On January 6, 1941, the 260th Coast Artillery (AA), DCNG, was inducted into Federal service at our Armory in Washington. We were assigned to Fort Bliss, Texas, near El Paso, for training, and would leave for that post before the end of the month. Col. Burns wouldn’t allow families to accompany us, and didn’t permit them to come to El Paso until March. I had to take care of my men, now nearly 100 in number, by contracting with a restaurant for meals, transporting the men from the Armory where they slept to and from the restaurant, and arranging for the 101 details of the induction process — medical, personnel, clothing, equipment, arms, supplies, ad infinitum. Fortunately for us, a number of US Congressmen were National Guard and Reserve officers, and they saw to it that special regulations were issued for our induction. Otherwise we would have been hopelessly bogged down in the peace-time Army red tape, including severe penalties on the unit commanders if any Government money was spent without proper authorization. As it was, each unit commander was authorized to arrange for his unit’s requirements directly with the supplying commercial establishment, bypassing normal procurement regulations. It was a busy several weeks, but eventually all was accomplished, and most of the regiment’s personnel boarded a long train of Pullman cars at Union Station, and the three-day train ride began. Our motor vehicles went by road in convoy, but I did not have to be a part of that.
At Fort Bliss, workmen had been feverishly busy for a number of
months constructing a city of tent platforms, mess halls,
headquarters buildings, and other facilities for the seven or eight
AA regiments that were sent there for the year’s training. It
was known as the Fort Bliss AAATC (Anti-Aircraft Artillery Training
Center), and was the first of six or seven such centers eventually
established. The men lived in squad tents, with wooden floors, and
the officers at first did the same, until we were allowed to call for
our wives and families and locate where we could in the city of El
Paso. Within a few days of our arrival, we were inundated with over
1,000 Selective Service inductees to bring our units up to war
strength. My battery of 90-odd National Guardsmen swelled to slightly
over 250 men, the inductees among them having had no military
training whatever. How thankful I was for my sergeants! I also had
four first lieutenants and one second (the mess officer), the only
ones whose names I now recall being Jim Thomas and Charles Yech. I
had never had any training in Army mess practices, and hence failed
to supervise my mess officer properly. He ordered meat for the men
based on his civilian habits, rather than the Army ration allowance,
and used up our first month’s allowance in the first week! Col.
Burns was sympathetic to our plight, however, and gave us canned meat
he had stored from our last two-week encampment, which saw us through
that month. Thereafter, I made sure this officer stuck to our
allowances! The Regular Army was still on nearly starvation
allowances — for instance, toilet paper was rationed at three
sheets per man per day! It took a while to get these limits raised
for our citizen soldiers, but it was accomplished, and we then had
adequate provisions for our needs.
I will cite only a few incidents from this period to let you know what Army barracks life is like. Saturday mornings were always devoted to inspections. On one such inspection, Col. Mann chewed me out for ten minutes because some rocks had fallen off the rock "walls" we had made around each tent. When he asked me if I didn’t think that was a waste of the colonel’s time to do that, I could hardly keep from telling him what I thought! Each battery commander had to run what amounted to a bank, to keep track of all the financial commitments of his men, including various kinds of payroll deductions and even cash advances. We had battery funds which were contributed to by the men to equip a day room, and other social needs. I failed to take advantage of the 2% discounts offered by some firms for immediate payment of their bills, and after the war had to pay the US Government out of my pocket for every penny of such discounts! The man in the General Accounting Office who audited my accounts was Carl Santilli, the first sergeant of Battery A of the 260th when I had first enlisted in the National Guard nearly 20 years earlier. He wrote me a note about it, thinking it was a great joke that he caught me on such a thing.
I was appointed regimental paymaster, and at the end of each month I took two of my sergeants, all of us with our pistols and live ammunition, and drove in the battery recon car to the Fort Bliss finance office to pick up the several hundred thousand dollars in cash that was to be paid to the men. Then I delivered the exact amount shown on the payrolls to each battery commander. At the end of the day, I had to pick up the signed payrolls and return them to the finance office, in order to be relieved of responsibility for the money. One battery in particular gave me trouble in taking an inordinate amount of time to process the payroll, so after several months I complained to the colonel. He allowed me to pay the men myself from the theater ticket office. So we had a formal pay assembly, and I paid each man as he presented himself, saluted, and gave his name, signing the payroll as he received his money. I came out $10 short! The man who received it returned it, so I wasn’t out of pocket. The captain of the offending battery was highly incensed and never did forgive me!
