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Part VII: Straight into a patch of jungle hell or, as the Army later called it, “no serious opposition from the enemy.”

Notes from a son: The events that happen next and those that follow pretty much shaped the rest of my father’s life. This was the beginning of a long-term and untreated case of PTSD, the foundation of a deep rage that lived in him just below the surface. He never left the house if he could help it on the Fourth of July. He didn’t watch war movies. I wasn’t supposed to play with toy guns around him, or have friends over because they’d make too much noise, or startle him. Ever.
He hated fireworks, allowing them only occasionally. His July 4th, like most other nights, involved a lot of Phenobarbital. He shared some of that annually with our freaked-out beagle-basset, dachshund-schnauzer dog, who also hated July 4th.
And he had nightmares.
When I first read this journal at age 16 I didn’t comprehend the magnitude of what I was reading. Transcribing this section now at age 51 after decades of studying military history was like watching a train wreck in slow motion.
So here we are, at that point in the 1940s-vintage Hollywood war movie when the hero is supposed to find great glory. Former Pvt. And now Cpl. John Steve Moses was an untested and low-level leader in an Army Recon demolition squad that had just been moved up for its first real action. The date header was changed from June 12, 1943 to Oct. 7, 1943, because he checked the notebook in with his personal belongings before moving out to combat. This was his first chance to record what had happened. He might not have known that this was called Operation Cartwheel, a battle to take Munda that would last into August and cripple the Japanese air operation .
October 7, 1943
The reason the date was changed was because I just now got back this diary. I had it packed away because we were moving up to New Georgia to see just how tough the Japs really are.
I’ll begin with July 2, when we loaded onto an L.S.T. Sure had fun with those 105 shells. We started out in early evening, and a choppier sea would be damn hard to find. We really had our ups and downs, and I was a bit seasick and pulled Corporal of Guard from 11 p.m.-2 a.m. That was hell in itself.
Our convoy was spotted by the Jap fleet and only God himself helped us get away. We headed back for the Russells during the nite, but at dawn we again started toward Rendova. We stayed in Wickham Anchorage all day, exposed to any Jap recon plane, but luck again was on our side. We started out to Rendova again and this time dawn found us in Rendova Harbor.
Our 155s were already zeroing-in and we could see dive bombers blasting the hell out of Munda Airport.
This was July 4th, the day to celebrate back home. Believe you me we certainly got our share of fireworks. Immediately after lunch while still onboard ship waiting to unload, a nice formation of bombers came over the mountains of Rendova. I counted 16 and for all we knew they were ours, but when all our guns and guns around us started shooting, we knew we were in for some fun.
Bombs fell right alongside our ship, six in a row. I dived underneath a truck but I was no safer there because after the raid was over I saw the truck was loaded with T.N.T.
It sure was something seeing those big bombers get hit and blow up in the air. One had his tail shot off, and floated down for what seemed like ages. There were burning planes all over the place. I saw the first shot our boys fired hit the first Jap, and down she came. This was the first time these Navy boys ever saw a Jap plane, and they really did damn good.
The final score was 13 knocked down and our fighter planes took off after the three that got away. Never heard how they made out.
Note: An official tally counted 12 planes shot down by anti-aircraft fire. The 16 were part of 100 bombers that had started out to defend Japan’s Munda installation. The others didn’t make it to the battle.
After the raid we saw the Japs had hit the ammo dump and quite a few Sea-Bees and sailors. One had both of his legs blown off, the other had a hole in his back you could put both of your two fists in. He died about an hour later. Also had quite a few shell-shock cases.
Our Captain met us and we loaded onto two small barges for Ughele Village to relieve the 172 boys who were up that way on O.P. duty. Upon nearing the place we saw some men running around on the beach but no one seemed to know who they were, so we headed to the pier of the village. We lowered the ramp and went off about 100 yards to put our packs down so we could unload the barges when all hell broke loose.
Jap machine gunners hidden in the village opened-up on us. Bullets flew all over and around us,
God only knows how I got behind a big hunk of coral right on the beach. Jap bullets were whistling right over my head, and where they hit close, pieces of coral really flew. Most of the boys were still on the two barges, so they fired their m.g.s as best they could, but most of the time we were in between two lines of fire and in equal danger from both.
Pap Morrel was by me when the Japs opened up and got hit in the gut. Seeing as how he fell on the beach where the Japs could still see him, Shanahan and I crawled over to him and pulled him where we were. Boy, those bullets came close. On checking-up I saw Shan didn’t have a gun, Allen lost his and Keith besides me had only his .45 pistol. I almost had to knock him out because he had the damned thing aimed at me and I was in more danger from him than I was from the Japs.
