Monthly Archives: November 2013

Service Journal Part IV: The Russells – Coconuts, malaria and air raids

00 Dad with machinegun

Pvt. John Steve Moses, 26, poses with a machine gun on an unknown South Pacific island.

The following is Part IV of a verbatim transcription of a journal my father kept during World War II while serving in the U.S. Army’s 43rd Cavalry as a Recon Trooper in the Pacific Theater.

Transcribed by John R. Moses

February 1943

Left camp about suppertime in trucks for Noumea, arrived about 10 and immediately got on Higgins Boat and was taken to S.S. President Hayes. Had to climb up landing nets and that with all equipment. That’s one climb to remember.

Got bunks just above water level. Hot as hell down there and just as crowded. The Hayes is a new ship and looks pretty fair. Got on board Feb. 12 but didn’t sail until the 15th. Had a detail to break out food for the trip. Kind of tough, but we had plenty to eat extra.

First day we got 5 gallons of ice cream. That alone was O.K., but that was all we got because every noncom we had got wind of it and the steward said no more, so that ended our ice cream. Banana flavor, too.

Had a few practice drills for abandoning ship. The rest of the boys had to climb up and down landing nets. Such cussing I never heard. Us boys on detail somehow managed to get away without joining them, even if Lt. Atkinson tried his darndest to make us. Poor Ack-Ack. Nobody seems to mind him.

Sighted San Christophe Isle after noon Feb. 17. From here on the waters are known as Torpedo Junction by the sailors. Lighted by a few flares around us. No one seemed to know where they came from and saw signal lights off the coast. Then came the alarm. Our convoy, consisting of 6 destroyers, the President Hayes, Adams, Jackson and Crescent City, the (illegible) was being attacked by Jap torpedo planes.

Tracers from the 20 m.m’s really lighted up their planes. Our ship, the Hayes, was lucky, they got three planes, the rest got two out of 7, so the final score was 5 out of 7 and no losses on our side. Don’t know now whether I was scared or not, but a few bombs did drop awfully close. Japs then turned tail and scrammed. Slept up on deck rest of the nite.

Saw Guadalcanal in the morning, lots of coconut trees and jungle. Landed by Higgins Boats on the 18th. Had a busy day unloading and sorting our supplies. Was really tired when nite came, ate C rations all day. Can see Florida Islands from here. Slept on ground and got soaked proper, everything wet in morning.

In morning loaded our stuff on Higgins Boat to move up the beach again. Unloaded about 10 miles up the beach near Henderson Field. Had to move stuff three times because of the damn tide coming in. Lots of Marines here. Saw one with a long Jap sword and another with a pistol. Not bad.

Had to load up again on big Barge No. 323, the Omaha. Sure is big, and can carry plenty, had all our vehicles on board and tons of stuff besides about 250 men. Slept in tent with Marines overnight, one gave me his own blanket and he was cold all nite. Slept on the floor and damn glad of it, outside it rained all nite. Slept next to Lt. Barnett.

Sailed off to another place, anchored right off Tulagi all day in a hot sun. Swam in 200 feet  of water and enjoyed it. Our Capt. Dall swims like a fish.

Started off about 9 o’clock on Feb. 20 for the Russell Islands, Third Platoon on another boat. Had 4 hour .50 caliber machine gun guard in a down pour. I cussed everything and everybody in sight. Later heard Tulagi was bombed the same nite we left. Arrived on Banika Isle of the Russell group. Nothing but coconut groves all over with a little two-by-4 jungle. Our Camp site is right by the jungle line.

There are millions of flys here on the coconut trees. Place is owned by Lever Bros. soap company. If you ask my opinion, they can have it. Have coconuts here galore. Tired of eating them and drinking their milk. Water is scarce. Have to dig wells, for no streams.

Celebrated my birth day in the army, 26 on Feb. 26. Wonder where my 27th will be spent.

Date of arrival here was the 20th. Rumor has it 1500 Japs evacuated just before we got here. Pier is bomb wrecked but so far everything’s peace ful here in February. Mail is coming thru, but no more parcels. Congress doesn’t believe we soldiers deserve anything from home. All we’re giving them is our life.

Finally got our place looking swell, policed-up coconuts and have our fox holes dug in case of an air raid. Listen to the radio on scout car every nite. News very good for our side.

March 1943

Russell Islands

3rd Platoon moved out with the 169th Infantry, so now we’re in three places at once. 3rd on Pavuvu Isle and H.Q. and 1st on Guadalcanal. Best news of Pacific War yet. On March 3, our air force destroyed 12 Jap transports, 8 destroyers and 102 planes. We lost one bomber and three fighters. Our convoy being bombed was in the news twice already.

(NOTE: From Wikipedia – The Battle of Bismarck Sea: All eight transports and four of the escorting destroyers were sunk. Out
of 6,900 (Japanese) troops who were badly needed in New Guinea, only about 1,200 made it to Lae. Another 2,700 were rescued by destroyers and submarines and returned to Rabaul. The Japanese made no further attempts to reinforce Lae by ship, greatly hindering their ultimately unsuccessful efforts to stop Allied offensives in New Guinea.”  The U.S. Army Air Corps and the Royal Australian Air Force carried out the attack. Japanese casualties: 8 transports, 5 destroyers sunk; 20 fighters destroyed, 2,890+ dead. U.S./Australian losses: 2 bombers, 4 fighters destroyed; 13 killed.)

March 6 we had our first taste of bombs. Don’t know how many came over but 7 never returned, met their ancestors in a hell of a hurry. A few of the bombs came too damn close for comfort. Since then we’ve had raids about 3 times a day. And in the middle of the night it’s not exactly fun getting bombed.

On the 10th we had a peach of a raid, saw a Zero get hit by only 3 bursts of a p-38 and it hit the ocean. Knocked down quite a few. Had to stand guard 2 hours last nite, 2 Jap pilots on island. At dawn we searched the jungle with no luck. The Navy finally got both. And walking thru that damn jungle is no picnic, so thick you can’t see 10 feet to either side or ahead. Full of big lizards, spiders and big swamps.

