Through the years, historians have written hundreds of volumes about every aspect of World War II, and, I'm sure there will be even more written. Thousands of pictures, clippings, documents, and memorabilia have already been logged, and there are probably many more items stashed around in government archives, and the storage boxes and attics of veterans and their families.
Well, I'm not going to try to be another historian. What follows are just some personal memories of what I did for three and one-half years during that war, from January, 1942, through July, 1945.
After Pearl Harbor and President Roosevelt's declaration of war with Japan, draft boards wasted no time in calling every able-bodied man they could find into some branch of the service. If you didn't enlist, you were drafted. Few deferments were granted. It was a scary time, and no time was wasted in training young men to help win "the war to end all wars." Oh, yes, women were also given an opportunity to enlist in the WAVES or the WACS. They weren't drafted, however.
I left my teaching job and enlisted in the Army Air Corps, thinking I would have a few weeks to prepare for my departure to places unknown. I soon learned that the "Now!" on the "Uncle Sam Wants You! Now!" signs meant exactly that. There was little time to see my girl or get prepared to leave my folks. In just a few days the notice came saying I was to report on January 2, 1942, to the recruitment station in Wichita, Kansas, and from there I would go by train to Leavenworth.
The notice had some specific instructions. I was to bring only a few personal items, such as my razor and tooth brush. Furthermore, as soon as I was issued my GI clothes, my civilian ones would be shipped back home.
January 2 came all too soon! Saying good-bye to Mom and Dad was a solemn moment. It wasn't like leaving for college or my teaching job. I was going to be gone for an indefinite time to a destination unknown. Also the possibilities of returning injured or even not returning at all entered our minds. We hugged, kissed and I grabbed my little bag of belongings.
"Don't forget to write? I'll keep you informed where I am going."
I told the folks that I wanted Junior to drive me to Wichita where I would be inducted. He pulled my Ford beside the old mulberry in front of the house and waited for me. He was very quiet.
Mom, Dad and I walked down the sidewalk slowly. When we got to the car, Mom gave me another hug. Both Mom and Dad had tears in their eyes.
I jumped into the car and told Junior, "Let's go!"
Junior and I were silent as the car moved to the highway. I wanted to tell Junior to turn the car around and go back to the house, but I knew I couldn't do that. I belonged to Uncle Sam now.
"My Mom displaying her Service Star"
Looking back, I saw Mom and Dad waving to me as they slowly walked back into the house. My eyes also filled with tears.
As we drove south towards Wichita, I had a very anxious feeling come over me. Our house and barn were slipping from my view. I watched other familiar sights fade into the distance, the fields along the road, the neighbors' houses and the little patches of snow under the fences along the road. When would I see those sights again?
Junior and I didn't have much to say to each other as we rode along. After all, what can two brothers talk about when they are being separated, maybe forever. We both tried to let on that it was an ordinary chat such as we might have going to Hutchinson to get a sack of corn seed.
Too soon we were in Wichita and had found the recruitment building. There were twenty-five or thirty other young men standing out in front. Quickly I gave Junior a final hug and got out of the car.
Soon a young military officer told all of us to come into the building where we were inducted into military service as privates. He then explained that shortly a bus would come to take us to catch the train for Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.
Although I felt much apprehension about my future, I really felt a pride in my new title: Private Glenn D. McMurry, U.S. Army Air Corps.
As we arrived at Fort Leavenworth, another bus was waiting to take us to our assigned building. There the first order of business was to strip us of our civilian clothes.
"Here's a pair of shorts, put them on and go to the next station," the sergeant barked.
This continued until we were dressed again except for shoes. They just looked at us and handed out some clothes. They seemed to assume that everything would fit. I guess if anything was too tight, it was supposed to stretch, and if too loose, it would shrink in the laundry. It was surprising how well everything did fit. I suppose those issuing sergeants had been doing this for days and now were experts. At least that's the way they acted.
Now shoes were a slightly different situation. That sergeant wanted to be sure they fit properly.
"If your shoes don't fit right, you're not going to be worth a damn as a soldier. You'll be on sick call every morning. Now step upon this stood and stand straight on both feet," he ordered. "I'm going to measure your feet and when I get finished, you're going to have shoes that will fit."
He ordered a nearby private to get a pair of shoes, size ten and a half,
wide. Lo and behold, when I put them on, they fit perfectly!
Basic Training At Sheppard Field
In a couple days, I was on my way to basic training at Sheppard Field, Texas.
"Hep, 2, 3, 4; Hep, 2, 3, 4....." I spent six weeks at Sheppard Field learning to march and take orders.
"Left turn, right turn, oblique turn, halt, fall out, attention, eyes right, eyes left, dress that line," and a lot of other commands that seemed stupid to me had to be mastered. Talk about being bored!
January weather in west Texas was a little cool, but nothing like Kansas.
We did a lot of marching, and I got plenty tired. My feet hurt even though
the army had given me great shoes, but I never had blisters as many of
the guys did. I was sure that I would wear army-last shoes the rest of
my life. However, that idea didn't last long. The minute I got a week-end
pass, I was wanting my civilian shoes. I had been allowed to bring one
pair with me to use for dress-up affairs.
Helping The Sergeant
Some boys had lots of trouble keeping to the cadence while marching. Others had trouble doing the turns, especially "To the rear, hip!" Since it was all easy for me, I thought I could be of help to the sergeant by showing one of the guys how it should be done.
"What in hell do you think you are doing, soldier?" he shouted.
"I'm in charge in this squad and don't forget it!" he continued as he got closer and closer to me.
"G-----, soldier," he said glaring right at me, if anyone is going to tell that guy how to march, it will be me. Stand up right, pull that belly in, push that G----- butt in, and raise that chest up. Soldier, look straight ahead, put your heels together," and on and on he went. Of course, everyone else was taking it in and not moving a muscle. They got the point in a hurry, as did I.
"F--- it, soldier, I've never seen such marching. Where in hell did you get the idea that you could march, let alone show someone how to do it? Just for that, we'll skip the break this time."
And all because I wanted to help!
I had never in my life heard anyone cuss that way. He yelled at me until I thought he would have a stroke, as well as break my ear drums.
Imagine, being cussed at for just trying to be a helpful person. Not only was I ashamed, but also I felt bad because the whole group had to suffer on my account.
About ten years later, I was in Germany on a consultant job with the U. S. State Department. The job had to do with audio-visuals being used after the war. After I finished the project, I changed my return plane ticket so I could stop in London.
London is a very large city, but guess what? Right in front of me, face to face, was that drill instructor. What will I do now? Run away? Turn to the right or left? How about doing a quick "right-about" or crossing the street.
But it was too late. The sergeant recognized me immediately. He broke into a terrific smile and greeted me as though he were my own brother. I was flabbergasted! We started to talk about the old days at Sheppard Field. Yes, he remembered that yelling-out he gave me. He laughed and I laughed with him. We went to dinner together and had a great time. Later in the evening we went window shopping. Some of the shops were still open so we looked into several. What caught my eye was a Schatz 400-day clock. It was beautiful. I said that I would really like to have one of those clocks. Soon we said our good-byes and went to our separate hotels.
I spent some time in London visiting the regular tourist attractions, such as, Westminster Cathedral, Windsor castle, and London Tower, before heading back to Los Angeles. Soon I was busy back at work, and I quickly forgot all about the clock I had seen in London.
Some months later a large package came for me. In that package was a new, beautiful 400-day Schatz. There was no return address, no note, no nothing, just the clock. The only one who could have sent it was my old drill-sergeant. I had no way to contact him as I had not even gotten an address from him. I've often wondered: Did he have a guilty conscience about the way he cussed and swore at me? I never heard from him again. I've just been left wondering!
I might add that we enjoyed that clock for many years. Finally, it stopped
and the repairman said it couldn't be fixed. However, I can't bear to throw
it away so it sits in the attic.
Soldiers on Parade
I guess all that training so we could stand and march correctly, following the sergeant's commands to a "T," was important, but I had a hard time being too convinced of that fact. However, the day we were told that the big-shot general was coming to "review the troops," we could certainly tell how important our officers felt our performance was.
That occasion was my first experience taking my place in a large parade of soldiers. Every underling officer and non-com was on his toes. They wanted to really impress that general so they had a plan to make it look as if there were many more of us than there really were.
We marched in front of the reviewing stand a certain distance and then
turned a corner out of sight of the "reviewing" officers. The minute we
turned that corner, the sergeant would command us to run fast to get to
a new place where we could regroup and pass the reviewing stand again.
What a farce! That happened several times. Did that general know he was
being duped? I wonder. We laughed a lot about that parade.
