WHEN MY SISTER-IN-LAW moved into a senior care facility, her daughters helped her clear things out of their house. A van load of things was transported to one daughter's home where the process of sorting through them followed. Included in the accumulation of old letters, photos and brick-a-brak were letters from my brother Roger and I. to our sister during World War II. The following was written ten days after the Japanese
surrender while I was stationed on the Island of Tinian in the western
Dearest Nina, Jess and all;
Well, here I am on C.Q. again tonight and that means I have access to a
typewriter, so I will try to get a little story off to you tonight. This
isn't supposed to be a regular letter, for I only want to try to satisfy
your curiosity about a few of my travels since I was last home.
Our story opens on the afternoon of 12 February, 1944. This was a mild
Saturday afternoon at the Pratt Army Airfield, and there was a real stir of
activity around the squadron area as we were making the very final
preparations for entraining for a port of embarkation. The shipping alert
had been on for about six weeks now, and finally the TWX came through from the War Department ordering us to proceed to the POE. So this was it at last. Many of the men had been in the Army only a couple of months, and for all but a few of the men, this was to be the first tour of foreign service.
Shortly after noon the whistle was sounded and we all trooped out of the
small dark barracks and out onto the road in front of the orderly room. We
were dressed like real soldiers then, with our full field equipment, duffle
bags and our rifles and sub-machine guns. In our duffle bags we had packed everything that we had, excepting the few items that were in the small musette bag on our back and the items of clothing and equipment which we were wearing, and we were ready to head for a boat.
Roll call was taken and of course a few men were absent, for there are
always a few last minute details that must be taken care of, even if the
outfit is leaving for a new assignment. After calling the roll several
times, every person was accounted for and, after loading those very heavy
duffle bags on some trucks we were ready to march to the train which was
backed into the PAAF siding of the Missouri Pacific Railroad.
We boarded the train and in a little while we were settled at our
assigned seat in the Tourist Sleeper. The train finally got underway at
about 17:00 and chugged its way north out of PAAF to Iuka and thence over many a twist and curve to Wichita, this first leg of the trip taking about
seven hours, and covering a distance (as the crow flies) of 70 miles. From
Wichita we headed north to Geneseo and thence westward on the Mo. Pac.
Lines to Pueblo. The February weather was too cloudy to enjoy the scenery
as we proceeded north via the Santa Fe through Colorado Springs to Denver. At Denver the Union Pacific took over and we proceeded over the UP tracks to Cheyenne and then west through southern Wyoming and into Utah, through Provo, Salt Lake City and thence southward almost to Arizona. But we turned west before reaching Arizona and cut across the lower tip of Nevada and into Sou. California. Our destination of Camp Anza, Los Angeles Port of Embarkation was reached about 17:00 on February 15th.
Camp Anza is located on the outskirts of Arlington and about ten miles
from Riverside. We were stationed at Camp Anza for 12 days while the U. S. Navy got their transport ready for us. Forty-eight hours after our arrival
the organization began issuance of 18 hour passes to 1/3 of the outfit at a
time, so we were able to enjoy our last few days in the USA by traveling 60
miles into Los Angeles and vicinity. It was thus that I had the joy and
privilege of visiting with Roger, Lois and Paul, and Ira and Ernestine. You
will recall the wonderful way in which our Lord made it possible for Roger
and I to meet at the bus terminal in Riverside and then enjoy the next 27
hours in visiting together.
On Friday evening the 25th of February we were told that we would
entrain for the troop transport on Saturday morning, and that we would be
awakened quite early in order to get chow and then get aboard the shuttle
train. We were awakened at 03:30, 26 February, 1944 and
began our last six hours on the continent of North America, for at 10:00 we
were boarding the USS Mount Vernon, a 32,000 ton liner that had been converted into a troop transport from the luxury liner, SS Washington, which had been in service on the North Atlantic since its maiden voyage in 1934. It was then the sister ship of the SS Manhattan.
Our squadron had the very good fortune of being quartered on the
Promenade Deck amid ship, probably the best troop quarters on the ship.
Promptly at 08:00, 27 February, the ship sounded its fog horn and cast
off from the dock at Wilmington and we were soon out of sight of the good
old USA. All day that first day, Sunday, we watched a Coast Guard Blimp as
it escorted us out beyond the sight of land. At dusk the blimp turned back
and we were on our own to proceed on our way.
Southward we sailed over the placid Pacific, and hotter it grew day by
day. Gradually we swung to the west but when we crossed the equator for the first time we were heading much more south than west. That was 3 March when we crossed King Neptune's domain and what a party there was as a number of pollywogs were initiated into the solemn mysteries of the deep. Old King Neptune himself, accompanied by the honorable Mr. Davie Jones and all the Royal Court of Neptunis Rex, ruler of the deep, came aboard the Mount Vernon to investigate the trespassing of so many pollywogs across the domain of his Majesty, the King.
Sailing on toward the west and daily retarding our clocks we proceeded
on our course for ten days until we reached the International Date Line. March 9th was a day that none of us ever saw, for the calendar jumped from March 8th to March 10th without missing a breath.