March 14 the 1st Platoon finally got in from Guadalcanal, and they sure brought some rain with them. Now we can go out and wash our clothes. Due to shortage of water here we have to catch rain water in cans and in shelter halfs to wash in. Have about 200 gallons now. Engineers drill for drinking water. Not bad.

Damn Japs flew over us three times at exactly 8 o’clock and ruined our listening to the 15 minute news broadcasts from Frisco. We use one of the scout car radios. Reception very good.  Sure sounds good to hear from the states.

Got two packages, one from Elaine and form Lizzie. Mom wrote Julius (Moses, Dad’s younger brother) is in (the service) from Feb. 11, 43 and that Pat’s in the WAACS.

March 15 H.Q. came in, now we’re all here and everything’s being reorganized by the looeys. So far they’re leaving us alone. Got paid $33.20 for Feb. Can’t spend money here except at the P.X. for candy. Got two more packages, Lizzy again and Mom.

Have quiet here lately, only 1 alert, but these parrots here are aping our signals and we are having a devil of a time telling them  from ours. Two whistles mean Jap planes over Solomon area, three means planes over island.

English left in such a hurry all their cattle was left behind.  Never saw such thin, scrawny cows and calfs. Shot one and ate it. Meat very tough. Gen. Hester heard about it. Now we stop eating meat, and he probably starts to.

Just now been informed of my second I.Q. I took in New Caledonia, final score 131, now Andy’s only got me beat by 1 point. Got some cookies from Mom, kind of crushed but made quite a hit with the boys and me. Sent $50 home.

Sat., March 20, 1943

No raids lately because of the full moon. Still policing up coconuts of all the screwy things to do. So far we’ve picked up a few million, usually pile them up, and one day we’ll never forget we had orders to pour gas on them and burn it. Really made a nice smoke, and probably was the cause for our first air raid.

Had a court martial about 150 feet from our tent, 3 privates, went thru all the usual pomp and ceremony but the all-officer jury probably knew the verdict before hand.

Some of the boys coming down with malaria and a few other diseases common to the tropics. Had a taste of malaria week after we hit Russell Islands. Took enough Atabrine to cure an elephant. Take half of an Atabrine pill every nite. Was to get water with Shan and like a dope dropped the water trailer on my left hand. Got deep gash but no bones broken. Better luck next time.

Have loudspeakers in trees for us to hear the radio nites, becoming a regular ritual. Everybody listens to news casts and argues about it later. I say the war will end in July. Of course, there are disbelievers all over.

Had two more air raids last nite, getting so a fellow can’t get a good nite’s sleep anymore. Got good and wet when Shan and I went past Blue Beach for water. Roads very muddy and slippery, hit two coconut trees. Sure was fun.  Been having plenty of air raids at all hours of nite and early morn. Recon plane flies over with motor sounds like an old washing machine. Nicknamed “Washboard Charly.” Sure is some feeling, always waiting for some thing, not knowing what. One minute we’re sitting here and not knowing if you’ll be alive the next.

Hear rumors of us invading New Georgia Isle. Bet that will be one hornet’s nest. Mail is lousey, haven’t heard from home in over a week now. Thunder last night woke me up and, so help me, I thought we were being bombed by the Japs again.

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Dad’s service Journal Part III

Note to readers: In 1976 while browsing in the De Anza High School library I found an American History textbook from 1876 stuffed in a shelf. That’s where I read that George Washington died largely as a result of the practice of “bleeding” patients to release the “bad blood.” Did he? There was nothing about that in my 1970s-vintage history textbook. Rewritten history is sometimes cleaned-up history. This journal will not be cleaned-up, because the 1940s were not a politically-correct time. This is a time capsule.

This is verbatim text from my father’s World War II service journal, and I am treating this as an historical document. Harsh references and stereotypical references common during 1942-44 are all over some of these pages. Dad was not a prejudiced man when he died in 1983. He’d made Japanese friends in his kidney dialysis group, and even suggested I date a cute classmate of Japanese ancestry. But you’re going to see a lot of stuff from now on that was a product of the times, and “Jap” was a pretty common word in U.S. Army lingo at the time. Read on with these cautions in mind. 

John R. Moses

Sorry Wiki -haters, but the following summary if division service is from Wikipedia:

“These troops saw action

From Wikipedia:

Combat Chronicle

The 43d Infantry Division landed in New Zealand on 23 October 1942. The 172d Infantry Regiment arrived at Espiritu Santo, 26 October. The Division moved to Noumea, New Caledonia, in November and to Guadalcanal, 17 February 1943. The Russell Islands were occupied without opposition, 21 February, and training continued. Elements landed on Vangunu and Rendova Islands against minor resistance, 30 June. Rendova served as the major staging point for the assault on the Island of New Georgia. The assault on New Georgia was met with determined enemy resistance. The Japanese fought fiercely before relinquishing Munda and its airfield, 5 August. Vela Cela and Baanga were taken easily, but the Japanese resisted stubbornly on Arundel Island before withdrawing, 22 September. After training at Munda, the 43d moved to Guadalcanal and thence to New Zealand for rest and rehabilitation. On 19 July 1944, the Division assumed defensive positions at Aitape, engaged in patrols and reconnaissance at Tadji and along the Drinumor River, 25 July, and took the offensive, 8 August 1944, ending organized resistance on the 25th. On 9 January 1945, the 43rd made an assault landing in the San Fabian area, Lingayen Gulf, Luzon. Under enemy fire, the Division secured the beachhead and fought into the Lingayen Plain by 12 February. The offensive was resumed against the enemy north and west of Fort Stotsenburg, 27 February. After ending Japanese resistance in the Zambales Mountains with help from the Philippine Commonwelth army forces, the 43d swung south against the Shimbu Line. On 6 May 1945, the attack continued in the Bulucan area. Ipo Dam was secured and enemy opposition smashed in the Ipo area, 19 May. Mopping-up activities continued until 30 June 1945. The Division left Manila, 7 13 September, for occupation duty in Japan until it left for home.”