That Old Short-arm Exam
One of the first shocking experiences I had to endure in the service was the "short-arm" examination. The instructions were: Strip to your socks and shoes and make a single line in front of the doctor.
Not knowing what came next, I asked a lot of quick questions, and I soon found out what it was all about! Not that? That was the closest thing to a public display of masturbation I knew. Why was it necessary?
"Come now, doc, why do I have to be examined? I don't have one of those venereal diseases, and never ever had one!" That was the end of it, I thought.
Well, the medical doctor gave us detailed reasons why all of us should be checked regularly: There are several kinds of venereal diseases. If the disease is discovered quickly, the soldier can be treated. Failure to get the proper care can result in a horrible death. So, what's next, Doc? Well, the doctor planted himself down on a folded chair and called for the first soldier. He first examined his penis carefully, and then said, "Milk it, soldier!" If there was any hesitation about the procedure, or the doctor had any doubt that the penis was completely clear of any puss, he would say something like, "I said milk it, soldier, and that means all the way." As a farmer boy, I knew exactly how do it. A milk cow's teats are much like my penis and milking my penis was exactly what that doctor wanted me to do, right in front of him. What a detail for a doctor to perform. Most of the doctors exhibited boredom with the job. Should he find any puss, he would quickly send that guy to the hospital.
The short-arm examination was a regular occurrence, especially just before shipping out to another place. Where there were opportunities for getting off the post into town, examinations were more regular. Sometimes we would have a rude surprise. After doing a bed check and finding everyone was in bed, the sergeant would turn on all the lights, awake everyone, and order us to prepare for a short-arm exam. Ugh!
Being aroused from a deep sleep was bad enough. In addition, most of us slept naked, or near naked. I'm not sure about all the guys, but I know it was an embarrassing time for me.
Some of the smart alecks had stories to tell about short-arm exams.
One was about the guy who ejaculated right into the doctor's face. Frankly,
such a story could have been true, but I didn't see it happen. No matter,
the doctors had a job to do, and no medical doctor in the service wanted
to get blamed for letting a venereal victim by him. He would really have
to answer to his superiors for that!
In the early 30's, when I was a sophomore in high school, I wrote a little patriotic song. I was inspired by Kate Smith's renditions of "God Bless America."
"I can write a song similar to that," I said to myself, and I did!
I called it "Freedom Forever." It goes like this:
Long may our country be a land of the free,
Long many her flag unfurl o'er this land of liberty
Long may her leaders be loyal and true
We will stand and fight when the cause is right
In this land of liberty.
(Optional last line:
For our land to keep it free)
When I went into the service, I tucked that little piece of paper in my pocket and carried it with me. My first presentation of "Freedom Forever" was at Sheppard Field, when I entered an amateur show. The crowd loved it. Over and over I sang it and let the crowd join in:
"Long may our country be a land of the free!"
"Singing my song"
Singing that song really expressed my patriotic feelings right then! It was something that every soldier felt as well. I have pictures taken of that event. Later, I had lots of fun playing and singing my song in many other places where my tour of army service took me: St. Louis, Australia, New Guinea, Biak and the Philippines, to say nothing of the 30-days spent on shipboard zigzagging back and forth across the ocean on our way to the South Pacific.
I tried to publish "Freedom Forever," while in Australia, and back home
in the states, but to no avail. Darlene even had the idea of sending it
to a popular band leader during the war, but she didn't even get an answer
to her letter. It was a lot like trying to make something of my inventions,
the ideas were either too early or too late. "Freedom Forever" must wait
for another time, I guess. Of course, it is everyone's hope that we will
never again need to "stand and fight for our land to keep it free."
Other Sheppard Field Activities
We had other things to do at Sheppard Field besides march, have doctors examine us, and hold amateur shows. It seemed that too often I was called to go on KP, that was short for kitchen police. That was a duty none of us enjoyed.
Ready for KP or Cleaning Floors
Then there were those shots for everything I could think of and things I would never have thought of. I was beginning to think I was a substitute for one of my Mom's pincushions.
Lots of our time was spent listening to lectures. We had lectures on what the Articles of War meant, how to assemble and disassemble an M- 1 rifle, and, most frequent of all, on how to take care of our sex life.
A medical doctor and chaplain would always team-up to give the sex lectures. They would give two versions of the same subject, one just the facts and the other the moral implications. According to the statistics, most of the guys didn't seem to be paying much attention to these lectures.
Every week the chaplains held church services. Church attendance was supposedly required, but most of the guys skipped it. As the chapels were always small, the chaplains had to hold several different services. Of course, there were various types of services offered to fit the many different religious backgrounds represented.
Those services certainly served to make us think about life and death. War was a serious business, and we didn't know what would happen to us. Our fears were that some of us wouldn't be coming home alive. Of course, I can now attest that our fears came true.
As soon as possible, I volunteered to play the piano or the pump organ
for church and other activities. The larger posts would always have pianos,
but in the field, the organ did the job. As I knew practically every hymn
in their Navy-Army song book, the chaplains always loved to have me play.
I enjoyed playing and it also kept me busy. Sometimes I would get out of
KP duty because the chaplain said he wanted me for something. That was
Trying out for the Band
One day I discovered that there was a great band at Sheppard Field, and I decided that I would try-out for it. I told the band leader that I was a former band director from the Kansas Public Schools, and that I could play about any instrument.
"How about a trombone?" he asked. Since they needed trombone players, I decided I'd see what I could do. If there was a real shortage of trombone players, maybe I wouldn't have to be too good.
I checked out an instrument that felt good to me and did lots of hard practice on the scales before saying I was ready to audition. When the time came, I fumbled around with it trying to act like a trombonist that knew exactly what trombonists do. I had to do lots of bluffing, but apparently he needed that horn badly.
"Fine, you'll do!" he said.
The band director said that although my orders might be coming through within a few days, being in the band could keep me at Sheppard Field. That proved to be a joke because my orders to go to Scott Field came before "my band assignment papers" got to the proper authorities telling them I was in the band.
I forgot to mention that every soldier was given an entire battery of intelligence tests. They told me that I had an IQ of 132, and I heard later that the average was 80 to 90. I guess that's why they thought I would be more valuable to Uncle Sam doing something else besides playing in the band.
In later years, educators didn't think much of the Army-Navy IQ tests
so they developed their own. I had the new tests during my masters degree
program at the University of Kansas, but they never posted my score. So
I will continue to be happy and proud of the 132 that I got from the Army.
Scott Field Radio School
I was sent to a six-week's school at Scott Field, Illinois, to learn to be a radio operator.
A group of us went by train to our new assignments. At Scott Field the routines went something like this: get up early, exercise, eat, march to class, break for noon mess, stand in line, eat, go back to class, take a short break, more class, break for mess, stand in line, eat some more, night class, and then taps.
At Radio School at Scott Field, IL
Despite the routine of the days, the technical courses offered us servicemen were quite interesting. The courses started with a review in math, electronics and the like. As the weeks went along, the courses got more difficult. Of course, since we were going to be radio operators, everyone had to learn code. That was interesting. In order to pass, we had to be able to send 10 words per minute. I did better than that, but I wasn't particularly proud of it. I was more interested in the classroom set-up. There were rows and rows of students trying to learn code. Each student's sender position was connected to a teacher's master board. I was really curious to find out how they connected those units together. Of course, the whole thing reminded me of the Tact-O-Graph project Benny Bargen and I had worked on at Bethel College. Unfortunately, I was never able to learn how the electronics worked in that code classroom.
If we were lucky, we might have time to squeeze in a show. Motion picture features which were made available to the servicemen usually had themes about servicemen, their love affairs, and home front activities. Today some of those features are considered classics.
We all really looked forward to passes to leave camp. The camp was close to St Louis, Missouri, and it was exciting to visit there. Sometimes I would get week-end passes. There were several places with good accommodations for weekenders. I always tried to see as many different shows as possible. One of the shows I saw was "Hell's A Popping!" It was the rage about that time.
Ready for Weekend Leave to St. Louis, Missouri
When away from camp all of us would eat lots and enjoy a break from the army food. The USO's were great there in St. Louis, also. They fed us and entertained us royally.
Here I want to say just a few words of tribute and thanks to those who did all they could for homesick and lonesome servicemen all during the war. The USO organized many volunteer groups to entertain us, both in the states and overseas. Much credit must go to both that group and the Red Cross for all their helpful activities. Also many famous Hollywood actors and actresses did their part. Some I remember were Gregory Peck, Una Merkel, Carol Landus, Bob Hope and Jack Benny.
Back to my story about passes to St. Louis. We went there as often as possible, and the buses would always be jammed. Unfortunately, on the way back to Scott Field, too often there would be some soldiers who had too much to drink and had to be helped on to the bus. Getting them out of the bus and into bed when we got to camp was also a problem. I didn't have much patience when it came to that drinking stuff.
