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Remembering World War II

“My father was a pharmacist’s mate in the Navy and made six amphibious landings with Marine and Army troops during the Pacific campaign. In the aftermath of one landing, my father was still assigned to the beachhead area, which was supposedly secured. He sat down on a log to eat lunch one day when all of a sudden he felt the hair on the back of his head stand up. He immediately slid off the log and crawled to a more protected area several yards away. A few minutes later a Marine sat down on the same log and was shot through the back of the head by a Japanese sniper.”
       Rob and Jerris Armstrong

       “Sept. 16-18, 1945: We were anchored in Buckner Bay, Okinawa, when all the ships in the harbor that could get underway were ordered to put out to sea immediately to avoid a typhoon in the area. As we left the harbor the waves were getting larger and larger. There was a carrier in front of us and a carrier behind us and their flight decks were on occasion taking water over the bow. Our poor little USS Johnnie Hutchins DE 360 (destroyer escort) was tossed around like a cork. I was on watch on the after 5” gun mount and was sitting on top of it enjoying the ride, just like a roller coaster. The sky got darker and darker and the waves got taller and taller. All the other ships were now out of sight and it was every ship for himself. One minute we would be sitting down in a valley looking up at 50 and 60 foot waves; the next minute we would be on top looking down. If we ever broached in these seas, we would have capsized for sure.
       “The waves now had reached new heights and were breaking over the ship in all areas. The wind was screaming. The captain, fearing the gun mount might get washed away, ordered us to secure the gun watch and stand the watch inside the deck house. There were eight of us and we were all thinking about the best way out if the ship should capsize. Not that it would have done any good, because no one could survive for long in those seas.
       “This was the only time in the entire war and many dangerous situations that I was ever frightened and thought maybe this might be it. Sometimes the ship would roll over so far that you had to stand with one foot on the deck and one on the bulkhead. At times we would roll to one side and hesitate for a moment and I would think it was never going to recover and right itself. I remember saying a little prayer like, ‘Lord get me out of this one and I will go to church every Sunday and never miss mass again.’ Well, we did survive and I do go to church every Sunday.
       “We rode out this typhoon for three days and returned to Buckner Bay on the afternoon of the third day. The island was leveled — not a building was standing. Ships and buoys were scattered everywhere. I’m not sure, but I think there were several ships lost in this storm.
       “We had a ship’s reunion some 30 years later. Our executive officer told us that the skill and seamanship of our captain saved all our lives from that typhoon. God bless him, he is dead now.”
       Bo Keally

       “My mother and I just made it to the old brewery cellar — I was 9 years old . Then the sound of exploding bombs was all around and some hit the old brewery. The doors were all covered with bricks and no one could get out for three days. All the old people and children could not understand why the “amies” were trying to kill us.
       “I am now a 63-year-old proud American. I went back to Germany a couple of years ago to look at the brewery. They are making good beer again and exporting it to the USA.”
       R. M. Henniges

       “My Uncle Irving came back from WWII with a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars. This is the story he told me when I was a 12-year-old. He said that he had done a lot of things more dangerous than what he did for the Silver Star but there were not any officers around to see.
       “The Story: Two German machine guns pinned down an officer in a jeep; [the officer] was able to stop the jeep with a bank between him and the guns but he was exposed if he went forward or back. Unk saw his plight and worked around behind the first gun and captured the Germans manning it, marched them to the second gun and captured them and then took the prisoners down to the embarrassed officer.”
       Harold Quillin,

       “I was four years old and the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor. My mother and grandmother were very upset. We lived in a third-floor apartment located on the corner of an intersection. My grandmother liked to sit in her rocking chair near the window, and watch the traffic and people going by. One day while I was sitting on the floor by her, playing with my dolls, a small plane did a nose-dive down between our building and the one across the street. As we watched in terror, the plane’s wings seemed to come within only feet of our window, and the noise was deafening beyond belief. Everyone on our block and the next were certain we had been attacked. We were sure that day we were in the midst of WW2 and were going to die.”
       “I was in Jefferson Junior High in Long Beach, Calif., in both band and orchestra. One of our finest violinists was a Japanese-American, probably Nisei. At that school, each afternoon, just as the students were pouring out of the main doors on their way home, one of the trumpeters from the band would step out on a balcony above us and play “retreat”. Everyone would halt and place his hand over his heart as he faced the flag which was being lowered by a Boy Scout honor guard.
       On THAT Monday we were all taken to the Auditorium to hear FDR’s “dastardly attack” speech on the radio. Later, when we were dismissed from class and we made our way out of the school doors, the trumpet blew and everyone stopped EXCEPT the violinist and one of his Nisei friends; they kept on walking. I’m proud to state that they were stopped, and rudely, but not assaulted. I’ve always wondered what became of him, and after all these years I can’t even remember his name.”
       Francis L. Post, seventh-grader in December ’41

