In The Army With George J. Plautz

By Sgt. George J. Plautz

George Pluatz Sr.

 


 

I was inducted into the army on May 8, 1941.  Left Loyal by bus for Milwaukee May 7, 1941.  Stayed in a hotel downtown for the night.  Next morning we were taken to Richardson Armory for our physical.  I was called back for a heart murmur, but after having me jump up and down a few times, he said I was okay.  After we were sworn in that evening, we were put on a train and sent to Camp Phillips, Illinois.  We stayed in Camp Phillips a few days trying to master the side straddle hop.  We got our clothes issued there.

 

Now we are on a train again, where to, nobody knew.  A few days later we were going through a smoky and stinky city, and somebody said we were in Pittsburgh.  Sure enough, thatís where we were.  Finally ended up in Wilmington, North Carolina.

 

Camp Davis, we are here.  Off Highway #17.  I never saw anything like it.  Barracks and kitchen and dayroom were built in the middle of stumps.  They cut down the trees and cleared enough to build the barracks.  That was our exercise.  We cleared out the stumps and got it ready for roads, sidewalks, and other buildings.  Built a theater right away.  Cost ten cents to get in.  A P.X. too.  Some didnít have ten cents, as we didnít get paid yet, and what can you buy on $21.00 a month for four months.  Then we went up to a whopping $30.00 a month.  Several months later I made Private First Class and got $36.00 a month.  The army issued a one-dollar book of $.10 tickets so we could go to the theater.  Beer was a nickel a glass.  No cans or bottles.  After we served our quarantine (it was two weeks Ė I donít know exactly how long) we could get a three-day pass and go to Wilmington.  An army bus was making trips to there and back every so often.  It was free.  I went a few times, but I didnít drink beer or other alcohol, and I didnít stay very long.

 

The government by now had everything blacktopped and a parade ground and a firing range.  We got our 1903 Springfield rifles and fired on the range.  I got a medal, but I forgot for what.  A marksman.  It wasnít an expert.  Some of these city guys didnít know one end of a gun from the other.  They had to take theirs over.  I didnít have to.

 

It was a hot summer in North Carolina, so the officers called an 18-mile hike.  We were issued a backpack and told to put in what you used if you were fighting.  They also warned us about not putting anything  else in, as they will be checking.  Of course, I put in what I was supposed to, and it was heavy.  I had to drop back after so many miles, as I couldnít keep up.  I made the hike, but not with the battery,  so I got some K.P.  Found out later the cheaters that put only paper in their pack made the hike.  They never checked.

 

Another incident that occurred while training: They sent about a dozen of us Battery E Privates for duty with a signal corp company.  Hereís where I learned to climb poles and splice wire and help build a new line in the Monroe, North Carolina, area.  I was there several months.  I then missed infantry training at the camp.  Fortunately, I didnít need it.  Played a lot of ping pong at Monroe.  Elmer Livernois was with me, and we got a table nearly every night.  Had to give your cap for security for the ball and paddles.  We got pretty good at it.

 

After I got done with one week of K.P. and another week of latrine duty, I got to go out with the crews.  They taught me how to climb poles and splice wires.  While on latrine duty, I had to fire up a stove to heat up the water.  Well, I had to start it with some wood, and then keep it going with coal.  I knew nothing about coal, so I got the water boiling hot.  Boy!  The guys almost scalded themselves before they ran some off to get cool enough to shower.  I got out of there in a hurry or they might have something done to me.  Fortunately, nothing happened, but I used less coal the rest of the week.

 

One day I went out with the crew, and they had a tent up by the pole some distance from the camp.  They let me off there and told me to guard the line, and at quitting time they would come back for me.  Well!  Nobody came for me, so I spent the night sleeping on the ground.  By noon the next day I was getting pretty hungry.  I missed supper and breakfast.  I started to look around to see if there were any houses around.  Sure enough there was one.  I went over to it, and a lady came to the door.  She was friendly, and I told her what happened and that I could use something to eat.  She fixed up something but I forgot what it was.  Anyway, I felt a lot better.  I went back to the tent, and I saw there was a field telephone near the center pole.  I didnít know how to work one at the time, but I figured it out, and after cranking it for awhile I got an answer.  The pole had a number, so I told the fellow where I was.  They sent a truck out for me, but never apologized or said anything about forgetting me.  I guess I could have gone home, as they didnít seem to miss me at reveille.

 

Soon after that, the signal corp finished the line and we went back to Camp Davis.  We were at Monroe, North Carolina, for nearly three months.  After that we werenít doing much of anything.  Pulled guard duty one day.  You are on two hours guard and off four hours for 24 hours of duty.  You stayed dressed the full 24 hours.  I had to guard one prisoner that was in for being AWOL.  We had him picking up cigarette butts and other papers.

 

While at Camp Davis, several of us were picked to go on a camping trip.  We had a truck and a lieutenant officer.  We packed a barracks bag with some of our clothes and toilet articles.  Also blankets and folding cots.  I didnít know where we were, except I knew we were in North Carolina.  I canít remember where we camped the first night, but the next day as we were traveling around at noon, we stopped at a tavern.  We had nothing to eat yet.  The lieutenant went somewhere.  We didnít know where we were, and they left us sitting in the hot sun.  I had a few cents with me, so I thought I could get into the tavern and get a candy bar, so I did, and wouldnít you know, he came back and the truck took off without me.  I came out and they were already moving and I started hollering, ďWait for me!Ē  The men riding in the back finally got the driverís attention and they stopped.  I caught up then and got on.  So we started to go again.  We never got any dinner.  About 5:00 p.m. we stopped along the road in a grove of pine trees and set up our bunks.  We must have had some rations, but I canít remember.  I remember this: due to me getting out of the truck without permission, I got guard duty from 2:00 to 6:00 a.m.  Boy, was I tired!  I think we went back to camp from there.  I never found out what this was all about.  No explanations; no nothing.  I didnít get punished any more.  I didnít know what the officerís name was, either.