Col. Burns was a teetotaler, and refused to allow liquor in the officers mess. Lt. Col. Mann and the regimental surgeon (Lt. Col. Grayson) managed to have his physical fitness challenged, and Burns was relieved from active duty, allowing Mann to be made regimental commander. This matter of physical fitness was made a fetish by the Regular Army, who were obviously jealous of all the National Guard officers coming into the Army. I had to go to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington before our induction to have a heart murmur monitored before I was accepted. I had to put on 15 pounds weight (I was that much underweight at the time) before my physical exam then or I would have been disqualified. I ate five meals a day and loaded up on bananas the day of my exam and just squeaked by! Gus Johnson didn’t make it, and wound up in the Aleutian Islands with the Coast Guard for the duration of the war.
In March Col. Burns lifted the ban on officers living off the post, and Mary Charlotte drove our car from Hyattsville to El Paso, accompanied by Lillian Yech. On a highway in Mississippi, a teen-age boy on roller skates decided to cross the highway, without looking, just as their car came abreast of him, and he hit the windshield just in front of Lillian, killing himself. It so unnerved Lillian that she took the train, and Mary Charlotte had to drive the rest of the way by herself. The local sheriff told her to plead innocent at the coroner’s inquiry the next morning, but our insurance company made a small payment to the parents to get their release. Mary Charlotte had given me an arrival date, and not knowing how to reach me by phone, tried to make up the day-plus lost by the accident. She reached the AAATC at 4:30 am, bless her heart but she got there! I had rented an apartment on El Paso Street, where we lived for eight months.
My battery was now theoretically armed with six 37mm guns, each mounted on a
half-track vehicle. We had target practice in the nearby desert with
the few actual guns available, firing at sleeve targets towed by Air
Force planes. I had made a study of AA gunnery, and taught my gunners
how to lead the plane by the correct amount. We made, I believe, the
highest score made to date with those guns. I’m sure this was
behind my selection that autumn to be an instructor by Col. Oscar
McNeely, head of the Automatic Weapons Department at the Coast
Artillery School in Fort Monroe. Without previous notice, I received
orders to report there in late October, and was authorized ten days
en route. I asked the AG office at the AAATC HQ if those ten days
were counted from the date of the orders or my date of departure, and
was told from the date of the orders. I had to turn over all the
property, records, and responsibilities to my successor, get my
furniture and household goods packed and shipped, and drive over
2,000 miles in those ten days. It was a mad scramble, and Mary
Charlotte and I worked until well after midnight on our last night
getting everything packed. A few months prior to this, one of my
sergeants had brought in a baby rabbit he had found in the brush, and
I took it home to Mary Charlotte. When we got our furniture removed
from the apartment, we found that the rabbit had eaten holes in the
carpet. Since we had had to make a $50 deposit for cleanup on
leaving, we left the floor piled high with trash, and said nothing
about the holes. When I reported to Col. McNeely on the tenth day, he
was amazed to see me, and said the ten days were for travel time —
we had used only five!
In due time the other new instructors arrived (see left, left to right)— Bolan Glover, Ken Merriam, Harold Spaans, George Race, me, and Phil Royce. All but George were captains, but since he had not kept up his correspondence course work in the Reserves, he was still a first lieutenant, though older than most of us. All of us got one promotion while serving as instructors, but it was a long time in coming. Our students were National Guard and Reserve officers who were among the first to be called up. They were excellent students, and we literally devised our courses as we went along. The art of shooting at fast-moving, low-flying planes had not been developed and it was up to us to figure out how to do it.
It was good to get back to Newport News and Mrs. Chapman’s house. We lived with her until we were able to purchase a new house just finished in a development project not far outside of the Army post. In late November I was sent to Worcester, Mass., to the Gilbert & Barker Co. plant where the servo units which slewed our guns were being manufactured. Our department was writing the first Army field manual on the use of our AA automatic weapons equipment. I had to learn how these things worked and what field adjustments had to be made, and write the chapter on them for the manual. The British had developed them to be mounted on the Swedish Bofors 40-mm guns which had become standard for AA AW units. A British gun-laying director, invented by an Englishman named Kerrison, was to become our equipment also. The servo-units were powered by electricity, but were operated by oil pressure. To make them sensitive to the turning of the tracking wheel by the gunner, they had what the British called a "dither" unit, a device that nearly drove our gun corporals mad to keep in adjustment.
In April of 1942 the Antiaircraft School was moved to Camp Davis, N. C., about 60
miles north of Wilmington. By this time our whole Nation had been
transformed into a war economy and lifestyle, with gas, sugar and
meat rationing, blackout near the East Coast, 40mph national speed
limit, and many other restrictions. Camp Davis had been constructed
on formerly near worthless land infested with mosquitoes and far from
a town of any size, at great cost, and minimum quality. The land had
belonged to a prominent North Carolina Senator, and his weight
prevailed. The Marine Corps built a permanent facility on the coast
20 miles or so farther north, with well-constructed brick barracks
and classroom facilities for less cost per man than Camp Davis. One
mosquito yarn that went the rounds was that a mosquito landed on the
small-craft airfield adjacent to the camp and had fifty gallons of
gas pumped into it before it was discovered not to be a plane.