On one trip to St. Louis, I stopped in Belleville, and had my picture taken with my neat uniform and honest-to-gosh army hat. I sent copies to Darlene and my folks.
Portrait Taken in Scott Field, Illinois, August 18, 1942
I had only two opportunities to see Darlene and the folks in Kansas before my overseas orders came. Late one Friday afternoon, I flew to Wichita, Kansas. It was the first unofficial leave that I had ever taken. It was also the first time I had ever flown in a plane. Believe me, it was a great experience! The ride was slightly rough, but I thought that was the way it was supposed to be. Now I realize we were dodging storm clouds.
Mom and Dad met me at the airport. It was an emotional experience. Saturday morning early, I started downstairs to see the folks and there was Junior starting up to see me. When we saw each other, we both broke into tears. We realized how much we meant to each other. I never forgot that meeting with my brother on the third step from the bottom of the stairs. During those two short days, I spent my time visiting all my Hutchinson and Burrton relatives, and my girl. It was a sad time when I had to say good-bye to Darlene and the folks at the airport on Sunday. We all wondered when and if we would meet again.
"First Time Home, and Also My First Airplane Ride.
April 12, 1942 - On Unofficial Leave."
My other visit home was also unauthorized. Four other guys that lived
near Hutchinson and I decided to drive all night to get home. What a drive!
It was quite risky because if we had been late getting back to camp, we
would have been in much trouble. However, we decided it was worth the risk
to spend a few hours with our loved ones before we were shipped out to
an unknown destination. By the time we got back to camp we were really
worn out, and not fit for class the next day. As I remember it, we didn't
get back until around 5 o'clock that morning. Since the trip was completely
illegal, all of us were rather apprehensive over that entire week-end situation.
I didn't get into trouble the two times I left camp illegally, but I did have a problem later for what I considered an insignificant happening. This occurred during bed inspection. The inspection wasn't a surprise so when the sergeant yelled, "Stand for inspection," I thought everything was in order. We each stood at attention by our foot locker, hoping that the officer of the day would pass by quickly and not find anything wrong. Well, it wasn't me or my uniform that officer noticed, but rather a 6-inch piece of string on my clothes hanger.
"What's that there on your hanger, soldier?" the officer barked. Of course, I removed it at once, but, nevertheless, he continued to the sergeant, "Put him down for KP!"
I found that a little ridiculous! All he found was a stupid little piece
of string, but it could have been a case of murder considering all the
fuss that guy made over it. Oh well, someone had to do KP and I guess it
was my turn. We used to speculate that the officers just needed excuses,
even very slight ones, in order to get enough guys assigned to KP.
Soon after I had completed the radio school courses, I was notified that I was being shipped to St. Louis to a staging area awaiting orders to go overseas.
In a short time we were on a train to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. At first we were all thrilled to get away from Scott Field, but then we began to think more about what was happening.
Jefferson Barracks had its good points, but I'm afraid it had more bad
ones. It was obvious they had plans for us and we were going to go somewhere
in a few weeks. The first days there were spent getting settled in our
new barracks. Then, they decided that we should move to another barracks.
Instead of giving us a break, they insisted that we needed to do some close-order
marching. They also decided we should have more lectures on sex and moral
education. On top of all those activities, we all had to have our shots
for everything, including cholera and yellow fever. I felt that this was
an indication that I was going to the Pacific, but I really didn't know.
No one told us anything.
In the midst of all this, I decided, as several of the other guys did, that it was time to goof-off. There were a number of guys not showing up for roll call and detail. With all that junk at Scott Field and what was happening here, some of us were fed up!
"Private McMurry, report to the orderly room at once," boomed a voice over the speaker system.
Oh, oh! There I was resting on a nice green spot on the side of one of those little rolling hills and now I was in trouble. When I got to the orderly room, I immediately stood at attention in front of the officer.
"Private McMurry reporting, sir!" I said, trying to let on that nothing was wrong.
"So you are Private McMurry?" he said.
Here comes trouble! I knew it, I knew it! "Yes, Sir!" I said back. I knew I was going to have to do a little lying, because telling the truth might not work. I wanted to get out of that situation just as soon as possible. Oh, yes, lying was the thing to do.
"Private, according to my records here," looking down at his papers and continuing, "you have skipped roll calls and other details several times this week. What about it?"
"Well, sir, I haven't been feeling so well lately!" I said.
"You look pretty good to me," he responded. "Are you trying to break the orders we have here? Looks as if you've just been goofing off to me. You have such a good record up to now, I find it hard to believe you'd deliberately break the orders.
Boy, this was the first time in my life that I let out with a big bunch of lies.
"I'm sorry, sir, I didn't know I was breaking the orders, but I didn't hear the roll calls. I thought I had been everywhere I was called and at the right time."
"Soldier, you know we are at war and all of us need to shape-up before going overseas. I've been looking at your records and find that you are a former teacher and you should know how important it is to follow orders," he continued. "With any other man I would slap you on KP for a week, but I'm not going to do that. Something must be wrong here. I think I will have you report to sick call and have a talk with one of the medics. When you get back, report to my office and tell me what they say. That's all, Private, you may go. Remember, report to sick call, and report back to me!"
And that's what I did. Report to sick call!
In the Hospital
As a result of that little incident and the conference I had with the medic, they decided that I should be admitted to the hospital for observation. What that meant, I wasn't sure, but I knew one thing, I was going to get to goof-out again, but this time legally.
After being admitted and assigned to a bed, I went to bed and went to sleep. When the doctor, a psychologist, interviewed me, he decided that I was physically and mentally exhausted, and needed a rest.
Well, rest I did! For the first two days, I got out of bed only to eat and go to the toilet.
After those days of rest, the doctor came in and started to ask questions. "Private, do you think you are well enough to go back to your unit? Do you think you'd have a problem should you be assigned to a combat unit?" he asked, among other things.
"Sir, I was worn out. I had taken about all the pressure I could take. I'm perfectly fine now. I'm ready to go back to my unit," I responded.
However, getting out of the hospital wasn't as easy as I thought it might be, and while there I had lots of time to think about things.
I was really beginning to realize what leaving the states might mean. Of course, I couldn't do anything about it. I really couldn't have backed out of things if I had wanted to. There was those little "Articles of War" that had something about desertion saying, "..ordered to be shot or any other sentence a court might decide."
I've forgotten all the details about those "Articles of War," and I don't have any desire to research the subject now. All I knew then was that I was going overseas, and here are some of the thoughts that went through my mind:
If I go overseas, when will I get back? When will I ever see Darlene and my folks again? Where in the world will they send me? Will I get killed there? If we go by ship, will it sink? Both the Japs and Germans are sinking our ships. Will I be on one of them? Will I go to the Pacific or to the Atlantic? Was that training at Scott as good as they said? Will I be sent by air or ship? When will I get letters from Darlene and the folks again?
I also began to think about basic questions of life and death which I had not really thought much about before. I figured that the only thing I could do was to live one day at a time. I had been taught how to live a good life, so perhaps it would be a good plan to concentrate on keeping my own life straight and let God take care of me.
My faith, built from my years with my church and family, had lots to do with how I was going to live my life, as short or as long as it might be. Here are some of the things I planned to do: (Some of these I'm still trying to do.)
Keep in touch with God daily.
Write in my diary daily.
Write my family, Darlene and friends regularly and prioritize my letter writing: first to Darlene, second to my folks, and last to my friends.
Spend some time each day reading my Bible, especially the New Testament where Jesus taught us how to go through difficult days.
Do everything my superiors ordered me to do and be happy about it.
Volunteer for everything worthwhile, such as music for the chapel services and musicals.
Help my fellow soldiers in any way I can and listen to them concerning their own problems, if asked.
Let others know that I am a Christian, and also that I don't drink, smoke or gamble.
Be honest in everything I do.
Kill no one! My pacifist feelings must be honored. If I must be killed, so be it! I didn't want to kill a fellow human being.
Like others and let them know that I liked them.
I was just certain that I could do all of these things and others, and those thoughts helped me get ready for whatever I might experience overseas, no matter where I was sent.
As I said before, getting out of the hospital wasn't quite as easy as I thought. Everything I did had some kind of paperwork connected to it. Even the doctors got into the act. After a few days I was up and around the hospital trying to help some of the other patients.
I found out that being sent for "observation" had its surprising moments. I wasn't in a ward in the hospital just for soldiers who had a pain or something. I was in the psycho ward, and that meant it would be more difficult to get out. I heard all kinds of noises from the other rooms. I really felt sorry for one of the guys. A nurse told me that he wanted so badly to get out of the service to keep from going overseas, that he was in such a bad mental state he would have fits. He also kept the nurses busy cleaning his bed, as he would wet his bed when he got into that condition. I asked my doctor about him. He explained that some men just couldn't accept the fact that they had been drafted for service, and they feigned such acts just to get discharged. I found that hard to believe at first, but after being around that place for a few days, I was convinced the doctor was right.
