We were going toward the Seig River. This was the first day of heavy combat where we knew we were going to be engaged. One guy broke down and cried and was mentally unable to accept the fact that we were going into mortal combat. It was interesting to see how he was treated. We were not kind. He stayed back and was lying on the ground crying.
— Del Dow
I was born in 1923, the youngest of five children. My father was an attorney in Pullman, Washington, and I had three older brothers and an older sister.
My mother was a homemaker, though during the war she went back to work in the foodservice department at Washington State College in Pullman.
In the fall of 1942, I was enrolled at Washington State College as a sophomore in metallurgical engineering. On Oct, 2, 1942, I enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves after a recruiter visited Washington State College and pointed out that if we enlisted we would be able to complete at least one semester of school. Otherwise, if we were drafted, we would go anytime. Then, in the middle of the second semester that year, I was called to active duty.
The dean of the School of Mines called his contacts in Washington, D.C. and told them that the United States Government was shortsighted in not allowing the metallurgical engineers and mining engineers to complete the bit of their education that would make them more useful to the country.
Two weeks later my call-up was postponed until June 6.
At the end of the school year I went to Fort Douglas, Utah, on June 6, 1943, for induction and then to Fort Reilly, Kansas, for basic training. We were a special group, as all of the inductees had at least one year of college. We had a line-up of all the troopers; we were called troopers, not soldiers, because we were in the cavalry.
After lining up, the sergeant said, “All troopers over 6 feet, line up over here.” He said to me, “Trooper, how tall are you?” I said that I was 5’11” and ¾. He then said, “Get your ass over here,” making me the shortest man in the 4th platoon, Troop L of the 2nd Replacement Training Center.
The sergeant in charge was Sergeant Reeves. We were in the cavalry, but we were taking basic training, which was not mechanized or anything like that.
We learned the basic aspects of Army life and how to handle our weapons. It wasn’t all hard work. I tried out for the cavalry chorus, which is a group of singers modeled on the Russian Cossack singers. The cavalry had a close relationship with the history of warfare, including the Cossacks. We sang several Russian songs. We appeared in various places in Kansas and were on national radio once.
Basic training was not without its pitfalls. One of the members of our troop was killed handling booby traps and another died of heat exhaustion. Another strong memory of basic training was how to get along with minimal water. In the summer of 1943, Kansas was a good place for that in the heat. We were allowed one canteen of water for every 25 miles of hiking.
We were the foot cavalry but on the same base, they were training horse cavalry for the China-India-Burma Theater. One of the very solid memories of my basic training was the bugle call (da da da da, de de de de, da da da da, de de de de) and the troop of cavalry horses that would charge down the hill. There were probably about 100 horses, and it was a magnificent thing to see the horse cavalry in action.
We spent 16 weeks in basic training and upon completion, the STAR unit came. This was a group of college educators who came to see whether or not any of us were suitable for further education in the Army during wartime. I had two years of metallurgical engineering and was sent to the University of Wyoming to begin an education in mechanical engineering. I went in as a junior without having some of the requirements of a mechanical engineering junior. The course schedule was compressed and the teaching intense. We completed a semester of work in less than three months.
Laramie, Wyoming was at the 7,000-foot elevation. We had to pass the physical training, including running at this high elevation. I remember being out of breath at the end of the run.
I sang in the University of Wyoming Symphonic Choir and in a local church choir. Church choirs are a good place to meet girls.
I was within three months of getting a degree in mechanical engineering when the program was cancelled. I was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, to join the 97th Division.
My rank all along was PVT 1st class. The 97th Division just returned from the Louisiana maneuvers, so we were infused into that division to ill the roster. I became part of Company F of the 303rd Infantry.
The 97th Division had been chosen to train for the Pacific Theater. The training and physical conditioning were quite intense. We had military exercises, some lasting just a day and others lasting up to a week.
They found that I could take a map and get from one place to another on the ground. That came from wandering around the hills of Idaho, Oregon and Washington as a teenager. My father had taught me how to get from one place to another. That training prepared me to become a scout. I was a regular infantryman with a specialty of being a scout.
The soldiers in every unit periodically shoot on the rifle range. My first time on the range with an M1 rifle, I had the second highest score in our company of 186 men. They sent me to sniper school. We shot thousands of rounds of ammunition. We used submachine guns and Browning automatic rifles. We had to be proficient enough to use whatever weapon was necessary. The sniper rifle was a 1903 Springfield with a scope. I was proficient enough on that weapon that when I shot at something, I would hit it.
A Good Shot
When I was a teenager back in high school, my brother − over the objection of my parents − bought me a .22 rifle. I had an older brother who was accidentally killed in a gun accident when he was 13, so my parents were sort of gun shy. They thought that if I had a rifle, I better really learn how to use it.