We were allowed to find homes where we could, and we first rented a house at Wrightsville Beach. Like most homes there, the house was built on stilts to be safely above the highest tide. We hadn’t been there long before we had an opportunity to acquire a puppy — part German Shepherd, part Collie, and part Chow. A little girl next door asked Mary Charlotte what kind of a dog it was, and she answered, "A three-way dog." The girl told her mother that we had a 3-wheel dog, and the mother took Mary Charlotte to task about such a tall tale. When the owner found out about our having the house at "winter" rent, he asked us to leave, as he intended to double the rent in June for the "season". We were fortunate enough to find a nice house (#102) in a subdivision called Colonial Village, owned by a school teacher who had been drafted. We lived there for our entire time at the Antiaircraft School. Since I had so far to commute, we were allowed the maximum gas ration, and this qualified us to buy a new car.
Mary Charlotte soon volunteered to serve in the Filter Center (the place where all aircraft are screened for possible enemy infiltration), and there met Edna Appleberry, who became a lifelong friend. I was glad that Mary Charlotte had such a friend as I would not have to worry about her while so far away at the School. We tried all four of the Presbyterian churches in Wilmington, and finally settled on the First Presbyterian Church. Other than Edna and Cecil Appleberry, the people in this church were the only Wilmingtonians we got to know in our year there.
Life at the School was fast-paced and interesting. We instructors finally completed the field manual for automatic weapons AA gunnery, and it became the Bible for AA AW units during the entire war; it was not updated until after the war’s end. I wrote four chapters of it, and also wrote a paper for the Coast Artillery Journal entitled "Training the Automatic Weapons Fire Unit" for which I got a personal commendation from General Green, the commandant of the US Army Antiaircraft Command. I am confident that that article was decisive in my being awarded one of the last lieutenant colonelcies to be given in the AA Command for the duration of the war.
Although, as previously mentioned, our students at first were very well qualified and knowledgeable in mathematics (at least high school level), the quality steadily deteriorated as time went on, and we had to keep simplifying our AA gunnery courses. After a year at Camp Davis, we could not expect our students to know more than fourth-grade arithmetic, even though they all had college degrees in engineering! Part of our course involved actual gunnery, and we put our students through a rigorous round of firing. On one occasion, the School was visited by the Secretary of War (now known as Secretary of the Army), and we put on a special show for him, with two tow-target planes, and all varieties of our AA weapons. I was designated as the safety officer, with responsibility for communicating with the pilots, running the okay-to-fire flag up and down, and telling the audience what was going on. I had two walkie talkies to communicate with the pilots and a mike to talk to the audience. I felt like a circus ringmaster with three rings going at once. Everything went well, and we got a good report from the brass.
We had been at Camp Davis over seven months when our promotions to major came through. I had been senior to all but Ken Merriam as captain, but became junior to them all as major because my promotion had to go through the National Guard Bureau and was dated two days later than the others.
In early December 1942, 1 was selected to represent automatic weapons in an inspection team that visited AAATC’s at Fort Bliss, Texas, Camp Haan and Camp Callan, California. We flew across the country on American Airlines, and our flight times totaled more than two days, as we stopped at many intermediate airports. Long distance flights were just beginning to enter the commercial flying world. It was my first experience at being an "expert" outside of the classroom. When in Camp Callan I got an anguished call from Mary Charlotte that all our first-of-the-month checks had bounced, and I had to tell her to try again with them. It seemed that the finance office at Camp Davis had a SNAFU (situation normal — all fouled up) and the checks were ten days late reaching the bank. While at Camp Haan, I met its commanding general, now Brig. Gen. Townsend, and recognized him as my instructor at the special AA course I had attended at Fort Monroe in 1937, the man I had corrected as a student. He asked me if I would like to be transferred to his training staff, and of course I assented. He promised to put in a request for my transfer. He must have done so, because I received orders to go there in March of 1943, But before that date, here came Gen. Townsend as a student to the Antiaircraft School! He had been assigned to command an AAA brigade in the US Seventh Army, which fought its way up the boot of Italy with great casualties. Had he not already requested my assignment to Camp Haan, I might have been assigned to his brigade staff.
Arriving at the AAATC at Camp Haan, I was assigned to the AA-3 staff
section of the headquarters, which had responsibility for the
training of all the troops stationed there. Lt. Col. Russell Sharpe
was the principal staff officer of the section (called AA-3), and I
was assigned as his assistant. The AAATC was commanded by Maj. Gen.