"Are you ready to leave the hospital, private?" he asked. "Remember you said you felt as though you were going to faint several times. Have you ever had such feelings before in your life? Did you ever pass out? Do you think you can go with your unit overseas to combat or are you afraid that you might continue to have fainting attacks?" he continued to ask.
"Aw, Doc. I was just worn out. All I needed was a few days of rest. I'm feeling great and I am ready to go anywhere. I want to get out of here, O.K.?" I said.
After another day or so the doctor returned asking similar questions.
"Yes, Doc! I want to get out of here. Now!" I urged him.
This time I guess I convinced him I was really fit to leave, and after
a few hours, they finally released me. I vowed that the psycho ward of
the hospital was not for me. I realized that being admitted to that ward
for observation was just a step away from getting committed to a mental
Frank and Florence Angus, and Darlene
My Mom did her best to make my stay in St. Louis pleasant. She contacted dad's cousin, Florence Haynes Angus, who lived there and let her know my whereabouts. Her husband, Frank, came to visit me while I was still in the hospital and I was very pleased. After leaving the hospital, I had several visits with Frank and Florence.
On one of my visits, the Angus's took me to a concert by Jeanette MacDonald. I really enjoyed that, and it was made more memorable when a bug got in her throat. She coughed several times, and then continued to sing. Only afterward did we learn how much real discomfort that bug had caused her. Frank engineered an interview with her and since I had been a great fan of Jeannette MacDonald's for some time, that was really a thrill!
"Would you like to have Darlene come here and visit you for a few days?" Florence asked one day.
"You bet I would!" I said. "I certainly would!"
With that invitation, Florence invited Darlene to come to St. Louis and visit me on the 4th of July. She told me that they would loan us their car and help us have as much time as possible together during my pass.
When Darlene arrived by bus, the Angus's met her and took her to their home. They really entertained us royally, and gave us a wonderful time. With all that happened during those few jam-packed hours, I was almost able to forget for awhile my uncertain future.
The Angus Family That Entertained Darlene and Me in St. Louis, Missouri
"Darlene visited me July 4, 1942."
We went to a musical comedy staged in the park. We took a ride down the Mississippi River on an honest-to-goodness paddle wheeler. Food was everywhere, especially at the Angus's house.
The time came, though, when Darlene and I had to part. That was difficult.
We didn't have any idea when we would meet again. We were both optimistic,
however. I knew where she was going, home. But only God knew where I was
going. The only thing I knew was that I was on cloud nine for awhile, and
I could float on it for a long time.
Getting back to the camp routine after that wonderful few days was difficult. Then suddenly I realized that guys were being shipped out by the train load. I began to wonder just where and when they would be sending me. Actually the joke was on me as my name was already on a shipping list and I didn't know it. It must have been part of that cloud nine experience that had kept me from looking at the bulletin board where the orders were posted. When I did look and found my name, I rushed to the orderly tent to get more information.
"Where have you been, private? You should be getting into that train down there, and you haven't even taken you final short arm exam," he barked.
Oh, murder! Another short arm. Anyway, I now knew what direction I was going. I was to be heading west.
"If you hurry down to the big gym, you may be able to make it," the captain said. "Then grab your bags and head to your unit. They are probably loading now."
I rushed down to that gym and sure enough, everyone was gone. I had missed that short arm. No one leaves without it.
"What do I do?" I blurted out. "I want to get to my unit. I'm being shipped out."
One of the guys checked the listing, found my name and marked me present. Now what?
The medic in charge said, "Strip to your shoes and socks and go over there," he said, pointing to the far end of that big gym.
That was an order so I stripped. There I was as naked as a jaybird rushing across that big gym. When I got there, the doc wasn't even ready to inspect me. He was talking with another doc and didn't seem to be in any hurry. I began to wonder how I could control my impulses. "What would happen if I'd start .....," I thought. "Change the subject, you idiot." I did, and it worked.
"Come over here, private," he ordered as he sat on the chair ready to examine. "You know what to do."
"Of course I do, you idiot," only a thought, of course.
And then it was over. I rushed to get dressed, and headed for the train. Honestly, I was the last one on that car. As a matter of fact, I had trouble finding the right car. After I finally got to my seat, the ominous thought came: What would they have done to me if I had missed the train? Ugh!
"All aboard," the conductor called. The whistle blew and away we went!
Train Ride to California
It seemed that troop trains were going every direction, especially east and west. I had no idea where we were going when that train first pulled out of St. Louis. Soon I realized we were going west, and that meant I was probably going to California and then on to the South Pacific. Our actual destination was a well-guarded secret, especially from us. Of course, there were plenty rumors floating around. Later, I was told that even the train personnel themselves didn't know where they were going until the train tooted and moved out. It was really for our own protection, I'm sure. Because there were so many rails, bridges and tunnels along the way where a train could be sabotaged, the regular routes had to changed frequently. I wondered why we met so many troop trains going east. Why didn't they just ship the soldiers camped west of the Mississippi to the South Pacific and those on the east to Europe?
The railroad companies rolled out all the old cars they could find. The country was at war and railroad companies didn't have time to manufacture new cars. If a coach had wheels, it was brought back into service.
Our mess coach was an old box-car refitted with kitchen gear. Everything was GI, even the food! And yes, we always had MP's to protect us along the way.
Three times a day, we would be paraded to that mess car and back to our assigned seats. It was the first time that I had used my mess kit and cup.
After eating, we had to dip our dirty gear into the two barrels, one containing soapy water and the other with plain hot water. When it was really hot, a few swings of the mess kit in the air would dry it.
The old car in which I rode had a flat wheel. It bumped clickety click with each revolution. From the first moment that train began to move, I felt those clicks. The faster the train went, the worse the clicking got.
Many places along the route the rail beds were uneven. This would cause the cars to wobble from side to side. Often the engineer had to slow down to prevent the train from jumping the tracks.
Although we had sleepers on that train, the constant bumping and clickety
clicking kept me from sleeping the first few days. I kept thinking someone
would notice the problem and fix it, but no such luck. It was so monotonous!
Finally, our train pulled into the station at Camp Stoneman, not far from San Francisco. What a relief! No more bumping wheels and box- cars for mess.
Our ultimate destination was still a carefully guarded secret. However, we knew, for certain, that we would soon be on a ship headed west across the blue Pacific Ocean.
After we got off the train and into our barracks, our first few days were very busy.
"Dump everything out of your duffle bag. You will be issued new clothes suitable for tropical living."
We all complied.
The contents of our duffle bags were carefully examined. Then we were ordered to pack not one bag, but two. One with our immediate daily needs while on the ship, and the other to be stored in the ship's hold until we arrived at our unknown destination.
"And don't get the idea that you can get at anything in that second bag stored in the hold until we land," we were warned.
It was really hard for me to decide what to put in that single bag.
We got our new clothing and had our records updated so we could get paid. Oh yes, we were also issued gas masks. Good grief, that was rather scary.
I asked for a new pair of glasses. I didn't have an extra pair, and also I figured I probably needed a different prescription.
After the examination, the doctor decided my prescription was OK. "I'll order you another pair, but they will not be ready in time. They will be shipped later," the doctor said.
I wondered what I would do if I lost or broke my glasses before the other pair came. Luckily, I was able to keep my glasses whole all through my days in the South Pacific. Those were neat glasses. They were rimless and fitted with springs on each side of the nose piece. It was only after I had been home awhile that I broke one of the lens. Therefore, I never did use those GI glasses while overseas.
"Pack up all your old letters and dairies and send them home."
Well, I had already purchased a new notebook so I didn't have to worry
about that. I figured I'd start writing my ideas on the new one when I
got on the ship.
My Secret Code
We had been warned not to disclose in our letters anything about even the direction we were going. Some time earlier I had devised a secret code to let my folks know my whereabouts. The first letter of each paragraph would spell-out where I was headed. A terrific plan. Right?
The main problem with my scheme was that I had written so many letters the folks didn't know which letter had the code in it. Finally, they thought they had discovered the code letter and believed I was on my way to Russia!
I learned later that Dad immediately drove up to the South Hutchinson School where Darlene was teaching and told her that I was going to Russia.
Where they got Russia from one of my letters, I don't know. What I now realize is that I had forgotten about the code idea entirely. My poor folks had spent hours trying to figure out my coding and I hadn't even used one.