There was a program between the Boy Scouts and the college ROTC instructors. Under Captain McNary, I learned how to shoot very well. He was a Camp Perry rifle team member, so I got a really good education from a good shot. I used the university rifle range. I was trained in a military manner, so when I went into the service, I was already a step up on most of the people as far as handling a rifle was concerned.
The brother who gave me that rifle was a major in the reserves. During WWII, when he was called to service, he was an executive officer of aircraft ordnance research in the Army. During World War II, he was part of what was then called the Army Air Force.
His job was at the Aberdeen proving grounds in Maryland. They worked on the .50 caliber machine guns for aircraft. They were experimenting with bigger weapons for the airplanes. They took a B-25 and put a 105-millimeter cannon in the nose.
Back at Fort Leonard Wood, we perfected river crossing, night travel cross-country, and we continued physical training. For example, our whole battalion completed a 25-mile march in five hours and 25 minutes. We had one 10-minute break at the 12.5-mile point. I still remember the chiggers from those marches.
After a few months in Missouri, my unit was sent to Camp San Luis Obispo, which is a few miles from Morro Bay. We took our amphibious training there.
I had overstayed a pass in Missouri and returned to duty late. My punishment was to miss an opportunity for a three-day pass. One of my fraternity brothers from college was a lieutenant in the Navy and a training officer at Morro Bay. I believe the loss of the three-day pass was forgotten because of my friend, who visited our unit looking for me.
Our amphibious training started in an LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel), and we made landings at Morro Bay. I forget exactly how many men were on an LCVP, but it was quite a number. If one man got seasick and upchucked, we all did. Eventually we got so we could handle that.
Being a scout, I was in boat team 1-1—first boat, first wave.
At Camp San Luis Obispo, we would conduct a military problem in the morning and a 10-mile hike in the afternoon four days a week. On the fifth day, we would do a 25-mile hike, carrying all of our equipment on our backs. We skipped the 10-mile hike after live ammunition training. The live ammo started wild fires, and we had to fight those fires.
To get our weekend passes, the 1st sergeant drove to the top of Mount Cerro Romualdo in a jeep, and we trainees had to race up the mountain. If you were too late you lost out.
From Camp San Luis Obispo, we graduated to Camp Callen in La Jolla. We called that the country club. It was situated on a bluff above the beach. We played beach football with San Diego and Tijuana just across the border.
We moved up to an LCI, a bigger boat but still small by Navy standards. The 1st Sergeant became particularly seasick on this boat. We landed on San Nicolas Island. Next we helped outfit a troop transport in the San Diego Naval yard. Then we went out in it on a military exercise to make a landing on San Clemente Island with Naval and Marine support.
Nets were hung over the side of the boat, and you climbed down with all of your equipment. Below would be a little LCVP. You would have to coordinate with the swells of water to navigate into the boat. One soldier carrying a Browning automatic rifle over his back fell about 10 feet and broke his back, causing him to have to leave the military.
We were close enough to shore that when a marine aircraft came by and fired its .50 caliber machine guns, the casings would land near us. These were live fire exercises, with naval shelling, rockets and air support.
Near the end of 1944, we were at Camp Cooke, which is now Vandenberg AFB. We were staged to be floating reserve for the invasion of Okinawa. Being staged means that we were prepared in every way—shots, weapons and equipment—to carry out our assignment.
About this time the Battle of the Bulge occurred in Europe. The troop losses were greater than the public knew. Several divisions were annihilated. I had a friend who was a private first class when it started and a staff sergeant when it was over.
The Battle of the Bulge changed the military outlook. Because we were trained and ready, we were shipped to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey in January of 1945. Instead of the Pacific, we would cross the Atlantic to fight in Europe. We received new uniforms because we were in suntans and we needed woolens. We got completely new weapons and an entire set of new shots.
Crossing the Atlantic
In February 1945, we went across in a troop ship that had been an Italian liner called the USS Monticello. We crossed the North Atlantic in a convoy of aircraft carriers, troop ships and all sorts of cargo ships. The first day out, the weather allowed aircraft carriers to put aircraft in the air to look for submarines. The last day, before we got to La Harve, they could also fly. The rest of the time, the weather was so bad they couldn’t get a plane off.
I learned the value of volunteering. You know they say, “Never volunteer,” but I volunteered for ship’s guard. One of our duties was to be on deck and send anybody who wasn’t supposed to be there down into the troop compartments. That allowed us to get out in the fresh air. Some people stayed in the troop compartments the whole way, as it was not a pleasant crossing. The weather was rough, but we arrived safely. No ships were damaged, and we were not under fire.
We had left Camp Cook on Jan. 25, 1945 and arrived in France some time in February 1945. We went to Camp Lucky Strike, which was very cold and nasty. We went by train through Belgium and Holland to the German border. That was in March of 1945. My unit was the reserve battalion for defensive positions that were taken up west of the Rhine River.
