Wednesday, September 21, 2011

After the Rain

If someone were to ask me what is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done I would have to say being a caregiver for my Mom. If someone were to ask me what is the hardest thing I’ve ever done I would have to say being a caregiver for my Mom. My Mom had asked me to move in with her. My brother was living there but there were things a son could not do that a daughter could. I was her caregiver for six years. We lost Mom on May 26, 2010. I discovered there is no manual for being a caregiver. You have to work it out on your own.

The emotional toll of watching someone you love as they get progressively weaker is extremely hard. I saw Mom getting more and more bent over as the arthritis took its toll. Her weight dropped and when she passed away she was only 94 pounds. She looked like a skeleton with skin over it. For someone who was always so robust seeing the change in her was heart breaking. It is hard to come to grips with the fact that the person you are caring for is in a decline and the end will be sooner then you would ever want it to be. You are going to lose them and that is the hardest thing to cope with.

There will be tears and you need to have a place that you can retreat to because you don’t want them to see you cry. It is important that you be able to get away if only for a few minutes to decompress. It is stressful being a caregiver and you need to take care of yourself. I found that my Dad’s library was my place. We lost him in 1999. Dad and I were really close and it was a comfort to me to be in the room where he had spent so many happy hours. I set up my computer there and worked on my art and writing and photography. I did several pictures for my Mom. She loved flowers and I printed out the photographs from my walks for her.

We were lucky because Mom never developed dementia. She might forget where she left her keys or tell the same story more then once but her mind was sharp to the end. One thing that Mom needed was someone to listen to her. She wanted to talk about Dad. She missed him so much and often talked about wanting to join him. It was hard to hear her talk about wanting to die. I listened to her and that gave her comfort.

Being a caregiver is hard but being a patient is even harder. Mom was frustrated that she could no longer do all the things she did when she was younger. She tired so easily. She used to love to take long walks and look at the flowers. I took the walks for her and took hundreds of pictures of flowers, squirrels, birds, snow, leaves turning, blossoms in the Spring, and anything that looked interesting. I printed off the pictures for her so she could continue to see the places she used to walk. Often times she would ask me to go out and take pictures of something she wanted to see.

As a caregiver you need to be able to give hugs, to listen, to comfort, and to give love. For many of us the patient was a family member. As the song says:

We did what we had to do
Won't forget, can't regret
What I did for love what I did for love

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Unspoken Heroes of Iwo Jima (Repeat)

“Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima,” Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division

I originally posted this a couple of years ago. Today is National Navajo Code Talker Day and I felt that this needed to be reposted to honor these brave men. It was from my father, who served in the Pacific during World War II, that I originally heard of the Navajo Code Talkers. While Pat Buchanan tries to claim it was only white men who won the war the truth is that many people, men and women, from all walks of life and of all races, were responsible for the success in both the European and Pacific fronts. As a small child I lived in New Mexico and that started my fascination with the Navajo people. This is the story of the brave men who risked their lives to help us win in the Pacific.

One of the biggest problems for the U.S. Armed Forces in the Pacific was communications. Japanese cryptographers were breaking our codes as fast as we could come up with them. Many of the Japanese code breakers had been educated in the United States and were familiar with American colloquialisms, slang terms and even profanity. This resulted in American battle plans being known to the enemy sometimes before they were even operational. We needed a code that could not be broken.
In spite of their treatment by the white man, the Navajos took an active part in World War I and World War II. In World War II 3,600 Navajos fought for their country. This represented one of the highest population of any ethnicity in the U.S. military. Most of the Navajos fought in the battlefields with ordinary soldiers. Over 10,000 Navajos worked in military factories during the war. 375 to 420 Navajos, however, worked as Code Talkers.

Philip Johnston was the son of Protestant missionaries and grew up on the Navajo Reservation and lived among the Navajos for 24 years. He was one of the few non-Navajos who spoke the language fluently. Johnston was a World War I veteran and knew that in that war that Native American languages, notably Choctaw, had been used in codes. He figured that the Navajo language was perfect for an unbreakable code since it was an unwritten language and included a number of words that, when spoken with varying inflections, may have as many as four different meanings and its verb forms are particularly complex. Its syntax and tonal qualities, not to mention dialects, makes it unintelligible to anyone without extensive exposure and training. With no alphabet or written form available for others to study it was a language that could only be understood by another Navajo. It has been estimated that only 30 non-Navajos could understand the language at the outbreak of World War II and none of those 30 were Japanese.