 

On Sundays if you went to church you didnít get any breakfast.  I was lying in my bunk waiting for lunch.  I had a small suitcase under my bunk, as I was going home on a furlough.  Half the camp would go for Christmas and the rest could go for New Yearís.  I was going for Christmas, so I was all prepared to leave on the 13th.  There was a radio playing in the barracks, and all at once the announcer broke in with the news that the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor.  Our furloughs were cancelled that day, and on the 12th of December we broke camp and were traveling in a convoy for somewhere Ė we didnít know where.  We stopped near a town on Highway 17 going north.  We slept wherever we could find a place.  Fortunately, it was fairly warm that day.  For supper we had c-rations: a choice of stew, hash or vegetable.  The cooks set up some kind of kitchen and were heating up the c-rations when they started exploding.  I guess we had cold c-rations for supper.  They let the guys go to town if they wanted to buy something.  I didnít go.  After traveling a few days, we wound up at Newport News, Virginia.

 

We crossed a large river on a floating bridge.  We bivouacked on the side after we crossed over.  It was getting late, so I donít know what we had for supper.  When we left Camp Davis, we were issued half a pup tent.  You had to team up with another soldier to have place to crawl into.  I had somebody and we got it put up and were told to dig a small trench around it because if it rained we would get wet.  Instead of rain we got a light snowfall.  We only had one blanket, and the tent wasnít long enough for us to get in all the way, so our feet stuck out.  Hard ground and one blanket made a real cozy night.  We only stayed there one night, as we went in position with our equipment.  My section, as they called us, was set up on the bank of the James River.  Sgt. Krueger was my Section Chief.  He liked oysters, and he was always down by the river looking for and getting some oysters.  I can still see him prying them open and eating them raw.  I couldnít do that.  We were there a few days when a lady came by and offered us the local paper, so we had a paper every day, which we didnít have in Camp Davis.

 

I guess Iím getting ahead of myself.  Didnít say what I was trained to do.  We were in a searchlight battery.  We were trained to light up aircraft when they were in your area.  I was an azimuth listener.  My ears must have been okay at that time compared to now.  There were three large horns in the middle, and we were on a platform that was around the horns.  I was connected to the horns by ear phones, and I had to listen for the sound of a plane and had to turn the horns until I got the sound in the middle of the back of my head.  Then you had to keep turning the horns to keep the sound in the back of your head until it got out of your hearing.  Meanwhile, the elevation listener got his sound in the back of his head and had to work the horns up or down to keep the sound high or low in the back of his head.  The third man was the acoustic corrector.  He had to keep the needle centered on our signal that was coming in to him.  Otherwise, when the signal was sent to the searchlight, it would be way behind the target.  It corrected the time it took to reach us at the horns.  We didnít use the horns after we left Camp Davis.  We had the radar then.  So then I was assigned to a control station.  The radar sent the signal to me, and if it was in our range or if it was already lit up, but was coming your way, you just pressed a button and the searchlight operator turned on the light.  Then, the control station operator followed the plane, but either by looking through a powerful set of binoculars or following it by eye with two wheels that controlled the light.  So you were following the target turning two wheels and looking at the target, which wasnít as easy as you think.  Even if I say so myself, and who else is going to say it, I got pretty darned good at it.  I could pick out the plane without the radar.  My azimuth training came in handy here, and I would center the sound in the back of my head and I could pick the plane up without the radar.  This came in handy in Townsville, Australia, when I was ordered to light up any plane coming in to Townsville.  The Japs were trying to sneak in with our planes.  That was the job I did then and for the rest of my time in the army.  Now for the rest of the story.

 

When we got to Newport News, Virginia, we were issued a cartridge belt and ammunition.  We had our 03 Springfields then.  They were talking to us like we were going to be invaded immediately.  There were rumors about German submarines letting spies out in the beach areas and the Norfolk seabase we were protecting.  We had to keep our eyes open for any unusual activities.  I had to pull guard with the rest of the squad.  It was cold and we had a small wood or coal stove in our tent.   The smoke stack stuck out through the top of the tent.  If the fireís too hot you could burn the tent down.  The guard had to keep the fire going while he was on duty.  We shivered a lot, as the fire went out and the guard couldnít start it again, or didnít try.  I tried to keep it going, as I was a farm boy and should have known how to do it.  We had a lot of city soldiers and they didnít seem to know much about this kind of living.

 

After thinking a while, our second setup was in a farmerís field.  I got a picture of the control station where I tried to camouflage it.  We didnít stay in positions very long before we were taken into Fort Monroe and prepared to go somewhere.

 

All this happened before Christmas 1941.  We pulled all our equipment into a staging area.  Seems like we were destined for something else.  For Christmas the people around our area wanted to do something for us.  Being they would allow only half of the battery on pass, they had to figure out who could go with these people.  I lucked out and went with an elderly couple and one other soldier and spent Christmas Day with them.  They fed us and entertained us until they took us back.  We had a delightful day.  After Christmas 1941 the army moved us into Fort Monroe, an old army fort from World War I.  From here in WWI the troops were sent overseas.  There was a big sign up saying that, so we knew we were going somewhere.  But where?  They brought in all the tents we were in, and I never saw such a burned out mess.  I donít know what they did with them, but they werenít serviceable as far as I could see.  Up until now we had the first warís helmets.  We were issued the new style, which were a lot better.  They had liners in them and you could use the outer shell for washing in or sitting on, or whatever.  We turned in our 03 rifles and ammo and belts.

 

One day in January they lined us up and gave us new ratings.  I was made an Acting Corporal.  Seems like they needed some veteran troops to send somewhere.  They took two platoons of our battery to go overseas in a hurry.  The rest of us were made into a cadre.  We had to train new soldiers when we got them.  Later found out that they were sent to Christmas Island in the Pacific.  Elmer Livernois stayed with the 94th Coast Artillery, but he didnít make a non-com.  Later on he made Technician Fifth Grade.  Same pay as corporal, but couldnít command anybody.  I think he was a light operator for a different section.  Norman Kramer from Wausau was my light operator.  Our newspaper lady that delivered our paper on the James River set up.  Found out where I was and came to visit me.  Somebody came into the barracks and said to me thereís a lady outside who wants to see you.  I couldnít figure out who it could be so I went to see.  Sure got a lot of kidding.  Must have got to like me when I was at the James River.  She wanted to take me for a ride and show me some of Virginia.  She had a car.  Boy was I in luck.  I got a pass and went with her.  I couldnít leave for more than a few hours, but she showed me some of the country.  She took me out several more times before we left.  I had a nice portable radio I bought before we got there, so I gave her that, as the brass told us we couldnít take any electrical equipment with us, so we knew we were going on a ship.  When at James Bay I could see Fort Eustasí lights.  On January 18, 1942, we got our new members from that fort.  They only had two months of training and were put in with us veterans, and they didnít know a thing about a searchlight or radar.  We taught them some on the ship as we were sailing to our destination.  I was now a teacher.  Actually we didnít teach them much until we got to our destination.