I remember being in Aachen, Germany on Easter Sunday. The first disposition of our division in Europe was to be defensive troops west of the Rhine, while some other divisions were moving forward. They successfully crossed the Rhine and left a pocket called the Ruhr pocket, a large industrial area that was heavily defended by Germany.
The troops essentially surrounded that Ruhr pocket, and our job was to take it. I was in Bonn, Germany when we learned that President Roosevelt had died. We were being moved at the time to take up positions for active combat. We were considered a part of Battle of the Rhine because we had the defensive positions, which allowed the other troops to move on. They moved forward, and we came up behind them. We had crossed the Rhine on a pontoon bridge near Bonn.
In early April, we were marched toward Niederpleis. On the way, we passed a road junction. Our first taste of enemy activity was being shelled at this junction. The enemy guns were often zeroed in on crossroads. We moved through it as fast as possible. One fellow didn’t know he had been hit because of all the sleeping bags and equipment he was carrying.
We took over houses in Niederpleis for billets. Our house was near a bakery. Niederpleis was sort of a jumping off place.
We were going toward the Seig River. This was the first day of heavy combat where we knew we were going to be engaged. One guy broke down and cried and was mentally unable to accept the fact that we were going into mortal combat. It was interesting to see how he was treated. We were not kind. He stayed back and was lying on the ground crying.
We arrived at a revetment near the Seig River. We got our heads down, and just across the river were the active Germans.
The shelling of the German positions was a real introduction to warfare. The explosions, even though we were a quarter of a mile away, were heavy enough that they would bounce us off the ground. The shelling was immense and included rocket launchers.
The word came to go, so we advanced up to the Seig River and got on assault boats, which we had to paddle across the river. Despite our heavy bombardment of the enemy, we were met with small-arms fire. The first Silver Star of our combat went to one of the men who took over for the engineers who supplied the paddleboats and was responsible for them. He made multiple trips across the river, under fire, to help bring the troops across. He received the Silver Star for bravery.
We advanced to the town of Seigburg, arriving by nightfall. In the morning, we began moving into Seigburg. My memory of the day is hazy.
It was there or perhaps later that I was called out as scout forward. I went down the street. The Germans let me and the other scouts get ahead to separate us from our troops. I was supposed to see where the Germans were. All of a sudden they opened fire on the main forces, leaving us scouts pinned down. Our unit returned the fire, and we were able to successfully rejoin our fellow soldiers.
The Germans kept slave laborers of captured Poles, Norwegians, and other nationalities.
The slave laborers had made some tunnels that connected buildings in the city. For a while, we were guided underground through these tunnels. The buildings were side by side, so they knocked a hole from basement to basement for their own secret movement. The tunnels enabled us to bypass some heavily held positions.
Despite heavy fighting in Seigburg, we took the town. After Seigburg, we crossed the Agger River.
As we approached the river, we were caught out on the flood plain with little to hide behind. A friend and fellow soldier named Robert Smith was our Browning automatic rifle man. Back when we were in Camp Kilmer, Smith had had his parents visit. He introduced me to them. As they were preparing to leave, his Mother said, “Take care of my son.” I told her that I would do my best.
The Ruhr had been protected by anti-aircraft 20-millimeter guns, and the Germans were firing at us. Smith caught a 20 or 40 mm shell right in the belt line. He was killed instantly. I tried to pick up his BAR because it was one of our more important weapons. The rifle had been hit and was rendered useless.
I remember Smith lying there with the springs from the ammunition in his ammunition belt, which had been hit, lying on the ground around him. It may sound like a small thing, but it is etched in my memory.
Robert Smith’s mother had asked me to look out for her son. I was unable to keep that commitment. I wrote to his parents, describing his death, but I never received a reply.
We successfully crossed the river but took more casualties. We later took the spot where these automatic cannons were located. River crossings put us in open, exposed positions, but there was nothing you could do about it.
There was another time − I don’t remember where − when a German 88 shell came down roughly five yards from me. It hit the ground and just smoked without exploding.
Something here should be said about the slave laborers. Often slave laborers worked in the ammunition plants for the Germans. As much as a quarter of the shells that the Germans were shooting had been sabotaged by the slave laborers. I believe that the shell that landed and smoked was one of those sabotaged shells. If it had exploded, I would have been killed.
We were able to advance into the town of Troisdorf. We came under artillery fire, and went into a house with a basement. While we were in the basement, four German soldiers entered the house. When we saw them at the top of the stairs, we thought we could all be dead if they threw a hand grenade. Instead, they waived a white shirt; they wanted to surrender. They became our first prisoners of war.
We didn’t know quite what to do with them, so we sent them back behind our lines. We don’t know what became of them. That was our first taking of German soldiers, and they came to us.
