The only date that Stanford University historian David M. Kennedy was available to speak on America's participation in World War II at our Dallas teacher institute happened to be June 6, the anniversary of D-Day. The timing was a coincidence that invited imagination. Why not expand our audience to include Dallas-area World War II veterans in addition to the classroom teachers participating in the institute? Bill Tsutsui, the dean of Southern Methodist University's Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences and our partner in the institute, readily agreed and secured the stately Martha Proctor Mack Grand Ballroom for the event. Liz James, Humanities Texas's coordinator of the Dallas institute, contacted several Dallas-area American Legion and VFW posts, and ultimately enlisted the help of Mary Lynn Swayze, the past president of Honor Flights of Dallas. Ms. Swayze's contacts enabled us to invite a hundred local veterans to Professor Kennedy's luncheon presentation; eleven of them attended.
Before the program began, I asked the veterans if they would like to speak to the group. Their preference was that I simply introduce them, which I did. The rousing standing ovation they received was spontaneous, heartfelt, and emotional. After Kennedy's superb presentation, which is available to view on our website, the veterans posed for a photograph with him. I then sat down with the veterans individually and recorded some details of their military service and their experiences. Several who left the event before I could visit with them shared their recollections with me later by phone. We are pleased to include the veterans' reminiscences in this newsletter.
I was a captain in the infantry at Fort Benning. They sent twenty-one officers from Benning itself to train Filipinos to fight the war. They knew the war was coming, so we had to build up the Philippine Army. So we were sent to build it.
I was in the Bataan Death March. I couldn't march as much as lots of them did. I was marching along, and six people in one of our ambulances stopped, six people and the driver and a man in the front seat. It was full. It stopped right alongside me. It had running boards. I wanted to jump on that running board, and I did it. The Japanese didn't bother me.
They should have killed me. In other words, they'd kill people for doing that. Anyhow, they didn't. We started driving along and the Japanese stopped the ambulance, took the driver. It was our ambulance, our men in it, so they wanted to take the driver to drive one of their trucks. So that left us without a driver. I was a captain in the infantry, but nobody knew that I'd taken my infantry insignia off. I'm not an idiot, not completely. I'd taken that off, and I had just my bars on. From then on I was a doctor and didn't realize it. I didn't tell anybody I was a doctor, didn't even think about it until the end of the death march, and my God, that's how I did it. They thought I was a doctor on that damn ambulance.
A more detailed interview with Bill Adair is available from the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
I was in the Korean War. I was a front line infantry platoon leader with the Second Infantry Division. I was over there from August of 1950 to July of 1951. My unit went from the Pusan Perimeter to the Yalu River when the Chinese came in. And so, the Second Infantry had a lot of casualties. In fact, over four thousand—that's KIA and wounded.
The thing that's always stood out in my mind about that was something the federal government did. They've never done it again. In December of 1950, they called up the inactive reservists. Here are men who had been in World War II. They were called inactive reservists. They gave them two weeks to get their civilian stuff in order, and two weeks later they were on the front line in Korea. This was a horrible morale factor. These men were great soldiers, and they helped stabilize the line on the 38th parallel. And so, there was big stuff in Washington about that. Many committee meetings. But this never happened again, never will. It shouldn't happen again. That's one of the things that always stood out in my mind about what they did to the inactive reservists. That's horrible to do that, the federal government.
But I stayed in the military. I put thirty years in the military, retired as a lieutenant colonel, and I went on active duty. I was in the reserve and the National Guard. We take World War II veterans to Washington, DC, to see that memorial.
I joined the United States Army on March 5, 1943, eager to serve my nation during World War II. Originally assigned to the revered Seventy-Eighth Infantry (Lightning) Division, I soon applied and was selected for Army Air Corps pilot training. I served nearly a year abroad with the Air Corps, running an oxygen generating plant on Guam in support of the B-29 bombers that raided Japan.
Six months after the war's end, I decided to make military service my career and reentered what is now the United States Air Force (prior to that it was the Army Air Corps). My troop carrier organization serviced all the embassies in Central and South America and the Caribbean. From 1948–1949, I participated in the Berlin Airlift. Over the course of my career, I also deployed to Japan, Wake Island, Bermuda, Bangkok, and Thailand. I spent two years in Japan in Niigata. Niigata is a small army air base two hundred miles north of Tokyo; we could observe all of the takeoffs and landings of Russian MiGs in Siberia.
