About two weeks after I arrived on Attu they found a rubber raft on the shore. Naturally if was assumed that it had been used by Jap infiltrators from a submarine. Panic! They placed us new greenhorns about a hundred yards apart all along the beach. After about four hours, we were relieved and taken to a guard shack. They immediately told us to unload our weapons. We told them that we didn’t have loaded weapons. We were never given any ammo. We were so new we didn’t dare tell them — we were told to keep quiet and speak only when spoken to. They never found any Jap intruders. The group that was shipped out from Seattle were classified as replacements. They had assumed that there would be casualites in the invasion and they would need replacement workers. Well, we were surplus to the Seabees already there. When we arrived there were five battalions of Seabees. They were the 22nd, 23rd, 68th, 138th, and the 8th Special. They divided the appx. 200 replacements to the existing units. A battalion was 1000-1200 men. We lived in metal quonset buildings — 68 in our buildings. So many and so close that we had to share beds between the day crews and the night crews. I was in the 23rd bn. Later moved to the 68 when the 23rd moved to the US and then later to the 138th. Because of the terrible weather they called 6 months a tour of duty — I stayed there 26 months. The bright side was I wasn’t being shot at. Most of the furious fighting was going on, and all I was doing was putting in pipes and freezing my butt off.
Month: November 2005
I was on Attu for 26 months. For the first 18 months we dug the ditches for pipes by hand — shovels. Later they “found” a backhoe to dig the lines. They had heavy equipment all along but never let us use them. They were new and had W.P.A. markings on them. If you don’t know, W.P.A. was an organization that Roosevelt organized to provide work during the Depression. I believe this equipment was amassed to use in the coming wars. I know that they didn’t use construction equipment during the W.P.A. years. Other activities of the W.P.A. [were] sewing-rooms and canneries for employing women.
My dad worked on the W.P.A. He rode a truck to Lubbock where they were making what turned out to be Lubbock Air Field. It is now the municipal airport. Reese Air Base was 10-12 miles west of Lubbock. One day while going to Lubbock, they encountered a rainstorm. Lightning struck the truck and injured several men. Dad was O.K.
Many crude jokes circulated about how lazy W.P.A. workers were and how you could tell if the worker leaning on a shovel was alive. They later hired Dad and his ’28 Chev. truck to haul dirt there in Lockney [Texas].
Seabees were mostly older men with construction skills. These old carpenters, plumbers etc. were tough old no-nonsense types who tolerated no B.S. And then there were the young kids as helpers. When in “Boot” training, we had Marine drill instructors, but they pretty much went easy with us as the old men (some in forties) just wouldn’t take the usual crap that you see in the typical movies of basic military training. While on Attu I worked with a pipe-laying crew. My pipe fitter associates were old plumbers from Philadelphia. Boy could they relate some tales. This may seem odd to you but we installed wood pipe. Yeah these pipes were large diameter consisting of curved wood staves with tongue and groove sides. They formed a circle and were wrapped with large wire. The sewer pipes used wrapping about 3-inches apart. The high pressure pipes were about 10-12 ft. long. They had a cuff to join the individual pipes together. The wood pipes leaked initially but swelled and stopped leaking later. Oh, they were coated with creosote. They said these pipes withstood the wet environment better than iron pipe that rusted out. They knew we wouldn’t need them very many years. I’ll bet they are still there.
In November of ’43 I became very ill. I went to the “sick bay” and because I had 104Â° temperature they put me in the hospital. Well, it was actually a quonset hut but they called it a hospital. They had two doctors. The older one was a gynecologist in civilian life. Then there was this young dude fresh out of Harvard Med. School. The young doctor thought I had meningitis and performed a spinal tap. You guessed it — I had cerebrospinal meningitis. I was in bed for three weeks on sulfa diazine pills. When I was in the hospital three troop transport ships came into Attu harbor to carry the Army 7th Division to the States for Xmas leave. I later found out that because I had the meningitis, and they didn’t know how many others might be infected, they sent the ships out — empty. When I was declared cured the Navy put me in an ambulance and took me to the Army Hospital for examination. Those Army doctors said to me “So you are the son of a bitch that kept us from going home.” I have often fantasized about going to a 7th Division reunion and telling them that I was the reason they never got home then. This Army division was kept on Attu for awhile and then to Hawaii where they got ready to invade Okinawa. I guess you can say I was a spoil sport. No, there were no more cases of meningitis on Attu. Might add that I got a special visit from the censorship office telling me that I could not write home and tell them I had meningitis. I told them [his parents] that I had the same problem that Dad had in France in WWI. They [the censors] never caught it. I should add that my dad was one of only two that survived the meningitis in France. The other man was from Little Rock [Arkansas]. They exchanged Xmas cards for many years. When I was in the hospital we had about 3 air raids. They couldn’t move me to the air raid shelter — I might contaminate the other patients. Luckily the planes bombed other places far away from the hospital.