Bruce Oldfield, whom everyone referred to as "Barney." He
was a prince of a general, having won his second star as commandant
of the Panama Canal Zone. The AAATC had a satellite training center
at Camp Irwin, high in the California desert, where summer
temperatures often went above 120 degrees F. On one occasion, General
Oldfield asked me to accompany him on an inspection tour of the
troops at Camp Irwin. We drove up there (a 3-hour trip), leaving very
early, and toured the unit areas until 3 o'clock in the afternoon.
The general then turned to me and apologized for keeping me out
beyond the lunch hour!
Russ Sharpe was an energetic man, full of ideas and grateful to have a technically qualified assistant. Our training center was rapidly being built up with battalions to be trained, having 55 at the peak, making us the largest AAATC in the country. With nearly 1,000 men per battalion we had a lot of troops to be responsible for. About a quarter of our inductees were black, and some of the units were all black, having been National Guard units. We had a 16-week training period, broken down into basic, artillery, and tactical (field) training. The tactical training was conducted at Camp Irwin, where the men lived largely under simulated war conditions. The current training program had the battalions spend four weeks at Haan, then two weeks at Irwin to indoctrinate them to desert living, four more weeks at Haan, four more weeks at Irwin, and a final two weeks at Haan. Transportation was a major problem, as our battalions were considered semi-mobile, and we had to pool trucks every time units moved between the two training centers. General Oldfield proposed to the staff that we eliminate the 2-week introduction to desert living in the training cycle, thus halving the transportation need. I argued that the inductees, coming largely from cities, had to be introduced to field living gradually, and would be most unhappy if they had to spend six weeks straight in the desert with no previous experience and no possibility of recreation in a civilized environment. The general summarized his thinking and then turned to me and said, "Do you agree with me now, Mitchell?" Who was 1, a 29-year-old major, to argue with a grizzled veteran major general? "Of course, General, if that is your decision, that is the way it will be, but I still think we are being too hard on these men." "Okay", he said, "we won’t do it!"
Our first home in the Camp Haan area was an apartment added to the home of Mr. Charles Dill, who lived in the town of Redlands, where he ran a lumber company. The apartment was essentially a one-room efficiency, and Mary Charlotte soon tired of it, so we began looking for a house, finally finding one in a new subdivision in San Bernardino at 871 Valley View Drive. Mary Charlotte lived there for the duration of the war, and I did, too, until I was sent overseas. We attended a Presbyterian church in San Bernardino, but I do not remember it.
Mary Charlotte became pregnant, but she didn’t breath a word about it to her mother or to my parents in our letters, so when on September 16, 1943, William Montgomery Mitchell was born in Redlands Hospital, all three grandparents were thunderstruck. He was named after Mary Charlotte's brother, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in western Virginia when returning from Colorado, where he had spent two years in the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). As mentioned in an earlier chapter, Dad had wanted to start a new line of Herbert Francis Mitchells (I’m the II). He was so upset that we wouldn’t go along with his desire that he could hardly think of anything else for three days, Mother tells me, and he promptly withdrew his earlier promise to send his grandson to Princeton. I had received my promotion to lieutenant colonel the previous day, and had passed out cigars to my associates at the AAATC, and so on the next day I passed out a second box of cigars in honor of my son! I must confess that I knew nothing about raising children, but I soon learned how to change diapers, handle a bottle, and do other tasks a baby requires. On the whole, I rather enjoyed being a father.
A short time later I was assigned to be the Operations Officer at Camp Irwin (but only for a few weeks). Colonel Jefferson was the commanding officer, and he was another prince of a fellow. It was a joy to be on his staff. We were scheduled to be inspected by a VIP from Washington, but Colonel Jefferson was hit with the flu a day or two before his arrival. I was drafted to substitute for the colonel, so I had to escort this three-star general around Camp Irwin and try to answer all his questions. I must say I felt extremely uncomfortable in the great man’s presence.
The time soon came when General Oldfield and Colonel Sharpe were transferred to the Air Force, to inaugurate an Antiaircraft Command in that service. Brig. Gen. Maurice Handwerk was our new commanding general. He was a stern-faced disciplinarian, almost the exact opposite of General Oldfield. There was no one else with the necessary experience to head the training staff section, so he appointed me to be the AA-3 for the HQ. Because of the rapid expansion of the antiaircraft arm, the pipeline overflowed when the desired strength levels were reached in late 1943. We were sent about 1,000 newly commissioned second lieutenants from OCS (Officer Candidate Schools), for which there were now no troop unit assignments. Nearly 400 were assigned to my staff section as unit inspectors, just to give them something to do. We were supposed to rate each of our battalions in training, and needed some objective basis on which to do so. My senior staff assistants and I made up an inspection manual in which we broke down all the specific subjects and exercises, and assigned weights to each hour of each such unit. This made a telephone-directory-sized document, but did give us a way of spreading our many inspectors fairly across these battalions, as well as give proper weight to the ratings submitted. We sent a copy of it to Colonel Sharpe, who was now G-3 of the Air Force Antiaircraft Command, and he published it verbatim as a command document issued in the name of General Hap Arnold, top general of the whole Air Force! We applied our rating system to the reports we sent to the Army Antiaircraft Command in Richmond VA (our superior headquarters), and ranked the units as we saw them from superior to satisfactory. We received a scathing reply from General Green saying that there were no units in the Antiaircraft Command that were less than excellent! So much for our efforts to rate our battalions!
