“After the Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, I wondered what I should do. I had already decided not to transfer to UC Berkeley in Agricultural Engineering for my third year, because of the unsettled situation. I had completed two years of basic ROTC training at UCLA, so my first action was to apply for Advanced Corps ROTC, but the next class was filled. When I asked to be on a waiting list, they suggested I apply for Enlisted Reserve Corps, and I did. A new program opened up for meteorological training at UCLA with the Air Corps, but I was refused when I tested red-green color blind. So, I continued in school.
I received my call to active duty in the Enlisted Reserve Corps, along with hundreds of other students, on March 1, 1943. There was a big campus send-off for us on buses to Ft. MacArthur in San Pedro, California, for induction. We were tested and given uniforms. They didn't have boots large enough for my size 13 feet. I continued to wear my white and brown college saddle shoes with the rest of the Army uniform well through our basic training at Camp Roberts. I got lots of double-takes and kidding!
At Camp Roberts, near San Miguel, California, I was assigned to a company that specialized in Intelligence and Reconnaissance. I found this interesting and more to my liking than just basic infantry training. About midway through training, I developed a bad cold, which turned into pneumonia, and I went to the hospital. When they gave me the antibiotic, Sulfa, I broke out in a skin rash; this was the first time that I learned I was allergic to certain drugs. After about a week in the camp hospital, I returned to duty, where I learned to drive Jeeps. We finished the 13 weeks of basic infantry training and I qualified for further education in the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP).
I rode a train to my assignment in engineer training at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma. When we arrived, our dorm rooms were not ready, so we were put on cots in the football stadium building. We were given intensive physical training under the direction of the famous football coach, Williamson, and more refresher courses. Finally, we were assigned to former women's dorms across the street from sorority row. In early September, our classes began. I remember one class in which we had a professor that was an expert in American dialects. He had each of us talk and he would tell us where we were from. When he heard me talk, he said he didn't know. I guess that southern California doesn't have a distinct dialect. Each dorm was organized as a platoon and I was selected to be the Cadet Commander for our platoon.
I was given two weeks leave at Christmastime to go home, and I rode the Greyhound bus both ways on US Route 66. What a glorious homecoming! Our classes continued through the spring and after I completed three quarters, I was an engineer in the Army's eyes, but would probably need another year to get a degree at a university. In early June, a group of us were shipped to a replacement center at Camp Howze in Texas, just south of the Oklahoma border. There on the banks of the Red River, our military exercises were in knee -deep mud with dust blowing in our faces.
After a few weeks, I was sent to my new assignment as an enlisted cadre for a new unit, the 1012th Engineer Treadway Bridge Company, at Camp Bowie at Brownwood, Texas, in the hill country. This unit's job was to transport and install a floating pontoon bridge of steel treadways for military vehicles to drive over a river. The Captain selected me to be his radio operator and sent me to a three-week long radio school. The hardest part of that was learning Morse Code. Soon thereafter, our unit moved over 200 miles to Camp Swift, east of Austin, Texas, using its own trucks and equipment. On the day of the move, I drove the Captain's Jeep and communicated on the radio to keep the convoy of trucks and buses together. I was promoted to a Technical Corporal.
My assignment was changed to a Crew Chief's position in our motor pool, which would provide me opportunity for advancement. While working there, I realized that I really didn't like the grease and grime of maintaining the huge Brockway trucks that hauled the pontoons and bridge sections in the Texas summer heat. So one weekend, when I was serving as Charge of Quarters (CQ), I found and sent an application to Engineer Officer Candidate School (OCS). A few weeks later, when we were on blackout night training, one of our trucks broke down and I stayed to get it repaired.
It was late, so I put my bedroll on the ground beside the truck. In the morning, a buddy asked, "Did you know you were sleeping in a bed of poison ivy?" The next day, I went to the camp hospital with a severe reaction. After about a week, I received my orders to go to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to OCS. I had gotten over my poison ivy reaction just in time to be able to travel.
Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the famous, historical headquarters of the Corps of Engineers, was indeed an inspiring place. It's about 20 miles south of Washington, D.C., and across a bay of the Potomac River from historic Mt. Vernon. I arrived by train in July 1944. They called us the ‘90-day wonders,’ because some say, ‘It's a wonder you can survive 90 days of such intensive training!’ You remove any showing of rank on your uniform and sew on an OCS Cadet patch on your pocket. Our training involved classroom studies, work in shops, and examinations, as well as formations, marching, exercises, and field projects to construct bridges and build roads. We spent a final week at the AP Hill Military Reservation in southern Virginia in individual tents and on field maneuvers: it was a snowy October and freezing cold. A final test of our stamina and resolve!