Sorry folks, I blew it! It wasn't until I got to Australia and was allowed
to write from "somewhere in Australia," that they learned the truth.
Two Kansans Visit
While at Camp Stoneman I had a chance to take a trip into San Francisco. My folks had known the Rexroad's for years and years, and they knew that Guy was an officer in the artillery, stationed in San Francisco. When it became evident that I would be shipping out of St. Louis to somewhere, they gave me his address, just in case I was sent west. I did call him and he immediately ordered a car and driver to pick me up.
When he arrived I was surprised to find him in a very nice car, being chauffeured by an enlisted man. What was interesting was that he sat in the back seat, and I had to sit beside his driver. He said that it wasn't proper for an enlisted soldier to sit with a high ranking officer. I felt better when later, out of town, he ordered the driver to a stop the car and requested me to sit with him in the back seat. He said he didn't want the MP's, Military Police, that is, to see us sitting together.
I learned that he was a full colonel in the regular army with a long line of credits for his war services. Colonel Rexroad spent lots of my time trying to persuade me I should be an artillery man. He explained the fine points of aiming and firing the big guns. I tried to be interested; but, honestly, I was bored. I had no plans to get into the artillery. I was in the Army Air Corps and that was just where I wanted to be.
The following article, based on what I wrote home after arriving in Australia, is from my home town newspaper, The Hutchinson News-Herald. I've added some facts, which are enclosed in parentheses, to help clarify things and correct some editorial mistakes.
"At home in Australia (Queensland) is Pvt. Glenn McMurry, who writes his parents that it is very much like the United States.
McMurry enlisted January 8 (1942) and graduated from the Scott Field Radio school July 1. (1942) He is taking officer's training, which he will complete at his Australian base. (Forget it! When I found that I would have to spend another two years overseas, I told the examining board I had changed my mind about officer training. Big joke on me. I wish now that my overseas time had been only two years.)
While awaiting shipment at Camp Stoneman, he was the guest of Colonel Guy C. Rexroad, former Hutchinson resident, who took him for a day of sight-seeing in San Francisco. (Col. Rexroad took me to see the Cow Palace, which at that time was being used by the military. I asked to be let out downtown and then hitched a ride back to Camp Stoneman.)
Before enlisting (I was about to be drafted) in the army (U.S. Army
Air Corps), McMurry was music instructor at Zook High School. He is a graduate
of Bethel College of (North) Newton, Kansas, with a degree in music. He
spent the past four summers as manager of a motion picture company which
gave merchant shows."
Early in the morning, September 1, 1942, we were told to get up and prepare for our departure from Camp Stoneman. Several times after we had our breakfast we were hurried around only to find that we had to wait. They would have us hurry to line up at our trains with our duffel bags, and then they would march us back to the barracks.
Later, about 3:30 in the afternoon, after several such dry runs, we finally boarded our trains. I was on the first of eight trains heading for San Francisco. Since it was loaded first, I knew I'd have to wait again before we really started to move.
Sizing up the car I was in, I could tell this was going to be a much nicer train than the one that brought me to Camp Stoneman. I hoped it didn't have a flat wheel. Five days of banging around, revolution after revolution, all the way from St. Louis to Camp Stoneman, had nearly driven me crazy.
Finally, we left Stoneman at 6:30pm for San Francisco. As I had expected, we did have a smooth ride this time.
The California landscape was glorious. The train rolled past Berkeley, through Oakland, and then crossed the Oakland Bay Bridge into San Francisco.
As we crossed the Oakland Bay Bridge, I could see on either side the booming shipping and ship-building industries. There were large cranes along the shoreline. That estuary was loaded with ships of all kind, large and small, hundreds of them loading or unloading their cargo. It was a sight to behold!
Out in the distance I saw that magnificent Golden Gate Bridge. I had heard about it and seen pictures of it for many years. Finally, I was really seeing it!
When we came to a stop, I looked out and saw a large sign saying "PIER ONE." I couldn't see where the other seven trains stopped, but I knew this was the end of the line for me. There wasn't any other place to go save west across the Pacific Ocean.
We left the train about 10:30pm and were instructed to walk single file through that big warehouse along the pier. It was a monster of a building loaded with all kinds of merchandise. Stevedores were busily moving large crates into the hold of the ship. That ship had to have enough supplies to last it for many days.
Like clockwork, our line of soldiers were directed to "walk the gangplank" spanning the water between land and ship. We must have looked like "sheep going to slaughter." There were hundreds of us marching onto that ship single file.
I could see the name of the ship painted on its side. It was the "Klipfontane." Later I was told it had a sister ship exactly like it. They had been made by a Norwegian shipbuilder in 1939 as cargo ships. For the war effort, our ship had been redone with bunks in its holds for soldiers being moved to the battle areas.
When I got across the gangplank into the ship, the entire environment around me changed. The air smelled different as we started down the hold. Odd noises resounded all around me. The steel bulkheads seemed to close in on me as I walked along. I felt as if I were entering a jail.
"This direction, soldiers," barked a sergeant pointing to a set of steel steps headed downward. "Continue down those steps until the corporal at the bottom directs you."
Down and down we went, several levels. I thought I was under the waterline, but later I discovered that my bunk was just above it. Finally, there was the corporal waiting to give the next directions.
"Go to the right, soldiers, and grab the first empty bunk," he barked. "Fill up all the bunks as you go."
I saw five layers of bunks stretching down the hall in front of me. I knew those hundreds of soldiers before and behind me were going to be squashed into the ship before we set sail.
"Put your duffel bag at the head of your bunk, and then lie down so your feet will be out of the way. We'll give you more instructions as soon as everyone is settled," a voice resounded through the speaker system.
There were no portholes to be seen. That told me that I was stashed in a freight area, not one for passengers.
Although we hadn't yet started away from shore, I could feel the ship moving ever so slightly. Truly, I was no longer on solid ground!
The sergeant had plenty of instructions all right--how to tie your duffel bag onto the pole supporting your bunk, where to put your clothes, when and where the mess was, the directions to the head, and so on.
"Remember you're going to be packed in like sardines. This is going to be your home for many days. Be cooperative. Don't stomp on the other guy's feet. Give room for others to pass. Above all, don't complain about your close quarters. Remember, we're all in this thing together."
Wow! What else can he tell us! I'd just wanted to stretch out on my bunk and take a nap for awhile.
The bunks were made of canvas laced with rope to a rectangular pipe. They were attached on one side to poles, one at each end. On the other side of the bunk at each end was a chain which was also attached to the poles. This made a fold-up arrangement. That is, you could fold your bunk upright and fasten it against the poles. Bunks were hung five deep. Next to my group of five was another group of five using the same two poles.
My bunk was the second from the bottom so I had a guy below me and one above me. At first the canvas seemed very taut, but soon it gave a little and before the voyage was over, I got quite use to it.
Locating the head, or in layman's terms, the bathroom, was, of course, one of the first items of business. It was in the bow of the ship, one floor up.
"Shit, shave, and shine" was a common phrase used to describe the activities that took place in the head. I had learned that phrase early during basic training.
Several surprises greeted us in the head. First, the ceramic toilets were very cold! Sitting on them reminded me of our outdoor toilets in Kansas. In the winter, I often had to brush off snow before sitting. However, I believe the ship's ceramic toilets were even colder than the old wooden outside ones back home.
Second, we soon learned there were two kinds of water on board ship, fresh and salt. The fresh was to drink and the salt water was for everything else. Taking a shower in salt water was an experience I hated with a passion, and that hard water soap reminded me of sandpaper. It was awful. I avoided taking showers until absolutely needed. A saltwater shave was just about as bad. Ug!
Next in importance to the head was the mess hall. We were informed that we would have two meals a day and would eat in shifts. Eating in shifts certainly was no surprise, considering all the hundreds of guys on board.
ON THE PACIFIC OCEAN
"Our Ship, the 'Klipfontane'"
Loafing in the Klipfontane Bunks.
Just Waiting! 30 Days of It
It was September 20, 1942, about 9:30 in the morning, the ship shoved off and left American soil. I rushed topside just in time to see our ship moving under the Golden Gate Bridge. We then dropped anchor in the bay to wait for other ships to join us so we could all leave together. All around us were Coast Guard cutters on guard, and a Navy blimp zig-zagged over head.
Finally, in the late afternoon our ship headed west into the Pacific Ocean. I watched for awhile and then went to the back of the ship to see my last view of land.
We all wondered how long it would be before we returned or if we would return at all. That last sight of land was truly a solemn moment.
Most of the time I enjoyed watching the water as we moved along. At times, however, the water got rough. Some of the guys got really sick and lost their last meal. I got sick enough to go lie down on my bunk a few times, but I didn't throw up. The chaplain's advice for preventing seasickness was "keep a full stomach and keep busy at something." I tried to follow his advise and it worked fairly well all those days on the Pacific.
