and the plane wasn’t just any plane. It was Charles Lindbergh and the plane was the Spirit of St. HEN
NATION AL ARCH IVES
R E. FI VICTO
Victor E. Fienup. Interviewed by Garnette Helvey Bane
Louis. [Lindbergh would soon become famous for flying that plane to Paris in the first solo non-stop trans-Atlantic flight, in 1927.] The experience had a lasting impression on me. It was an experience I will never forget. The most amazing thing I noticed was that the plane had no windshield. While I was Lindbergh’s captive audience, he showed me how he landed the plane by sticking his head out the side cockpit window. The way the high-wing monoplane was constructed, it had poor visibility…. When I saw the interior of the cockpit, I was hooked. There was no doubt in my mind that I would become a pilot. There was never any consideration to do anything else, although my father,
More than a decade before Victor Fienup would wear the uniform of the US Army Air Corps (left), he saw his first airplane up close and decided he wanted to fly. Thanks to the friendliness of the pilot, Charles A. Lindbergh (right), he also got to look inside the plane, the Spirit of St. Louis (behind Lindbergh in the photo). Not long afterward, Lindbergh would fly that plane in the first solo non-stop trans-Atlantic flight. 12 AMERICA IN WWII
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a plumber, had other ideas. He expected me to join the family plumbing business as a partner. I worked with him for a while, but when I finished high school at 17, my sights were still set on becoming a pilot. I worked with my father during the day and actually acquired my journeyman plumber’s license. That enabled me to earn the money I needed to take flying lessons. I was mechanical-minded and liked flying airplanes. It was a good mix. I wanted to get enough flying credits so I could go into the US Army Air Corps…. My father was against me entering the military because he knew more about the war than I did. He thought if I were in the plumbing business that I would be deferred, avoiding the draft. I had different ideas, though, and my reasoning was simple: Why should I continue to pay for flying lessons when the government would teach me and I could fly around and have a lot of fun on weekends? I had earned 60 credit hours on my own, but didn’t have quite enough flying time under my belt to join the air corps. I was in good physical condition with 20/20 vision, so I took a written exam, passed, and enlisted. Having excellent vision in those days was very important. The men who didn’t have perfect vision couldn’t pass the eye exam. As a result, the government lost a lot of good pilots. Following the entrance exam, a classmate and I were put on a waiting list for training. We were called to active duty December 19, 1941, right after Pearl Harbor was bombed. At 21, my friend and I drove from St. Louis to California for preflight training. After graduating pilot school, we went to Salt Lake City, Utah, and checked into the base only to learn that we had been transferred to Boise, Idaho. We arrived at the Boise base late in the afternoon and by 7 P.M. found ourselves in a B-17. It was the largest thing we’d ever seen. It looked immense in the dark, and it was. It was made by Boeing and could fly at a speed of about 287 mph, with cruising speed of 182 mph. It truly was the biggest thing I had ever seen: 74 feet long, 19 feet tall, and weighing more than 65,000 pounds. We were told that in combat our range was 3,400 miles! When we reached Boise, our flight training intensified, and some of us became aircraft commanders and were promoted to
A I WAS THERE
first lieutenants. That’s how fast things moved in those days. People were anxious to enlist during wartime to do all they could in the fight for our country…. As the war heated up, the air corps accelerated its training program with civilian contractors selected to operate a large number of newly established primary flying schools. In fact, they were started in 1937 by 10 civilian contractors, some of whom were WWI veterans. After I had begun flying, the US Army Air Force, which was created in 1941, experienced tremendous growth in the number of pilots. In 1939, there were only about 26,000 planes and 2,000 pilots. By December 1941, however, the numbers had grown to 345,000 planes and 9,000 pilots. I quickly learned that flying combat planes was vastly different than flying a small plane. When I became a cadet, though, I learned to fly planes with 650 horsepower. The advanced-training phase determined which of us would go to fighter training and which would go to bomber school. Basically, each pilot had 65 flying hours of primary training and 75 hours of both basic and advanced training. As the war grew more turbulent, each phase was reduced to 10 weeks and, eventually, 9 weeks. Some training for multi-engine aircraft occurred in AT-9 and AT-10 [trainer] aircraft. The AT-11 was used for bombardiers and navigators. After extensive training, we were assigned to the 100th Bombardment Group. My first commanding officer during training in Boise was Colonel Darr Alkire, the first 100th commissioned officer…. Eventually, he became a prisoner of war and was the senior POW officer at his Stalag Luft [POW camp for fliers]. In Boise, we trained on 18 planes. During one of those training missions when a cold front penetration prevented us from seeing each other in the air, we became separated from the formation. I am guessing that some of the aircraft may have experienced mechanical problems; however, some planes landed near one of the crew mem-
bers’ hometowns. That could have been coincidental, as there was talk of courtmartialing them, thinking they did it on purpose. That never materialized, though. At that point, we were disbanded and declared not ready for the discipline required for combat. We were not reunited, however, until the spring of 1943, when we served as experienced aircraft commanders. I was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in 1942 and became the commander of Blackjack, a B-17 bomber with the 351st Squadron, 100th Bombardment Group. Back then, a B-17 had a crew of 10 men, all specialists. There was the co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, engineer, radio opera-
raids shortly after our arrival in England. Both the British and Germans doubted our success, with the high loss of planes and crews due to intense air and ground fire. At briefings prior to missions, we were told “to get our target at any cost. If you destroy the objective, no matter what our losses, the mission is considered a success.” There were 40 pilots from [Fienup’s flight school class] when we were stationed in England in 1943. Only four in that group finished all 25 assigned missions. The others were killed, captured, or seriously wounded. They had a 90 percent attrition rate. It was later that this group became known as the Bloody One Hundredth, not
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B-17s from the 100th Bomb Group soar above the clouds over Europe in the summer of 1943, a time when Victor Fienup was flying missions into Germany with the unit.
tor, and four gunners. When I was assigned duty as a pilot, I was now the airplane commander, charged with all the duties and responsibilities of a command post. “You are flying a 10-member weapon,” I was told. That indicated I had responsibility not only for my own safety, but the safety and efficiency of the crew at all times, not just when we were flying or fighting. It was important, then, that we respected each other for who we were and maintained confidence in each man’s ability to do his job. Crew discipline was vital. The 100th reported for active duty and followed a North Atlantic route from Maine to Iceland to Scotland to northeast England, where we were stationed. It wasn’t unusual to lose aircraft while ferrying them across the Atlantic, yet we made it safely. We began our daylight bombing
because they lost more planes and crews than other outfits, but when they were hit, they were hit big. On the Münster Mission [a raid on the oil refineries of Münster, Germany], October 10, 1943, of the 13 planes sent out, only one—Rosie’s Riveters—returned. That was largely due to the fact that we did not have long-range fighter cover and lost as many as 20 percent of our planes per day…. The Americans played the numbers games during the war. We produced planes, ships, tanks, trucks, and other necessary supplies, and trained huge quantities of people for combat in a matter of months. (Unlike the United States, Japan and Germany had had years to prepare.) In late 1944, the B-29 Superfortress bomber was put into combat operation with the Twentieth Air Force in Asia. This aircraft
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AMERICA IN WWII 15
almost tripled the capability of the B-17s. The B-29s were stationed in Guam, [and on] Saipan and Tinian, two islands in the Marianas, and were designated to bomb the mainland of Japan. Glen Dye, one of my cadet classmates, and his crew were the only ones of the original group to complete the 25 missions [the 100th flew] completely intact. My crew remained mostly together for 15 missions before being shot down September 3, 1943. As the 100th reached Paris, it was found that the primary target, the Renault works [manufacturer of vehicles for the Nazi military], was obscured. Flak was very heavy and the group lead was knocked out of formation. His place was taken by the deputy leader, and the formation proceeded to the secondary target— Beaumont-le-Roger Airfield—about 60 miles west of Paris. We were the third plane in formation, flying about 23,000 feet over Evré, France, south of Paris, when something went awry. There are conflicting accounts as to exactly what occurred, but the consensus seems to be that, while on the bomb run, the plane flown by Lieutenant Richard King
16 AMERICA IN WWII
A I WAS THERE
(Crew No. 26) received a direct flak burst amidships and suddenly moved upward, striking the ship of Crew No. 23 (our crew), which exploded. Crew No. 21 may have been involved in this mid-air collision, as one of its crewmen stated that “the ship on our right wing crashed into our tail surfaces.” That may have caused the death of [our] tail gunner, Marvin Miller. Others believed that our plane collided with another US B-17 flown by 2nd Lieutenant Charles Floyd, Jr., Barker’s Burden, knocking our tail off. It has not been officially substantiated if we were hit by that plane, enemy ground fire, or if a bomb was dropped on us. In most cases, however, debriefing indicated exactly how aircraft were lost. There were too many conflicting stories to be sure [in this case]. In an instant, when we least expected it, we heard a loud crash and the plane went
straight up and the tail went down. Instantly, the oxygen tanks in the compartment exploded and everything was blazing with fire. We were at 23,000 feet and the crew was without oxygen. With the plane uncontrollable and the bomb bay doors open, I gave the bailout order for the crew to jump. The engineer was hesitant, so I pushed the copilot, who pushed the engineer out. All but Miller got out. Marvin Daniels was badly wounded prior to jumping, and an eyewitness saw one chute from this plane burst into flames. Germans had also said that Daniels came down without a full chute. He was buried in the Souvernix Francais Evreux Cemetery. By that time, I couldn’t stand the heat any longer, so I went back to the cockpit with my chest parachute on and stuck my head and shoulders out the window. Obviously, this was not a recognized emergency exit position. As I attempted to pull myself through the opening, I began losing consciousness—that is, when I thought of my dad and the fact that he didn’t approve of me joining the military to fly. As I got my head and shoulders out, I felt the explosion and completely lost consciousness. The air-
craft had blown apart and set me free. When I regained consciousness, I found myself gently floating through space, pulled on my rip cord, and passed out again. When I regained consciousness the second time, it felt so peaceful. There were no gunshots or engine noises. There were no birds singing, no crickets chirping, no sensation of falling. I only heard the ripples of my parachute and felt the pressure from the parachute harness on my crotch. I didn’t have the sensation that I was falling. Instead, it was as if the earth came up to meet me. I will never forget that day. I was being blown backwards over a forest and landed in a ditch with quite a jolt on my backside. When I looked around to get my bearings and decided what I was going to do, I noticed haystacks. I had landed in someone’s garden. When I began gathering up my chute to hide in a haystack, I spotted a young French farm boy and thought surely he would help me, but he ran the other way. I noticed my hands and wrists were badly burned and resembled red claws. The tissue was actually gone from my wrists. There was no time to tend to my wrists because, within minutes, the
German officers and their American POWs salute during the funeral of a prisoner. The Germans, unlike the Japanese, adhered to the Geneva Convention requirement that POWs get honorable burials in marked gravesites.
Germans and their dogs found me. They told me, “For you, the war is over.” All captured airmen were first taken to Dulag Luft near Frankfurt for interrogation and solitary confinement. We were required by the Geneva Convention to give only our name, rank, and serial number to be considered prisoners of war and not
spies. When interrogators were convinced we wouldn’t give any more information, they left us alone. At that point, we were separated and sent to various camps. As I mentioned, I lost two of my crew— Miller and Daniels—during the explosion. Eugene Mulholland, Paul Pascal, and Nolan Kreitenstein were evades [they survived and evaded the Germans]. Crew members who were captured include Blanton Barnes, Charles Wright, Roy Evenson, and Robert Brown. Those of us remaining were retained as German POWs for the remainder of the war in Europe. Of my crew, I was the only survivor who was seriously wounded. I spent weeks in a German hospital, where [captive] British doctors provided excellent treatment. The doctors put tannic acid on my wounds to slough off dead tissue and kept them bandaged with wet gauze. It must have worked, because I have no scars today. Some planes, if not damaged severely in battle, were repaired and sent back on other missions. Blackjack, though, was later left for scrap in North Africa after severe battle damage. Before Christmas, I was taken to Stalag
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AMERICA IN WWII 17
Luft III, an air camp in Sagan, Germany. Considering the circumstances of war and imprisonment, it was a pretty decent camp. The Germans were members of the Geneva Convention, and while it was a prisoner of war camp, it was a pretty decent one for officers only. The Red Cross brought us parcels of food, and I remember the effort as being pretty well organized. German propaganda led their people to believe that the aircrews were Luft gangsters hired to bomb mothers, children, churches, etc., when our objectives were to destroy their production of war-making material. Our propaganda would lead us to believe that all Germans were fanatic Nazi Jew killers. The Allied and German
A I WAS THERE
Berlin. I was in the American compound. We got showers only every month or so. Then, in January 1945, we could hear the Russian guns and thought the Russians were going to liberate us. Instead, we were called out one morning before daybreak and told we were going on a march. We gathered up food and began marching through the snow. I thought it was the coldest winter I had ever seen. We marched
Victor Fienup was among the POWs liberated when George Patton’s Third Army marched into Moosburg, Germany, in April 1945. Here, freed POWs pose inside their former prison quarters.
newspapers gave a 180-degree difference in the picture they painted to the public. In camp, they counted us every morning and night to see if anyone had escaped…. We were kept outside in parade position for hours, not knowing whether or not we were going to get back with all our faculties. There were a lot of people in the same boat, and those of us who kept a positive attitude managed to survive. Those were difficult times, but we coped pretty well. Before Christmas, I was taken to better prison camps, but my hands still were not well. I was put into solitary confinement and interrogated. I was continually asked for my rank and serial number— just bits and pieces of information. The Germans were good at piecing it all together. As I recall, there were five compounds in [Stalag Luft III] about 60 miles southeast of 18 AMERICA IN WWII
all day and all night and slept on the floors of churches, barns, factories, or wherever we could. During this time, we were bombed by the Allies. To say it was rough and bitterly cold was putting it mildly. The extreme weather conditions and our marching continued for four or five days. Our resistance was turning low due to lack of nutrition and adequate living conditions. We quickly learned that we weren’t in the same physical condition that we were at the time we were shot down. When we arrived at the train, we were more than 60 people to a boxcar and about 48 boxcars. There was no room to sit. We were packed like vertical cordwood. We managed to drill a hole in the floor to take care of our personal needs. They put us on a rail siding [a storage rail off the main track] for three days. While
there, bombers came and bombed the tracks. That was worse than marching. When we arrived at the camp in Moosburg, there were thousands of people— Americans, East Indians, Russians, and Africans. The living conditions were very bad. The Germans were short on food. There was no meat. We were fed barley and potatoes. Sometimes, though, we found foreign objects like mice in the barley. If a cat or dog came to the compound, it was history! On April 29, 1945, while in Moosburg, General George Patton and his Third Army had us [POWs] released. We were airlifted out of Berlin and returned to the States [to Florida], where we were debriefed and underwent extensive medical treatment and rehabilitation. I had lost about 20 pounds, from 145 to about 125. By the time Fienup regained his strength, Germany had surrendered and the war in Europe was over. He was back in the States, having earned the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the European-African–Middle Eastern Campaign medal. He would remain in the air force until retirement, logging a total of 13,000 hours in the cockpit. He flew in the Berlin Airlift for 10 months in 1948–1949 and was involved in the Korean and Vietnam wars. In 1965 he was sent to San Antonio, Texas, to train the early astronauts Neil Armstrong, Frank Borman, Wally Shira, and Buzz Aldrin. Somehow he found time along the way to earn a bachelor’s degree in economics. After retiring from the military in 1965, Fienup moved to Greenville, South Carolina, where he had been stationed for a stretch during his career. He and his wife, Jeanette, worked a cattle farm there. In 2011, at age 92, he traveled to a reunion of the original 80 pilots who had arrived in England with the 100th Bombardment Group. He went with high hopes, but he was the only one of the 80 who showed up. In early 2012 he still worked out at a gym three times a week and worked half-days in his son-inlaw’s window-treatment business. A GARNETTE HELVEY BANE owns the marketing and advertising agency Garnette Bane and Associates in Greenville, South Carolina. She works out at the same gym as Victor Fienup and interviewed him for this article in 2011.
celebrates the historic accomplishments of the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, the first effort by the United States to implement a centralized system of strategic intelligence and the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Special Operations Command. The 108-page 2011 issue of The OSS Society Journal is now available for $20 (domestic) or $25 (international) per copy. A noted reviewer described it as the “finest intelligence publication” in its field. The table of contents can be viewed at www.osssociety.org.