On the morning of March 15th we sighted land for the first time since
sailing from L.A. Harbor, and the land this time was down under ---
Australia. It was a strange season of the year to us Yanks, for the trees
were shedding their leaves and chilly autumn breezes were blowing. For two nights we slept under all available blankets and our overcoats as we were tied at the pier in Melbourne. The weather was still chilly as we sailed
along the southern coast of the Great Australian Bight, and only after we
turned NORTHWARD into the Indian Ocean did the weather begin to moderate.
The weather moderated very rapidly as we sailed into the equatorial
waters of the Torrid Zone. Once again the troops quartered in the lower
compartments began to swarm the deck spaces and again it became quite hard to find a place to sit where there was any breeze at all.
The flying-fishes were having a jolly time playing in the beautiful blue
waters of the Indian Ocean while we were sweating out the submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy, for we were very definitely in hostile waters now. Our escort of two Royal Navy destroyers which had escorted
us from western Australia was replaced by a large Cruiser of the British
fleet and we sailed safely into the port of Bombay on 31 March, 1944, a Friday afternoon.
Our squadron was quartered aboard ship for several days until
transportation was made available for our trip across India. Finally, on
April 4th, we disembarked from the huge liner, our last bit of American
scenery, and boarded those famous luxurious troop sleepers of the Great
Indian Peninsula railway.
Those troop sleepers were strictly the stuff, and it still makes me want
to sympathize with those poor GIs who had to put up with stuffy day coaches as they toured America for five days and four nights.
As I meant to say a while ago, we left Bombay on Tuesday, 4 April at
about 15:00 and traveled over about 1,200 miles of British-Indian
railroads, finally arriving at our destination, Chakulia,
Bihar province at sundown Saturday, 8 April which made it 4 nights and 4+
days over two of India's railways, the GIP and the BNR (Bengal-Nagpur
Railway). Those lovely, luxurious troop sleepers that we were in were
something like this: each car was about sixty feet long and had no doors in
the end of the car as our American cars do. The cars were mounted on long
wheelbase, 4-wheel trucks with spoked wheels, incidentally. The entrance
doors were on the sides of the car, something like a baggage car.
Our compartment, which was about ten feet square, was supposed to carry 20 Indian passengers, so they only put ten GIs with all their equipment in this comp't. There were four benches of wood, each about seven feet long and running parallel to the length of the car, and two luggage racks, each six feet long, located above the outboard benches. One man slept on each bench and on man on each luggage rack, with the other four men dividing their space on the floor with the rats, mice and cockroaches. The toilet facilities were lovely, too. There was a compartment which was about 4 feet square, which was separated from our comp't. by a wooden door, and in this latrine compartment was a hole in the floor with a treadle space on each side where a person might brace one's self while relieving himself. The water facilities were simple; for each ten men there was a five-gallon can which was filled with water at various stops along the way. When a water can was filled a medic would come along and dump a couple of cups of chlorine and some iodine in, making a really tasty beverage. But that's how we avoided a lot of sickness, such as dysentery, cholera, etc.
At dusk every day we would close up all of the doors and windows of the
compartment and the NCO in charge would spray the air with an aerosol bomb to help keep out the mosquitoes. Before we retired for the night,
(Whattanite), we each one rubbed ourselves down with insect repellant,
which rub-down lasted about four hours.
And how you would have enjoyed dining in that beautiful and lovely
dining car we had. There was a luggage van at the end of the train, which
was simply a four-wheeled box car, and this luggage van was chuck full of
lots of those delicious and nourishing field rations that you have heard so
many glowing stories about, Ration C, in the lovely tin can, and Ration K
in the new "packed to go 'round the world" paper carton. This was our fare
for four and a half days, and those benches and floors got awfully hard
during those four long nights.
But I'll tell you for sure, Sis, I'd take a week in an "Indian troop
Sleeper", in preference to one day in a fox-hole in Germany, summer, spring, fall or winter. I still count myself very fortunate
having been an Air Corps mechanic and not some doughboy or even an aerial gunner. We did have it a little rougher in the Army than we were used to having in our comfortable quarters at home, but every base I have been at has been good, considering everything; and I have experienced only two air raids, both very light and the only enemy fire I every faced.
Well, there you have the briefest kind of an account of my trip from the
USA to India, and I hope you get some enjoyment out of my poor description. I shall endeavor to tell you more details when I arrive home, which I believe will be by Christmas, 1945.
Now to complete my Navy career, up to the present time, I must have you
accompany me on the trip from Chakulia to Calcutta, to Tinian, which in
point of elapsed time, was a longer trip by four days, than the trip from
L.A. to Bombay.