When I would go on deck I was always mindful of the sergeant's warning to us when we first sailed, "If you fall overboard, we'll just toss a life buoy out to you and that's it. You can wait until the next ship comes along, because we can't turn our ship around to pick you up."
That was their stern way of telling us that we had better not get too close to the edge, and, believe me, we got the point.
There were many lifeboats hanging along the sides of the ship. I guessed that they were there for general emergency use, and not to pick up one careless guy. I'm sure there were supposed to be enough boats all of us in case of real trouble, but I really wondered about that. I had no idea just how many of us there were on the ship.
We often had life-saving drills. We were to pick up our buoys from our bunks and go to the deck of the ship promptly. Of course, we had our assigned positions. Everyone had to take part in that activity, and the sergeants inspected the holds to make sure they were empty of soldiers.
We were told that we were going to have to take a zigzag course across the ocean to keep the enemy subs from finding us. Of course, that meant that it would take more time to get wherever we were going. The rumor was soon going around that we were headed for Australia. For sure we kept moving our watches forward an hour at a time.
One day we were told we were crossing the International Date Line and we would lose one day. We enjoyed a ceremony to celebrate the occasion. A guy dressed like old King Neptune was in charge of the program. The top sergeants, stripped to their shorts, got painted, and clobbered with garbage. Of course, we underlings thought that was lots of fun. We all were given certificates of prove that we had really crossed the International Date Line.
"King Neptune Certificate."
Mail Buoy Hoax
All this time on the water we received no mail nor was there a way to send any. That situation caused all of us to be even more homesick. Since there is always a jokester in any crowd, someone started the mail buoy rumor. Word went around, "Tomorrow we will meet the mail buoy and we can mail letters home."
I was slightly puzzled about the idea, but to be sure, I wrote a letter and kept it in secret. When we met that buoy, I'd be ready. If what the guy said was on the up-and-up, I'd mail my letter. But, if it was a hoax, I would tear it up and not have to admit anything.
Well, now, I reasoned, "Isn't it possible that mail buoy story might be true? Maybe we will meet a ship going the other direction which can pick up our mail and deliver it to San Francisco."
I quickly began to suspect that the rumor was a hoax when I tried to imagine that buoy bobbing around in those rolling waves. Gee, I thought, that buoy would have to be very large to be seen. Not only that, it had to have radio signals that the other ship could pick up. Considering the secrecy of our course, I very quickly realized that such a situation was impossible!
The oft repeated words of the captain also came to my mind, "Nothing must be thrown overboard. Anything floating to the surface which might be noticed by a Jap sub would be a danger to us all. Take no chances!"
With that reminder, I now knew that neither a buoy, signal, light or anything could be left in our path.
OK, so it was a hoax. I grinned to myself, tore up the letter and forgot
the whole idea.
Passing the Time
Remembering the chaplain's admonition to keep busy, I made friends with him and offered to help him in any way I could. When he learned I could type, he introduced me to our commanding officer, and I soon became his official typist.
One day I discovered a big box of playing cards in the chaplain's office. Someone had donated them for use on our "Pacific Cruise." They were all in one big mess and it took me hours to get them in complete decks. But what did that matter! One thing I had lots of was time.
Playing the organ for the religious services was a natural for me, of course. I always enjoyed that. The organ was like nothing I had ever seen before, and I've never seen on since. It was a pump organ. The unique thing about it was that it could be folded up into a box, 18 inches by 12 inches by 3 feet. When I first saw it, I could hardly wait to get my hands on it.
The most fun I had on the trip was being a part of our men's chorus. Manix was the guy who organized it. He was a terrific piano player. He could play both by ear and by music. This was one time when my piano playing took second place. We gave programs for the officers and in turn they treated us with cokes in the officers' club, and gave us passes to some of the "off-limits" areas of the ship.
I introduced my "Freedom Forever" to the guys and they had a great time singing it. When we performed it for the colonel, he was so pleased with it he gave me a letter of recommendation. I was just sure that with that letter of introduction I could have my song copyrighted when I got to Australia. I didn't have much of a chance to do that, however.
Our Men's Chorus
After we had been on the ocean for two and one-half weeks zag-zagging around, we were told that we would land on Suva, Fiji. It was there that the ship would take on supplies for the rest of our trip to Brisbane, Australia. So, at last, we now knew for sure where we were going.
By this time I was some 10,000 miles from home. Imagine that! I figured that we had to go another 1500 miles to get to Australia. That meant several more days on the ship.
Since a convoy of ships had joined us some hours earlier, we knew we were getting close to land. I was one of the first to sight a mountain in the distance. Everyone was getting excited by now. The workers on deck were busy getting the cranes ready to dump garbage and lift needed supplies into the hold.
Finally, the ship was anchored, and we were told that we would be there for three days. We could come and go as we wished during that time. The officers allowed our men's chorus to be the first off the ship, after them, of course. How good it was to put our feet on terra firma again.
All along the beach little near-naked kids were everywhere urging us to toss coins from the ship. They wanted to dive for them. I was told that they had to catch them before they went to the bottom as the water was too deep and dirty for them to get them off the bottom of the bay. It was surprising how many they were able to catch. On the edge of the waterfront, I noted one man without arms. I wondered if he was born that way, or just what had happened to him. Later, I was told he, as a little boy, had dived for coins. Unfortunately, he dived into the mouth of a shark. How he managed to live was a miracle. His mother had cared for him for years. Just imagine diving into the mouth of a man-eating shark!
The native Fiji men were proud of their black, bushy hair, and they fixed it to stand up four to six inches high. They wore a dress coat, shirt, and tie, but were barefoot and had a sarong in place of pants. Of course, that seemed rather strange to us, but I suppose we seemed strange to them also.
Like any other busy city, cars, trucks, bicycles, carts and pedestrians were everywhere. It all had a different look, however, because everyone drove and walked on the "wrong" side of the street, and on every street corner was a smartly dressed officer, directing traffic. All those officers must have been trained as ballet dancers. As they stood on their little raised platforms in the center of intersection, they directed traffic with graceful motions of their arms and hands. They too, although dressed smartly in their uniforms, were barefoot.
Some of us decided to wander down the street and find a place to eat. The buildings were mostly 16th century architecture, which gave quite a different feeling from home. Although there were people of various races on the streets, most were black. We had a feeling that we white soldiers were being watched as we went down the street.
Suddenly it began to rain. The rain seemed to come down in bucketfuls. We dodged from one porch roof to another until we found a restaurant. It must have rained at least six inches, but then minutes later there wasn't a drop left on the ground. The entire island was porous coral so the rain water disappeared quickly!
"This table is filthy," I said as we sat down. Everyone agreed, but as we looked around we didn't find one that was any cleaner. We were hunger so we took chairs around the table and placed our order.
First I had a dish of ice cream and a cookie, and then a steak dinner with French fried sweet potatoes, beans, butter and tea. My bill was fifty cents. Wow! Only fifty cents!
Later, after our lunch, we walked around to see what the city looked like. The plant life was simply grand, especially the lovely flowers, the elephant-leaf plants and the many vines. Unusual birds, flirting around from tree to tree, made unusual sounds. I felt as if I were in the St. Louis Botanical Gardens.
Of course, I'm not a botanist, so I couldn't recognize the many odd plants I saw. I did recognize the begonia plants, and the magnolia, coconut, and banana trees. For sure, I knew I was in the tropics as I felt the heavy damp feeling closing upon me.
Minax, the guy who had organized our men's chorus, served as our leader as we wandered around in Suva. He decided we should really splurge by eating in the finest place in town, the Grand Pacific Hotel.
The hotel was a tall and stately building, painted white and trimmed in green. It was set on a huge lot. In front was a big garden with all kinds of flowers and greenery. There was a place to play cricket on the hotel grounds also. The British introduced that game to the Fijians and it stuck with them as a national pastime. I didn't see anyone playing, however.
Minax walked right up to the clerk and announced, "Reservations for ten at six o'clock." You can bet we were back at the hotel at six o'clock, looking forward to a great meal. we were not disappointed, As soon as we were seated, the waiters began to bring out the food, course by course, roast beef and ham, yams, French fried lumala, a kind of squash, toast and butter, and salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and pickled beets. To top it off, we had cookies and creamed peaches, and coffee. How we enjoyed that meal! We could hardly believe it cost only five shillings, which was about one American dollar.
After dinner, we walked back to the ship, a happy, full bunch of guys. That dinner was some change from our ship's fare.
The next day one of the guys suggested that we take a ride out into the country. It was easy to find a couple taxies. We were eager to find out just what our drivers would select for us to see.
