Donald E. Marpe

My Service In The United States Marine Corps

December 15, 1942 -- December 27, 1945
December 7, 1949 -- June 25, 1951

Donald E. Marpe

The following writings are excerpts from "Well, Anyway", which I began writing in 1999 and self published in November, 2000, and which relate my times in the U.S. Marine Corps, beginning in November, 1942 when I first went into to the Marine Corps Recruiting office in Minneapolis, through December, 1945 and following with my second enlistment from December, 1949 to June, 1951. I have added to what I wrote in "Well, Anyway” in several areas in which I thought further narrative might be desirable and I've included additional pictures. Also, since our 542 Reunions have been an important aspect of my Marine Corps experience I have included the story of our reunions within this account.

It should be noted that early in World War II enlistees in the Marine Corps were generally put into the Marine Corps Reserve, with the period of enlistment to be at the Convenience of the Government (COG). Later, in 1943, enlistment into the Marine Corps was through the Selective Service System and some of those called up, or drafted, could select the Marine Corps, then being designated as USMC. However, on active duty the Marine Corps do not differentiate between those with Reserve (USMCR) or Regular (USMC) status. After World War II the Marine Corps Reserve program was reestablished and enlistment into either the USMC or the USMCR became possible, as it was in 1949 when I again enlisted in the Marine Corps. Within the Reserve program other categories of duty status accounted for Reserves being on active duty, either as continuous active duty (CAD) or extended active duty (EAD), as I was during my second enlistment.

Donald E. Marpe
November, 2006

Rev. June, 2009
Rev. Oct, 2013


After graduation from High School and during the summer and the fall of 1942 enlisting in the Marine Corps still bounced around in my head and as I thought about it more, I realized it was all up to me to make that decision. My parents were out of the loop -- I was on my own -- although I thought they might have to sign certain papers before I could get in. My Uncle Percy had been drafted and apparently my Uncle Bud (Lee) and my Uncle Bill were going to wait for the draft also. After that initial "patriotic surge" which followed Pearl Harbor it seemed like most of my classmates were also waiting for the draft. I knew I didn't want anything to do with the Army and there was some talk around about making everybody go through the Selective Service System (which did happen later in 1943). Early in November, then, I decided to go down to the Federal Building in Minneapolis, where the Navy and Marine Corps recruiting offices were, and sort of scout around. You can imagine what happened next.

The Marine Corps - December 15, 1942 - December 27, 1945

How do I tell about the Marine Corps? How can I write about this experience, transcending everything of my life during those years, and a lot of my life since? How can I convey to my family and friends who may read this an accurate account of my experiences in the Marine Corps when there may still be emotional difficulties to get over? One answer may be that it has always been easier for me to express myself in writing than in speaking, so maybe I'll be successful in relating this time of my life in a way which provides satisfaction in both the telling and the reading of it.

Perhaps I can start by paraphrasing an old writing by a famous author which has become somewhat of a cliche -- the Marine Corps provided me with some of the best of times and some of the worst of times. I think most Marines who have served in wartime can make that same statement, without having read any Charles Dickens. So the problem for me, as I see it, is to recall as much of the good as may be of interest and as much of the other that reasonably serves the purpose of completing the story and that part won't be in Technicolor.

Walking into a Marine Corps recruiting office might be equivalent to walking into a new car showroom. I may have only been “looking", not intending to "buy", but that's not how it really worked. I was there -- they answered all my questions, and when I walked out I'd taken a battery of tests and had passed my physical exam. I still wasn't sworn in, so they said, "Go home -- we'll call you". I gave my notice at work and after two weeks, not hearing from the Marine Corps, I moved out of where I was rooming at the time and went back home to the farm.

I don't think my parents were too surprised that I'd enlisted, except possibly about the timing. My sister Carole was busy with her first year of school in Aitkin, and my brother Wayne, being only three years old, probably didn't know what was going on. Early in December I received a letter instructing me to report to the Federal Building to be sworn in on December 15, 1942. After being sworn in I was prepared to leave for Boot Camp but once more they said, "Go home--we'll call you", so back to the farm I went. It wasn't long before a set of real orders came directing me to report to my "Detachment” at the Milwaukee Railroad Depot in Minneapolis for departure for San Diego on January 8, 1943, and this time I made it.

My "Detachment", when I found it, consisted of several fellows about my age grouped around a Marine in dress blues who I thought I'd see at the recruiting office. He had a batch of papers with him that apparently included my name, and as we stood around him, others came up and joined the group until there were twenty of us assembled. This Marine then gave all the papers to one of our group, told this person he was in charge, and then walked us out to a railroad Pullman car, telling us to climb aboard. My Dad was with me to see me off, as were parents of several other recruits, but I don't think the Marine stayed around until the train pulled out. Apparently the instructions given to our "leader" were primarily to explain about the meal tickets he was to hold for each of us, and that he was to make sure we stayed on the train. I thought this was all pretty neat -- load us all into a Pullman car and ship us out like some big package.

I had never been on a train before, much less inside a Pullman car. Today I doubt Pullman cars even exist. Overnight travel in a Pullman car is a pretty deluxe way to travel. Our Pullman had space for twenty four passengers and one Porter, and our 20 was considered to be full capacity, so we had the entire car to ourselves for the whole distance. Each night the Porter would convert the day seating to sleeping berths, converting back again in the morning, which only took about a half hour or so. (This amazed me that first night).

Our Pullman was connected into a regular passenger train so at mealtime we walked through the rest of the passenger coaches until we found the dining car. The composition of the train changed several times so we never were entirely sure where, or in which direction, we'd find the dining car. I've also wondered if the Marine Corps built into our meal tickets money for tips — I never saw any of us leave tip money on the tables.

Not only was this my first train ride, it may have been my first time out of Minnesota (except for maybe a short trip or two into Wisconsin to visit relatives). I knew Kansas and some of the other states along the way were flat, but I hadn't realized how the lack of trees would accent the flatness. It was nice to run out of snow but, being January, everything south and west looked pretty dry to me. I remembered back in the 6th or 7th grade at Lakeside School I'd done a "project’ on New Mexico, so I was especially looking forward to that area. We may have passed through in the night -- my old project and the scenery never did correlate.

I think it was the 4th day when we got to San Diego, and I remember our "leader" expressed some concern about what he should do when we got there, but they knew we were coming so we were met by another Marine--this time not in dress blues but in his greens (a subtle message in itself). Transportation to the Marine Base, of which Recruit Depot (Boot Camp) is a part, was by the famous cattle car but we didn't know there could be anything else. I remember we unloaded at one of the transient barracks and, after picking out a bunk, we were "herded” over to a mess hall. Being in civilian clothes, we didn't need any identification tags, so you just endure the taunts, etc., not taking it personally and knowing you'd be doing the same thing if you had your uniform.

No one who hears that first reveille call on his first day in the Marine Corps is likely to ever forget it -- I know I won't. This also was my first experience with the "head" -- the lavatory system used in the Marine Corps (and Navy). I found out quickly I was really a pretty private person when my privacy became nonexistent. This first morning also introduced us (our 20 has grown to about 60) to our three drill instructors who were waiting for us outside the barracks after someone -- probably one of the three -- announced on the P.A. system to fall out for muster. These were the three persons who would have absolute control over us (Platoon 27) for the next eight weeks -- PFC. Bolen, PFC. Holcomb, and Corp. Netznik (like your serial number, 521865, and rifle number, 409574, never to be forgotten).

As we tried to line up at the curb and answer when our names were called, I remember thinking these Marines already don't like us. We also were told we'd march to the mess hall in formation, not as a bunch like the night before, so our introduction to close order drill began before our first breakfast in the Corps. We also found we were expected to march back from the mess hall after breakfast, which is the way the Marine Corps does it in Boot Camp -- there's no straggling back after eating. You keep your eye on your drill instructors because when they were finished you were done also, automatically, and they don't like to be kept waiting. Maybe this is where I picked up my habit of eating fast.

By the end of the first day we'd received our full uniform issue, sent all our civilian clothes home, had our first shots for something or other, and had our Boot Camp haircut--the great equalizer. Since we marched in formation everywhere, with one Dl or the other counting cadence, we were starting to sense what marching in formation was about even though we still hadn't had any specific instructions on close order drill. That came the second day, and the next, and the next, on and on. Sometime during this first week or as soon as our Dl's thought we could handle it, I suppose, we were issued our rifles, bayonets, cartridge belts, and canteens. Now our close order drill was expanded to include all the standard rifle drills.

During the first three weeks of Boot Camp, close order drill out on the black topped parade ground occupied most of our time. Boot Camp has its own parade ground but for some reason our Dl's preferred to march us over to the parade ground of the main Marine Base for most of our close order drill. We didn't know any difference at first but later most of us had a different feeling about close order drill over there.

Maybe they were giving us a peek at the Marine Corps that we'd never get at Recruit Depot, or maybe it was a way for them to get out of Boot Camp and back into the Marine Corps themselves. We also were introduced to extended order drill which means basic infantry tactics in rough terrain, including the obstacle and bayonet courses. We did this type of training on what we called the "boon docks", a sand dune area between the Marine Base and San Diego Harbor. I was one of several in the platoon who got to carry our pockets full of this sand for a day or two as a reward for putting our hands in our pockets while at rest.

All platoons at Recruit Depot were housed in frame huts which each held 20 recruits so our platoon had three huts plus a separate, adjacent hut for our three drill instructors. Shepherding a platoon of Marine recruits through Boot Camp was round-the-clock duty for our Dl's, so you could say they lived with us. We also found that drill instructors regard their platoons as a means for reflecting themselves among their fellow drill instructors.

This meant we were constantly being put into competition with other platoons who were on the same schedule with us. We never knew what form this competition would take -- we just did what our Dl's told us to do and could only guess how we stacked up by the look on their faces, or maybe we'd catch a word or two between them. A large part of our motivation came from wanting to keep our Dl's happy, which might have been the plan all along.

No part of Marine Boot Camp has a more significant influence on a recruit than the time spent on the rifle range. After three weeks of intensive activity centered on close order drill we looked forward to three weeks of rifle training, firing for record at the end of that time. The Marine Corps rifle ranges, consisting of five separate ranges, were at Camp Matthew's, which about 15 miles north of San Diego is. The largest of these ranges, in terms of target positions, is "E" range, which, in Marine Corps history, had been the site for many international rifle matches. Only the top platoons are chosen for "E" range, so when Corp. Nektonic told us that's where we were headed he had a hard time concealing his pride. (We've come a long way from that first morning, it seems).

The first thing a recruit notices about "E" range is that the Marine Corps likely put all its money into the rifle range itself -- not in the barracks and mess hall buildings. Our whole platoon was housed together in one barracks and we quickly discovered our bunks had no springs--just flat boards for our bedding rolls (a bedding roll in the Marine Corps consists of a thin 1 inch mattress type pad plus your blankets). But it didn't matter -- after the first couple of nights we were too tired to care.

The first week on the range is spent learning the four correct (to the Marine Corps) positions for firing a rifle. I thought I'd have a head start on this, coming from the farm and having my own .22, but actually this proved to be somewhat of a handicap. It seems I'd been firing a rifle left-handed all my life. I heard about this the instant I put my rifle up to my left shoulder that first time -- I never did it again. After a week of dry firing on the school range we had all the positions down pat, happy to have this behind us.

Our second week we had some time on the .22 range, got checked out on the .45 cal. and 38 cal. pistols and got a good demonstration of the Riesling gun, but what we finally got to do was fire our own rifles. At each firing position and for each distance, a coach works individually with each recruit and, as might be expected, there’s 100% control over what's happening. All in all, you have about 250 rounds of ammunition to "zero in" your rifle before you fire for record, and 250 rounds with the M-1 is about all your shoulder can handle that first week.

Each platoon also gets to work in the target "butts" several days after you start firing on the range, and this gives you a good perspective on the whole process. "Pulling targets" means you are assigned a specific target which you "pull" after it's fired upon, mark the bullet hole with a spotter, raise the target up, and signal back to the firing line with a spotting disc where each shot hit the target.

Of course, you are well protected in the butts with a concrete and earth berm, but the noise of all the rifle shots on the 100 targets, especially during rapid fire, is deafening. I also was amazed that from the sound alone you knew when your target was fired on, and it seemed to be the rifle shot you heard, not the sound of the bullet hitting the paper target, even within the loud volume of noise generated when everybody was firing.

After one of these days in the butts, when our own butts were all dragging, Platoon 27 got another test by our Dl's. We knew it was Platoon 26 that it was especially important for us to be "better than". Our two platoons were the last two formed for our phase of Boot Camp so we were the "youngest'.

As we followed Platoon 26 up the little dirt road on the way back to the barracks, we had to pass through a stretch of road which had been cut through a ridge, leaving a near vertical bank 10 to 12 feet high on each side. When both platoons were in the cut, Corp. Netznik barked out "Right Flank, March", so up the vertical bank we headed, led by our Dl's, twenty abreast now in ranks of three. At the same time we saw Platoon 26 was doing the same thing. I don't know how we did it, but we made it up to the top, formed up, and resumed our march to the barracks while some of Platoon 26 was still trying to get up the bank. Made our Dl's feel pretty good, I guess.

When Record Day arrived I was pretty nervous and, when I looked over my rifle practice score book, I wasn't really sure that I had my rifle zeroed in. But it all worked out OK - I shot well enough to qualify as a "Sharpshooter" (296 out of 340 possible points) so I was satisfied, and that also meant I was paid $3.00 a month more for the next year. (Our base pay as a Private was $30 per month).

The remaining weeks of Boot Camp after coming back from the rifle range were again taken up with extensive close order drill, and if we thought we knew all about it from our three weeks earlier we were soon informed otherwise. Someone has said that no military unit marches better than a final week Marine Recruit Platoon and I guess I know why there might be some truth in that saying. We also found time to pass our swimming qualifications and got a little experience with our gas masks.

We were all pretty happy when Boot Camp was completed and we received our orders for our next assignments. Not only did we all feel good about getting through but, having done so, the Marine Corps has a way of making you feel you've now become "one of them", and this starts right with the handshakes you get from your drill instructors.

Other branches of the service probably think the Marine Corps makes too much of this sort of thing but until you've been there I guess there's no way of understanding this. I was to report to the Signal Battalion located right at the Marine Base on the far end from Recruit Depot for something called Radar Training.

None of the Dl's knew much about this, except that it was something new, and I was the only one in Platoon 27 with this assignment. I think all I had to do was pack my sea bag and catch the Base bus, which wasn't as easy as might be expected for a Marine just out of Boot Camp.

So what was this Radar thing? When I read some of the letters that I wrote home during this next period of my Marine life (saved by my Mother -- returned to me) it's apparent that my conception of Radar was pretty comic. But there was a great deal of secrecy about radar early on, for good reason, so what's somebody just out of Boot Camp supposed to know if all you have to work with are rumors and speculation?

After reporting in to the Signal Battalion, I was assigned to a class called, appropriately enough, Pre Radar, which would begin in about a week. One of the battalion officers was surprised that I was only a high school graduate because one of the requirements for this class supposedly was a minimum of two years of college. You can believe I was thinking about my eighth grade math background about then, but I was encouraged when I found three or four others who were also waiting for this class to start who did not have any college education either.

The first day of class our instructors informed us that only two subjects would be taught -- basic electronic theory for one, and mathematics, the second -- and the function of the class was not to contribute much to our training but to weed out those of us who probably wouldn't make it through the actual radar training. And that's the way it turned out -- almost everyone who passed this first four weeks made it through the entire course. We didn't know it would happen that way -- perhaps the alternative to getting through later was too horrible to contemplate.

The electronics part of the course was pretty interesting to me, given that we never had electricity on the farm, but the math was a challenge of a different sort. Each week we had tests and my first math score was low enough to earn a weekend restriction to the base. This was not too great a hardship given all the things there are to do on the Marine Base -- in fact, my first liberty in San Diego after Boot Camp made me think the base was a better place to spend liberty time.

While "suffering" this base restriction I wasn't feeling very well so I went over to sick bay where it was determined that I had scarlet fever. I was taken by ambulance to the Naval Hospital at Balboa Park, overlooking San Diego, where I would spend the next three weeks in a contagion ward. At first I was worried about losing out on radar school but someone told me I'd probably just be slipped back to the next class, which is the way it worked out.

Getting sort of a second start by knowing what to expect, coupled with an extra math book from the base library, got me on the right track with the math. While it was no breeze, I did make it with a little to spare so, with my new classmates, headed for Utah State Agriculture College in Logan, Utah for primary radio school.

The train trip from San Diego to Logan took the better part of two days and it was again Pullman service, but I don't think our Porter had his heart in his job -- probably saw enough of transporting military personnel who never left any tips. We did have a good dining car on the train so we really had nothing to complain of. Sometime in the middle of the second night we got to Ogden, Utah where we transferred to an electric train which we all got to know as the "Bamberger” and which must have been the prototype "Toonerville Trolley". About daylight our train pulled into Logan, rolling right down the center of the main downtown street, which seemed OK to me since the Bamberger was just a large streetcar.

It was just a short march up the hill to the campus (a truck hauled our sea bags up) and I remember how we were all in awe of the beautiful spot the Marine Corps had sent us to as the sun was just coming up over the mountains to the east. (This first impression has been a lasting one and has only been reinforced with each later visit). Being an agriculture college, the campus was surrounded by experimental plots, gardens and orchards, and our barracks was a fairly new one-story, multi-wing building located right in the middle of the cherry orchard. Since this was mid May, the cherry trees were just about through blossoming, and before we left Logan in mid August we were able to pick cherries from our barracks windows. We all hoped the real Marine Corps would never discover this.

We were in a beautiful place all right but soon we found we wouldn't have too much time to enjoy the scenery. Since this was a Naval Training Detachment that we were part of, we shared classrooms and instructors with sailors although we outnumbered them by about three to one, but had minimum contact with them otherwise. Our classes were taught by civilian college instructors and were held in the regular college classrooms, although I'm not sure just how much electronics was usually taught at Utah State since our laboratory classrooms seemed to be organized for something other than electronics. We also ate at the college cafeteria and from the quality of the food and the service given, this definitely wasn't a part of the Marine Corps.

One thing became obvious -- we weren't going to learn much about radar at Utah State for our instructors claimed not to know what radar was -- but we were going to get a good foundation in electronics and mathematics. However, now that I've had much more math in engineering, I know the math we studied probably only covered all of the high school math I never had plus a little of trigonometry.

Our days in class were long, seeming more so, perhaps, because we really only had two different subjects to study, and each evening we had study hall over at the barracks until 9:30. We had one night of liberty during the week (but be back by 9:30 PM) and from noon Saturday, after a full morning of close order drill, until 9:30 PM Sunday we also had liberty.

Logan was a quiet Mormon town and they treated us Marines pretty well, but as liberty towns go, it wouldn't have a very high rating. We did find a place that would sell pitchers of beer, even to nineteen year olds, which was somewhat of a surprise after what we'd been led to expect of the people of this area. This was my first experience with this and I can't say it was the top of my list of things to do, especially since a friend of mine and I found something better that held our interest.

The Wasatch mountain range that rings the Cache Valley that Logan is in has many canyons with streams having good trout fishing. My friend, who knew about trout fishing, had his fly rods sent out to him so he and I spent some of our liberty time trying that out. Being Marines, we had our field transport packs, mess kits, canteens, and bedding rolls so we were well enough equipped for overnight camping, especially since it doesn't rain much in Utah in July and August. We'd take our packs over to the cafeteria and the cooks would load us up with sandwiches, cookies, and fruit -- probably enough for four instead of two. We didn't catch many fish but it was a good way to spend a weekend, and sleeping out under the stars beside a mountain stream was something "boys" only dream of doing when they're growing up (as I guess we just really were).

Even though we were on a college campus which probably included a student health service, the Navy saw to it that our training detachment had its own health service. We had a doctor and several Navy corpsmen and an old two story house on the edge of the campus that was our "sick bay''. No doubt our doctor was somewhat frustrated by having duty so far away from the sea or maybe he just wanted to keep in practice, so one of the first things done when we got to Logan was to check our tonsils--not how they were but if they were there or not. Those of us who still had them then got put on schedule for removal. This was only done on weekends so each Saturday afternoon our sick bay had 6 or 8 Marines or sailors over for this operation. I thought the doctor was pretty weird but at least I've never had any tonsil problems.

As nice a place as Logan was I think most of us were glad when our three months of school ended in mid August. We had our graduation ceremony, complete with diplomas, and supposedly Utah State was to record twenty quarter credits of college work for each of us. But possibly the best indicator of completion was the beer party and fish fry our officers (5 Navy, 1 Marine) held for us up in Logan Canyon. (I've always wondered a little about this because only our officers were of legal age).

Following all these ceremonies we were divided into two groups, one to go to Treasure Island, San Francisco, to study ground and shipboard radar, and the other to study airborne radar at Ward Island, Corpus Christi, Texas. If location were the only consideration perhaps we all would have gone to California but most of us thought airborne radar was what we wanted. We still didn't know anything about radar so it's hard to say how any of us might have formed a preference. But regardless what our preference might be, the Marine Corps did what they wanted to do and sent 40 of us to Corpus Christi.

This time it was daylight when we left Logan on the Bamberger for the trip to Ogden to catch a real train, and since it was mid August it looked like a hot trip was ahead of us. At several stops such as Denver and Houston we had short layovers while our two Pullman cars apparently were being switched to other trains. Since we didn't know how long the layovers would be it was pretty hard to do any sight-seeing.

However, some of us took a chance in Houston and managed to get to what might have been a downtown department store building. This was the first air-conditioned building I'd ever been in and we were to find that this technology hadn't made it to Ward Island yet. As we traveled towards Corpus Christi, it seemed to get hotter and hotter. The temperature probably didn't go up--it was just the humidity rising until it also was approaching 100% as we traveled toward the Gulf. It was almost a new experience for me to have both the temperature and the humidity at 100%, and Corpus Christi stays like that for a good time after summer should have passed.

Later I found North Carolina in the summer has the same weather, and the area where we spent a lot of our overseas time had much the same. I eventually got used to the heat and the humidity but now it may be apparent why we live on Lake Superior where that kind of weather is relatively rare.

Back to the Marine Corps--the Naval Air Technical Training Station at Ward Island was one of the Navy's largest training facilities for electronics in 1943 so our Marine Detachment was somewhat outnumbered. As far as class work was concerned, we were mixed together with the sailors and we even had a few Canadians in our classes. However, for other activities at Ward Island we went our own way--barracks, guard duty, drill, physical training, etc. The Navy ran the mess halls and none of us Marines had mess duty at Ward Island so I guess the trade off was that we'd guard the place and the Navy would feed us.

To call Ward Island an island is stretching the truth just a bit. Apparently there was a slightly higher spot in the tidal flats that lie between Corpus Christi and the Naval Air Station and this was supplemented with a "little bit" of fill. I think the mean elevation above high tide was about seven feet and the island had a circumference of about two miles (which every Marine got well acquainted with). The highway, or causeway, that connected the air station to the mainland and Corpus Christi also linked up with our island. As you might expect, there were no real trees on Ward Island and given the type of fill used, grass had a hard time growing here also. In 1995 Ellen, my wife, and I visited the area and found Ward Island was now the campus of Corpus Christi Community College. (This has been further renamed just recently to "Texas A & M-Corpus Christi").