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OceanWar in Cattle Country by Jim Kushlan
OU CAN ’ T SEE
20 AMERICA IN WWII
PHOTO BY BRANDON VINYARD. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE PACIFIC WAR
the Pacific Ocean from Fredericksburg, Texas. In fact, San Diego, the Pacific port where countless US servicemen boarded ships bound for the war against Japan, is some 1,200 miles away. But Fredericksburg, not San Diego, is home to the National Museum of the Pacific War, perhaps the world’s most substantial museum of World War II in the Pacific. What does a Texas Hill Country town have to do with island war, aircraft carriers, and kamikazes? Walk down Fredericksburg’s Main Street, and the connection becomes clear. A plaque marks where US Navy Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, the victorious commander in chief of World War II’s Pacific theater, was born in February 1885. Not far away is the former Nimitz Steamboat Hotel, built by Nimitz’s paternal grandfather to resemble a riverboat. The old hotel became a Nimitz-themed museum in the 1960s. Today it is the Admiral Nimitz Museum, a small but important part of the larger museum that grew out of it. Getting to Fredericksburg from San Antonio’s airport is a journey of 70 miles and 100 years. You start out amid suburban sprawl, but an hour’s car ride to the northwest puts you in Texas’s sparsely populated Hill Country, with its rolling landscapes and cattle ranches. Cross the Pedernales River, along which President Lyndon Johnson established his ranch and Texas White House, and soon you’re in Fredericksburg. A broad central street and 19th-century limestone buildings with high façades make downtown Fredericksburg a classic Old West town. But this Old West town is German, a legacy of immigrant founders
The National Museum of the Pacific War is full of spectacular artifacts like Sergeant Jack Lattimore’s M-3 tank—and the Japanese gun that blew the hole in its front at Buna Airfield, New Guinea, in December 1942.
who arrived in the 1840s. German cuisine stands out amid the town’s diverse food offerings. Some of the most picturesque lodgings are refurbished “Sunday houses,” simple cottages where German farm and ranch families stayed when they came to town for church services. Thanks to Nimitz, this German Old West town is also a WWII town. The National Museum of the Pacific War fills most of a block at the downtown’s east end, and additional space farther east— 50,000 square feet in all. Owned by the Texas Historical Commission, it is operated and financed by the non-profit Admiral Nimitz Foundation.
The downtown museum complex’s Main Street anchors are the Nimitz Hotel and the Admiral Nimitz Bookstore. The old hotel houses exhibits about Nimitz’s life, family, and 42-year US Navy career, featuring photos, placards, and personal artifacts. But the museum complex’s main attraction is the George H.W. Bush Gallery, opened in December 2009. The Bush Gallery fronts on Austin Street, a block behind the old hotel. Arriving visitors see what looks like a submarine surfacing from grassy ground and a wavy stone wall that evokes the sea. Inside the 32,000-square-foot multimedia gallery, a real submarine is the crown jewel in an unparalleled assortment of artifacts. That submarine is the Ha-19, a midget sub captured at Pearl Harbor together with her skipper on December 8, 1941, after she ran aground during the previous day’s attack. You encounter the Ha-19 as you emerge from an introductory exhibit that sets the stage for Japan’s conflict with the United States. You round a corner and there she is, lit to create an underwater feel. Nearly 79 feet long, the Ha-19 is bigger than you’d expect for a two-man, batterypowered vessel. Visitors can walk right up to this awe-inspiring relic of America’s entry into World War II. The Pearl Harbor exhibit stands out for the rarity of its objects. Not only is the Ha19 here, but so is an oil-stained door from the USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor’s most famous casualty. Another particularly haunting artifact is a sailor’s oil-spattered white uniform. From Pearl Harbor, visitors follow a serpentine path through the Pacific’s great land and sea battles and air raids. Exhibits
PHOTO BY AL RENDON
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE PACIFIC WAR
ABOVE & BELOW: FREDERICKSBURG CONVENTION & VISITOR BUREAU
Why is a Pacific war museum in Fredericksburg, Texas? Because Admiral Chester Nimitz, Allied Pacific commander, was born here. Top right: His family built a hotel here in the 1800s. It’s now part of the museum. Above, left: The museum’s main collection is in the George H.W. Bush Gallery, where a Japanese midget sub captured at Pearl Harbor is the centerpiece. Above, lower right: Reenactors simulate battle in the Pacific Combat Zone.
emphasize Americans’ roles (overseas and on the home front), but also bring in other Allies’ contributions and the Japanese perspective. There is an engaging mix of text, large photos, and useful charts throughout, and each section’s gateway has a “Status Report” just inside, with information about the war’s progress. Along the way, touchscreen multimedia database stations let you dive as deep as you wish into history’s details. Hands-on “Discovery Drawers” let kids and adults alike interact with real artifacts. And video and audio recordings, such as interviews with Guadalcanal veterans, humanize the history. Especially memorable displays abound in this overwhelming museum. Highlights include an aircraft converted into a B-25B bomber like those used on Lieutenant
Colonel James Doolittle’s April 1942 Tokyo Raid (the conversion was overseen by two Doolittle Raiders); a uniform tunic of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, architect of the Pearl Harbor attack; the helmet and bullet-damaged goggles of Japanese air ace Saburo Sakai; a rubber terrain map of Iwo Jima, used to prepare the US invasion of the island; and a destroyer’s combat information center, still exuding the aroma of mid-20th-century electronics. An extraordinary display features an M-3 Stuart tank of the Australian 7th Division struck by a shell on New Guinea—together with the Japanese gun that fired the shell and video of Sergeant Jack Lattimore, the tank’s commander, telling the story. Pry yourself out of the Bush Gallery’s impressively stocked store before closing
IN A NUTSHELL WHAT The National Museum of the Pacific War WHERE Fredericksburg, Texas WHY It’s probably the most extensive museum anywhere focusing on the Pacific war • See the battery-powered, 79-foot Japanese midget sub captured at Pearl Harbor • Check out a Higgins-built PT boat, a TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, a DUKW amphibious vehicle, and more For more information visit www.pacificwarmuseum.org, call 830-997-8220, or write to the museum at 340 East Main Street, Fredericksburg, TX 78624.
time, because there’s still more to see. The museum complex includes a Plaza of Presidents, a Memorial Courtyard, and a Japanese Garden of Peace. But farther east on Austin Street is the must-see Pacific Combat Zone. Hourly tours of the indoor and outdoor exhibits offer visitors a chance to get close to a TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, a Higgins-built PT boat, a DUKW amphibious vehicle, assorted Allied and Japanese heavy guns and tanks, and much more. If you’re lucky, or if you’re a savvy planner, you’ll visit the Combat Zone on one of the weekends when a living history program is scheduled. (I wasn’t so lucky or savvy.) These pyrotechnic combat demonstrations feature reenactors using period weapons—including a working WWII flamethrower! You’ll want to spend more time at the National Museum of the Pacific War than you expect. Fortunately, museum tickets are good for two days—and there is plenty to do in Fredericksburg for family members who may not share your excitement at exploring this inland treasury of an ocean war. A JIM KUSHLAN is the publisher of America in WWII. APRIL 2012
AMERICA IN WWII 21
A WAR STORIES
A WWII Scrapbook
PHOT O S COU RTESY O F PAM M UNSO N STE ADMA N
A GI, A WAVE, AND A WEDDING
Y FATHER ,
William “Mel” Munson, a US marine in World War II, loved to tell this story: She walked into the college cafeteria, avoiding his glance. He was cleaning off neighboring tables and she pretended she didn’t see him. He knew better, though. The Duke [Ellington] was playing “Sophisticated Lady” on the radio in the background, and this tall, skinny basketball jock thought it appropriate indeed. He had always liked brunettes. This one reminded him of his favorite actress, Jane Russell. She had an edge to her and he wanted to find out more. She liked to present herself as not being interested. Things were about
to change, he thought to himself. A few months later, she, who had not an athletic bone in her body, would show up each day at the campus tennis court with borrowed racquet in hand. His roommate came back to the men’s dorm one afternoon with news about the jock’s brunette interest: “Hey, Mel, your brunette is going out with me tonight.” “You might have a date with her, pal, but I’m the guy she’s going to marry,” the jock told him forthright. Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and lives in the nation and world suddenly changed forever. The college jock did manage to have a couple of dates with the interesting brunette, and his roommate’s chances were nothing more than
history. The plan was to get up to Pittsburgh and sign up for the army. While in a line forming for army recruitment, the jock was somehow redirected into the line signing up for the US marines. So a proud marine he became. The brunette followed the jock. He was assigned to Quantico, Virginia, and she was given nurses’ training at Bethesda Naval Hospital as a WAVE. [Members of what was officially called the US Naval Reserve (Women’s Reserve) were commonly known by the acronym for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, dropping the S for the singular.] The two of them often met on leave in DC, pounding the pavement and enjoying one another’s company.
Dorothy Doak was young brunette WAVE who liked to play hard to get. William “Mel” Munson was a young marine with the confidence to overcome such a tactic. Before long he was asking her to marry him—now or never! 22 AMERICA IN WWII
A AMERICA IN WWII FLASHBACK
AMERICA IN WWII COLLECTION
B E E C H - N U T PAC K I N G C O M PA N Y
1941 APRIL 2012
AMERICA IN WWII 23
The jock called the brunette suddenly one afternoon and informed her that she had only one chance to answer his question: he was “shoving off” for the Pacific and he wanted her to marry him. She never gave it a second thought—although years later, she often told folks that she just might have been a wee bit hasty in her decision. But the war was on and the likes of the Dorsey brothers, Glenn Miller, and other romantic bands tore away at many a
COURTESY OF PAM MUNSON STEADMAN
heartstring. They eloped, found a seedy little hotel (the only kind they could afford at that time), sent telegrams to their parents, and brought in a bag of White Castle hamburgers to munch on for their wedding night. Their marriage lasted for over 60 years and produced four children, seven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. Dad passed away a few years ago from renal failure and bladder cancer. I will always remember him best as loving the sounds of Sinatra, big band music, and sharp brunettes on college campuses. Pam Munson Steadman daughter of William “Mel” Munson, US Marine Corps, and Dorothy Doak Munson, US Naval Reserve (Women’s Reserve)
FLYING WITH IKE
Y GRANDFATHER ,
William “Bill” Guy Nelson, was a tail gunner and crew chief on a B-17, stationed with the Mighty Eighth Air force out at Hunter Field in Savannah, Georgia. He flew for 14 months with General Eisenhower on the inspection tour over North Africa [in 1942 and 1943, while Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower was in command of operations there]. He once had to reassure Ike on a mission when the plane wasn’t in the greatest shape and
24 AMERICA IN WWII
Cara Shearouse Pooler, Georgia
RESCUING THE ENEMY AT SEA
experience while screening the fast carriers [in the Pacific aboard the US destroyer Ralph Talbot (DD-390)]. During a strike, we would steam into the wind [the direction toward which planes took off]. If it was a prolonged strike, we would steam back and forth several times through the same waters. One time while sailing downwind we spotted something floating in the water, and it turned out to be a Betty (twin-engine Jap bomber) that had been shot down during one of the earlier Jap attacks. Not only was the plane still afloat, but several of its E HAD AN INTERESTING
AM E RICA I N
L ingo! 1940s GI and civilian patter shave tail: A newly appointed second lieutenant or, not coincidentally, an untrained mule whose tail was shaved to identify him as potentially dangerous. gremlins: mythical gnome-like creatures blamed for causing malfunctions on airplanes (and, some might say, errors in magazines— see V-Mail on page 4 for evidence).
Dorothy Doak and Mel Munson walk through downtown Washington, D.C., on a wintertime date. This was their favorite picture of themselves together.
something had gone wrong. He put a safety helmet on Ike and tried to play as cool as he could. Ike said he hoped he never had to use that thing, and my grandpa said, “I would not want you to, either.” Ike also told my grandpa that there was no special treatment on the plane when it came to putting that steel helmet on. Grandpa was told he would get fined $25 if he did not put the helmet on immediately.
crew had survived, too, and were in the water around it. I wrote home about it (after censorship’s mandatory 30-day delay) as follows: “One of our most interesting experiences was during the time we spent off Formosa [now Taiwan]. We had had an eventful evening and were not too surprised the next morning to see a wrecked plane floating nearby. When we got close enough we found no less than six Japs in the water around it, clinging to the wings. Well, believe me, we had a terrible time trying to get them aboard. One of them disappeared right away, and we never did see him again. When we approached, three of them shoved off from the plane and tried to swim away from us.
Lieutenant Ward Becker was aboard the USS Ralph Talbot when crewmen rescued some downed Japanese airmen from the drink off Formosa.
“Two of them stayed close together, so we went over by them and tried to get them aboard. We threw them life preservers and lines and beckoned for them to come to us, but they’d just laugh and wave and try to keep away. Finally we maneuvered right alongside them so that they were bumping against the ship. There wasn’t any laughing on their part now, and after a short conversation between them, Jap A proceeded to pull a knife and try to cut B’s throat. B apparently wasn’t 100 percent in favor of this, but didn’t offer too much resistance, so A succeeded and then did the same thing to himself. “We decided they wouldn’t be worthwhile getting aboard, so we went after the one by himself only to find that he would not come aboard, either. As we closed in on him a second time we overshot a little, and he got sucked down for a minute by the screws [propellers]. That seemed to change his mind, for he came aboard willingly after that. “A look around showed us that A and B
weren’t as bad off as we had supposed, for they were swimming around again, and we went back after them. Their wounds had taken all the starch out of them, and they came aboard willingly after our very first pass. “Next we went after the two who had remained with the plane. Again it was the same old story. But this time we called out our first man, and he quickly convinced them that they were making a mistake. So up they came, and very happy they were. Apparently they had the word on the coffee and sandwiches in the wardroom. “About this time I was relieved from my watch on the bridge and went down to take a look. B was in pretty bad shape, but A had nothing worse than a shaving nick for his efforts on himself. We had quite a time with them. They were given food, cigarettes, blankets, and thorough medical treatment. By means of a publication designed for the purpose, it was possible to carry on limited conversations with them, and they learned quite a few words of English. At one time one of them wrote the word ‘man’ and beside it the word ‘Japan’ and then wrote ‘hara-kiri.’ Apparently not all of the Japs were convinced of her invincibility. Before leaving, the same Jap wrote this message: ‘Destroyer all men nise. Rise cigarettes water. Very thank you. I and all. Destroyer on gun. No Washington village.’ From this you can see that the conversations weren’t too enlightening, but that it was possible to get an idea across. We never did figure out what the last two lines [sentences] meant. “It had been interesting to note that there did not seem to be any ill will aboard toward these Japs, even though they had been overhead yesterday trying to kill us. I guess it was simply a ready acknowledgment of the fact that they were doing for their country what we were trying to do for ours.” Ward S. Becker, Jr. wartime lieutenant, US Navy Hamden, Connecticut
John & Annie Glenn Historic Site New Concord, Ohio
Learn about life of the Home Front during WWII through a captivating living history presentation. johnglennhome.org
More Than Scuttlebutt offers a definitive history of the U.S. Navy Combat Demolition Units and the Underwater Demolition Teams in WWII and their affiliates: the Joint Army Navy Experimental Testing Board and the Demolition Research Unit. The book features a comprehensive list of all personnel associated with the Navy demolition and is a must-read for all interested in Naval Special Warfare.
Send your War Stories submission, with a relevant photo if possible, to WAR STORIES, America in WWII, PO Box 4175, Harrisburg, PA 17111-0175, or to [email protected] By sending stories and photos, you give us permission to publish and republish them.
