The 534th…. For what it is worth. They stopped all enlistments October 31, 1942. My brother and a couple of friends joined the Air Force. I could not join because it was 16 days before I would be 18 years old. They wouldn’t let me go- I had to wait until I was drafted – April 27, 1943. I Had 6 weeks basic training in Camp Lee, Virginia and then shipped out to a replacement camp, somewhere in Pennsylvania, and then to Cape Cod for school. We learned to drive landing craft. School was canceled after 3 weeks, no reason given, then on to Camp Gordon Johnston, FL (50 miles outside Tallahassee) to Company 534th (4th) Amphibious Engineers for 8 months training for landing on beaches.
We had a commander named Gibson (Capt. Gibson ). We called him “Hoot”. He lived in Tallahassee and we did not see him for 3 or 4 weeks because it was dark at reveille. He would disappear until the next morning – All we could hear was his voice telling us we were going overseas and to “get ready!” We heard this for 8 solid months. After awhile it begin to get light at reveille and we could see him – he was about 6’5″ tall and slim; all legs and when we went on 5 mile training marches, it seemed that he would take one step and he would be 10 feet in front of you! Finally we were issued new winter (OD’s) uniforms, we did not know where we were going but we left Florida by train and went to New York where we dropped off some cars and then on to Oakland, California. Three weeks on a troop train (take me off Hoot- had enough) what a way to travel!!!!!
We departed from Camp Stoneman -Oakland California on April 22, 1944 departing on an old converted coal freighter built in Mobile AL in 1912. I don’t remember but I think there were about 3000 troops on board. You had to line up for breakfast at dawn, get food, eat on deck (if you could find a place to sit) and get in line to wash mess gear. By this time the morning was gone. We would line up around 3 or 4 pm for dinner – go thru line -get ood-eat -wash gear- (mess gear so greasy food would slide off -not quite that bad) and by this time it would be dusk! Smoking lamp would be out, could not throw anything overboard in daylight, not even a cigarette butt. A lot of us would find a place on deck to sleep, instead of down in the hole (below deck). At the crack of dawn you had better be up or get soaking wet. The (navy) crew had to wash down the deck every morning and you had to get in line to get breakfast -so begins another day. After 36 days of this you were ready to jump overboard! ( just kidding)
We celebrated crossing the equator on the way. About half-way to New Guinea the generator broke down and we drifted for 3 days. We had abandon ship drills now and then along with rumors of a Japanese submarine in the area. Finally the generator was fixed and we got underway, landing on the southern tip of New Guinea 36 days later at Milne Bay. It started raining the first night and we did not see the sun for 6 weeks! Everything was wet. Our new OD’s were turned in, put in a pile and burned! We were issued new khakis and we wore G.I. shorts and boots until old “Hoot” told us to wear our uniforms, not everybody listened..
We moved 150 miles north to (Ore Bay ??) and there it was hot, and dusty with no rain. We left there to invade the Netherlands East Indies (Morotai). My brother, who was in the Air Force, came in a couple of weeks later. I found out he was there because “Tokyo Rose” welcomed his outfit to Morotai. She said they would bomb the new mess hall in one week. They tried but missed. I visited with my brother and we listened to “Tokyo Rose” on the radio because she played all of the latest songs. We didn’t pay any attention to all the propaganda, however. I said goodbye to my brother. I knew we were moving but did not know where or when. We left Morotai a few days after Xmas?? going to invade Leyle Gulf in the Philippines.
Chuck Exstine was wounded on deck, while laying next to me, a few days after we invaded the Philippines. We were on work detail, unloading ships, and sleeping on deck. I guess we were too tired or we got too careless because no one remembered that we were sleeping on deck or came to wake us up when the shelling began. When we did wake up shrapnel was raining everywhere! Chuck told us he was hit so we got him and went below fast. We were being shelled from the big gun that the Japs took from Corregidor. It was on a mountain, installed in a cave and mounted on railroad tracks. They would roll it out, fire, then roll it back into the cave. Reload, roll out, fire and roll back in. They would shell up and down the beach. Chuck was hit with shrapnel from this gun. He was hit in the side with a piece about the size of a half dollar. The only good thing about this was he got to go home. He wrote us later and said he was doing fine. This shelling went on until the gun was knocked out a few days later by 31st or 71st infantry-sorry I don’t remember which.
The Japs had killed a lot of people in their homes in the small community where we landed. We found civilians sitting at the dinner table eating when killed. Women and children. The Japs had hung some of them in the hall. Some were dead in the yards. They did this when the 31st or 71st infantry landed. We found some dead Japs where the 31st or 71st had made contact with them and ran them out of town. I don’t remember the name of the town.
Now it was about 3 weeks after we landed, that the CB’s came in and set up their movie cameras. They ran us off the beach. The small landing boats came in and the CB’s ran off boats onto the beach as they were being filmed! We really got a laugh from that. The CB’s were embarrassed when we told them the headlines would read: “CB’s invaded Philippines”. We stayed in the Philippines for about 8 months. I contracted malaria and lost my hair.
We were waiting on the beach to load onto ships when the peace treaty was signed. I am not clear on this, but around the 31st of August or a few days after that we landed in Japan. When we went ashore we didn’t understand why the Japanese people kept bowing to us or that it was a sign of respect. We were stationed in Nagoya in an old T.B. hospital. We left there, going north for a couple of months, on a construction job building roads. We came back to Nagoya, and stayed there until we boarded a ship coming home. We arrived on January 5, 1946. This was a new ship on its first trip over there. The Captain of the ship wanted to set a speed record. We arrived in the good old US of A 11 days later on January 16, 1946 in Seattle, Washington. I was Honorably discharged at Camp Shelby, Mississippi on January 25, 1946. I took a bus home to Birmingham, Alabama. I was in Japan for about 3 months. Nagoya had western type buildings downtown. If the signs were in English, you would think you were in an American town. I was surprised by that.
Some of the information above is from memory.
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