Outside the city limits the roads were narrow and banked on both sides with foliage. As I was on the front seat in the first car, I felt I had a first-class view.
It was the first time I had ridden in a right-handed automobile. That was a new experience. However, as I remember that ride, we didn't meet any cars coming toward us. We were headed into jungles. The road became even more narrow and began to weave like a cow path.
Suddenly, about ten minutes after leaving the main road, the taxi driver began to slow down. As the road widened, several little grass huts showed up. I noted children around the area, playing. That was the first time that I had experienced real native life. It was a sparse-looking place, no gardens, playground equipment, or outhouses, just grass huts.
Soon the driver stopped in front of a little square grass hut.
"What's up?" I asked. "Why are we stopping?"
"There's something here for you to see," he answered.
The other taxi pulled up behind ours, and we all got out. We had no idea what to expect. All we could do was follow our leaders, the taxi drivers.
A number of little half-clothed boys and girls began to crowd around us, chatting like all little kids do. Then we saw the man who seemed to be in charge of them, possibly their teacher. I began to suspect that the entire affair had been planned. The taxi drivers certainly seemed to know exactly what was going on.
Suddenly, the teacher waved his hand and the children moved into the hut and sat down in a half circle. Then he invited the rest of us to come in and sit down. There were no chairs so all of us sat on the floor with the children.
With another wave of the teacher's hand, the kids began to sing in their native tongue. After a few songs, the teacher announced that the children would sing some special numbers for us.
I was stunned! Those kids started to sing, "Roll out the barrel." They sang the entire song, clapping and waving their hands and grinning. Then they sang "Workin' on the Railroad."
They were so proud of themselves. Naturally we applauded them loudly and left them a generous tip.
We returned to town, happy that someone had suggested the ride in the
Storm at Sea
At the end of our three days at Suva, we were all aboard again and ready for the final leg of our trip. Little did we know what lay in store for us!
Suddenly, not far out from shore, the sky became very dark, the wind started to blow and the waves got higher and higher. we were in a full-blown storm!
I stayed topside as long as I could stand it just to see what I could see. Before heading below to my bunk, I watched that ship's bow leap high in the air, and then dip down so far that the waves splashed over it. It was the roughest sea I had experienced.
As I made my way down to my bunk, I had to hang on to all the railings to keep from falling. Most of the guys had already gone down into the hold. Many of them and even some of the crew got sick. The bunks were creaking back and forth. I lay down, hoping to get quiet enough to go to sleep. No such luck! My body kept rolling from side to side. I still shudder thinking about that feeling of helplessness.
Can you imagine the problems we had going to the head and using the facilities there? It was hard to find enough places to hang on to so we wouldn't fall.
I'm not sure how long that storm lasted. It seemed like an eternity. When it finally calmed down, we were all exhausted and ready for sleep.
The rest of the cruise to Australia was calm. I enjoyed watching the
whales and dolphins in the water, and lots of gulls and albatrosses soaring
and circling high above us in the sky.
LAND HO! Australia
When we got close to the entrance of the harbor, we had to stop long enough for the steel nets to be lowered. Those nets were there to prevent submarines from getting close to shore. We learned that enemy subs had been known to hide for hours, just waiting for one of our ships. We were glad that this harbor had been equipped with nets.
When I saw the outline of a city before me, I thought it was a mirage. Rumors were that we would have to walk a long way from the harbor to our camp. We also thought we'd have to watch for crocodiles and that ostriches would be everywhere. Of course, all of this information was just a joke someone had started. Actually, in all the time I was in Australia, I didn't see a crocodile, ostrich, kangaroo or koala bear except in a zoo.
I did get acquainted with the sounds of the kookaburra bird with its loud squawking. At first I thought it was an animal making such a sound, but soon I located that little big-headed bird flitting from tree to tree. What a noise! Also, I saw lots of flying squirrels there. It was fun to watch one of those squirrels take off. Since I had never even seen a picture of one before, seeing one gliding from the top of one tree to another was a thrill. They didn't seem so unusual on the ground, but, boy, could they stretch their skin and soar!
One of the guys caught a fruit bat. I don't remember just where he found
it, but I assume it was sleeping in a tree or some place where bats rest
at night. It was a wicked looking animal with a wing length nearly two
feet. It tried to bite everything around with its sharp teeth. What a ferocious
act it put on. After examining it from head to tail, carefully, of course,
we let it go free.
Brisbane, Australia, where we landed, was a large bustling city with old fashioned streetcars and lots of people, mostly women. I was told that even before all the young men had gone off to war, women out- numbered the men. What a paradise! After a month at sea with only men around, all of those Aussie women looked beautiful. To us, there wasn't an ugly one in the lot.
Incidentally, it wasn't long before we learned that the Aussie women liked the American soldiers and the Aussies soldiers resented us. There were some real fights, especially when a few drinks of that Australian beer were passed around. The Post Exchange, or PX, as we called it, was always the hangout for the Americans, and we could buy about anything we wanted. The Aussies didn't have as much money to throw around, and that caused friction between us. One night some of the Aussies came to the PX drunk. The ensuing fracas left that PX a wreck. After that, we were warned to stay out of the way of any Aussie, especially if he had been drinking. We were also warned to leave the Australian girls alone.
"Go home, Yanks!" was a phrase that hit me right where it hurt. I thought I was here to help the Aussies.
After disembarking we were moved to our camp by truck. The camp was a few miles from the city and very crude. There were a few buildings with corroded tin roofs which the officers promptly requisitioned for themselves. We were ordered to quickly put up the pyramidal tents that would be our home for the next few months. We had arrived on the shores of Australia in late September. According to the scuttle-butt, our arrival was a big surprise. We were not expected, and everyone seemed to blame MacArthur for the blunder. I doubt that MacArthur, himself, really had much to do with so many of us radio operators arriving all at once. The orders, no doubt, came from operations officers further down the line of command. It was true that our planes were being shot down quite regularly at that time and replacement crews were needed. Everyone was in a hurry to get personnel moved overseas where the action was. The fact that it took nearly four months to get us out of Brisbane seemed to prove that someone had made a logistical error.
The nights in Brisbane were cold when we first arrived. It was still winter there, although we knew their summer was going to arrive in the next few months. Since we had crossed the equator, the seasons would be mixed up for us. Incidentally, we also noticed the stars in the sky looked different down there.
The first nights I was there I thought I would freeze. I dug a hole in the ground for my bed and lined it with newspapers. It didn't work very well, however. I still shivered every night.
Not only did it rain a lot, it also hailed. That hail was something to take seriously. I picked up hail stones that wouldn't fit into my mess kit cup. They weren't exactly round, either. They had little icy bumps all over them. Wow! I didn't want to get hit with one of those darned things. After one of those storms, we found holes in the tin roofs. Some of them were four to five inches in diameter.
We learned that a tent was about the safest place to be during a hail storm. The hail stones would bounce off the canvas most of the time.
Going to town was one of our favorite pastimes. Several of us would hike a ride to the end of the streetcar line and hop on the first car that came along. I said "on" because by the time we got to the streetcar, the seats were always occupied. It was fun hanging on the sides, but it was also a little difficult at It made trouble for the conductor, too. He had a hard time collecting fare from such a gang of guys. Since the fare was only a few pence, it was often easier just to let the Yanks go for free rather than try to collect.
We soon discovered that riding on the side of the streetcar was a bit dangerous. This was especially true if we were on the wrong side. Since Australia was settled by the English long ago, both cars and streetcars are driven on the left side of the street. I remember one scary time that happened before we Yanks all got used to that way of driving. Lots of us were hanging on the right side of the streetcar. Suddenly someone yelled, "Look out! Here comes a streetcar toward us."
The oncoming car also had a load of Yanks hanging on the right side of it. There had to be some fast planning to keep people from getting killed as the cars passed each other.
"Squeeze it in!" one Yank yelled.
All hanging from the right sides of both cars did exactly that. I don't know how we ever made it. I know I did my part. I expelled every bit of breath from my lungs and hung on for dear life. I was certain someone was going to get swept off and be crushed. I closed my eyes and prayed, hard and furiously. Well, somehow prayers were answered and we all got by safely.
Whew! We all learned our lesson. From then on we rode either in the inside of the car or hung outside on the left side.
When we were in town, eating at the various eating establishments was fun. The food was always delicious. There was always plenty of beef steak and it was cheap. For fifty-cents I could get a big helping of "steak and eggs."
While we were loafing around waiting for our shipping orders, we would take some little jaunts around the countryside. One day someone got a 6x6 GI truck. From where, I don't know, but soon we were climbing the hills in the outskirts of the city.
"We caught a big snake trying to cross the road."
"We also captured a lizard."