In March 1944, I was sent as a student (at my request) back to the Antiaircraft School at Camp Davis to take a course in the new gun-laying radar units, SCR-584 and SCR-545. We were allowed to go by private auto and given ten days to cross the country. Mary Charlotte decided not to take Will, and arranged to have him kept by a neighbor, Mrs. Toy. All three grandparents were deeply hurt by being denied their first meeting with their new grandson, Mrs. Chapman’s only one, and my parents only one named Mitchell. Mrs. Chapman had us visit her at night on our way to Wilmington, NC, so that the neighbors would not know we left Will behind. On the way East we had a blow-out in Joplin, MO, and had to buy a used tire (new tires could be had only through a ration board). This tire went bad before we had crossed the State of Missouri. We managed to get it patched, and were advised to seek a ration board in the interior of Illinois, which we did, getting the precious piece of paper that enabled us to buy a new tire. We had a similar experience on our return to Camp Haan, having to drive at 30mph from Orlando FL to the interior of Mississippi before finding a ration board that would give us the right to buy a tire. The radar course was most interesting to me, and Mary Charlotte enjoyed being with her old friends in Wilmington, particularly Edna Appleberry. We students were supposed to spend five weeks studying the 584 (designed at MIT, and chosen as the major unit for AA 90mm gun fire control), and then one week on the much more complex 545 (designed by Bell Labs). Because of "scheduling difficulties" we had the one-week course first, virtually a waste of time without the preparation the longer study was supposed to give. After this course was completed, I was sent to the Air Force School of Tactics at Orlando (FL) for a 10-day course on AA Operations Rooms (Filter Centers), after which we headed back to Camp Haan, reaching there in mid-May.
Many changes had occurred in my absence. General Handwerk was gone, and I was no longer in the AAATC HQ, but had been assigned to the 61st AAA Group Headquarters as executive officer. Camp Haan was being rapidly scaled down, with some units deactivated and their personnel turned into infantry. My group itself was scheduled for inactivation in a month or so from the time I joined it. Colonel Newman was Commanding Officer, and it was not long before I learned that he had had as roommate, at the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maj. William Bullis from my old National Guard regiment! The first assignment I was given was to bust the headquarters master sergeant, who had incurred the colonel’s wrath for his inefficiency in setting up the headquarters in a previous field exercise. I proceeded to look into the matter, and got called on the carpet the next day when the colonel didn’t see the order published. I got out the regulations and found out just what I had to do, and eventually satisfied the colonel. He made me do everything in the operation of that headquarters, which is, I suppose, what an executive is supposed to do, but it was a far cry from operations staff work, and I didn’t really like it. The colonel was too senior for his assignment, however, and when the group was scheduled for deactivation he was transferred elsewhere, and I never saw him again. I was eager to say that I was a group commander, but each battalion commander in our group was senior to me. On the very last day of the group’s existence, when all the battalions had been transferred elsewhere I had the group adjutant publish an order signed: "By order of Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell, commanding."
Meanwhile I had received orders to be shipped out in July somewhere in the Pacific, as I was to report to the embarkation center in Seattle. Mary Charlotte was now pregnant with Mary Francis and she was most unhappy to think that I was going to leave her to take care of Will and then Mary Francis all alone. I can still see her tear-stained face at the train station as I prepared to leave for Seattle early in July 1944.