 

We were instructed to put our personal articles in two barracks bags.  In ďAĒ bag we put in what we would use daily, and in ďBĒ bag would go the rest of the clothing we had.  They soon picked up the ďBĒ bags and took them somewhere.  At that time there was the French Line Normandy docked at the Norfolk, Virginia, dock, being made into a troop ship.  We found this out later.  Thatís where our ďBĒ bags went.  Word came out that the ship caught fire and sank.  We got our ďBĒ bags back, and thatís why we knew we were to go on that ship.  We stayed at Fort Monroe until February 1, 1942, and then were put on a train to Fort Dix, New Jersey.  Roccati said it was eight degrees below zero when we got there.  I donít remember the exact temperature, but it was cold.  We did get an issue of long-johns and an overcoat and a comforter and couple blankets.  There was a stove in the tent, but I donít think we ever lit it up.  This lasted a few days, then the temperature got above 32 degrees.

 

We were given passes to go into town, which was New York City, or whatever you wanted to do.  You had to leave from Trenton, New Jersey, by train.  They had buses running from Fort Dix to Trenton.  I went into New York with another soldier.  His name was Clarence Bohnensthle, or something like that.  We were walking up some street from the railroad station and met two girls.  We started talking to them, and they said they were going to a dance put on for us soldiers, so we went there with them.  We stayed there a while, and one of the guys bought a bottle of booze.  I took a few swigs out of the bottle, and I really wasnít a drinker, and that really took effect.  Anyway, the girls wanted to go home, as it was getting late.  So we asked where they lived, as we wanted to take them home.  They said we live in Brooklyn.  You have to take the subway.  Okay, we said, we will go along.  They took us to the subway and we got on.  It took us toward Brooklyn, and we got to their destination.  We got off and walked the girls to their home.  One of the girlís names was Dorothy Zieselman.  I got her address and said I would write her and tell her where we were.  I couldnít do that.  Army wouldnít let us.  Anyway, I said to Clarence, how are we going to get back?  I didnít know where in the heck I was.  The girls explained how, and Clarence said he thought he knew how, so we did make it back to the Pennsylvania train station.

 

When we got there, it was about time to go back to camp, and the station was loaded with people.  Everybody was drunk; each had a bottle, and when they emptied one, they crashed it into the concrete.  There was glass everywhere.  They all came to the station to see us off.  They probably knew more than we did, how we were going anyway.  I didnít know it at the time that the ďQueen MaryĒ was at the dock and was being loaded with military equipment.  They werenít ready to go yet, I mean the ship that was to take us, so when we got back to camp the next day it was posted that anybody could get a pass the next night.  So I got a pass and a bunch of us went to Philadelphia.  It didnít turn out as good, as they had a practice air raid warning going on, and all the lights were out until 11:00 p.m.  The taverns were all open, so I sat around a while and went back to camp.  That was the end of our passes.

 

At this time Lorraine Thibert, my girl friend, came to see me.  I didnít know she was coming.  She wanted to see if we could get married.  We were supposed to get married right after I served my year in the army, but since I was leaving on some suicide mission she thought we ought to get married right away.  Maybe I was bullheaded or wasnít ready after all that Iíd been through so far.  I said I didnít think it was a good idea.  She didnít like it too well.  We made out she would stay with my sister, Ann, and Mary Lucas in Chicago.  So she went back, and I continued on this voyage I am to write about.  I never did see Lorraine again.

 

On February 18, 1942, the Battery E 94th Coast Artillery was loaded on trains and we left Fort Dix and were transported to the Boston Harbor.  The train pulled right into the harbor alongside a real big gray colored ship with three huge smokestacks.  Someone said it was the ďQueen Mary.Ē  Now we knew how we were going.  We unloaded from the train, and as our names were called off, walked up a long gangplank into the ship.  As we were veteran troops we got put on ďAĒ deck.  Thatís only one deck below the main deck, where the high-priced staterooms were.  I was assigned to stateroom A112.  Originally when it was a cruise ship, a couple was put in there.  Now they had 17 bunks stacked 5 high.  We had 16 men in that room.  One bunk was empty, so we put some of our gear or ďAĒ bags onto it.  We were lucky, as we had a toilet stool and wash basin, but we had salt water to wash and shower in.  For drinking water we had to fill our canteens from a source outside of our room.  You could only fill at certain hours, so you had to be sure you got yours filled or you went thirsty.  We didnít take many showers, as itís nearly impossible to wash yourself.  Anyway, we were way better off than the soldiers and airmen that were billeted in the hold.  They slept in hammocks and had meager latrine facilities.  We heard they had a terrible time down there.  They also had to pull K.P. and other details, as they werenít assigned to a unit yet.  We didnít have to do any of these chores, but we had to do guard duty.  Come to that later.

 

We left port that afternoon, February 18, 1942.  Nobody knew where we were going.  The rumor was that the captain had sealed orders that he was to open when we got out in the open seas.  Anyway, we finally anchored out to sea on February 25, 1942, after traveling all over the Atlantic Ocean, so it seemed.  One of the men went down to where they were taking on supplies and asked where we were.  He said we were at Key West, Florida.  It took us seven days to get from Boston to Key West.  Had to dodge all those German submarines that were waiting to sink us.  We took off after they got done refueling and unloading supplies.  We steamed past the west end of Cuba and into the Atlantic Ocean toward the equator.  We crossed the equator on March 2, 1942, and were awarded our shellback certificates.  I didnít get one that I can remember, but Roccati seems to have gotten one.  So he says in the book he wrote.  Iím getting some help on dates and where we were from his book.  I hadnít kept any diary on my journey, so if it wouldnít be for that I wouldnít know most of the dates.