I had a couple of clips from my Tommy gun and got ready to fire. Upon pulling the trigger I found the damn thing wouldn’t fire, so that was really nice. All I could do was hug the sand and listen to bullets fly over my head.
Saw G.J. Collins get hit in the leg when he tried to get to the barge and also saw D. Senna get hit over the left kidney. Poor kid really had a gaping hole there. As for medical aid to Pap, all we had was some sulfa powder we sprinkled on. He really was in a bad way.
Senna was again exposed to enemy fire, so Gray and I crawled over to him and dragged him out of the water. Couldn’t do a damn thing for him. Sure is something to hear the two boys moaning, and all we could do was pray for them, and us, too.
Sgt. Anderson was going on the barge, so I took his Tommy gun. Imagine how we felt when the two barges took off and left 7 men stranded on the beach. Had about 11 men on the other side who crossed the river when it started getting dark. They thought we were on the boat, so they never even bothered looking for us.
About an hour later I heard a noise on the pier. It was kind of dark, but I could see a big Jap outlined against the sky not more than two feet away. He evidently thought we were gone because he wasn’t too curious.
He kept poking his bayonet into the shadows, and when he was coming too close for comfort I decided to shoot.
I had the Tommy gun on full automatic and aimed for his guts. I squeezed the trigger, but, again, my second Tommy gun failed to work. Luckily for me and the rest he didn’t hear the gun click because the surf was too loud. After a time he finally decided to go away. By that time I wasn’t in the mood for anything.
The Thompson is a wonderful weapon, but for me the things are a jinx.
After it really got dark I decided to try and go and see if we could get help. I knew the boys were somewhere around. Couldn’t go across the river because I honestly believed that, too, was held by the Japs. So Glen and I took off and sneaked around the pier for the ocean.
Shan didn’t have a gun so we gave him Gray’s “03.” That left us with no weapons at all. Gray and I swam fully-clothed down the beach about half a mile, went past our own guards and as luck would have it no one spotted us. We crawled on the beach and decided to stay there until morning. It started raining and, even though we were in the tropics, we were cold. We huddled close to try to get warm but gave it up finally as a bad job.
At daybreak July 5 we moved and hid along a trail. Gray slept while I guarded. Heaven knows why, neither of us had any weapons. I saw four men go past, but it was too dark to see whether they were ours or not. About 10 minutes later I saw a few more go by, but I didn’t take a chance because I still couldn’t see for sure.
When it got lite I heard noise again coming down the trail. I crawled closer to see for sure and when I saw the U.S. canteens on the web belt I yelled at them.
Imagine our surprise when it turned out to be our Capt. Dall, Lt. Marcotte and some 172 boys on patrol. The captain sure was surprised to see us. When I told him there were five more men behind he sent out men to find them.
Pap Morrel was already laying on a table when I came back. I tried to cheer him up and tell him he’ll be O.K., but he only smiled and didn’t say anything. He died a few moments later. I couldn’t quite realize he was gone. In fact, things happened so fast I doubt any of us even knew what was going on.
Gray, Todd, Gagman and I dug Pap’s grave. That was the one of the hardest details I ever had, or in fact any of us had. All of us there had tears in our eyes because Pap was a man anyone could be proud to call a pal. To Newman and me he was like a brother.
They’d found Newman, Garret, Shan and Allen when they went to look where I told them. They were O.K., but Senna was hurt pretty bad. “Hollywood” Holmes got hit with the other bunch and Echols and Otto Gleeson caught some ricochet bullets. None serious.
The boat came back at about 10 with Lt. Hall. The rumor back at Rendova Harbor was that we were all dead. And it was only with God’s help that wasn’t true, because later on we captured a Jap who said there was 90 Japs there on the 4th fighting against 7 of us left on the beach and 11 who crossed the river.
Set up “booby traps” all around camp and dug in 2 men to a hole. I teamed with Newman. We took turns at guard at nite and heard Japs yelling in the jungle.
We saw lites on the island across from us. Porky Wishard opened fire and the Japs screwed-off. Left signal lites and equipment by the barge they left grounded in the canal. It really was some nite. Men were panicky, shooting at every sound. I didn’t fire, but I can say I wasn’t feeling any too good.
After our initial encounter with the Nips we saw them every once in a while, but they never did even try to come close to our area. Had two patrols out daily to recon the area, but they were up in the hills, so no one had a bit of rest.
2nd Platoon ran into 13 Japs and believed they got them all. 1st Platoon came to reinforce us and they were more than welcome. After 2 weeks they were off to Munda, but before they left they ambushed one Jap. About 14 got away.
Lt. Marcotte, Kal and I took our squads and went out with natives to scout an area where Jap tracks were found. After walking about 6 miles we found fresh trails so we sneaked in and saw 8 Japs in and around a lean-to.
Kal’s squad went to the left, mine went to the right. When we opened up it was really a sight to see these Japs get hit. Two of them opened up on us but they didn’t last long. One not too anxious to meet his ancestors took off to my right. Took one shot at him with Pap’s rifle and had the satisfaction of seeing him hit the dirt.

