Monday, November 11, 2019

The War

Dad was an Army Captain in the 864th Engineering Battalion, Ft. Lewis, Washington, and served in the South Pacific from 1943 to 1946. Dad did not talk about the war and the only story we had was that he fell on a basketball court and skinned his nose requiring medical treatment. Ha, ha, what a lark it must have been!
Not so. I found out years later after he died what he and the 200 men in his command endured. The Army engineers supported the infrastructure on captured islands and bases held by the Marines. They built and repaired airstrips, by hand, built and maintained roads, hospitals and landing points. They did this while under constant enemy fire, bombings, attacks and in an environment where disease could incapacitate half the company.
Here are some excerpts from a daily diary written by one of the "grunts" under Dad's command. It was no cake walk and Dad never told us a thing:
Nov. 24, 1943 Lae (New Guinea)
The men are becoming uneasy. 7 Zeroes attacked one of our Liberators but were driven off. We saw the bombay doors open up and the men ready to bail out. Then the bombays closed and it made a beautiful forced landing. They didn't bail out because one of the pilots was shot in the head. Another raid at 9:15, but our Ack Ack drove them off. Boy, those J's got nerve.
Nov. 28, 1943
Back to working on hospital buildings ... concrete floors ... those sacks of cement weigh 94 lbs each. We work very hard on a 6 hour on, and 6 hour off schedule.
Dec. 3, 1943
The 808 and 864th made history today. we completed the 28 mile road from Lae to Nabzad with a loss of only 3 men., Most of our outfit is stationed here at Lae. Some of our heavy equipment operators are at Mandana and a few located at Finnschaven. Red alert tonight ... no casualties.
Dec. 17, 1943
Our advanced bulldozer and grader operators are back from Rumu Valley. They were really shot up. Five of the men from One Company and 3 from B Company aren't coming back. The big D-12 Cat was grenaded. What a mess! Things were pretty sad tonight. Hellped Peterdson splice a wire to repair his guitar. A Liberty ship with some troops just came in. We will be travelling soon with just our field packs.
Jan 16, 1944
Built another bridge and a light proof hut for developing photos. The mud out here is really bad. When some one dies or gets killed, they roll them into a matress cover and toss them into a deep hole. At 1:30 AM 2 personnel bombs were dropped, ripping holes into the air strip and killing 4 CB's and wounding 18. Goddamn, our radar had screwed and they caught us with our lights on and our pants down ... much damage was done.

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