AMERICA IN WWII 25
X-shaped Air field No. 2 was the prize that brought US Marines to rocky Iwo Jima. But it was a prize well guarded, and winning it would cost blood. by Eric Ethier
TA K I N G T H E
X O N I W O by Eric Ethier
here was a giant target marked across the island the Japanese called Iwo Jima—“Sulfur Island,” in English. On aerial reconnaissance maps, the intersecting pair of runways that the Americans labeled “Motoyama Airfield No. 2” looked as if frogmen armed with drums of white paint and huge rollers had slipped onto the island and painted a bright, enormous X to mark where bombs should fall. And fall they did. During the long run-up to the US Marine Corps’s February 19, 1945, assault on the island, that X would mark the spot for one American bomber raid after another. nawa. Even as the Iwo Jima campaign’s planners called the division into action, they held back its 3rd Marine Regiment as a reserve. The new, three-division-wide plan called for the fresh 3rd Division to drive northeast across smaller Motoyama Airfield No. 1, tie in with the 5th Division on its left and the 4th on its right, and center a broad sweep up the heavily pitted, five-mile-long island. Lying directly in Erskine’s path was Motoyama Airfield No. 2, the precious jewel around which Kuribayashi had centered his formidable, in-depth defenses. Inside a double layer of reinforced concrete encasements, subterranean pillboxes, half-buried tanks, machinegun nests, and invisible one-man “spider traps” (manhole-like wells) waited the men of Colonel Masuo Ikeda’s veteran 145th Regiment. And in their hands were countless 127mm anti-aircraft guns, heavy naval guns, 47mm anti-tank guns, and mortars of nearly every size. To further aggravate the Americans and to keep the 75mm main guns of the marines’ tanks off his doorstep, Kuribayashi had scarred the ground between the first two airfields with gaping, mine-laced anti-tank ditches. Ordered ashore early on February 20, the men of Colonel Hartnoll J. Withers’s 21st Marines instead spent an uncomfortable day bobbing in Higgins boats, the result of intense Japanese shelling that had left the beaches crowded with wreckage. Shortly before 4 P.M. the next day, the regiment finally went in. Scrambling through rain, the men ran up sloping beaches of ash-colored granulated sand that gave way beneath their boots as though it were determined to strand them where they stood. Across the cramped coastline stretched an incomprehensible sight: the beleaguered American beachhead, with expanses of perforated steel Marston matting (laid down to help incoming tanks get up the beach) twisted and deformed by Japanese artillery; piles of supplies strewn across gaping shell craters; smoke-spewing tanks and assorted other vehicles churning desperately to get up onto the island’s table-top-like surface; and the broken bodies of dead marines.
Previous spread: First Lieutenant Arthur W. Carley, Jr. (center), takes cover with his platoon of the 23rd Marines just west of Iwo Jima’s Motoyama Airfield No. 2. Carley was later killed on the island. Above: Capturing heavily defended Airfield No. 2 fell to the 3rd Marine Division, whose spirit was symbolized by its caltrop insignia. With three points on the ground, a caltrop pointed a spike upward. The message? Step on the 3rd, and you’ll get hurt. Opposite: Airfield No. 2 appears as a big X near Iwo Jima’s center (partly obscured by a cloud) in this aerial photo. 28 AMERICA IN WWII
PREVIOUS SPREAD: NATIONAL ARCHIVES. PATCH COURTESY OF THE RAMKAS COLLECTION
Airfield No. 2 was an important part of why the American invaders had come. Once the marines had secured the great X, quick-working Seabees of the US Naval Construction Battalions could begin extending one of its mile-long airstrips until it was long enough to accommodate shiny new B-29 Superfortresses. From Iwo Jima’s Airfield No. 2, the heavy bombers would be able to unleash their fearsome destructive power on Japan’s home islands. With that in mind, marine planners scheduled the airfield’s capture for D-day, the very first day American boots stepped onto the island. It was easier said than done. Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi had masterfully transformed Iwo Jima into a shellspewing, bombproof fortress of stone. Dday came and went, and by February 23, the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions of Major General Harry Schmidt’s V Amphibious Corps (VAC) had been battling for four days to extend their perimeter from cluttered landing sites along the island’s southwest edge. On the right, the 4th had struck north and northeast to gain some breathing room. On the left, the 5th had hooked southwest to secure the marines’ initial target, glowering Mt. Suribachi, the 550-foot stone hump whose encased guns swept the American beaches. Airfield No. 2 remained an elusive goal. The American brass had accepted this reality less than two days into the invasion and decided to summon more manpower. The operation’s overall commanders—Admiral Raymond A. Spruance (operation commander), Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner (joint expeditionary force commander), and Lieutenant General Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith (commander of the expeditionary troops)—called in two-thirds of their infantry reserve: the 9th and 21st Marine Regiments and the 12th Marine Regiment (artillery) of Major General Graves Erskine’s 3rd Marine Division. Neither Turner nor Smith had expected to need the 3rd Division. Freshly refitted after six months of bloody duty on Guam, Erskine’s men were penciled in for the upcoming attack on Oki-
Attached temporarily to the 4th Division, the 21st Marines moved out from the beachhead before dawn on February 22, passed through the lines of the 5th Division’s 23rd Marines, and struck northeast. Beneath a crackling umbrella of Japanese mortar rounds and American naval gunfire, the men struggled to gain just a few hundred yards. But by day’s end they had made it past Motoyama Airfield No.1 and tumbled into shell holes in search of sleep.
FEBRUARY 23, members of the 5th Division’s 28th Marines scaled Mt. Suribachi’s crumbling crown to plant the American flag. The sight of the Stars and Stripes rippling in the breeze sent a thrill through marines up island. “It was like a hell of a good shot of whiskey,” says Bill Conley, then a machine-gunner in K Company of the 21st Marines’ 3rd Battalion. The flag’s presence would mean even more once the Japanese guns protruding from Hot Rocks (as the marines called Suribachi) were silenced once and for all. Until then, those guns would continue to menace the 3rd Division from behind, as its men moved uncertainly into the island’s smoke-shrouded interior. By mid-morning, Major Robert Houser’s 1st Battalion and Major G.A. Percy’s 2nd Battalion of the 21st Marines attacked toward bunker-laden Airfield No. 2’s southwest corner. Here, on N THE MORNING OF
the coverless, upward-sloping ground of Iwo’s central plateau, veterans of jungle fighting on Guam and Bougainville found shocking new horrors: enemy soldiers that appeared from nowhere and then returned to nowhere; Nambu machine-gun bursts from invisible sources; and unrelenting downpours of artillery and mortar shells, including drum-sized behemoths the marines nicknamed “flying pianos.” John Cummings, a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) man in Percy’s 2nd Battalion, remembers moving out to take the second airfield. “I had a funny feeling in my stomach,” he says. He was pressing forward through a gully when Japanese bullets slammed into the heads of the men on each side of him. “I said, ‘Lord, I know I’m gonna get it. Please let it be a clean one.’” A moment later, a Japanese soldier popped up before him and shot him through the neck—a ghastly wound, but one Cummings survived, earning the nickname Miracle Man. Marine artillery, augmented by naval firepower just offshore, barely stemmed the flow of Japanese machine-gun fire, which poured like chain lightning from roughly 800 pillboxes cemented into the berms and ridges surrounding the airfield. After dashing across the airfield’s exposed bottom edge, hard-pressed marines withdrew to seek cover beneath its sloping southern lip. During the early hours of February 24, officers of the 21st Marines sent word shuddering through the ranks that on that day, APRIL 2012
AMERICA IN WWII 29
X O N I W O by Eric Ethier
TA K I N G T H E
I think of him and his rockets,” Hall wrote later. Percy’s 2nd Battalion, followed by Lieutenant Colonel Wendell H. Duplantis’s 3rd Battalion, waded forward into tracer-dotted streams of machine-gun fire that came in low enough to make even crawling perilous. Meanwhile, supporting columns of Sherman tanks from the 5th Tank Battalion, picking their way across acres of horned mines and buried aerial torpedoes, ran into unremitting mortar and anti-tank fire. No more than a handful of the tanks ever reached the front. For tank crews, Iwo Jima was a nightmare. The island’s terrain limited their high-profile vehicles to snail-like speeds, making them magnets for Japanese shells, which endangered not only the
Motoyama Airfield No. 2 had to be taken—at all costs. “We moved into position and took off behind a rolling barrage,” Warrant Officer George Green, a 12th Marines artilleryman attached to the 3rd Battalion’s K Company as a forward observer, wrote later. “The first thing I noticed was a group of Japs in a low trench; someone got them with a flame thrower, and they were still burning. Next, on this bright morning, I saw a wounded Marine walking calmly back to the rear, the white bandages and crimson red of his blood standing out over his dirty dungarees.” To ease the regiment’s path forward, the battleship Idaho (BB42) sent skull-rattling tremors rippling through Colonel Ikeda’s thick-walled hideouts with a special delivery of 14-inch shells. After Nishi
Motoyama Airfield No. 2
Kuribayashi 109th INFANTRY DIVISION 3
27 Feb. 2
I WO JIMA • B ONIN I SLANDS February 25–28, 1945
Colonel Howard N.
27 Feb. 9
4 t h Sugar
9th Marine Regiment
Hill Peter 2
MOTOYAMA AIRFIELD NO. 3
3rd Marine Division Captures
300 f t.
Colonel Hartnoll J.
21st Marine Regiment Quarry
General Graves B. MOTOYAMA AM AIRFIELD R LD NO. 1
Erskine 3rd MARINE DIVISION
100 f t.
Area of Detail
scale in yards
that followed VAC artillery fire, air strikes, and something new— 4.5-inch rockets. Corporal Frank Hall, a rifleman in F Company, 2nd Battalion, was scanning his lunar-landscape surroundings after spending the night in what he thought was an empty well (but turned out to be a Japanese tunnel entrance) when a three-quarterton truck fitted with rocket racks lurched into a nearby gully. “The driver gets out and says to me: ‘Watch this!’” remembers Hall. “Then he pulls a switch and a whole bunch of rockets take off toward the Japs. He brushes off his hands, gets back in and turns the truck around, waves good bye, and takes off.” Within two minutes Japanese artillerists and mortar men were plastering the sulfurous turf around Hall’s puny hideaway. “I think evil thoughts of that guy and wish to meet him someday, if I live, and tell him what 30 AMERICA IN WWII
200 f t.
tankers but also nearby ground troops. That morning, Second Lieutenant Stan Tsigounis, a mortar platoon commander in the 3rd Battalion’s K Company, was leading his men forward when tanks that were rolling up behind him starting receiving enemy fire. “And no sooner did they come up then I’m on the goddamned phone yelling to get the goddamned tanks out of there,” he remembered. “Because the Japanese saw them coming up. And the Japanese were hitting these goddamned tanks squarely. I mean squarely! And pieces of metal from the tanks were flying up in the air and I’ve got my guys right down there. And I had to scatter these guys out of there. And the poor marines inside are yelling for help. And the explosions were taking place inside those tanks, and there’s nothing that you could do for them.”
DREAMLINE CARTOGRAPHY/DAVID DEIS
BRUPTLY, THE DRIVE
RIGHT & BELOW: NATIONAL ARCHIVES
The advance on the airfield pressed forward. On the left, Percy’s men ground their way to the airfield’s western edge, where cascading Japanese mortar fire gradually halted them. On the right, Duplantis’s marines bypassed less threatening pillboxes in a determined rush up the airfield’s southeastern berm, covering some 800 yards. By mid-morning they were approaching the steep uphill grade just below the airfield’s heart, where its hardpacked clay runways crisscrossed in the shadow of a low-slung, 50-foot mound labeled Hill 199.
stalled out amid a stunning flurry of officer casualties. A grenade blast sent metal shards slicing into the thigh of K Company commander Captain Rodney Heinze. George Green was struck in the face by bits of metal from the same blast. He said he “tried to get a BAR man to spray the bushes, but he walked up to them and toppled over; the Nip shot him in the stomach…. We get a fire team directed at him, and they dropped a few grenades into his hole. The next time I looked at him as we were moving up again, he was plastered to one side of the hole.” Moments later a Japanese bullet dropped I Company commander Captain Clayton S. Rockmore. Stepping into their fallen commanders’ shoes, First Lieutenant Raoul Archambault and Captain Daniel A. Marshall took command of K Company and I Company, respectively, and did their best to settle their men.
Shortly before noon, Archambault, a lean, angular man who had earned a fighter’s reputation on Bougainville and Guam, led K Company in a pell-mell dash across the runway intersection and up the slope of Hill 199. With him raced a knot of marines led by 24-year-old Second Lieutenant Dominick J. Grossi, a former college football star who had drawn interest from the New York Giants. Into the Japanese trenches went Grossi, “slashing right and left with his bayonet, thrusting grenades into massive emplacements sunk into the sands, [and] dropping them behind rocks,” recounted the citation that accompanied the Navy Cross he received for his actions that day. Then he “smashed through a sector swarming with Japanese to gain the fifty foot ridge on the opposite side of the airstrip after approximately ninety minutes of savage conflict.” Grossi would die later in the campaign; his Navy Cross would be awarded posthumously. Archambault, too, would receive the Navy Cross for his efforts at the airfield. Serving in Korea several years later, the thoughtful Rhode Island native summed up that day’s action on Iwo: “Charge against an unseen enemy, that fights invisibly, with sound Below: From an underground fortress, Iwo’s guardians exacted a terrible toll, pinning the marines down. These men of the 4th Division’s 24th Marines are only 500 yards from the beach a day after D-day. Above: The 21st Marines were supposed to be held in reserve. But here, L Company of the regiment’s 3rd Battalion is inching toward Airfield No. 2 under mortar and machine-gun fire on February 24.
TA K I N G T H E
X O N I W O by Eric Ethier
ARCHAMBAULT’S MEN REACHED the summit of Hill 199, an ill-timed cascade of “friendly” rockets forced them back down. When the skies cleared, K Company roared back up the hill, but was again driven off, this time by Japanese infantrymen. Charging up a third time, shortly before 2 P.M., K Company slammed into a wave of frenzied Japanese defenders. Clifton Cormier, then a 12th Marines artilleryman attached to the 21st as a forward observer, recalls the vivid sounds of the brutal fight that followed: “Behind the anthill the Japs were dug in in a long trench. There must have been, probably 100 or so men there. And K Company went in there and—I just stood outUST AS
side with Archambault, alongside of him; there wasn’t any need for artillery fire—and just listened. You couldn’t see very much of what was going on, but you could hear it.” In that trench, marines and Japanese infantrymen battled at close quarters for perhaps 10 minutes with whatever weapons came to hand—rifles, bayonets, knives, and shovels—filling the air with the sound of splintering bones and tearing flesh. The nasty clash left Japanese corpses scattered across the hill’s reverse slope and edgy marines digging in across its top. At dusk, Archambault’s men welcomed the delivery of a trailer full of ammunition lugged across the mine-strewn airfield by a tank guided by a pair of particularly gutsy marines. During the Japanese counterattacks that filled that night, Duplantis later wrote, “Archambault’s reports grew fainter and fainter as his radio battery grew weaker. I sent two men with spare batteries but they were cut down before they had gone a hundred yards. I sent two more and one of them finally got through and our only communication link was restored.”
Above: While the 3rd Division attacked Airfield No. 2, the 4th Division fought to the east. On February 23, Sergeant Robert Filkosky of the 4th Division’s 24th Marines was wearing this helmet. Suddenly, two bullets pierced it front to back, and Filkosky fell. The wounds weren’t fatal, but the bullets dug grooves on his head. While he awaited evacuation, Filkosky saw the US flag rise over Mount Suribachi, to the south. Opposite: The same day, men of G Company in Filkosky’s regiment wait for tanks to blast enemy pillboxes. 32 AMERICA IN WWII
HELMET: THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE MARINE CORPS. OPPOSITE: NATIONAL ARCHIVES
and fury and the skill of long preparation and practice. The flickering flashes of flame from snarling muzzle blasts betray their positions. Run and creep and crawl and sneak and roll and encircle. Quick aim and fire, and duck and run and stumble some more. Pull a pin, heave a grenade, dive in a hole. Debris and dirt down your back and in your mouth. See them now.”