Left: Cpl. John Steve Moses holds a captured Japanese battle flag. Right: Making friends with the Aussies, likely in New Guinea. Left: Cpl. John Steve Moses holds a captured Japanese battle flag. Right: Making friends with the Aussies, likely in New Guinea.

Our total was six Japs dead, two wounded that got away. I got a flag, a bayonet and a small radio from there and numerous other souvenirs. But Capt. Dall turned my radio in to the signal corps, so there went the best thing I had.
John S. Moses with captured flag
We felt pretty good when we came by Pap’s grave. Newman and I made a cross for Pap, carving in his name, July 4, 1943 and Chester, Pa, his home town. I bet his folks were really shocked to get the news.

Here’s how the U.S. Army summed up those days in the official regimental history book:

On July 4, the 1st Battalion, 172d Infantry had completed
its advance to the Barike River, leaving its Anti-Tank platoon
and a detachment of heavy weapons in security of Zanana.
During the period of July 4 to July 6, the balance of the 172d
Infantry, and the 169th Infantry (less Anti-Tank Company)
and two Engineer companies moved to Zanana by daylight
with only minor artillery opposition during the boat movement.
Patrols were sent north and west from the beachhead
covering the right and rear of our advance.
No serious enemy opposition was encountered enroute to
the Line of Departure until July 6, when the 3d Battalion,
leading element of the 169th Infantry, encountered serious
opposition in its zone approximately 300 yards west of the
Barike River.

00 Dad with friends WWII


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Part VI: Enjoying the propaganda from Tokyo for its comedy value

Notes from a son: Dad took things personally. There was no larger view of war, no “I’m one of millions fighting for a greater cause” B.S. They were dropping bombs on him, not the U.S. Army, and they were going to get it. In this section of his journal he learns that a friend from Detroit was killed in the Pacific, and his reaction was a vow of vengeance to come. He also expresses disgust at rumors of U.S. Marines killing prisoners on Guadalcanal. This was before Dad saw anything more than air raids and uneventful combat patrols. He was just named P & D (Pioneer and Demolition) Corporal. He’d never heard the peculiar buzzing of hot lead passing close to one’s head, seen comrades fall, been under enemy fire, and emerged from an LST into the unknown.