We graduated and were commissioned in November 1944 in an impressive ceremony. Many of us had no close family or friends to pin on our new gold bars, so we pinned them on each other. We were given a three-day pass to New York City, where we saw some Broadway shows, ate very well, and I had my picture taken in my new uniform to send home. Next, I enrolled in a three-week training course in Heavy Engineer Equipment, which I enjoyed very much. I had no trouble operating the dozers and graders, since I had learned both on the ranch. I did have trouble slipping in the snow with the motor grader. I used this training in a few months when fighting in the Philippines. Just as I ended this course, I received orders to go overseas.
My orders called for me to take a transcontinental train to Ft. Lewis, near Olympia, Washington, for processing, including shots and uniforms, to go to the South Pacific Theater. So it was on to Oakland to board a new, fast troop ship bound for a replacement depot on New Guinea. This ship could presumably out-run any Japanese submarine. It did, fortunately, with some Navy airplane cover. From there, I was flown to Tacloban Airport on Leyte in the Philippines, where I joined the Rear Echelon of the 8th Engineer Squadron of the 1st Cavalry Division as a replacement for an officer killed in the Battle of Leyte. I was assigned as a Platoon Leader in Troop B.
Our main body of the 1st Cavalry Division had already landed at Lingayen Gulf and had dashed into Manila, with the bulldozers of the 8th Engineers leading the way. Other units had replaced the Cavalry in the fight for Manila and the Cavalry had regrouped south of Manila for the drive to free southern Luzon. Through a series of several Navy ships and a Jeep ride, I was finally able to catch up to my new unit.
The 1st Cavalry Division and the 8th Engineer Squadron were both regular Army units stationed along the Texas border in peacetime. Those of us who were citizen soldiers were added as replacements. They were a very well-trained and equipped, hard fighting and drinking, rough and ready bunch, with one of the best fighting records in our military. It was organized on the old square division system with four of each squads, platoons, troops, squadrons, and regiments of about 50,000 men total.
A well-experienced Staff Sergeant was handling my platoon, so I was temporarily assigned as an Intelligence Officer, to seek out engineer materials, and to check roads and other paths for us to move south. This involved flying with the crazy Division Artillery observation pilots. They would zoom in and out, and up and down to allow me closer views of potential sites. Occasionally, we would be shot at by the bypassed Japanese; luckily, they missed. We found that most of the roads and bridges had been blown up by the Japanese.
The Cavalry asked for Navy support and they moved the troops around the Japanese by using landing craft to a beach west of the town of Naga. For several weeks, I was located at that beachhead, where our Engineer troops were assisting the landings and moving the troops inland to Naga. Three bright spots in our lives there included the ability to go swimming to clean up from the tropical heat, using sticks of TNT to blow fish out of the water for fresh food, and befriending a teenage Chinese boy who sorted out the poisonous fish for us. This young boy had lost his family who had been cooks, so we let him travel with us to help with the Tagalog language and secure fresh food. We called him a ‘dog robber.’ He stayed with us until we left for occupation duty in Japan.
We found that the railroad line south of Manila to Legaspi and its bridges were intact, so our mechanics made rims for our Jeeps and weapons carriers to ‘ride the rails.’ We even found several rail cars that we towed behind the weapons carriers to haul supplies, timber, and gravel. Several times, we had to use .50 caliber machine guns mounted on each vehicle to blast our way out of ambushes. One night on the beach, we were ambushed by mortar shells from the mountains above us. We tried to fire back, but we couldn't do much at night. The Cavalry went after them at daylight. Our camp site was damaged some, but none of our equipment. The shelling made a mess of our camp site, so we moved to another. I was hit by a piece of shrapnel, but it only grazed my lower leg, so I bandaged it and went on. We had no medics with us and there was no evacuation hospital near, so it never got reported, thus no Purple Heart. I still have a scar on my leg.