TA K I N G T H E
X O N I W O by Eric Ethier
Archambault and his charges had clamped a hold on Airfield No. 2. But it remained for 3rd Division marines (now back under Erskine’s direct command) to haul the balance of their collective weight up and over Kuribayashi’s cracking line of defense, across which the VAC perimeter remained snagged like a pant leg on barbed wire. At dawn on February 25, the job of exploiting the previous day’s gains fell to Colonel Howard N. Kenyon’s fresh 9th Marines. After coming ashore the previous day, Kenyon’s regiment had moved up from reserve during the early morning hours to trade places with the 21st.
early-morning barrage by ships offshore and the batteries of the 12th Marines, Kenyon’s 1st and 2nd Battalions (under Colonel Carey A. Randal and Colonel Robert E. Cushman, respectively) jumped off from positions just below the airfield. Bound for a 200-foot height called Hill Peter, they stepped into a squall of 240mm mortar shells, one of which threw Les Gadbury, a machine-gunner in the 1st Battalion’s C Company, up into the air but miraculously left him unharmed. Others were less lucky. “The shrapnel from this one [mortar round] must have taken the path of least resistance, which was a downward direction, cutting the top of one Marine’s head off,” Gadbury later wrote. “Another [marine] had a gigantic hole in his kidney area and a lieutenant’s knee was full of shrapnel with blood oozing out each time he moved…. One member of my squad who was back behind at the time said a foot landed by him. This was tough going.” Meanwhile, green-hulled Sherman tanks sheathed in wood to ward off magnetic mines rumbled forward across open ground in support, offering fat targets to eager Japanese anti-tank gunners, who picked them off one by one. (By campaign’s end the 3rd Tank Battalion alone would lose 22 of 54 tanks.) When progress slowed in mid-afternoon, Kenyon sent his 3rd Battalion in to drive the attack home. But the ceaseless torrent of incoming mortar and machine-gun fire still proved too much. Sixty-five years later, Major Frank Finneran, a former company commander who had recently been named the 1st Battalion’s executive officer, remained incredulous about the task assigned to the 9th. “It was stupid,” he said. “You don’t have to walk across that airfield to take it. You know, just leave it alone. Nobody’s gonna occupy it. You can negate it to the enemy by just covering it with fire. But, we walked across the damn airfield, you know?” Still, the battering-ram-style offensive continued. Early on February 26, Randall’s and Cushman’s battalions charged for-
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE MARINE CORPS
OLLOWING A LENGTHY
ward again, this time with the aid of air strikes. Predictably, Ikeda’s sod-covered, steel-reinforced bunkers shrugged off bombs like so many flies. But each amplified pounding drove the Japanese deeper into their tunnels, even if only briefly. And that bought advancing American riflemen precious minutes to do their grim work. It took men scouring the terrain on foot to find (or accidentally stumble upon) the narrow gun vents that betrayed camouflaged pillboxes. For the balance of this day and the next, 9th Marines leathernecks crept through Ikeda’s constellation of gun outposts, demolishing them with grenades, dynamite charges, and oxygen-sucking flamethrowers. After a typical night of stress and little sleep, the 9th Marines jumped off again the next morning. Tanks sent in support thundered across the exposed runway to blast pillboxes, but most ended up being knocked out before their 75mm guns could do much damage. Early that afternoon the 1st and 2nd Battalions tried again, with more success. Private Wilson D. Watson, a BAR man in the 2nd Battalion’s G Company, gunned down the last of 60 Japanese soldiers he killed over two days, a remarkable performance that earned him the Medal of Honor. (Watson would survive the war and then enlist in the US Army.) Aided by pinpoint shelling, the marines took Hill Peter and its twin to the northeast, Hill Oboe. While pitching in to seal the airfield’s eastern and western edges on the 3rd Division’s flanks, meanwhile, elements of the 5th and 4th Divisions ran into hornet nests of their own. Just west of the runways, where the 26th Marines had worked in tandem with the 9th along the divisions’ border, the island’s otherworldly landscape was virtually impassable. But into this ravine-scarred panorama of jagged ridges rolled flame-throwing Shermans to roast Japanese dugouts. The fire-breathing machines known as Zippos helped the grenade-tossing riflemen of the 27th and 28th Marines wear down Japanese opposition atop a tunnel-filled crest named Hill 362A. Less than a mile to the southeast, the 24th Marines had battled over an impossible series of heights dubbed Charlie-Dog Ridge. Then, together with the 23rd and 25th Marines, they plunged headlong into an equally harrowing area soon be known as the Meat Grinder. At the center of this batch of outcroppings was Hill 382, where, as one exasperated officer put it, “when one occupant of a pillbox is killed another one comes up to take his place.” Marines took the hill only after several days of costly, close-in fighting. The capture of flanking Hills 362A and 382, carried out
Above: As the Americans bombed and burned Iwo Jima’s defenders out of their bunkers, few Japanese surrendered. Soon, personal effects of dead foes were strewn everywhere. Marine William Odom found these photos of Japanese soldiers’ loved ones near Mount Suribachi. 34 AMERICA IN WWII
On March 11, Seabees are already at work preparing Motoyama Airfield No. 2 to handle big B-29 bombers. A truck hauls crushed rock from the airfield’s edge, while bulldozers level the runway. The smoke is actually steam from beneath the volcanic island’s surface.
by bone-weary units of the 4th and 5th Divisions, helped cement the 3rd Division’s claim on Airfield No. 2. Erskine’s men now got to work consolidating their positions in the center, which remained under heavy fire from Japanese installations on high ground to the north and northeast around Motoyama village and the island’s unfinished third airfield. While the 9th Marines caught a momentary breather, the 21st returned to the front on February 28. The regiment’s 3rd Battalion walked into an ambush sprung by Japanese tanks that roared suddenly from deep earthen plots. To deal with them, Captain Edward V. Stephenson of I Company rallied flamethrowers and bazooka men, who quickly punched out three of the enemy tanks. The surviving tanks hurriedly wheeled north.
JAPANESE FIRE stalled the attack early that afternoon, Kenyon sent his 3rd Battalion (under Lieutenant Colonel Harold C. Boehm) back in to lend temporary support. The drive resumed, and by early afternoon, elements of the 21st Marines had grabbed the heights overlooking the island’s sketched-out third airfield. Airfield No. 1 was already crawling with Seabee bulldozers; soon, Airfield No. 2 would be, too. Overshadowed by the celebrated fall of Mt. Suribachi, the capture of Motoyama Airfield No. 2 cracked Kuribayashi’s islandwide defense and allowed the three marine divisions to swarm northward as one tightly linked force. In a campaign that limited tactics to little more than direct frontal assaults, many more hellholes awaited each division on the path to Kuribayashi’s underHEN HEAVY
ground command post below far-off Kitano Point. Years later, veterans of the division known as the Fighting Third would still recall the sensations conjured by Airfield No. 2. They remembered the tackiness of the dusty runways’ surface on boot soles, how eerily exposed they felt while trying to cross the airfield, the sight of a shell-shocked buddy struggling to continue. With the 4th and 5th Division veterans who had plowed their way up the island’s east and west coasts, the 3rd Division men would remember—perhaps as much as anything else on the island—the nagging, almost living presence of shrapnel, which draped everything, living and dead. At one point, recalled Jack Cole, a 21st Marines rifleman assigned to grave detail for much of the campaign, “[I] sat on my helmet liner and had my helmet in front of me—and without moving from the position I was in, I filled that helmet with shrapnel.” The marines’ sacrifices had bought a bomber base, unofficially christened on March 4 when a damaged B-29 fluttered down onto Airfield No. 1. By mid-March, members of the marines’ 2nd Bomb Disposal Company had cleared Airfield No. 2 of Japanese mines, and Seabee engineers had made the renamed Central Airfield operational. Its resurfaced 9,800-foot main runway provided a convenient launching pad for Tokyo-bound B-29s. Perhaps more importantly, returning Superfortress crews had a new lifeline—some 2,400 of the big bombers would set down on Iwo by war’s end. A ERIC ETHIER, a historian and freelance writer based in Attleboro, Massachusetts, is a contributing editor of America in WWII. APRIL 2012
AMERICA IN WWII 35
70 years ago, Colonel Jimmy Doolittle and his 79 men flew a daredevil first raid on Japan. Today, children of the raiders share stories their fathers told. by Susan Zimmerman
by Susan Zimmerman
DECEMBER 7, 1941, American morale was devastatingly low. President Franklin D. Roosevelt put the word out to his Joint Chiefs of Staff: Avenge Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, fast. One hundred and thirty-one days later a cutting-edge air raid settled the score by sending 16 North American B-25B Mitchell medium bombers with five-man crews to firebomb Tokyo and other Japanese industrial centers. The assault led by Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle did minimal damage, but it shattered Japan’s peace of mind and lifted Americans’ shellshocked spirits. Roosevelt’s mission was accomplished with flying colors. The April 18, 1942, raid changed the mood of the nation. And America never forgot. WO WEEKS AFTER
LEWIS’S FATHER, Master Sergeant Robert Clark Bourgeois of New Orleans, was the bombardier in the 13th plane to take off from the Hornet, a B-25B christened The Avenger. Despite heavy anti-aircraft fire, the crew dropped one incendiary and three demolition bombs from 1,300 feet at 200 miles per hour, successfully hitting a targeted naval base. All five men safely bailed out and only one man was injured in the landing. ARBARA
When it came time for Bourgeois to drop the bombs, he declined to use the homemade “twenty-cent bombsight” that had replaced the top-secret Norden bombsight on this risky mission (to prevent the Norden from falling into enemy hands). Instead, he used his shoelaces to get a bead on his target. Lewis vividly recalled the stories her dad told about this “off-the-radar” bombsight—and about a gutsy air maneuver his crew used to escape Japan, and how he knew he would make it back home: My father told me he tied his shoestrings together, put his knees up to his chest to steady his eyes, then looked directly into the center of where his shoestrings were and dropped his bombs over Yokosuka Naval Base. And it worked—everything was destroyed on the dock. Then as Dad’s crew headed for China, they ran into a task force of about 25 Japanese warships. When the men realized the ships were running parallel to each other, they all agreed their only chance would be to fly right down the middle. They banked that the Japanese wouldn’t shoot on each other. So the pilot flew down the center and they got away, but the ride was far from over. As they flew along the coast there was a cloud cover, a 100-mile-an-hour tailwind, and they had lost their instrument panel, so they didn’t know where they were. Still Dad said they felt safe because they were together. He told me he wasn’t nervous when they bombed Japan or when they had their run-in with the warships, but what upset him most was bailing out because no one knew if they’d make it. When the time came for Dad to jump, it was night and it was raining. The crew thought they were over the China Sea, so they kept looking for the phosphorous on the water [flares] but they never found it. So Dad said, “This is a hell of a note: We completed our mission, we bombed Japan, and now we are going to be dinner for some shark in the China Sea.” But the sharks didn’t get them. The tailwind had pushed the plane 100 miles inland.
Previous spread: Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle and Admiral Marc Mitscher (front, left and right, respectively) stand on the deck of Mitscher’s USS Hornet (CV-8) as it sets out toward Japan. With them are the fliers of Doolittle’s raiding party, on their way to raid Tokyo in B-25B Mitchell bombers launched from the Hornet’s deck. Doolittle is holding five Japanese medals bestowed on US military personnel before the war began as tokens of Japanese-American friendship. Above: In a defiant, morale-building gesture, Doolittle wires the medals to bombs destined for Japan. Opposite: A plane of Doolittle’s raiding party takes off from the Hornet for Tokyo on April 18, 1942. 38 AMERICA IN WWII
LEFT & PREVIOUS SPREAD: NATIONAL ARCHIVES. OPPOSITE: US AIR FORCE
After almost 70 years, the Doolittle Raid, as it became known, still ranks as one of World War II’s greatest military achievements. This first joint action between the US Army Air Forces and the US Navy was groundbreaking—from the operation’s origins, to the launch of medium-sized bombers off an aircraft carrier, to the brazen daylight bombing of Japan. The stories of this legendary mission have continued to fly through the ages, stories about how 79 twenty-something-year-olds and their revered 45year-old leader took off from the deck of the carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) on what seemed destined to be a flight of no return. Discovery of the mission by a Japanese picket boat led to an unexpected early launch, and the resulting lack of sufficient fuel to cover the extra distance (650 rather than 480 nautical miles) changed the playing field. Although the crews successfully dropped their bombs, all the planes were lost in the raid’s aftermath (15 from bailouts and crash landings over China and one that landed in Russia). Against all odds, 73 men came home. Throughout the decades, scores of books have documented the daring operation. But the Doolittle Raiders’ sons and daughters heard other stories, accounts that went beyond the borders of a page, personal recollections that were windows into the courage and ingenuity of their hero fathers. The raid will always be the story of a lifetime for the raiders’ families. Some of the raiders’ sons and daughters recently shared with me the stories their fathers told them.
Dad had never bailed out [before] but he was told to count to 10 and pull the ripcord, so he did—he counted 5, 10, then pulled. Well, they all ended up landing in a rice paddy, so they didn’t break all their bones. Then, within a few days, the crew was rescued by Chinese guerilla forces and taken to a girls’ mission. One of the nuns there was Sister Celena, who’d come from New Orleans, and when she served my dad red beans and rice, he knew he’d make it home to New Orleans.
HITE KNOWS HIS FATHER was very lucky to have survived the raid. Lieutenant Robert L. Hite (one of five raiders still living) was the co-pilot of Bat Out of Hell, the 16th and last B-25 to take off from the Hornet. Hite’s plane successfully bombed oil storage tanks and an aircraft factory, but low fuel forced the crew to bail out close to enemy lines. All five men, along with three crew members from the sixth plane (The Green Hornet, whose other two crewmen had drowned), were captured by the Japanese. Hite was one of only four of those eight men to survive the subsequent 40 months of brutal treatment, mostly in solitary confinement. Three of the other men were executed, and one died in capALLACE
tivity. Hite’s fate was closely intertwined with that of crewmate Corporal Jacob “Jake” DeShazer, Bat out of Hell’s bombardier, who was held in a neighboring cell. Hite’s son recounted his dad’s story of how the two men used the “shave and a haircut” knock to communicate secretly: Every day my dad woke up, he didn’t know if he would be executed or if he would live. Every day the Japanese kept that hanging over his head, and I think probably that was the hardest thing for him to deal with, other than that he was tortured, beat, slapped, or kicked every day. Really, it was amazing that any of them survived. Hite recalled how his dad told him that he and DeShazer had to signal to each other nonverbally, because the guards didn’t want them to speak. When one guy knocked on the wall, “shave and a haircut,” the other would answer “two bits,” which meant it was time to meet at the banjo [their common toilet]. Since this spot was out of earshot of the guards, they would put their heads down there and talk. But one time Dad knocked on the wall and there was no answer from Jake’s side. He knew Jake was in his cell, so he kept “calling” off and on all day. The next day there was all kinds of APRIL 2012
AMERICA IN WWII 39
US AIR FORCE
US AIR FORCE
US AIR FORCE
US AIR FORCE. INSET: NATIONAL ARCHIVES
commotion in Jake’s cell and Dad was really concerned something had happened to him. Later the next day Jake finally knocked on the wall “shave and a haircut” and Dad hit “two bits” and that’s when Jake told him he had been praying. The commotion Hite heard that day was the guards beating DeShazer as he knelt down to pray. DeShazer’s ability to find solace in religion helped him endure his captors’ cruelty. For the next three and a half years, his life was filled with pain, but during the three-week period when he was allowed to read the Bible, he found the will to live and resolved to become a devout Christian. DeShazer’s daughter Carol Aiko Deshazer Dixon recalls her father telling how he was determined to fly the raid despite the hole that had developed in his plane’s turret during the 16-day
voyage aboard the Hornet. Dixon also remembered his story about the religious turning point that enabled him to survive his horrific imprisonment. My dad’s plane was last in line on the Hornet’s deck, and at some point during the rough seas en route to Japan, his plane hit the one in front, which put a hole in the turret (where he would sit as bombardier). Dad told me his biggest worry after he discovered the hole was to make sure the plane wasn’t scrapped from the mission, so he waited until they were in the air before he told the pilot. After that Dad and Bobby Hite tried to plug the hole with their coats (which kept flying out). Once they finished bombing, the plane ran out of gas and the crew parachuted over occupied China, where they were all captured the next day. Most of Dad’s confinement was in solitary, so he had a lot of time to think. He told me how he had a lot of
The Doolittle Raiders shook Japan’s confidence less than five months after Pearl Harbor. Today, their children share stories their fathers told them. Above, numbered, raiders whose stories are in this article: 1. Master Sergeant Robert Bourgeois (back row, center; also on opening spread, second man to the right, diagonally, from Mitscher); 2. Corporal Jacob DeShazer (back row, center) and Lieutenant Robert Hite (front row, right); 3. Lieutenant Thomas Griffin (back row, far left; also on opening spread between Bourgeois and Mitscher); and 4. Captain Edward York (front row, left) and Lieutenant Robert Emmens (front row, right). Above, inset: Captured by the Japanese in China, Hite is led away blindfolded. 40 AMERICA IN WWII
regrets and wished for another chance in life. Then, when Robert Meder (from plane six) died, the emperor told the guards to treat the prisoners better, so they were given a few more baths and some reading material, which included a Bible. When Dad got ahold of that book, he told me, he decided to find out what it was all about. He only had it for three weeks, but Dad memorized the scripture and the Lord really spoke to him. Some time after that he came so close to death that he thought maybe the best thing to do was die rather than stay on earth and suffer. But then he asked if the Lord would save his life and give him a second chance, he would go back to Japan as a missionary. Dad really felt like his life was spared, so after he returned home, he went to Seattle Pacific College, met and married my mother, and then in 1948 the two of them went to Japan as missionaries and stayed there for 30 years. During that time he met Mitsuo Fuchida, the man who led the [first wave of the air] attack on Pearl Harbor and who later became a Christian under my dad’s ministry. When my father died, even the Wall Street Journal wrote, “It is one of life’s safer bets that he is resting in peace.”
by Susan Zimmerman
a lot of indicators that made me conclude it was a planned diversion to Russia. They included things like he and pilot Ski York [Captain Edward J. York] being on the flight at the last minute without having gone through any training. [The other men selected for the mission had spent three intensive weeks honing their carrier take-off skills at Florida’s Eglin Field, where the B-25s’ carburetors were adjusted in the meantime so the planes could fly the 2,000mile mission without refueling.] My dad never went to Eglin and the carburetors on his airplane had not been tuned correctly for the long-range flight. There were other men who had gone through the training that were aboard the Hornet and who could have been used to go on the raid. I don’t think anyone is ever going to find why my Dad really landed in Russia. Maybe there’s a paper somewhere in the military archives, but so far no one has come across it.