 

The ship kept cruising along, and we ate our two meals a day in shifts.  The food was English style and some didnít like it too well.  They liked to give us tea all the time, so a lot of complaining was done, and they finally gave us some coffee.  We had to line up on deck and do a few calisthenics for exercise.  Otherwise, we just sat around and watched the ocean slide by.  Fun to watch the dolphins as they tried to keep up with the ship.  We were traveling right along when I noticed some mountains and land coming in sight.  Pretty soon we could see a figure of Christ high up in a mountain.  I even knew we were in Rio de Janeiro.  We pulled into the harbor and anchored there.  It was March 6, 1942.  We stayed there three days refueling and watering and restocking the P.X.  We ate it dry, as you could buy cookies and other goodies.  We had lots of company, boatloads of people, Senoritas and seems like everybody in Rio came out to see us.  We had to put on guards with ammo, as some threatened to jump.  They wouldnít make it, as it was 80 feet to the water.  We got to eat a little better.  Finally got some baloney and hot dogs.  English food wasnít going over too good.  We all lost some weight, but we were still in good shape.

 

On March 8, 1942, we left Rio de Janeiro in the later afternoon.  We were getting news of the Japanese war from the shipís captain or whoever was writing up the news.  Once a day we got a page of news, and it sure was demoralizing to hear how the Japs were taking over.

 

We still didnít know where we were going.  Rumors were floating all around us. We were going south, ďI could tell by the sun,Ē only it was on the other side of us, and at night we could see the Southern Cross clearly.  We had a fire on the ship, and we were alerted to stand by where we were until they got the fire out.  After a couple hours they put the fire out and we went back to bed.  Where did we have to go if they couldnít contain the fire?  We had lots of lifeboats and were assigned to a number.  I forgot my number now.  We each had a life jacket that we carried with us wherever we went, and at night it was our pillow.

 

We pulled into Capetown, South Africa, on March 14, 1942.  We anchored out at sea, and we got serviced there.  They serviced us with everything quickly and we pulled out the next day.  We picked up a passenger and his wife, Sir Thomas Blamey, Commander-In-Chief of the Australian Forces in Africa.  He was to be our commander in Australia.  We figured by now that we were going to Australia, but to the north or south?  When we hit the Indian Ocean, we knew.  We were traveling now towards Western Australia and the city of Fremantle and Perth, the capital of Western Australia.  We pulled into Fremantle the 23rd of March 1942.  As we were coming into the harbor we got stuck in the mud.  The harbor wasnít deep enough for the Queen.  General Blamey and his wife got off here.  While entering the harbor we were nearly sunk by our own artillery.  We didnít know at that time the 197th coast artillery left the states from the west coast of America and got into Australia ahead of us.  As the Queen was without lights and flags and being real foggy that morning, their radar picked us up, and all their 90mm guns were aimed at us ready to fire.  Luckily, an Aussie recognized the Queen and halted them from firing.  Of course, we didnít know this at the time, but the New Hampshire National Guard joined us at Townsville later on.  We waited for high tide the next morning and the tugboats pulling, and Queen Maryís four propellers churning, we finally broke loose from the mud.

 

We were now traveling on the underside of Australia in the Indian Ocean.  It was really rough.  I pulled corporal of the guard that night, and I staggered from side to side going to check the staterooms of the officers to see if they had any portholes open.  It was very warm and it was very uncomfortable in the porthole-closed staterooms.  Darned if I didnít find one stateroom had a porthole open.  I ordered them to close it up.  Felt good to tell an officer what to do.  I hadnít gotten sea sick all this while, but I was glad my shift was over so I could get in my bunk and lay down.  The ship was listing so badly from side to side that the propellers came out of the water and made a rumbling noise.  Luckily it was a big ship and we got through that squall.  It was okay the rest of the way.

 

On March 28, 1942, we arrived at Sydney, Australia, on the east coast.  We traveled 20,000 miles in 39 days, so says Roccati.  We couldnít dock at the harbor, as the Queen couldnít get under a bridge they had across the bay, so we anchored right by it.  Iíll have to tell you this: as we were unloading from the ship in ferry boats, one of the fellows said, ďI guess I wonít need this life preserver any more, and he threw it overboard where it immediately sank.  We all breathed a prayer that we didnít have to use them.  We got off the ferry boats and marched up to a train where we got on.  The cars had compartments, and once you got in, you stayed there.  I got on one that was with seats and an aisle.  As it was warm, the windows were open, so we could put our heads out and talk and shake hands with the girls and boys running alongside of the train.  The train track was a narrower gauge than ours were, and the steam engines were much smaller.  We had two engines on our train.  I guess we never did get over 30 miles an hour and slower through towns.  The people were lined up at every town and between welcoming us there.  Lots of young girls.  I gave all the change I had to them, as they would come along with their hands open, mostly to shake our hands and welcome us.  Roccati had to wake up his friend when we got to a town, as he didnít want to miss anything.  I never in my life saw anything like this.  How did the messages get out that we were on the trains?  We finally made it to Brisbane, where we stayed for a while.  We set up our equipment in Brisbane and waited for the Japs.  I had a toothache on the ship, but they couldnít help me much.  The dentistís equipment was packed somewhere.  I guess the dentist gave me something to put on it.  It quit hurting until later on.

 

We were bivouacked in Camp Ascot on the outskirts of Brisbane.  It was one of their racetracks converted into a staging area.  We stayed there from the 29th to the 31st of March while we waited for our equipment to arrive.  Finally got a shower with fresh water.  The area around us looked somewhat like Florida: tall palm trees, houses with red tile roofs and built on wooden piles.  The city is surrounded by hills, and the Brisbane River loops its way through town.  The railroad station was a large, impressive structure.  They depended on the railroad for most of their travels.  Very few cars or airplanes.  The streetcars were open-air, and the conductor would go back and forth picking up the tickets.  We didnít have to pay and could jump on and off as we pleased.  Free rides as long as we were in Brisbane.