Exchanging the beautiful Utah State campus for the bleakness of Ward Island, however, wasn't all that difficult for most of us, except for the heat and humidity. As well as we'd been fed at our college cafeteria, the Ward Island mess halls probably fed us almost as well, and our anticipation of learning what radar really was probably swamped out many other negative feelings we might have had for our new duty station.

But I think that we now started to become aware of the Marine Corps basic attitude and expectation about technical ranks. It doesn't matter what your MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) is--you're in the Marine Corps and if there's time left over from that, you can do whatever your MOS says you can do. Sort of a "you belong to us--but don't forget, we belong to you, too" thing, as "corny" as that may sound. And this can lead to some long days at times.

Well, it didn't take long to find out that all the secrets of radar would be revealed to us by means of six hours of class a day. Half of this time would be radar theory and half would be practical trouble shooting with actual equipment in the laboratory. None of this time would be spent on math, other than that required to understand the theory. By this time I figured I was caught up with everybody in math anyway so it didn't matter anymore if we had math or not. We were scheduled to complete the entire course in seven months and, because of the logistics of equipment and number of students, some of these six hour class periods would be at night.

In keeping with the existing "conventional wisdom" about the requirements for secrecy about radar, all classes were held in buildings within an area enclosed by an eight foot chain link/barbed wire fence actually more formidable than the main fence enclosing the entire base, and which was accessible only by its own guarded gate.

This "compound" was ours (Marines) to guard from 4:30 PM until 7:30 AM, seven days a week, even if night classes were being held. No papers, books, or other material pertaining to our class work could be removed from the compound--so no homework! We also would have barrack inspections at irregular intervals, supposedly to discover material taken illegally out of the compound. Today all this sounds somewhat foolish and unnecessary but in 1943 it definitely wasn't.

One only has to read a little about the air war over Great Britain in 1942 and 1943 to realize that the war in Europe might have taken a significantly different course if Germany would have known about England's radar capabilities, especially their night fighter radar. And, while we didn't know the specifics in the fall of 1943, some of us were selected to study that same night fighter radar before we left Corpus Christi.

One of my letters from home the first week or so at Ward Island informed me that my old harmonica band-fellow both arrived at Ward Island on the same day and later we had lecture classes together once in awhile. It was good to have someone from home to talk to, but his being in the Navy put him on a different track so we lost contact with each other before I left Ward Island--he probably left before me.

After a comprehensive study of radar principles, our theory courses were usually tailored around a specific type of radar. Our laboratory sessions always were geared to this same type of radar with trouble shooting for problems installed by the instructors the usual procedure. It didn't take long to discover that almost all of these problems would be put into the equipment by the sneaky use of cellophane tape to interrupt some contact or other so I'm afraid our deductive reasoning degenerated to "find the tape" too many times. All of this was quite interesting, of course, but not too difficult if you worked at it and didn't have guard duty the night before.

Other branches of the service probably feel the Marine Corps is obsessed with guard duty and maybe they're right. In Boot Camp recruits never have guard duty because they're really not Marines yet, and while in pre-radar at San Diego and primary radio school at Logan, we stood fire watches in the barracks (the Navy thinks this is guard duty), now we were introduced to the real thing.

I first thought guard duty was a reaction to the secrecy aspects of Ward Island but I found it goes deeper than that (after all, who's guarding the streets of heaven?). Everywhere you go as a Marine you can expect to pull guard duty and if your rank is Corporal or below you usually walk a post. Sergeants and above, usually fill the other guard duties, such as Sergeant of the Guard, or Commander of the Guard.

Since all of us recent arrivals to Ward Island were just brand new PFC's, we soon were all walking a guard posts every third day when we had the "duty". As we progressed through our course work, promotion came quite rapidly because it was established that graduates of Ward Island would be made Staff Sergeants.

As a consequence, most of us in my class were promoted from Corporal to Sergeant after about five months at Ward Island so, for the final two months, instead of walking a post we served as Sergeant of the Guard, or Commander of the Guard. Since fewer of these were needed this meant you'd have the duty but you'd miss walking a post on some of these duty days.

Our guard duty meant walking one of two types of posts--one around the perimeter of the fenced compound carrying a shot gun, and the other around the perimeter of the island itself, carrying a .38 cal. sidearm. All posts were walked with weapons unloaded although each sentry carried ammunition. Each post also was a "challenging post" which meant anyone approaching had to be stopped with the proper procedure. Most of us dreaded the compound posts--you had to march the post with the shot gun on your shoulder at all times. The perimeter posts were "at ease" and your quarter mile of road was yours to walk as you pleased since it usually was dark and there were no lights along the perimeter road.

Three hours out on a Ward Island perimeter post seemed like all night to me, especially when the weather at Corpus Christi got cool and rainy, which it usually is along the Gulf during the winter months. And the first time or two of having to challenge the Sergeant of the Guard was a real adventure--I thought about this several times when I later went with the Officer of the Day and checked these posts as Sergeant of the Guard, hoping that the ammo stayed in the ammo belt. But if you want to be a Marine.......

One of the fringe benefits of Ward Island was its proximity to the Naval Air Station which meant we had an opportunity to "bum" an airplane ride once in awhile. My first ever airplane ride was in an SNJ, flown by a flight instructor, with two other SNJ's flown by student pilots. I didn't know it was going to be aerobatic until the instructor tapped the top of his head and we did a "wing over" above the other two planes. I'm not sure the tap on his head was the flight instructor's signal to the two student pilots to follow him or to me to let me know something was about to happen. Since the SNJ (or AT-6) was the Navy's most advanced trainer and these were students about to get their wings, we probably did a fairly extensive set of maneuvers, all beyond my comprehension at the moment of happening. Luckily I'd followed someone's advice and not eaten breakfast that day so I suffered no ill effects.

My second airplane ride was a somewhat different experience. Part of the Naval Air Station included amphibious training facilities so continually, it seemed, you'd see PBY's making touch and go landings out in Corpus Christi Bay quite close to Ward Island. The PBY was the Navy's primary amphibious patrol plane so the student pilots were already Naval Aviators who were being checked out in the aircraft. When you got a ride in the SNJ you wore a parachute and someone checked that you were properly strapped in-­when you rode in the PBY you had no parachute and you were never strapped in. Touch and go landings in a PBY in Corpus Christi Bay weren't much fun so once was enough for me.

We weren't at Ward Island more than about three weeks when a new activity surfaced. Our physical training, besides calisthenics, always included close order drill and these activities were conducted by members of our permanent Marine detachment. One of our drill instructors had been associated with a drum and bugle corps in the Chicago area and he; Sgt. Laubner, was directed to form a Marine Drill Team.

This drill team would perform, as extra duty, at various base functions and would be the Marine counterpart to our Navy Band which played as we all marched to and from the school compound. An additional impetus for forming the drill team was that it would perform at half-time of all football games played by the Ward Island Marines.

So one might wonder how the war effort might be furthered by activities such as the drill team and the Ward Island Marine’s football team. In our case, neither activity delayed or interfered with our training schedule nor there is no doubt that morale was affected in a positive way as a result. Many military bases had similar programs so it was intended that our Marine football team would play Army or Army Air Force teams composed of about the same quality players, or possibly a junior college team once in awhile.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way--we soon found that many of the players our Ward Island team played against were already well known in college football and were kept on these service teams as their primary duty, many for the duration of the war. Our 600 man Marine detachment with its ever changing personnel coming from two primary radio schools would never be able to match these "football factories", and they didn't. But they played without quitting, losing most games badly, but never getting beat with the half-time activities.

I'm not sure why I was picked for the drill team--we had no tryouts. Sgt. Laubner selected 60 of us and I was one of them, which is all I know, but who can read a drill instructor's mind? Since all of us had turned in our rifles long before we got to Corpus Christi, arming the drill team was the first order of business. My first thought was "now we'll have rifles to clean", but instead we were given dummy wooden rifles, probably retrieved from Sgt. Laubner's civilian drum and bugle corps days. They were sharp looking and, better yet, were much lighter than the M-1.

I won't go into detail in describing Sgt. Laubner's drill team as compared to a final week Boot Camp platoon since that would require a few diagrams at least. The Marine Corps marching manual of arms was always the basic foundation of what we did to which was added drills, which Sgt. Laubner called the "Queen Anne's" manual of arms. This involves much spinning and tossing of your rifle as well as many open formations in which the entire platoon is spread out across the field. I think we were pretty good and, considering our usual audience, all of us took pride in demonstrating what a military drill team was all about. At each home game we were always the half time show while our Navy band sometimes played. We originally were promised that we'd also attend the away games but due to "lack of transportation" only went to one--that at Randolph Field in San Antonio. But it was all fun and a great experience as far as I was concerned.

As we were approaching the completion of the scheduled regular class work, word got out that a new class specifically on AlA night fighter radar was being formed and would be open to about half of us in our class. This was a new piece of equipment just developed by Sperry and would incorporate new features based on development in England on their night fighter radar. I applied for this and was accepted. Those of us selected for AlA then discovered there would be a one week delay in starting the new class after our graduation. This looked like a good time for a furlough even though it was February and no one ever got a furlough from Ward Island.

With great reluctance on the part of our Command Detachment, each of us was given eight days leave so, February or not, I headed north. To get from Corpus Christi to Minnesota with no commercial airlines takes a bit of doing. Four of us hired a "travel bureau" car, which is a Texas style long distance taxicab, which got us to Fort Worth where we could catch the Rock Island Rocket which gets you into Minneapolis the next day. It was nice being home, of course, but with gas rationing, tire shortages as well as many other shortages, it probably was something of a burden on my parents for me to come home. But, since this was the only leave I was to have in three years, I guess nobody worried about it being a burden. Getting back to Corpus Christi from Fort Worth alone meant the travel bureau car was out, so I hoped I'd be able to do it all by bus although I had no idea if this was even possible until I got off the train in Fort Worth and checked at the bus depot. Well, I made it with a couple hours to spare.

The three weeks of AlA class passed in short order and, with our new Staff Sergeant's stripes all sewn on, about twenty of us were again on a train, with orders to report to the Marine Air Station at Cherry Point, North Carolina. Our trip through the "Deep South" was slow and leisurely but with little opportunity to get off the train for any length of time to find out just where we were. Perhaps it's been experiences like that which have led to my inclination to pour over maps, especially when a trip is being planned.

When we got off the train at the little town of Havelock, North Carolina, I can't say I was impressed just then with Cherry Point. We seemed to still be in the piney woods we'd seen from our train windows, with little evidence of the Marine Corps. Cherry Point was a relatively new Marine base and many of the civilian type appendages which grow up alongside a military base just hadn't been established yet, as they are now.

As most of us had previously experienced, little time was lost in wondering where we were or where we were supposed to be. Our group of twenty was divided between two night fighter squadrons just being formed and I was assigned to VMF(N)542. It was if they were just waiting for us to get there except that we Staff Sergeants, with about a dozen others, made up the entire personnel of 542. We had no aircraft, no pilots, and no organized place to be. That situation changed rapidly--within a week or so we had nearly all our enlisted men and ground officers and we began to get our new F6F Hellcats and our pilots.

Our planes were brand new, just off the Grumman assembly line, but didn't have all their AlA radar’s installed. This was left for us to do as we received the aircraft. This primarily involved making up cables to run between the various AlA modules, of which there were eight for a complete system, and then installing the modules and checking out the unit. We could only have one aircraft at a time for this work since the squadron went completely operational during this same period.

Needless to say, it kept us scrambling and our days were not measured in terms of eight hour increments. However, we were reinforced in our radio/radar group when the next class of AlA graduates from Corpus Christi arrived and we filled out our manpower complement, to everyone's relief. As I think back on this time, having subsequent experience of working on aircraft under FAA regulations (09 Alpha and 78 Lima) it amazes me that we did this work without bureaucratic interference of any sort.

VMF(N)542's full complement of fifteen F6F aircraft, with twenty eight pilots, was supported by approximately two hundred of the rest of us. Since night fighter squadrons in the Marine Corps at that time were organized for independent operation we had our own quartermaster, engineering, cooks, medical personnel, and several other functions normally provided by a support group (MAG).

Of course, while at operating at Cherry Point our cooks and medical personnel were not with us, but other than that, we operated as a cohesive unit on our own--sort of like renting space on the station. This cohesiveness, and because we all came into 542 at about the same time and would be together for approximately two years, has made for a close group, as is probably evidenced by our reunions. To me this has made a significant impact on how I view my experiences in the Marine Corps during World War II.

Our Squadron Commanding Officer was Major Wm. Kellum who didn't take long in getting across his ideas of how 542 were going to operate. If "no nonsense" ever described a person, it fit Major Kellum--we may not have liked him but we certainly gave him our respect. He was a good pilot, as we soon saw, but later events would somewhat tarnish that respect, although it's probably not fair for some of us to judge him harshly, if we do.

Our Executive Officer was Major Robert Hawkins--he was like Major Kellum in many respects but in a friendlier way. Four of our pilots were Captains, one, Captain Sigler having four and a half Japanese planes to his credit already from a previous tour overseas, and two were former RCAF pilots. The balance of our pilots were Lieutenants, mostly just out of flight school and "kids" like the rest of us, except maybe two or three years older than the youngest of us. Of our ground, or non flying officers, the one having the most influence over me, of course, was our radio/radar officer, 1st Lt. Curtis Thomson, from Georgia, who was an electrical engineer before he came into the Marine Corps.

Full scale operation of a night fighter squadron to maximize operational hours of flying time requires many hours of maintenance of all kinds. Our goal in radio/radar was never to have an aircraft out of operation solely because of electronics--it's always nice to have goals even if you sometimes can't meet them.

My part in all this was to work in the aircraft out on the flight line. We had a test bench setup in our radio/radar "shack" in which a complete set of radar (and radio) was operational. If a problem couldn't be fixed, or located, in the aircraft our technique was to isolate it to a specific module of the system and bring that module to the test bench for additional trouble shooting.

Early in our operation this test bench got to be pretty "political", both in what its configuration should be and in who should be allowed to operate or work on the bench. But this was a "no-brainer" as far as I was concerned—I much preferred working out on the aircraft itself. To me, it seemed like sitting in the cockpit of a F6F fighter plane and looking at the radar scope to try to figure out a problem was superior to doing the same thing inside a building. Of course, there were some disadvantages--trouble shooting in the aircraft required two people--one in the cockpit and the second up inside the fuselage, and on a hot day (or night) it gets quite warm up in the fuselage of an F6F, and then there are the rainy days. So that's what I did when functioning per my MOS.

As I mentioned earlier, in the Marine Corps there are other activities you're expected to participate in beyond what your technical training has prepared you for. With a commanding officer such as Major Kellum, VMF(N)542 maintained the tradition.

Early in our operation we were all issued our "782 gear", which is the short name for a long list of items which includes your rifle, steel helmet, gas mask, bayonet, etc. Having just about the right number of men, we were then organized to "resemble" an infantry rifle company. ("resemble" because our technical ranks made us lightly armed compared to a regular rifle company--Staff Sgt. and above carried .30 cal. carbines rather than the M-1 rifle so we had fewer M-1's and more carbines than a standard rifle company would have).

Once you are organized into a company, which consists then of platoons and squads, there's then the temptation for doing a little close order drill, which we more or less managed to do about an hour each day. However, since keeping our aircraft in the air had the highest priority, this presented many loopholes for ducking some of these drills. Most of our 1st and 2nd Lieutenant pilots also were expected to take part in our military activities and were assigned as Platoon Leaders on a permanent basis, remaining so until we went overseas. Our Lieutenants seemed to enjoy playing the part of a Line Company Marine Officer, and it certainly was a way for us to get to know them better.

Probably more to the point, and beyond close order drill, being organized as we were, allowed for training of another sort. Combat conditioning is so fundamental to the Marine Corps that even at an air station time and effort is expended for this. We could keep the squadron operational and, on a platoon by platoon basis, do all those other things like run the gas obstacle course, or work out infantry tactics in the many square miles of swamps and woods within Cherry Point. My Platoon Leader, Lt. Fred Hilliard, seemed to really enjoy running us through as many swamps as he could. (Ten months later, when we were on Okinawa, Lt. Hilliard became missing in action after shooting down one Japanese plane and reporting he was after another).

By mid May, or so, we had all of our aircraft and our pilots, so our operation was in full swing and rumors started that we'd be going overseas early in July. In looking back I can see that our schedule for shipping out was dovetailed into many other schedules and July wouldn't have fit at all, especially when we began to have technical problems with our aircraft.

The major difficulty was with the landing gear and we witnessed several spectacular belly landings before Grumman and our engineering group resolved the problem. Belly landings usually cause enough damage that the aircraft has to be replaced, but, luckily, none of our pilots were injured in their wild slides down the runway. However, we did lose two other planes and pilots in crashes from unknown causes. One of the pilots was Major Hawkins, our Executive Officer, so Captain Sigler, who had previous combat experience in the South Pacific, moved up to take his place.

Our replacement aircraft all had their radar installed at the Grumman factory but we did have to install radio altimeters which meant some of us had to go back to cable making. About this time we also got an addition to our radar group in the person of a civilian technical representative from Sperry, the manufacturer of our AlA gear. His job was to monitor operation of our radar and feed back any technical information he thought Sperry ought to have. We were surprised to find he'd be going overseas with us, which he did, staying with us about five months. I don't recall any reports on the gear that he might have sent back--maybe he did all his paper work back in his tent-- but he was a nice guy and no doubt helped us to some extent.

One of the difficulties of training for our pilots was in having to become familiar with operation of the aircraft's radar while being all alone in the cockpit. Successful operation of AlA radar to effect interception of an enemy aircraft usually involves interaction with a ground or ship based radar which provides long range detection of targets. Our aircraft then would be vectored by the long range search radar to within ten or fifteen miles of the target or until the target appears on the radar scope of the aircraft.

When that occurs, the pilot then flies to make the intercept, using the AlA search mode to within two miles and then switching to the gun sight mode for the last closing distance. We calibrated our radar to the convergence point of all the aircraft's guns so, theoretically, our pilots could shoot down an enemy aircraft without seeing it. Of course, our pilots were pretty skeptical about that and only later became believers.

To provide the initial radar familiarization and training, we had a complete AlA radar system installed in a twin engine SNB, which is an aircraft used by the Navy and Marine Corps for personnel transportation with a passenger capacity of five or six. The radar scope was back in the blacked out passenger compartment and the pilot of the SNB would be directed to the target by means of the SNB intercom according to what was observed by our trainee pilots on the AlA scope. Our target usually was one of our own F6F's and, just for the ride, most of us radar technicians got a turn or two sitting in the SNB copilot seat. I guess this made some of us believers in the system also.

Even though an eight hour day and forty hour work week had little meaning for us, we still managed some good liberty once in awhile. None of the towns near Cherry Point would be considered good liberty towns but some of us found we could rent an old fishing boat at Morehead City and do some ocean fishing. Our rental of the boat meant we could use it from Saturday afternoon until Sunday night, so seven of us would hitchhike to Morehead City, buy a couple cases of beer to put on ice on the boat, and then we'd bunk on the boat until early Sunday morning, when the Captain and his First Mate would take us out fishing.

The boat was named the "All Four" and it had space in the cabin where all of us could sleep, more or less. There was a galley on the "All Four" but we'd hike up to one of the restaurants near the docks for a good steak at night and breakfast in the morning. The "All Four" was no plastic and chrome sport fishing boat like most of today's boats but was all wood, about thirty feet in length, had a good inboard marine engine and for our purposes was ideal. No one came down to the dock to check our ID's for our age and, since none of us were rowdy by nature, it was pretty quiet where the "All Four" was tied up. About 7:00 AM the "All Four's" crew showed up with a bucket of shrimp for bait, put on the boat's coffee pot, and, feeling up to it or not, we went fishing.

The harbor at Morehead City is on an extension of Pamlico Sound but maritime restrictions kept us from going beyond the barrier islands called Bogue Banks, so we actually didn't get out into the ocean on our first trip. (Today, Bogue Banks is almost totally developed, while in 1944, our pilots practiced gunnery there). We trolled for a couple of hours looking for "big fish" but didn't have much luck, which is how our Captain knew it was going to go since he soon took us over to a sandbar where we anchored and baited up with the shrimp he'd brought.

We started catching fish the Captain called "spots" and as fast as we caught them the First Mate filleted them out. "Spots" are not much larger than good sized sunfish so possibly we were a little disappointed in ocean fishing, but when the Captain rolled them in cornmeal and deep fat fried them, we soon got over it. He'd also brought enough potatoes and salad makings for a good meal so we just laid back and enjoyed ourselves. The whole cost for the "All Four", including the fishing trip, was a total of $35 (not each--total) which I think also says a little about North Carolina hospitality towards Marines (Cherry Point was a new base then so that's probably changed). We managed to do this twice and I recall the second time we were allowed out the channel to the ocean, but the "All Four" wasn't really a deep-sea vessel so didn't stay out long.

In mid-July, the rumors of our imminent departure for overseas changed to orders to begin packing our gear. This did not mean start packing your personal gear in your pack and sea bag--that would come later- but since 542 was meant to be self-supporting, we had to start crating up all our spare parts, tools, test equipment, and any other supplies we thought we'd need to sustain operation for some unknown time period. Electronic spare parts are light compared to engine and hydraulic spares but we seemed to have enough spares to replicate all fifteen sets of radar, plus our other electronics, so we had volume anyway.

Some wise soul also suggested that with the electronic parts, we stash such items as cans of candy and nuts, toilet articles, soap, books, or anything else we thought might not spoil and would be nice to have overseas. I'm not sure if Lt.Thomson knew about this, although knowing him better now, there was a good chance he also put his own choices into the crates. We knew doing this probably would be frowned upon by Major Kellum, at least, so someone thought it might be best if none of us were identified as owners.

Possibly some of us were altruistic enough to believe we'd get a fair share back of what we'd put in, but I can't recall ever seeing any of it. It's possible that the crates I got to open were those with no added items, since some did not have any added items, but it's more likely that "finders keepers" was the game played later and some of us were losers in the game.

It was obvious that once our gear was all packed we'd probably not sit around Cherry Point for very long so now there was a big run on 72 hour passes for some last fling at liberty before going overseas. Even for units being shipped overseas the Marine Corps doesn't deviate from standard orders which stipulate how many men can be on liberty at any one time so Hronek and I felt pretty lucky to get a three day pass.

He'd mentioned that a cousin of his was a Seabee stationed at Camp Peary, Virginia so we thought it would be fun to try to get up to see him, even though we had no transportation and only a vague idea about Camp Peary being somewhat north of Norfolk. So we started out hitchhiking and once we cleared the area close to the base we sere surprised at how easy it was to get a ride. If we were in doubt about how to get to Camp Peary everyone who picked us up usually gave us enough directions to keep us headed right.