THOMAS C. GRIFFIN, one of the five Doolittle Raiders still living today, was the navigator on Whirling Dervish, the ninth plane to take off from the Hornet. After his crew bombed the Tokyo Gas and Electric Company, the plane headed for China, where the men bailed out in the dark and rain. Only one crew member was injured. Almost 70 ICHAEL E MMENS ’ S FATHER , First Lieutenant years later, Griffin’s son John is still incredulous Robert G. Emmens, was copilot of the about his dad’s survival on a most unforgiveighth plane to take off from the Hornet. Due ing mission. to high fuel consumption and a malfuncDad’s own bail-out was something his tioning top gun turret, the pilot landed the progeny would not want to know about, plane 40 miles north of Vladivostok, at least until they were grown. He told Russia. He hoped to refuel and fly on to me he was in a storm and the high China, but instead, Soviets confiscated winds were buffeting him about and the plane and interned the fliers in that his chute was collapsing. Russia for 13 months. The men finally Fortunately, he got below those winds, escaped into Persia (now Iran) and the chute stayed open, and the next returned home in May 1943. thing he knew bamboo leaves were The Doolittle Raid’s original plan had brushing his cheek and he came to as soft called for the planes to land in Russia. But a landing as you could ever imagine. After the Soviets, who were not at war with that, Dad said, he unbuckled his harness and Japan, made it clear they did not want the just walked out. Americans to use their fields. Russia was off limThe very idea that these planes flew over Japan, its, the raider crews were told. All the planes adhered reached China—that none of the men to this decision except the eighth plane Discovered by the Japanese, the raid launched early; had ever jumped out of an airplane to take off from the Hornet. The reathe fliers knew they’d run out of fuel before reaching and that there was so little loss of life son for this landing has perplexed safety. Such deeds made the raiders legends. But their was just amazing. If you wrote this many, especially Emmens’s son. children knew them as real human beings. story for a screenplay, Hollywood proMy dad died before I became aware ducers would say, “That is so much hot air. No one is going to of the mystery and the controversy surrounding the only plane believe that. It’s just not reasonable.” But Doolittle said it could that landed in Russia. He spent his whole life in military intellibe done. He showed it could be done. So they knew it could be gence, and if he was told at one time not to reveal whether they done. These guys were world-beaters. A went there intentionally, he would not have revealed it to me even if I had asked him. The only thing my dad ever said to me which might have been SUSAN ZIMMERMAN is a freelance writer based in St. Louis, Misa breach of confidentiality happened in the late 1980s in Medford, souri. She interviewed sons and daughters of Doolittle Raiders at Oregon. He was reading an article about an arms cache found in the 69th reunion of the surviving raiders in Omaha, Nebraska, in Austria in some farmer’s hillside, and he said, I remember burying April 2011. The five living Doolittle Raiders are RICHARD E. COLE, that. Then he told me that one of the things he did as a military THOMAS C. GRIFFIN, ROBERT L. HITE, EDWARD JOSEPH SAYLOR, and attaché in Austria in the 1950s was to take arms caches and bury DAVID J. THATCHER. The 70th reunion will be at the National them around Europe. Museum of the US Air Force, at Ohio’s Wright Patterson Air Force There were a lot of mysteries surrounding my dad’s crew, but also Base, this April. AJOR
AMERICA IN WWII 41
World-class skiers take up rifles and train to battle Nazis in Europe’s snowy heights with the 10th Mountain Division. by Joe Razes
DECEMBER 1944 and the Allied campaign to push Adolf Hitler’s forces out of Italy had stalled. Using forced Italian labor, German engineers had constructed a series of defensive lines collectively referred to by mapmakers as the Winter Line. Spanning Italy from coast to coast, the lines crisscrossed the Apennine Mountain range that ran down the center of the Italian Peninsula. Italy’s mountain peaks bristled with strategically placed gun pits, concrete bunkers, turreted machine-gun emplacements, and barbed wire. From their lofty positions, the German troops had a commanding view of the surrounding countryside and could spot even the smallest Allied troop activity. In January 1945, Major General George P. Hays, commander of the 10th Mountain Division, met with Lieutenant General Lucian Truscott, commander of the Fifth Army, to discuss strategy for a breakthrough. Truscott’s 27 Allied divisions were exhausted from continuous fighting for the high ground held by 33 Axis divisions. The Fifth Army had covered just 315 miles in 365 grueling days. Heavily fortified Mount Belvedere was the obstacle that had to be overcome in order to defeat the Germans. Three times Allied forces had fought to take the mountain, even holding it temporarily. But each time they had been driven back. Hays knew that every defensive mountain position—even Mount Belvedere— had a linchpin, a strong point on which the whole line depended. If that strong point were breached, the entire line would collapse like a row of dominos. He even had an answer to Truscott’s concerns about another assault on Mount Belvedere. “The Germans can’t shoot what they can’t see,” he said. Hays then proposed using troops to climb the stronghold at night and attack the Germans. Hays’s own 10th Mountain Division, a fresh unit that had just completed three years of high mountain training, would spearhead the attack. T WAS
42 AMERICA IN WWII
OPPOSITE: NATIONAL ARCHIVES
At the 10th Mountain Division training center in Camp Hale, Colorado, with an army dog at his side, camouflaged Private Adolf Gruenfeld of Chicago strikes a pose with his pistol—a pose that looks as though it could have influenced the filmmakers who brought James Bond to the silver screen two decades later.
M O U N TA I N M E N The 10th Mountain Division’s story predated America’s entry into World War II. In the winter of 1939, with hostilities escalating in Europe, Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole, president of the National Ski Patrol, was impressed by the success of Finnish troops battling the Russian invasion that had begun that November. Though vastly outmanned and outgunned, the Finns, traveling on skis, outmaneuvered and ambushed Russian troops, attacking the invaders with machine guns and Molotov cocktails. Then they would race through the woods, change to ice skates, and escape on frozen rivers. Dole saw this as a good example of why the US Army needed mountain troops. Men stationed at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and elsewhere in the States had received specialized winter training, yet no large-scale maneuvers had taken place. Dole spent months lobbying the War Department to train troops in mountain warfare and even wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt offering the National Ski Patrol’s services to help create a US Army ski unit.
for training at Fort Lewis in Washington state. The new unit— which would expand to become the 10th Mountain Division— would be activated the next year, on November 15, 1941. Twentytwo days later, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor thrust America into war. Because the army knew little about skiing, it authorized the National Ski Patrol to do the recruiting. It was the first time this duty was entrusted to a civilian organization. Working from a small recruitment office in New York City, Ski Patrol members quickly went to work, and as word spread that the army was forming its first-ever mountain unit, dozens of the best skiers in the world applied. Many European skiers had barely eluded Nazi imprisonment and had come to America eager to help free their home countries from the German oppressors. Army ski troop volunteers included Austrians Ludwig “Luggi” Foeger, an internationally known ski jumper, and Ernst Engel, who became a Cornell University ski coach. Probably the most famous recruit was Norwegian skier Torger Tokle, who had escaped to America in 1939. Tokle had won 42 ski-jumping championships, setting world records in the process. Swiss volunteers included world champion Walter Prager, who coached Dartmouth’s ski team, and Peter Gabriel, a ski instructor and expedition leader. Germanborn Friedl Pfeifer, future Olympic coach and founder of the ski resort industry in Aspen, Colorado, also enlisted. The Mountain Division became the largest volunteer fighting force in World War II— and an army division unlike any other. Volunteers included men from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and included outdoorsmen, European professionals, college athletes, and small-town locals. Because skiing was an expensive sport often enjoyed by the wealthy, volunteers included the son of the Lea and Perrins Spice Company’s president and heirs to the Funk and Wagnalls Publishing Company and Glidden Paints. The enlistment of so many notable figures provided a public relations bonanza for the army’s public affairs office, and the division became one of the most celebrated units in the army. News articles boasted of the troops’ prowess, and accompanying photographs depicted rugged soldiers with skis, dressed in white tunics, perched on craggy mountain slopes. A Denver Post article was headlined “None But Real Men Need Apply.” America’s mountain troops were touted as having a unique blend of survival skills, confidence, and spirited patriotism—the sort of things a jittery American public worried by war was glad to hear. In May 1941, the War Department formed the Mountain Training Center at Fort Lewis to develop procedures and manuals,
Above: The commander of the 10th Mountain Division, Major General George P. Hays (standing next to the dog), gets the lay of the land from the high ground in an unidentified location in Europe, probably in Italy. Opposite: The last two of a group of 10th Mountain Division soldiers to finish an obstacle course approach the goal of their climb at Camp Hale (buildings of which are visible in the background). The arrow to the right of the lower man marks the hiking path to follow back down. 44 AMERICA IN WWII
LEFT: DENVER PUBLIC LIBRARY. OPPOSITE: NATIONAL ARCHIVES
AMERICAN STRATEGISTS argued against defenses using specialized units trained for narrow purposes. Instead, they proposed using standard divisions that could fight anywhere. The January 20, 1941, issue of Life magazine, which featured soldiers conducting mountain maneuvers, stated flatly, “The Army has no intention of creating an army on skis.” Lieutenant General Leslie James, who directed all ground troops in the continental United States, announced that there would be no mountain troops. A unit that relied on pack mules for transportation could not succeed against highly mechanized German forces, he remarked. Minnie Dole’s persistence in promoting America’s preparedness for fighting an alpine war paid off. In a September 1940 meeting with General George C. Marshall, the army chief of staff, Dole argued that although half of North America was blanketed by winter snows, American troops, who were trained mostly in the South, never experienced mountainous terrain or deep snow. Given that Germany was expanding its war effort, America could soon be a target, with an invasion of Alaska or New England. He further argued that the Germans maintained several mountain divisions and were increasing their number, while America had none. Dole followed up on his meeting with Marshall with a letter outlining his argument and copied Roosevelt and War Secretary Henry Stimson, a longstanding member of the Alpine Ski Club. Less than a month after Dole’s meeting, the War Department agreed to activate the 1st Battalion of the 87th Infantry Regiment ANY
by Joe Razes
test equipment, and conduct mountain warfare training. One hundred members of the newly formed mountain unit were assigned to the training. The National Ski Patrol continued to provide expertise, and the Alpine Ski Club undertook the task of translating as many European ski manuals from military archives and private collections as it could find. This information was supplemented by interviews with veteran European mountain soldiers. Trainees were outfitted with waterproof boots, or shoepacs, with removable insoles for quick drying, and crampons, toothy steal cleats that could be fastened to the underside of boots for travel on icy surfaces. Clothing included woolen underwear and socks, windproof pants, and canvas gators to keep snow out of pant legs. Body heat was preserved more efficiently with layers of wool clothing and an outer windproof shell, rather than a single thick jacket. Mittens were designed to allow a soldier’s trigger finger to fire a weapon. The soldiers’ alpine gear included tapered sleeping bags with hoods and liners that could be drawn over the head. Gas-burning stoves were a must, as were high-mountain tents. Manila rope for mountaineering was no longer available, due to the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. The DuPont Company filled that void by supplying rope made of a newly developed material called nylon. Mechanized snow vehicles were still being perfected; in the meantime, mules were the mountain transport of choice. A 1,300-pound howitzer could be broken down, packed on six mules, and carried over terrain where no machine could go. Mules were less likely to be spooked by gunfire and bursting shells than horses were. The fast-growing mountain force soon outgrew its Fort Lewis training facility. The search for a larger military post with heavy snowfalls and mountainous terrain led to the selection of a site in Colorado. The location, accessible by both rail and road, was named Camp Hale, in honor of the late Brigadier General Irving Hale, a SpanishAmerican War veteran. At Camp Hale, the mountain unit was designated as the 10th Light Division (Alpine) in July 1943 and in November 1944 was redesignated the 10th Mountain Division. In addition to housing the division’s 14,000 members, Camp Hale housed the Mountain Training Center, 200 Women Army Corps members, and a
by Joe Razes
German POW camp. The number of European-born troops at Camp Hale numbered close to 500, and a priority for them was to attain their US citizenship. Fellow recruits wrote character references and letters of recommendation to the Federal Immigration and Naturalization Service to make this happen. With so many free-spirited skiers at Camp Hale, tensions inevitably arose between enlistees and their officer instructors. Most of the military instructors knew little about skiing or mountaineering. Many considered the new recruits prima donnas with little regard for the chain of command. In turn, experienced alpine recruits expressed frustration with their instructors, who were reluctant to accept suggestions for improving training methods.
O ASSERT THEIR AUTHORITY, the instructors conducted a series of harsh and controversial training maneuvers that effectively demoralized the enlisted men. One extreme training exercise brought tensions to a critical point. Known as the Homestake Maneuvers (after the 12,000-foot mountain range where the maneuvers took place), the exercise subjected more than 1,000 men to two weeks of blizzard conditions, with temperatures dipping to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Loaded down with 90-pound backpacks and 10-pound rifles, the men were marched at a pace of 106 steps per minute, a speed difficult to maintain even for those in the best physical condition. When a man lost his footing, he had to unstrap himself from his heavy backpack in order to right himself. Newer recruits who had just arrived from lower elevations suffered disproportionately, because they were not yet acclimated to high altitudes. Trainees endured the hardship of sleeping out in the cold with frozen feet, while their instructors slept in the relative comfort of tents. The Homestake Maneuvers were dubbed the “retreat from Moscow.” A quarter of the men suffered frostbite and extreme exhaustion. A critical report of the operation was sent to Major General Lesley McNair, chief of ground forces. McNair was displeased with the Homestake exercise, and with the overall training provided at Camp Hale. Soon, the Mountain Training Center had a new commander. The 10th Division’s first deployment came in the summer of 1943, to the island of Kiska in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska’s
Opposite: Privates Sepp Froelich (left) of Sun Valley, Idaho, and Edward Tenney, Jr., of Gorham, New Hampshire, eat rations outside a tent at Camp Hale. It’s no coincidence these recruits of a division of ski troops come from hometowns with ski resorts. Above, top: Members of Company C of the 85th Infantry, 10th Mountain Division, are outfitted with the essential transportation equipment of mountain troops—skis and snow shoes. Above, middle: The bayonets in the shoulder patch of the 10th Mountain Division form the Roman Numeral X to represent the unit’s number designation. Above, bottom: Ski soldiers practice firing their rifles on a range at Fort Lewis in Washington state. APRIL 2012
AMERICA IN WWII 47
PHOTOS LEFT: DENVER PUBLIC LIBRARY. PATCH COURTESY OF THE RAMKAS COLLECTION
OPPOSITE: NATIONAL ARCHIVES
M O U N TA I N M E N
Soldiers of the US Fifth Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Mark Clark, advance to face enemy forces that 10th Mountain Division troops had forced out of heights in the background here in Italy. Troops of the 10th, meanwhile, continue to occupy the captured high ground.