 

On the 31st of March we moved to Camp Doomben, another racetrack, where we were reunited with our equipment and our second barracks bag.  In Australia you drive on the left side of the street.  Our drivers had a little problem with that.  Back in Camp Davis I took a test for a truck driver.  I guess my instructor never recommended me; I didnít hear a thing about it.  Later on non-coms didnít need a license, and they also had a driver assigned to them.  So I never needed one.

 

The pubs here closed at 6:00 oíclock.  If you wanted to get a drink you had to get there early.  The Aussies drank mostly beer, so they had a good stock of White Horse Whiskey at a dollar a pint.  Didnít take our drinkers very long to clear up that upper shelf.  After some months there, they closed at different times, as they couldnít make beer fast enough.  On Saturdays they closed at one oíclock and were closed on Sundays.  You had to get your drinks earlier.  They had a lot of gin, so on Saturdays, which was the only time I could get a pass, we had a gin mixture.  The barmaids couldnít get our drinks mixed fast enough.  They were out of beer.

 

As the seasons were opposite of ours, their autumn is in March and winter in June, but it doesnít get much colder in winter.  Maybe down in the sixties.

 

By now the dentist and doctors were set up under a shade tree to take care of sick call.  After a while they set up in a building.  My tooth started to ache again, so I went on sick call.  They werenít ready to do any filling or make bridges yet, as that is what I would need.  The second one of my two front teeth was causing me the trouble.  I had a bridge in on the other front tooth, which Dr. Thomas in Loyal did just before I left for the induction.  So the dentist drilled a hole in the tooth from the inside to relieve the pressure and put in a temporary filling.  He said it would have to do until they got more equipment.  This was the first week of April 1942.  I believe April 3rd was Good Friday.  Will explain more later on.

 

We had to exchange our money if you had any.  I donít remember getting paid on board the Queen Mary, so we must have had some pay coming.  We got paid in pounds and schillings.  The pound was worth $3.20, and the schilling was 16 cents.  They had a Florin coin worth two schillings or 32 cents.  Privateís pay was $30.00 a month, which came to nine pounds, seven schilling and six pence.  They had a penny which was bigger than our silver dollar.  Also a half-penny, plus a six pence, like our dime, and a three-pence, a little smaller than the six pence.  So it was quite a problem for a while getting used to their currency.  Also their weights were in stones, which were fourteen pounds in weight.  I donít remember if I ever weighed myself.

 

We were still considered ďexpendableĒ and suicide troops, as if the Japs tried to take Australia there was no way to send troops to help us.  I will come to that later in this writing.  Right now in March 1942 we were only defending the southern half of Australia.  After the Coral Sea Battle in July, the commanders decided to defend the whole of Australia.  When we stopped in Fremantle with the Queen, we knew we were in Australia, but didnít know if we were going to Darwin on the north or to Sydney on the east coast.  I guess I told you that earlier.

 

We got issued our new garand rifles.  They were quite different than our 303 Springfield.  These were semi-automatics with eight shells in a clip.  We had a cartridge belt already, but extra clips came, what they called Bandaleers with ten clips in each, which you carried over your shoulder.  We were required to fire two clips on a range of 200 yards in a prone position.  I scored 14 bulls-eyes and two misses.  Never could figure out how I could get those two misses.  I figured they must have gone through a couple other holes.  Anyway, I made sharpshooter, just under the highest, which was expert.  Glad I didnít have to shoot anybody.  This was April 14, 1942.  We were sure busy getting ready.

 

We were set up on the outskirts of the Brisbane airport, several miles out of town.  It was farming country.  We were by some woods in which we set up two tents.  There was a clearing where we could set up our light and control station.  Closest to us was a peanut farmer.  The peanuts were stacked in piles for drying.  As they were raw, they werenít for eating yet.  I donít remember when he picked them up.  I know he had three daughters, and they lived within walking distance from us.  I went to visit the family, as did others from our section.  The oldest daughter was thirteen.  Seems to me the parents were trying to get me interested in their daughter.  They also said they were going on a three-day vacation to the seashore and wanted me to go along.  Of course I said I couldnít go, but I wouldnít go if I could.  I didnít go there much after that.

 

The other place I visited within walking distance was a dairy farmer.  Well!  This was more like it.  I got acquainted with them, and they had two daughters.  One was 16 years old.  Rather good looking. The other one, Jean, was younger.  Anyway, ďHmmm.Ē  I wasnít looking for anybody, but it seemed to be the same thing as the peanut farmerís daughter.  They were pushing her onto me.  Her name was Gloria Smith.  I visited several times and stayed over night one time.  The farmer (I forgot his first name) milked his cows at noon and midnight and hauled his milk into town to where they bottled it and got it ready for sale.  I helped him milk a few cows to show him I wasnít B-S-ing him.  We talked a lot about farming Ė how we did it and how they do it.  It wasnít much different.  They didnít have any tractors either.  I think he had about ten cows.

 

Right behind his place the government had a factory putting up c-rations for the military.  Their government was feeding us at the time.  I guess that was the deal.  Mr. Smith took me over there and showed me around.  All women and older men were working there.  I didnít get to eat the c-rations, as we had our own kitchens set up.  After I visited for a while and Gloria thought I wasnít showing enough interest in her.  She got kind of pouty, and I figured Iíd better not go there any more.  I really wasnít interested.  It wasnít long after we moved out anyway.

 

This was April 7, 1942, when we moved in there.  One day it was announced that we were going to have a practice for our searchlights.  Wanted to show the city what we could do if we were attacked by the Japs.  When the plane came over us, I was at the control station, and we lit up that plane with so many lights on him that you could read his numbers.  That pilot didnít know that when our lights light up a plane, you lose your night vision, and he had trouble landing.  We never got a chance to practice again.  Word got around what happened.