Our Troop B regrouped in the City of Naga and used it as a base of operations for several months. Here is where I was finally able to get acquainted with my platoon. As the junior officer, I got all the least desirable jobs among the officers: mainly cleaning up the debris, garbage, and trash throughout the town from the ravages of war to open the roads. We met with the priests at the Cathedral, who tried to get us drunk so we would agree to clean up the grounds and repair their walls. I was pressed into intelligence work again to search for engineer material. This time, I was introduced to the Huks (Filipino resistance fighters), who accompanied me overland to check out a large supply of lumber at a lumber mill site in a remote forested area. We traveled on foot at night and slept in Filipino villages during the day until we found the lumber. We came back to have it moved to the coast, where it was then hauled by landing craft to docks near Naga for use in rebuilding bridges.
Another interesting story is when we went back up the coast to pick up the lumber, I rode on the Navy Picket Boat that accompanied the landing craft hauling the lumber. On the way back, the ocean became very rough; so rough that the crew of the Picket Boat were all seasick. I was the only one not sick, so the Captain had me steer the boat while he sat in back and gave me instructions. I felt this was the acid test to say I'm not susceptible to seasickness.
I was unable to protect myself on this trek from mosquitoes, so in a few days I came down with a terrible case of malaria. I was evacuated to the field hospital set up at Lucena. I was in a coma for several days and missed hearing about the European war's ending. I lost a lot of weight, down to about 130 pounds, and lost energy from the terrible sweats and chills. By the way, I continued to have malaria episodes until I reached Japan's cooler weather that winter. During the summers back in California, when I would get hot and tired, I'd have new episodes for many years.
While I was in the hospital, our unit moved from Naga into Lucena for a rest camp. The unit was housed in the subtropical fruit orchard of the former US Department of Agriculture Experiment Station. This was a wonderful opportunity for me, as a subtropical horticulturist, to get better acquainted with tropical fruits like mangoes, mangosteens, bananas, and papayas. The dog robber would have a collection of fruit for me to enjoy on the stand near my bed every evening when I would come in from work.
The largest task our platoon did there was to build a firing range for the Cavalry in a coconut palm grove. Fortunately, the trees were planted in rows, so the Troopers would shoot between the lines of trees. We needed to remove only a few trees along the line of targets to build the pits and a protective berm. The only photo of me in combat was taken when I was holding the guideon flag of Troop B of the 8th Engineers in the camp in the fruit orchard at Lucena. I was wearing a .45 caliber Colt pistol that I inherited from the officer I replaced. I liked it a lot better than the carbine rifle that I had been issued. I don't have more pictures in the Philippines, because the Leica 35 mm camera I had taken overseas with an ample supply of colored film was lost when our officers' quarters in Japan burnt down. I had procrastinated and not sent the film home.
While at Lucena, I attended Ship Quartermaster Training at the Naval Base at Subic Bay, up the coast north of Manila. This was in preparation for our over water move to Japan. The atomic bombs had been dropped and Japan had surrendered. We were scheduled to load all our men and equipment at Batangas Bay, south of Manila, for Tokyo Bay. I was trained to load all of our heavy equipment, trucks, bulldozers, cranes, etc. on the decks of cargo ships. After that training and frequent trips to Batangas, we finally got everything loaded on board and on time. This ends the seven months I spent on Luzon as a combat engineer officer.
It was a rough sea voyage to Japan. The Captain of our ship tried to out-run a typhoon, because we had our equipment on the deck. We finally arrived at the docks at Yokohama several days late. Several of us were put ashore in rubber boats to inspect the docks for safety. We worried that the Japanese might have set explosive boobytraps or other snares against us. After a tense day of investigation, we finally concluded that it was safe to dock. But the lack of anyone in sight, utter silence, and all the area and streets swept clean, was scary. We posted very heavy guards, still not trusting the armistice with the Japanese. We learned later that the Japanese people had all gone into the hills, because they had been told we would kill them on sight.
The next few days were scary and tense as we unloaded our equipment and men and moved to Meiji Shrine Park, a large open space in the middle of Tokyo, to set up a tent city along with the rest of the Division. The 1st Cavalry Division was assigned to occupy the City of Tokyo. That meant, as engineers, we had the awesome responsibility for all the roads, bridges, utilities, etc. Gradually, we managed to handle the worst problems, get acquainted with the city, and move to our new permanent base at an old Japanese Army Camp on the northern edge of Tokyo, near the community of Osaka. The Cavalry renamed it Camp Drake. I was reassigned to be the S-2, Intelligence Officer, in the Squadron's Commanding Officer's Staff.