We thought we'd make it to Camp Peary in one day (it's about 170 miles from Cherry Point) but our luck ran out when we got to Norfolk and we were still trying to find our way through town late in the evening. With the help of a Navy SP, we found an old, but fairly respectable, hotel so managed to get off the street for the night. We'd always understood Norfolk to be a tough town so it was probably fortunate that we were tired enough to not try to check that out.

The next day we got to Camp Peary where we stayed overnight, trusting that since we now knew how to get through Norfolk we could make it back to Cherry Point in one day. Hronek's cousin was a Seabee cook and baker so we managed to load up on a few extra calories before we left.

Going back to Cherry Point took us on an entirely different route since we had no idea of the best way to get there and it always depended upon where our ride was headed so we saw some pretty interesting country without planning to do so. We had an hour or two to spare on our 72 hour pass so we avoided the wrath of Major Kellum, making the trip a complete success. It's a shame that hitch hiking no longer is the preferred way to travel these days unless you're really desperate to get somewhere.

The issue of secrecy today seems somewhat paranoid, but if it was thought important enough to keep radar itself a secret, I suppose keeping the overseas embarkation date of a radar equipped night fighter squadron secret makes sense also.

But we could guess that when we started loading all of our squadron's now crated up equipment into several box cars we knew it wouldn't be long, and it wasn't. The plan was to fly our fifteen aircraft to the West Coast, load them on an aircraft carrier for transport to somewhere, and then fly to our final destination. A small support crew was to accompany them by transport plane and no radar technicians were required since radar would not be used on the flight.

None of us remaining at Cherry Point knew where this destination was to be and we wouldn't be told until we were actually on board ship several weeks later. When we watched our aircraft make a last low pass over Cherry Point in a formation of three echelons of five aircraft each, we didn't know we'd not see them again for over two months. Four days after our aircraft left we boarded a train for the West Coast and our embarkation port--a place none of us had ever heard of--Port Hueneme (WA-nee-me).

All of my previous travel by train had been by Pullman coach connected to a civilian train--this time we had the whole train for ourselves--complete with our own galley car. This galley car was something left over from World War 1, from its appearance, so our poor cooks were no doubt wishing they were still working in a mess hall at Cherry Point instead of being with us. Our galley car had very primitive cooking facilities and everything cooked had to be "bucketed" up and down the seven or eight cars making up our train. We had six days of one course meals, but it was still better than K-rations, as we would soon learn.

Port Hueneme seemed to be more of an embarkation port for material and equipment than for personnel but somebody had it all worked out in detail. We learned we were shipping out with the 51st Seabee Battalion and all our gear as well as most of their equipment would be on the same ship together with us. We knew what a job it had been to load all our squadron's equipment on railroad cars at Cherry Point so none of us were disappointed that it would be transferred to the cargo hold of the ship by civilian cargo handlers. Six weeks later we really missed those people when it became time to unload our stuff.

The two weeks we spent at Port Hueneme, while apparently all the gear to be shipped via our ship was being assembled, were spent in standard Marine Corps fashion. Since we hadn't had the chance to fire on the rifle range at Cherry Point we spent a couple days doing that on Hueneme's range, which just happened to be a long hike in loose beach sand up the coastline from our barracks. For those of us who now carried the light .30 Cal. carbine this was a new experience and, since it was not for record, was more fun than anything else.

All Marines are technically supposed to qualify with their weapons yearly, but this has to be done on a Marine Corps range under supervision of qualified instructors to count. Idiomatically, the Marine Corps would rather have you go unqualified if you can't do it the strict regulation way. We also got familiar with beach landings from a LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) so some of us no doubt thought we were becoming "line company Marines". As we filled in the rest of the two weeks with more conditioning, this thought might have pervaded the minds of all of us.

Some of us only went on liberty once during this period (Ventura and Santa Barbara were near) and one might think there'd be the temptation for some last time big party. But you have to dress for the party and all our "party clothes" were in our sea bags and probably already in the hold of the ship, so one time in town with your boon dockers for your good shoes is enough. I think our mindset was that we were already overseas in most respects. Besides, Hueneme had good food, a good PX, and the "slop chute" was just as good as we had back at Cherry Point. (Slop chute in the Marine Corps is where you can buy beer on the base).

We also got better acquainted with the 51st Seabee Battalion, especially over at the slop chute where they'd set up a rule that all neckties worn on the premises would be cut off. This Seabee battalion seemed to consist entirely of men old enough to be our fathers, each with his head shaved and wearing a handlebar mustache and outweighing any of us by 80 pounds per man, at least. So you don't argue with a Seabee and his scissors--you just sacrifice one field scarf and wear your new "short one" each time you go to the slop chute. We also learned that the 51st Seabee Battalion specialized in building new airfields where none had previously existed. We had yet to learn that we were a squadron in search of an airfield, so, at the moment, none of us made the obvious connection.

The day to board ship arrived (September 9, 1944), and as we formed up with our packs, bedrolls, and rifles, our Seabee friends gathered around to tell us they'd be along shortly so not to worry. I guess we were just a bunch of kids to them and it was all in good fun anyway. We marched off to the ship, boarded, and found the bunk locations which would be home for the next month. Not long after us the Seabees came aboard and we were ready to sail.

Our ship was the S.S. Dashing Wave (we laughed, too, when we saw this name) which was a Liberty ship built by the hundreds and generally used for transporting materials rather than troops. But by converting some of the cargo's hold space to berthing areas it wasn't a bad troopship except for having a more limited galley and mess area than does a regular Navy troop transport. With all the gear of VMF(N)542 and the 51st Seabee Battalion, plus our two unit's personnel, we probably were a good load. The crew of the Dashing Wave was Merchant Marine and we had a Navy gun crew to man the ship's antiaircraft guns.

About two hours after boarding, and with little fanfare other than a short serenade by the Hueneme Band, the Dashing Wave was cast off from the pier. Almost as soon as we passed the breakwater we ran into fog so my visions of watching the country disappear over the horizon failed to be realized. The rest of the day and into the night we seemed to be moving at slow speed and the fog stayed with us. It was relatively calm so there were no waves to "dash" us which probably was just a well for the first day out.

The meal arrangements turned out to be better than I first thought they'd be. Since there were less than 500 of us troops aboard (including Seabees as troops) and the mess area could accommodate quite a few at once, everybody could be fed within a reasonable length of time for our two meals a day, breakfast and supper. Our lunch at noon always consisted of an orange and as many cookies as you could grab in one hand as you walked by the cookie box. These cookies were of several varieties mixed together, none of which would be a "good seller" at any grocery store and probably were selected for their longevity.

The morning of the next day found us without fog and a relatively calm sea. We were all alone and proceeding towards Hawaii and Pearl Harbor, which was all we were told regarding our destination. Apparently there was little risk from Japanese submarines but the Dashing Wave did make course changes on an irregular schedule. Several times our gun crew released a couple of balloons and went through practice drills with each set of antiaircraft guns. We weren't too impressed with their marksmanship but who were we to know good from bad in this type of gunnery?

It doesn't take too long to establish a daily routine when there's not much to do and no space to do it in. Of course, some of our PFC's and Corporals got put on mess duty and we had the ubiquitous guard duty to occupy the minds of some. So what's to guard on board a ship all by itself out on the ocean? It doesn't matter--we still set up sentry posts and had a regulation guard structure, even if it’s only apparent functions were to keep everyone out of the berth areas during the day and to see that smoking was only done in approved areas.

To me, a guard keeping me out of the berth areas was totally unnecessary. These areas were part of the hold converted to contain tiers of sleeping bunks, stacked four or five high and spaced about two feet apart, with about three feet for an aisle separating the back to back stacks. It was all constructed of steel pipe and steel flat mesh "springs", with each sleeping space measuring about seven feet long, about thirty inches wide, with about two feet of separation vertically. This was your space for you and all your equipment, including your rifle.

Who in their right mind would want to be there except for sleeping? And who could really sleep there anyway? Some of us found we couldn't so we looked for someplace else. The Dashing Wave, being first and foremost a cargo ship, had the usual arrangement of hatches which were covered with a flat hatch cover. Since we were getting close to Hawaii, the nights were quite warm so a few of us spread out our sleeping pads on the hatch covers, which made a good sleeping spot with plenty of fresh air. About the third night or so you had to be early to get a good spot because the idea caught on quickly. This also was a benefit to those who stayed below since this made it far less crowded for them.

We managed to do this routine for the rest of our time on the Dashing Wave and, since all Marines are issued a good poncho, it would take a hard rain to drive us down below. Our officers knew about this arrangement, of course, but Major Kellum had flown his aircraft west with the others so maybe discipline was at a lower standard, or maybe it was because our officers all had staterooms and they didn't have the heart to make us sleep below.

Later most of us would have the experience of regular Navy troopships where our Dashing Wave sleeping accommodations would not be allowed, but those ships seemed to have a little more berth space for each person. Unless it rained, our days on the Dashing Wave were spent topside so someone flying over would see about two hundred Marines spread out on the deck forward of the mid ship superstructure, some sitting around reading but more squatting together in "fours" playing cards, with a scant few performing some exercise or another.

The most popular card game probably was Pinochle and most of us who played it had stocked up with a good supply of Pinochle decks. This was a good thing because a deck of cards would wear out in about two days from the steel deck surface that was our card table. We also quickly learned that you couldn't sit on the steel deck for too long so everyone developed what we, in our ignorance, called the "gook squat". This is sitting on your haunches and after a few days becomes comfortable enough to do it all day long. (At least on board ship you could do it all day).

Our Seabee friends occupied the aft part of the ship so there wasn't much interchange between us. Perhaps they played as much Pinochle as we did but I don't think they stood much guard duty. We did learn the trick of doing our laundry from some of them, which was to drag it behind the ship tied to a line. This worked quite well with dungarees since you could fasten them securely but other clothes were a problem, so we probably left quite a string of skivvies behind us.

One might expect that keeping clean aboard ship wouldn't be difficult, except that there always seemed to be diesel smoke from the ship's engines that permeates everything, making things grimy and smelling of diesel oil. We had showers down below but our water was sea water directly pumped out of the ocean. Our salt water soap probably was better than regular soap but you always felt like you never got down to clean skin. If we averaged a shower a week I'd be surprised--but that's the way it was.

After a week of not seeing another ship or land we were surprised at daybreak one morning to be almost between Oahu and Molokai of the Hawaiian Islands, and we soon were in Pearl Harbor. We weren't told how long our stay would be or even if we'd be able to get off the ship--we're just troops, not cruise passengers. But we did drop anchor in Pearl Harbor itself among a number of ships like our Dashing Wave but also not far from several Navy ships. Our initial excitement wore off quickly though since just sitting at anchor even cut off our laundry activities. This went on for several days until we got the word we were going ashore to a place called Richardson's Recreation Area.

This recreation area was run by the Navy and probably was a school of some sort before the war. It had a large freshwater swimming pool, several softball diamonds and a building which contained a soda fountain, ping pong tables, and shower facilities. (We didn't know then that it would be over a year until we again would shower with hot water). The LCT (Landing Craft Tank) used for hauling us in from the ship docked right at the rec area which itself was surrounded by a high chain link fence beyond which was a busy street carrying civilian traffic.

So it was strictly a military affair with no civilian contact except with those working the soda fountain. We weren't dressed for liberty anyway and the swimming pool was all most of us wanted. For one afternoon we swam, played softball and drank too much pineapple juice, and then our LCT took us back to the Dashing Wave. Three days later we pulled up anchor and headed for outside of Pearl Harbor where we joined up with a number of other ships, some of them Navy destroyers or destroyer escorts. The next phase of our sea voyage was to be in an escorted convoy.

We had only been underway a short time before Lt. Zenoff, our Adjutant, called us all together and told us where we were headed. If he'd have said "Tokyo" we probably would have thought he was kidding but when he said "Ulithi", we didn't know what to think since none of us had ever heard of that place.

Ulithi is a coral atoll at the far western end of the Caroline Islands which were all still in Japanese hands and which, except for Ulithi, would remain Japanese for the rest of the war as we bypassed their large Naval base at Truk, 800 miles to the east. During this same time the invasion of the Palau Islands, about 280 miles southwest of Ulithi, was beginning so we were a part of that general operation. Lt. Zenoff thought that there were no Japanese on Ulithi but he knew Yap, about 110 miles southwest, had some Japanese forces on it and he suspected an island group called Fais about 40 miles to the southeast may have a few also because of some mining operation the Japanese carried out there. So, great, we'd be surrounded by Japanese since Ulithi would be the farthest penetration into Japanese holdings in the Pacific so far.

Of course, none of us on the Dashing Wave at that moment had any knowledge of what today would be called "the big picture" for Ulithi. This coral atoll was made up of a series of small sand and coral islands circling, or forming, a lagoon which measured approximately 10 miles across and 20 miles in length. The lagoon had only one channel entrance for ships and would provide an excellent deep water anchorage.

The plan for Ulithi was to make it the Fleet Anchorage for our Navy and the forward base for all our future naval operations. At this stage of the war in the Pacific those operations would be the retaking of the Philippines, the invasions of lwo Jima and Okinawa, and the anticipated invasion of Japan itself. The audacious part of the plan for Ulithi was its location since this atoll was within the envelope of area still controlled by Japan, but that also was one of its key attractions. In the eyes of the Navy,

Ulithi was to be kept secret as long as possible (Admiral Nimitz, who commanded all forces in this part of the Pacific, would later write that Ulithi was the Navy's "secret weapon") which probably explains why we were kept in the dark until we left Pearl Harbor. We knew now that VMF(N)542 was to operate from an airstrip which, at that moment, did not yet exist, and that we would provide day and night fighter protection for our entire fleet and all other activities on Ulithi. Of course, when the fleet is at anchor presumably some of those ships would be aircraft carriers so if the Japanese ever wanted Ulithi back they'd be dealing with more than just us--so not to worry, again.

With a one day stop at Enewetak in the Marshall Islands, we arrived at Ulithi exactly one month from the day we shipped out from Port Hueneme. That was enough time on the Dashing Wave for most of us so I was happy to be part of the first shore party from 542.The shore party gets to handle all the equipment off­loaded from the ship, which in our case meant unloading LCT's at the beach and transporting gear to our specific area on the island. Those not in the shore party got to load the LCT from the hold of the Dashing Wave. We were one of the early arrivals at Ulithi but were far from alone since several other islands also had heavy activity on them.

The island we were to operate from was Falalop, which is the largest island of the atoll although it is only 3/8 mile wide and 3/4 mile long. It was a very pretty island before we got there, with sand beaches ringing its entire perimeter and covered with dense foliage with many good sized coconut palms. A small native village with houses having thatched roofs and a larger thatched roof ''temple" with an adjacent cemetery

Falalop Island of Ulithi Atoll--Western Caroline Islands, all of which, except for Ulithi, held by Japan (Above picture taken in either 1999 or 2000 and which appeared in a travel column of the San Francisco Chronicle in 2001. Island is considered a resort, reached only by air) were still standing although all but the temple and cemetery would be removed shortly. The natives of this village were relocated several days prior to our landing and were now established on another smaller island of the atoll. They had told our first forces that the Japanese had operated a small seaplane base from one of the atoll's islands (not Falalop) but they'd all left a few weeks before. (Maybe Nimitz's secret leaked out).

Unloading the Dashing Wave took a week or so of strenuous work with the temperature and humidity similar to North Carolina summer conditions, although we always seemed to have a good breeze coming from the ocean side of the island so it wasn't intolerable, at least. Along with our 542 gear we unloaded a lot of K-rations which would be ours to dine on for the next thirty days. (K-rations are nearly inedible, consisting usually of something in a small can that might have been chopped meat with some type of "filler'' such as pasta or scrambled eggs, several hardtack type crackers, two or three pieces of hard candy, four cigarettes in a small box, and a small packet of toilet paper, which, after being on K-rations for a week or so, you wouldn't have to use very often).

In addition to the Seabees, a number of other units were locating on Falalop so everywhere you turned there was activity of one sort or another. The biggest single project, which also had the highest priority, was the runway, of course, but a large network of roads was roughed in so we could get around beyond the beach area. With the Dashing Wave unloaded and all our gear and equipment stashed near its permanent location, almost everyone turned to cutting brush to clear the island of its jungle. We left as many coconut palms standing as we could and the biggest problem we had was where to dispose of our brush.

Eventually we got it all figured out until Falalop had no brush or jungle and, with all the remaining palm trees, almost started to look park like so that most of our living area where we erected our tents turned out to be quite pleasant. With completion of most of our brush clearing we could concentrate on refining our living conditions by moving from our two man shelter halves to 16' x16' pyramidal tents, each housing six of us. At first there were a lot of insects and various exotic type bugs since what we had cleared was formerly a tropical jungle, but after several months our island was nearly bug free. Early on we also had many lizards, some of which were over three feet long and which climbed the coconut palms. These also disappeared after a few months. I'm afraid we didn’t do much for Falalop's ecology.

We knew that as hard as the Seabees were working on the runway it would still be awhile before we'd see anything of our aircraft so this gave us the opportunity to get fairly well established before we'd have to begin operations. We built our own mess hall, using palm tree trunks which we split in half with a clever jig which utilized a primitive chain saw we had as part of our equipment. This was roofed over with corrugated steel which seemed to be a commodity which was dumped on the island for everyone's use.

We also erected larger wall type tents for our radio/radar "shack" and for other operational departments like engineering, ordnance, and our quartermaster group. Later, other Seabees would erect Quonset type huts for these functions. For all this work our ground officers were in charge but they worked as hard as anyone else and rank among us enlisted men was just sort of put aside for the time being. Possibly some of us wondered if there'd be a time when Japan would try to run us trespassers out, but each day it seemed that the time when they might have been successful at that had passed. The anchorage was filling up with ships and at least two of Ulithi's other islands had as much activity as ours.

A sense of permanence was really established when we saw the large desalinization plant being constructed which would convert sea water to fresh water. Until it became operational we used fresh water obtained from various ships since, for our purposes, the natural fresh water supply on Falalop was basically nonexistent. This meant no fresh water showers but we had one of the world's most beautiful beaches to swim from so this wasn't really a hardship. Later, when the desalinization plant was fully operating, we had fresh water enough, if we were careful with our usage, for showers.

Some of us thought more usage of the water plant might make it taste better, but it never did. This manufactured water was never cold either, so for daily drinking use it was put into Lyster bags, which are canvas containers holding about thirty gallons and which have several spigots at the bottom. In theory, the canvas bag allowed evaporation to cool the water somewhat, but we couldn't see that it worked. We also learned to never lift the lid and look inside a Lyster bag--you just trust that the chemicals put into the water will kill everything harmful.

The runway began to look usable towards the end of October and we expected our aircraft any day. The runway ran across the width of the island, rather than the length, because the prevailing winds at Ulithi are east to west. To get as much runway length as possible, each end was extended out into the water as far as the coral shelf surrounding the island would allow.

This coral shelf was under two to five feet of water, depending upon the tide, and where it stopped, or dropped off, the water got quite deep quickly. The runway was constructed of coral (our local gravel) and as the coral was spread and packed it was also watered down with sea water. This resulted in a smooth, concrete like, but very abrasive, surface which had little dust after it was used a few weeks.

On October 29th our aircraft arrived and the first to use Falalop's new runway was the C-47 bringing in our non flying personnel of the flight echelon. Major Kellum and the rest of our F6F's followed shortly and some of the pilots who'd come by ship with us were happy to get their aircraft back (all of our Lieutenants shared "ownership" of a plane--our Captains and the Major had single ownership of the aircraft they flew). Remarkably, we didn't lose a single aircraft in the long trip from Cherry Point--luck, skill, or just good maintenance? Probably a little of each.

It really felt good to start functioning as a fighter squadron again. We'd worked hard to get everything ready for our operations which would begin almost immediately. From the time we started until we shut down to take part in the invasion of Okinawa; we tried to keep two aircraft in the air for most of every night. All flights were controlled by shipboard search radar operated from one of the many Navy ships in the anchorage since Ulithi had no ground based radar.

We soon established a working routine for our radar group in which those of us who preferred to work on the flight line, such as myself, did so at night, which is when most of our flight activity occurred. Since Falalop wasn't very big we didn't have many places we could go when we weren't working on our aircraft.

You could catch up on your sleep if it wasn't too hot in the tent, you could read if you hadn't read all available reading material already, you could watch the carrier pilots make their tail hook hard landings on our coral strip (many of the carriers off-loaded some of their aircraft temporarily), you could watch the ship traffic coming into the anchorage since the entrance channel was right next to Falalop, you could go swimming, or you could go out on the coral shelf and look for pretty shells called cowries or other types. And that pretty much sums up all the activities available for a person's spare time except for letter writing, and I guess I did my share of that.

As I read my old letters that I wrote home during this time period, I'm struck by just how little they said. Of course, we couldn't say where we were or just what we were doing--the censors (Lt. Burkes, with others of our officers) would just cut out such information anyway--but even so, my old letters today seem rather empty.

One might say these letters were the product of an immature mind (and be right to some degree), but I think another factor was that I knew every letter I wrote had a good chance of triggering one back in return, so quantity was more important than quality (maybe?) was 87 days from the time we left Port Hueneme until our mail caught up with us on Ulithi so the important thing was to keep the mail flowing. The therapeutic value of sitting down to write a letter home also must count for something for some of us even though what is written may not be very profound or even very interesting to someone else.

After our several weeks on K-rations we all appreciated the "home cooking" we started getting at our coconut palm, corrugated iron, and screened mess hall. Navy cooks are generally highly rated but I'm afraid cooks in the Marine Corps are regarded, somewhat unfairly, as being at a lower skill level. Certainly the field kitchens we had weren't designed for gourmet cooking, and any type of fresh food was unavailable for the first few months we were at Ulithi.

We were fed well enough, but everything came out of a can or box, except that we did have homemade bread and one day I got to see how it was made. Included in the mess hall equipment were galvanized garbage cans, one of which was kept clean for bread making. Since we had no mixers the dough ingredients had to be mixed by hand--visualize one of our cooks, sweating hard and up to his armpits in the bread dough in this 30 gallon garbage can--that's the way it was done. But I guess this little touch of having fresh bread, however it got mixed, made up for a lot of the other food we had. I was a fussy eater before I went into the Marine Corps and also after I got out, but not in between those times.

While we were hard at work making Falalop an operational airstrip, one of the other islands, Mog Mog, was being turned into a recreational area for the Navy. The idea was to allow sailors off their ships for an afternoon of recreation--sort of like Richardson's Recreation Area at Pearl Harbor--except Mog Mog would have beer for enlisted personnel and hard liquor for officers in their own area of the island.

Naturally, they weren't able to keep this a secret from us so some of our more outspoken started asking where our beer was, or when would we get a turn on Mog Mog? Of course, Major Kellum probably would say "never" but finally Lt. Veuleman, one of our ground officers, produced enough beer to throw a party for us. (I think he may have "found" or "liberated" this beer over at Mog Mog).