 

We didnít have a kitchen yet.  Oh yes!  I had the same sergeant for commander as I had at James River.  He liked to drink, too, so when we went to meals at headquarters, we went by a tavern.  The beer here came in like our G bottles, only bigger.  There were no cases of 12-oz. Bottles.  Sgt. Krueger took a bag along, and coming back would fill the bag with these bottles.  They had four brands of beer: Four X, Castlemaine, Bulimba and one other.  I donít remember who paid for the beer.  Anyway, I drank some, but the rest of the crew got to feeling pretty good.  Lucky we didnít have an air raid.  The Japs werenít that close to us yet, but they were closing in.  We would get a little more help if we got invaded.  The 7th Division of Australia was fighting the Naziís in North Africa, and when the Queen Mary dropped us off, it went to North Africa and brought the 7th Division back.  So the brass let us know they were going to protect all of Australia.  So, the 27th of May 1942, before the Coral Sea Battle, we broke camp and got ready to go farther north into closer action.

 

June 1, 1942: We boarded a boat, the S.S. Japara, and left Brisbane.  This was a Dutch freighter.  When Java fell, all the ships plying their trades there got together and escaped the Japs and came to Australia.  These ships were now helping the Allies.  We traveled along the Great Barrier Reef for a thousand miles, arriving at Townsville, Australia.

 

June 5, 1942: We didnít make good mileage, so it seems by Roccatiís dates.  I donít know why we moved by ship, as they have a railroad from Brisbane to Townsville.  The railroad ended at Cairns, a small town 200 miles north.

 

We unloaded our equipment and ourselves at Townsville, got in the trucks and drove to Charters Towers, a small town closer to the airport, which we were to defend.  The road was rough and only one lane and partially blacktopped.  When you met someone, somebody pulled off the road, as there were no ditches.  As we were in a long convoy, we had the right-of-way.  I donít think we met anybody in the 80 miles we traveled.  I donít remember where I spent the couple days before we were shown where we were going to set up.  Our headquarters was set up in a park called Lisner.  The kitchens were set up here, and thatís where we ate our meals while we were in Charters Towers.

 

We set up our equipment some distance from town.  There was quite a change in my section.  I lost Sgt. Krueger somewhere.  I never saw him again.  Later on they were asking if anybody would sign up to go to officer candidate school.  Anybody with two years high school could go.  Well, that left me out!  I doubt I would have gone if I had had more education.  The infantry was losing officers in battle, and they were short, and thatís where they were going.  I know one man from our outfit signed.  He had a higher rating than sergeant.  They called them 90-day wonders.  You went to school for 90 days and became a 2nd Lieutenant.  Well, I got a new section chief, Sgt. Fred Johnson from Marshfield, and I also got put into a radar section.  Now we had twelve men in our section.

 

In Brisbane I was what they called a carry light.  After radar picked up the target, the first light closest to it lit it up, and as it progressed farther in, lights carried it from light to light until it got out of our range.  We also had issued to us a 50 caliber machine gun.  We had to dig a pit to put it in, so the operator was safe from strafing planes.  Most of the men fired a burst, but when my turn came, they quit, so I didnít get to fire it.  I couldnít anyway.  If we were being raided I was to be on the control station directing the light.  I still had Norman Kramer as my light operator.  He was from Wausau.  My power plant operator, Spitzig, was from Ohio.  The radar operator and later sergeant in charge was from Spooner, Wisconsin, Melvin Wade.  Kramer and I slept in a different tent from the radar crew to be closer to our light and control station.  Again, as in Brisbane, we never got to light up an enemy plane.

 

At that time I didnít know much about what Jap planes looked like.  Iíd have to go by the red ball they used on their planes for identification.  The air force put a bar on each side of the star on our planes for easier identification.  Sgt. Johnson and his crew were assembling the radar when he hurt his back.  After the war I had to bear witness to his backache.  He had to get evidence how he hurt himself.

 

We got everything set up and were prepared to operate.  We dug a large pit for the machine gun so the guard at night could have some cover.  There also were kangaroos hopping through our setup at night.  We had to camouflage our tents with paint.  Kramer climbed up on the tent to paint it, and he almost fell through the tent.  We didnít paint any more.

 

We had to go for our meals, which were two meals a day, to headquarters in town.  That went on all the while we were in Charters Towers.  One man had to stay back as a guard, and we would bring back his meal.

 

One of our men, named McClure, was egging me on to shoot a kangaroo.  He wanted to make gloves and something else out of the hide.  When we went to eat we took our rifles and helmets with us just in case.  So I finally gave in and, going back from supper, we spotted a ďroo,Ē as they were called, on the side of the road.  Mustíve been a couple hundred yards away.  I took careful aim and fired.  Sure was surprised that at that distance I hit it and killed it.  We picked it up and took it to camp and were giving it to McClure.  Now he wanted me to skin it for him.  I told him nothing doing.  I shot it for you so do what you want with it.  Would you know it, I had to bury it!  The ground was so hard I couldnít dig much, so I threw it in a pile of rocks.  He was from Washington, DC, and didnít know a thing about skinning and butchering.  I could have done it, but I didnít have much use for him anyway.

 

We got two-way radios, as our phone lines were being cut, so we could have communications if something happened.  We had to call in every hour on the radio and the phone.  When we went for supper this one day, McClure sneaked away and got a bottle of wine.  He was up for guard duty around 10 or 11 that night.  I had a phone by my bunk, as I was in charge then.  My phone rang and woke me up.  Gee, I thought, what could be wrong?  I got Kramer up, and we got our rifles from under the cot and slowly crawled toward the machine gun pit where he was standing guard.  We got to the edge of the pit and looked over the edge, and there was McClure, sleeping like a log.  He drank that bottle of wine before he went on duty and wrapped himself in a blanket to boot.  I had to quick call headquarters and report what we found.  They were getting some men ready to come up and see what was wrong.  I donít know if you know what happens to a person who falls asleep on guard duty.  Well, he got taken to headquarters and worked on KP for a while, then he was transferred to some other outfit.  We didnít see him again.  I really wondered what happened to him.  I had to report him, as he missed the radio and phone calls check, and I couldnít cover for him.