The rest of Troisdorf was pretty uneventful. The next morning I was sent out as a scout, carrying wire cutters with a group of other scouts, to open a chain-link fence around an ammunitions plant. This was a major plant that with a number of buildings and revetments, which are essentially buildings below ground level where munitions were made and assembled.
While we were in the munitions plant area, we got artillery fire from the German 88’s and from friendly fire of our own heavier guns.
On one occasion I opened one of the building’s big doors to take shelter, but inside were big vats of presumably nitroglycerin. So I got back out of the building, as I thought there might be large amounts of explosives.
We moved in and eliminated any enemy resistance. 20 and 40 mm anti-aircraft cannons defended the plant. They were often used against the infantry forces. We eventually took over the plant and knocked it out of commission.
We were in Troisdorf from April 10-12, 1945. From there, we continued north, where we could look across the Rhine and see the big cathedral spire in Cologne that was pretty well bombed out. Our objective was Dusseldorf.
The Ruhr pocket was an area of industrial activity. The level of resistance was variable. There was the town of Ebenhausen. IG Farben had a plant there. Division artillery bombarded the town, then nfantrymen closed in and a few hours later left the industrial center a pile of smoldering rubble.
We crossed the Wupper River and encountered only minor resistance. The main German defenses were rapidly disintegrating. Large masses of Nazi prisoners surrendered everywhere.
We moved along northward and arrived on the outskirts of Dusseldorf.
The night before we entered the city, a free movement group of residents came to the headquarters of the 97th Division and offered the surrender of the city, hoping to make it an open city to prevent further bloodshed and damage.
It wasn’t until April 17, when elements of the 3rd battalion rolled into Dusseldorf and went directly to the police/Gestapo headquarters that the advance began and Dusseldorf officially surrendered.
I remember a roadblock that had to be cleared. The roadblock consisted of a trolley car that had been taken off the tracks and pushed 90 degrees across the street.
Sections of steel railroad tracks had been welded to the trolley car to extend the distance it blocked. Essentially this was a steel roadblock across a major artery into the city. It had to be bulldozed away before the armor could roll in.
The roadblock was undefended, due to the surrender.
We entered the city, which at the time had a population of 300,000-400,000, so it was a good-sized city.
Troops were billeted in German houses, so the Germans were rousted out of their own homes while American soldiers took them over. We stayed a few days in Dusseldorf.
That concluded the advance that we made on the east side of the Rhine. We were then able to join with soldiers that held the northern lank of the Ruhr pocket
During the time that we were in the Ruhr pocket, we were part of the 1st Army under the command of General Hodges. As we headed east, we came under the command of General George Patton and the 3rd Army.
The two generals fought differently. Hodge’s army and infantry fought separately and were not integrated. One of the most brilliant things that General Patton did was his use of integrated armor and infantry. This allowed us to advance rather rapidly, as one allowed the other to perform at a higher level than either could alone.
We went east to Bamberg in eastern Germany approaching Czechoslovakia, resuming battle near the Czech border. We advanced into Czechoslovakia, taking hundreds of prisoners. The Russians were advancing from the east, and the German soldiers wanted to surrender to Americans rather than Russians. Resistance was only sporadic.
We were the first division to cross into Czechoslovakia. During the capture of Cheb, the first major city captured, we met some resistance. The Germans actually used some of the fortifications that had been taken from the Sudeten part of Czechoslovakia that had a German-speaking population.
Before WWII, Hitler had taken over Sudetenland as part of his expansion efforts. The fortifications that were originally made to fight the Germans were never used. The Germans made use of them for some time.
On one occasion we met some resistance, so we dug in. In doing this, we would start by digging a shallow trench called a slit trench, and then we would deepen one end to make it a foxhole. I was digging the slit trench and had my back to the battlefront when we got small arms fire, so I dove into the trench facing away from the fire. I wanted to get up and turn around, but another bullet would fly by. Obviously, I was being seen. It took a while to get turned around in order to return fire.
The border of Czechoslovakia was sort of hilly country. We took the high ground near a small community that had an instrument factory. Our company made its objective that particular place. The companies on either side of us failed to make their objective because there were parts of one of the German Panzer armies on either side of the hill.
We were there with the German Panzers on two sides of us. The officers decided that sticking out there all by ourselves was untenable, so they pulled our company back but left my platoon there as observers.
We set up in a medical and optical instrument factory for observation. Amazingly, there was electricity. We found the office of the manager, and it had a large radio. We tuned in and got jazz from Pittsburg. We listened for a while and then began to hear an oscillator sound. The tone would go down and then up. Soon German artillery shells would come in. Apparently there was some instrument used to determine that there was a radio there, and the Germans knew the frequency and location. We no longer listened to the radio, as it might be used as a guide to where we were.