Philip Johnston, with the aid of four Navajos residing in the Los Angeles area and another who was already on active duty in Naval service in San Diego presented a demonstration to Major General Clayton B. Vogel, the commanding general of Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet and his staff. In simulated combat situations the Navajos demonstrated that they could encode, transmit,and decode three-line English messages in 20 seconds. The encoding machines in use at that time needed 30 minutes to perform the same tasks.

In May 1942, the first 29 recruits attended boot camp in Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California. It was this first group that developed the code and a dictionary and numerous words for military terms. The initial code consisted of translations for 211 English words most common in military conversations. An additional 200 words were added making a total of 411 terms that needed to be memorized. The code was never written down and was always only spoken. Chester Nez was one of the original code talkers. He said, “Everything we used in code was what we lived with on the reservation every day, like the ants, the birds, bears. Thus the term for a tank was turtle, a tank destroyer was tortoise killer. A battleship was whale. A hand grenade was potato and plain old bombs were eggs. A fighter plane was hummingbird, and a torpedo plane swallow. A sniper was pick em off. Pyrotechnic was fancy fire.”

The Navajo Code Talkers took part in Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima. They took part in every assault the Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. They served in all six Marine divisions, Marine Raider battalions and Marine parachute units during the war. They had to prove their worth but once they did it became obvious that we would need them to win the war. The Navajos had an additional problem because many of the young recruits had trouble with thinking that the Navajos were Japanese. It was at Iwo Jima that any doubts anyone had about the Navajos were laid to rest. The six men attached to that Marine Division worked around the clock during the first two days of the battle and sent and received over 800 messages, all without error.

The Japanese chief of intelligence, Lieutenant General Seizo Arisue, said that while they were able to crack the codes used by the U.S. Army and Army Air Corps they were never able to break the Navajo used by the Marines. These were truly valuable people.

So what did these heroes have to look forward to? They weren’t given the right to vote in Arizona until 1948, in New Mexico until 1953, and in Utah until 1957. The world didn’t even know about them until 1968. Many feel that a factor in this was the fact that while the Code Talkers were risking their lives during the Second World War at home their children were being punished for speaking their native language. Finally however in December 1981 they were awarded a Certificate of Appreciation from the President of the United States. The Navajo Code Talkers were the unspoken heroes of Iwo Jima and World War II for much too long.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Kitties and I Have A Home

Seven years ago I packed up all of my things from my apartment in Gurnee, Illinois and headed to Greencastle, Indiana. I left the job I loved there because my Mom had asked me to come live with her and help take care of her. Mom had a series of heart attacks and even though she would continue working full time for four more years she realized that there were things that only a daughter could do for her. She was very old fashioned and the thought of asking her son to put lotion on the dry skin on her back was something she could never do. I put 95% of my things in storage and moved in with my cat Merlin. The two of us basically had the bedroom upstairs and part of my late Dad’s den. Being a caretaker was the hardest and the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I was working full time to pay my bills and taking care of Mom in the hours I wasn’t working. On May 26, 2010 Mom died in the early hours of the morning with her cat Pixie at her side. As hard as it was to lose her it had been harder watching her deteriorate before my eyes. She was down to 94 pounds when she died. I gave myself a year to adjust and then made what hopefully will be my last move this time to Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

I took the apartment sight unseen because it is only a mile from my niece’s house where she lives with her husband and three teenagers. She had asked that I move down after Mom died. I discovered that the storage shed was not only not climate controlled but rat infested. I lost a lot of things and had to do major clean up and repacking. Everything in storage had to be washed and disinfected. When I got down to the apartment house the first thing my niece and I discovered as we were waiting for the lady to come with the keys is that my front door looked like the Tardis from Doctor Who. At that point I knew whatever the inside looked like I had a winner. I am a huge Doctor Who fan. The inside had some major things going for it and a couple of minor problems that I could work around. One thing I loved is that the walls are not bright white. They are a soft creamy beige and are a wood paneling instead of stucco. The ceiling and trim is white. The carpets are not beige thank goodness. They are a re dark charcoal gray tweed. The kitchen was very small and the cabinets narrow. Being a serious cook I had to get a shelf unit to put much of my cooking equipment on. The dining room is tiny but since my dining room table is a card table it worked out. I was able to get a full size washer and dryer. There is no linen closet or coat closet but I made a cabinet for the lines and there are two huge clothes closets in the two bedroom so the coats have a place to go.