 

There wasnít much to do in this town.  They had two theatres, so you could go to a movie.  I didnít find out what happened, but both theatres had their roofs burned off.  They salvaged the seating and bottom of the theatres, and we had two open air theatres.  They put up a tent at headquarters, and you could get a pass and stay overnight at headquarters.  I went to the movies a couple of times.  I didnít drink much at that time, so I didnít go to the pubs, as they were called.  They had a place in town where you could get pictures taken of yourself, so one day I dressed myself in my best uniform and had some pictures taken.  They were on a postcard, and I sent them home.  I have one yet.  There was a nice looking girl that was the receptionist, and for some reason I got encouraged to ask for a date.  To my surprise she accepted.  Nowhere to go to take a girl out.  I got a pass, and when we came in for our evening meal, I came in dressed up.  I didnít know where to go.  Seems like she saw the movies playing and didnít want to go out to eat, so she said letís ride on the tram.  They had these small trains there also.  Seems to me she just wanted to see what we Americans were like.  We just talked a while, and she went home, and I went to headquarters for the night.  Thatís about all I did while in Charters Towers.

 

We were closer to the front now, and there was lots of activity at the airport.  More planes and aircraft crews were coming in and going out on bombing runs.  Formations would fly out, but only a few would come back.  We were on red alert all the time.  There were lights flashing around the country every night, and the brass was worried about it, that spies were sending messages to their agents signaling when and how many planes were leaving.  On our searchlight, there was a moveable ring with the numbers of degrees.  They were in a circle.  They wanted us to get a fix on these flashes, and all our lights had to zero in on a certain point, which was the south star.  There were sights like a rifle on the searchlight.  We would sight the light at the flashes and report the reading on the degree scale.  They would cross section on our reports and rush out there, but never found anybody.  Sometimes we had to stay up all night.  That is the searchlight crew.

 

The radar crew was up all night searching for planes.  They had to turn the radar by hand, and I guess their hands and arms got pretty tired.  We were in the most dangerous position so far in this war.  Although we didnít have an air raid, the Japs were landing in southern New Guinea, and we couldnít stop them.  If they could have expanded their positions in Buna and Gona, we would have been invaded.  In July they were coming in for an invasion, it was figured out, in our area.  We were warned we may have to turn into infantry units.  The Coral Sea Battle took place then, and our navy and air force, as much as we had, stopped them.  The Japs won the battle, but for some reason they withdrew instead of continuing.  That was the turning point of the war for us.  The 32 divisions and the 41st came in and landed in Buna and Gona and drove them back.

 

On September 13th, 1942, we left Charters Towers and moved into Townsville and Magnetic Island, eight miles out of Townsville.  In our light section, as they called us, were four of us from Wisconsin: Section Chief Sgt. Fritz Johnson (Marshfield), Radar Commander Melvin Wade (Spooner), Norman Kramer, search light operator (Wausau), and me, searchlight commander.  The rest of the crew were from the men we got at Fort Monroe.  This was at Charters Towers.

 

We were here only three months when word came out to break camp and move to Townsville to protect the town from air raids.  We were now right next to the Great Barrier Reef.  It would be very hard for the Japs to land here, so they were aiming at Port Moresby, a city just across the water in New Guinea, but they had to cross the Owen Stanley Range to get there, which they really tried to do.  The Australian 7th Division that the Queen Mary had brought back from Africa took positions there and, after bitter fighting, defeated them.  Also, the 32nd Division had a great number of Wisconsin National Guard personnel, some from Neillsville and Marshfield; they were flown into New Guinea and landed in the Buna, Gona beaches.  They lost some men there.  Also the 41st Division was training jungle warfare in New Zealand and some towns in Australia.  This was at the time we were at Charters Towers and Townsville.  We were finally getting some help and were feeling a lot better about the situation we were in.  Iíll get back to this later.

 

The 13th of September we moved into Townsville from Charters Towers.  We were now on the coast, next to the Great Barrier Reef.  Magnetic Island was eight miles away.  At this time the 197th Coast Artillery moved from Fremantle, where they almost sunk us on the Queen Mary coming into Townsville.  The brass figured the Japs were not going to invade from the west, but from New Guinea and the East Indies.  So the plan was to push them back and build air bases in New Guinea.  First plan before the Japs beat us to it was to build in a town called Dobadora on the southern tip of New Guinea.  Now we had to capture the part of New Guinea to Lae or Finchhaven.  The Japs were busy building an airstrip at Lae or Markham Valley, a large area between the mountains.

 

We were to merge with the 197th Coast Artillery as a major reorganization.  The government wanted to split up the National Guards, as there were too many men getting killed from the same organizations.  The 197th was a National Guard unit from New Hampshire.  Also, they wanted to break us down into smaller units.  We had 15 lights and 3 platoons in Battery E 94th Coast Artillery.  The 197th had the same.  Of course, we had 90mm artillery canons and the famous 40 caliber Befors, a Swedish gun that shoots all tracers.  If it wouldnít be a war and shooting at a Jap plane, you would think it was a 4th of July celebration.  When they got all done with us I had a new section chief, but Kramer and I were still together.  I was following Rocattiís notes, and he printed the above before we even got to Magnetic Island.  (Now on our stay in Townsville.)

 

On the 15th of September, 1942, Second Platoon headquarters and four sections of searchlights were sent to Magnetic Island about eight miles from Townsville.  The island is isolated from Townsville, and you can get there only by boat.  The boat had a name, ďThe Malita.Ē  It made two trips a day between Townsville and Magnetic Island.  So you see, if you wanted to go to town you had to plan it.  Sgt. Johnsonís section was one of them, and we set up in Horseshoe Bay.  It had a beautiful beach shaped like a horseshoe.  The other three lights were spread around the island.  Sgt. McDonald was our platoon commander.  We put up a squad tent that could handle most of the men.

 

After we got set up we moved around some.  My control station and light and the radar were set up close to the pier that stretched out over the bay for a couple hundred feet.  First, Kramer and I stayed in the squad tent with the rest of the crew, but it was figured Kramer and I should be closer to the light like we were in Charters Towers.  There was a small building closer to the pier that the searchlight crew moved into.  As we were getting closer to the Japs, an air raid was expected, so we had to get to the light in a hurry.  They moved me a couple more times, the last time to the end of the 200-foot pier, out over the water.  I stayed out there day and night, as I had to report incoming planes day and night.  At night I had to light them up for identification.