I would like to add that during my service I spent eighteen months during the war on Guam in the South Pacific. I spent five years in Panama, stationed in the Canal Zone. At that time I was a troop carrier and we serviced all embassies and their attachés in Central and South America. I served one year on Wake Island [in the early 1960s] as an Air Force representative for Pan Am's commercial aircraft that were handling the military to and from the Far East. Wake Island was run by Pan Am. The director was a CEO of Pan Am, and we were just a small Air Force detachment. There were two military units on Wake: a six-man Air Force unit and a coast guard Oran unit.
I retired in 1970 after twenty-seven years of active duty service and three years reserve. I then became a civil servant, kicking off a second, twenty-year career with the Social Security Administration. During those years, I also served with the Texas State Guard, receiving numerous awards and citations [and] achieving the rank of colonel.
I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1942, at age eighteen. However, I didn't go to boot camp until March of 1943. I wasn't drafted. I signed up for four years, and I was tied in for four years. There was usually a little hoorah stuff between Marines of being called a "Hollywood Marine" and a "Parris Island Marine." I went through boot camp at Parris Island, and after getting through boot camp, I had the most pleasant experience and duty. I was assigned to go to Texas A&M, a school that the Navy had for naval and Marine Corps personnel. That was a code-type school, international code that could be used wherever your duty was, sometimes aboard ships, sometimes on an aircraft, and that type of thing.
I worked in a rural area that was part of Admiral Nimitz's domain. After MacArthur went to Australia and left the Philippines in the hands of Jonathan Wainwright, his responsibility was for the northern part of the Pacific and Admiral Nimitz had the balance. We kept track of the movements of our ships and our carriers and planes when we could, and the best we could. That was in the rural area of the New Hebrides, Espiritu Santo. I was assigned to a Marine Corps air wing of MAG-11 that had planes aboard carriers. They were primarily some F4Fs, some SBDs, scout bombers, some torpedo bombers, and that type of thing.
I went ashore in September of 1944 for the invasion of a small island that historians tell us could have been bypassed and saved us a lot of lives. MacArthur was coming up to New Guinea to go on into the Philippines and the island of Peleliu was in the Palau group of islands in the Western Carolines. It had a garrison of about twenty thousand Japanese. It had an airstrip. It was about five hundred miles off the Philippine coast, and I guess for that reason, MacArthur, not taking any chances, wanted that island taken and the airstrip secured.
I went ashore with the MAG-11 Marine Aircraft Group. However, we had a marine officer with the Fifth Marine Regiment. His name was Puller, also known as Chesty Puller. He eventually ended up as commandant of the Marine Corps. But his philosophy was to just move forward as fast as you can. The body count apparently didn't matter. The Fifth Marines had the toughest job on that island and the casualties were over 50 percent. The majority was KIA and then the rest were wounded and they had called for reinforcements. There was an Army division on neighboring islands. The chore of the Army was to secure those. Chesty Puller called for reinforcements and they had to come into our unit, those of us assigned to MAG-11, and ask for volunteers.
I volunteered and saw action with the Fifth Marine Regiment and partly, the naval corpsmen attached to the Marine Corps. They were overrun with so many wounded and dead. We volunteered to go on as riflemen and stretcher-bearers. I was in that for probably a couple of weeks until we got things under control. I am trying to think of who our commander was at the time on the ground. He [Paul Douglas] was a forty-eight-year-old or so professor, older than us young fellows, from Illinois. He later became Senator. I actually carried a musket and got to fire it. But, anyhow, I was just a few feet away from Douglas and he said, "I need stretcher-bearers. You and you and you," you know. Okay. So, we went out and picked up a wounded Marine, but then we got in crossfire. We had to call up a tank to come on in and pick up this wounded Marine. They saved our hide, and we also got that Marine out of there.
On that island, the Japanese had been there all during the 1930s. They used some Korean labor. They built dozens of concrete pillboxes that were well fortified. In fact, after things were over and settled down, we got some of their saké. They left a bunch of that behind. But that island was pretty well fortified. There weren't any mountains there. There were some hills, maybe 1500-foot elevations. One of them, facing the beach, had a 155 mm long gun in there. We had to use the aircraft before that airstrip was secured and made where the airplanes and the carriers that were offshore—they put five-hundred-pound tanks on them, filled with napalm, and that was the only way they could get to some of those entrenched Japanese in the hill, up above. They were well prepared because they had been doing that during the '30s, I guess. Their scheme was to control, you know, the China Sea, the Pacific, and probably everything from Japan on down in that part of the world. That was quite an experience. I thank my God for leaving there without a Purple Heart.
We did get a Presidential [Citation Unit]. The Fifth Marines with the First Marine Division. Prior engagements were already cited with the Presidential Citation, but that was quite an experience. Eventually, the Eight-First Army Wildcat Division came from the neighboring islands where they were cleaning up and gave relief to the Marines there at Peleliu.