Editor’s Note: Dad left for home in October 1944 during a lull in combat after he passed out from and developed high fevers from malaria and Denghy Fever. They put him on a hospital ship after weeks on and off sick call. He missed the Philippine campaign.

The journal resumes:
Auckland, N.Z. October, 1942

Auckland sure was some city, about 50,000 and fairly modern. Call street cars “trams” and they seem to run in every direction at once. Shops close Sat. afternoons and people seem to hurry to nowhere. English money now clear simple when you handle it for a while. As for their hamburger, all I can say is the onions was good. Cost 9 pence each. Soft drinks don’t even compare with our worst. Nothing but sugar water. Have modern harbors big enough for any ships.  And full of mines to discourage enemy ships.

I believe I walked all over every street there was and saw something interesting every time. Had men here of every branch of service in every army. Plenty of beer and ale. For me, milkshakes galore. Even the ice cream was lousy. But the girls who made them sure had everything.

Had a few hikes, a few miles from camp we found a beaut of a hill, had us all puffing but sure nice scenery when you reach it. Quite a few Fords on the road, a smaller model than cars in the states with the steering wheel on the wrong side. Seems funny to see cars on the opposite side, must have been a miracle no one got killed.

(Editor’s note: One of those records Dad recorded for his family detailed how he wound up with a Bobby on the hood of his Jeep, the angry cop still blowing his traffic whistle.)

Quite a few of our boys A.W.O.L. one gone for 2 ½ weeks fined $100. Many minor fines and extra duties such as digging holes 6x6x6, and N.Z. soil isn’t exactly gravy.

Listen to radio or phono-graph nites but all good must come to an end, so up we packed again ready to leave. Last night in N.Z.

Pap had trouble chasing a big Collie out of his bed. That wine sure must have been powerful. Drug stores are “chemists” and beer gardens are called “bottle depts.”

November 1942

Finally got orders to leave again after only 3 weeks of heaven. I’m sure we all left with regrets. Paraded thru Auckland for the last time about noon Nov. 15 and sure did get a sendoff by the people lining the streets. Boarded an ocean liner, the Matsonia, the biggest and best ship I ever saw. It was really big. Had staterooms for us Recon troops and really had meals. Celebrated both Thanksgivings on board, the second was really a lulu. Had a dinner civilians back home would envy, turkey and all the trimmings.

Saw land again two days later. New Caledonia sure looked desolate and very mountainous. Stayed on board to guard while ship was being unloaded, 10 days in all. She had plenty of stuff. Had to haul it to shore on barges and tug since the Matsonia couldn’t get in the harbor. Saw our first natives, look like our negroes.

Got ashore at last and piled on trucks at Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia. It sure is backwards but a big cathedral sure looks nice. People here are French and very hostile to us Americans. The natives are for us, for which we can thank the lord. They’re only half civilized and rumor has it 3 were hung because they killed a French sergeant. Saw three of them eating on tug and forks and spoons must be scarce, they just dug in fingers and all. Saw our first Javanese woman. Looks like a Jap. And the French take advantage of them.  Pay them a few francs a day and have them working in nickel mines or on roads. Women work right with them. Sure are a sneaky-looking bunch. Wouldn’t trust them even if I had a gun on them. But, at that, they’re better than some of the French.

Had a 90 mile ride by truck to our base camp at La Foa. (Note: Modern day mileage, doubtless on better roads, lists the distance at 55.5 miles from Noumea.) Camped right by an evacuation hospital with real, live American nurses. But as far as we were concerned they may as well have been in the States. Something about officers attracted them. Back home we wouldn’t even look at their type.

Our new camp sure was new again. Had straw roofs with some kind of paper-like bark around the sides. Sure was hot here, and dusty. Had lots of freshwater streams all over the place, so we swam plenty. Had small fish swimming all over and plenty of mosquitoes and lizards. No matter where you went you were surrounded by hills that were really hills. Had to climb a few and they sure were high. Vegetation is mostly bush and small trees. Poor soil and hot climate are the cause.

December 1942

Was sent to this our outpost for the Second Platoon. This part of the island was really nice and green. Plenty of coconuts. Base camp was at Thio but we split up to various outposts all over the place.

Our first was a place called “The Mission” just out of Thio right on the beach. Had a .37 mm and a .50 caliber to man in case of an invasion. Had 24-hour guard, 4 hours each for 6 of us.

Cpl. Halloran in charge. Had about 30 natives guarding a peak, our observation point, about 300 feet in height. Saw for miles over the ocean. Plenty of work at first, but soon got things in order. Went in swimming with the sharks and fish. No casualties. Took a shower afterwards in fresh water in a home-made affair.  Probably put up by the Americal Div.

(Note: The Americal Division (American, New Caledonian Division) was formed in response to the invasion of Pearl Harbor. Its formal name became The 23rd Infantry Division. It was born on  May 27, 1942 on New Caledonia, comprised of three units. As far as I know, no other U.S. Division was formed outside U.S. Territory.)

Had our meals prepared by native cooks. Even if the stuff was good they had a way of ruining it.

Spent Christmas day here by going to church at the mission. Plenty of French there, mostly Free French and lots of Natives. Sure was beautiful the way they sang hymns, and it was like a dream seeing half-naked natives staring at you. Was very few of us in uniforms there. The priest was a character. Had a little goatee and white hair. Whenever he gave the sermon he looked like a mad billy goat. Gave 20 francs when a girl came around with a small tray. Some of these French girls are really honeys, but we can’t speak Frog lingo so we’re handicapped.

Some of our French pals are doing O.K. Boys are so desperate they even go with the native girls. Have some liquor here called “Butter Fly Rum.” Had plenty of descriptions about its taste and the closest they could come to it was “Prestone.” French use kerosene to mix with liquor.

Had an incident Christmas Eve that put Thio off-limits for some time to us soldiers. Two of our boys got a beating by some French soldiers so naturally we got blamed for it all. Had quite a time forcing the French to observe blackouts. A .45 automatic helped matters considerably. Boy, they sure loved us for it.

