Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Guinea and Manila

One of the things we did at Finschhafen, New Guinea in World War II, was to take a Jeep ride to Buna Mission. That was the “noted” battle site of November 1941 to January 1942 - maybe a year before I went there.

My recollection of the history of the place - battles included - is sketchy, but I do remember the significance to me, of the palm trees near the beach. Our information was that when our troops started the battle of Buna, many of the Japanese were “camped” in the leaves of the palm trees, and succeeded in “snipering” (a word?) our troops as they landed. As a result, the ships at sea “bombarded” the coast - and trees - so that NOT ONE of the trees had any foliage at the top, as could be expected. They were all “knocked out”, along with the snipers, by the ships in the harbor. Awesome sight!

The 5 men in my tent at Finschhafen were: Glen Grewell (late of Clark County Ohio); Thurl Campbell (late of Boynton Beach FL area); Clint Wilcox (late of Rochester NY area); Al Fessler (presently in Arizona); and me (currently in Indiana). Al and I, of course, the only 2 still living.

Glen Grewell retired 15 miles from my home town area, and we were able to be with him and his wife many times. We attended the funerals of both him and his wife Ila. He was an elecronic genius(bar none). An example: he built - from “scratch” - a color television set, and later, a satellite receiver and “ham” antenna in his back yard. With the TV, he bought no parts - he “wound his own coils”. Many other things.

Though the whole 897th Signal Company Depot Aviation, had annual “reunions”, the 5 of us were able to meet together only one time, in Dayton Ohio - 50 years after we first met.

Throughout our “tour” in Southeast Asia, we had, basically, the same cooks. Different Mess Sergeants were in charge, but at least 2 of the cooks remained. One memorable meal, we were filing in line with our tin mess kits and utensils, and one of the cooks said, “Steak today, boys!” “Hurrah“, we said. “Better than ‘spam’”. However, upon closer examination, it turned out to be “liver”. I’ve never liked liver since.

I had one official trip while at Finschhafen. I “safe handed” some equipment from our outfit in Finschhafen, to Hollandia, farther up the coast. We had some of our guys there - fixing radios.

After 15 months - more-or-less - at Finschhafen, our whole outfit packed up and moved to Manila, Philippines. By ocean, of course. I don’t remember whether “Ducks” were used to get us to and from the ship or not, but away we went.

While we were at Manila, so was General of the Armies Douglas MacArthur. I saw him occasionally, driving to and from the Air Base where we were stationed (Nielsen Field), right at Manila. He rode in the back seat of a Packard - luxury car of the day. The license plates front and back of his car carried the 5 stars of his present rank, prominently displayed. You couldn’t miss him.

I was in the shop at the Air Field one day, when we got a radio call concerning a defective radio on a certain plane. All we were given were the identifying numbers on the tail of the plane. I got on a weapons carrier, and rode out to find the plane. I found it - the biggest and most elaborate of any there.

Still unsuspecting, I climbed a simple ladder up to the cockpit of the plane to do the repair. When I got to the top, a large Master Sergeant met me and said, “Where do you think you’re going?” “I’m here to fix the radio, Sir.” “Not in those shoes, you’re not! Take ‘em off!”

What do you think I did? I was a lowly Staff Sergeant (technician at that).

I climbed back down the ladder, placed my shoes beside the other pair there, and climbed back up in my stocking feet. ( I had noticed the shoes, but never suspected that mine would join them.)

When I got in the cockpit, I discovered that this was General MacArthur’s private plane (owned by the Army, of course). After I took care of the radio, the Sergeant asked me if I would like a tour. “Sure”, I said. He led me back “aft” in the plane, and into the General’s private compartment. (Would you believe “apartment”?) Standing out above anything in the whole plane, was the “bulkhead” - with a 5 foot circle of 5 stars, denoting the General’s rank! Very intimidating! I was sufficiently impressed.

The GI's may have called him “Dugout Doug”, or “Backtrack Mac”, but you had to be impressed by that plane - and bulkhead.

One evening, several of us were riding in Jeeps in downtown Manila, and just ahead of us was another Jeep, and a soldier in the back held up a newspaper with the headline - “VJ Day arrives!” Though there had been rumors, this was the first confirmation we had that the war had ended. Joyous time. “When are we goin’ home?” was the cry.

It took awhile. The “Surrender” still had to be signed on the USS Missouri. But, prior to that, a delegation of Japanese army officials landed at Manila, for pre-negotiations for surrender. We heard they were coming, so we lined up outside a fence at the airport, right where the delegation exited the plane, and filed into cars. Without the fence, we could have touched them. No one made any pejorative remarks that I remember. We just watched history take place in front of us. Of course, they came to meet with General MacArthur and his staff.

It finally came time for me to head for home. I remember very little of that trip and flight, except it was much shorter in time than our first trip 2 years earlier.

I landed in San Francisco, and immediately called Jean - the first we had spoken in that whole time. Letters, but not any speaking.

My father-in-law always kidded me about being short - since he rememberd me as a “snot nosed kid” many years before. One time when he ran me home from the back yard where all the neighbor kids played ball, I turned and said, “You think you’re smart because you’re the Night Watchman!” Wiseacre? You bet! Just a kid, though.

Anyway, back to the “short kid”. After I got home, he told me right away that the telephone call cost so much (he probably paid for it), because they had to get a stool for me to stand on to use the phone. Oh well, I was just glad to be home!

Mercy of God? Brought home safely?

Lamentations 3:22 “It is of the Lord’s Mercies that we are not consumed, because His Compassions fail not.”

Thank God!

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