In August, 1944, the rumors began to fly, very thick and fast, and some
of the officers were betting that August would be our last pay month in
India. The rumors said that the XX Bomber Command, which was set up as a service-test outfit and had as its assignment the service-testing of the new B-29 heavy bomber, would not be kept overseas over six months, and that time expired in August, therefore if the original "six months rumor" were correct, we should be packing up and on our way home by September. Well, as you well know, September, October, November and December all passed in review, and with each month that passed the tempo of the B-29 project was stepped up. In November you heard of the new XXI Bomber Command which began its spectacular operations from Saipan, in the Marianas. Nineteen forty-four passed into history and we observed our private watchnight (Bill Knecht and I) prayer meeting in Chakulia. But in mid-January, we were officially alerted for movement away from India, and then the rumors did fly. "We have done so well on the 29 that they have decided to send us back to the States to service-test the new B-36," was one rumor, and I thought that one was pretty practical myself. February came as we began packing our tools and equipment, ready for the big move, which was classified "Top secret," and which was secretly
promising the Japanese a bigger headache as the 58th Wing joined the 73rd, 313th and 314th Wings of the XXI Bomber Command.
At shortly after midnight, early in the morning of 24 February, we
entrained in the India Troop Sleepers for the 114 mile trip east to
Calcutta. Our actual departure from Chakulia came at about 04:00 and we
arrived in Calcutta about seven hours later. We had two bags this time, but
no field equipment, as it was left to each man to transport his weapon,
canteen, musette bag, and other items of equipment as he saw fit. We left
one barracks bag at the side of the train when we detrained and the native
bearers bore them to the ship from there.
We left the train and hoisted those heavy duffle bags to our shoulders
and began a rather lengthy march to a ferry boat on the Hooghly River,
which in turn transported us a few miles downstream to our U.S. Navy
transport, the USS Gen. J. H. McRae, an 18,500 ton ship built in the summer
of 1944 by the Kaiser Shipbuilding Company of Richmond, California. Once
again we were quartered high above the water-line in compartment 1-A. .
This compartment was extremely forward and the first deck below the main or top deck. I believe I have already told you something about that trip,
except for the route that we sailed.
This ship was not so fast as the Mount Vernon, averaging 15 knots, as
compared to 21 for the M. V. We were accompanied by a sister ship and two destroyers of the Royal Navy after we sailed out into the Bay of Bengal.
But from our anchorage in the Hooghly we had to sail 10 miles downstream to take on fuel, and this took the whole of one night. The next day we sailed
the remaining 75 miles down the river and dropped anchor at the mouth of
the Hooghly, to remain there for the night.
On the morning of March 1st, we weighed anchor and began our voyage
south through the Bay of Bengal. We sailed a few miles off the coast of
Ceylon, keeping out of sight of land, and on southward into the Indian
Ocean. We crossed the equator and again there was a party to pay due
respects to His Majesty Neptunis Rex, the ruler of the deep.
Our trip carried us south of the continent of Australia, and again we
sailed into the port of Melbourne, arriving on 17 March, exactly one year
from the date of our departure from the port. This time we tied up at
Williamstown Pier, which is across the bay from Melbourne. We stayed there for six days while some repair work was done on the ship, and thus it was that we were able to go ashore on an 18-hour pass. To get into the city of Melbourne, Victoria Province, we must needs ride on an electric train for
eight miles, at the cost of 1 shilling, or 20c in American money. Our visit
in Melbourne was very nice indeed, for it was the most beautiful city we
had seen since leaving the US.
We sailed from Melbourne and followed the eastern coast of Australia
northward past Brisbane and into the port of Townsville. We were there only a few hours and then sailed across the Coral Sea past the eastern tip of New Guinea and then west along the northern shore of N.G. to the port of Madang, where we tied up for a few hours. Later we sailed across the
Bismarck Sea to the island of Manis in the Admiralty Group. From there we
sailed north to the coral atoll of Ulithi, directly between the Japanese
Naval bases at Truk and Yap, and barely 100 miles from the latter.
After a brief stay at Ulithi, we sailed northeast to Guam, thence
northward past Rota to Tinian and we arrived at Tinian just 364 days after
our arrival at Chakulia. We arrived in Tinian harbor April 6th and
disembarked on Saturday morning exactly 6 weeks to the day from the day we boarded ship. It was 7 April.
So there you have my life in the Navy, 80 days of it, and an experience
that was really worthwhile, although I certainly would not have volunteered
for it under any different circumstances. But I learned that our Lord is
indeed able to care for us and keep us wherever we may be, whether it is in
the luxury of an American city, the wilds of an Indian jungle, the depths
of the sea or the heights of the Himalayas. He is all-sufficient and is my
adequacy for righteousness before God. I am very glad that I belong to Him
and I only want to live in accordance with His perfect will. If Jesus goes
with me I'll go --- anywhere
Say, the wind is really blowing hard right now and the rain is coming
down in torrents; what a night for sleeping in the quiet darkness of the
tent. I like the tent better than the barracks we had in India or the
pre-fabs they had planned for us here. Best of all is that old home at 1614
Bye bye for tonight. May the Lord continue to bless you
and keep you as you remain yielded to His will. Keep looking up!
All my love, always,
"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas!"