We had no ice so it was warm, and probably two cans apiece would have been more than enough. Sometime later we did get sort of a beer ration, which was two cans a week, but it, too, was always warm. Harold Olson and I thought running compressed air through a bucket of aviation gasoline holding our four cans of beer would be a way of cooling it down. The beer seemed to get a little cooler but we never solved the gasoline taste problem so learned to like it warm. Our ration didn't continue too many weeks anyway--someone said our beer ship was sunk by a sub on the way out. (I think they could have been more creative in thinking up excuses).

One of my tent mates, Orel Montgomery, who also preferred the "night shift", was obsessed with shell collecting and he almost got me hooked on it, too. We'd go out on the coral shelf on the lagoon side when the tide was out so the water was only two or three feet deep and look for pretty shells. He was making cowrie necklaces for some girl friend of his back in the Ozarks and he never seemed to find enough-­which is why he wanted me along, I guess.

He was a good swimmer so when we came to the edge of the coral shelf he always swam down over the edge. The water was clear blue and looked bottomless--it scared me to even look past the edge and down--almost the same feeling I had when looking down at my Dad when he was digging the well on the farm. So I hung back, and without any shame for doing so.

When Orel got enough cowries for another necklace he'd bring them back to the tent and bury them in the sand under his cot. His theory was that the ants would clean them out, but my theory was that whatever was in a cowrie shell rotted out, and we had the odor to substantiate my theory. This may explain why I never brought any cowrie shell necklaces home to my girl friend although it would have been presumptuous of me to make cowrie necklaces for her at this particular time anyway.

VMF(N)542 was organized to be able to operate independently from any other Marine organization, but on Ulithi we weren't quite on our own. When we worked to bring our living and operational areas up to a functional status those first few weeks, we recognized that we were doing so under the direction of a small group of officers more senior to our Lt. Zenoff and that they, and we, were part of Marine Air Group 45 (MAG 45).

This made little difference to us but made more sense when, shortly after our aircraft caught up with us, a Marine torpedo bomber squadron, VMTB-232, arrived to be part of MAG 45 also. I think some of us felt we'd cleared out their living area for them before their ground echelon arrived, but given VMTB-232's established record and reputation, we didn't begrudge them this. (Perhaps only if you've been in the Marine Corps can our feelings be understood).

The presence of VMTB-232 gave our pilots an opportunity for operations beyond flying protection patrols for the fleet. The mission of 232 on Ulithi was to provide suppression of the Japanese forces on Yap and Fais by almost daily rocket and bombing raids. While they did not require fighter protection for this, sometimes two or three of our aircraft would accompany them. Possibly this was looked upon by our pilots as something more meaningful to the war effort than the routine nightly patrols which, no doubt, provided far less excitement than a daytime strafing mission would. In the four months we operated on Ulithi our aircraft were directed on about twenty intercepts per month, all of which proved to be friendly.

So what about the Japanese--what were they going to do about us being on Ulithi? On a regular basis very high flying photographic planes flew over, so the Japanese knew pretty much what was going on. Each time this occurred it was either not detected by the shipboard search radar or they were higher than our F6F's could climb to make an intercept. But on two occasions the Japanese did achieve some limited success against us.

In November, during the invasion of the Philippines when the anchorage was being heavily used and ships were leaving or arriving almost constantly, a Japanese submarine slipped past the anti sub nets and got in to torpedo a tanker. The submarine was detected and sunk, with VMTB-232 getting credit for sinking it. This was sort at a front row performance for us since the channel entrance was adjacent to the southern edge of our island and the sub apparently fired on one of the first targets it came to. Later it was rumored that a total of five submarines, all the small two man type, had gotten into the anchorage but I don't believe this was true.

The second instance of a successful attack on Ulithi came one evening shortly before dark when two Japanese planes approached very low, avoiding radar detection completely. The first plane made a kamikaze attack on a large E-class aircraft carrier, the Randolph, hitting right on the fantail at the hangar deck level, which resulted in many casualties and much damage to the ship.

The second plane made its kamikaze attack on a mess hall on the adjacent island of Asor. Fortunately the mess hall was empty so the only casualties there were Japanese. This whole episode was frustrating to all of us in 542. We had two planes up at the time under radar control (GCI) from the battleship New Jersey but each was flying at about 10,000 feet. From experiences like this, and other similar experiences in the Philippines where the first kamikaze attacks occurred, the Navy and Marine Corps worked out better defenses against these tactics, although at Okinawa the Japanese still were very successful with them.

But there's a bit more to this attack that we didn't know about at the time. In 1990 I ran across a book written by a Japanese engineer who, in the Imperial Navy, worked on special weapons, which included the use of kamikaze aircraft. His name is Hatsuho Naito, his book is titled "Thunder Gods", and I have a copy in my library.

According to Naito, the aircraft that made it to Ulithi were part of a flight of twenty four kamikaze planes that left Kanoya, Japan, on March 11, 1945 (page 105). He wrote that half lost their way--he didn't know only two found their way to Ulithi--and a photographic plane flying over Ulithi the next day reported that apparently no damage had been done.

Well, I saw the damage to the Randolph a few days later when a couple of us took a defective piece of our radar out to their radar technicians to try to get it repaired. (We had all our spare parts packed for our next move but were still flying our aircraft on night patrols). While the damage to the Randolph seemed to be extensive, it was all repaired right at Ulithi and this carrier saw more action later during the last phases of the battle for Okinawa.

A few weeks before the kamikaze attack we had received word that we'd be leaving Ulithi to be a part of the invasion of Okinawa. We didn't know the exact date, of course, but since our mail was censored there was less secrecy about going to Okinawa than in coming to Ulithi. Our civilian tech rep from Sperry, Bill Poor, was sent home and we got fifteen new F6F's, each with new night fighter radar gear.

Bill Poore's civilian status probably would have been reason enough for him to not go with us to Okinawa although nobody could call Ulithi a "safe zone", given its location. However, our new radar gear was not the type AlA built by Sperry but an entirely new model designed and built by Westinghouse which Bill Poor didn't know any more about than we did. (This sort of ”figures", doesn't it?).

Bill was happy to leave us and we set to work learning our new equipment. Actually, this wasn't as difficult as we thought it was going to be, and certain design improvements made the new gear more reliable than the old Sperry units. Since this was long before transistor or solid state circuitry came into being, all our electronics used vacuum tubes. A hard landing many times caused vacuum tube failures due to shock and vibration. The Westinghouse gear used miniature vacuum tubes which withstood shock much better than the larger vacuum tubes of the earlier equipment.

One might wonder where old F6F's go when they get replaced, and I guess I really don't know. I think I know where all the spare parts for our old radar went--probably nowhere, since none of them went with us to Okinawa. They may still be on Falalop or maybe some enterprising spare parts merchant bought them cheap after the war. In any event, I hope the cans of peanuts and the other good things got found eventually. (Can you imagine the surprised looks when some of those crates got opened?)

Two of our new aircraft each had a metal placard fastened in the fuselage edge of the cockpit which stated that the aircraft had been purchased by children's donations, one from the schools of Greensboro, North Carolina, and the second from Charlotte, North Carolina school children. I hope someone in 542 made an effort to acknowledge this back.

For our move to Okinawa, 542 was divided into three groups. Our aircraft were to be loaded onto a small escort carrier from which they'd be flown onto Okinawa; a small group consisting of our pilots who weren't going with the aircraft, aircraft mechanics, ordnance men, and radio/radar technicians would leave Ulithi early and, hopefully, be on Okinawa when our aircraft got there; and the balance of the squadron would join up at Okinawa as soon as possible

The rationale for this split was to keep operations at Ulithi going as long as possible, be ready to operate on Okinawa as soon as possible, and then get the balance of the squadron moved to Okinawa so our initial operations there could be sustained. In other words, 542 was to maintain near continuous operation with the only "down time" being transit time on the escort carrier. MAG 45 were to stay on Ulithi while we would become a part of MAG 31 when we got to Okinawa.

So we said good-bye to those who were leaving early and turned to the business of packing all the squadron's gear and equipment for loading aboard ship. This was somewhat easier than what we'd done at Cherry Point for a number of reasons. We now knew what we were doing, we didn't have as much gear as we'd started with, and also some of what we needed and originally crated up at Cherry Point was still packed (but none of those crates held any peanuts either).

We'd haul our crates down to the beach in the squadron 6x6 trucks and load them onto a LCT which had spread out cargo nets across its deck. None of us had to handle the gear from that time until it was off-loaded onto the beach at Okinawa, and how anyone kept track of it so it eventually got back to us, given the chaos and confusion of Okinawa, still amazes me. (I now know that a future brother-in-law, Jim Clark, was an Army Beach Master on the beach where we and our gear landed so it's conceivable that we directly crossed paths at the time. Perhaps he and his unit should receive the credit for making order out of chaos for us).

Getting our aircraft out to the escort carrier was quite a different operation. Most escort carriers were large enough for full flight operations if the flight deck wasn't occupied with aircraft being transported, as was the case for the carrier our aircraft were to go on. This meant we would have to barge our aircraft out to the carrier but our pilots who were to go with the planes would fly them off, using the carrier's catapult system. All of our pilots were qualified for carrier landings and takeoffs but most had not done any since their days in flight school. I know some, if not all, were nervous about this and I guess most of the rest of us were somewhat apprehensive for them, also. But when it came to doing it they all made it!

One of the Navy's more unique vessels was the motorized barge, which may have been invented just for Ulithi. There seemed to be hundreds of them out on the lagoon and using one of them was how we got our aircraft onto the carrier. When unloaded, the barge didn't require much water to float so it could be driven nearly up on the beach. With a road of corrugated steel mesh and a system of ramps, along with a lot of hard work, we could get one aircraft at a time onto the barge. A bulldozer would then shove us out until the barge floated free and the trip out to the carrier would begin.

Waves on Ulithi's lagoon were never as high as the real ocean waves (never dashing), but with our ever present breeze, were high enough to get us pretty wet by the time we reached the carrier. Then the real fun would begin! From the carrier deck a crane would swing out and lower a cable to be hooked into a lifting point built into the F6F (strength and balance at a single connecting point). Of course, the aircraft was chained to the barge which had to be maneuvered to line up with the extended cable. Just at the right moment of connection our F6F had to be unchained so the lift could begin.

With a calm sea this all can be done fairly easily, but with the two foot swells we always seemed to have alongside the carrier, it sometimes seemed to approach the impossible. Fifteen trips to the carrier were made but this was such a harrowing experience that some of us managed to rotate the job--I only made two trips and I thought that was enough for a radar technician. It all got done without losing an F6F but one of our ordnance men, Gene Dianno, lost part of a finger, catching it between the cable hook and lifting point.

A day or so after our aircraft were loaded we packed our personal gear and dismantled our tent area. The 16'x16' tents we lived in are quite heavy (you'll never see one in our wilderness canoe country) and they all had to be trucked down to another LCT and taken out to a Navy troop transport--the one we'd board later in the day.

It was a typical hot day and we all planned on a shower and clean set of clothes after getting the last of our gear to the LCT. It didn't take long to discover that the water to all the showers on the island had been turned off and would remain off until after a USO show, which included several women, had departed from the island later that night.

We'd heard the USO show was coming but we knew we'd not get to see it since we were scheduled to board ship about noon. This was the first USO show to come to Ulithi and I think most of us felt "who needs it?". We didn't know women would be a part of it but only a fool amongst us enlisted men would have thought that would be of particular benefit to any of us. I'm firmly convinced that USO shows, and the like, do far more harm than good to enlisted personnel's morale when presented at most locations overseas.

Falalop, our island, was dedicated 100% to operational activity and other work, which meant it was a totally male environment. The only women at Ulithi were a small number of Navy nurses and the Navy had Mog Mog Island for them when they weren't on board their ships. (I don't think WAVES or women Marines were ever sent to the South Pacific in World War II.)

Because it wasn't thought necessary up to that time, no materials or time had ever been expended on Falalop for such niceties as privacy walls around shower areas or heads (latrines). Each living area had its showers and its own head, sometimes right along the only road or path through the area, and always out in plain sight. We thought we had it pretty good since we got the facilities with minimum effort required for upkeep (our toilets always had a fresh breeze blowing through them). Shutting off the shower water did nothing to shut off the other facilities since they were the outdoor type in every sense of the word, so I don't know what the numbskull who gave the order was thinking.

Perhaps later that day when the USO show arrived some of the ladies might have gotten a surprise to see someone "sitting there"--I don't know--we were aboard ship by the time the show would have started. Since we were a pretty dirty looking bunch, and our 150 men would be the only troops aboard until we got to Guam, the Navy switched the showers from salt water to fresh water for that first night and they also opened up the ship's store (PX) for us. Sometimes, things can go real good for you after all.

I'm sure all of us on that Navy APA headed for Okinawa would have preferred to be somewhere else--not back on Ulithi where we'd worked hard to make it what it became, but most likely wishing we were home. We had no way of knowing exactly what we'd be facing beyond some vague ideas we might have had. We knew Okinawa would be different--it wasn't a tropical island out in the middle of the Pacific somewhere but almost a part of Japan itself. The initial landings on the island were made a day or so before we boarded ship so we knew the ground fighting was intense and that the Navy was having difficulty with kamikaze attacks. We had no information about our advance party or our aircraft, and didn't expect we'd know anything about either until we got there ourselves. So all you can do is break out the Pinochle deck or pick up a book you may not have read--I don't think I even felt like writing letters.

A couple of days travel found us at Guam where we picked up an Army unit also headed for Okinawa so our APA was almost at full troop capacity. The showers were again salt water and the ships store remained closed so it wasn't much different from our travels on the Dashing Wave although the ship’s crew was Navy, not Merchant Marine.

We also stopped at Saipan for some unknown reason--perhaps we were being formed into some sort of convoy except that my recollections are that we went on to Okinawa by ourselves. For us, the only schedule that mattered was that we get to Okinawa without delay and perhaps it was also that way for the Army unit on board with us. I think at this stage of the invasion of Okinawa there was a lot of the same type of scrambling to get specific specialized units onto the island since the ground fighting looked like it would settle into a war of attrition which might take months (and did) to conclude. Another factor probably was the kamikaze tactics used by the Japanese.

Grouping up into convoys gave them more targets so perhaps it was better for ships like ours to scatter themselves in the approach to Okinawa, dump us off as quickly as possible, and then get out of there. I know that opinion was expressed to us by the crew members of our APA and I can’t say I blame them. We weren't getting much news, of course, but we knew the Navy was having more than expected trouble with kamikazes and it goes without saying that we hoped we wouldn't become one of their targets. We also heard the news that President Roosevelt had died and we all probably wondered how that would affect things. (Some years later a good Japanese friend of mine, who I became acquainted with at the University of Minnesota, told me how he was also wondering the same thing in Japan during those same days).

A day or so before we got to Okinawa we no longer were allowed topside, or up on deck, but since the weather was no longer tropical, most of us didn't mind staying below. Then, as we drew closer to Okinawa, we got orders to get ready to leave the ship in the morning. We were to disembark about daylight which meant getting up pretty early, but I don't think anyone really slept—I know I didn't. Over the usual ship noises we couldn't hear much except at times we thought we could hear artillery firing and I think we also were listening for our own ship's guns, which might indicate we were a kamikaze target.

We later figured out that most of the artillery firing we heard was part of the naval bombardment of the area held by the Japanese and we'd have "balcony seats" for much more of this later.

Before I proceed further I need to explain what "disembarkation" from a Navy troopship means in the Marine Corps. First of all, time is important--you can't get off one by one down a gangway under most circumstances for leaving a troopship. So every Marine is taught how to go down a cargo net, which really isn't a cargo net but only resembles one in part. This is a network of about one inch diameter rope which has spacing of about a foot vertically and horizontally it hangs over the gunwales of the ship almost down

to the water in clear areas along the ship's side. Various types of landing craft can then maneuver alongside the ship and get loaded as fast as people can get down. This sounds simple enough and one might wonder why train extra for this, but if you've never done it before it can be dangerous, both to you and anyone near you if you make a mistake. It's not easy climbing up over the gunwale of the ship and then down the net when you're loaded with helmet, rifle, bedding roll, and field transport pack and here at Okinawa we'd not only have full equipment but our landing craft would be LCVP's (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) which are relatively small, holding about 30 men each, and which weren't known for stability if the seas were high.

When morning came we all were ready for the OK to come topside. I don't recall if we got any breakfast--we probably did--but I don't think many of us were thinking about eating then anyway. As we assembled up on the deck it was just getting light and we could see about a dozen LCVP's slowly circling a short distance from the ship. We could make out the beach area which probably was about a mile from where our ship had stopped (we were not anchored), but more eye-catching was the flash of artillery shells and the reflection of tire and explosives against the smoke and what looked like low clouds.

We could hear a constant rumble but there seemed to be no correlation between the sounds we could hear and the flashes we saw on land except when some of the Navy ships a mile or so down the coast from us fired. All of this fighting seemed to be inland and off to the right, not far from the beach we were going to be landed on. We also knew Yontan, the Japanese airfield we were to operate from, was off to the left and a mile up from the beach.

As we were watching all of this, trying to figure out what was happening, the LCVP's started to line up below the cargo nets and I think then was when most of us, if we hadn't already, got that scared feeling way down inside--I know it was that way for me. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'd never been as afraid before in my life as I was at the moment I climbed over the gunwale and started down the cargo net. It wasn't only because of all the action we could see on land--nobody was actually shooting at us yet--I was afraid I might slip, or I might step on someone's hands, or someone above me would step on my hands, or the LCVP wouldn't be there when I got down to the end of the net--these are all thoughts that ran through my head. But I made it---we all made it!

The main beach where all forces and equipment landed for the invasion of Okinawa was called Hagushi Beach and is shown in the following picture. Based on the ship and landing craft activity and the presence of the white Navy hospital ship, the picture was probably taken in April or May and could have been taken at the time we were landing. When we disembarked from our Navy APA, the ship was a little further out from the beach than would be shown on this picture. By the time we got to the beach we were all pretty wet since LCVP's don't have much shelter tor the troops they're carrying. They also dropped the ramp short of the dry beach so we had to wade the last hundred yards or so. I can recall that we got off the beach as quickly as we could.

The invasion of Okinawa was unusual in that it was one of the few islands in the Pacific where the Japanese did not defend the beach at the water's edge. Instead, the Japanese commander chose to fight from fortifications some distance back where the terrain changed and caves and other fortifications were constructed. The entire south half of the island was essentially fortified. His reasoning was that, while he knew they'd be defeated, he could inflict a greater amount of damage on us from fortified positions.

Fortunately for us, Yontan and Kadena, the two airfields Marine aircraft were to use, were not in the heavily fortified areas so the worst of the ground fighting did not occur around the airfields. In the picture Kadena is the airfield shown under the leading aircraft while Yontan, where 542 operated from, is to the left and not shown. Whatever buildings had been standing at either airfield was totally demolished during the first hours of the invasion.

On this beach Jim Clark, a future brother-in-law (Verle) was an Army Beach Master, one of the people charged with minimizing the chaos by exercising some level of control. Beach Masters, as the name implies, have absolute control over where equipment and supplies were stashed but probably only were concerned with troops who were landing if they lingered. This was a pretty tough job. Our paths may have crossed here but there's no real way of checking on this. When Jim and I talked about this we thought he was there on the same day I came ashore. During the first couple of weeks Hagushi Beach was also within range of Japanese mortar and artillery fire.

The aircraft are two Navy TBM's (Torpedo Bombers), one with a carrier tail marking, the other without, but both are off an aircraft carrier that's probably located a number of miles away, out of the way of all the beach traffic. The white clouds, low in the background are smoke generated from the fighting. This is a poor photograph in many ways but an excellent picture to me because it seems to depict much of what I remember of Okinawa.

The ride to the beach, while wet, was otherwise uneventful. We knew approximately where we had to go so we formed up as best we could and started hiking up the road away from the beach. Of course, this beach was a real “bee hive" of activity so most of us wanted to get away from it as fast as we could. We'd done our share of cargo handling of our own equipment and didn't want to be asked to help with someone else's gear.

It wasn't long before we spotted a couple of 6x6 trucks with 542's shipping logo (an anvil with a "b" within it) on the doors so here were some of our advance party who came down to meet us. It only took a short time to shuttle us all up to Yontan where we had another reunion. Is it any wonder that 542's reunions have continued into civilian life?

We were all happy to get caught up with all that had happened with the three branches of 542 now that we were together again, but it was obvious that it might still be tough going even with all of us together. Our advance party had spent most of their time on board ship in the Philippines and finally got to Yontan two days after our aircraft got there (it was planned that they'd be waiting for the aircraft, not vice versa). All our aircraft had successfully catapulted from the carrier and our pilots managed to make do until the advance party got there. Even with the delay of the advance party, 542 became the first night fighter squadron to become operational from Okinawa and Lt. "Arcie" Arceneaux was the first Okinawa based night fighter pilot to down a Japanese plane (542 also got the last one shot down by Okinawa night fighters in August). At this time of reunion we had a total of 5 Japanese planes for our record but we also had bad news. Lt. Clyde Hill was killed in a takeoff collision with another night fighter from our sister squadron VMF(N)543, operating from Kadena airfield about 5 miles from Yontan.

Yontan had been Japan's largest airfield on Okinawa, consisting of two long runways which formed the two sides of the letter "A" and a third, shorter, runway which formed the crossbar of the "A", overlapping each long runway. These runways may have been hard surfaced at one time but were all hard packed gravel now and would prove to be quite dusty at times. Our aircraft parking area was just off the southwest side of the left branch of the "A", which ran from a southwest to a northeasterly direction and we made use of several revetments left by the Japanese which gave some of our aircraft a measure of protection. Our working area was next to our aircraft parking and our living area was in the field next to that. This field gently sloped up and away so we had something of a view--in fact, we felt rather exposed although the elevation change was hardly more than about ten feet or so, and we'd have little time for the view in any event.

We didn't live in the tent but resided in our covered bunkers alongside. The tent was used only for storage of our sea bags and cots until just before Okinawa was secured and we could live above ground again.

All our operational groups such as ordnance, engineering, and the line crew were set up in tents similar to how we’d been operating during the first days on Ulithi but our radar group managed to improve our working conditions by installing our test bench radar set in the back of a canvas covered 6x6 truck. This we had fixed up before we left Ulithi so when our advance party left, this truck left with them. (This also was part of the reason some of us had to take a defective radar module out to the Randolph for repair). We never really drove this truck anywhere but it did allow us to move it around somewhat within some of the revetments. Since I was happy to spend most of my working time out on the aircraft I never got too excited about where the truck got parked.

Our living area was something else--scattered over about two acres were our tents, including our mess tents, and our own (542's) private heads (all open to the cold wind, of course, and obviously freshly dug). Hardly a tent stood without tears at some place or another in its fabric, and each had a fair sized moat dug around it. But nobody lived in their tents and we newcomers would not either for many weeks. Instead, everyone was dug in, and not just in ordinary open, so called "fox holes", but in what rightly could be called "dugouts" or even "bunkers".