After driving for some minutes on a rather rough road, we saw a farm house off to the left and several children rushing to meet us. The truck came to a stop next to a fruit tree which was covered with very large light green grapefruit-type fruit. The children suggested that we pull one and try it. I did that and found to my surprise that it was really an orange! I had never seen a green orange as large as a grapefruit before. Had we stumbled into the Garden of Eden here in the mountains just outside the city of Brisbane? In fact, I never saw another tree like that one again. It must have been a mirage.
On the same little trip around the country, we visited a cane sugar plant. Before the sugar cane can be cut, it must be stripped of its leaves. This can be done with sharp knives, but in large fields, fire is used. Burning off the dried blades doesn't hurt the stalk, but a burned-off field looks terrible. The stalks are then cut and hauled to the plant where they are chopped and squeezed to get the sap. The sugar sap is stored in large vats, and the stalks that are left are used for cow and horse food. The animals like it because it is sweet.
Unfortunately, we couldn't see the sugar plant in operation because
the manager reported that one of the workers had fallen into the feeder
and been killed, and the operation was shut down. Ug! How awful! Imagine
being cut up with those sharp knives!
That Letter to Darlene
One day after I had been in Australia for awhile, I made a big decision. I had seen my buddies fly away north to the front and many of them didn't get to their destinations. I figured I'd be going soon, and knew the risks involved.
I had no idea how long I would be overseas. Although there were always rumors that we would be returned to the states after six months, we all knew that was really only wishful thinking.
Maybe I wouldn't get back at all, or I might return handicapped. There were many dreadful possibilities. So, after thinking about such awful things, I decided I shouldn't expect Darlene to wait for me. It wasn't really fair. So, I wrote her a long letter saying that I couldn't expect her to wait for me. In other words, I told her to feel free to date others, and just forget about me. Maybe we had been making a mistake getting so close when my future was so uncertain.
After a few days of serious thoughts, I knew I had made a stupid decision by mailing that letter. I knew I wanted her to wait for me. I quickly started another letter figuring with the mail delivery the way it was, maybe they would arrive together and she would know I really didn't want her to forget me.
When I heard from her, I learned how bad she had felt about the first letter. She assured me that she wasn't interested in getting involved with anyone else, and she'd be there waiting when I got home.
Perhaps that letter exchange helped both of us be faithful all of those months and years, suppose?
Our daily letters got more and more intimate from there on. We knew we would get married when I got home. It was great to write about our plans for life after the war.
Many of the young men got married before going overseas. As a result they started raising a family about four years before I did. Many boys didn't get home at all and their wives were without help raising their families. We have always felt waiting was the best decision.
While in Australia, I enjoyed some fun times with a nice girl. I met her at the canteen in Brisbane and we discovered that we liked the same kind of music.
"Would you like to visit my home some evening?" she said. "I have a piano there and we could have more music there. Also, I would like to introduce you to my parents."
Wait now! Should I accept? I hadn't been in an Australian (Aussie) home and that would be a interesting experience. Too, it would be fun to meet her family. I decided to accept her invitation. I knew that Darlene wouldn't care. In fact, I felt sure she would encourage me to do it.
You know, most Aussie houses looked a little funny to me. There were a few brick ones, but most were made of wood. They had red roofs and were perched on posts or piling. Termites were a big problem and building on posts made it easier to keep them out. Houses made of wood make fine food for termites. There were some brick buildings, and, of course, they didn't need to be built on stilts. Termites drill small holes longways and eat the marrow or pith part of the wood. I always wonder how they manage to turn around and get out again. I guess they just keep on going until they get through a piece of wood, or maybe they make a U-turn and dig their way back. Visiting that Aussie family was a wonderful experience. Since their life style was quite similar to that of my Kansas family, I felt very much at home. Of course, the Aussie accent was different from that of Kansas folk. I liked to hear them talk and I had fun trying to imitate their accent.
We had lots of music and exchanged ideas about living in Australia and
Kansas. We discussed churches, schools and various social activities. I
had a very enjoyable evening.
From Radio Operator to Typist
I was beginning to get the word that my orders for shipping out to New Guinea were eminent. That was a very uncomfortable feeling. With so many of the guys around me leaving, and with all those reports of C-47 bombers being shot down, I was really uneasy about being sent out. Still I was getting very bored policing the area, going on KP, and spending lots of time just loafing. One day I made an important decision.
I noticed that one of the sergeants in the orderly room was a "hunt-and-peck" typist. That means he typed with his two forefingers only. High-speed for that guy was a top 55 words per minute and to hear him type was like listening to a machine gun firing. He hit the keys of the typewriter with the force of a sledge hammer. His finished sheet of writing was beat to a pulp with holes all over it. Disgusting!
I had never let it be known that I was a typist or that I had been a typing teacher, but I decided now was the appropriate time to confess my typing ability. I walked into the orderly room.
"Need any typing done?" I asked.
Since the sergeant seemed skeptical about my ability to type, I asked again.
"Want me to prove I can type?" I asked.
"Here, type this!" he said, keeping his skeptical attitude.
Immediately, I sat down at that old clunker of a typewriter and copied the information at a speed that really surprised him.
"Let me look at your personnel file. I'm going to change your MOS (Military Occupation Service) code to typist," he said without hesitation.
Every serviceman has his own personnel file, better known as his 201 file. That file follows a soldier throughout his life, from one assignment to another. Years later, I found my 201 file in the military archives. The government is long on paper trails of the living and the dead.
I was immediately assigned to the orderly room and given a typing job. It was at that time that I found my ability to type serial numbers came in handy. I didn't have to watch my fingers as they knew just what to do. Credit for my ability to type numbers must be given to my friend and teacher at Bethel College, Benny Bargen.
I enjoyed having some useful work to do and time went faster. Fewer and fewer of us were left now in Brisbane and I knew that it would soon be my turn to leave Australia for parts unknown, probably to New Guinea. As everyone was heading north to the war zone, I figured that was where I would go as well.
I continued to make my little walks around town and enjoy the PX food and entertainment. During October and November down under the Southern Cross there is nice weather. Back in Kansas folks were writing about the cold weather they were having. Although I would have loved to go home, I did enjoy the South Pacific weather more and more as the months and years went by.
Letters to and from Home
"Writing letters home, probably to Darlene or my folks."
For some time after reaching Australia, I didn't get mail from home at all. I kept writing, but during the early months of the war, most of our mail had to come by ship, zig-zagging across the Pacific. Of course, it took just as long for my letters to get the states. This meant that mail would come in bunches.
I'd try to answer all my letters. I organized them by date so I'd not get mixed up. I told my folks, Darlene, and others who wrote to me that they should number their letters so I could know if all my letters were getting through. I did the same, carefully keeping a running number system so they'd know if my letters were getting through.
This letter writing routine continued throughout my stay in the South Pacific. Darlene and I both wrote to each other nearly every day. My parents were very faithful about writing also. In fact, many of my relatives and friends wrote often. No one can ever really know how much those letters meant to me so far away from home.
Of course, all mail was censored. Darlene and the folks would tell me about all the holes that were in some of my letters. Sometimes pictures I would send also had holes in them.
V-Mail Was the Standard Way to Communicate
I was always delighted when I got rolls of film from home. But taking care of film in that damp climate was quite a challenge. One day I got a bright idea. Condoms would make great packages to keep moisture from my rolls of film.
Great idea, but how would I get the condoms? For sure, I wouldn't have the nerve to ask Darlene or my folks to send them to me.
I knew our headquarters squadron medic dispensed them to the guys going on leave, but so far I hadn't been given any leave orders. Even if I had such orders, I would feel embarrassed to ask for condoms. As you read this, you must remember times have changed a lot in the last 50 years. Today there is much more open talk about condoms and many other related subjects.
Finally I got up enough nerve to go to the medic with my request. Before giving me a chance to explain my need, he chided me.
"What in the world do you want all of those condoms for, sergeant. Are you going on leave or do you just want to make some balloons to play with?"
"I want them to protect my unexposed and exposed film from the heat and moisture," I answered.
Although the medic finally gave me the condoms, he couldn't resist one parting remark.
I hope they keep your film dry, and be sure to enjoy yourself on your next leave," he grinned.
Running Motion Picture Shows
For some unknown reason one day the Public Relations officer asked me, "Can you operate a motion picture projector?"
"Of course I can." I answered. "I used to own one and operated it while I was at college. Also, I ran a theater route showing films in the small towns in Kansas. I was also responsible for the audio-visual program at my teaching job at Zook Consolidated Schools in Kansas."
"Here, take over, private!" he quickly answered.
From then on I felt more at home. In addition to continuing to play
the organ for all the religious services, just as I had on ship, I was
now the official motion picture operator.