I came down the first time by myself and got the apartment. I waited for the movers to unload hundreds of boxes and started in. I took a break half way through unpacking and went back to Indiana and got my cats. I had promised Mom that I would take care of her Pixie. Merlin loves the place and I think he recognizes the furniture from when we lived in Illinois. He is much more secure down here. Pixie is a little timid never having moved before but she is making the place her own.

One thing I have noticed is that there is a sense of peace in this apartment like I have never experienced before. I think Mom and Dad’s house was haunted by Dad dying in the front yard and Mom in her bedroom. Even though I have a lot of things from their home here I think that it is only the happy memories that moved to North Carolina. I am starting a new life and a new business. I retired in October and now I am starting a home business to sell my art, photographs, jewelry and crafts. I am very excited to be a part of the Art’s Community out here in Winston Salem and they have already taken me into their hearts as well. I am near my niece who is also my goddaughter and her children. I feel very loved and I have been very busy. I have already been introduced to people who are fighting homelessness and I am already starting to help out. My life is full and I am happy. This is my new home. It is peaceful and happy and most importantly has the kitty seal of approval from Merlin and Pixie. Life doesn’t get better then that.

Living Room

Dining Room


Laundry Room




Office, Computer Room, Crafts Room

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Happy Birthday Mom and Pixie

Today would have been my Mom’s 86th birthday. It is the second birthday without her being here. We lost her on 05/26/10. I miss her but it is a little easier this year then last. My Mom had decided that her cat Pixie needed to share her birthday since we weren’t quite sure when the little monkey was born. Pixie was her companion in her last five years of life and I’m sure that it was the love she has for this little rascal that kept Mom’s severely damaged heart beating for as long as it did.

I have recently made the move from Indiana down to North Carolina to be near my niece and her family. I also came down to be a part of the art community down here and will be getting a resale license so that I can sell my art, photographs, and jewelry and other crafts that I decide to make. I just finished the apartment and wish I could show it to Mom. She would love it.

I incorporated a lot of things from Mom and Dad’s house into the apartment here. I think the love that they shared for 55 years has permeated this apartment and there is a real feeling of peace here. The place is surprisingly quiet considering that a major freeway is right next to us. You can hear the cars when you take the garbage out but the apartment itself is very silent.

One of the things I promised Mom before she died was that I would always take care of her little Pixie. Pixie and my cat Merlin made the move down here a couple of weeks ago. They have put up with boxes and moving furniture and Mommy banging on the wall hanging pictures and making new furniture. Pixie has always been the aggressive one of the duo but she is the one who clings now. Merlin recognizes the scent of the old furniture that he grew up with and has become quite the Mr. Independent. Pixie however has never moved before and this has been traumatic for her. She is a resilient little thing though and I’m sure in time she will be back to her more rambunctious self.

Pixie has always known what she wanted. She was born along with three other siblings in our storage shed. She however decided that the street life wasn’t for her and that Mom was a soft touch and she wiggled her way into Mom’s heart. Mom’s heart had been severely damaged by heart attacks and towards then end was only beating at a 13% ejection factor. Handfuls of pills kept her alive. Pixie sensed from the start that Mom would spoil her and spoil her she did. Mom bought deli meat for her and let her up on the kitchen cabinet. Mom would rest in the recliner and Pixie would take a nap on her lap. Mom would just sit there until Pixie woke up. Mom had to know where Pixie was at all times and was always afraid that she would get out and get lost. I spent a great deal of time looking for the cat and plucking her down into Mom’s arms. Pixie for her part loved Mom dearly. Mom died in the early hours of the morning with Pixie at her side. Pixie stayed with her until my brother came home and found Mom dead. She kept a vigil for 12 hours.

So happy birthday Pixie. You are six today. You still show the mischievous streak that you’ve always had. Now that the place is together and the chaos is gone I expect that you will settle down. Of course you may have to accept the fact that Merlin is not going to let you beat up on him any more but I’m sure you can find other things to do. You love the front window and looking out at the parking lot. I hope that some of the squirrels in the neighborhood drop by like they did in Indiana. You love watching squirrels. Most importantly Pixie thank you for all the love that you gave to Mom. You can’t buy that kind of love.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Cats Are Smarter Then You

For those of you who have followed this diary I have frequently mentioned my two cats Merlin and Pixie. Merlin is 14 and has been with me since he was 4 weeks old. Pixie is 5 and she had suckered my Mom into letting her rule the house. I had spent six years in Indiana being caregiver to my Mom. We lost her in May of 2010. I made the decision to move down to North Carolina to be near my niece and her husband and three teenaged children. The kitties came down with me a week ago.

