11.11.2010 1

America’s Greatest Generation: A Glance Into WWII

By Rebekah Rast –

“In August of 1944, we were transferred to Saipan on the Marianas Islands. I can remember another guy and I were being strafed by Japanese planes—machine guns—so we were running to the fox holes. He wasn’t running very fast but I kept by him. Here comes this Japanese plane, you can hear the machine gun, and I thought that was it. Just at that time an American plane came by and the Japanese plane took off. That saved our lives.”

This isn’t a story from a movie or a book, but one of many stories of a World War II soldier.

Our World War II veterans, also known as America’s Greatest Generation, will never be forgotten. Though the number of survivors may now be few, their bravery and courage will live on forever through stories like these told by my grandfather, a WWII veteran.

He will be 89 years old next May. I have been blessed with his many WWII stories, memorabilia and a greater insight into what the war was really like on a daily basis for men like my grandfather.

He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in September of 1942. He enlisted on his own, allowing him to choose where he served and what he did, he said. He started his training at Stockton Field in California and later transferred to LaJunta field in Colorado and again to Jefferson Barracks in Missouri.

“They did all kinds of things there to make us angry,” he said about being in Missouri. “They took us on long hikes and interrupted our sleep by waking us up at 3 a.m. The whole idea was to anger us so when we went overseas we’d be ready to fight.”

The barracks were not a cozy place. He recalled the Mississippi River flooding and having to rush to get sandbags to keep the water from coming in.

After being in Missouri for a short time, he was transferred to Hickam Field in Hawaii.  They had a bed bug problem in the barracks in Hawaii, which, he said they resolved with a torch to get them out of the springs.

For entertainment at the mess hall my grandfather smiles and recounts what he and his comrades did with the many cockroaches that filled the room. “There were all kinds of cockroaches on the tables and we would line them up on one end and race them while placing bets on them.”

He told me about a fellow soldier who badly wanted out of the service and knew that if he could trick people into thinking he was insane, then that would be his ticket home.

“It was a quarter of a mile from the barracks to mess hall and this guy would act like he was on a motorcycle,” my grandpa said. “Finally he even asked the Commander to ride the motorcycle with him, and he did. Off they went together running with the guy making all kinds of motorcycle noises.” My grandfather laughed and said that they never did discharge him.

For entertainment at the mess hall my grandfather smiles and recounts what he and his comrades did with the many cockroaches that filled the room. “There were all kinds of cockroaches on the tables and we would line them up on one end and race them while placing bets on them.”

As my grandfather recounts all the memories of the barracks and the other servicemen, he also remembers well his duties. After working in instrument repair, he decided to be a gunner on a plane.

“I got in a training plane that was a fighter-type plane and I wore a belt around my middle that connected to two straps on the floor because you had to stand up to shoot at these targets going by you,” he said. “You had different color bullets to show who shot which one. After a while the plane would go upside down and you’d be hanging. That was exciting.”

He became a gunner on a B24 plane and was placed on the General’s plane as a gunner and flight engineer. And there his stories of war begin.

He served in the Pacific Islands. And from here, I will let him tell the rest of the story.

“We went overseas to Ellice Islands to the island of Funafuti. Funafuti was quite a place. When high tide hit, water would cover the island. You would have to sleep on a cot so the water wouldn’t get you. Then all the rats and everything would get into bed with you along with the green crabs.

“We bombed Tarawa while in Funafuti. That’s where we really got shot up. I nearly fell out of the plane and a guy caught me while I was making repairs. I didn’t really like guy, but he caught me and saved my life. He was an alcoholic. That was an experience I still think about even today—how my feelings were for him and how he saved my life.

“During the duration of the war, we were transferred all over the Pacific Islands, all the while repairing shot-up planes and running attacks against the Japanese.

“In December of 1943, we were transferred to Tarawa. Most everyone got the Dengue Fever there. They had outdoor toilets that had two holes. One you sat on because of diarrhea and the other you were throwing up in. People would come and clean and pour stuff down the toilets. It would cause smoke and would burn when you sat down because of the residue from the cleaning products, but you couldn’t get up because you were so sick and they thought that was funny.

“In March of 1944, I transferred to the Marshall Islands on Kwajalein Island. We didn’t stay there very long and transferred to Saipan on the Marianas Islands in August of 1944.

“While in Saipan, a Japanese guy, a soldier, snuck into our tent in the middle of the night to get some food. Usually they carried a hand grenade, so if you bothered them they would blow you up, so we didn’t do anything and just watched him.

“In September of 1945, we were transferred to Okinawa. We were there to get ready to tackle Japan. When we were over Iwo Jima we got really shot up and that’s when the Lord spoke and said, ‘you are going to come out of this fine because I have other things for you to do.’ And we did. The plane looked like a salt shaker, but we were fine.

“It was also in Okinawa that the Japanese came and landed on the field. It was a suicide thing and I remember being in the foxhole and our Commander saying we are being attacked, get a gun and come out of the foxhole. Luckily, the marines took care of that Japanese bunch and we didn’t have to do anything.

“Finally the war was over. I came home by ship. I could have flown home, but I liked the idea of coming home on a boat. I got discharged on Nov. 11, 1945, in Camp Beal, Marysville, up north of Sacramento in California. I was a Master Sergeant.”

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Remembering Veteran’s Day is remembering those beloved soldiers who fought tirelessly for this country. They are the ones to whom credit is due for keeping America safe and free.

America’s Greatest Generation won’t be around much longer, but we must not forget America’s past as it has led to us to the freedoms we have today.

Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor to the Americans for Limited Government (ALG) News Bureau.

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