These living arrangements were made necessary because when the Japanese bombed Yontan, which they tried to every night if it wasn't raining, expended flak fragments fell like rain across the field. This "friendly fire" actually was more to be feared than the actual bomb damage and several of our men were wounded from this. Our only real protection from this was to dig in and try to cover the bunker over with some sort of roof that could withstand the falling flak. Some attempt was made to control antiaircraft fire at aircraft directly over Yontan but this was difficult to enforce, especially from all the Navy ships and other shipping in the area.

Our advance party had done a little preparation for our arrival in that almost enough tents for the full squadron had been erected. Ernie Runyon and I found space with Salzer, Phillips and Newcomb, so we dumped our gear in their tent, found shovels, and proceeded to dig ourselves in. The ground wasn't too hard since this field probably was cultivated by the Okinawa’s, who usually had something growing in every open area, and before afternoon we had a space large enough so we could stretch out and not be too crowded and which was over three feet deep.

We located a wooden platform we thought looked like it might have been the bed of a large cart or wagon and this made the beginning of a good roof. Not far from our area apparently had been several frame buildings and the rubble from them furnished all of us with good building material. We found an old piece of canvas that we laid over our wooden roof before we covered it over with dirt and this nearly made it waterproof. Later we lined the walls with more canvas and we invented a neat way of bailing out the open entrance so that even the heaviest rain didn't back up into our sleeping area. And it really rained on Okinawa--what we had on Ulithi for tropical rains were almost gentle drizzles in comparison.

As I write this I wonder if I didn't have some advance training in bunker building as a nine-year old in St. Paul, and since Ernie Runyon also grew up in St. Paul maybe his neighborhood had similar activities on their vacant lots. When we finished our bunker we were confident only a direct, or near, hit would cause us any damage and, thankfully, it did a good job of protecting us from falling flak all the time we were at Yontan.

Okinawa is only about 350 miles from the southernmost of the major islands of Japan, which meant we were well within the range of all their aircraft. However, the difference between Japan's capabilities and tactics compared with ours was like the difference between night and day. Our Air Force, with heavy bombers like the B-29, was saturation bombing Japan with incendiaries and high explosives while our Navy aircraft, operating off carriers, used napalm and rockets to destroy military installations and factories on Japan's mainland. Japan, on the other hand, was running out of resources and was forced to get the most for what they had left, and this resulted in their extensive use of kamikaze, or suicide, tactics. In some respects Japan's Army and Navy air forces were adapting to what had always been a tactic of Japanese ground forces.

Moreover, most of Japan's larger bombers were twin engine and only slightly bigger than our medium bombers such as the B-25--which also left them at a disadvantage. However, to us on the ground at Yontan, it didn’t matter what our air force was doing to Japan or even if our bombers were bigger than theirs. What affected us was that every night for almost a three month period, if it didn't rain, we had Japanese planes overhead several times a night and they usually dropped a few bombs--not napalm and not tons of high explosives--but what probably were 250lb. bombs, as our ordnance men estimated from the size of the craters they made. Sometimes they'd hit out between the runways, sometimes they'd hit in the fields and woods around us, sometimes they would miss Yontan completely, sometimes they'd be pretty close, and sometimes they'd only drop phosphorus flares.

Usually it would be a single plane at a time, or maybe two, and search lights would pick them up which then meant every antiaircraft gun on the island and on the ships lying offshore would start firing--and this would send us ail underground, if we weren't there already. We estimated we had over a hundred of these type raids--some other information I've read indicates there may have been as many as 300--but most of the time the damage was small. Only on occasion did we see effective antiaircraft firing but it certainly wasn't due to lack of trying.

The air defenses for Okinawa primarily utilized land based day and night fighters which were nearly all Marine Corps until the ground fighting concluded in late June and the island was secured. Surrounding the island were Navy picket ships, primarily destroyers, which theoretically were to provide an antiaircraft screen intercepting aircraft from Japan.

Selected picket ships with radar to provide GCI control, in conjunction with ground radar on the island itself, provided control of a continuous screen of covering aircraft, a part of which was 542. When Japan organized its kamikaze raids it usually consisted of many aircraft at one time. These were called, by the Japanese, floating chrysanthemum flights, and actually 10 of these raids occurred during this three month period, with a total of nearly 2000 aircraft, as I've found in later reading.

Targets for these kamikaze flights were the picket ships themselves or any other Navy or merchant ship they could find. The majority of these suicide flights were during daylight hours so our day fighters scored heavily, but the night fighters had opportunities also, even though most of the raids we had on Yontan probably were not intended as kamikaze raids by the Japanese. It's obvious now that Japan threw a lot of its poorer aircraft and partially trained pilots into their kamikaze raids out of desperation.

At the same time they tried to keep up the fight against us with their better aircraft and more experienced pilots using tactics meant to inflict damage while conserving their resources and this probably was what we saw at Yontan. The Japanese night raids on Okinawa always seemed to involve fewer aircraft, usually were Japan's fastest bombers, of the types we called "Betty" or "Sally'', and those we saw over Yontan were aircraft which got through the night fighter screen.

Unlike on Ulithi where we had sufficient time to get our living area organized for ourselves before we started operations, at Yontan we didn't spend much time on making things comfortable. Our cooks had set up their field kitchen in a tent large enough to include eating space for a few of us at a time so you could eat out of the weather, at least.

We were on an around-the-clock operation and while most of our flying was at night, we did furnish aircraft for GCI controlled day flights some of the time, and most of our maintenance on the aircraft had to be done during the day. This meant our cooks were having to provide meals almost around-the-clock, too, so if you were hungry you just went over to the cook tent and talked them into feeding you. This didn't put too much strain on their culinary skills, though, since we were living on what are called 10 in 1 rations, which are C-rations put into bigger cans. (C-rations are mostly edible--lots of beans and franks, Vienna sausages, spaghetti and meatballs, etc., canned up for individual servings).

We also began getting mail, not every day but a couple times a week, and usually it was mail that had been mailed to us about four to six weeks prior to when we received it. My letters from home contained news about the new barn plans and about how many new lambs had been born, or how the team of mules were being replaced with a team of horses, and this was all news that kept me on an even keel and assured me that reality was far more than just what we were experiencing there at Yontan, even the sad news that my Grandpa Marpe had passed away.

I'd known his health had been failing and had promised myself that I'd write him another letter "one of these days" since each time I wrote him I think he wrote back. This is another example of why one should try to keep up with doing the things they know they ought to, I guess, but this is a lesson not many of us learn very well. As I think about it now I feel I missed something important in not being as close to my Grandfather as I now feel I ought to have been, and I can only guess what it might have meant to him in what I now see was probably a pretty lonely life.

Personal cleanliness for all of us in 542 probably reached the low point for all the time we were a squadron during those first few weeks of our almost three month stay at Yontan. We had water enough but no facilities, so your choice for a shower once in awhile was to stand naked out in the rain or take a sponge bath using your steel helmet for your tub. Later, when things were becoming less hectic, several primitive showers were set up so some semblance of cleanliness could be maintained. Needless to say, nobody did much laundry either, but we weren't on Okinawa to look pretty and things could have been worse.

With 542 now all together and at full strength everyone quickly got back to doing what we'd been trained for. Those of us who preferred working out on the aircraft still did that while the test bench bunch were left to work in the radar truck. All of us were subject to the nightly air raids so loss of sleep was something we had to get used to. It also was hard to sleep even when we had no raid since we were living alongside one of the active runways. Most of the traffic was fighters, and both the F6F and the F4U make lots of noise on takeoffs.

We also had considerable transport air traffic for evacuation of the wounded and seeing them, I was thankful not to be a line company Marine. A simple comparison of casualty rates would show Yontan to be a safer place to be than the south end of the island where the heavy fighting was going on. Besides, we had a poor joke that because the runway configuration looked like a huge target, Yontan was the safest place to be--given the marksmanship of Japanese flyers. Some of us also got some sense of safety because we figured their primary target would be our aviation fuel storage area which was just beyond the apex of the runway "A", or on the other side of the field from us.

We thought they always tried for that because earlier, when Yontan was still within range of Japanese artillery, it had apparently been one of their targets so we knew they had the area located even though they were unsuccessful in hitting it. As the ground fighting moved south we became out of artillery range although once in awhile they still fired on Kadena, but without hitting much.

We also had some concern when phosphorus flares were dropped during a raid. We were certain this was to provide illumination for infiltration into our area by Japanese ground troops. When the 1st Marine Division swept the northern half of the island (Yontan was about at the center) some Japanese units were by-passed. We knew that most of them found their way back to the main Japanese forces but we thought there still could be some moving south. All of our Marine units at Yontan set up guard, or sentry, posts around our exterior perimeter so phosphorus flares tended to make nervous sentries. Some units around the field did have infiltrators but I think the conclusion was that food, rather than anything else, was on their mind.

By the end of April, 542's score was 6 planes and by mid May we had 5 more, for a total of 11. During this time, however, we lost another aircraft and pilot, Lt. William Campbell. It was thought possibly his plane was damaged by the explosion of the plane he'd just shot down, his second.

We also had bad news of another kind in mid May--our C.O., Major Kellum, was removed from flight status (at his own request, it was said) and he was transferred to a staff position within MAG 31. This was a blow to everyone's morale, of course, but it probably affected our pilots much more than the rest of us.

Pride is taught in the Marine Corps, I think, by all the training that demands excellence and perfection, so when your commanding officer "opts out', as it appeared, it's like a low blow, or stab in the back. Possibly most of us enlisted men feel now that it probably took more guts to do what he did than to keep on flying, and I also think some of us felt that because Major Kellum was such a strict disciplinarian we really were a pretty good squadron, so maybe most of us have forgiven him--although I don't think many of our pilots have.

It was also about the middle of May when somebody found a way to enforce the "No firing at Japanese aircraft over Yontan and Kadena" rule. This meant we could stay above ground a bit longer during an air raid but you couldn't be totally certain since trigger-happy rule breakers were still around. It did mean that less damage was being done to aircraft parked on the field and it also allowed us to modify our flight line operations.

To expedite operations at night it was decided to park the aircraft we'd use that night out on the shorter "crossbar" runway. The pilots would be brought out to the planes by a jeep and there'd be less taxi time involved to get the planes airborne. The plane captains (enlisted men who are responsible for the aircraft), ordnance men, and radar technicians would stay out on this flight line all night now that falling flak was no longer as big a problem as earlier. For bomb protection we dug a series of slit trenches about 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep which were long enough to lie down in and which were located in the field right next to where we parked the aircraft. We radar technicians worked in pairs so Harold Olson and I usually teamed up to spend most nights out on this extended flight line. We now were closer to the aviation fuel dump, which still was one of the main targets but we didn't seem to be any closer to the near misses out there than back in our main area.

Major Kellum's position of C.O. was temporarily filled by Captain Sigler, our Executive Officer, who earlier had shot down a Kawasaki "Tony", one of Japan's best fighter planes. This made him officially an "ace" since he'd previously downed 4 1/2 planes in the Solomon Islands. Captain Sigler probably would have been our choice for C.O. but we didn't have a vote. Instead Major Bruce Porter was transferred to 542. No one knew him except Captain Sigler but he had been the Executive Officer of VMF(N)533, a squadron I'll have more to say about.

We quickly got some indication of the temperament of Major Porter when he looked over Major Kellum's aircraft which now would be his to fly. Following tradition, all of our pilots had personalized their aircraft with names and painted figures (none had any degree of obscenity--not in Major Kellum's squadron) and Major Kellum's F(N)76 had a valentine like drawing which included his wife's name. I wasn't witness to this but when Major Porter saw the painting on what was now his aircraft apparently he about had a fit. Probably his first orders to anyone in 542 were to get that engine cowling repainted with a figure of his choice-- a bottle of Schenley's Black Label Whiskey and the words "Black Death". So now F(N)76 would be "Black Death" instead of "Millie Lou"--our morale improved significantly on that alone, I think. Major Porter also made a point of coming around to everyone as we worked on the aircraft just to get acquainted, which is something Major Kellum never did.

If there ever was a date that none of us in 542 are likely to ever forget it probably is May 24, 1945, the night that Yontan was attacked by airborne suicide troops. According to Hatsuho Naito, this attack was part of the 7th Floating Chrysanthemum Flight and consisted of 12 "Sally" bombers, each carrying 14 special commando troops the Japanese called "GIRETSU".

Their intentions were to land at Yontan and retake the field and this was to turn the tide in Japan's struggle to keep Okinawa. Harold Olson and I were out on our extended flight line with the plane captains and ordnance men (about 10 of us in all) and just before dark the two pilots were brought out (Lt. Carlton was one) and we made our last checks of the radar in the planes that would be used that night. It was pretty quiet but the moon was rising so we knew there'd probably be an air raid or two.

About 10:00 PM the sirens went off so we moved into our slit trenches. We could see antiaircraft fire beginning to the north of us and to the west, but nothing overhead. It wasn't long before we could hear (and feel) bomb explosions from hits not too far away but none of the searchlights seemed to pick anything up. In reading Naito, and others, apparently several bombing runs were being made on the field preliminary to the actual suicide troop landing. As we were lying in the slit trenches, not knowing what was happening, the fuel dump exploded and 70,000 gallons of aviation gasoline started burning. About then we also had several bomb hits close enough to rain dirt and rocks down on us and on our parked aircraft. No one seemed to be more than shaken up and our aircraft didn't appear to be damaged so we just stayed put. All around us then the antiaircraft fire seemed to intensify but nobody seemed to be shooting at anything directly over the field.

As part of the Yontan air defenses we had a section of a Marine anti-aircraft battalion dug in not far from the end of the SWINE runway (right across the end of the runway opposite from our main squadron area). As we watched the buildup of firing all around us, they, too, started firing but from the tracer trajectories we could see that they were shooting at low flying aircraft. All of a sudden there was a flash and a big ball of fire when the plane they were firing on exploded just off the end of the runway, crashing into one of the antiaircraft weapon revetments and, we found out later, killing the gun crew.

Since this was half a short runway length away we didn't know what was happening, but almost immediately we could again see low angle firing out over the approach to our runway. This second aircraft got through the anti-aircraft fire without being badly hit and we could see, in the light from the burning fuel dump and from the plane that had just been shot down, that it was going to make a belly landing on the runway right towards us. After it touched down it slid on the gravel for about 500 feet, finally stopping about 200 feet from where we were in our slit trenches. As it skittered to a stop, about a dozen of the suicide troops piled out and huddled around in a group.

We could hear them shouting to each other as if they were getting last minute instructions, or maybe last minute inspiration. Either they did not see our dark blue F6F's, or the lineup of the many larger aircraft which were parked off to the opposite side of the main runway was a better target for them, and, even though further away, they turned away from us and proceeded to destroy as many of those aircraft as they could. None of us in our slit trenches had any weapons other than a few screwdrivers, or maybe a pocket knife or two, so there was nothing we could do except stay where we were and keep our heads down. Maybe it's just as well we had nothing but tools, since we were outnumbered and probably couldn't have stopped them anyway--they could have taken care of us with one or two hand grenades, which they had plenty of.

Before it was all over the suicide squad damaged or destroyed a total of 35 aircraft, but none of them were 542's. We could see them running from plane to plane with their incendiary grenades, as plane after plane blew up. Pretty soon we could hear rifle fire coming from the far side of the burning aircraft so we knew some effort was being made to counter what the suicide troops were doing. Since we were partially in the line of fire from this we had all the more reason to stick where we were. Towards daylight the firing had just about died down and when it became light it was found that all but a couple Japanese had committed suicide and those who didn't weren't taken prisoner. Casualties for us were 2 dead and 18 wounded, with 4 of the wounded from 542, but none of us who had the ringside seat for it all.

The Japanese regarded this attack as a great success, as it surely was, but it hardly was as successful as the Japanese General commanding the ground forces still fighting at the south end of the island thought who, we heard, announced to his troops that Yontan had been retaken. Of the 12 "Sally's" that had left Japan on the suicide mission only 5 made it to Yontan, with 4 being shot down by our perimeter antiaircraft fire before the last one slipped in. We had some evidence that VMF(N)533 may have downed one of the remaining 7, but what happened to the other 6 was unknown--possibly some were shot down by our picket ships.

All Marine fighter squadrons have a natural rivalry with other squadrons but this rivalry seemed to be more intense between night fighter squadrons. Seven of the eight Marine night fighter squadrons saw combat action but not all did well in terms of aircraft shot down. Early on, this was because the first airborne radar wasn't designed for installation in any of the existing Marine fighter planes so there was a serious mismatch of equipment, resulting in less success than desired. This was resolved when the Grumman F6F Hellcat was selected to be the Marine night fighter aircraft and VMF(N) 533 was the first squadron using this aircraft with the newly designed AlA radar. In mid May, the 533 moved from the Marshall Islands up to Yontan and then, in a few days, over to le Simi (where war correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed).

They were a good squadron, with good pilots, so they started building a record for themselves and it looked like they would soon match, or exceed, our record of 12 planes by the end of May. (Some of our pilots can tell you about sector assignments, though). However, the "race" was never allowed to develop--many of our pilots were given night intruder, or "heckler" missions against a string of islands about halfway up to Japan. This was also necessary and important but not quite to the mark, the way we saw it, although on a couple of these missions we were able to increase our score of Japanese planes.

In June, our nightly air raids tapered off a little and we began to have more time for making life comfortable. We were able to replace most tents that had tears too large to repair and many of our lighter sleepers started sleeping above ground most nights. It was getting warmer, with less rain, but more dust. Our food was still 10 in 1 rations and our cooks got a chance to unpack the ice cream machine we had acquired somehow late in our stay on Ulithi. Someone also "found", or "liberated" a supply of canned bacon which got an unsanctioned distribution and many of the evenings you'd smell bacon frying as you walked through our living area.

June was both a good and a bad month for 542's operations. For the good, Major Porter scored his first kill in the squadron and a few minutes later were vectored onto another plane, which he also downed. This made him the second ace in the squadron and also gave him the distinction of being the only Marine Corps pilot in World War II to score multiple victories (two planes on the same flight) in both the F4U Corsair and the F6F Hellcat.

On the down side Lt. Fred Hilliard didn't return after being credited with shooting down his first plane and reporting he was following another. Lt. Hilliard had been my Platoon Leader, as I've mentioned, back in the states but overseas we had dispensed with the line company drill.

Near the end of June the ground fighting ended on the island with the surrender of the remaining Japanese troops and on June 22nd Okinawa was declared "secured". The Army Air Force began to move fighters (mostly P47's) and B-29 bombers from Saipan, and other islands, to Yontan and Kadena so it got a little crowded. We knew the Seabees (again) were making another fighter strip at a place called Chimu and we'd be moving up there on July 1st. Part of MAG 31 and one day fighter squadron, VMF-224, joined us at Chimu and later in the month VMF(N)533 also moved to Chimu.

Chimu was located about 10 miles north of Yontan, but over on the east coast of Okinawa, near a little village called Kin. Moving from Yontan to Chimu was about the first chance many of us had to be away from Yontan although earlier I had attempted to find a friend of mine who was in a field hospital of the Marine 1st Division.

The northern half of Okinawa is not much good for farming because the terrain consists of mostly limestone ridges and some of the hills could be called mountains, but the Okinawa's, like the Japanese, make use of every square foot of level land that they can. By this time many of the Okinawa's had been let back into their villages but we had very little contact with them. Their story is another book, and one I have, titled "TENNAZON", will give some idea of what those people suffered from the invasion of their island.

Life at Chimu started much like we left off at Yontan. Everything was still in tents--cooks, mess hall, radar shack, etc., but almost as soon as we moved up we started working on more permanent arrangements. First of all, the Seabees built a mess hall so our cooks could now cook indoors, and they actually built tables and benches. So we could now sit and eat. Most of the walls were open, but screened, and we rated it higher than what we had at Ulithi by a notch or two.

Heads and showers were constructed and our tent area was nicely situated along a flat-topped ridge with a lot of pine trees, the ridge dropping down about 30 feet to a good sized open field. Later we converted the field to a ball diamond and named it "Hill Field" in honor of Lt. Hill. We actually used the outfield for a parade ground when Major Porter thought he'd like to see how his squadron looked when clean and in our khaki’s (somehow our sea bags had caught up with us in our move to Chimu).

The Seabees also built a Quonset hut for our radar shack so our test bench came in from the truck and other Quonsets were built until our only tents were the ones we lived in. One of the big surprises, though, was the movie projector. At Ulithi, we had a movie projector, but we always thought that belonged to MAG 45 when all along it was part of 542's gear (one of the benefits of being organized to operate on our own, and I'm not sure why we rated this when other units apparently did not--maybe our Quartermaster Officer was just more enterprising than others).

Our movies always had interruptions to rewind the film but that didn't bother any of us or the visitors we always had from other close units. New films were obtained by a complicated interchange system--mostly with Navy ships which could be reached via the almost constant flow of LCVP traffic between ships. Our tent was located so we could see the screen, and almost hear the sound, while lying on our cots. Power for all this was a large portable generator system which some tent dwellers also found a way to tap into but we didn't go so far as to have electricity in our tent--probably because it would have been too obvious. My tent mates were now Orel Montgomery, Harold Olson, and Lowell Eastlund.

With the move away from Yontan being timed almost with the end of the ground fighting on Okinawa, and the reduction in frequency of the air raids, one almost had the feeling that the war was over. I'm sure our pilots didn’t think that way, though, because they still had night flights under GCI control plus the night heckler missions against the islands of Amami-0-Shima and Kikai-Shima. (Kikai-Shima was thought to be where Lt. Campbell was lost).

Our move to Chimu away from much of MAG 31 gave us another set of duties for radar technicians. All aircraft carried a piece of equipment called IFF (Identification, Friend, or Foe) which is a transponder which, when interrogated by search radar, automatically sends back a coded response for display on the search radar's screen. (Present day transponders in civil aviation do much the same thing).

The code was changed on a daily basis and it had to be set by the pilot before takeoff. To determine that the right code had been set we had a piece of equipment mounted in a jeep which would interrogate the plane's IFF as it rolled down the runway. We'd read the code on our scope and if it wasn't correct we'd radio the pilot and have him put in the correct code. This was interesting duty to me but for the first few nights I lived in mortal fear that we'd make a mistake in reading the code. I know now that no Japanese aircraft ever earned IFF, at least not at Okinawa, so I worried a lot about nothing (something I've often been accused of).

Our days at Chimu were some of the best I ever spent in the Marine Corps. We had about as good as you can get for overseas living conditions. We were working hard doing what we'd been trained for and most of us were anticipating the end of the war. Now it seemed like it was worthwhile to speculate on where you'd be, or what you'd be doing in a few months.

Probably we wouldn't have felt so good if we'd known about the planning for the invasion of Japan itself that was going on, and that VMF(N)542 was already scheduled for a slot in that invasion. But with the dropping of the two atomic bombs and the surrender of Japan shortly after, all that became a moot point later in the summer. Here at Chimu we were able to leave behind the slit trenches and dugouts of Yontan. We still had perimeter sentry posts but now our main worry seemed to be the poisonous snakes we found in the area--however, these soon went the way of the three foot lizards of Ulithi (Marines are tough to live with).