 

At that time, the officers realized that even they didnít know the types and numbers that the planes were given.  They started up an aircraft identification school.  Sgt. Lord and I were included in the first class with all those officers.  It was held in Townsville where the rest of the battery was, so I stayed in headquarters for the two weeks of training.  Thatís when they put me at the end of the pier so I could get a better view of the area.  On three sides of us there was a ridge of high hills, and all planes had to come in on that flyway.  The planes didnít have IFFs (Identification Friend or Foe) then.  That came later on.

 

Before I went to school my tooth acted up, and I had to go on sick call.  They had an office in a building in Townsville, so I was sent there.  I had to keep going back and forth on the ďMalita.Ē  They finally figured out I had to have two more front teeth pulled.  As I had a bridge on two teeth already, they would have to reconstruct the whole bridge.  They pulled the bridge and the two teeth that were infected.  I had to go back to camp to allow the gum to heal.  It was very difficult to eat and talk with no front teeth!  In two weeks I had to go back to get fitted for the bridge.  They did that and sent me back to wait a couple more weeks to get the bridge made.  They had to reuse the gold and the two teeth I had in before.  The bridge had hooks in it to slide the facings in.  Also, they couldnít quite match the color.  They did a good job, as I didnít have to replace it for about 30 years.  I was breaking a lot of facings, as they had a hole in them to slip on the pins, so I had Dr. Sluzewski in Owen, Wisconsin, build a new one.  They cast this one in one piece and glued it to my eye teeth.  I still have it intact at the time of writing this document (March 6, 2001).

 

We were still on the island when the 32nd Division was flown to Port Moresby to engage them in combat and start pushing them north.  While the planes were returning after dropping them off, I had to light them up for identification.  I was real busy.  The pilots got mad and made a complaint, as it blinded them and they lost their night vision.  So I was instructed to shut the light down as quickly as possible.  The reason we were lighting up all the planes coming in was the Japs with a flying boat came in with a flight of our planes and dropped a bomb in Townsville.  It fell on some railroad tracks and didnít do much damage.  They didnít come in any more after that.  After our troops started shoving them back, I quit lighting up everything coming in.

 

I still lived on the end of the pier.  I had several blankets and a canvas over me, but it didnít rain very much, just enough to rut up our road.  Somebody there had a D2 Caterpillar tractor and a small pull grader.  Bill Harp from Idaho also could operate a tractor, so how they got us together I donít know, but we leveled off the ruts.

 

There was a pineapple farmer on the island, and it was harvest time.  He asked if the battery would help him bring his crop in, so they sent some Privates and others lower than a Corporal to help.  I went one day out of curiosity.  The fruit was ripe, and you could eat one if you wanted to.  They had sharp knives like a bolo knife, a little heavier than a regular knife, to hack off the pineapples.  I trimmed one back and ate it.  They were so juicy that you had to be careful or you got pretty sticky.

 

After some of these things went on, I got that spotter job and didnít have much time for anything else.

 

We had to bring our drinking water into our platoon headquarters.  The army had tanks on two wheels that they hooked in back of a truck and filled up wherever they had water.  They also had a large bag with spigots on the bottom for drinking water, as they had to chlorinate it most of the time.  The platoon headquarters had a kitchen set up, and we ate with them.  Australia was feeding us at the time or all this time, but here we were getting a lot of mutton.  There was a lot of complaining about that, so we got a change Ė some corned beef from Argentina.  I guess it helped some.  Sgt. McDonald and company liked to drink beer, and so he would get a small keg of beer and after supper you got a few drinks.  He would collect a few shillings from the men to pay for it.  He did that quite often, so they didnít have to go to town to get their drinks.  We really couldnít get away that much, so we had a little enjoyment.  Roccati and the communication crew moved in with us after the Aussies fixed the road over the mountain and laid a cable down so they could communicate better with the mainland. They had to report all the calls the sections made about planes coming in.  All sections were on alert besides ours.

 

We didnít get inspected a lot and didnít have reveille, but the guard woke us up.  I had to make up the guard roster.  They had a small typewriter in the platoon, and I borrowed it.  I could type a little then.  There were lots of other things going on, but Iím not writing a book.  I also made some errors on the dates things happened.  For instance, the reorganization of our regiments took place after we packed up and were to leave Townsville.

 

On the 23rd of September 1942 the 128th regiment of the 32nd Division was airlifted to Port Moresby to try to stop the Japs from advancing.  They helped the Aussies to stop them.  Barely seven miles from Port Moresby.  Later on they landed some more troops at Buna and Goma and pushed them back from there.  We were relieved of the threat and felt much better.  After this happened the threat of an invasion of Darwin was less likely to happen, which it never did.  But they sure took a beating from the Japanese air force.

 

From now until August 1943 we were set in our positions with not very much to do.  Even the threat of an air raid was vague, so we were given chances to go on a furlough.  Before or after Christmas 1942 (I canít remember when) I got a furlough for a week to Brisbane.  I took the train to where the Smithís lived, but no one was home, and I didnít go back.  I found out where General MacArthur lived and walked out to his place.  After he left the Phillipines, he stayed in Brisbane until we pushed the Japs back.  He wanted to take the East Indies first, but was overruled, so he had to wait until he could get back to the Phillipines.  I got back in time, but I see in Roccatiís book some got to stay longer by a quirk in transportation.  Thinking a little harder I got to stay another week by that quirk.  After I got back, the reorganizing of the regiment took place.  I was put in a section with a national guard sergeant. I still had Kramer with me.  The sergeantís name was Ernest Frechette from New Hampshire.  I still correspond with him at Christmas.  He doesnít care to come to our reunions, and I havenít seen him since New Guinea.  His wife wrote last Christmas that he wasnít feeling very well.

 

~Continued~

 

 

 ~Return to the Table of Contents~

 

 


 

 


© Every submission is protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.

 

Show your appreciation of this freely provided information by not copying it to any other site without our permission.

 

Become a Clark County History Buff

 

Report Broken Links

A site created and maintained by the Clark County History Buffs
and supported by your generous donations.

 

Webmasters: Leon Konieczny, Tanya Paschke,

Janet & Stan Schwarze, James W. Sternitzky,

Crystal Wendt & Al Wessel

 

CLARK CO. WI HISTORY HOME PAGE