We were relieved from our position by a cavalry unit. A year or so after the war, when I was driving between Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, I picked up a soldier who turned out to be one of the cavalrymen who relieved us at that outpost. He said that they were there for a day or two when the Germans decided to take them out. There was a very fierce battle, and he was wounded. He had been recuperating in the military hospital in Spokane. I had already returned to civilian life at that time, so running into him was one of those odd coincidences.
General Patton was trying to reach Hungary with his troops, so we were stretched rather thinly. We had to set up outposts, and we attempted to hold the flank.
One night on guard duty, a small number of us in this outpost heard people coming toward us. When they were close enough to be seen we said, “Halt.”
One of them hit the ground, another one said, “Don’t shoot, we are Americans.” It was lucky he spoke up, because hitting the ground was one of the worse things that someone could do because it would initiate our fire. It turned out that these were airmen who were shot down on a mission over Plzen. This group of three or four of them was walking out of Czechoslovakia and walked into our outpost.
We had a poker game that was more international currency than it was poker. The airmen had English pounds, shillings, and pence. We had German war marks, the ones that were printed by Americans. We had French francs and Belgium francs, and each of these currencies had a different value, so we had more foreign exchange going on than poker.
We resumed our advance near Barnau, and we had some resistance along there. As we advanced into the woods, there was a roadblock made of logs. It held us up, so I was sent back into the woods with another scout to learn what the disposition of the troops was.
While we were in the woods on this reconnaissance mission, we heard a group coming. We hid behind some brush and watched a full platoon of Germans come within about 25 feet of us. We stayed still because this was the sort of information that we wanted to take back.
The German troops were abandoning their position near the roadblock and falling back. We didn’t try to shoot anybody because we were seriously outnumbered. Our mission was information rather than becoming heroes by taking on a whole platoon of about 40 Germans.
The Army engineers came in, and this was the first time I had ever seen chainsaws at work. They made reasonably short work of the roadblock, although it had been effectively located.
The next day the Germans were in a row of houses. The tanks that were with us would take out this row of houses. The tanks would shoot an explosive shell in the roof to open it up and then fire a white phosphorus shell to ignite the buildings. The Germans came out of the burning buildings and were either shot or surrendered.
I spent the remainder of the fighting in Czechoslovakia and marched through Plana, advancing further and further into the country with light resistance.
One day we marched all day in the rain and were warming up in a house when the lieutenant said, “We need you to go check out tomorrow’s objective.”
So another fellow and I started out in a cold rain that soon turned to wet snow in order to scout out the path for the next day’s advance.
We left about 7:30 in the evening. We couldn’t see much of anything in the snowstorm. We walked into the next town and back, which was about 20 miles, returning about 3:30 the next morning. We were cold and wet when the lieutenant met us with a canteen cup of warm brandy, and we gave him our report.
Occasionally we took a well-stocked wine cellar. One time after coming across a particularly good cellar, the company commander looked at the truck, then looked at the wine cellar, then said, “Throw out the cook tents,” thereby making room for a truckload of brandy. When the war was over, we each had a bottle of brandy for celebration.
We were ordered to pick up any German soldiers as prisoners of war. There was a constant movement of them returning from the Russian Front. Some didn’t have shoes and used gunnysacks on their feet.
Before the war ended, we were taking prisoners at a tremendous rate. We liberated them of items of interest like binoculars, pistols, that sort of thing.
There were so many of them that we couldn’t accompany them, so we turned them loose and sent them down the road to our rear to be taken care of by others. One of the Germans asked for water. I gave him a canteen of water, and he gave me his binoculars in return. Apparently, he had not been searched very well.
A low-level German officer told us that he had been educated in England. When he surrendered to us, he said, “You chaps are making a terrible mistake, taking away our weapons. You should join us, and when we meet the Russians, together we will fight like hell.”
Later we captured the bridges to allow Plzen to be taken. We were 45 miles from Prague when the war was over. Our unit had advanced farther into Czechoslovakia than any other U.S. troops.
On May 8, 1945, VE day, we were notified by radio that the war was over. We were very happy for the end of the war and enjoyed our brandy. We stayed in place for about two days. We then pulled back and set up on the German side of the border.
On the day the war was over, a German aircraft, despite the fact that the war was over, strafed one of our units. There was a lot of air activity going on that day, particularly with German Junkers being used as transport aircraft. I think it was Germans getting away from the Russians as best they could.
A little dirt road crossed the border. We were billeted in a baron’s house. We used hand grenades in the baron’s trout stream and had fresh trout for dinner. Sergeant Taborski shot a deer, so we also had fresh venison. Taborski was from Dillon, Montana and was a good shot. We also got eggs from the baron, so we had fried eggs in the morning. We were able to augment our rations with some fresh food, which was wonderful. We had displaced the baron from his home and released his Polish slave laborers. One lady was a barber, so she gave all of us shaggy soldiers a smart new haircut. It was her way of thanking us for being liberated.