JAPANESE, MEANWHILE, slipped off Kiska unnoticed. Unaware of this, an American force that included 10th Division troops landed on the island on August 15, 1943, and began combing the island for the invaders. All-engulfing fog made maps useless, and in the confusion of war, soldiers mistook their own as the enemy. Twenty-five 10th Division men were felled by friendly fire. The division returned to Camp Hale, where training continued through 1944. On November 6, the unit officially became the 10th Mountain Division. The division’s biggest challenge came in 1945, when it was sent to help dislodge German forces from Italy. Unexpectedly, the division would have to fight without its specialized equipment, even its skis. Most of the unit’s gear sat stranded in Boston, awaiting shipment. Three years of perfecting equipment were for naught. HE
48 AMERICA IN WWII
But the mountain troops were resourceful. They obtained some equipment from local Italian ski clubs, and once fighting started, they scavenged equipment from dead and wounded Germans. Military planners hoped the 10th Mountain Division would be the catalyst to break German defenses, which had seemingly refused to crack. Men on the front line shared the joke that “Jerry’s retreating, all right, but he’s taking the last ridge back with him.” Journalist Eric Sevareid wrote in The Nation that “[German Field Marshall Albert] Kesselring, on a very small budget, has done a masterful job in making a primary Allied force pay bitterly for every dubious mile of a secondary battlefield.” Mount Belvedere, the highest peak in a string of mountains that included Mount Gorgolesco and Mount della Torraccia, was strategically important and was the Winter Line’s most heavily fortified position. Weapons on Belvedere’s ridgelines had been installed under direction of the Todt Organization, a governmentprivate partnership founded by Dr. Fritz Todt, designer of Germany’s autobahn highway system prior to the war. Hundreds of concrete pillboxes dotted the hillsides, with 88mm artillery, mortars, and machine guns providing firepower. Valley approaches to the summit were strewn with landmines. Belvedere’s German artillery overlooked Highway 64, the only north-south route to
coast. The Japanese had invaded the islands of Attu and Kiska a year earlier. Several months later the US Army cleared Attu of Japanese forces, but the victory was costly, and as many soldiers suffered from frostbite and trench foot due to inadequate winter clothing as from enemy fire. Learning its lesson, the army decided to deploy a task force from the 10th Division, trained in surviving alpine conditions, to spearhead the Kiska offensive.
M O U N TA I N M E N
by Joe Razes
making the crossing under fire in 50 light canvas assault boats. the German-occupied Po River Valley, a vital industrial and agriThe division’s final combat of the war occurred near Lake Garda, cultural region. in the foothills of the Alps. The first troops reached the lake’s Protecting Mount Belvedere was Riva Ridge, containing a series south end on April 27, 1945, cutting off the German army’s main of peaks and limestone outcroppings that hid German observation escape route to the Brenner Pass (a pass through the Alps between posts and artillery positioned so that each had visual contact with Italy and Austria) and eventually capturing the towns of Riva and the others. This enabled German machine-gunners to cover one Tarbole at the head of the lake. Organized resistance in Italy another and to fire straight down so attackers would be unable to ended on May 2, 1945, with Germany’s unconditional surrender. get below the line of fire. Gently sloping terrain behind the German lines offered easy access for trucks bringing supplies from the towns of Sestola and Fanano. HE 10TH MOUNTAIN DIVISION’S CONTRIBUTION had resulted To overcome Mount Belvedere, the 10th Mountain Division in the destruction of five elite German divisions, but at a would first have to take Riva Ridge. The attackers would need to price. In 114 days of combat, 992 men of the 10th use several routes, including one that required a 1,500-foot Mountain were killed in action and 4,154 vertical ascent. German forces considwere wounded. The division had suffered ered Riva Ridge impossible to scale, so one of the highest monthly casualty rates of they manned it with a single battalion. any unit in the Italian campaign. Division Under cover of darkness on February soldiers were awarded one Medal of Honor 18, 1945, the 10th Mountain began its (to Private First Class John D. Magrath, attack. Powerful anti-aircraft searchkilled in action on April 14, 1945), three lights were trained on ridge tops, blindDistinguished Service Crosses, one Distining the Germans while keeping the guished Service Medal, 449 Silver Stars, advancing Americans hidden in darkseven Legion of Merit medals, 15 Soldier’s ness. Using steel mountain-climbing Medals, and 7,729 Bronze Stars. spikes called pitons—muffled to reduce Shipped back to the States, the 10th noise when hammered into the ridge’s Mountain began training for its next rock face—troops scaled the treacherous combat deployment: Operation Downcliffs and successfully attacked the surfall, the dreaded invasion of Japan. But prised Germans. when Japan’s surrender came that With the Allies gaining control, 10th August, the 10th was spared. Ordered to Division troops successfully constructed a Camp Carson, Colorado, the division 1,500-foot aerial tramway from Mount was deactivated on November 30, 1945. Cappel Buso, a ridge-top in the Riva Ridge (It would be reactivated in 1948 until mountain chain, to the valley below. The 1958, and in February 1985. The divitramway enabled speedy transport of sion is currently deployed in Afammunition to the top, evacuation of the ghanistan.) wounded, and a way to resupply the troops Veterans of the 10th Mountain at the top with food and water. Division were largely responsible for On February 19, the Riva Ridge attack the development of skiing as a popular was in progress and 10th Mountain troops postwar sport. They built ski lodges, Adding in Camp Hale’s 10,000-foot elevation, moved into position for their nighttime designed slopes and lifts, and Sergeant Timothy Prout of Summit, New Jersey, assault on Mount Belvedere. Once again, improved equipment. Some started ski is two miles above sea level as he navigates a rock blinding searchlights were trained on the magazines, opened ski schools, and face during training. His backpack is stuffed full ridges above. Artillery fire covered the helped develop destination resorts, to a weight of 50 pounds. attack. After five days of brutal fighting including Vail, Aspen, Sugarbush, that included hand-to-hand combat, the peak was captured. Crystal Mountain, and Whiteface Mountain. Realizing its importance, the Germans made seven counteratIn 1988, 10th Mountain veterans helped create the Intertacks over two days. The 10th repelled each one, capturing more national Federation of Mountain Soldiers, dedicated to world than 1,000 prisoners. peace. And on February 18, 1995, 50 years after their assault on The 10th Mountain Division was now in a position to breach Riva Ridge, 10th Mountain veterans reenacted the Riva Ridge the German-held Mount Cappel Buso range, the last line of the climb together with German and Italian mountain soldiers and Apennines. This would clear Highway 64, opening a pathway to dedicated an international peace trail there. A the Po Valley. On April 14, 1945, the 10th Mountain Division began spearheading the Fifth Army’s successful drive over Mount JOE RAZES of Columbia, Maryland, a contributing editor of America Cappel and set its sights on the Po Valley. in WWII, has written for the magazine about pigeons in combat, The 10th Mountain was the first unit to cross the Po River, D-day practice in the Chesapeake Bay, and other subjects. ES NATIONAL ARCHIV
AMERICA IN WWII 49
government A war time Nebraska teen remembers moving to Washington, DC, living in cramped dorms, working long hours typing for the FBI, and dating the occasional fresh GI. by Melissa Amateis Marsh
by Melissa Amateis Marsh
MARY LOU KERST’S FIRST NIGHT IN WASHINGTON, DC. The fresh-faced 18-year-old had traveled a long way from her home in Crete, Nebraska, to do wartime government work in the nation’s capital, and now she was in for a warm welcome—of sorts. “We were just getting ready to fall asleep when my roommate, Donna Feeken, said, ‘Something’s biting me,’” Kerst recalled. “I thought it might be bedbugs.” It wasn’t. The bed was on fire! T WAS
Washington for two months and had her own accommodations. She invited Kerst to be her roommate. The apartment—that small room where the bed caught fire—was a third-floor kitchenette above the Hecht Department Store on the corner of 7th and F streets in downtown DC. Not every new arrival was as fortunate as Kerst. The sudden influx of wartime federal workers—including thousands upon thousands of “government girls” like Kerst and Feeken—created a citywide housing crisis, and the capital was bursting at the seams. It wasn’t uncommon for four or five government girls to be crammed into one apartment, forced to sleep in shifts in the limited number of beds. City homeowners were encouraged to rent out extra rooms, though some of them took advantage of the situation and charged exorbitant prices. The general housing predicament spawned a popular joke: A man crossing the Fourteenth Street bridge looked down into the Potomac and saw another man drowning. “What’s your name and address?” he shouted to him and then ran off to see the drowning man’s landlord. He asked to rent the now-vacant room and was told it was already taken. “But I just left him drowning in the river,” he protested. “That’s right,” the landlord replied, “but the man who pushed him in got here first.” Not having to worry about housing left Kerst free to focus on her new job. On January 7, the day after her arrival (and the fire), she walked to the Justice Department and reported to Room 5517 for work. She was assigned to a typing pool on the graveyard shift—11 P.M. to 7 A.M.—and with that she became part of the great army of typists necessary to keep the administration of the war moving. According to journalist and wartime DC resident David Brinkley, all that typing “created more records in the four years of the war than in [the federal government’s] entire previous history.” All that typing, and all those typists, also led to a shortage of typewriters, especially because the diversion of raw materials to war production meant no new typewriters were being made. In mid1942, the Office of War Information started a typewriter drive to round up spare machines. Radio stations aired the catchy slogan “An idle typewriter is a help to Hitler.” Several movie stars, includ-
Previous spread: Mary Lou Kerst cleans her typewriter in this photo of her as secretary to the FBI Identification Division’s personnel director in Washington, DC. Above: Secretaries of all types were crucial to keeping the administration of the war flowing in Washington. This government recruiting poster urges stenographers to put their skills to work in the employ of Uncle Sam. Opposite: Kerst (left) and her roommate in Washington, Donna Feeken, sit in front of the Jefferson Memorial. The young women had been high school classmates in Crete, Nebraska. 52 AMERICA IN WWII
ALL PHOTOS THIS STORY COURTESY OF MARY LOU KERST. POSTER, LEFT: US CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION
Clad only in pajamas, the two young women grabbed the flaming mattress and pulled it out of the room. They dragged it all the way down the hall to the only bathroom on the floor, heaved it into the bathtub, and turned on the water full blast. The fire went out and all was well. The cause of the blaze? The tip of the bed sheet had accidentally been shoved into the electrical outlet along with the lamp plug. The incident inspired an elderly man who boarded on the same floor to write a poem. He titled it “Ode to the Fire.” Kerst was relatively unfazed by the burning bed incident. After all, she was an adventurer; Washington, DC, was an awfully long way from home. Her Washington adventure had started back in December 1942, when she accompanied her father to a business meeting in Omaha. While she waited in a lobby, an officiallooking man approached and asked whether she was waiting to interview for a job with the FBI in DC. Without a moment’s hesitation she replied “Yes!” If Kerst could impress the man and land the job, she could serve her country in wartime, following in the footsteps of her father, Louis. An ambulance driver in the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I, he had been wounded at the 1918 Battle of the Argonne Forest and had saved the lives of three other soldiers. He fully supported his daughter’s pursuit of the FBI job. “My dad was my best friend,” Kerst remembered, “and when the telegram arrived on December 17 announcing I’d gotten a job with the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, he was absolutely thrilled.” But not everyone in the Kerst family was sold on the idea. “My mother thought it was an awful long way to go and didn’t want me to leave before Christmas.” Mrs. Kerst got her wish. Her daughter stayed for Christmas and New Year’s before boarding the Burlington Zephyr in Lincoln, Nebraska, on January 4, 1943, carrying a cardboard suitcase packed with clothes and a pair of shoes. After a two-day trip that included a transfer to a troop train in Chicago, Kerst arrived at DC’s busy Union Station, where she met Donna Feeken. A high school classmate of Kerst’s, Feeken had been working in
ing Maureen O’Hara, used their celebrity status to aid the effort. Unfortunately, the campaign wasn’t much of a success. Civilians with typewriters weren’t too willing to give them up. Spare typewriters or not, the work continued, and for a newcomer like Kerst, it was tough. A sign that hung in her main office warned sternly that employees were “expected to work.” The words were underlined. There was to be no idle chit-chat, no radio in the background—just noses to the grindstone. Not everyone was cut out for the job. “Some of the girls couldn’t handle it, and they went back home,” Kerst said. But her own disciplined Catholic upbringing and strong work ethic made it easier for her. In fact, the job fascinated her. Using a Dictaphone to play back recordings, she transcribed reports from FBI field agents, a top-secret task that required her to take an oath not to breathe a word of the details to anyone. (To this day, she has kept her vow. “I still won’t talk about it,” she said with a smile.) For nearly four months, Kerst worked the night shift, heading to the office while most of Washington was heading to bed. Not once did she feel scared walking the mostly deserted sidewalks. “It was the middle of the night,” she recalled, “but hardly anyone was on the streets.” 54 AMERICA IN WWII
The streets were dark in those days. No neon signs flashed. The monuments were not lit up. Not even the welcoming light of the Capitol dome could be seen. It had been extinguished on December 9, 1941, to avoid giving the enemy a nighttime target, and it would remain so until Germany’s surrender. Like millions of other Americans, Kerst had blackout curtains on her windows. Air raid sirens were frequent—once or twice a week—but Kerst never experienced any fear. “I never, ever felt unsafe,” she said. The spring of 1943 brought a welcome change for Kerst: a move to the day shift. Then, after she passed spelling, typing, and shorthand tests, she became a secretary for an FBI agent in the Justice Department’s Identification Division, more commonly known as the Fingerprint Factory. Formed on July 1, 1924, the division started out with 25 employees and 810,188 fingerprints that were housed in the Hurley-Wright Building. By 1943, it had 4,000 employees and more than 70 million fingerprints. Originally, the prints were those of criminals. But with the war came a flood of prints from military personnel, war industry workers, immigrants, government employees, and others. By March 1943, space had become such an issue that the Identification Division temporarily moved to the District of
Columbia National Guard Armory. The card catalog and fingerprint files alone took up 80,000 square feet. A short history of the division published in 1943 boasted, “Its 400-foot length and 200foot width would make a regular football game easily possible, even allowing for some ambitious punting within the 90-foot ceiling.”
DIVISION wasn’t the only government department struggling to find space. “Government offices spilled into skating rinks, where the ice was melted and the floors covered with sawhorses and plywood desks,” David Brinkley wrote. “They poured into basketball arenas, theaters and auditoriums with the seats ripped out, into a concert hall once used for organ recitals, even into stables and tents.” Several temporary buildings went up, including the Department of the Navy’s structures around the National Mall. The government girls soon had some new buildings, too—special dormitories built along the Potomac River across from Arlington National Cemetery. Called Arlington Farms and nicknamed Girls Town, the government-funded residence consisted of dorm rooms, a cafeteria, shops, and a recreation area. Kerst and Feeken lived in another, less luxurious section of government women’s housing, Alcott Hall. “We had dorm rooms, a small breakfast room and a great room,” Kerst said. “That was it.” Unfortunately, not even the new dormitories seemed to ease Washington’s space problem. “I didn’t mind living in the dorms at first,” Kerst said, “but they were very crowded.” At least walking to work from the hall wasn’t a chore for Kerst and Feeken—not after winter had passed, anyway. Their route took them right past the memorials and the Tidal Basin, where the cherry trees erupted in blossoms each year. By now Kerst was keeping regular work hours of 8:00 to 5:00, though her workload didn’t diminish. She no longer worked with top-secret material, except for the occasional field report. She was now secretary to FBI agent Wade Bromwell, the Identification Division’s personnel supervisor. She dealt mostly with human resource projects. When not working, the government girls tried to make the most of their free time. Washington and its surrounds provided plenty of
by Melissa Amateis Marsh distractions. With the flood of sailors, soldiers, and marines into the capital, Kerst had no shortage of dates. Neither did anyone else. “It wasn’t about romance, not for me,” Kerst said. “We knew the boys had sweethearts at home. It was about companionship.” Friday nights at the movies—watching the Rockettes, RKO newsreels, and Bob Hope and Bing Crosby—were a favorite. “Sometimes a fellow would get fresh,” Kerst recalled, but it didn’t take more than a sharp reprimand to put him back on his best behavior. One of the more popular nights out was at the roller skating rink. Kerst learned to dance on skates at Maryland’s Glen Echo Park, the meeting place for the war-weary. It boasted an amusement park with a roller coaster, a lighted pool, and plenty of dancing—Kerst’s favorite thing to do. DC’s numerous night clubs (the Casino Royal was favorite), the American Legion Auxiliary, and even FBI-sponsored dances provided other opportunities for recreation. Kerst and a partner even won a jitterbug contest. During the hot, humid summers, visiting beaches in Virginia and Maryland was a must. On her way to join one such excursion, Kerst had a memorable meeting with the leaders of the free world. It was a gorgeous Sunday morning. After attending church at 6 A.M., Kerst and Feeken went to catch a bus to the Chesapeake Bay to go swimming and bask in the sun. While waiting to cross Pennsylvania Avenue, a motorcade approached from the direction of the White House. The two girls were shocked when the presidential limo pulled beside them. “The window rolled down and Winston Churchill stuck his head out!” Kerst recalled. “He said, ‘Good morning, ladies! What are you doing out so early in the morning?’ We told him our plans and he said he wished he could go with us as he loved to swim and enjoy the beach.” Another surprise followed. “Then President Roosevelt leaned around Mr. Churchill and said he wished he could come, too. What a thrill!” When the motorcade pulled away, the prime minister stuck out his arm and gave the girls his famous V for Victory sign. Kerst was lucky enough to meet the first lady, too. “Mrs. Roosevelt once invited FBI secretaries for tea at the White House,” Kerst said. “I remember I wore white gloves and a hat.”