About the third week in July, we had an incident that still makes me sad whenever I recall it. One evening, just after dark, we heard a low flying aircraft with obvious engine trouble approaching the field. Since no siren had announced an air raid we thought this was one of our aircraft. We knew it wasn't a Corsair or Hellcat but thought it sounded like a TBF or TBM which are torpedo bombers such as VMTB-232 flew.

The plane circled the field and the runway lights were turned on (we could see the end of the runway from our tent). As it turned to what would be the downwind leg of the landing pattern we could tell that it was very low and had no lights. It came directly over our tent, nearly blowing it down, and crashed right at the crest of the ridge, spreading itself down the ridge and into the field below, the concussion blowing several other tents down without directly hitting them.

Several of us ran over and, as we climbed down the ridge, we could see in the light from the small fire that had started that this plane had red meatballs on its wings and fuselage. We pulled the pilot out but he was dead, and then we saw that his aircraft had been carrying an aerial torpedo that, in the shock of the crash, had broken free. One of our ordnance men saw that the torpedo had not been armed but we cleared out of there quickly anyway. Later we identified the aircraft as a VAL torpedo bomber, the same type shot down by Lt. Coles.

It was obvious that this aircraft was not on a Kamikaze mission since the torpedo was not armed and the pilot had a parachute. He was carrying a pistol and on the knee of his flight suit he had attached a small writing pad where he might have written course information, much like our pilots did. Some of us divided up the parachute (so now you know where the white silk panels came from, Carole and Mom) and someone took the pistol but beyond that we were of no mind for collecting souvenirs.

We'll never know his intentions but to us it appeared he was trying to surrender and we all wished he'd have had a little more fuel, since that's what his engine problem seemed to be, given the small amount of fire in the crash. In the concussion and spray of debris from the plane, two of our men were injured, so later we had a lot of fun kidding "Potty'' Flowers about earning the Purple Heart while playing Hearts in his tent. We also wondered how this aircraft got through our night fighter screen undetected, but, again, we never asked this question.

At the end of July, all of our pilots were rotated back to Hawaii and Major Kellum came back to command the squadron. Some of our new pilots were transferred to us from VMF(N)533 and some were on their second tour of duty overseas, but the majority were overseas for the first time. The first week in August Lt. Jennings, a new pilot, shot down the last Japanese plane 542 would score and this was actually the last plane to be shot down by any night fighter operating on Okinawa.

Our total was now 18 aircraft but this left us second to VMF(N)533, which had 35 to their credit. The night intruder missions flown by our pilots didn’t account for many aircraft shot down but I think it can be said that without them we'd have had more air raids on Okinawa since the Japanese had several major airfields on these islands, especially on Amami-O-Shima.

About mid August we heard about the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki but we had no way of knowing what these were, of course. Rumors about the end of the war were floating around but even when Japan actually surrendered most of us were skeptical about it. We'd all heard, and saw pictures, of the wild celebrations about V-E Day when the war in Europe came to an end but all of that was so remote to us, especially since this occurred while the going was toughest for us.

Perhaps the most commonly held feeling then was that of bitterness to see so many celebrating the end of the war--seeming to forget about the war in the Pacific. I think the confirmation that the rumors might be true came over us slowly that particular night as we could see, from the higher elevation of Chimu, sporadic antiaircraft firing, which also seemed to include more tracer fire than usual.

Occasionally we could hear rifle firing and, after we got the official word, probably some of our guys fired off a few rounds too. But our celebration was all pretty low keyed and it took awhile before it finally sunk in. Most of us didn't have anything we could party with anyway, I guess, although some of the experiments made with found cans of peaches, or other canned fruit, and borrowed sugar from the mess hall were starting to produce results. (The only "found" goods I was ever involved with turned out to be 4 one gallon jars of green, un-pitted olives, bound for some Officer's Mess, no doubt).

The war actually was over, at least where we were, so everyone's thoughts were about how soon before we could go home. (Once in awhile you'll still read something that some idiot wrote lamenting the fact that we let most of our troops go home too soon when the war ended--we should have kept our armed forces strong and blocked Russia in Europe. Such thinking misses a significant point about this country and how we do things, and those who have such ideas always seem to be those who never left home themselves).

However, when it was announced that 542 would go to Japan as part of the first occupation forces, I think most of us thought a trip to Japan would be a great experience, provided we didn't have to stay there too long. Of course, everyone had questions in their mind about just how difficult the occupation of Japan might be, given the intensity of fighting, especially at Okinawa, and the racial hatred that had permeated the entire war--so there was a lot of apprehension mixed with the excitement.

Once again VMF(N)542 was to be split up temporarily. An initial group of about 60 men were to go up first and then the balance of the squadron would follow. Our aircraft would stay on Okinawa until the entire squadron was in place in Japan since now there was no need to maintain night fighter operations and at this time we really didn't know if occupation duty included over flights of night fighters. But before leaving Okinawa I need to provide a few facts and statistics to summarize the part VMF(N)542 had in the battle for this island. I also want to mention that I have many books in my library which can be a source of much more information and which I have sometimes used to refresh my memory on certain details. In several of these books operations of 542 are specifically described and a reading of these will provide a fuller account than I have been able to write.

As I've previously mentioned, 542's score of 18 Japanese aircraft shot down was second to 533's total of 35. Over-all, Marine night fighters destroyed 68 of the total of 637 aircraft lost by Japan to fighters based on Okinawa. The total number of night fighters was 45 aircraft while 360 day fighters took part in the operation, so the ratio of aircraft destroyed to aircraft employed was essentially the same for all fighter aircraft. (Data from "History of Marine Corps Aviation in WW2, by Robert Sherrod).

For our operation at Okinawa, VMF(N)542, with MAG 31, was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation by President Truman. (Anyone who has ever served in 542, from those days right up to the present time, is entitled to wear the ribbon signifying this award, but only those who were in the squadron at the time of its award may wear the gold star within it. It also may be of interest that VMF(N)542 is still an operational squadron of the Marine Corps, although the night fighter mission has been broadened to better use the capabilities of the AV-88 Harrier aircraft they now fly.)

Back to Chimu---I was happy to learn that I would be one of the initial 58 men to go to Japan. This time moving the squadron, for my part, would mean moving only my own stuff--someone else would load the rest of the gear. We'd be flown up so, again, it was living out of our packs--our sea bags would follow later. Our first group of 10 would fly up in a C46 and they were the ones who officially got there first (as the caption of a photo in our 542 "cruise book" says), while the rest of us would be flown up in several PBJ's (B-25) from Marine bomber squadron, VMB-612.

This squadron of PBJ's had made their mark in history by developing the skip bombing technique which radically changed the way our bombing aircraft attacked Japanese shipping during the last half of the war in the Pacific. They almost had a free hand to go wherever their C.O. wanted to go and, just before Japan surrendered, in August, they established operation at Chimu. Now some of their aircraft would be used to ferry us up to Yokosuka, Japan, and to make room all the aircraft's guns were removed. Eight of us, with packs, helmets, rifles, etc., would then just have space enough to fit in the PBJ, so VMB-612 would use 6 aircraft to ferry us up. I also recall now that none of us had parachutes but, at the time, this was of no concern to any of us, and probably we'd have drawn a good laugh from everyone if we'd have asked for them.

On September 9, 1945, exactly a year from when we'd boarded the Dashing Wave and 7 days after the formal surrender by Japan on the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, the C-46 took off and about an hour later the rest of us followed as troops in the PBJ's. One can't help thinking how similar we probably looked to an operation on May 24th when the Giretsu suicide troops boarded their Sally bombers to come to Yontan. Thankfully more than the direction was reversed, so a true parallel situation did not come into being. It was enough for us that we would meet the Japanese on supposedly peaceful terms and putting ourselves in their place, we could imagine we'd have to deal with many problems.

I happened to be the first of my group to board the aircraft so the radioman told me that as soon as we were airborne I was to move back to the tail turret and stay there until we prepared to land, then I was to come back with the rest. This was a matter of weight and balance on the aircraft rather than space, it seemed. So, right after we lifted off Chimu's one gravel runway, I crawled back to the tail turret.

All the guns were removed from the PBJ for space and weight reasons and in the tail turret some of the glass also had been removed. (The tail turret of a PBJ does not revolve or move--it's a glassed extension of the fuselage tail through which the tail guns protrude). The tail gunner sits on a small padded stool which is folded out behind him after he gets into the turret section, and after I got this figured out and in place, I put on the set of headphones that also were hanging there. I now had a firsthand view of every place we had just passed. I could hear talking in the headset, and it was just a little drafty as the fuselage acted somewhat like a wind tunnel.

Normally the PBJ is operated in the Marine Corps with a crew of six but we only had three--pilot, copilot/navigator, and radioman. As I listened on the headphones I could hear the navigator telling the pilot what seemed to be geographical details. Apparently our pilot was newly arrived overseas and the copilot/navigator (in the right seat, anyway, whatever he was) was telling him about strikes up along the coast of Japan that VMB-612 had made some weeks before. We were flying at about 2000 feet and it was a nice clear day at first so visibility was good, but just a little cold for me, wearing only dungarees, in the wind that blew through the plane.

When we got over Amami-0-Shima we flew a little lower and when we approached the east shoreline of Kyushu, the south island of Japan's four main islands, we dropped down to about 600 feet above the ocean. We ran into a little rain, which made me somewhat uncomfortable back there in the tail, but then it was clear again. Several times the navigator described where 612 had skip bombed ships and sunk Japanese freighters or had skip bombed lighthouses that were located among the many small islands along the coast or in Japan's Inland Sea.

Each time the target had been something other than a ship our pilot circled it, sometimes several times, and by this time we were flying even lower. I could hear the running commentary between the pilot and the navigator so I knew what we were approaching but never saw it until we'd flown by. I wondered about the other five PBJ's with the rest of our men but it was obvious that we were all on our own on this flight.

Soon I heard the navigator say we were approaching Kure, which had been Japan's second largest naval base. We were probably less than 300 feet above the water when all of a sudden I could see the masts and superstructures of several major ships to the side as we thundered by. We made several low passes over the base and all the ships that were moored there and my impression was that most of the ships we saw had been damaged one way or another and the one aircraft carrier that was here looked really beaten up.

Just a short distance from Kure and almost right on our course, if you could say we had a course, was Hiroshima. Here we circled three or four times, all at a low level and there wasn't much being said over the intercom. People seemed to be working in some areas, digging in the rubble, and there were a few vehicles moving but, by and large, there wasn't much activity on the ground. We were low enough to see that some people would look up but most did not and it goes without saying that nobody waved. Most fires seemed to be out since we couldn't see much smoke, but this was a month and three days after the bomb had been dropped. Whole areas of the city were flat and looked like someone had just bulldozed the area clean, although in other areas concrete walls of some buildings still stood.

After leaving Hiroshima, we again flew up the Inland Sea over cities such as Kobe, Osaka, and Nagoya. Many areas of these cities were damaged extensively although some were not. Firebombing looked to me, from my receding viewpoint, to be as destructive as atomic bombing, although at Hiroshima much of the area appeared shoveled up, while firebombing seemed to leave much more rubble. Finally I heard discussions of Mt. Fuji, or Fujiyama, in the headset.

We circled several times here, too, but my best view was when we left it, of course. Mt. Fuji had only a little snow on it and was nearly covered by clouds. We were much higher now and I was becoming quite cold. We'd have a good view of Fuji from our barracks at Yokosuka I found out later. When we landed at the air base that was part of the Yokosuka Naval Base we were well over an hour overdue and some admitted they had started to worry about us. No one else had a trip like we did, though, so late or not, it was worth it.

Having just seen the extensive devastation of major cities, I was surprised that Japan's largest naval base was as undamaged as it was. The hangars on the air station part of the base all had some damage but many of the buildings such as barracks and what were workshop areas had only minor damage.

The part of the naval base itself that we had ready access to and which contained many warehouses and workshops showed little damage. Even a torpedo shop way out on the breakwater, although it was in poor repair, was not bomb damaged and contained what we thought were usable torpedoes. Extensive use of underground work and storage areas in the limestone hills and ridges that were part of the area of the base gave good protection against our air raids so possibly our plan for neutralizing Yokosuka couldn't use the firebombing techniques of our Air Force as was used on Japan's cities and industry.

However, it's more likely that more consideration was given to preservation of some of Japan's military infrastructure for our own future use than was given to the preservation of civilian lives in Japan--which is not to our credit, if true.

Our primary job, of course, was to prepare living and working areas for the squadron when it got there by ship and so the aircraft could be flown in. We were assigned a large two-story wooden building which had apparently been a Japanese barracks and which had ample space for all our enlisted men. A short distance away was an almost western style building which would be used as quarters for our officers. We found we'd be guests at the mess hall of another Seabee unit until our own cooks and equipment got to Yokosuka and, obviously, this mess hall had previously served the same function for the Japanese.

Things would be quite different from now on, though, with regard to work. A 400 man Japanese work party came on the base every morning and a number of us, in pairs, would have the "services" of about 15 of these workers to supervise. We carried side arms and referred to what we were doing as "prisoner chasing" or, much worse, as "Gook chasing".

Before the workers were split up to go with us they stood in loose ranks and a Japanese Naval Commander, who we'd heard was educated at Stanford, addressed them. They'd respond in unison and at the end would sing several songs. They had no music to sing by, of course, and we thought these were all Japanese songs until a couple of us noticed that some of them sounded familiar. Picture a 400 man Japanese work party singing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" in Japanese and try to imagine the feelings or thoughts we had as we stood there--just up from Okinawa. (Only later have I learned that "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" are the words we've applied to a very, very old French folk melody, and the words sung by the Japanese were unlikely to have been Twinkle, Twinkle--).

John Heppert and I usually paired off on this duty. The first morning our workers were assigned to us he and I stood together as our detail assembled in front of us. Up to this time (about our third or fourth day at Yokosuka) there were very few Japanese on the base so neither of us had had any direct contact with them before this. We'd all received detailed instructions on how we should handle ourselves and our workers and what we were to work on was spelled out for us, at least for the first few days or so.

But how do you start?--What do you do first? Looking them over, we seemed to have about half who might have been 16 or 17 years old and the rest seemed to be in their SO's, or maybe older yet. They were a pretty ragged looking bunch but they did look clean. Nobody smiled or talked between themselves, as a group of Americans might do, and when we each said "Good Morning" in Japanese (about the only Japanese we knew), and told them our names, we didn't get much response back. We knew English was a secondary language in most of Japan's schools so we thought they'd understand anything we said to them, and that's how it turned out. So John said "Follow me", which they did, with me guarding the rear, and over to our barracks we went where we put them to work cleaning up some of the trash which was left.

At noon that first day we stopped for lunch, which for all of us was to be K-rations. When we gave each of them their K-ration they thanked us with a little bow, but all of them put the K-ration box inside their jackets and took out the lunch they'd brought for themselves--something cooked in rice and rolled up inside a piece of brown wrapping paper.

So there we were, all squatting on our haunches--John and I eating our K-­rations and our Japanese workers eating what they'd brought. They talked among themselves, probably about us, but they were a quiet bunch it seemed to me. The next day, and every day we did this, they'd tuck the K-ration away and eat their own. John and I decided it only took one of us to guard them during lunch time so we took turns slipping over to the mess hall for a good meal while they were eating.

The second day, and every day thereafter, we were surprised to find that from the 400 man group, without any visible sorting that we could see, we had the same working party. From then on they relaxed a bit so they'd respond to our morning greeting and smile a little when we talked to them, but we never could get them to talk to us in English or even admit that they understood us.

Possibly the time we had with them was too brief or maybe what Heppert tried to do one day unsettled them to some extent. One of the 16 or 17 year olds was a husky kid who might have weighed 160 pounds or so. Heppert was about 6' tall and was pretty husky himself so one day when our crew was cleaning the barracks, John whispered to me that he was going to "flip this kid on his backside" just to see if he could do it, and just for the fun of it. When John grabbed him by the shoulders and tried to throw him to the deck, John found he'd bit off a little more than he could handle. Try as hard as he could, John couldn't get this Japanese "boy" off balance. They danced around a bit and finally John laughed and gave up. We all just stood around and nobody except John laughed, and I think they weren't quite sure about him from that point on.

The barracks we lived in was solidly built but the construction seemed to be sort of crude. The ceilings were high (about 10') and the decks (floors) were rough and probably had never been sanded or finished. Many windows were broken but we had no trouble finding replacement glass.

At each end of the building, on both floors. 4 rooms were partitioned off so, probably like the Japanese, our senior NCO's (I was now a T/Sgt.) got the rooms, which were large enough for 4 people each. Alongside the barracks was a one story bath and wash house which had running water--both hot and cold--after we did a few repairs. Apparently this base had a central hot water system of some sort although the barracks seemed to be totally unheated.

The Japanese are very clean people and each bathhouse we saw (one to a barracks) was equipped with their version of a hot tub, plus a few showers. The toilets were all porcelain slit trenches that flushed and the hot tubs were made of stone or granite. We made no attempt to get the hot tubs operational but we did add more showers to what would now be called the "head". These hot showers were actually the first we'd had since leaving the states over a year before. However, we never had cold water that was very cold anyway so most of us probably forgot what a hot shower really was.

During the first weeks at Yokosuka, we officially were not allowed to leave the base and we'd not get liberty until the balance of the squadron got up from Okinawa. Some were anxious to get out and meet the people but I think most of us were just happy to savor the end of the war and where we were, knowing that we'd be going home soon.

I found it interesting enough to roam around the base and snoop into the various areas and warehouses. So much stuff was lying around--just left as the Japanese evacuated the base--and while a lot of this was damaged, much was not. In one area which had been an electronics repair shop all the test equipment was still there and undamaged. I took a good voltmeter back to the barracks thinking it would be a nice souvenir since we were told we could do this, within reason, as long as your possession of the item was approved officially. Japanese aircraft of all makes and types were parked around the air station hangars and taxi ways—most looked flyable but all with their propellers removed, which was part of the surrender agreement.

To my small pile of souvenirs in the barracks I added a good aircraft compass. (By the time I found the compass most had already been removed by others). Someone also found a warehouse full of silk cargo parachutes--all a beautiful light blue--everyone got to officially keep one half of a parachute each, and this joined my pile. I think now that someone much smarter than we knew we'd never get that stuff home so why worry if we piled it up and thought we could.

But the "find" that I thought best was the boat. At the boundary of the air station and adjoining the naval base were concrete ramps for handling sea planes, with several smaller buildings close by which were obviously used for servicing them.

Back in one of these buildings was a small (12 ft.) cedar strip boat which probably was used to get out to an anchored sea plane, or possibly was somebody's private little boat, if such was possible to have in the Japanese Navy. Lowell Eastlund and AI Woodburn found it and brought it over to the building we'd decided would be our radar shop when the squadron got up to Japan. Harold Olson and I thought the boat had possibilities so we claimed joint ownership with Lowell after Woodburn disclaimed any part of it.

Another building nearby was used for paint storage and painting tools so we scraped all the old paint off and gave it a new paint job. Having the choice of many colors and kinds of paint, we made the outside white and trimmed the gunwales with a bright red and we found some beautiful blue lacquer for the inside. The boat was complete with a set of oars so, when the paint dried, we launched it.

Our connection to Tokyo Bay was protected by a long breakwater which formed a large lake for sea plane operation and this narrowed down into a deep estuary which was one of the ways to get to the docks and piers of the naval base. This made an excellent place for boats the size of ours. After soaking up a bit it looked like the "Maybe" (our name for many reasons) would eventually stop leaking. Not being satisfied to just row around, we started looking for an outboard motor. Lowell finally located a warehouse, with the help of Lt. Thomson, that had two old outboards, neither of which looked like they'd run since parts seemed to be missing from each. They were the same model and size however (Kinuda--10 HP, according to the nameplate), so we thought we might be able to make a whole one from the two.

Since I was the only one of us who had any experience with outboards (I was an old Mille Lacs guide-­remember?) I became head engineer on the project. It looked like we'd have enough parts except neither one had a propeller so Lowell went scrounging again. Harold and I figured we should be able to run the motor in a barrel of water anyway, so after several hours of tinkering and a lot of pulling on the starter rope we finally got it to run. Not too much later Lowell came back with a propeller--not one for this motor, obviously, since it was much too large, but we thought we could get a Seabee to cut about an inch off each blade so it would fit. This worked but the test run in the water barrel made me wonder if this motor wasn't a little big for our boat, the way we threw water all over our future radar shop.

We hauled the "Maybe" out, slid it down the ramp, and clamped on the Kinuda. Harold and Lowell jumped in the boat and rowed us out a ways while I tried starting the motor. It popped and snorted until it finally started running slowly, which was a good thing for us since the darn thing was pulling us backwards. We probably would have been swamped right there if it would have started at full speed. It didn't take us long to figure out the pitch was wrong on the propeller since what Lowell had found came from a twin propeller Japanese landing craft and he'd picked the propeller with the wrong pitch.

One of our ideas for the "Maybe" was to go out beyond the breakwater and circle the troopship bringing the rest of the squadron up, but how dumb can you get, expecting to take a 12 foot open boat out into Tokyo Bay? We were lucky we could only putter around near the breakwater. Several times we broke down and had to row ourselves back to the ramp, and one time I fell in, motor and all, (it was only about 4 feet deep at the end of the ramp) so that required a few hours in the shop to get the Kinuda running again. We eventually found a propeller for it but it wasn't long before the Kinuda died for good and I would leave Japan shortly after.

Towards the end of September, 542 was reunited again and the restrictions on going on liberty were to be lifted. Our Japanese contacts so far had only been with our working parties although other Japanese were beginning to come on the base, such as the old man with the beer truck. Each day an old truck with its charcoal burner on the back which made alcohol for fuel (Japanese civilians did not seem to own any vehicles powered by gas engines) would arrive with a load of wooden crates of rice beer.

This beer was always in brown glass bottles about a liter in size and it was pretty good, we thought, even though we had to drink it warm. We had had a payday and were paid in Japanese currency so we could buy beer from this old fellow--our military currency was not legal when dealing with civilians even though it was in yen and sen, and U.S. currency was not legal either, of course, even to have in our possession. (We all were supposed to have turned in our U.S. money for military script but many kept theirs and this was the currency used for poker games since it was "real money'' and couldn't be spent in any other way). So with a little Japanese money in our pockets and enough exposure to the Japanese so that we thought we knew what to expect, we were ready for liberty.

This first day of liberty was a Sunday afternoon from noon until about 5:00 PM--not much, but most of us thought it would be good to take it slow. The town of Yokosuka is adjacent to the naval base but from the main gate of the air station it's about 5 miles by road or train to the town even though the naval base and air station are connected, because of the hilly terrain and the route taken. We were to use the air station gate outside of which a strip town was built, similar to the little towns that get built around the entrances to our military bases.

So what's it like to be among the first to step out and mingle with the civilian population of a country we'd just defeated in a war? The best I can say is that we just didn't know how it would go so I guess we instinctively stayed together and walked down the center of the street. Along the sides of the street were a lot of kids of all ages and all with running noses and apparently no handkerchiefs. We weren't more than a block from the gate before some of these kids were hitting us up for gum--where did they learn that so quickly?