Two memories of the war cannot be placed in time or location, but nonetheless were interesting to me. On one occasion, we could hear the sound of massed voices as we moved into a built-up area. It turned out to be a prisoner of war camp, containing mostly Norwegians. They were excited to be liberated and wanted to leave the camp immediately. This couldn’t be allowed because there was typhus and tuberculosis among the prisoners, so they had to be medically examined.
Another time we liberated a small group of female slave laborers. One came out with fresh lipstick. She had saved a tube of lipstick for the end of the war, so she would look nice when she was finally freed.
We were loaded onto trucks and then the railroad, headed to France. We went to Camp Old Gold to prepare for the return to the U.S. We returned to the United States on the SS Brazil, a former passenger liner that had been converted to a troop ship. It still had some of the aspects of a liner. We were double loaded, which meant that we had twice the number of troops that the ship would normally carry.
We were “hot bedded” – I had a bed from noon to midnight, then someone else had the same bed from midnight to noon.
This ship had been carrying the wounded, so it was stocked with frozen milk and ice cream. I volunteered for milk detail; I would get the frozen cartons of milk and take them to the mess area, where they were defrosted.
We were fed better than we expected and were happy when we got back to the United States.
We arrived in New York on the 25th of June 1945.
It was a magnificent sight to come into the harbor and see the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, two images of our society. The Statue of Liberty represented the good and welcoming nature of our nation. The Empire State Building was a symbol of our economy. We were happy to be back. We were citizen soldiers, probably citizens first and soldiers second.
We were proud of the fact that we had finished the war and that when the war was over, we had been the U.S. troops that had gone the farthest east, coming within 45 miles of Prague.
When we landed in New York, we were taken to an army camp, given a steak dinner and assigned to groups for 30-day furloughs. I was with a group sent to Fort Lewis, Washington. I traveled by train across the United States.
My girlfriend was Jean Bonneville of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. It was on this furlough that Jean and I really decided that we would marry. We decided she was going to wait for me to return from Japan, as there were expected high casualties from an invasion of that country.
We didn’t marry right then when I came home from Europe because I had already lived the life expectancy of an infantryman, and I knew that we were headed for a serious combat job in Japan. Our unit would be a floating reserve for the invasion of Kyushu and assault forces for the invasion of Honshu. This was before the Atomic bomb. I didn’t want to leave a widow.
After the furlough, our group headed for Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to reassemble the division. There we were scheduled to have six weeks of training on Japanese tactics and materials, including the Japanese-built machine gun. In the middle of the first lecture regarding this machine gun, we were told to pack up; we were leaving. We packed up and got on a train heading back to Fort Lewis.
As we were passing through Chicago, we learned of the Atomic bomb being dropped. We knew that things were changing, and the need for us was apt to be different.
We arrived in Fort Lewis and prepared for Japan. That meant Pacific shots. We had already gotten shots for typhus and various other things, but now we had a whole bunch of other things to consider, including the possibility of malaria. We took malaria tablets, so all of us were turning yellow.
We were at Fort Lewis for a couple of weeks, so the last weekend that we were there, I was given a three-day pass that had a mileage limit of 35 miles. My mother was in the hospital in Spokane, and Jean was 30 miles from Spokane. I went up to Boeing field in Seattle and got a round trip ticket on Northwest to Spokane, which is 360 miles from Fort Lewis. I met my father and mother and drove my mother back to Pullman. That would be the last time I would see my mother alive.
I also spent time with Jean that weekend. I broke the rules but returned on time, even though there was some question as to whether there was a seat for me on the plane. The ones that I told about my weekend were the only ones who knew, so I didn’t get into trouble. I do not regret breaking the rules since I got to see my mother before she passed.
Points determined when a soldier got out of the service. Our division soldiers had a relatively low number of points. One of the fellows in our company captured a German pistol, which almost everybody did. He shot himself in the foot with his. He woke up in the hospital when they were dispensing Purple Hearts, so he got a Purple Heart for the injury that he inflicted on himself. His Purple Heart was worth five points, so he was able to stay in the States and get discharged because those points put him over the top.
We were below the top, so we were headed out to sea, three days before the Japanese surrendered.
The military thought they needed combat-seasoned troops for the occupation of Japan, and we were combat seasoned. We loaded up on the troop carrier called USS General Hersey. The band on the dock was playing Sentimental Journey, “Gonna take a sentimental journey…”
We sailed past Hawaii to Kwajalein, then to Eniwetok. In order to get off the ship for a little bit, I volunteered to go ashore with carbon dioxide cylinders. Our next stop was the Philippines, and we anchored in Leyte Gulf. We stayed there on board ship.