Opposite, top: The FBI Identification Division—known as the Fingerprint Factory—outgrew its permanent home in the Hurley-Wright Building and temporarily moved operations and fingerprint files into the spacious National Guard Armory. Opposite, inset: FBI secretaries file fingerprint cards near the entrance door to the Identification Division’s temporary quarters. The division was overwhelmed with new fingerprints during the war as new cards arrived daily from expanding government offices and branches of the military. Above, top: Kerst stands with her boss, Wade Bromwell, personnel director of the Identification Division. Above, bottom: Secretaries were packed into the Identification Division’s quarters in the armory building almost wherever they could fit. APRIL 2012
AMERICA IN WWII 55
by Melissa Amateis Marsh
Opposite: An Identification Division secretary sorts through fingerprint files in the armory building. Above, left: Kerst (second from right) is out on the town with a group in Washington. Above, right: Kerst poses for a photo with a high school classmate at the Jefferson Memorial. When friends from home in Nebraska came to town, they invariably called Kerst to act as their guide.
Other celebrity encounters included Lucille Ball, Gene Kelly, and Frank Sinatra, though the meeting with Sinatra came after the war ended. “We were walking past the Lincoln Memorial when a limo pulled up and out he stepped,” Kerst said. “He smiled and said hello.” What Sinatra didn’t realize was that he’d already seen Kerst earlier the same day—well, at least Kerst had seen him. “He took a brief tour of the Justice Department building,” Kerst recalled. “[FBI Director J. Edgar] Hoover’s orders were not to acknowledge him. They were anything but friends.” Kerst and her fellow secretaries snuck a peek at the famous singer anyway. Sightseeing was another common leisure activity for government girls. When soldiers from Crete, Nebraska, ended up in town, they invariably called Kerst to act as their tour guide. She took them to the Smithsonian and the memorials. They climbed to the top of the Washington Monument, which was guarded by soldiers. (“I went back to Washington, DC, a few years ago,” Kerst said recently, “and I couldn’t believe that my roommate and I had walked to the top and back down again.”) During the peak of the war effort, in 1944 and 1945, leisure time was harder to come by. “We worked 60 hours a week, Monday through Saturday, 10 hours a day,” Kerst said. “Overtime pay was unheard of in those days.” A one-time reporter from the New York World coined what could have been a fitting slogan for the war’s government workers: “Exhaustion is not enough.” The frenetic pace of life in Washington, DC, halted abruptly on April 12, 1945, when the news of Franklin Roosevelt’s death broke. Kerst was at work when her boss took a phone call and announced “Our chief is dead.” She recalled, “At first, I thought he meant Mr. Hoover, but it was President Roosevelt. This was a shock to all of us who loved him. The mood in DC was very, very sad and solemn.” On Saturday, April 14, the president’s funeral cortege passed between Union Station and the White House. Both sides of the street were lined with mourners five rows deep. Flags flew at half-staff, and stores, theaters, and government offices were closed. The nation mourned, but work quickly resumed. Not quite a month later, on May 7, 1945, more big news came. This time it
was good news: Germany had surrendered! While New York City partied in Times Square, the streets of Washington were still. “We quietly celebrated but kept working,” Kerst recalled, “because we all knew we still had a job to do.”
A UGUST 1945, as Kerst and a friend were headed home from work, the streetcar in which they were riding suddenly stopped and everyone got off. Kerst followed the crowd. “We walked to the sidewalk in front of the White House, where President Truman, the first lady, and the first daughter came out on the front porch and announced, ‘The war with Japan is over!’” Celebration exploded. People danced in the streets and hugged and cried. For some, however, it was a time of sorrow. Kerst’s friend started to cry. “‘Why couldn’t this have happened before now?’ she told me,” Kerst recalled. “She had just received word that her brother who was in the navy had been killed. It was a very emotional time.” The war was over, but Kerst continued working for the FBI in Washington for another three years before heading home to Crete in December 1948. Back home, she got a job as a secretary at a bank. Not long afterward, she met a football player at Doane College named Erv Moorberg. They married in 1950. Kerst paid for the wedding by cashing the war bonds she had bought during the war. When Kerst (Moorberg) finally retired in December 1989, she received a phone call about part-time work as a secretary at Fonner Park, a horseracing track in Grand Island, Nebraska. She took the job, and as of late 2011 she was still working there—at age 86. That makes for almost 70 years of employment since 1943. But all those decades of accumulated work experience didn’t top the war years. “Many of my favorite memories are from the years I worked in Washington for the FBI,” she said. “I’m very proud to have done my small part for the war effort.” A
MELISSA AMATEIS MARSH of Lincoln, Nebraska, has a master’s degree in history from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and is a member of the Nebraska State Historical Society. She has contributed to several books and periodicals. APRIL 2012
AMERICA IN WWII 57
A BOOKS AND MEDIA
A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game that Rallied a Nation, by Randy Roberts, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 288 pages, $26.
from Charles Dickens, “it was the worst of times.” In America, if you were a professional or collegiate athlete or coach, the WWII years offered little career opportunity. Sports, in general, were deemphasized for the duration. Well-known baseball players entered the service, the military draft skimmed off almost all the male athletes from colleges, and even internationally famous pro-boxing champ Joe Louis went into the army. From the office of the president of the United States on down, the question was asked: what is the point of sport when the nation itself is fighting for its life? According to US Lieutenant General Douglas MacArthur and others, there was plenty of point to it. Sport taught competitive skills and a psychology of winning. At the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, where MacArthur had once been superintendent and had fostered the personal belief that he was the football team’s spiritual leader, the faculty and staff could only hope someone farther up the command chain would hear and share his O BORROW A LINE
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opinion. In the face of war’s demands, both West Point and the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, confronted the elimination of their football programs throughout the early 1940s. To army cadets, navy midshipmen, and the devoted alumni of both institutions, this posed something tantamount to a religious crisis. Randy Roberts has written an excellent sports book, A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game that Rallied a Nation. It tells the story of the building of the West Point football program in the war years and the national spectacle that was the Army-Navy football game of 1944, a sports matchup that captured the attention of the entire nation and its servicemen scattered around the globe. And it makes the reader care, no matter whether he is a sports lover, a history fan, or neither. Any story about challenge and adversity needs villains. A Team for America offers up the tried-and-true bad guys: Hitler, Tojo, and hard times. But when it comes to heroes, it offers up names you may never have heard, and some you may have forgotten: Glenn Davis, Felix “Doc” Blanchard, Doug Kenna, Robin Olds, Barney Poole, Herman Hickman, and Earl “Red” Blaik. Blaik was West Point’s head coach; Hickman was his assistant. Together they
recruited and trained a team studded with All-Americans and two Heisman trophy winners. Their standouts were Davis, Blanchard, Kenna, and Poole, all of them star players and the stuff of sports-page headlines. Their teammates were no less colorful: a promising cadet player who died while learning to fly; a large fellow so good on the field but so poor at studies that he ended up playing seven years of college football; a graduate of a miserable Texas orphanage who taught other Army linemen a technique for hitting their opponents so hard they were knocked cold. In his book, Roberts quotes great sportswriters such as Grantland Rice (of “not whether you won or lost, but how you played the game” fame) and characters such as assistant coach Hickman, a former pro wrestler who went on to become Yale’s head football coach and then a popular sportswriter and commentator. Those champion wordsmiths influence the prose here, which is free of trite analogies and cant and is strong on cultural history. Because Roberts’s original sources repeatedly compared football to training for war, he has to embrace this parallel. And when he does, the game as played in the early 1940s comes off as Spartan and cruelly rugged. Leather helmets without face masks,
cheap shoulder pads, and shoes with sharp spikes were a gridiron warrior’s only armor back then. The standard for officials’ calls was loose and expansive, so the contest could be played dirty as often as cleanly. Consequently, stories of broken noses, black eyes, fat lips, broken limbs, and lost teeth pepper Roberts’s tale. When star Doug Kenna’s throwing arm is broken in seven places, for instance, the West Point team doctor relentlessly feeds him daily fistfuls of calcium pills and puts him back in play after just weeks of rest. The message of the service academies to the players was this: when you graduate and go onto a wartime battlefield, go at it as you did on the gridiron—in any way that brings you a victory. How significant and spectacular was the December 2, 1944, Army-Navy football game? Besides capping West Point’s best season in decades with a victory, it made sports legends out of players Blanchard and Davis and inspired a 1947 film about their football exploits. The game itself was radio broadcast across the nation and to every war front. From the Philippines a telegram went out to Army coach Red Blaik: “The greatest of all Army teams Stop We have stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success—MacArthur.” —John E. Stanchak Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Admiral Nimitz: The Commander of the Pacific Ocean Theater, by Brayton Harris, Palgrave MacMillan, 256 pages, $26.
CHESTER NIMITZ was the premier architect of American naval strategy in World War II. A career navy man born in the 19th century, he took leadership of the US Pacific Fleet while the smoke was still rising from Pearl Harbor’s hulks. He then proceeded to act against his Japanese counterparts with subtlety, violence, and tenacity, changing the course of the war in the Pacific. Yet for our age, which savors bombastic blowhards and self-promoters in business, entertainment, politics, and the pages of Rolling Stone, Nimitz is a riddle. He disliked interviews and photography, avoided cultish PR, and declined to publish his own account of the war when his contemporaries rushed to get theirs into print. He DMIRAL
was a peerless practitioner of the art of naval warfare, and his understated, phenomenal life is long overdue for an updated biography. Brayton Harris has risen to this challenge with Admiral Nimitz: The Commander of the Pacific Ocean Theater, a short, episodic biography that follows Nimitz from childhood to retirement and beyond. He covers the admiral’s early years, passing quickly to his early naval career with its opportunities, mistakes, rebounds, and rising trajectory. Most of us will be reading this for Nimitz’s WWII experiences, and they are well represented here. The greatest added value in this book is Harris’s use of oral histories and recent writing about the Pacific war to better illuminate the background and complexity of Nimitz’s decision-making. The most striking examples of this are Harris’s presentations of the political and inter-service machinations involved in campaigns such as Guadalcanal, and the decision of whether and when to invade the Philippines and Formosa. Harris also reminds us of Nimitz’s superb grasp of the all-important impact of logistics in the Pacific. For many readers, the chapter on the Nimitz style of management will be the most enlightening. For a warlord, he was very thoughtful, deliberate, and diplomatic, invariably looking for the long-term gain in any situation. While orchestrating victories at sea, he also made time to meet arriving captains and commanders and allowed officers to take maritime commands to further their career development. Even during the most difficult phases of the war, Nimitz remained mindful of the need to cultivate the next generation of naval talent. At the same time, he successfully engaged some of the war’s most extreme personalities, from admirals Ernest King and William Halsey to General Douglas MacArthur. Some of this book’s best sections record these interactions. Harris also includes less dramatic aspects of the Nimitz style, such as his cultivation of pistol practice and horseshoe-throwing during critical battles so that others might see him as calm and relaxed in times of crisis. It’s a surprise that Admiral Nimitz comes in at barely 200 pages (minus front and back matter), shorter than biographies
of rock stars and presidential wives. At the end I was left wanting more on this central figure in the largest battlefield of the largest war. More from his contemporaries, more interpretation of his battles, and more analysis of his management of local commanders such as Vice Admiral Robert Ghormley at Guadalcanal would have been welcome. Yet this criticism cannot be laid at Harris’s door; Nimitz himself made things difficult for biographers through his silence. More editing would have benefited this book. Harris naturally includes much of the Pacific war, but seldom in depth. As a result, some episodes, such as Guadalcanal and Leyte Gulf, are not presented clearly and cogently. The phrasing could be less awkward, too. One illustration will suffice: Harris refers to promotion selection boards not so much as means to reward performance, but “as a scalpel to thin the herd.” Oddly, the footnotes are some of the most interesting portions of the book. More than dry notations, they continue thoughts introduced in the text and offer insights into the background of events. Don’t miss them. Though Harris has done significant research, this is more of an entry-level book. Any reader of this magazine would enjoy Admiral Nimitz, but he or she would find no major new interpretations or analyses. Nimitz was a subtle, poker-faced lord of the sea who flummoxed his Japanese counterparts in every battle in which he was involved. Harris’s book reminds us of the improbable roots of success in any profession, but especially in the military arts. Nimitz’s life should be remembered, and Harris remembers it well. —Thomas Mullen Flemington, New Jersey Dear Gloria: Homesick for America in Wartime Japan, by Toneko Kimura Hirai and Taro Kimura, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 224 pages, $27.95.
adolescent Japanese national living in the pre-WWII United States. Imagine spending seven years of your childhood in America—immersed in the culture, making friends, even forgetting your native language. Now imagine it is MAGINE BEING AN
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A 1941 and you find yourself on a ship returning to Japan. For Toneko Kimura, no imagining was necessary. Dear Gloria: Homesick for America in Wartime Japan features an assortment of letters that Kimura wrote during World War II to Gloria Goodman, her best friend when she lived in the United States. The letters were not mailed, but kept as a sort of diary. In them Kimura wrote of her fears and dreams and the conflict that simmered within as she continued to have fond feelings for America, the nation that was at war with her country. The letters were also a safe place to vent her frustrations with her family and herself. Kimura’s younger brother, Japanese broadcast journalist Taro Kimura, discovered the notebooks and compiled the letters as a tribute to his sister. During the
BOOKS AND MEDIA
war years, Taro says, Toneko “protected me, comforted me, and distracted me as American bombs rained down, shattering homes and lives all around us.” It was while hiding in a ramshackle bomb shelter in their backyard that Toneko regaled her younger sibling with “her glowing observations of America.” Taro remembers that she “spoke to me of freedom, a kind of freedom that did not exist in Japan then.” She comforted him with memories of happy times in the United States and with the hope that a better world would emerge from the turmoil of war. Toneko Kimura was 13 years old and had lived in the States from 1934 to 1941
when her father, a Japanese businessman working in America, sent her and the rest of her family back to Japan, where she found assimilation difficult and encountered hostility from her countrymen. Her ability to speak fluent English became an asset, however. When Japanese military officials discovered her skill, they put her to work as a radio broadcaster, transmitting “happy Japanese girl” propaganda to American troops. Her skills proved beneficial again after the war, when American occupation forces hired her as an interpreter for Japanese defendants during the Yokohama War Crimes Trials. Even with such weighty responsibilities,
A THEATER OF WAR Kelly’s Heroes. Directed by Brian G. Hutton, written by Troy KennedyMartin, starring Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Donald Sutherland, Carroll O’Connor, Gavin McLeod, 1970, 145 minutes, color, PG.