I had to bide my time for nearly two weeks at the Fort Lewis Embarkation Center, before I finally was assigned to a troop ship, a Victory class freighter with about 1,000 "casuals", military personnel traveling as individuals rather than as units. There was another lieutenant colonel, who was senior to me, so he was appointed troop commander, and I had no assignment. My rank got me a cabin by myself on the top deck, but no other privileges. There was no kitchen on the ship for the troops, although the crew ate very well indeed. We had canned rations for breakfast, sandwiches and apples for lunch, and apples and sandwiches for supper. On the first night out of Seattle, I was awakened by a violent rocking of the ship as it hit the swells from the Pacific coming into the Juan de Fuca Strait. My bunk would suddenly drop out from under me, and as I was falling down the bunk suddenly came up and whacked me. Try to sleep with that scenario playing! We joined a convoy off the coast and ten days later arrived at the Honolulu harbor. I was dumped into the casual center at Honolulu, and waited for someone to ask for me. I learned later that General Handwerk had been assigned as AA commander for the US Tenth Army, slated to invade Japan in a few months’ time. He had requested a Lt. Col. Moore (formerly his deputy chief of staff at Camp Haan) to be assigned as his executive officer. Since Colonel Moore was attending a service school at the time the call reached Camp Haan and as I was available and had the same rank and MOS (military occupation specialty) number, I had been sent in Moore’s place. The general didn’t want me, and put in another call for Moore, getting him this time. I was dumped into the garrison forces, and assigned to command the 869th AAA AW Battalion, then part of the AA defenses of Honolulu and the Naval Air Station. It was now early August, and I remained in that post until December 31st.
Weeks went by and I had heard nothing from Mary
Charlotte, although I faithfully wrote to her and to Mother at least
once a week. Then suddenly I received 30 letters from my wife and 4/5
from Mother. Mary Charlotte had written every day since I had left,
and continued to do so for the duration of my absence, but it took
that long for the mail to catch up to me. Thereafter we got mail in
10-20 days fairly regularly, and I could call her once a month (at
about $10 a call). I received $450 a month pay as a lieutenant
colonel. I kept $50 for myself and allotted $400 to her. She was
doing fine with her pregnancy, but wanted me to okay a hysterectnomy
in conjunction with the birth of Mary Francis. Before she could send
me the necessary forms, however, Mary Francis was born, one day after
Will’s first birthday. I got word by field telephone from the
other side of the Island, where my S-3 had to shout the message three
times before I understood it. When her letters about the birth caught
up to me I learned that she had gone into labor several weeks before
expected, and drove herself to the hospital. Mary Francis was born
just a few hours later. Caring for two small children was too much
for her, however, so she first had Mrs. Toy take full care of Will,
and then, when she decided to get a job, found another neighbor who
gladly took Mary Francis. Mary Charlotte first worked for a military
office in San Bernardino dealing with personnel work, and then got a
job as a long-lines operator with the telephone company. Her earnings
plus her allotment just barely met her expenditures, so when I
returned at the end of the war, there was no nest egg to get us
started that I had anticipated, much to my disappointment.
The 869th was a real "pineapple" battalion, having been in the garrison forces since shortly after Pearl Harbor. The officers and men were all inured to the artificial life under martial law which had existed all that time. It took me a little while to get used to it. I had two batteries (eight gun emplacements) scattered around the city of Honolulu, most of them on the tops of the taller buildings, and another two emplaced around the airstrips of the Honolulu Naval Air Station (now the Honolulu International Airport). The Island of Oahu was loaded with aircraft of all types, there being at least a dozen airfields for the several services, as well as hundreds of military and naval installations of all kinds. Oahu was then the staging area for the whole Pacific Theater of Operations, and must have had in the vicinity of 200,000 military there. Pineapples and sugar cane were still being grown, however, and woe betide any soldier caught with a pineapple in his possession — a $50 fine was imposed with no questions asked. I never once in the 15 months on that island tasted fresh pineapple! In spite of the tight shipping restrictions, unlabeled cans of pineapple were shipped to the West Coast for labeling, and then some of them were shipped back to Oahu for us to eat.
After only 2-3 weeks in Honolulu, my battalion was relieved and sent to the west coast of the island to a training camp, as it had been years since the men had actually fired one of their guns at a target. Our month of retraining was cut short, however, when one of the new State-side battalions took seven hours to be ready for action on a simulated island alert. General Richardson himself (three-star-general in command of all Army rear area installations) directed that the original air defenses be re-instituted, and the 869th (including two attached batteries of the 206th) was sent to the North Shore to provide AA AW defense for Hickham, Mokuolea, Kahuku Point and Kaneohe airfields, spreading us over 40 miles of coast line. I wanted to locate my command post at one of the air fields, where we were offered a good accommodation, but the civilian grower who wanted the rent demanded that we reoccupy an old position that had long before fallen into decay. The civilian landowners really ran the Island, giving the top brass special privileges if they were accommodated. My men had to spend nearly a month removing the encroachment of the jungle, replacing rotten boards, painting and many other renovations. Having few men, the officers of the battalion headquarters and myself pitched in to get the job done.