Next outpost was Makati Bridge, a one-way control system. Boy these roads were carved right on the side of the mountains and full of curves. One mistake by the driver and eternity. Our P-D driver Shanahan isn’t too bad with our truck. Passarele, me, Cpl. O’Halloran, Pap and Red was the squad. Pioneer and demolition, that’s us. Handle dynamite and T.N.T. like a veteran now.

Me and Pap and two natives, Philip and Bateese,  had the bridge to control, 24-hour guard for four men, two at a time. One American and one native. Natives sure are proud to be soldiers, under French control in the Colonial Army but are loaned-out to us as guards. Some are O.K., but the majority are plain lazy. Our two were no exceptions. Slept on guard and ate our share of the rations. Made up for it by getting us native fruit mangoes, tasted like half-sour apples. Papua looked like cantaloupe and tasted  same, had seeds in it like fish eggs. Plenty of bananas and pineapples, so we didn’t exactly starve.

Our last outpost was the airport, an emergency landing field. On the Sat. we got there a bi-plane crashed into the jungle about ¾ of a mile away. Pap and I with our natives combed the wooded section and found both pilots alive. Both Looeys, Lt. Platt and Bronze. Lt. Platt was injured internally and was spitting and coughing-up blood with every breath he took. All I could do was keep wiping the blood off his mouth. Had broken arm, legs, neck and cuts all over. Died one hour later. Lt. Bronze had cuts over eyes from goggles, a badly-cut right arm, but otherwise seemed O.K. Took him to Thio on 3/4-ton truck for first aid. M.P.s took over plane, wrecked beyond repair when it hit a cable suspended from mine to nickel dump. Cable blended in with mountains so no one could see it. After dinner a monoplane landed at the field and took Lt. Bronze to base hospital. Took over guard of plane with two natives for two days. Ground crew finally took it away off our hands.

January 1943

Outpost at airport was swell. No duties except to keep natives in line. Sgt. Of natives was veteran of last world war. All of them were swell fellows. They had radio equipment to guard, a lookout over the ocean and the camp area. Had about 21 of them.

Had beautiful full moon over the mountains  and everything was just like a movie. Pap and I lay under a tree listening to them singing or chanting native songs. Sure a nite to remember. Lt. Baker proving to be a heel. Stories about him are unbelievable, but true, so our platoon was replaced by the 1st and we headed back to La Foa base camp. Got back to camp about 11 at nite and of all things, The Murph was there to greet us with hot coffee and cookies. He sure is a changed man. Still remember the night I had K.P just because I went in swimming too soon.

Pretty hard to get back to camp routine after being away for five weeks. Got some G-@ reports about Japanese tactics on Guadal Canal and quite a few lectures on jungle fighting. 1st Platoon returned to camp and the 3rd and second have orders to pack up. Got 7 teeth fixed by Lt. Barnett. Not bad. All set to leave New Caledonia.

I’m sure very few of us have any regrets, because we’re leaving. Of all hell holes, this one will be hard to equal. Rumor has us leaving for Guadal Canal. According to news reports it’s in the hands of the Americans.

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Dad’s Service Journal Part II – Rough voyage to Auckland in 1942

This is a continuation of my father, John Steve Moses’ service journal from 1942 to 1944.

Chapter 2 – On a slow boat to the Pacific Theater – October 1942

Notes from a son: John Steve Moses had no intention of joining the U.S. Army, Navy or Marines. My Dad was bowling on Pearl Harbor Day when the news broke in Detroit, Mich. that the Japanese had attacked. He did not run to the recruiting office. His mother would have killed him.

He had a job running a nipple press in a radiator factory and was dating Pat, who he said was the first female DJ in Detroit.  He lived at home with several brothers and a sister and had a darkroom in the basement. In the 1930s he said he was somehow involved in some union activities, part of a group smuggling food into a plant occupied by workers past the police and the union-busting “goons,” as he called them.

But it’s hard to pin down what else he did before the war.  Dad didn’t talk much about the past and never spoke about World War II unless pressed. Here’s some of what we know.

At age 24 he had not finished formal high school. He was the oldest son and during the depths of the Depression dropped out to join his Dad in the coal mines of Windber, Penn. (He kept his last yearbook by his bedside until he died, and later earned an equivalent diploma and a degree in metallurgy from a LaSalle University by-mail course.) His father came from a region in then-Hungary that was in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania, according to documents I found in the Mormon library. That was rich mining country and is now in Romania. Dad was born here.

After a cave-in that killed some of the men they knew, the Moses (Mozes before Ellis Island re-spelled it for us) family had decided they’d had enough of the mines and the company store that kept them in debt to the company. A quick, late-night move from the company village was in order. The whole family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and later to Detroit to find work in the auto plants.

Dad’s hobby then was photography, and he thought about writing stories. But the Army caught up with our Dad and most of his brothers, and in spring of 1942 Dad was on a troop train. He’d failed several physicals due to high albumin in his blood due to a kidney defect, until one day the frustrated doctor told him he’d walked up all three flights to the induction center, so he’d do just fine.

When they asked him what his skills were, he told them he was a writer and a photographer. They taught him how to shoot tanks, and then how to wire explosives, improvise boobytraps, scout enemy troop strengths and blow up villages and other targets ahead of the main invasion troops. He was an Army Recon Trooper.

This written record is all we have of his war experiences, except the memory of the rich and colorful curses he picked up while in the South Pacific, and some photos from the war that he developed in his helmet and printed with a lightbulb. Where he got the photographic paper and chemicals I do not know.

The tale resumes with Dad and his unit in Fort Ord, Monterey County, Calif. waiting to ship out to the South Pacific.

Fort Ord is only to be a stopover. From here troops go overseas, somewhere in the Pacific. So we have a general idea we’re going to see Japs instead of the Nazis. Ord really has fine living quarters, big double barracks with showers and heat and nice bunks almost like home.