Merlin has always been a timid mama’s boy. Pixie came from the streets and was my little street punk. I had promised Mom that I would take care of her cat. Mom knew Pixie would outlive her. In fact the five years we had Pixie in our home was an extra five years that Mom survived with a damaged heart that only pumped at 15% of normal. The doctor was astonished that Mom lived as long as she did. I know the reason turned out to be a little black cat that gave a new meaning to the word mischievous.

Pixie and Merlin did not get along. Merlin resented the fact that Pixie wanted time with me after Mom died. He had been my only cat for almost 7 years and did not feel like sharing with this little upstart. Pixie on the other hand was aggressive towards Merlin and wanted it known that she was the alpha cat. Merlin would run from her and hide. In Indiana Merlin rarely left the bedroom and I ended up having to put food dishes and a litter box in there for him when he became so upset that he would leave deposits everywhere but the litter box. Pixie was always little Miss Independent and had staked out a cupboard with extra pillows as her special bed. When Mom was alive she slept with her but Pixie was there when Mom died and stayed with her for almost 12 hours until my brother came home and discovered that Mom had died during the night. After that she didn’t want to go into Mom’s bedroom.

The cats were surprisingly good on the trip down. I did the 11 hour drive in one sitting. I borrowed my niece’s cat carriers and putting their catnip pillows in with them seemed to make them mellow enough not to complain all the way. I am probably 2/3rds of the way through with the apartment. The bedroom is close to being done as is the living room, kitchen, and bathroom. Basically all they need is the final touches. The Master Bedroom which will be my computer, crafts, and office area still has multiple boxes that I am unpacking. Both cats are fascinated by that room and frequently explore in there.

The surprising thing for me is the change in both cats. They no longer fight and seem to get along very well. Merlin explores the whole house and will check out what I am doing or go off and do his own thing. He no longer seems afraid. The only time he comes into the bedroom is at night after I turn the lights off. Pixie is sleeping with me and I usually wake up as the filling between a kitty sandwich. Merlin in Indiana would get aggressive and force Pixie off the bed. Now it doesn’t bother him at all. Pixie has taken to following me around like a little puppy dog. She is the nervous one now and seems afraid that I am going to leave her.

It is interesting to see the changes in personalities of the two cats. Just when I thought I had them figured out they change. I doubt that this is the last that I will see of the changes in them. Cats are nature’s way of letting humans know that we aren’t as smart as we think we are. Cats have us beat every time.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Soldier's Story

Today is Memorial Day. I can think of no better way to honor our veterans then to present their story as written by one of their own. This is a soldier’s story from World War II. It was written by my Dad, Jack L. Wilson. There are so few of them left now from the Greatest Generation and their story needs to be told.

After a while I got tired of the long walk to work, and since I was now without a car, I decided to move to a one room efficiency apartment about seven blocks from downtown Indianapolis. I was living there when the war started. I remember listening to the news that Sunday morning, and then walked out to the Romers where Beth was staying and sitting around there until late that night. There was already a line at the Recruiting Office in the Federal Building early the next morning when I got there. After milling around there for a while, the recruiting people finally came out and recorded our names and addresses and told us to go on about our business, and they would get in touch as soon as they were ready to start processing. It was the middle of January before they got around to calling me. After a farewell party at work, I vacated my apartment, gave my furniture to Beth, and arranged to store my stuff with her. At the Examination Center they hemmed and hawed around and finally decided to reject me because I wore glasses. I arranged to stay with the Romers until I could appeal the rejection, and get my case reviewed. I went back to work at Hoosier having missed only a day-and-a-half of work. It was early summer before my appeal came up, and I was reexamined for service. This time I passed even though I was just out of bed from a bout with lobar pneumonia. In August 1942 I was sworn in and sent to Keesler Field, just outside of Bilouxi, Mississippi for Basic Training.