One of my first duties was to work with the Japanese Home Office in Tokyo and 11th Army Corps Headquarters in Yokohama to secure interpreters to work with our units. I was very fortunate to be assigned Mr. Ito, a native Japanese man who had graduated from Stanford University with an Electrical Engineering degree and had represented Western Electric in Japan before the war. He was a wonderful man and was a great help to us. I asked him to head our interpreters' staff. As S-2, I secured maps of the city and its utilities, which were invaluable in getting to and from our many jobs. We learned in time to cooperate with the Tokyo City Home Office in finding Japanese contractors willing to do construction jobs for us.
The next job was to design and build stables for the Cavalry. Yes, I said stables. Although the 1st Cavalry had been converted to an infantry style fighting force in the 1930s, many of the old time Cavalrymen wanted to ride in their time off. I hadn't ridden for years, but I enjoyed riding with them. In addition, we built shops, warehouses, baseball diamonds, basketball courts, and a football field. We learned about an Army Hospital not too far away with a full complement of nurses for us to date. One night, while we were having dinner with the nurses, I accidentally tipped a bowl of very hot soup into my lap. I jumped and yelled and they tried to help. Life's most embarrassing moments! I traveled to see some of Japan's beautiful shrines and gardens and to a Rest and Relaxation week at the Mt. Fuji Hotel. So, we had some fun while on occupation duty.
That fall, most of our senior officers went home with enough overseas points. This left us with six 1st Lieutenants out of a usual complement of 26 officers. I had received my promotion to 1st Lieutenant when we arrived in Japan. Engineer officers were declared essential and not eligible to go home for a year, regardless of points. We had a full complement of 800 enlisted men, because we were receiving transfers from the European Theater. For a few weeks, I commanded B Troop and was still S-2.
Then for a month or so, I was both S-2 and S-3 Operations Officer. We had no Executive Officer. Finally, after the first of the year, we started receiving new officers and by spring, we were up to strength. I went back to S-2, but did a lot of special projects.
One of our special projects was finding housing for dependent families moving to Japan that next fall. Our first task was to survey the few remaining Japanese homes in the Tokyo area that had, or could add, western-style toilet and bath facilities. You'll remember our Air Corps had fire-bombed most of Tokyo. We identified nearly 100 homes, and the Japanese Home Office negotiated to rent these for the dependent families coming later. A concurrent job was to design 400 new dependent housing units in a construction project to be built on some open land at Camp Drake. With the help of a Japanese architectural firm that Mr. Ito found for us, we completed the design, but it wasn't built until after I came home.
One night in the middle of these jobs, our offices and officers' quarters were burned by a holdout Japanese; he was never caught. We had used the ground floor of that building for offices and the second floor of that building for our officers' quarters. I had three roommates; two of them went down the hall and were burned to death, while the other roommate and I jumped out of the window. He hit a power line on the way down and broke his back, but recovered. I jumped into a pine tree and only got scratched and bruised. These were old Japanese buildings, and the wood was very dry and burnt very quickly. Obviously, this was a serious loss. On the lighter side, I jumped out of the window with my boots on, in my pajamas, and wearing my Army hat; regulations are that an Army officer is always covered (hat on). I was well trained!
Another job we had was to design and build a parade reviewing stand for the Cavalry to host a visit by General Dwight Eisenhower and other high-ranking officers on the parade grounds in front of the Imperial Palace in downtown Tokyo. We designed it in sections so we could build it at Camp Drake and haul it down on our flatbed trailer trucks. This worked very well. Our 8th Engineer Squadron was represented in the Review Parade as a troop.
In May 1946, I was notified that I would be eligible to return to the States in two months, unless I wanted to continue to serve in Japan. I didn't have to think twice to decide to return home! About August 1st, I received orders to return to the States on a new troop ship from Yokohama to San Francisco. One of my great thrills was to enter the Golden Gate in the early morning and to see the beauty of San Francisco behind it. Oh, to be back in the wonderful ol' USA!
After being processed to leave the service at Camp Beale, above Sacramento, I took the train to Glendale, where my folks met me for a grand homecoming. They had moved to the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles while I was overseas, so it was a short ride home. I had been overseas a bit more than a year-and-a-half, and on active duty service with the Army for three-and-a-half years.”
George G., Santa Barbara, CA
#LifeBio #VistaDelMonte #RealStoriesofAmerica #ShareWithUs #TheGreatestGeneration #WWII #Japan #USMilitary #CorpsOfEngineers #1stCavalry #8thEngineerSquadron #1012thEngineerTreadwayBridgeCompany