I was in the Army Air Force, 445th Bomb Group, 702nd Squadron, flying out of Tibenham, England during World War II. Tibenham is about a hundred miles north of London along the North Sea, on the east coast of England. [We were] flying B-24 Liberators. There were fourteen bomb groups in that area and we were all going into Germany almost all the time after D-Day. On my eighth mission I was shot down over Kassel, Germany, on September 27, 1944. That particular mission [was] the worst mission that had ever happened to any bomb group during World War II. We lost thirty-one out of thirty-five planes. We were shot down by 150 German fighter planes, unescorted, with no help from anybody except for what we had on the plane. We were firing .50 caliber [machine guns].
I was a survivor. Four of my crew were killed; two of them were shot up badly, and I was lucky enough to get out along with the pilot and copilot. I was the waist gunner. I bailed out, pulled the ripcord at 23,500 feet, which was a mistake, but I guess I wanted to make sure it opened. I landed right in the middle of a battle, and of course I passed out after being out of oxygen for a short time and came to at about ten thousand feet or a little before. I was captured by a couple of farmers first. A couple of soldiers finally captured me, and I spent the rest of my time in Germany as a prisoner of war in three or four different camps. They moved us from camp to camp. The Russians were going to overrun one camp and then the British and Americans were going to overrun another one. Finally, the Americans did liberate the last camp I was in, which was Moosburg, very close to Munich.
I was in captivity from September 27, 1944, to April 29, 1945, when General George S. Patton liberated Moosburg. That was a wild day, of course. Some of [the prisoners] who were in the same camp that I was in probably had been there since the days in North Africa. The only things you can think about when you’re a prisoner is food and when the war will be over. Of course we were all optimistic. When you're newly shot down you always think that things will be over quicker than they were, but the guys who were in Africa probably thought the same thing. I was fortunate and very lucky because I more or less came home, but a lot of men were killed that day—121 men from my bomb group.
A more detailed interview with John Lemons is available from the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
When I was eighteen years old and had just finished high school in January 1944, I was drafted in to the Army. After basic training at Fort Hood, I became a member of the weapons platoon of a rifle company: B Company, 311th Regiment, Seventy-Eighth Infantry Division.
A plethora of information has been written about the bloody Hürtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge, but amongst the multitude of eximious and not so eximious historians, none have agreed that entering into fighting in the Hürtgen was not a mistake. The U.S. suffered over thirty-three thousand casualties in the five months of fighting in that fifty square miles of pure hell. How tough was it? I was there, and I was one of those casualties, but was never evacuated. As for the Bulge: the Seventy-Eighth anchored its northern flank.
The Sixth SS Panzer Army was the most potent of the three German armies that fought in the Bulge. On December 13th, 1944, the Seventy-Eighth and Second Infantry Divisions jumped off in an attempt to capture the Roer River dams. Several towns were captured, including the road junction of Simmerath. By doing so, it cut the supply line for the German Sixth SS Panzers, which ran from Düren through Simmerath. But in this attack a village called Kesternich, a mile east of Simmerath, was captured.
However, a three-pronged armored counterattack by the Germans drove the Americans back to the western part of Kesternich. In that action, 549 of the 871 members of Second Battalion of our 310th Regiment were killed, wounded, or missing in action. On December 16, the Germans started what has been called the [Battle of the] Bulge. The Seventy-Eighth and Second Divisions were told to call off their attack, and for the Second to go south to help the Ninety-Ninth Infantry Division hold the line on Elsenborn Ridge. When the Second Infantry Division moved south, [it] left a gap of nine thousand yards, which the seven-hundred-man 102nd Cavalry was supposed to defend. The area included the town of Monschau.
The Second and Seventy-Eighth attacks had the support of fifteen battalions of artillery, including the eight-inch guns of V Corps, which were firing from a position slightly southeast of Eupen, Belgium. We were three miles northeast of Monschau, a primary German target, and could hear those big shells explode. The Germans were unsuccessful at Monschau, for their armored columns did not have sufficient infantry support. One of the units, the German 246th Division, was kept busy by the Seventy-Eighth and Eighth Infantry Divisions. One German general stated that the failure of Corps Monschau was one of the main causes of their defeat.
The entire Sixth SS Panzer Army could have been hidden in the Hürtgen Forest. The Seventy-Eighth, Ninety-Ninth, and 106th Divisions were green troops (had never seen combat). The German plan could well have been a success had not it been for our being in the Hürtgen Forest, which resulted in the capture of Simmerath.