Halfway through the first week of Basic Training they got around to asking if any of us had any previous military training. When they found out I had three years of High School ROTC and six years of National Guard training, I was jerked out of the ranks and made a Drill Instructor, posthaste. Not only that, but after two days of indoctrination, I was put in charge of the platoon I had been a member of. Since we really had no rank, we were made “Acting” Sergeants. The chevrons were sewed on a dark cloth armband that we pinned to our jacket sleeves. We did have the privileges of Non-Commissioned Officers, we just didn’t have the pay. Fortunately, one of the privileges was access to the NCO Club where you could get cold 3.2 beer. Not very potent, but quite refreshing. It was at the club that I got acquainted with a Master Sergeant named Guy Illian. Guy had been in the service since 1932 and was the Senior NCO at the Radar School at Keesler. One day I caught him nursing a beer and looking puzzled. He told me that the school had been asked to develop an electronic device that would identify friendly aircraft when their blip showed up on the radar screen. They were looking for something that would give some kind of a pulsed signal that could be uniquely keyed to identify friend from foe. For some reason, I thought the trouble we had had with the Zenith radios. When I explained this to Guy he grabbed my arm and yelled, “Come with me.” Even though Radar School was classified and off limits to uncleared personnel, some of the officers and research labs were not. Going to one of these labs, Guy had me give a detailed description of what I had just told him while he started connecting electronic components and instruments together. Putting a blip on the screen by electronic simulation, he attached the output of his mock-up to the simulator, and we watched the blip flash in sync with the pulsing action. A few days later the School Commandant requested my presence at a demonstration to be given to some visiting “firemen” from Washington. In addition to the CO, Sgt. Illian and myself were half-a-dozen other people only two of whom were in uniform. One was an Air Corp Major General, and the other was a Signal Corps Colonel. Guy explained to the group that since I had given them the idea, the CO and he felt I should be present. He then proceeded to demonstrate the device. Every one appeared satisfied, particularly one husky older individual that Guy told me afterwards was a Colonel Donoven. At that time, the name meant nothing to me. The CO said something about trying to get my assignment changed so that I could go to Radio School at Scott Field, and then come back to Keesler to the Radar School. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was getting sick and tired of Keesler and would do almost anything to keep from being reassigned there.

About two months later, one of the PE instructors, another D.I. and I were sent to Fort Belvoir, Virginia on a temporary assignment that for some reason was classified. I later found that the only reason for the classification was to prevent embarrassment to some of the individuals involved. It seems that as the U.S. Government was bringing more and more people into Washington as they geared up to run the “War Effort”, that as per custom they were passing out military ranks to these people compatible with the position they were to fill. For example, the Chairman of General Motors, Charles Wilson, was brought in to coordinate wartime production, and was given the rank of Lieutenant General. Unfortunately, most of these men had never had any military training, so the three of us were brought in to provide the rudiments of military training and military courtesy to them. They probably figured we would be less apt to talk than the personnel assigned to Belvoir. It was hilarious to see the staff cars and limousines coming out in the morning, deposit these people, and return in the evening to take them back to their quarters. For eight hours a day they were ours, and we really put them through their paces in a conscientious effort to make soldiers out of them. After three weeks, the PE instructor and I were unceremoniously sent back to Keesler. It seems we were too hard on them.

After five months at Keesler I was finally sent to the Radio Operator-Mechanics School at Scott Field, Illinois. Sixteen weeks later I graduated, but was retained as an instructor.

To get back to Belvoir for a minute, one day while putting my troops through their paces, an Army Colonel who had been standing there watching for a while, came over during a break and said, “Your device worked like a charm, Wilson.” It was Colonel Donovan. I was told later on that he was the head of the recently organized Office of Strategic Services. So you see, I did meet “Wild” Bill Donovan, and did do some work for the OSS. So I exaggerated a little. As Jerry would say, “Well excu-u-use me.”

I remained at Scott for almost two-and-a-half years. After about a year instructing, I was assigned as a Communications Specialist to the Air Inspector’s Office. I was part of the team investigating accidents, slow-downs, or just plain snafu’s. My role was to see what part, if any, communications played in these events. I enjoyed this phase tremendously, as I got to work on the flight line with all types of aircraft, either assigned, or transient. I also got in a lot of flight crew time in virtually all types of multi-crew aircraft. Furthermore, I got myself qualified as a Communications Security Specialist. This gave me three active MOS’s: Radio Operator, Radio Mechanic, and CSS.

Early in 1945, I was ordered overseas, and started processing in April of that year, and finally got to Tinian in early June just in time for the final accelerated bombing of Japan that culminated in the atomic bombing in August of 1945.