The adults, though, held back and we all just looked at each other. It was only a couple of blocks to the train station where we thought we could catch the electric train for Yokosuka, and some of the Japanese pointed the way when we asked. At the station we didn't have long to wait before a train pulled in but none of us had seen any place we could buy tickets. We were right in the middle of a crowd also waiting for the train and when it stopped and the doors opened we were caught in the surge to get on. The train already appeared to be full but that didn't matter--everyone at this station was determined to get on.

I'd never seen as much pushing and shoving before in my life and, in our country, behavior like we saw would lead to a real brawl. So there we were, a half dozen of us jam packed with a train load of Japanese-­something else we wouldn't have believed possible a short time ago at Yontan. No one seemed unfriendly to us but no one smiled at us or tried to be friendly, either.

When we got to the station at Yokosuka about a third of the people on the train tried to get out all at once so, again, we went with the flow of the crowd. We never did find out how we could buy a train ticket in Japan--l'm sure someone worked out the details later. For our next liberty we were told we couldn't take the train, however, since the Navy would furnish transportation from the air station gate to downtown Yokosuka. I'm not sure if it was the Japanese or us who wanted these new arrangements.

The town of Yokosuka seemed to have very little damage and, while it was far from deserted, the normal activity you'd expect in a town of this size was missing. Most of the downtown buildings were only two or three stories and the residential areas usually had wooden fences separating the houses from the streets so we could not see much of them.

The impression I had was that of a maze of one story frame buildings strung together along narrow streets almost like alleys. Sometime you could see a few low trees among the buildings, probably in the back yards. Except for the downtown area, where the terrain was flat and had wider streets, the rest of the town seemed to be distributed in a series of valleys between sharp limestone ridges covered with some type of evergreen shrubs and small trees and along the small roads that were visible on the ridges people apparently had homes.

One lasting impression I have is the distinct odor of Japan, not only of Yokosuka, but even as we first flew over Kyushu on the way up from Okinawa. Japan's sanitary and sewage disposal systems at that time were much more primitive than those of most western countries, but the odors seemed much more complicated. Possibly the odor of resin, pepper, and smoke added to a slight odor of sewage would come close to describing it. We weren't overcome by this odor--it was just faintly there so a person could get to liking it, I suppose (if you were Japanese).

On this first liberty we thought we'd now be able to buy some real souvenirs but each of the little shops we'd go into usually had nothing much on the shelves. As you'd walk in you might hear footsteps or scuffling of feet of someone going into the back rooms. When that happened, no one would come out, so after a few minutes we'd leave. I think the highlight of this first time in Yokosuka might have been when Orel Montgomery and I accidentally walked into one of the common bath houses the Japanese made use of. This was like a small indoor swimming pool except the water looked hot. If there was a separate section for men and women, I'm not sure--it seemed to me they were all bathing together. When we walked in all the chattering stopped and we got out of there before anyone started chattering at us.

On this first liberty we also found the slop chute the Navy had set up in what had been a Yokosuka hotel. Those in charge of the occupation knew there wouldn't be much for us in Yokosuka so one of the priorities was to set up a place where Marines and sailors could go when they got tired of walking around the town. A few cans of beer and a hamburger would keep most of us out of trouble, especially since the beer was cold. For some, finding the way back to the air station by way of the train might have been difficult if they had too many hamburgers at the slop chute, which is probably the real reason the Navy provided transportation after that first liberty.

We were allowed liberty only during the daytime once or twice a week and each time a little more seemed to appear on the store shelves. I'm sure they weren't holding back on us but Japan just didn't have much that could be sold. I bought a few items (tablecloth & napkins) and four of us found a professional photographer who took our pictures. However, it didn't take Japan long to better satisfy this market that they more than likely never dreamed they'd have at the end of the war.

For me, my thoughts were now focused on getting home. A point system had been worked out for the Marine Corps so all of us were busy calculating our points and trying to figure out when we'd be going home. But points were not the only consideration--the "how" to get home was even more important. Transportation was the big problem and just to go home as an individual seemed to be impossible for the government to work out. In the Marine Corps you never get transferred without a set of orders being "cut" which moved you from one organization to another. Apparently there's no organization called "Home" in the Marine Corps and that may very well be the problem in other branches of the service too.

The most expeditious way to get people home was thought to be with units that were being sent back to the U.S., but first transferring all that unit's low point men out and then filling that unit's table of organization with high point men who would then be discharged when the unit got back. VMF(N)542 was scheduled to stay in Japan so now the problem was to find units which were going home so transfers could be made. (If this sounds stupid, it's only because it is).

By late October, our Adjutant, Lt. Zenoff, had managed to get the first batch of our men with the highest points transferred and on the way home, and I'd be in the second batch, or next. I wrote home on October 31st to say I didn't know when I'd leave--on November 2nd I was packing to leave the next morning. About twenty of us from 542 were being transferred to VMB-612, which was still based at Chimu on Okinawa. We'd be flying down but there was a 250 pound limit, including yourself, so most of my souvenirs got left in a pile in the barracks. As we took off from Yokosuka I was almost glad I'd left as much as I did--that old C46 seemed to need all the runway it could find.

None of us knew how long VMB-612 would stay at Chimu but we were on the way home anyway. The squadron had shut down operations so none of us 542ers had to learn any new jobs. In fact, we didn't do anything for the two weeks before we left except help them eat up all the fresh food they still had and which they couldn't take back. (I think I ballooned up from 143 pounds to 145!).

Finally 612's aircraft left to fly back to Hawaii and we prepared to board an escort carrier, the CVE-18 Altamaha, which would ferry us and a deck load of F4U's and F6F's back, also to Hawaii. We would have preferred a destination other than Hawaii, of course, but we were going in the right direction at least. Apparently there were some side benefits to being in VMB-612 since we were given quarters formerly used as crew's quarters which were now vacant because the crew had been reduced for ferry operation. This was pure luxury compared with quarters on a troopship. Before we left Okinawa we took on enough additional troops to fill the hangar deck and they had to make do sleeping on cots, but, since most of these were Army, they're probably still talking about the great trip they had back to the States. (Every thing's relative, you know). After a stop at Midway, where we all got off the carrier for about four hours to stretch and walk around, we pulled into Pearl Harbor and all of us Marines were then trucked over to the Marine Air Station at Ewa. Now we found that those of us who had been transferred into VMS 612 were no longer part of the squadron and we had to wait for further transportation to San Diego.

Everybody knows Hawaii is a nice place to visit but when you don't have any money, or dress shoes, it isn't. During all our time overseas, paydays were a real rare event and it really didn't matter. Except for in Japan where we did get a payday, there was no place to spend money and most of us were having our pay sent home anyway. I had $7.00 and I probably had as much money as anyone else, so, after polishing up the boon dockers again (they were real fussy at the gate at Ewa), some of us took the bus into Honolulu and to Waikiki Beach.

It didn't take long to spend the $7, but just absorbing the sights and the atmosphere made for a full evening. After several days of no action the officer in charge of our small group admitted that no transportation had been arranged for us. This went on for almost two weeks and each morning at muster we got the same answer. Finally we were told to pack up and be ready to leave the next morning when a truck would haul us over to Pearl Harbor where we would board a Navy APA headed for San Diego. When we reported to the Marine officer in charge he told us the APA was full--they didn't have our little group on the passenger manifest-- but we could stay anyway. This meant we had no assigned berth but that didn't matter--you could always find an empty one and nobody would worry about you. Besides, most of us were Staff Sergeant, or higher, so it was easy to hold onto the empty bunk you'd found by virtue of rank, if nothing else.

On December 17, 1945, we landed at San Diego and were trucked up to Camp Miramar to start the discharge process. In all our traveling we each carried our own records so this process was on an individual basis. We also were processed through the quartermaster so we each were able to bring our clothing issue up to Marine Corps standards, which meant all the clothing we were told to send home before going overseas, like our dress shoes, or was lost or worn out, was reissued, with no questions asked.

Because of the numbers being processed and the mass confusion all around, a process which should have taken a half day, or so, dragged out for ten days so my discharge was two days after Christmas, on December 27, 1945. While waiting for the process to be completed we had no duties but we also had no liberty, but strange as it may seem, this didn't bother me a bit. Maybe this was because, in a way, it was kind of unbelievable and I was just a little afraid of testing the reality of it all. Or maybe it was that, like a deep sea diver, you have to come to the top slowly to avoid adverse effects and it certainly was true that each change we'd experienced was an improvement.

Those of us who left 542 on November 3rd had many glitches in the process of getting back to the States­-taking almost twice as long to get back as to go overseas--but there still were problems standing in the way of getting home even after being discharged. The entire West Coast was in the middle of a huge transportation tie-up. Airline transportation just didn't exist then like it does today, and what was there wasn't available to travelers like newly discharged Marines.

Train passenger traffic away from the coast also was not available but bus transportation to some destinations could be obtained. A representative of the Greyhound Bus Company came on the base at Miramar and he tried to work out ways to get people away from the coast by bus to where they might find train transportation the rest of the way. The train tie-up did not extend itself to the central part of the country or have effect on north/south train travel, apparently. AI Woodburn and I finally were able to make bus reservations to Fort Worth, Texas, to leave two days after we were discharged.

AI is from Missouri and the University of Missouri was playing Texas in the Cotton Bowl at Dallas on New Year’s Day, right next door to Fort Worth. We figured we'd just get to Fort Worth in time to go to the Cotton Bowl football game. (For a kid from Minnesota who always was sort of a sports nut this was big stuff!). In the meantime, since the Marine Corps kicks you off the base as soon as they discharge you, we thought we’d just spend the two days in San Diego waiting for the bus getting caught up on steak and shrimp--two items we saw little of for 16 months. So, early in the morning on December 27th, we left Miramar, out of the Marine Corps, glad to be alive, and looking for what's next, but first a little steak and shrimp!

Before I launch into the next period of time in this narrative I'd like to jump ahead with an update of sorts. In May of 1973, I received a letter from Lowell Eastlund, written from Okinawa as he was traveling on business for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (Lowell held a full time, high level, position in the VFW). He reported the south half of Okinawa was pretty much all one city, with major traffic problems, but he did manage to find Yontan, which was now deserted and called Yomitan.

Nothing remained of our old living area that he could identify although he thought he had found where the runways had been and perhaps the occupation of our area by our Air Force after we left for Chimu had obliterated where we lived (it's for certain that the Air Force had no use for our underground living quarters). Perhaps a slightly more tangible remembrance of VMF(N)542 remains on Ulithi. All of the atoll has been given back to the natives and to now visit Ulithi you must obtain permission from their King. The Jesuits maintain a school on Falalop and in the school's library can be found a copy of 542's "Cruise Book" (like the tan book in my library), put there, through the Jesuits, by one of our members (Stub Haggas). But maybe it's only a fanciful thought that this has any more meaning for the islanders on Ulithi than what Lowell found on Okinawa would have for the Okinawans'.


19 October 1945
From: Commanding Officer.
To: All VMF(N) 542 Personnel.

I. Marine Night Fighter Squadron 542 is completing its four of duty in defense of our country.
2. In fourteen long, hard months, we have touched all points of the Asiatic-Pacific combat area. We have protected the fleet at Ulithi, and met the enemy at Okinawa. Now, after partaking in the original occupation of Japan the squadron is breaking up to go to our homes which we fought so well to protect and defend.
3. Through all of our trials and tribulations, you men fought and lived like real American men, and underwent hardships that only the strong can survive. In the final analysis, you upheld the great traditions of the United States Marines.
4. I extend my gratefulness for your efforts, and appreciation for a job well done. Good luck to you all.

Letter from Major Kellum to VMF(N)542 just before first group of men left for home.

Well, anyway, AI and I were off to downtown San Diego for our two day wait for the bus to Fort Worth. I don't remember how many shrimp or how many steaks we had but it probably was less than we thought it would take to catch up. Even though we were still in uniform it wasn't too difficult to start getting used to the idea that we weren't on liberty--we were actually civilians.

I probably was as anxious as anyone would be to get home but those thoughts surely were secondary to the realization that I was on my own--the war was over. I guess like my earlier thoughts about the farm being forever I'd thought the Marine Corps and the war were forever also. It takes a little adjusting but the two days in San Diego were a good start in the process.

The bus trip to Fort Worth took the better part of two days and, after checking in at a hotel, we decided we'd better try to locate Cotton Bowl tickets over in Dallas. After locating two good tickets from a hotel bellboy (for which we paid the price marked on the tickets, which is unusual, I'm told) we also found two free tickets at the Dallas USO which we later gave away to a Marine we met in Fort Worth.

It turned out the free tickets were in a special section of the end zone that were donated by the people of Dallas while our paid tickets were much better seats. Well, Missouri wasn't much of a match for Texas but every time anything good for Missouri, or bad for Texas, happened the serviceman's section stood up and cheered, while we were surrounded by Texans where we sat so AI and I were pretty quiet.

After the game, as we were eating in a downtown Dallas cafe, a little old lady came up to us and asked if we'd been to the game. When we told her we had she proceeded to berate us, almost to the point of being abusive. She wanted to know why we'd cheered for Missouri and against Texas and it didn't satisfy her at all when we said we were from Missouri (I lied a bit). After she stomped out we wondered how close this little old lady had sat to us--we never noticed her at the game--and then it dawned on us that she thought we'd been part of the serviceman's section and was offended that the gift of those tickets didn't make us loyal to Texas. I guess it was time to leave Texas anyway.

I'm not sure how cold it was in Minnesota when I got off the bus in Isle after another trip on the Rock Island Rocket from Fort Worth to Minneapolis, but any day in January would have been cold enough for me. Several of my High School classmates were having an impromptu class reunion in the Isle Cafe but I couldn't stay long--my parents were anxious to get me home, I guess, and I wasn't unhappy about that since it was almost two years since I'd seen them.

Coming home on a Greyhound bus, trickling back on my own as a newly released veteran, as so many of us were doing, wasn't the "ticker parade" type of homecoming that many received but it was plenty good enough for me. I was satisfied with my Marine Corps experience, I felt extremely fortunate to have escaped physical harm, and I felt no need to dwell on the events of the previous three years with anyone. I also was satisfied that I'd served in a pretty good unit of the Marine Corps and, looking ahead a bit, VMF(N)542 would continue to be a top notch squadron as evidenced by the record shown below which covers the time period of the war in Vietnam.

VMF(N)542 -- VMA542 Streamer Entitlement ( WW II, Korean War, and Vietnam War)

: Okinawa, 7 Apr -14 Jul 1945:
: Korea, 21 Sep – 11 Oct 1950:
: Korea, 0•10 Mar 1951:
: Vietnam, 10 Jul - Dec: 1955, 1 Mar - 1 Aug 1965, and Dec 1966 - 15 Sep 1967)

: Korea, 22 Nov – 14 Dec 1950:

: Vietnam, 18-23 Aug 1966;
: Vietnam, 16 Sep - 16 Nov 1967 and 10 May – 14 Nov 1966:

: Okinawa Gunto Operation 7 Apr – 14 Jul 1945:

(6 Mar – 1944 – 31 Dec 1946)

: Japan 13 Sep 1945 – 20 June 1946)

(27 June 1950 – 27 Jul 1954)
(‘Jan 1951 to date:

(North Korean Aggression, 20 Sep – 2 Nov 1950)
(Communist China Aggression, 3 Nov – 1950 – 24 Jan 1951)
(First U.N. Counteroffensive, 25 Jan – 10 Mar 1951

(Vietnam Defense Campaign, 10 Jul – 4 Dec 1965
(Vietnam Counteroffensive Campaign, 1 Mar – 30 Jun 1966)
(Vietnam Counteroffensive Phase II, 1 Jul – 1 Aug 1966: 10 Aug 1966 – 31 May 1967)
(Vietnam Counteroffensive Phase III, 1 Jun – 16 Nov 1967
(Vietnam Counteroffensive Phase IV, 10 May – 30 Jun 1968)
(Vietnam Counteroffensive Phase V, 1 Jul – 1 Nov 1968)
(Vietnam Counteroffensive Phase VI, 2 Nov 1968 – 22 Feb 1969)
(TET Counteroffensive, 23 Feb – 8 Jun 1969) (Vietnam, Summer-Fall 1969, 9 Jun -31 Oct 1969)
(Vietnam Winter-Spring 1970, 1 Nov 1969 – 31 Jan 1970)
(10 Jul – 4 Dec 1965, 1 Mar – 1 Aug 1966, 10 Oct 1966 – 16 Nov 1967, and
10 May 1968 – 20 Sept 1969


The following is an account of my second period of service in the Marine Corps which spanned the time from December 7, 1949 until June 25, 1951. In 1947, when I first became employed at Western Electric, I believed the company offered employment which would provide technical challenge and would lead to opportunities for advancement consistent with my training in electronics.

I was wrong about this and it was obvious that the climate of "hate and discontent" generated by the struggle between the union and management, which was an unwelcome trap for most of us who worked there, would never have a satisfactory end. A more detailed account of the events which led to this decision to again enlist in the Marine Corps will be found in "Well, Anyway''.

As the situation at Western Electric kept getting more confrontational each week it was becoming more difficult to feel like going to work each day. So, when Lowell Eastlund (Ole), who had joined the weekend Marine Corps Reserves, told me there was an opening as a Station Keeper in the Minneapolis Reserve Detachment I thought I'd look into that--l'd about had it with Western Electric. (Within the next year Western Electric was to move their entire St. Paul operation back to Chicago so maybe that explains why they had no interest in making things work out with us).

Thinking about joining the Marine Corps again, even if it was in the Reserves, wasn't the easiest thing for me, but there's no doubt that my Western Electric job was negative incentive enough to look for something else. I still can't say that I really looked upon this as a means to bridge the time until I could make use of my Gl Bill benefits because I hadn't decided anything about that at all yet, but that's the way it turned out.

After getting as much information from Ole as he had about the Station Keeper opening, I decided to follow up on it by going out to the Naval Air Station, hoping all the while that this would lead to something because I was really sick of Western Electric. From Ole's description of what a Station Keeper did it seemed to be more like a civilian technical position than a true military enlistment.

It was kind of a funny feeling going up to the main gate of the Naval Air Station to get a pass to enter in order to talk to the Detachment First Sergeant, who Ole said I should contact first. I knew that most of the Marines at the station were Reserves but those at the gate sure looked like regular Marines to me. I wasn't afraid--just wondering if I was ready for it or not.

After a short discussion with the First Sergeant and getting a brief introduction to several other enlisted people in the Detachment office I was told there was an opening in the ground radar unit for someone having the MOS and rank I was discharged with in 1945. I next had an interview with the Master Sergeant who was NCOIC of the radar section and the next thing I knew they were arranging for my physical examination over at the Dispensary--apparently I was being given the job. I relate these details only to show that the process was similar to what one would go through to be hired for any job--not like going down to the recruiting office to enlist--and this was very important to how I viewed what I was doing.

I don't recall that there was very much reaction down at Western Electric when I announced I was quitting, and possibly I didn't give them the usual two week’s notice. I know there was no going away party or good wishes expressed by any of my supervisors but I did hear from my coworkers how lucky they thought I was. After finishing work that last day a couple of us stopped for a few beers (making me late for supper) and that was about it for me and Western Electric.

On December 7, 1949 I was sworn into the Marine Corps again and I sensed then that my new position would have a little more to it than just being a 40 hour a week job. I was taken over to the detachment Quartermaster's and given a complete new issue of all the clothes Marines were now given, including two sets of dress blues, summer and winter issue.

All during World War II, the Marine Corps had dispensed with issuing dress blues although you could purchase them at your own expense and wear them on or off the base when you were on liberty or off duty, with the only requirement being that the purchased uniform had to comply with Marine Corps specifications. (Near every Marine base you would find a small clothing industry specializing in dress blues but I was content with wearing Marine greens then).

So why would I have to have a set of dress blues, or even the dress greens I'd always known, if all my new job entailed was to work on the radar equipment used on weekends by the Reserve unit? Of course, I asked a few questions until the whole picture fell into place to my satisfaction. This was a 40 hour a week job--I was not misled about that but nobody ever said I'd be working on radar 40 hours a week or that each week's work would just be 40 hours--that was an assumption I'd made and it turned out that Ole never really knew what the Station Keepers did when he wasn't out there on his two weekends a month.

To put it briefly, the detachment of Marine Reserves on continuous active duty (CAD), of which I was not a part, had two basic functions. The first was to makes sure the weekend Reserves had equipment (aircraft and radar) with which to train and the second function was to provide a Marine Corps “presence” in the area, and it’s difficult to say which was the more important.

As I look back now I have almost a totally positive feeling about this time of my life. But there's not only me that's being affected by this new job--what are Ellen's feelings and thoughts? Of course, I had no way of knowing her mind exactly but she could hope that my frustrations with Western Electric were a thing of the past and when I figured out for her how much more money a Marine T Sgt. was paid over what a relay adjuster earned, some of her doubts may have diminished.

I think she was further impressed when she saw the pile of new clothes I now owned and she probably figured out that it would be a long while before I'd have to buy underwear again. (I won't speculate about what effect the dress blues had on her). Later, when she became aware of what I've meant by "presence", I have to believe she felt we were much better off than before the change of jobs.

But there's not only Ellen and me that's being affected by this new job--what are my parent's and her parent's thoughts? Again, we could never know exactly but I think it's safe to say that my dad wasn’t too impressed. My mother said little one way or the other, but Ellen's parents seemed too, to me, to be more supportive. I didn't think it would be otherwise with my dad--he'd never been in the service himself and I never felt any rank I'd earned in the Marine Corps had ever impressed him, which is something I just lived with all along and sort of went with the territory in my relationship with my dad. Maybe we (l) worried too much about what our parents thought. Possibly it was only in my own mind that there was some stigma to going back into the Marine Corps rather than moving forward with some job, but I felt this was going to be much better than continuing on at Western Electric.

As I was getting oriented into my new job I sensed that somehow most of what I thought of as the good of the Marine Corps was being retained, and I thought there'd be some new and very interesting things that I'd be involved with. However, this was still the Marine Corps, Reserve unit or not, so the inevitable guard duty had to be reckoned with and, to tell the truth, I really didn't expect it to be different. (Ole seemed to be surprised about this aspect of the job).

Guard duty primarily consisted of duty at the main station gate, with Navy personnel assisting during the day but with Marines manning the gate by ourselves at night. The only other guard post we had was at the Detachment office, little more than a fire watch and telephone answering service, so with the size of the Detachment as it was, we each had the duty every fourth day for a twenty four hour period.

Part of what I have meant as "presence" refers to gate duty at the Air Station gate, of course, but there were several other factors which made up what the Marine Corps had in mind for us. We stood gate duty in our greens usually but there were several other opportunities in which dress blues were the uniform of the day. One, which occurred quite often, was to provide the Honor Guard at the graveside funeral service for veterans, particularly if the veteran was a former Marine.

For this there usually were about eight of us and we checked out our M-1's and ammunition from the Detachment Armory since we didn't have an issue of 782 gear of our own to take care of. Maybe we weren't as polished as an Honor Guard at Arlington but I guess we did a creditable job, except for one time maybe. This time we really screwed up, to be charitable to ourselves. When we looked at our ammunition clips we found we'd been given dummy ammunition by mistake--so what do you do? Needless to say, we just Presented Arms and nobody seemed to know the difference--except us and I don't think any of us will ever forget it.