Had partial blackouts every night due to our nearness to the Coast but it was still easy to get around. Had excellent service clubs and P.X.s. Could get hot meals and almost anything you wanted. Candy was 4 cents a box. Hamburger cost 10 cents but it sure was worth it. Never tasted better in my life. Had girls working behind counter.  One from Texas wasn’t bad to look at, and she sure could talk with that screwy drawl of hers.

Had regular drills most of the day including bayonet.  Sure felt like shoving it in the rear of some of the new non-coms. Bayonet drills are about the hardest in the army. Still had close order, guess we’ll march up to the Japs in formation. Can now march without even thinking.

We’re all getting pretty good on the 37s. Our crew beat every other crew in getting into action with all trails closed in 9 seconds. That’s really luck or something. Crew was Cpl. Stewart, me No.1 gunner, Eddie No. 2, Goss No. 3 and a Mississippi fellow No. 4.

Got compliment today out new looey, a regular fellow. Went on 37 range again, the 1000” one had fun galore with those subcaliber mounts. Better scores than last time in Shelby.

Walked over sand dunes and there was the old Pacific.

September- October 1942

Three days later we went to fire regular A.P. (anti-personnel) ammo. Had targets moving at 600 and 1,000 yards, and a stationary one at 1,500.  Shot 20 rounds, no misses, first shot dead center bullseye and now rated A-1 with every man. Cpl. Stewart was kind of nervous and made a very bad showing, no hits. No one laughed — after all he is a non-com and can make things tough for us. Ratings now taken to Division Headquarters and have reason to believe I’ll get P.F.C. —  better than nothing.

Had a big parade of the whole 43rd Division for Gen. Hester. I hope he appreciates it.

Standing at attention for two hours can get kind of boring, not to say tiresome.

(Editor’s note: This was Brig. Gen. John H. Hester, a former commander of the 43rd  from its days in Vermont, when it was known as “The Yankee Brigade.” He was later given other duties.)

Made quite a few trips to Monterey, a wide-open town on Monterey Bay. Sure is nice, but a few drunks screwed up the place by annoying women and just acting like uncivilized people, so the people acted accordingly. Sent home some souvenirs to Mom and family. Pin for Pat and knife for Bunny.

Made two recordings each for Mom and Pat. Sure is tough talking for three minutes, but Mom sure got a kick out of them, so it was worth the effort. After making the last recording, Pete and I went back to the barracks to find I was being transferred to another outfit by Division. Rumor first had it the 118th Engineers, but next day I found out my new address was to be 43rd Cavalry Recon Troop.

Sure was hell saying goodbye to the fellows, especially Pete. Was in line for sergeant’s stripes, but now I even lose my P.F.C.

Met the recon troops on Sunday. Seem to be a nice bunch of fellows. Got a lot of new equipment the infantry never issued. Finally left Fort Ord for San Francisco on Sept. 30. Had a nice trip, scenery very nice, towns all the way to Frisco. San Francisco itself is on a hill, but it sure looks nice, especially when you soon have to leave.

Saw Alcatraz Prison in Frisco Bay and Treasure Island to the left. Oakland Calif. is right across the Bay, sure is lit up like a X-mas tree. Passed under Golden Gate Bridge when we entered Frisco by train.

(Editor’s note: If there was a heavy rail line into S.F. proper and the wharves back then, Dad would have seen Treasure Island on the right, Alcatraz on the left and passed beneath the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge along the Embarcadero.)

Heard last inning of the Brooklyn, Yanks game while waiting to embark. Saw ship’s name as we marched by with barracks bag on shoulder and Tommy gun with all web equipment plus steel helmet. Sure must have looked like a commando, but felt like two cents. Name was S.S. Grant, flagship of the President Lines.

Oct. 1, 1942

Sailed from harbor Oct. 1, circled Bay a few times waiting for other ships in convoy to get ready.  Had Pres. Coolidge on the left, Bluemfontaine somewhere behind and a few other ships, six in all. Set sail for open sea after noon and boy did we hit some waves.

(Editor’s note: The ships in the convoy were the Grant, Bluemfontaine and Boschfontaine (Dutch), Day Star, Maui and the escort cruiser Detroit, which had been damaged at Pearl Harbor and still bore the scars. The S.S. Pres. Coolidge departed San Francisco five days later on Oct. 6 and, upon arrival at Espiratu Santo harbor, hit two  “friendly” antisubmarine mine and quickly sank)

From Pacificwrecks.com: “Two were killed in the sinking. Fireman Robert Reid was working in the engine room and was killed by the initial mine blast. Captain Elwood J. Euart, U.S. Army Artillery Corps, had safely gotten off the Coolidge when he learned that there were still men in the infirmary who could not get out. He went back in to one of the sea doors, successfully rescued the men but was then unable to escape himself and he went down with the ship. A memorial to Captain Euart is located on the shore near the access points for the Coolidge. Other sources list four or five dead in the sinking. Over the course of the next 90 minutes, 5,340 men got safely off of the wreck and to shore. There was no panic as the troops disembarked – many even walked to shore.

The official unit history also confirms the description that comes next of massive seasickness.

Everybody was sick, and I don’t mean maybe. And eating was the least of our worries for the first three days. And the food was lousy. Had ox tail a few times and that’s enough to get anyone sick.

Had to stand in line for an hour before we hit the galley and when we did the smell was enough to discourage most. Stood guard all the way over on 37 mm. Had only a few sub scares but boat drills every day. Sprained ankle the day we passed the Equator, ended up in the ship’s hospital.

Boy they sure initiated our officers. Good thing there were no women present.

(Editor’s note: Upon crossing the Equator, officers and men were initiated into the “Society of Neptune.” They were made to eat raw fish, hosed down with Neptune’s fire hose and made to visit the “Blind Barber of Neptune.” All aboard got a “diploma” and much harassment. On some ships, officers and crew switched jobs for the morning, resulting in a lot of brass working hard at scrubbing the decks, according to the official unit history.)