Just a few of the highlights of the trip over. I had my final processing at Fort Lewis, Washington and was loaded on a Liberty ship at Tacoma. Because of all my MOS’s, I was armed fit to kill. As an Airborne Operator, I was issued a .45 automatic and a .38 short barrel pistol as part of my survival kit. As a Mechanic, I was issued a Garand. Finally as a Communications Security Specialist, I was issued a M1A1 Carbine. Talk about Rambo.

As we left Puget Sound and got into the Pacific, we ran into a violent storm that lasted three days. Consequently, we missed the convoy rendezvous and had to continue to Pearl Harbor alone, hoping there were no Japanese submarines in that part of the ocean. All 500+ GI’s were seasick, all the Navy gunners were seasick, and a large part of the crew. After all the good old USS Lindley M. Garrison could roll 45 degrees in calm waters, or so it seemed. The Captain and the first mate were the only completely ambulatory people on the ship. At the risk of sounding phony, I want to describe the first mate. He was about 5’6” in height, and weighed better the 225 pounds. He had a small mustache, and always wore a soft cap. His primary distinguishing feature though was he had an honest-to-God peg-leg. But he pulled the GI’s through almost single-handed. Helping us to and from the rail, laughing, joking, teasing in a good natured way. In the sleeping areas below deck, the bunks were five high. Consequently you couldn’t sit up in your bunk, but had to roll in and out. After the first night, because of the stench, most of us slept on the deck rolled up in our ponchos under whatever shelter we could find. All in all, it took us nine days from Seattle to Pearl Harbor. Even after the storm stopped it took another couple of days for the waters to subside. About that time, the crew discovered that one of the meat lockers had malfunctioned and the meat had all spoiled. Nothing to do but get up a work crew of everyone at least partially ambulatory, have them go down this circular stairs to the meat locker, pick up a crate of the meat, go back up another set of winding stairs to the main deck, and throw the case over the rail. First off, it was mutton, and fresh mutton smells bad enough, let alone after it has rotted. So the procedure degenerated to this; we would pick up a crate of the meat, stagger up the stairs, stagger to the rail, heave the crate over the side, heave after it, and then stagger back down the stairs. And there was seven tons of the damned stuff. Any adjustment we had made towards getting over our sickness was effectively negated by this episode. We probably attracted every shark in the Western Pacific.

After a few days on Oahu for jungle warfare training we proceeded on to Tinian. The services were starting to amass a potential invasion fleet in the Marianas at this time. The two mile channel between Tinian and Saipan was virtually shore-to-shore ships of all types. My original orders had been to join an advanced B-29 base on Okinawa, but 20th Air Force Headquarters changed them to keep me on Tinian and assign me to one of the Groups in the 313th Bomb Wing. I eventually ended up in the 6th Bomb Group, but was bounced around from Squadron to Squadron and eventually wound up in the 24th. The group of us coming in at that time were designated as combat replacements, and the several qualified Radio Operators in the group were used as substitutes. Consequently, we seldom flew with the same crew twice. All in all, I got in seventeen missions before the end of the war with a large part of them being on planes that dropped mines in the Shimonoseki Straits, the main Japanese ship channel. The usual mission was about seventeen hours.

After the fighting stopped I got in on a prison camp search mission. This involved flying to Japan, then over to Kunming, China and back to the Marianas. Monotonous, to say the least.

After the fighting stopped, the next major event was the typhoon in October of 1945. I had just been transferred to the 24th Squadron and had just moved my gear into a 16-man squad tent while awaiting the construction of a pre-fab barracks when the storm struck late in the afternoon. I was tired and had just laid down for a nap when the wind velocity started increasing. I put my gear beside me on the bunk wrapped my poncho and shelter-half around the whole thing (including me), and dropped off to sleep. Some of the idiots were actually holding on to the tent ropes while the tent was trying to get airborne, which it finally did. I was one of the very few who got a little rest before the main part of the storm hit. Fortunately the eye of the storm passed just west of Tinian. The edge of the storm that hit us had wind gusts in excess of 120 knots. (That’s as high as the anemometer at headquarters went before it blew off the building.) Everyone battled to get to the field and try to save the planes. We managed to save all but one liaison plane which was twisted up by the storm. On Okinawa, which caught the full brunt of the storm, they lost all of their B-29’s. We were flying emergency supplies into them for weeks. Its hard to describe the damage on Okinawa. Ships as large as cruisers were blown completely ashore. Other ships had bows snapped off, as the wind twisted them about their anchor chains. Ships jammed together were commonplace. To give you some idea of the wind, we could eat in the mess hall by crouching over the tables since the wind was blowing the rain straight through the upper screened half of the wall on one side, and out the upper-screened half on the other side. The rain was absolutely parallel to the ground. I suppose we could have stuck our heads up and got our faces washed while we were eating.