That battle took place January 3–6, 1945, near Simmerath. From it we learned how to negate the effectiveness of fortifications of the Siegfried Line. After the Germans were pushed back to their original line of departure by January 28, we again went on the offensive on January 30. We had learned our lessons well. It took a mere hour and forty-five minutes to knock out thirty-two of their bunkers. Flame-throwing British Crocodile tanks were of great help.
"Oops, Wrong House"
I was a nineteen-year-old combat infantryman with the Seventy-Eighth Division in World War II. We crossed the Rhine at Remagen, then fought our way north, into the town of Königswinter.
We came across a huge, beautiful estate with a stately mansion. While checking it out we came across a huge pantry, which was adjacent to its huge kitchen. Everyone thought, "Wow, this place must be owned by some high-ranking Nazi! We need to teach him a good lesson!" Pandemonium prevailed as the punishing pantry patriots partook of the plentiful presence of preferred pears, peas, preserves, and pig! Meaning, of course, that there were three cured hams hanging from a rack in that pantry. Two of them immediately disappeared. Some panic-stricken civilian was screaming something in German, which none of us understood. However, the lesson was cut short when an officer appeared in the kitchen, and began speaking. "Gentlemen," he said, not knowing that we, indeed, were not being gentle. He continued, "You will return that which you have purloined from whence you gathered your loot. And that includes a couple of hams!" As the group formed a line in response to the officer's order of returning their ill-gotten gain, a guy asked, "Why? Why do we have to return this stuff?" To which the officer replied, "Why indeed! It is because you have invaded the Swiss legation!" The looks on the faces of those individuals reminded me of the tale about a herd of Texas steers who had that same look on their faces when they discovered that they had strolled across the border and into Oklahoma. This is a true story.
I graduated high school and I went right into the Navy after that. I took my boots in San Diego and after that, I shipped out into amphibious forces. We made the invasion of the Marshall Islands and then I got transferred to construction of new destroyers. I got into the destroyers, and we went to Iwo Jima for that invasion there. Our ship went in first, before the Marines. They wanted us to test for coral and mines, because in Tarawa they had big casualties. They went in and got caught in the coral, so they didn't want that to happen when they went to Iwo Jima.
The next battle was Okinawa. We lost probably about ten thousand sailors on Okinawa, and that was bad news for the Navy. The kamikazes, suicides, came in and they tore up everything out there. They had a lot of suicide planes out. We took two of them. The first one hit us in the bridge; the second one hit us in the number one magazine and blew the ship almost half away. I was in the number three gun turret in the magazine, so I didn't get a scratch.
I thought we were going to go down, but the number one wall didn't go. We were going forward full speed, but the captain—smart captain—ordered reverse, to take the pressure off the wall, so that saved us. The tug came in beside us and said he wanted everybody off. So we got to first dry docks and they were at the top with the gun turret in the anteroom, and the number two magazine didn't blow up. They were all drowned down there so we had to pull them out of there and bury them at sea.
If you were to take one of the two most important factors in how we won the war, it was a simple word: productivity. We were capable of producing whatever was needed in this country to win a war. In a state like Texas, we were able to produce woolen coats for Russia. In this state today could we produce coats? We can't. We don't have manufacturers for that. We had some two-hundred-and-some-odd manufacturers of fabrics in this country, whether it be synthetics, or naturals, or whatever it is. Today we've got about four. One of the two major reasons that we won was our productivity. We produced planes faster than we produced pilots. I was a supplying sergeant.
[I was with the Army Air Corps], but it wasn't called that in those days. I flew out of a place called [Ellensburg near the] Yakima Valley, which was a little town of maybe four or five thousand people. The reason it existed was because Seattle fogged out constantly. Seattle was the major place for planes to come in and go overseas to Asia. So when Seattle fogged out, they came into Ellensburg. We also flew tow targets out of there, which was flying a target three to five thousand feet behind a plane so that we could teach the gunners, the anti-aircraft gunners, how to shoot, because we didn't have radar in the beginning of the war, in December of 1941. So these were things that they had to learn.
I went to Texas A&M. I was drafted as a freshman and ended up in the 106th Infantry Division, in the Battle of the Bulge. We were the furthest troops in the front line at that time in December, in the cause of opposition in the Ardennes Forest. We were surrounded the very first day. Most of us were eighteen, nineteen, twenty. The average age of the 106th division was twenty-two years old. It was quite an experience being surrounded and never thinking there'd be any prisoners, but that's what eventually happened. We were there without artillery or support tanks.