Our sleeping quarters were really the best in rat traps, three decks down below water level. Hot as hell, and we had narrow passageways, slept on canvas bunks for one four on top of the another. Sure was lousy, nothing like we expected to say the least.

Me, Morelli and Newman really had some bitchings about everything in general.

Rumors had us going in every direction of the globe but we were told we’d end up in New Zealand. Saw Samoa way off on the horizon, first land in 15 days. Some of the moonlight nights we had were really nice. Some of the fellows started singing and it lasted for hours. Had an accordionist there that really knew his stuff. Me and Pap just sat listening and talking of home most of the way over. Newman and Cirbett played rummy all the way over. Those sailors sure could spin a few tales, not that we believed them.

Finally sighted an island right off New Zealand, everything looked so nice and green. Saw N.Z. for the first time right after dinner. Headed for Port Auckland. Looked just like a movie scene, white buildings against a green background.

Ship docked around 5 o’clock, so our trip ended Oct. 23, 1942.

As soon as we docked, we had a N.Z. band play for us on the pier, played “The Beer Barrel Polka,” “God Save the King” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” Had people lined up all over watching us dock.

Stayed on board over night. Put on cottons, leggings and field equipment and paraded thru town, towns people lined the streets cheering and showing ‘V’ for victory signs. Girls not bad looking, but styles are way behind here.

Paraded to railroad station. Got in little narrow-gauge coaches and rode out to camp 18 miles away. Papakura Station.

Walked two miles up dirt road to camp. Country fairly level and what impressed most of us was the neat little houses and the clean yards. Everyone seemed to be busy.

Arrived at camp and was in for another surprise. We were to sleep in little cottages four to a building. And all around was big trees. Very nice.

Had our first good meal, N.Z. bread and butter with coffee. After eating the ship’s food this was heaven. Got very cold nites and had plenty of wind and rain. In fact it rained every day for a little while. Had exercises every morning and little more. Spent most of days playing football and softball in field next to camp. Met Lt. Baker for the first time and the “Murph,” our first sergeant. Platoon Sgt. Marcotti, Sgt. Nicholas, Sgt. Passareli, Cpl. Wertz, Cpl. Calhoun, Cpl. Halloran.

Had nice week. Pap and “Porky” Washard in our place got along swell, except for  (sic.) time someone brought in an egg and no one knew who. Me  and Pap visited Auckland for fun times. Had a devil of a time there with their money. Pounds, shillings, crowns, pences etc. Just walked in, bought something and held out a handful of coins. Sure was lucky they’re honest.

Seemed to serve eggs with every meal whether you wanted them or not. Had tea until the damn stuff came out of our ears. Their sandwiches were so thin six slices of bread seemed like one of ours. But they never spared the butter and it was swell. Their coffee was a laugh. If they hadn’t told you it was coffee you’d swear it was weak tea.

Had mutton so often some of us started growing wool.

The friendliness of the New Zealanders was what was nice about the place. They actually took you into their homes and they did their best to make us feel at home. The girls were too easy to make, in fact they chased after us instead of us going after them. I’m afraid the population will be due for an increase.

…Went to Davenport on a ferry for a few pennies. Nice place. Had a New Zealand kid for a guide. He sure was amazed at our buying candy. Our rate of pay, $60 for overseas duty, sure surprised them. The soldiers here get only about $25 a month and only two outfits of clothes, summer and winter. They sure are jealous of us.

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In honor of Veteran’s day – Dad’s Service Journal

00 Dad at cemetery WW2

More Frozenprose…

By John R. Moses

The following is the beginning of my father’s service journal. John Steve Moses of Detroit, Mich. was about 24 when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. A guy who learned English in kindergarten (his family spoke Hungarian and was also learning English), he found his first challenge was matching up his now thoroughly Midwestern speech patterns against officers from the states of Maine and Vermont.

Chapter 1 – Rookies

Unit history from Wikipedia:

Creation

The 43rd Infantry Division was first activated in 1923, with the division headquarters in Hartford, Connecticut.[1] The 43rd Division consisted of two infantry brigades, the 85th in Connecticut, and the 86th in Vermont. The 85th Brigade included the 102nd and 169th Infantry Regiments, both based in Connecticut. The 86th Brigade was made up of the 172nd Infantry Regiment in Vermont and the 103rd Infantry Regiment in Maine. In addition, the 68th Field Artillery Brigade was based in Providence, Rhode Island.

Or, as Dad put it:

“First week of basic training is learning close order and commands. Sure is something for a while. Walk damn near to the point of exhaustion, and that hot sun sure is no help. As a matter of fact, neither are our non-coms. All but one comes from Maine and over there, there must be a shortage of n’s. There are times when they don’t even try to speak American, then they blame us for doing things wrong.”

Pvt. John Steve Moses after induction into the U.S. Army's 43rd Cavalry.

Pvt. John Steve Moses after induction into the U.S. Army’s 43rd Cavalry.

May 1942

Was inducted into the U.S. Army on May 18, 1942, sworn in at exactly 6 o’clock. We left by D & R bus to the railroad station and boarded a train to Camp Custer, Mich. I saw the last of Detroit at 7:15 p.m. We got to the camp by 11 and had chow at 12, but then came the works. The clothing and equipment was issued at 1. Boy what a night, I finally found a place to sleep by 5 a.m.

Fell asleep, and my first cussing at the Army began. First reville at 6 o’clock, and boy did those Army non-coms lay it on to the rookies. Breakfast was swell, and then came first detail. Sweep up and scrub barracks. Had to do it until 10, then the first Army inspection and a lesson in how to fix regulation Army beds. Chow. Sent civilian clothes home. Took I.Q. after dinner and mechanical aptitude test.  Heard articles of war. Was so sleepy had to be awakened quite a few times.

Lined up again for personal interview and then came two shots in the arm about 10 at nite. Time for bed.

May 19, 1942

Put on working clothes, green fatigues, no shortage of cloth there. Some kind of detail to plant grass and pick up stones and cigarette butts — called “policing” in the Army. Called up home in the evening and told them we’re leaving for training camp soon. Mom sure sounded disappointed. Who wasn’t? Left Camp Custer in Pullmans. Was told we’d go to Jefferson barracks.