At first I had toyed with the idea of staying in the service, particularly since the Wing Commander guaranteed me Master Sergeant three months after I re-upped, plus a $5,000 bonus for reenlisting. I later found out that I was the only triple-threat man left in the XXI Bomber Command. The Wing was being transferred to the Philippines. I acceded to your Mother’s wishes though and got out so I could go to college and finish my undergraduate work. I had already picked up several courses by either correspondence or extension.

Consequently, I was scheduled to leave Tinian in January of 1946. In preparation for checking out we had to send all personal stuff, other than toiletries, that were not Government issue home. So I duly packed all medals, citations, records etc. and mailed them home. We were standing at the end of the runway when the mail plane (a B-29) took off. All takeoffs from North Field were to the east towards Saipan. As the plane cleared the runway, we saw one of the engines smoking and finally conk out. With insufficient altitude, when the plane staggered with loss of power, the wing tip hit the water and the plane cartwheeled almost to Saipan. Fortunately, the crew was saved, but the mail was lost. Not only that, we found that some idiot had put all of the Wing records including all personnel on the same plane, 201 files, the whole shebang. The only thing we had to identify us was our dogtags. They were finally able to reconstruct enough paperwork for us to get started home, but with no 201 file, no flight records, no citation records, no pay records, no shot records, no nothing, things were in a “mull of a hess” to say the least. In fact some of the men had trouble getting credit for all of their overseas service. We were one unhappy Bomb Wing to say the least. Not even a pep talk from General LeMay, the XXI Command Commanding General helped.

The Air Corps finally sent us over to Saipan on a LCI (little one). From the docks at Tinian Town, up the west side of the island, around the to part of Saipan to the east side of the island was almost a three hour trip. To keep from getting sea sick, I tried to sleep on the way. When I awoke up in Saipan I found I had been immortalized for posterity. There were some correspondents going with us, and one was a female illustrating artist who thought that my sleeping posture in full equipment typified the America GI, and drew my picture for Life magazine. Don’t remember ever seeing it though. We stayed on Saipan for about eleven days processing for home. Our usual entertainment after dark was to go to the outdoor movies. It was a little disconcerting at first to not only have to be armed ourselves, but have an armed guard patrolling the back of the area. It seemed the Japanese holdouts on the island would sneak to the edge of the jungle, and watch the movie. Although there were several shots fired at different times while we were there, there were no reports of any casualties. About a week after getting there though, the report circulated through the camp that seventeen Japanese holdouts had surrendered on Tinian. The only place I could figure out they had been hiding was in the prison camp in the center of the island.

Anyway, we were finally loaded onto an escort aircraft carrier, the USS Kwajalein, for the trip back to the states. Our confidence was a little shaken as we boarded the ship for at the head of the gangway was a plaque saying that Kaiser had taken a tad over nine days from the laying of the keel to launching. Our confidence was shaken even more when the Navy crewmen checking us in told us there was a crack in the hull from the flight deck to down below the hanger deck, but that it probably wouldn’t get any worse unless we ran into bad weather. The bad weather didn’t start until the second day after we left Saipan. Then some waves started crashing over the flight deck. When the ship was on a wave crest, you could almost jump through the crack. Then when it clanged together when the ship hit the trough between waves it would sound like an artillery shot. I don’t know how true it was, but we were told that the Captain was ordered to beach it on one of the islands northwest of Oahu. Instead he talked them into letting him take it on into San Pedro since the ship was going to be retired, and so was he. The storm finally stopped a day and a half before we got to San Pedro. Needless to say, we were glad to leave the ship.

I was discharged at Camp Atterbury in Southern Indiana in February of 1946.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Iris and Roses

I needed to get my car serviced yesterday and decided that since it was a beautiful day I would walk home. I took my camera with me and was rewarded with some gorgeous flowers. The sweet smell of roses and iris made the walk home wonderful.