April 1943, Benaki
Listened to Tokyo, Japan’s English radio broadcast. Announcers speak very good English, especially the one on Zero Hour. He’s perfect. News a direct contradiction to ours, very amusing. Zero Hour is meant to break our morale, in between suggestions about our girls back home they sure play swell jazz.
Beautiful moonlite nights, but dangerous because Japs seem to think so, too. Getting lots of mail from all over. Pretty nice.
Palm Sunday, April 18 – woke up to hear the damn bugle blaring away. New order came through for bugles, Etc… Going into garrison life, so maybe we won’t be bothered by the Japs for a while. I hope we don’t have to go looking for them again.
Palm Sunday not so good – 7 air raids after dark. Hear we’re moving to a new area. Was to police coconuts half day Wed. New area O.K>, looks good but we sure will have plenty of work moving.
Went past American soldiers graveyard. Sure was a funny feeling to think tomorrow you might be under one of those white crosses. Found movie place back of area. Pretty lucky. Our new will be on a point surrounded by water on both sides near radio warning system. Worked G-2 all day on bomb shelter.

April 25, 1943 – Easter
Easter pretty fair. Air raid afternoon. Japs tried to give us a few Easter eggs. So far, no dice. Saw movie Sunday. “Joe C. Brown.”
Everyone mad at Japs killing aviators that bombed Tokyo. Americans took Ellice Isles near Gilbert Isles.
Coconut crushed Marine’s head when it fell from tree. More dangerous than the Jap bombs.
Still having air raids, but no one seems to care anymore. Was watching swell movie, “A Man to Remember” when about ¾ thru Japs interrupted. Now I’ll never know how it ended.
New area cleaned, dug garbage pit. Moved to new area Wednesday. Soon as we took tents down it really rained, got soaked then was wet all day. Was helping Shan move things and made 6 trips altogether. Was really tired at nite. Came back in nite with no lights on. Have swell view of ocean and cool breezes keep coming in day and nite.
Rumor has it we’re shoving off in 6 weeks. Another rumor: Gen. Wing has a bet we’re home in July. I hope to God he’s right for once. Mail coming in Swell but have no time to answer except to Mom. Pat still allergic to writing.
Payday April 30: $133.20. Sending $20 home when Tenelli gets money order. Old Rommel getting his seat hot in Tunisia. Made news Easter Sunday when Japs came over at noon, our planes beat the hell out of the Zeros. Woke up last night and heard a hell of a racket. Japs came over and bombed somewhere. Just so they miss us, I won’t care.

May 1943 – Benaki
Started to build bomb shelter to hold 20 men. Hard digging in coral. Saw Ernie Ladas photo in Times killed in Pacific area. Someday the Japs will pay in full, believe me.
Still on bomb shelter. Been using jackhammer and fingers are really sore. Got two nice burns.

May 5, 1943
Received mail and a Christmas package from the Lutheran minister Zulay. Toilet articles he sent sure came in handy. Candy melted over everything.
Everything quiet lately, news from Africa very good. Rommel concedes defeat to our troops. Now Europe’s next. Hear rumors of going back to U.S., or ahead to New Georgia, then relief for us that’s left. Had four consecutive air raids last nite. Ack –ack fire looks pretty at nite. No mail for 9 days then 21 at once. Had to go on recon to Alacon Isle to investigate smoke seen. The source of the smoke was a tree hit by a 155 m.m. shell. Nice trip in ocean on Higgins boat. Saw fish of all sizes and shapes. Tried to hit’em with boat hook, but no dice.
2nd Division returned to area from Pe(illegible). May mean something. Going for H2O with Shan most every day. Boy our roads are something to see. Can see Guadalcanal very good from here. 37m.m. taken by platoon to point to guard cove. Had target practice on 37 m.m. about 9 rds. A.P. one round canister. Gun needs bore sighting, a little off.

April 18, 1943
One year of service today. Seems like 10. Lt. Hall squelched most of our good rumors. According to him we’ll next take New Georgia. Have new name now. “Barracuda.” Our new code name. Our motto now ought to be, “We’ve been hooked.”