Had swell time in troop train — took five days. When we arrived in Detroit we went for chow at the railroad station. Stopped over for two hours but no phone calls were allowed. Got pretty darn homesick going over Fort Street R.R. bridge and seeing our chimney top. Then up past Dearborn railroad crossing, sure looked swell. Went through  Ohio, Michigan, Ky., Mo., Ala. And Mississippi. Boy, it sure was hot the last day. And the South isn’t exactly the paradise you read about. Sure looked lousy. Another disappointment, instead of Jefferson Barracks we ended up at Camp Shelby, Miss. Our bunch was miss-sent, so there was quite a mess as to whether we stay or not. Had to walk about a mile with a heavy suitcase and boy it sure was hot. Has a shower and big tents to sleep in, double cots and lockers, very nice area but on Sunday we were told we stay. After noon we reported to quarantine area. Boy, what a difference. We looked like something God forgot. Due to overcrowded conditions 14 of us had to sleep in a day room. Where they got the crummy hospital beds is beyond me. Swell introduction to our new camp.

Had a picnic trying to put leggings on for the first time. Had to lace them ourself and neither of us knew a thing about it. Got instructions the next day. All I had wrong was the leggings were on the wrong foot. Start of basic training right away as one outfit we joined has already been in for one week. Most are from Pa. and Miss.  We Michigan boys sure are outnumbered.

First week of basic training is learning close order and commands. Sure is something for a while. Walk damn near to the point of exhaustion, and that hot sun sure is no help.

As a matter of fact, neither are our non-coms. All but one comes from Maine and over there, there must be a shortage of n’s. There are times when they don’t even try to speak American, then they blame us for doing things wrong. That first week was really the nuts. Every one of us has a swell case of sun burn, aching muscles and tired dogs. Boy I never walked so much in all my life, and from all indications there’s more to come.

Home was never like this, more than a few of us are beginning to know.

June 1942

My address now is Company C, 103rd Infantry, 43rd Division, Camp Shelby, Mississippi.

Have the drills down pretty fair now and have quite a few lectures on the army, etc. Go to the big tent theatre every morning for some army instruction film. Some OK but some very dry and that old sun really hits the tent. Pretty hard to concentrate on film when the sweat rolls down by bucketfuls. Some of the film, though, was very educational, especially the ones about venereal diseases. Boy, they didn’t beat around the bushes and I myself really appreciated them. Stuff like that should be shown to civilian, too, quite a few could benefit from it.

Strangely enough, we never saw any comedies but some of the boners they pulled were funny enough, and they passed the film by army censors.

July 1942

Getting all kinds of shots in arm every week or so, by now must be immune to any bug or germ known to man. Issued M-I rifles (or another name is Garand semi-automatic) and pretty darn good. Learning nomenclature for two weeks, can take it apart and assemble it blindfolded and can name every part.

Mail call twice a day. That’s something every man here would forfeit a few meals for. And boy, the disappointed faces whenever a long-expected letter doesn’t come. So far I’ve been lucky, haven’t missed getting mail since it started coming in. I guess I write plenty myself. In fact it’s my chief past time now. Besides, that “Free Mail” business is tops. Even if we are now getting $50 instead of the $21 base pay. That $50 sure is a swell thing for the soldier, and no kidding either.

August 1942

Basic training almost finished and we’re really getting the hikes, started off with a six mile in mid day heat. Passed out when I got to  tent. Out for a couple hours. Mild case of heat stroke. Went a little farther the second hike but got ride back to hospital.  Guess I’m not much of a soldier after all.

Now that basic’s almost over I got transferred to 1st B H.Q. Co. anti-tank section. Learned nomenclature of 37 m.m. anti-tank gun. Sure is a swell field gun. Can now take it apart in no time at all. Learned all about sighting and firing.

Went to rifle range to fire M-1 rifle, did fairly well for a rookie. Was out on range for 4 days. Two days in the pits marking and scoring targets not bad, considering you have lead flying over your head. Slept in tents and my first time on mother earth. Stiff and sore for weeks.

Headquarters Co. would be swell if it weren’t for all the brass hats around. All one does is salute from dawn to dusk. After dark you can pretend you don’t recognize the officers. They’re probably glad of it. Acting corporal on 37 now. Teaching some more rookies the gun. Have PFC rating now but as yet not official.

August-Sept. 1942

Went to 37 m.m. range to fire at moving targets with 37s. Didn’t use regular ammo, instead had a sub-caliber mount in the barrel to fire either .22 cal. Or .30 cal. Shells. 1000’ range. Hits were kind of few for us rookies. Any way, we shot hell out of a few targets.

Came back to camp to hear rumors that we were moving from Shelby. Rumors must have been true, because we really started in cleaning up our area and packing stuff. Our shipping mark is a solid white triangle and number 5181-G Guess maybe we’ll end up in Calif. according to the rumors. Fort Ord seems to head the list of guesses. Slept two nights on floor of tents. Kind of hard, but as the boys said, so what – it’s soft wood.

Finally left for train and left Shelby on Sept. 4 on Pullmans again. This time it was another 5-day trip.

Troop train was guarded all the way. Had fixed bayonets and loaded rifles with orders to use both to keep over anxious civilians from getting too close. Very little  trouble on that account. In many towns the people came out to greet us and to give us magazines, candy, cigarettes and even peaches.

Played pinochle with another fellow from Detroit, Corp. Ragoso, Philly and Corp. Stewart from Md.  Don’t know how many games we played but wore out three decks of cards enroute.

And nobody seemed to care who was winning.

Had a few fights on the train. Seems the fellows take their gambling too seriously, and gambling  is really a major past time in the Army. A lot of fellows lose their pay the same night they get it.  Been sending money home. Don’t know how much but Mom should be a good banker.

Had to sleep in a lower bunk with Eddie Jankousaki, another Pa. boy. Between us we had $6.15. He had the .15 cents. I wouldn’t have had a cent but Mom sent me a check for $10.