Life on Oahu at this time was far from the paradise that Hawaii is supposed to be. It rained almost every morning, but one just got wet and dried off naturally when the sun came out. I attended church services at a little church in one of the nearby villages until my battalion was allotted a chaplain, a dentist, and a medical detachment. This didn’t last long, as these professional people were in great demand in the forward areas, and soon were sent there. We had blank ammunition (for test purposes) for our guns, so that we could demonstrate the ability to fire (at an attacking plane) within three minutes of the time the visiting inspecting officer blew his whistle for an alert. My gun crews were pretty proficient, and nearly always got a round off within the three minutes allowed. This alert could be called any time of day or night without warning. We also had live ammunition, and had frequent drills in its handling and replenishment. When we first set up our defense positions, we had to put the guns on top of the ground, because the Base Command had to get permission from the land owners for us to dig in and provide protective bunkers. The second day we were there our brigade commander, a new general from the States, inspected us and was horrified to find we had not dug in. In spite of our explanation, he ordered us to do so immediately. Since we had no materials, our men had to scrounge them from the nearby Navy dump, but we had our guns emplaced in the 24 hours the general gave us. For the next two months, I was answering demands to "reply by endorsement" from Base Command bureaucrats as to why we had done this. In one of my batteries was a draftee that had only two fingers on his right hand and was at the very lowest level of IQ. The battery commander went bananas trying to keep the man profitably occupied, but it took almost full time and attention from a non-com or another private to do so. Accordingly, the captain gave the man a pass quite frequently. While on one of his trips to Honolulu, this man thumbed a ride with General Richardson, who picked him up and questioned him closely about his life as a soldier, apparently not noticing his deformity and low IQ. You can imagine the "reply by endorsement" we got from that one!
Our brigade commander, General Tenant, told us battalion commanders
that he considered the maintenance of our vehicles a top priority. So
when several of my trucks got gigs for minor infringements of the
condition of the vehicle (scratches, dirt, missing fire extinguisher,
tools, etc.) and Base Command ordered us to prepare for a command
inspection of our vehicles, I decided that this was more important
than protecting the air fields from non-existent Japs, and put two
men on each truck to manicure them, depleting the gun crews. We got
an excellent in the inspection, greatly pleasing the general, so he
brought me onto his staff as operations officer (military designation
S-3) on December 31st. A few days later the general was sent
elsewhere. We had six colonels and brigadier generals as brigade
commanders in my nine months as operations officer of the 70th AAA
Brigade, which had charge of the AA automatic weapons defense of all
installations on the Island. One of these was a crusty old permanent
colonel named Clifford Jones. He had been in command of one of the
islands in the forward area of the Pacific Command under Admiral
Hoover. Col. Jones took issue with the complaints of two inspecting
Navy captains about the way he ran his island, so they sent him
packing back to Oahu. Most of the Regular Army officers on Oahu were
rejects from the forward area, if my grapevine was correct. Colonel
Jones liked to play chess, and as I was the only one on his staff at
all knowledgeable in that game, I frequently got drafted to spend an
evening in the colonel’s cottage playing chess. He was a master
whose defense I could not crack. The only time I could beat him was
when he accommodated me by not using his regular opening gambit. I
found a heart of gold under his crusty exterior, and grew to have a
tremendous respect for the man. He arranged for our headquarters to
move from Hickham Field to an area called Aiea, immediately north of
Ford Island, where Navy tri-motored scout planes took off day and
night, right over our heads. One had to stop talking whenever one of
these planes flew over us.
The worst of the lot was a Brig. Gen. Irvine. He had been an enlisted man in the Georgia National Guard, a real Georgia cracker. He had come to Hawaii from the Pentagon, where he had had some minor post. After the cessation of hostilities, we citizen soldiers were solicited to become Regular Army officers, and I dutifully put in my request for consideration. When General Irvine saw my application, he noticed I had no decorations, so he called me into his office and told me I really needed a decoration to be favorably considered. He offered to let me copy the citation he had written for himself when in the Pentagon to get the Medal of Honor (which he always wore). That really made me think of what I might be getting into if I chose a career in the military. While there were some princes like Oldfield, Jefferson, and Jones, there were too many like Irvine. I did nothing further to advance that request.
In spite of his egotism, General Irvine was a competent commander, and did a good deal to improve the efficiency and lot of our units. One of my jobs was to prepare and conduct field exercises for each of the AW (Automatic Weapons) battalions that were to participate in the invasion of Japan (which was later diverted to the Ryukyus). I would generate a field order designating the battalion to provide AA protection for some nearby installation, arrange for air strikes from the Navy Hellcats or one of the Air Force fighter groups, have our brigade intelligence officer work up "Japanese" infiltrators, and other simulations of war conditions, and then spend the 24 hours of the test in monitoring how the battalion performed. It was a grueling test for the men and officers of the battalion, but they had to go through it only once. I had to do it over and over again for the eight or so battalions we tested.