May, 1943
Sgt. Marcotte got a direct appointment, now known as Lt. Marcotte. Mike Lajoie getting the works, had a summary court martial, paid a fine, and now he’s to be confined two months in guard house. And all for a silly thing that could have easily been overlooked.
Had quite a few bombings, last night was the worst. Had three raids, and the ack-ack was terrific. Had shrapnel falling all over, and boy they’re really mean looking. No one hurt. No one hit by shrapnel and bombs, but two (Illegible, looks like bulls) got killed and lots of cows are dead. This damn full moon is really raising hell with us. Have a couple of bombings every nite, some fun. Ur big bomb shelters sure are nice to get in.
Some ack-ack fire hit Jap bomber and what a pretty picture that made when it exploded in mid-air.
Friday had a problem firing all our weapons. Had my 37 and got direct hits on target with A.P. Cannister shot really mowed down the bushes. My Tommy gun was really hot when I got through, fired 180 rounds in a little over a minute. Two fellows hurt when hand grenades went off. Not too serious. Sat. had to blow up dud mortar shells, 81m.m. Sure is a ticklish business, but being in a demolition squad, that’s our job. Hear rumor of me getting transferred to 1st Platoon in charge of P and D, Means a Cpl.’s rating but I have my doubts. I’m not the one to get any breaks. So far, I’ve been getting it but good.
American Forces captured Attu. Japs must be jittery, and old Shicklegruber probably got a fit.
Sunday: Big event on my army career. Have K.P. for the first time since my induction. Not bad, stayed clear of it over a year. Went to relieve 1st Platoon outpost on 37 m.m. at P-T Base. Had guard only one day. Had to move back to camp equipment and all. Something seems to be brewing. 103rd Infantry back in Guadalcanal.

June 1, 1943
Effective June 1, I’m to be P&d Corporal. I hope I can do what’s expected of me. First detail I had was to get a log 30’ long. Men seem to be satisfied, all but one, and he’s liable to be picking up his teeth any day now. Went for log down Water Hole NO. 3 way past Blue Beach. Saw two observation planes take off airport. Lots of British Spitfires on landing strip. Probably indicates that British will take over here, and we’ll go ahead.
Getting hard exercises for one hour per day, and getting a lot harder daily. Can’t say the same for myself.
Pap and Newman out on search for Japs. Being a non-com prevents my going along. SO far we’ve always been together, hope it stays that way. Getting all kinds of jungle equipment, so we’re due for a push. Probable places San Isabel or New Georgia, could be Recarta Bay, too. Oh well. Maybe after we chase the Japs off, those that are left will get a rest in some civilized place.
Saw a sailor getting buried in our cemetery. Getting mighty popular lately.
No trouble from Japs in over a week, thank God.
(Later in June)
Was notified by Anderson from here on I’m officially a non-com. Had one sweet time this morning. Had to go on a patrol. Net results a good wetting and not a dry stitch on any of us, really rained. Everyone tired.
Sure had some time cleaning my Tommy. Pap and Newman still out. Wonder what’s up.
Been getting the true story of our glory-grabbing Marines. The Army chased the Japs off Guadalcanal but they hogged the glory.
Carlson’s Raiders were really nothing but butchers. Found 400 Japs in a hospital including one high-ranking officer. Murdered every one of them instead of taking prisoners. Army has no use at all for Marines and we seldom hesitate to tell’em in plain English. They get beer, candy and popular brands of smokes while here the boys get nothing but Chelsea cigarettes. Seems to me we’re getting the works. But every dog has his day. Ours is coming.

Here’s where I come to regret that bit about not censoring anything Dad wrote. His story about Carlson’s Raiders may be an amplified account of what is described below during part of the Raiders’ mission on Guadalcanal. The group that did this non-prisoner-taking ambush was accompanied by a local guide who had been tortured and left for dead by the Japanese Army.Excerpt from:

Gung Ho: The Long Patrol

By R. R. Keene – Originally Published November 1992
– See more at:

“The Japanese were pulling back, recoiling like a hand from a flame. Carlson’s men were doggedly pursuing them, whittling away at what was left of the 230th Infantry Regiment.
On Nov. 12, SgtMaj Vouza led a war party of natives and Raiders along barely perceptible native jungle trails near Asimana. a village on the upper Metapona River. From the river came the sound of splashing and men laughing.
The Marines and natives smiled at each other. This was going to be almost too easy. A company-sized force of Japanese had taken the time to refresh themselves in the river and bathe. For the Japanese, bathing is more than a cleansing of the body, it is a social ritual of pleasure and relaxation. It must have been too tempting even for officers and noncommissioned officers who should have known better, for those men, too, were naked in the water, temporarily forgetting about the horrors of war. Even their pickets were too busy watching the bathers to hear Carlson’s men silently surround them.
The last sounds they heard were the explosions of grenades, the slap of bullets and their own screams. The massacre turned the river red in less than a few minutes. No one survived and 120 bodies, white except for their infantrymen’s tan, dotted the shoreline or drifted pathetically on the water.
– See more at:

Back to the journal, where the invasion preparations are going strong, and the guys are passing around wild stories to pass the time:Heard two reports of how native girls marry in San Isabel, use “cats eye” shells for money on the island, so before marriage a girl goes out on the island and sells her body to men. Idea being the one who has the most shells must be the most desirable, so she gets her choice. Another cute custom around here is the best looking virgin gal is called the “Belle of the island,” but she can be bought for 12 pounds cash or two pigs. Wonder how come we never hit such a place. In my spare time I’m going shell-hunting for the cat’s eye variety.
Later in June:
Having an awful lot of rain. No more radio news, scout cars turned in. Believe we’re soon on our way up. For some of us it may be our last trip. Morale of troop is very high, can’t say the same for yours truly. Mail O.K. Some even get parcels. Seeing as how everything is rationed I haven’t the heart to ask anything of Mom or the rest.
Getting lots of classes on everything. Really toughening us up. Even have to swim a lot, one subject we all like.
Heard some men were already on the way to New Georgia. We’re due to get going any day now. Have very bad gash on leg and cuts all over my hand. Fell on coral. Boy, it’s razor sharp.
Had a raid by Jap planes Sat. One young fellow in a Grumman Wildcat had to hit the water about 150 yards offshore. Plane sank immediately. Pilot O.K. Guess he’ll live to die another day. He was confused. He thought we were Japs on the bank. When we waved he said it was his happiest moment.
Been shooting .50 cal machine gun Saturday afternoon, me, Pap and Sam. Sunday wrote letters before noon, after noon fired .03 and Tommy gun. Shell blew up in Tommy and darn near knocked my head off. Fired about 150 rounds of .30 cal. Not bad.
Had U.S.O. show Friday afternoon. Hollywood actor Jim Burke, a magician and Bob Gilchrest the singer. Pretty good. Saw movie “Stage Door Canteen.” Not too good, anyway it was a bit better than nothing.
Next week should see a few changes.

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Dad’s Service Journal, Part V – Dogfights above

March & April, 1943 — Hurry up and wait

Notes from a son: After one particularly crappy day during my teenage career as a clerk in a hardware store I let off a disgruntled rant to my Dad about some of the managers and the poor quality of training there. There wasn’t a lot of sympathy. He said, “If you’re working there, you’d better make sure it’s the best store it can be, because you’re part of it.”

He was 61 then, and 24 when he wrote this account of World War II in the Pacific.

Clearly, the older version of my Dad would have smacked his younger self for complaining about officers the way he did in this journal. A little research did indicate that the General Hester he sometimes complains about was relieved of command after this campaign for getting bogged down, and he never had another combat assignment. And he’s no fan of commissioned officers for the most part. This entry period, the time just before the New Georgia invasion, is below.

Repainted 37 and helped dig garbage pit. Had most of Saturday afternoon off.  Eight men transferred to H.Q from second platoon, Little Red, Cook and Strife. Going out on a mission tomorrow morning to capture Jap radio system in jungle. Had one swell time going through jungle. Everyone was exhausted, but not even a trace of Japs. Found one Parker pencil in gun emplacement.

Saw two movies, “Prison Farm” and “Saints double trouble.”  Shows how much we care for Japs when they have large concentrations on New Georgia only 30 miles away. Plenty of Japs overhead flying at all hours. Washboard Charlie came over at 4:35 Wed. morning and we were up at 4:30 so he got screwed this time.

Killed a 4-foot snake.

Baglio's Home Sweet Home

A soldier named “Baglio” poses next to his new foxhole, possibly on Benaki. The wooden sign reads “Home Sweet Home.”