Had to go to Hattiesburg to get it, but I sure had a swell meal at one of the cafes there. Me and Pino (Philly) really went to town on steaks galore. Hattiesburg wasn’t such a bad town of course, it was always over crowded with soldiers. Had 3 U.S.O.s and a couple of other service clubs. Plenty of movies and entertainment. In fact, a miniature city. But it wasn’t exactly heaven, either.  The prices charged us by the Southerners were about a high as they could possibly get by with. And Southern Hospitality is nothing but a myth around here. It was the same all over.

Jackson  was 75 miles and New Orleans was only one hundred miles away. Went to Jackson, but never quite got to New Orleans. Reports from there really painted that town red. Women and liquor was very easy to get. Sure would like to see the place, but chances are mighty slim for me to ever see Mississippi again. Not that I’ll ever regret leaving. Never hated a place as much as I did Shelby. Doubt very much if there’s a worse camp in the states. I mean for heat and rain. Otherwise it wasn’t too bad. Especially on Sat. and Sundays when we had off.

Finally arrived in California after 5 days of travel. Boy some of the trees were really big and we had beautiful scenery on the way to camp. Followed a stream between two very high hills. Went through San Jose, a really nice town. Arrived Fort Ord around dinner time. Big barracks and roads all over the camp. Nice cement was all over. Soil very sandy and only about a mile off the Pacific Coast. Cool wind blowing all day.

Was a bit disappointed. Instead of moving right in we had to march to a bivouac area about 2 ½ miles from main camp. Slept in pup tents for two nights and during the day drilled and had classes as usual.

Major Mansfield gave us a speech on what to expect. Very serious but still had some humor left over. Nice guy.

Had a five-day problem our Brooklyn Ramp (STET) one week in Shelby, and Maj. Mansfield proved himself to be a regular guy. Rained steady for 4 days and nites yet he was cheerful and just as wet as we were. In fact, at nite around our puny fire he told more stories than a comedian ever knew. On one of our hikes, 7 miles to be exact, he walked right in with us although the lesser officers rode in jeeps. And we made those 7 miles with no stops although rain came down in buckets and mud was knee-deep. Sure was glad to see the end of that little picnic when we got back to camp 18 miles away.

After a good shower and clean clothes made a bee line for the service club and ate two $1 steaks at one sitting. First decent meal I had in 5 days plus.

Copyright 2013 – John R. Moses

(More to come.)

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Writing a book, not a reality show knockoff

By John R. Moses

The last time I started a never-completed novel based in Alaska I had no problem adding in examples of the wild behaviors I often saw in my rural region. While it made for snappy copy, one person who doesn’t live in Alaska but was kind enough to review a sample chapter wrote back, “That seems a little unrealistic. Do people really act like that? Could that actually happen?” The answer was, “Yes.”

People do, sometimes, make poor life decisions, some of which become fatal in freezing temperatures or near rushing or icy rivers. Those behaviors happen everywhere, not just in Alaska. But we are under a microscope now. For at least another 15 minutes, TV shows about “real” Alaska life SELL. Some tourists do ask us what kind of money we accept. Some ask if Northern Lights come on after sunset. How much responsibility should those writing stories about Alaska have for educating people about our state and the conditions here, good and bad? For me, the answer is a lot, maybe in part because I’m a journalist and in part because I myself am a transplant whose whole first year living here full-time (starting in the fall of 2006) was a steep learning curve.

I find myself with an extra filter: I don’t want my book to read like an exploitative reality show.

Just a few years ago, before Sarah Palin and “Flying Wild Alaska,” and even before I’d seen an episode of “Alaska State Troopers,” I’d have had no problem ramping-up some of the quirkier aspects of life in rural and urban Alaska. In one town I know of a mayor in the transfer area or town dump shooting nuisance bears. The thought of that being a normal way to go, … that doesn’t cross the mind of folks raised in California suburbs or inner-city anywhere. As I understand it, that mayor was not just out taking pot-shots. Transfer stations in rural areas have big fences and all attempts are made to keep bears from becoming acclimated to humans and human food waste. The saying here is a fed bear is a dead bear.

On Sunday I watched the trooper show and I saw all the worst behaviors the producers could capture dragged out for display. On one recent episode a Fairbanks woman told the camera crew it was her third time on the show. Pretty soon she’ll have her own series.

So, as I plot my next plotline I’m challenging myself to incorporate my experiences in a way to show how unique this state is without trying to make it into a shameless spectacle.

While I don’t want to ramp things up, I also don’t want to pretend that living anywhere in Alaska is a lot like living in the Continental United States. I live in Juneau, a place with more than 30,000 people. I ran a newsroom in Benicia, Calif., which also had more than 30,000 residents. Juneau has the Gastineau Channel, Benicia has the Carquinez Strait. Both towns have a Carrs-Safeway, same basic supermarket.  That’s where the similarities end, pretty much.

Benicia has opossums and occasionally someone thinks they’ve seen a wildcat in the rolling, grassy hills not eaten by subdivisions.

Peacocks live by the golf course next door in Vallejo. In Juneau, bears sit on my porch and rip into trash bins. Huge, beautiful mountains seem to crash into the channel, houses clustered on hills and avalanche chutes clearly visible on the slopes high above downtown. Benicia lives in the shadow of a refinery that processes crude oil. Juneau’s gasoline comes from other places, we have no refinery in this part of the state. When barges are hampered by weather or otherwise delayed, store shelves can start to go bare.

I miss my friends in Benicia and its downtown farmer’s markets and parades, then I go out to get the mail and see dall sheep as specks on Mount Juneau just below the snow line. I can celebrate the strengths and differences of both towns. Now, to get back to work.

When I was a teen I sat in front of a typewriter with a blank page of paper and saw the potential for that piece of paper to become the start of a great book. That feeling hasn’t changed decades later, even though I’ll be looking into the blank MS Word file on my computer screen. And it still isn’t any easier to fill that page, and the ones to come, with a great book.

Here I go again.

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