One of the privileges of my job was to receive the super-secret digest of antiaircraft activities in the European Theater. Some of these stories were thrilling indeed, but their top-secret designation prevents me from telling them even now. I also had the privilege of attending an Island-wide briefing by General Richardson on the progress of the Pacific War. Only unit commanders of battalions and up were invited, but there must have been five hundred of us in the theater where it was held. General Richardson had excellent charts showing the various sectors of the Army, Navy, and Air Force over the whole Pacific Ocean area. The overlapping and interlocking of these command zones was unbelievable! I don’t see how anyone knew who his boss was! It’s a wonder we won the war at all! It did not take me long to realize what a discrepancy existed from reality and what was written in the official order system. I firmly believe that if the Japs could have mounted another attack on Hawaii in those later years, it would have succeeded fully as well as the first one! It also did not take me long to realize what a bunch of stinkers Americans can be when they are given too much authority. I could cite a number of incidents that made my blood boil, but there is really no profit in doing so.
All was not work and frustration in the Hawaiian Defense Command. Each calendar year both officers and enlisted men were entitled to a 5-day R&R (rest and recreation) holiday at one of the island centers set up for the purpose. I had run across Capt. Doug Thompson, whom I had known at Camp Davis, and he and I applied to take our five days together. We did this in late 1944 and again in mid-1945. On the second break, we went to a camp on the slope of Mauna Loa on the Island of Hawaii, visiting the volcano there, and playing golf in a cow pasture. I had never before tried the game, and was proud to have made 127 on my very first round. I don’t remember whether that was for 18 holes or only 9! On one other occasion I played a round on the course at the officers club at Fort Shafter (near Honolulu), and actually made a birdie! The war finally came to an end, and the people in Honolulu joined Americans everywhere in celebrating the August 14 radio broadcast of surrender by Emperor Hirohito. But it still took two months for the wheels to turn and the Pacific war machine to be disbanded. Men and officers alike were being sent home on a point system. I had enough points to be included in one of the first major groups to return to the mainland from Oahu, and rather enjoyed the 7-day trip on an aircraft carrier. The food was excellent, quite a contrast to that coming over. Again there was an interminable wait at the Fort Lewis center, until finally I got assigned a coach seat on a South Pacific train to Los Angeles. I felt sorry for myself for having to sit up all night the first night, until a group of WACs got on at Sacramento. There were no seats left, and these girls had to stand in the vestibules and toilet lounges all the way to Los Angeles. What a joy it was to be finally released from the reception center near Long Beach and be reunited with Mary Charlotte in our car after 15 long months of separation!
Looking back on these five years in the war-time Army from the
perspective of over fifty years, I can see how I had been matured. At
the beginning of this time, my only responsibility for others was my
wife, and the men of my National Guard battery on drill nights and at
camp. The rapidly escalating responsibilities of battery commander,
AAA School instructor, AAATC operations officer, overseas battalion
commander and brigade operations officer had developed my ability to
deal with people and situations at a rate two to five times greater
than civilian life usually does. I am particularly grateful to God
for sparing me from the horrors of actual combat. The most important
attribute that I had acquired, I believe, was the knowledge that I
could cope with just about anything that came down the pike —
or so I thought. I had discovered that planning and supervising
operations was far more interesting than management, and this has
remained my preference in later life. I found particularly
distasteful the requirement for "chewing out" inferiors who
didn’t perform properly — a virtual requirement of
military command. My casual relation to God was essentially
unchanged. I recognized His existence, and usually attended Sunday
services, but cannot say that I expected any special attention from
Him. I do not remember having developed the practice of a daily
devotional period — in fact I seldom thought of Him except
during the weekly Sunday services. To witness to someone else about
my salvation in Jesus Christ was an impossibility — I knew of
nothing to witness about! I considered myself to be self-made. After
all I had supported myself since I was 18, had paid all my university
expenses, bought all my own clothes since mid-high school, and pretty
much ran my own life. Nevertheless, I recognized that God was somehow
looking after me — after all, didn’t He keep me out of
the combat zones? I also believed that He would see that I got what I
wanted. I looked to Him more as a door-opener than a genie that would
give me what I wanted on a silver platter. My earlier desire to
create a Utopia for mankind through technology had evaporated. I
still wanted a PhD, but now it was for my own ego. I was glad to have
two children, but really didn’t intend to let them get in the
way of my career — Mary Charlotte could see to their
upbringing. After all, that was the way my father had treated me, and
I thought that was the way it should be. Although I called myself a
Christian, I really didn’t know what the word meant. My major
desire on returning from overseas was to get that PhD, and I had
decided that it should be in the field of electronics. But as to what
came after that, I had not gotten that far in my thinking.
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