KELLY’S HEROES A CAPER COMEDY or a war film? The answer is both. It’s certainly not the kind of war movie the selfregulating studio system of the 1940s would have made. It revels in an antiauthoritative stance and a cynical disregard for conventional heroics (and heroes). Fortunately, however, Kelly’s Heroes does not disregard the need to entertain. Private Kelly (Clint Eastwood) had been a lieutenant until botched orders got his command wiped out. As the movie begins, Kelly is snatching a German colonel behind enemy lines. When he examines the German’s satchel he discovers lead bars that become strangely shiny when scratched. Gold! Kelly gets his captive drunk and learns the Germans have stashed $16 million of the precious metal in a nearby French town. He doesn’t care that it’s in German-occupied territory. He hatches a scheme to steal the gold. S
60 AMERICA IN WWII
Kelly’s captain won’t be a problem; his only concern is how to ship a captured yacht back to the States. Kelly will need the help of Big Joe (Telly Savalas), a tough sergeant with good survival instincts. He also recruits cynical supply sergeant Crapgame (Don Rickles), who can pull strings and round up equipment Kelly needs. And almost accidentally he snares the unconventional Oddball (Donald Sutherland), who has three Sherman tanks under his control after the unreported death of his commander. “A Sherman can give you a very nice…edge,” says Oddball, who marches to his own drummer, one more like that of a 1960s hippie than a 1940s soldier. Kelly and his misfits set off to get rich. Behind enemy lines their trucks get strafed by an American plane and they must continue on foot. They lose some men in a minefield and have a quick battle with passing Germans. Once they reach the town, in a tense sequence, they plant explosives, prepare to ambush the Germans, and size up the Tiger tanks they’ll have to take down. Like M*A*S*H, a Vietnam movie set in the Korean War, Kelly’s Heroes takes its attitude from the ’60s, not 1945.
Authority isn’t just questioned; it’s often completely ignored. Everyone has a price; nothing is sacred. Even the commander of the Tiger tank that stands between the Americans and the gold can be bought. Instead of being punished for their amorality, the men of Kelly’s Heroes drive into the sunset with a truck full of gold and the Mike Curb Congregation singing on the soundtrack. Eastwood was reportedly unhappy with the final result. He wanted a movie that “said some important things about the war, about this propensity that man
her letters present a continual reminder that she was still just a young girl. Two portions of her letters stand out with particular poignancy: her reaction to American aerial bombing of her Tokyo neighborhood, and her later reaction to Japan’s surrender. On July 4, 1944, she wrote, “Dear Gloria, I have only a few minutes to write to you. It is keikaikeihou [air-raid alarm] again and this time the enemy planes are sure to come…. Who knows, I may not be alive tomorrow!” She added, “We were told to put all lights out, to go to sleep in our clothes, to have all our precious things near the pillow and last, to keep all doors & windows open!” Despite the danger, she remained optimistic: “But that’s all rubbish! I’m not going to die yet. My life’s just begun: I want to enjoy life!!” The bombing escalated. According to Japanese sources, by war’s end more than
has to destroy himself.” Instead, he found that action scenes had replaced the philosophical stuff. “When it was finished the picture had lost its soul,” he said. Soulless or not, Kelly’s Heroes entertains. Eastwood is ably supported by an interesting cast. Savalas would soon become TV’s Kojak; Oddball’s long-suffering mechanic, Moriarty, was played by Gavin McLeod, later of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Love Boat; Carroll O’ Connor, the movie’s gung-ho general, was about to become Archie Bunker on All in the Family; and Stuart Margolin would become James Garner’s foil on The Rockford Files. It’s like Kelly’s Heroes was boot camp for 1970s American television. Despite all this talent, Don Rickles almost steals the show as the acerbic Crapgame. Famous for his insults, Rickles once told an interviewer “I told Eastwood, ‘You’d be great, Clint, if you’d ever learned to talk normal and stop whispering.’ Clint gave me that Eastwood look and whispered something I couldn’t understand.” —Tom Huntington Camp Hill, Pennsylvania
115,000 Tokyo residents had died as a result of the bombing and an estimated 150,000 were injured. Even so, Kimura continued to write with the resilient enthusiasm of youth. In March 1945 she wrote to Gloria that “Living is the greatest happiness. People with grieves [sic] and burdens can’t realize, too wrapped up, to realize the beautiful fact that they are alive! Anyway, isn’t ‘life’ the most splendid thing, the most amazing and most wonderful thing in the world? You’re alive!! Think of it!” Kimura’s reaction to hearing that Japan had surrendered is also striking. After living four years in her homeland, the news seemed to resolve her inner turmoil. On August 15, 1945, she wrote, “Your Country forced our Emperor to come to Peace Terms!! …What I felt when I heard the Emperor on the radio at noon, I will not explain. I can’t. All I know is that the world was upside-down. Every dream I hope and resolution was shattered in an instant.” She went on to say, “[The Japanese] didn’t want this war to stop. They wanted—we wanted to fight till the last man!” She continued, “From now on, I’m a real real Japanese…. From today a new Japan is born and from today I [sic] born also.” Toneko Kimura’s young girlhood was defined by the chaos of war. Nevertheless, she never lost hope, and her letters provide a unique and fascinating view of World War II. —Allyson Patton Gettysburg, Pennsylvania Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941–1942, by Ian W. Toll, W.W. Norton and Company, 640 pages, $35.
particular paragraph in the prologue to Pacific Crucible by Ian W. Toll that sets the tone for the rest of the book. It describes the exceptional humanity and grace that Japanese soldiers and sailors showed their Russian prisoners during the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. The account is jarringly at odds with the behavior of Japan’s military in World War II. What happened to Japan and its armed forces over the intervening three decades to turn a humane military culture into the brutal one responsible for the HERE IS ONE
Rape of Nanjing? And what prompted Japan to attack Pearl Harbor, igniting a war with the United States that even the Japanese leadership did not think it could win? Pacific Crucible answers those questions—and the equally intriguing question of why the United States responded to Japan’s attack with a “Europe first” strategy as it entered World War II. More importantly, this book draws clear lines from each nation’s grand strategies, through their military operations, to the tactical decisions made in the major naval battles of the first half of 1942. Japan’s militarism, ultranationalism, and military ambitions dated back several decades prior to World War II, as did the often mutual antagonism between the island empire and the United States. The prologue takes readers through the early decades of the 20th century, as the United States modernized its naval fleet and experienced worsening relations with Japan. Interactions between the two nations took a turn for the worse after the United States passed the Immigration Act in 1924, prohibiting all Asian immigration. In the decades that followed, Japan gradually became an Orwellian state—complete with brutal suppression of dissidents and a state-controlled press spouting newspeak— culminating in a de facto military takeover of the government, the invasion of China in 1937, and the unprovoked war with the United States in 1941. One of Toll’s strengths is that he moves seamlessly from high-level overviews to eyewitness details and back again. His descriptions of the attack on Pearl Harbor are harrowing, but so are the passages set in Washington, DC, immediately following the attack and later that month as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill visits for the first grand strategy session with President Franklin Roosevelt. Toll gives readers the feeling of being in the White House with FDR and his staff preparing to declare war. He is even-handed, though, giving similar attention to the Japanese, as when Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and his staff are war-gaming the upcoming attack on Midway Island. The book puts readers in the cockpits of Japanese and American planes and on aircraft carriers from both sides during pivotal naval battles. APRIL 2012
AMERICA IN WWII 61
A Pacific Crucible presents command-level decision-making with the same level of accessibility as the strategic planning. Readers learn why the American and Japanese commanders dispatched their fleets and what objectives they were after. The Japanese forces were unstoppable in the early months of the war, and this led them to a sense of invincibility that eventually clouded their commanders’ judgment. Nevertheless, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s carrier forces were well trained and battled-hardened, and much of their confidence was deserved. On the other side, Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander in chief of the US Pacific Fleet and of the Pacific Ocean Areas, had the twin responsibilities of attacking the Japanese navy and protecting the precious American carriers. The US Navy was outnumbered early in the war,
BOOKS AND MEDIA
having only four operational carriers. The Americans had a few advantages, such as radar, better intelligence, and better damage-control procedures, but they were inexperienced in conducting a carrierbased war over the vast distances of the Pacific Ocean. Nimitz’s naval force used each enemy encounter as a chance to learn lessons and improve. Japanese overconfidence and the results of American on-the-job training clashed head-on at Midway in June 1942. As he does with each battle in the book, Toll writes the section on the Battle of Midway with a lot of action, but also with an emphasis on the decisions the ships’ com-
manders made in the context of their orders, the strategic goals, and the tactical situation. With that perspective, Pacific Crucible clarifies the events of each battle so that even the most chaotic melee make sense. Pacific Crucible begins with the attack on Pearl Harbor and ends with the Battle of Midway. My one complaint is that the book stops too early in the war. While the Battle of Midway was an important victory for the United States, three long years of war would follow. Toll covers the first seven months of the war so well that readers will want his take on the Guadalcanal campaign, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the battle for the Philippines, and other major actions of the Pacific war. We can only hope he is considering a sequel. —Drew Ames Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
A 78 RPM
Frances Rose Shore was getting ready to sing in a Nashville night club one evening in 1930. It was the first time in her life she was getting paid to perform—$10. She kept it a secret, knowing her parents, Russian Jewish immigrants who had settled in Winchester, Tennessee, would not approve. But when she took the stage, there they were, sitting in the front row. They let the show go on, but afterward they put her singing career on hiatus and continued grooming her for college. Shore did go to college, to Vanderbilt, graduating with a sociology degree in 1938. But she immediately moved to New York City, choosing to pursue a career in entertainment rather than social work. She didn’t have the sweetest voice, she wasn’t the prettiest, and she didn’t command the attention of a room like some others. But she was more than the sum of her solid if unexceptional talents. And she had a rare sort of drive, one that had enabled her to overcome a limp from a childhood bout of polio and become a high school cheerleader. By the start of World War II, the former pom-pom girl had found the spotlight. 1943 was particularly special. Now known as Dinah, after the Is-there-anyone-finer-in-the-state-ofCarolina? tune that had become her early trademark, Shore got her own national radio show. She also put “You’d Be So Nice to
62 AMERICA IN WWII
Come Home To,” a song Cole Porter wrote for the film musical Something to Shout About, on the charts; broke into movies with an appearance in the film musical Thank Your Lucky Stars; and met and married low-budget westerns actor George Montgomery just before he shipped out for military service overseas. Any doubts Shore had about her career choice faded as the fighting in Europe and the Pacific continued. Concerns that being a singer wasn’t enough of a contribution to the war effort were forgotten as she toured the country performing for stateside troops and promoting the sale of war bonds. She also flew to Europe to sing for GIs at the front, recording antiAxis propaganda in German while there. By war’s end Shore had a handful of hits in her pocket and was the most popular female singer in America. Yet her career was just beginning to take off. She rode her wartime accomplishments to the peak of her popularity in the late 1940s and 1950s, where she made a smooth transition into television. Through the 1970s she remained a viewer favorite, hosting talk and variety shows. Few celebrities besides her good friend Frank Sinatra managed to stay in the public eye for so long with so much success. —Carl Zebrowski editor of America in WWII
A WWII EVENTS
FLORIDA • Mar. 9–11, Titusville: Valiant Air Command 2012 Warbird Airshow. Flight demonstrations and static displays to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. Guest of honor Lieutenant Colonel Richard Cole, copilot for Jimmy Doolittle. 8:30 A.M. Space Coast Regional Airport, 6600 Tico Road. 321-268-1941. www.nbbd.com/festivals/warbird MISSOURI • Mar. 16–18, Macon: Battle of Bohemia and Moravia. Reenactment by the WWII Historical Re-Enactment Society. Period camping space provided with registration. Macon Army National Guard training site, 29614 Jaguar Street. 314-456-1100. worldwartwohrs.org Apr. 27–29, St. Louis: Annual WWII weekend. Reenactment, history camp, staged battles, military vehicle exhibits, and a dinner and dance. Hosted by the 2nd Ranger Infantry Battalion of St. Louis. 10 A.M. Jefferson Barracks County Park, 345 North Road. 314-467-0741. 2ndrangers.org
CALIFORNIA • Apr. 7, Chino: 475th Fighter Group discussion panel with veterans and historians followed by a question-and-answer period and flight demonstration. 10 A.M. Planes of Fame Air Museum, 7000 Merrill Avenue No. 17. 909-597-3722. www.planesoffame.org Apr. 14, Palm Springs: “Propeller Blades and Super Chargers: The Mechanics of WWII Aircraft.” Exhibit of aircraft engines, with engine demonstration. Palm Springs Air Museum, 745 North Gene Autry Trail. 760-778-6262. palmspringsairmuseum.org
Dive bombers from US carriers tore apart the Japanese cruiser Mikuma in the Battle of Midway.
Turning Point Rebounding from Pearl Harbor looked almost easy. With Coral Sea in May 1942 and Midway in June, the Pacific war seemed all but decided.
Look for our June 2012 issue on newsstands on April 17.
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NEBRASKA • Mar. 5–9, Omaha: “A Week of Understanding 2012.” Featured speakers include Buchenwald concentration camp survivor Robbie Waisman and liberator Dr. Leon Bass. Specific times and locations to be posted. Institute for Holocaust Education, 333 South 132 Street. 403-334-6575. ihene.org NEW HAMPSHIRE • Mar. 11, Wolfeboro: Forties Sing-along. Presented by author and entertainer Meredeth Lineweber. 2 P.M. The Wright Museum, 77 Center Street. 603-569-1515. www.wrightmuseum.org Apr. 15, Wolfeboro: “Moral and Legal Issues in WWII and Today’s Economy and International Law.” Presented by Russ Leng, Jermain Professor Emeritus of Political Economy and International Law at Middlebury College. 2 P.M. The Wright Museum, 77 Center Street. 603-569-1515. www.wrightmuseum.org TEXAS • Mar. 10 and 11, Fredericksburg: Pacific Combat Living History Reenactment. Reenactors, weapons demonstrations, discussion of military tactics. Three programs each day, at 10 A.M. and 1 and 3 P.M. National Museum of the Pacific War, 340 East Austin Street. 830-997-8600. www. pacificwarmuseum.org VIRGINIA • Mar. 3, 10, 17, 24, Newport News: Women’s History Month Film Fest. The Virginia War Museum is showing films depicting women in the military on the first four Saturdays in March. The films—listed in order by screening date—are: Fly Girls, Lioness, V for Victory: Women at War, and Top Secret Rosies: The Female “Computers” of WWII. Films begin at 1 P.M. Virginia War Museum, 9285 Warwick Boulevard. 757-247-8523. www.warmuseum.org Mar. 7, Bedford: “Powers of Persuasion: Propaganda and World War II.” Lunchbox Lecture. How the government used posters featuring women to influence public opinion. Noon to 1 P.M. National D-Day Memorial, 3 Overlord Circle. 866-935-0700. www.dday.org
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AMERICA IN WWII 63
Down on theTank Farm
PHO TOS COU RTES YO F W ILLIA M J. P RIBY L
Bill Pribyl had the task of testing the fuel that ran through the sprawling pipeline shown under construction at right in the China-Burma-India theater.
J. PRIBYL DIDN’T FIGHT at the front. But that didn’t mean he was out of harm’s way. He worked at the largest fuel storage facility in the China-Burma-India theater. Fuel is critical to keeping war machines running, and it tends to attract the enemy like honey attracts bears. Bill Pribyl came to the CBI theater in early 1945, soon after graduating from the US Army Officer Candidate School at age 21. He was technical officer of the 961st Quartermaster Petroleum Products Laboratory stationed in Tinsukia, India, the hub of what he said was “the longest operational military pipeline in history,” with 3,200 miles of pipe. They called Tinsukia the “tank farm”—its crop was twenty-two 10,000-barrel tanks full of fuel. Pribyl’s job was to test that fuel, drawing on what he’d learned of fuel analysis in a semester at Johns Hopkins University. All the petroleum for the whole theater was pumped through Tinsukia from pipes originating in Calcutta and Chittagong. Most ILLIAM
of it was 100-plus-octane aviation gasoline; the rest was regular motor fuel and white gasoline for lanterns and cooking stoves. From Tinsukia, pipes ran to Burma and then to Chanyi, about 100 miles north of Kunming, China, where they fed the Fourteenth Army Air Force. “I think we pumped something like 175 million gallons of fuel in that time,” Pribyl said. The army was always on guard for attacks and sabotage. “The line was bombed one time at Poshan, China, and there were bombers that came over and bombed a place 60 miles away [from Tinsukia],” Pribyl said, “but the tank farm never got bombed.” In the end Tinsukia proved to be a pretty secure place, and Pribyl returned home safely to the States in May 1946. He went back to Hopkins and earned a chemical engineering degree. Now in retirement, he lives in his native Maryland. A T.W. BURGER, a writer near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, interviewed Bill Pribyl for this article in 2011.
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