       “At age six, I was the eldest male in the house. My father was in Honolulu as an aviation ordnance specialist. My uncle Dick was on his way home after getting shrapnel landing at Iwo Jima. The other uncles were in strategic places like Rio and Trinidad. We had set up a command central in the dining room, with maps of Europe and the Pacific area with pins for all the places that our family had been during the war. We proudly displayed the colored stars in the front window. We also had all of the letters ready to read and re-read. Most of them were missing text that had been crossed out or cut out by the ever-watchful censors. I can remember wearing my Overseas Air Force hat and an assortment of medals from my dad and uncles. One day I remember two soldiers appearing at our front door, who asked to see my aunt Elenor. We soon learned that her husband would not be coming home — he was killed in a battle in Germany.
       “It was a time of listening to FDR for updates on our progress. However I remember it as a time of waiting for the day the conflict would be over and my dad would come home.”
       Larry Reardon

       My father-in-law, James C. Medley, was captured at the Battle of the Bulge. He had just landed a few days earlier. The Germans moved [the prisoners] around on trains and nearly starved them to death. They took his army coat from him in sub-zero temperatures. He says the prisoners piled up on each other to stay warm. He was nearly starved to death by the time he was released. At the end of the war he weighed only 90 pounds.
       Gregory Richmond

       I was born in the Netherlands in 1957, but my mother, her siblings and grandparents lived through [World War II]… They hid refugees getting out of the country in their house. While they could keep the adults out of sight, it was harder to have the children stay put. So, my mom always had new “brothers and sisters” to play with outside. These people were mostly Jews trying to get out of Holland and since my grandfather was in the underground, they would stay there for usually about a week until they could be brought further south to escape the Nazi’s. They also had Dutch, British and American soldiers stay with them. Once, even a German soldier stayed there, who had deserted because of Hitler’s atrocities.
       My grandfather had taken the body off a radio, so the guts would fit inside a hutch in their dining room. They would listen to Radio London for messages for the resistance (they always started with Beethoven’s Fifth) and wrote those down. Since my mother was only a little girl, she would carry a laundry basket with the message hidden in the laundry, to pass it on to the other resistance people.
       In the last year of the war, the Germans came looking for my grandfather. At the time, they were looking for all able-bodied young men to work in the weapons factories in Germany. He was working as a chauffeur for a family at the time, and happened to open the door when they came to ask for him. He said, ‘Oh, he’s out back, I’ll go get him,’ and of course never returned to
       the front door. That evening [his relatives] made sure everyone in the neighborhood saw him leave for the train station to go work in the German factories. He got on the train at the station, but got out on the other side, and hid in a nearby forest until nightfall. He spent the last year of the war hidden in their house (they had an underground area underneath the kitchen floor) and continued to receive and relay messages for the resistance.
       Ordinary people doing only what they thought was right. That’s what they always said about the American soldiers that came to liberate them... This made such an impression upon my mother, that she always felt this was a country for her boys to grow up in, and so we moved here in 1974.
       Jack Hesseling

       “One of my most vivid memories was the day my dad went to enlist in the army. It was 1942 and he was 34 years old with a wife and two small children. He had ulcers, a history of ill health, a family and a war-related job but he thought it was his duty to serve. We all went with him and waited in the car parked outside the post office. The recruiting office was upstairs. We were all sick at the thought of him leaving us but none of us tried to talk him out of it. After what seemed like an interminable time he appeared from the building looking like he had just lost his best friend. “They turned me down” he said. We all commiserated with him but secretly we were all thrilled that the Canadian Army thought they could get along without him...
       “Every Tuesday night was knitting-club night. My mother and several of her friends would meet at one of the lady’s houses for an evening of chatting and knitting. Everything they made was out of gray wool. Scarves, socks, mittens — all to be sent to Canadian sailors serving in the North Atlantic. Even the kids willingly did their bit by collecting anything and everything that could recycled into something that could be used in pursuit of the war.
       “Dickens wasn’t referring to WWII when he observed “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” but he could have been. It was the best of times because virtually everyone was of one mind to do anything and everything they could and endure any sacrifice or hardship to promote the war effort. It was the worst of times because millions of people where dying and everyone had one or more loved ones in or going in to harm’s way.
       “It’s too bad that it takes a horror like WWII to bring out the best in people and their nation.”
       Richard Williams

       “Grandpa Hideo was drafted when he was 49, one year away from being waived for overseas duties. He went to Manchuria as an army officer. The news of Japan’s surrender came so abruptly, I suppose the corps were ill-prepared to retreat... The Red Army swept in from the north, and he was captured and sent to Siberian concentration camps, where half of the captives died from cold and malnutrition.
       “At the same time, my father and grandmother were searching for their friends through the shattered debris in Hiroshima. They lived in the suburbs…
       “Grandfather came home some five years later, hoping his family was alive and well. His two daughters were toddlers when he was drafted at the end of war. Grandmother recalled, “when grandpa came back from Russia, Kazuko and Setsuko (my aunts) were playing in the front yard... They came back and asked me, ‘Mom, there is a strange old man calling you.’”
       That’s not a good way to welcome the vet.”

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