That was December . My buddy and I escaped and met the Americans about April 25 of the following spring, and the war ended in May shortly thereafter. We were in a pocket between the Americans and the Russians as prisoners of war when we escaped our captors and hid in a barn and finally the jeep patrol came by. So we were glad to be back in America, of course. We were as happy as can be.
A more detailed interview with Herb Sheaner is available from the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
I was with the Forty-Second Infantry Division in Europe from December of 1944 to March of 1946. The division trained in Oklahoma, in Camp Gruber. Then in November we went on to New York to get on our transport. We landed in Marseille on December 10, and we unloaded and went pretty quickly. It took us a few days to clean up our weapons and stuff from the shipping overseas. Then we were put in "forty and eights" [on our way to the] area around Strasbourg, which was threatened by another incursion by the Germans after they had failed to get anywhere at the Battle of the Bulge. I have a small history of our platoon, with Company D, which was our company.
We went into action around a place called Haguenau. We went into the front lines again in March. We were pulled out for a while and [were sent] back into the line in March of 1945 for our effort to go through the Siegfried Line.
When we had started the final push through the defensive Siegfried Line that the Germans had, we were going through the woods, and we came to an open place. My unit by then was the machine gun platoon. But we got into an open space, which we should have known was a field of fire. When we were training we learned about fields of fire. The Germans set up a field of fire in the middle of the woods, and we were right in the middle of it when they opened up with a couple of machine guns and got us pinned down. Our lieutenant got wounded, but I was real fortunate. I managed to get through that without being hit, which was a big relief when we finally got some smoke on the machine guns there, and another unit eliminated them.
We fought our way through the Siegfried Line in the Haardt Mountains. We went through several towns in Germany. Anyway, we went to Wurzburg, [and] we went to several other little towns. The main ones that we went through were Fürth, Germany, [which] was a big center and manufacturing place that we liberated. And we went to Nuremberg. We wound up in Munich. One of the main events that we had was the liberation of the concentration camp at Dachau [near] Munich. Our unit liberated that one, so that was one of those times that you remember all of your life when you go in there and they have the bodies that they couldn't burn and the bodies that were just almost starving. You didn't think you could have skeletons walking, but that's what they looked like when we got there. The last trainload that got in through there, [the Germans] knew they couldn't process so they machine-gunned everybody right in the train cars that they were in.
So that was the combination of our action there. Shortly after that, the war was over and we went into occupation duties, as we were late arrivals. Our occupation was initially in Innsbruck, which is, of course, a tourist area. Then we went into Vienna in the winter. In March of 1946, my points came up, and I got to come home on a Liberty ship to see the Statue of Liberty.
In Munich, we were there about a week and we had some celebrations in unit organizations. They got some divisions together, and we had a parade and stuff. But then we went on into Innsbruck, which is a tourist area [where] they have ski lifts and ski runs and all of that. So we were there, but when winter came they moved us. So we were there in Innsbruck a couple of months. One of the occasions we had there, someone reported there were some SS people hiding out in one of the mountains nearby. So they picked our unit to go find out about it. We got the privilege of going up in a ski lift, which was just a plain platform without any sides as we went on up the hill. I kept thinking all they have to do is cut the cable up at the top if they're out there. But there wasn't anybody up there.
I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. I was a graduate of Lanier High School there, which was a technical school. After the war, I came back to San Antonio and went to school on the GI Bill and got a bachelor's in 1950 from Trinity University. We were still going to school in condemned buildings and old quonset huts, but the year that I graduated, in May of 1950, that fall they went into the new campus that they were building. It's a beautiful campus in an old rock quarry there in San Antonio.
I served in the Pacific theater. I was on the APA 165, the USS Effingham. I was a seaman. I was seventeen and eighteen years old. It all kind of seems surreal, because at seventeen and eighteen you're not thinking about why are we here, or what happened. You're just there doing what you're told to do. So I was a seaman on shipboard. I was in the boat crew. There were thirty LCDP boats, small boats with ramp-down boats, in which we took troops ashore and then took their supplies in. So we hit on Okinawa. It was my only invasion. We landed there on Sunday, April Fools Day, 1945. And that was my extent of the war. I really never was in danger of my life except [in Okinawa].
What was happening on Okinawa was on the land, and we were at the sea and our only problem was the kamikazes; they came in solo. The last gasp of Japan was their suicide bombers. My little ship brought down one of those, which we were proud of. It was headed for the USS Texas, the battleship Texas, which, of course, those ships, they were the support for the land and they wanted to knock those out. This kamikaze was about to hit a hospital ship when we brought it down. But I really was not a war hero. I was just an eighteen-year-old warrior at that time.