Photo by John Steve Moses

April 1943

Got paid $33.20, mail call, letters and about a bushel of papers. Had a swell raid before noon. 5 Japs down, 1 of ours lost. Pilot bailed out safe. Sure hit the dirt when one dived at us, got hot reception our .50 cals. Later found out it was one of our Grummans. Heard G-2 radio report of actual dogfights from pilots. Some fun. Right now, April 1, 12:30 noon, we’re seeing one hell of a dog fight, there are planes all over us, the whole damn skies are full of them diving all over the place. Motors whining and their machineguns really making a racket.

One now going down in flames. All are cheering here. This is really like a movie scene. Seems hard to believe. Wonder if Benaki will hit the news tonight. Watching this sitting by my foxhole. If I had to get in I’d sure get wet. The damn thing is half full of water.

April Fools Day really came in nice, saw a double feature already. Wonder what Mom would say if she knew where her Sonny was, 35 miles ahead of Guadalcanal, closest outpost to New Georgia. Only the Navy and Japs know we’re here.

Next step New Ga.

Sure have lots of rain lately, mud ankle deep and a cement pavement here would be next thing to heaven. Heard some G-2 stuff form a Lt. at H.Q.  During the second air battle we saw 5 Jap Zeros on the tail of a P-38. The pilot was heard to scream thru radio, “They got me Russ!” They did, as was later verified. If anyone tells me the Jap Zeros are no good there’ll be a murder committed. They can out-climb anything we have.

April 1943

Air raid again 10:30 Sat. morning. Listening via radio to pilots up above. Using all kinds of code words. The flight C.O. is called Knuckle-head. One of the planes reporting leak in gas line, ordered back to Henderson Field, Guadalcanal.

Starting out on mission to other islands for four-day search for Jap radio. Should be fun living with ants, scorpions, spiders, crabs, flye frogs and even alligators. One of the pilots just reported, “This God-damned thing is starting to sound like a threshing machine.

Marched to beach and loaded our things on Higgins boats. Was supposed to land on small isle next to one where Japs are, but no place to land so we landed on Takina Isle, the place where we’re supposed to find the Jap radios. Me, Pap, Mike and Newman built shelter with four shelter halfs and leaves to sleep on. Rained like hell all nite. Damned the one who made the shelter halfs. All they do is strain the rain into smaller drops. Somebody’s sure making money out of this war.

All day Sunday we searched isle. Rowed to point in engineers rubber boats.  Used oar for first time in life. Our 511 radio went on the blink. (Note: The SCR-511 was a radio on a pole designed for the U.S. Army Cavalry, even though there were not a lot of uses for horse charges in the Second World War. The Mechanized Cavalry apparently inherited these radios for use in the jungle.)

No Japs. Had jungle rations for supper, very good cans of meat, cheese, powdered milk, sugar coffee, cocoa, cigarettes, crackers, candy, peanuts, gum and even dried fruit. Only trouble was we had to split it 8 ways. Our “C” Rations are lousy. Hash, stew or meat and beans. Other can has dog biscuits, sugar, simulated coffee, “D” rations one candy bar. 600 calories one meal.

Searched Isle again Monday, same result and soaked again at nite. Tuesday walked over hell and back, found one bivouac area recently evacuated, probably by Malta troopers. Got jungle hammocks to sleep in, sure are tricky. Shanahan fell out twice.  Have ample protection now, so no rain. Got 16 letters Wed.  Have plenty of cuts and bruises already. Climbed a cliff yesterday that was a honey.

Got very warm and (illegible) so stayed behind today. Left for camp 2:20 during one swell air raid while we were on open water. Had ack-ack fire over our heads, watched dogfights most of the way over. Hiked back to camp. Sure felt great to wash up and put on clean clothes. Mike killed one snake and IU saw two big lizards 3 feet long. Toads kept us awake there with their singing. To sum it all up it was hell and our Capt. Didn’t help matters a bit.

April 9, 1943

On alert. Rumor has it the Japs are going to launch an attack on Benaki. What a Welcome they’ll get.

Japs disappointed us, thank God.