Occupation of Japan
We sailed to Japan, landed near Yokohama after 38 days on the ship, and then went north to Kumagaya for training. We were going to be disarming Japan. From there we were sent to Kofu to demilitarize the Kofu airbase, which was one of the major Japanese airbases. Demilitarize means to take a bulldozer and push the planes off the runway, breaking them into pieces and salvaging the metal.
All these pretty airplanes at Kofu were destroyed except one. It was a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft. The army unit from the research center in Dayton, Ohio, came to Kofu, dismantled the plane and boxed it up for shipment to the United States.
It had several attributes that showed up later in aircraft built in the United States. The wing was very thin and long. It was aerodynamically different. It was a long-range reconnaissance aircraft of particular interest to the Air Force. I believe that the U2 wing design used a long thin wing, similar to the Japanese aircraft. That would be speculation on my part.
One of my memories of Kofu was standing guard in the middle of the night with Mount Fujiyama in the moonlight. It was a fantastically beautiful view of the snow-capped mountain glistening in the moonlight. I will never forget that sight.
We went to a cave that was filled with communications equipment. We destroyed all of these beautiful electronics with a sledgehammer. Our platoon was dispatched to destroy the Japanese Cavalry School, to destroy any Japanese military capability. I recall the Japanese commandant of the cavalry school came into the barracks that we had taken over with a big box of mandarin oranges; he knew the troops would appreciate them.
Soon the powers that be found they had too many combat troops in Japan without a true mission. We then were given a short training course so that our infantry company became military police. We were then shipped to Niigata. It was the largest remaining unbombed city in Japan.
As military police we assumed new duties. About this time I became a sergeant instead of private first class. I thought I would get that promotion earlier, but a sergeant had been transferred into our organization, so he filled that job.
One of our duties was being a desk officer in the Niigata police station. We got a translation of Japanese police reports.
An example: “Mr. Sato had a good supply of rice and was burglarized. He shot the burglar, which got Mr. Sato in more trouble than the burglar because guns were outlawed by McArthur.”
People can say whatever they want about McArthur, but he did a marvelous job in Japan. He provided Japan with a constitution and a direction that changed its path in history.
While in Niigata on motor patrol, I stopped an officer. I was just a Sergeant, but I stopped him because he was in an off-limit zone, and he was driving a jeep, which was out of his classification. He should have had a driver.
The city of Niigata had been the departure port for the Japanese troops to China and Korea. There were 78 houses of prostitution, so it was the military police’s job to police these houses. We would monitor whether there were troops using these facilities. We found one officer driving through this off-limit area but never found an officer using the services offered there.
One incident that occurred was when our barracks burned. One soldier was seriously injured when he jumped from a second-story window and was impaled on a fence. During an investigation, our captain was on the hot seat while the authorities learned if he had provided the troops with a proper fire escape plan.
The Captain was being subjected to military inquiry, and a hearing was held. I gave evidence favorable to the captain. When I got back, at the foot of my bunk was a bottle of good whiskey. I was being thanked for my testimony without anybody saying anything.
One of our duties was to make sure the Saki distillery was safe. Saki was the drink of choice, and since we were closer to Hawaii than to the United States, we mixed pineapple juice with our Saki. Saki is not bad, but I would not choose pineapple as my mix for drinks. We had a nice dayroom with a bar in our new quarters over the post office.
In preparation for discharge, I traveled from Niigata by train and assembled with others from the division. We went back down the coast to where the tsunami recently hit.
We went into the barracks at Yokosuka and were held there for an additional period of time, quarantined because one of the troops came down with meningitis.
We loaded onto the USS Admiral Hugh Rodman to head home. It was a troop transport and went much faster than our earlier 38 days on the water; however, it had a slightly bent propeller shaft, and therefore vibrated all the way across the ocean to Tacoma, Washington. The trip through the Strait of Juan de Fuca was just as inspiring as the return to New York, with the snow capped Olympic Mountains showing the majesty of our country.
We headed back to Fort Lewis. The world is a small place. The officer that processed my discharge from the Army happened to be my cousin. I was discharged on March 6, 1946. I had survived the war unscathed and with memories to last a lifetime.
After the War
On April 1, 1946, I went to work for the Northwest Magnesite Company in Chewelah, Washington. It mined magnesite, which was converted to magnesium oxide used in steel furnace refractories. Jean and I were married on Sept. 1, 1946.
I had met Jean in 1939 at a high school music camp held at Washington State College. The girls’ dorm had a sock hop, and when I saw Jean come through the French doors, I said, “I’ve gotta dance with her.” She was from Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, which was 100 miles from Pullman, where I lived, so getting together was difficult for high school kids.
She eventually went to the University of Idaho, and I went to Washington State. She wore another fellow’s fraternity pin, and I had mine on a different girl. Later while in the service in Laramie, Wyoming, I gave Jean a turquoise ring to wear on her right hand.