The reason the Navy gave for assigning me to the Seabees was that they could repair my eyeglasses if needed. Well, I was trying to play basketball in the Gym on Attu and broke my glasses. Naturally no facilities existed closer than Seattle. They advised me to write home and have my original optometrist make me a new pair from existing records. Oh, better get two pairs — that got me in trouble. I wrote Dad a letter asking for “two” pair of glasses. All letters were read by a censor and they had this iron-clad rule that you could not tell where you were, what you did, and never use a “number.” Yes I got my ass chewed, but when they saw my scotch-taped glasses they relented and let me order two pair of eyeglasses. This brings up a question… You see these books compiling “letters from the Battle Zone” etc. Just how in hell could these letters be genuine if all mail was censored?
Mother decided that if I went overseas she preferred to know where I was. Then when something happened, she would know if I was there or not. Well, we decided that I would use a code word to let her know that if that letter was encoded to let her know where I was. In the letter we used the second letter of each paragraph to spell out the location. Using the first letter of the first word of the paragraph was too easy to see. When I was talking to a chaplain later he said that he had a system to tell his wife where he was. Before embarking they got two large world maps. Across the top he placed Bible book titles. Along the side he placed numbers to signify chapters of the Bible. Thus when you said the subject of your sermon was Chapter 80 of the book of Matthew [yes, I realize that it doesn’t go that high — my grandfather was just being illustrative] you could go to the map and find the place. He said he was always afraid he would use a large chapter number that did not exist in some Bible books. I never asked him how he got away with using the dastardly forbidden numbers in his letters. Officer privilege I guess.
In May of 1943 I went to the Navy recruiting station at Lubbock [TX.] and Amarillo. I couldn’t pass the physicals because of my eyesight. You had to have 20/30 or better to pass. Then, in June of ’43 I was drafted. About 17 of us were sent to Lubbock to the “reception” center. As usual, they had everyone placed in alphabetical order for the ordeal. They had “stations” that tested us. I was among the first to finish. I was surprised when they asked me if I had a preference to the service that I would serve. Naturally I said the Navy. They had this long table where an officer from the Army, Marines, Navy, & Coast Guard were seated. They gave my folder to the Navy. Well, he finally said that they would accept me into “Limited Duty.” He said that this would place me on a capital ship (Battleship, Carrier or large Cruiser) or in the Seabees. I asked him “What is a Seabee?” He replied that they were similar to the Army Corp of Engineers. Then he said that “You could always transfer if you wanted to.” Do you know that the word transfer does not exist in the Navy dictionary? From the reception center I was sent to the Navy recruiting station where I was “processed.” At the end of the day the officer in charge lined all of us up to be sworn in. Well, he told me to step aside as they had a special oath for “inductees.” I waited a while and then was handed some tickets home. You know, I was never sworn into the Navy. Does that mean I was never in the Navy?
Of the 17 men from Floyd County [Texas] inducted in June ’43 I was the only one going to the Navy. All the others went to the Army. About half ended up on Omaha Beach on D-Day and the other half in Patton’s Tank Corp. There were many casualties among them. I was indeed lucky.
I received a letter from my grandfather in the mail today. It’s very long, filling nearly two 50-page notepads. I asked him to write down his memories and stories for me. Some of his letter I will share here. The remainder of this entry is his writing.
So you want me to write about things that I have done, seen or heard in my many years of experiences. I hope you know that historians claim that people as old as I usually forget things, embellish the things that they remember. I also will tell some things that happened during my lifetime. Please, please put the red correction pencil away [why must my family perpetually accuse me of grading their correspondence???]. I know that I break every grammatical rule ever made. I plan to relate tales, stories, or whatever that I know happened, but historians tell about the events in a vastly different manner… So if you’re ready, here goes the B.S….
I have personally met two famous generals. When on Attu our work crew decided to play hookey and drive over to the Army P.X. [Papa was in the Seabees in WWII]. We had a truck assigned to our crew to haul plumbing supplies and pipe. Anyway on the way to the P.X. we stopped beside the road and were lounging in the lush grass looking back along the Aleutian Island chain. This was an amazing sight as it was extremely clear. You could see back to the mainland. Anyway, this jeep stopped and a large soldier approached us. He asked who we were. We told him — Seabees. Anyway we told him the work we did. Then asked him what he did. He replied that he was the boss of the soldiers. He was Major General Simon Bolivar Buckner. General Buckner was the commander of the Army 7th Division. General Buckner was later “involved” with the invasion of Okinawa. He was killed by a sniper on Ie-Shima — the same small island where Ernie Pyle was killed. Ernie Pyle was a very famous writer that covered the war from the “grunt” level. The other general I met was Lt. General (3 star) Leon Johnson. I met him at Hensley Field, Texas in 1964. Gen. Johnson was the Colonel that led the planes on the infamous ill-fated raid on Ploesti, Romania. This was a raid designed to destroy Hitler’s oil supply. The planes got lost on the long run from bases in North Africa — broke radio silence and were met by [a] large group of the Luftwaffe. Most of the hundreds of planes were lost. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for this run.