Officers made our platoon build them a shower. I hope someone fills it with tar. Sunday, still no mail from Guadalcanal, 7 of us in a tent now laying around and arguing. Got Jeff Mernet, Pap, me on one side, Mike Newman, Shanahan on the other. Argued about “Care of Babies” last nite.

Having 2-3 air raid alerts every nite, getting used to it now. Two radio men had a dream and saw what they called a Jap prowling by officer’s latrine. As result we now have 18-man guard 2 hours on & off. Sure is the nuts.

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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 “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:


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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Ghosts of Talkeetna – a fantastic book

By John R. Moses

I’m not just writing about Sarah Birdsall’s new book “Ghosts of Talkeetna” because it’s Halloween, or because my old cabin and newspaper office in Talkeetna, Alaska is the first ghost story. The book, written by Birdsall with input from her gifted brother Jon Durr, is filled with history, personal stories and is simply a great slice of Talkeetna history and lore told by experts.

Several people have written about paranormal events in Alaska, and at least one account I’ve read of my old cabin’s past was wildly inaccurate. Birdsall, a longtime Talkeetna resident and former editor of the Talkeetna Times newspaper, is careful with her facts and thorough with her historical research.

The book takes readers to familiar Talkeetna locations, regular “haunts” for the living locals, such as the Talkeetna Roadhouse, where friendly spirits are said to dance the night away. There’s more sinister activity at a small bachelor’s cabin downtown. And no trip to Talkeetna is complete without a stop at the Historic Fairview Inn, which definitely hosts liquid spirits.

Several members of my family were quoted in the chapter about the cabin by the airstrip, or, as our family came to call it, Talkeetna Landings B&B.

After moving in I heard another name for it, “The Murder House.” It got that name because a couple who came into possession of the home were brutally murdered while gold mining nearby in the 1930s. As far as we know, no one was ever murdered in either of the two cabins that were combined to comprise Talkeetna Landings. I actually had to sign a piece of paper when we bought it from my mother-in-law, Jean Armstrong, stating that I acknowledge that paranormal activity might occur there. (I should have used that in our marketing campaign.)

Apart from the front door opening for no apparent reason from time to time as the dogs sat there staring at the doorway, and a clock banging off a wall and across the office area while I was on the phone to my sister saying I didn’t believe the place was haunted, I never encountered a single spirit. If they were there, I like to think they liked our family and our inn guests.

According to the book, they definitely played some tricks on family members who lived in the house before us, and previous tenants. The author herself lived for a time in that cabin. I think just about everyone in town did at some point. Here’s the story of the first one, as far as I can tell from my own research.

The oldest part of that cabin was likely owned and possibly built for one Antone Stander, once a dashing-looking Prussian immigrant and a successful Dawson gold miner. He lost his fortune due to bad judgment and poor investments. His mining partner, by contrast, founded an oil company and bought a sports team in San Francisco. Stander took his new fortune from the Yukon to Juneau, Alaska, where he met a dancehall girl who was another man’s mistress. He offered her her weight in gold if she’d marry him and move south. Pity they didn’t have back then. In Seattle, with his new wife, he built the Stander Hotel. Then the city built a new road cut that devastated his neighborhood. The hotel fell into financial ruin, there was a messy divorce and the local sheriff fired a round off in his bar to stop him from fleeing from a warrant.

That is how, as an old and bitter man, Stander wound up in a tiny cabin in Talkeetna taking his meals at the Fairview Inn and prospecting for another huge find which he never found. A local was deputized to take him to an Anchorage sanitarium after a child sought help to put out a fire and he chased the youth from his property with an axe. As he boarded the train he announced that he was leaving Seattle and moving to Talkeetna.

If you read the book “Ghosts of Talkeetna, and you should, as you read the chapter about the cabin by the airstrip please remember old Antone Stander and his solitary life built atop a heap of crushed dreams. It’s no wonder that area has so many ghost stories. He’s not the only person who retreated to places like Talkeetna to build, or rebuild, a new life in the boreal forest. I did, however, wind up in Juneau, and without a fortune.

Here’s a link to an interview Sarah and my wife did years ago on KTNA, the local public radio station in Talkeetna:

And here’s a link to a blog post I wrote when I was Managing Editor of the Juneau Empire:

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