When we married, she had a music degree from Idaho. I returned to Washington State as a married student. The small world continued; when I applied for my G.I. Bill benefits, the Veterans Service Administrator at Washington State was the same cousin who processed my discharge.
Jean was a pianist and violinist. She set up places where she could teach piano and violin in Pullman, Washington, which helped finance my last two years at the university. She continued to do this until she became too pregnant to continue. Steven, our first child, was born in my last year of college. Our daughter Carolyn was born four years later. When Jean was no longer able to support my smoking habit, I quit smoking in 1947 and have not smoked since. Jean also played in the Spokane Philharmonic Orchestra.
When Jean was in the hospital having Steven, we had a flood in our ramshackle little apartment in student housing off campus. It was right on the plain of the Palouse River.
I remember the cold water of the river as we stood ankle deep in one of the basement apartments. We were moving another student’s gear up to our apartment. The water came up within six inches of our kitchen floor. Jean and Steven came home on planks laid on the mud.
We bought a piano. The movers brought the piano up through the back stairs, but there was a sharp turn and a door to go through. The movers said “Lady, we can’t put the piano up there.” Jean told them, “My husband is an engineer, and he measured it, so put the piano up there.” They did get it in, but when they left, they said “Lady, could you please call someone else when you move this piano out of here.”
When I was later hired to work for Kaiser Aluminum, we had to move to Spokane. We hired Bekins Moving to move us, and they hired local help. Who was that local help but the guy who put the piano up there in the first place!
My two years of college were a ball. We worked hard and we played hard, and nobody had any money. I graduated with a bachelor of science degree in metallurgical engineering and went to work for Kaiser Aluminum as a development engineer, starting a 31-year career. We lived in Spokane, Tacoma, West Virginia, and Sunnyvale, California.
My last title was Research Section Head. My work took me to Ghana, Bahrain, Germany, Wales and New Zealand, as well as various parts of the United States.
Jean continued her music, playing in orchestras, chamber groups and at her piano. For some years, she did Braille music for the blind. Some of her Braille transcriptions are in the Library of Congress.
An Active Retirement
I retired from Kaiser Aluminum on March 31, 1979. Jean and I moved to Tuolumne County. Upon retirement, Jean and I traveled. We spent a month in Scotland, a month on the south island of New Zealand, and a month in the Alps. We found the kind of travel that we wanted when we discovered Linblad Expeditions and took a cruise to Antarctica.
We got into nature travel, which took us on several trips to Canada and Alaska. In Nome, we took a trip to St. Lawrence Island, then through the Bering Straits to Povidenia in Siberia. We also went to Iceland and Norway. We did all this to do bird and animal watching. We no longer travel today; however, we still enjoy watching the birds.
The photos that we took are the basis for my water coloring today. I took one small two-day session with Gerion Rios when he came up to Sonora Hills to teach to the painting group. Other than that, all my paintings are natural talent.
Jean felt that I should find something that was not as strenuous as I once did, things like backpacking, hiking, climbing and fishing. I had even tied my own trout flies for years. So Jean got me a basic set of watercolor paints, paper, and assorted brushes and pointed me in the right direction.
I also did volunteer work for the Forest Service after retirement. I had my own PH meter; the forest hydrologist put me to work doing water chemistry of 50 lakes and streams in the Emigrant and Carson-Iceberg Wildernesses. We had a little portable wet chemistry lab in the backpack.
I worked for the forest biologist. Dale Keyser and I alternated on checking the nesting success of the great grey owls. The Stanislaus Forest and Yosemite are the world’s southernmost nesting areas of the great grey owls.
I spent a number of years in the forest as a wilderness patrolman, making sure camping and other wilderness rules were being followed. I once had to dismantle a rather elaborate camp that someone had abandoned.
One time I was looking for lodgepole pine for firewood. I found a small area with a deer fence around it. There was a waterline from a spring and bags of fertilizer, all for a small marijuana garden. I casually mentioned it back at the Summit Ranger Station. Out came the law enforcement officer wanting more detail. She asked if I would be willing to show the officers the location, and I agreed.
That afternoon, a plain blue Plymouth like Governor Brown used to drive showed up with two law enforcement officials, each with side arms. We dismantled the marijuana garden and never found the culprits.
In the 1980s, I was an environmental activist. I went to Washington, D.C. twice in support of Tuolumne River and California Wilderness bills. I testified before congressional committees. We worked to oppose a dam on the Clavey River.
Jean and I have been married for 67 years, and we lead a more quiet life now that age has caught up with us, although I still paint.
My military honors consist of my proudest award, the Combat Infantry Badge.
I received the Bronze Star without citation. General Marshall said that the infantry soldiers suffered the most casualties, thereby making them deserving of the Bronze Star.
Along with these honors, I also received the World War II Victory Medal, American Theater Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two battle stars, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.