Another occasion for showing our "presence" was marching in the St. Paul Winter Carnival parade. This was a long parade and it's never very warm the first week in February in St. Paul, as everyone reading this knows. Making the problem tougher for us is that dress blues are cut to nearly be skintight so nothing much can be worn underneath, although the issue long johns are fairly warm and do fit. (Aren't you glad you've read this so now you know?) We also worked with the Bush Lake Ski Club Oust after getting thawed out from the parade) to put a field telephone system on their ski jump in return for using their hill for a communications site for our weekend Reserves. It's pretty cold up there, too.

Of course, the purpose for us being there at all was to see that the equipment was all working for the two weekends a month that the Reserves were on duty. The Reserve Detachment at the Minneapolis Air Station consisted of two fighter squadrons which flew the F4U Corsair and a ground radar unit which supported the fighter squadrons in their weekend drills.

The radar unit was Ground Control Intercept Squadron-16, or MGCIS-16, and there were four of us Station Keepers who were attached to it. The NCOIC was M/Sgt. Keith Carlson with M/Sgt. Lyle Bryant and S/Sgt. Roy Mortenson the other two, besides myself. All of us, as well as the majority of the other members of the CAD detachment were veterans of World War II, and I think some of the detachment was hoping to make a career of the Marine Corps, one way or another.

The equipment we were charged with maintaining was all equipment I had no previous experience with, since the radar was not the airborne type, and the communications gear also was new to me, but this proved to be more of interest than it was a problem. Keith and Lyle were both good instructors and very conscientious about their work so I began a crash course on ground based radar and radio (Roy was also new to some of this so there were really two of us being instructed). We had a large area for our equipment and training space in what had been the boxing loft in the recreation building at the time when the Naval Air Station had been more active. In fact, we four were the only regular occupants of a building which also housed the swimming pool (now drained), several handball courts, and the basketball gym, which was sometimes used by the Reserve units for close order drill.

Except for the one day in four duty day and the two weekends a month, I think Ellen and I felt pretty good about how things were going for us. For the first time in our married lives we seemed to have a little money left over each payday from the last. Ellen's job at Northwest Airlines was going good and certainly her income added to our savings as well as enabled us to buy more furniture for the apartment we now had on Van Buren Avenue.

We were happy now having three rooms of our own, plus our own bathroom, and we'd started furnishing it before I left Western Electric. This was in a big, old house owned by the people who lived downstairs and we shared the upstairs with a mother-in-law who had the front end of the second floor. We didn't have a garage for our car but we did have a back yard for parking rather than having to keep it at the curb out on the street.

I can’t recall exact numbers but in the spring of 1950 we felt wealthy enough to order a new car--a Pontiac Streamliner with the inline straight six engine and straight transmission. It was ebony black and had plenty of chrome--we could hardly wait for delivery! When it came and we could leave the old '38 Plymouth as our trade-in we were on cloud nine. This was the first new car I'd ever been associated with, not counting the '27 Model T that my folks bought new when I was three years old. Ellen was used to this, of course, since her folks had bought a new car back in 1936, but I think she was as excited as I was.

Things went along pretty good--we were enjoying the new car and started planning a few trips for later in the summer. We had to schedule things around the summer Reserve drills which were to be two weeks of active duty for MGCIS-16 out at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina in August. I really wasn't looking forward to spending two weeks of August in North Carolina—I knew how hot and humid that was going to be--but there wasn't much I could do about it.

During our regular drill weekends the four of us Station Keepers usually had it pretty easy, just keeping out of the way if all the equipment worked OK, but when the Reserves go on these summer cruises they are usually integrated into what the regular Marines are doing so I knew it would be a little different, at least.

Sometimes it seems like it just doesn't make any difference what you plan--something will come along and change it all for you anyway--and that's what happened to us in the summer of 1950. Maybe I just didn't read the news very much but it was a surprise to me when the North Koreans decided to invade South Korea and, of course, President Truman took exception to this, as did the United Nations.

This left us literally wondering how we'd be affected and we knew it was "how" and not "if'. Most of us who joined the Marine Reserves knew, if we were honest with ourselves, that there's always the risk of being called to active duty but I think most feel that if a war breaks out (probably the only condition anyone thinks will call up the Reserves) they'd want to be in the Marine Corps anyway, even those of us who've been in combat. I suppose some combat veterans might feel some sense of unfairness, and I suppose some non veterans might hope to avoid being called up at all, but I think most of those who are in the Marine Reserves are willing to accept the consequences of what being a Reserve means.

Our immediate concern was whether or not the Reserve summer cruise would still go as scheduled and then, if it did, would they let us come home, or would they keep us? Keith, Lyle, Roy, and I felt our Station Keeper status probably just simplified things since we were on active duty already. We were convinced they'd keep us in North Carolina as part of the MGCIS unit our Reserves were going to work with, at the very least.

So, with some apprehension about how soon we'd again see each other, Ellen and I said "Good-bye", hoping it would only be for the two weeks of the summer cruise. I suppose I told her to be careful with the new car--that would be my style, I guess. We were being flown out to Cherry Point by transport aircraft, probably from some other Marine Reserve squadron, and not all of our planes would depart at the same time.

I can remember seeing the troops loading up and then watching as one plane pulled off the taxi way shortly after departing. The aircraft's engines were shut down and someone came out of the plane with a short ladder and started to work on something up near one of the engines. Soon this mechanic, or whatever, folded up his ladder, climbed into the aircraft, all engines started up again, and off they went. I couldn't help thinking about the condition of some of the equipment we had, so when our plane loaded later that day I looked for the ladder and even though I didn't see one, I was still apprehensive. We all made it although one of our fighter squadrons lost an aircraft down in southern Wisconsin due to mechanical failure. When I heard about this later I couldn't help but think about 542's flight across the whole continent and part of the Pacific Ocean six years back without losing a plane and I felt a little twitch of pride.

From Cherry Point MGCIS-16, was trucked down to Camp Lejeune where an operating MGCIS unit essentially vacated their equipment and let us move in to start running problem exercises with aircraft from Cherry Point. This was the other side of fighter control by radar from what I'd seen overseas and, from what I could tell, was a somewhat more advanced system than I'd been aware of then.

Because we lacked the large search radar back in Minneapolis we also were not able to work the problems to the extent that was now expected so this was a good training exercise for our Reserves, myself included. I also can report that Lejeune has a good distribution of slop chutes so the whole two weeks was spent by nearly all of us working hard on all the good equipment by day and having a few beers by night, all the time in a deep sweat from the 100 degree heat and 95% humidity. I don't recall that shore liberty was even discussed.

The two weeks passed and home we were sent, to some people's surprise, considering how things were going in Korea. All the Reserves were told to go home and wait for orders--they all would be called up for active duty. All of us who were Station Keepers were already on active duty so our Continuous Active duty (CAD) status was now changed to Extended Active Duty (EAD). By the simple change of one letter we now had the same duty status as everyone in the regular Marine Corps--how much easier can it get for the government to increase its numbers in the military? But we had no complaint and we found we essentially had 30 days to get to our next duty station, and where that would be was to be revealed shortly.

When I told Ellen what was going to come up shortly we were concerned, of course, since it was easy to visualize getting off a plane in California and going aboard a troopship headed for Korea. However, as chaotic as things seemed to be, with all the uncertainty around us, some parts of the Marine Corps still functioned in a rational manner, and if you probed in the right places and in the right way you could make sense out of the system.

We had no more weekend Reserve drills scheduled--they were supposedly waiting at home for specific orders (which they soon received) while those of us who had EAD status found we were to report to the Marine Air Station at El Toro, California. What surprised me, and probably a few others, was that the date we were to report was September 15th, and this was only the third week of August.

Our Detachment First Sergeant told us we were on our own to get out there, we could leave just as soon as he could get our orders typed up, we would be reimbursed for use of our own transportation, and we’d not be charged with leave time since the time to get there was travel time. Considering that during my three years of prior service in the Marine Corps I had only eight days leave, this seemed to be a radical departure from Marine Corps policy but I thought it best not to ask questions about this--so I just took my paperwork and left, with more than three weeks time to get to my next duty station.

Ellen and I now had the decision to make--should she go out there with me, not knowing anything beyond my report date, or should she stay in Minnesota and see what happens? In the vernacular of today that's a "no brainer'' so there really was no decision that had to be made--she was coming along no matter what. It didn't take long to pack up our things--the Marine Corps would pay for storage of our furniture and other personal possessions so all we had to do was box up a few things, let our landlord know the situation, Ellen had to quit her job (giving a couple days notice) and we were ready to head out for California.

Rather than time our trip to allow us to drive directly out to El Toro by September 15th we decided to leave as soon as we could and see a little of the country while we were at it. Neither one of us wanted to spend this time with our families--we wanted just to be together since we had so much uncertainty about what the future held for us. Besides, we had this shiny new car that we were hardly used to yet, so after spending a day or so with both sets of our parents, we headed out. We had no itinerary--just a few maps, a good sense of direction, and a destination.

It's a two thousand mile trip from Minneapolis to El Toro, at least that's what the Marine Corps will reimburse you for (at 6 cents a mile), but we found it to really be slightly over four thousand miles by our route. First we stopped at the Black Hills, then out to Yellowstone for a day or so. After that we (or I) thought we should stop at Logan, Utah where I'd gone to school so long ago in 1943. Nothing much had changed on the campus of Utah State Agriculture College as far as I could tell--it was still a very pretty place and one you'd think the Marine Corps would never send anyone to.

About the time we were ready to leave Logan Ellen thought she'd like to swing by Singing River Ranch near Red Wing, Colorado where she'd spent two summers helping with the ranch work (indoors) for Schulers, friends of Ellen's mother and dad from when they lived in Illinois. This was only a thousand mile detour, but what the heck! On the way to the ranch we were able to visit with Ellen's Aunt Maude and Uncle Ollie, who lived at Thistle, Utah, near Provo, and then we saw most of Colorado's mountains, it seemed to me. The ranch is rather isolated, reached only by about ten miles of two track road after you leave the highway, and we were surprised to find Schulers had gone back to Davenport, Iowa and the caretakers not too friendly. I think our visit on the ranch lasted all of ten minutes and Ellen was disappointed, of course, but I didn't really care--we were just seeing the country anyway as far as I was concerned.

After leaving the ranch we headed west again and thought we'd better just keep going until we got near El Toro, just to give ourselves a day or so to find some place to stay and to make sure I didn't report in late. We found a nice (inexpensive) motel in Santa Ana, which is only five miles from El Toro, and we had two days to spare. I guess it was about then that we started to think again about what our future might be.

As the Marine Corps sometimes does for transfers to simplify them when something has yet to be decided, my orders said to report to the Commanding General, USMCAS, El Toro, California. Sure--the General was just waiting for me, but he wasn't at the gate so I was directed to someone having a slightly lower rank--like the First Sergeant of a Receiving Battalion. Within an hour or so they had orders cut which directed me to the Commanding Officer, MGCIS-2, USMCAS, and El Toro, California. Now I had only two worries--where on this base is MGCIS-2 and are they all packed and ready to leave for Korea?

I was lucky I drove the Pontiac and that senior NCO's could have personal vehicles on the station because it would have been a long walk to where MGCIS-2 was set up for operation. If Air Stations ever have boondocks, that's where MGCIS-2 was, and I could see they either were just setting up or they were tearing down the equipment and you know which it was that I was hoping for.

When I found the First Sergeant and reported in they were happy to see me and I was even happier to hear that they were just setting up for operation. (Korea would have to wait). Personnel for MGCIS-2 were being assembled from a mix of Marine Corps Regulars and reactivated Reserves, with the Regulars usually being of lower rank and the Reserves wearing most of the stripes. (This would be a slight problem for the lower ranking Regulars until they figured out that we'd earned our stripes and most of us had been in combat).

That night when I got back to the motel Ellen was relieved to hear that we could look for a place to live off the station, at least for a few weeks, instead of her gassing up the Pontiac and heading for home.

Housing was available on the base for married NCO's but it was in such short supply that the Marine Corps was pleased if you didn't need it--they'd pay us what we called "com rats" if we found our own housing and didn't eat in the mess hall. (We could eat there but it cost a small amount each time).

We started looking and, by good fortune, found a nice three room apartment in the town of Tustin, which was only about two miles from the main gate of MCAS-EI Taro. This apartment was relatively new and was one of four just like it, with the owners living in one unit and the others rented to El Taro Marines. We were a block off the main intersection that essentially is all of downtown Tustin and we were nestled into an orange grove on one side and a row of large eucalyptus trees on the other.

I was anxious to make contact with some of the others from Minneapolis but I didn't find any of the Reserves from MGCIS-16 in MGCIS-2, which surprised me just a little. I later found that a few were unlucky enough to be put into squadrons being sent to Korea almost immediately and among these was Ole Eastlund who was made NCOIC of Radio in our old squadron, VMF(N)542.

I didn't get a chance to see him before they left because 542 had shipped out during the time Ellen and I were traveling out there. I also found that Keith Carlson was getting some sort of hardship release to inactive duty, and Lyle Bryant and Roy Mortenson were on the base but I was unable to locate either one. So I was on my own in a new outfit, quite unlike how it was in 542, but you learn new things in a hurry in the Marine Corps.

Operation of a ground control intercept squadron provides a wide variety of interesting work and the large search radar unit, the CPS-5 in our case, while being the center of activity, provides only a part of what goes on. Communication equipment is vital, of course, and this part of the operation, even in MGCJS-16, was an extensive portion of the overall scheme.

Back in Minneapolis, we made do with our transportable radar, the TPS-1B, as our search radar, while in MGCJS-2 the 1B's were used as remote radar sites and their information sent by land lines to the control center where the CPS-5 resided. (stick with me-I’II get to where I fit in shortly). All of us radar technicians had to be familiar with each type of radar unit, of course, and we'd be run through drills with simulated troubles on the equipment if we had no troubles that were real. Here in MGCIS-2, we had three, 1B’s, and I was to become responsible for the operation, care, and maintenance of these units.

By this time Ellen was probably getting used to the idea that the Marine Corps required all of us, regardless of rank, to put in our regular duty days and, for MGCJS-2, this meant one day out of three I had to remain on the base--so what else is new? But we managed to Jive with it and spent almost all of our weekends off exploring Southern California. In fact, we managed to put 32,000 miles on our new Pontiac that first year, although some of the mileage was a result of a move the unit made. Ellen thought sitting around the apartment courtyard with the other Marine wives and our landlady was going to get a little tiresome so she found herself a job doing clerical work at the Power and Gas Company in Santa Ana, and we managed to find use for the extra money. We made some new friends, some of which we still are in contact with, and as the days passed we both were getting used to the idea that California was going to be our home, at least for several months as far as we could tell.

After about two months of operation at El Toro, MGCJS-2 was ordered to take part in a joint service "war games" type of exercise and we were to be deployed in the field for this. It's hard to imagine us being deployed in the field to any greater extent than we already were out there on El Toro's boondocks, but regardless of that, we tore everything down, loaded our trucks, and departed from El Toro for Camp Del Mar, which is the amphibious base of Camp Pendleton near Oceanside (sort of like Del Mar by the Sea). Of course, Camp Del Mar has boondocks, too, so that's where we set up to start operating.

Rumors were numerous that this joint exercise was just a preliminary step on the road to Korea but we also knew that MGCIS-1, which had been shipped to Korea as one of the first units to go, was not experiencing much activity from North Korean aircraft. They were providing control for our aircraft, among which was VMF(N)542, but, unless the situation in Korea changed, we figured we might have several months before we'd leave for overseas.

Our bigger question was where we going to stay at Del Mar or would we go back to El Toro? Going back to El Toro would have a major advantage for Ellen and me since we wouldn't have to move from our apartment in Tustin, but on the other hand, most of us in MGCIS-2 thought Camp Del Mar was a much better duty station than El Toro. Del Mar, even though it's a part of Camp Pendleton, is a smaller base than El Toro, which is an advantage in itself. Besides, our boondocks at Camp Del Mar were nicer than the boondocks of El Toro since we were situated on a ridge of small sandy hills right beside the ocean. Of course, all of these considerations had no influence on whoever was making the decision-­which was to stay at Camp Del Mar.

We knew the chance of finding a place to live off the base around Oceanside was pretty slim so we decided we'd just stay situated where we were in Tustin, especially since Ellen still had her job in Santa Ana. There were a number of others in MGCIS-2 who was doing the same so some of us started car pooling the fifty miles down to Oceanside from the Santa Ana and Tustin area.

I think maybe it was because we had the newest car but it seemed like I got to drive most of the time--so that's part of the reason we had 32,000 miles on the Pontiac after the first year. We also had to get up pretty early to make it for morning muster and it was usually late when we got back to Tustin on the two days out of three that I was able to get home. Maybe that's why the duty days, when I had to stay on the base, didn't seem so bad. But none of these situations really seemed like hardships to Ellen and me--we were happy to have what time there was to be together and we could see that we were fortunate that MGCIS-2 was still stateside; otherwise she'd have had to go back to Minnesota by herself.

As I think back about how MGCIS-2 operated I can see that not much had changed from World War II days with respect to what the Marine Corps expected from technical ranks. First and foremost, the Marine Corps always sets a high priority on military fitness and, if anything, this played out more so in MGCIS-2 than it probably did back with VMF(N)542 at Cherry Point. Since we were on a three day duty rotation it was a natural division to have two days of everyone's time delegated to operation of the gear and the third day, your duty day, be devoted to military fitness.

Operation of the gear for me meant seeing that the 1B's were set up and were providing radar information to the GCI center to back up the main search radar. Since we had three 1B units we had one installed on top of a 25 foot high steel tower of our own construction next to the GCI control hut, one was set up out at the far limits of our boon dock area, which happened to be fairly close to a civilian housing project so it seemed a little strange at first to be operating in sight of someone's back yard with its hanging laundry, and the third we kept loaded on the back of a truck with the idea being that we could travel around with it to the far parts of Camp Pendleton. It was this third unit that provided me with an interesting couple of weeks and what I thought was going to be a quick ticket to Korea with another unit.

From up near Oxnard, California, at the Navy Point Mugu rocket and missile test center, a Marine experimental all weather, close air support tea asked MGCIS-2 to provide radar assistance for their operation. They were using a hybrid analog/digital computer which used radar information from a gun sight radar unit for control of high performance aircraft such as a F6F or F4U fighter, with the intention being that a radio/radar controlled, pilot-less plane could provide close air support to ground troops no matter what the weather conditions were.

The problem they were having was that their gun sight radar had such a narrow radar beam they were having trouble keeping track of a second aircraft until they could lock in on it. This seemed to be an ideal application for the 1B so another T/Sgt. and I were detached from MGCIS-2 and sent up to Point Mugu with our mobile unit--destination known but that was about all we were told. Ellen wasn't too thrilled about this new assignment since it meant I wouldn't get back to Tustin during the week and we weren’t sure about the weekends, either.

We set up our 1B in the grass off from the side of one of Mugu's runways and remoted our radar information into a tent that held the hybrid computer, which seemed to be installed in some sort of homemade trailer. (To give some perspective perhaps I should explain a bit more about our TPS-1B radar. This was transportable because it was made up of three stack-able modules, each a cube about 2'x2'x2' in size, and an antenna unit which was mounted on top of the stack of three modules. Fully assembled, the radar unit was about 10' tall with a canvas tent enclosing the entire assembly, providing weather protection for the electronics as well as for the operator. Power for the system was obtained from a small motor generator which we had to haul around with the unit).

There seemed to be several civilians working with the Marines of the air support team and none of them seemed to be very anxious to show us anything about their equipment. I remember feeling somewhat offended about their secrecy but all we could do was see that our gear operated and watch what we could of their operation. While we didn't get to see much of how their hybrid computer system functioned, we did see takeoffs and landings of pilot-less F6F's being controlled by the gear to which we were supplying some radar information. Apparently they were making simulated bombing runs on a barge anchored offshore but we never could get much information about how successful they were.

Perhaps the problems they were having were greater than they wanted to admit because about half the time a pilot would be in the F6F. At the end of two weeks we were told we could pack up our radar and go back to MGCIS-2 at Camp Del Mar and I can't say I was sorry to leave Point Mugu. I never heard anything more about this version of all weather, close air support--perhaps they are still trying to make it work. For some reason neither Ellen or I worried much about it, anyway.

Back at Camp Del Mar MGCIS-2 was shaping up as a well functioning unit. Our CO, Captain Taylor, was not a Reserve officer so his main interest seemed to be making sure we fit all his standards for what a Marine Corps unit should be, while the officers in charge of our technical operations were all Reserves with equal objectives focused on our gear. We were certain our destination would be Korea quite soon, especially since we started to pack spare parts (without the peanuts and other "luxuries" needed overseas, however). But it was our CO's determination about military fitness that led to a tragic training accident.

Since Camp Del Mar was an amphibious training station it was natural that somehow our military fitness program would have an amphibious element to it. Seemed units were always looking for troops to deposit on the beaches up the shore from Del Mar, and there's no better training for a Marine than landing on some beach, we could be those troops. This meant simulating disembarkation from a ship by climbing down a cargo net into a LVT (Landing Vehicle, Tracked), then heading out from Del Mar's man-made harbor and into the open ocean and up the shore to the designated beach.

Of course, those of us who had done this for real weren't too thrilled with the drill. On this particular exercise we were eight men to an LVT, which has a crew of two, a driver and a radioman, and this was just about full capacity. I think there were about six LVT's with our men in them and probably another six which were without troops--just making the run with us.

As we pulled out into the ocean it was apparent that the surf was pretty high as we traveled out beyond the surf line and proceeded up the coast towards San Clemente. The LVT rides pretty low in the water so we were taking in water through the semi watertight top hatches but the radioman assured us that the pumps would keep ahead of the incoming water. When we got up to the beach area that was our destination there was a lot of radio conversation about whether it would be safe to try to get through the surf and make the landing.

After some discussion someone decided it would be OK so we all headed towards the beach in probably what were two waves of LVT's. Our LVT just got into the heavy surf when our radioman, who also could look out from his position, shouted that one of the LVT’s had flipped and was upside down in the high waves which were pounding the shoreline. All our driver could do was keep on towards the beach since it was too late to turn to get out of the surf. We stripped off our packs and as much could while our radioman tried to give us a quick course in how to evacuate the LVT if we flipped or were swamped. Well, we made it, evacuating through the front ramp in standard fashion, up on the sand and out of the surf, but the LVT that flipped had eight of our men in it and only three, with the two crewmen, were able to get out.

I know there might be a tendency for some to assess blame for what happened but I don't think that would be right. Maybe it could be said that poor judgment was used but one should keep in mind that this was a training accident and part of the purpose of training is to develop good judgment. This was no consolation to the families of the men who drowned, I'm sure, but there was little that could be changed once we were committed to going into the surf. Perhaps it was foolish to attempt a landing on the beach under the conditions that existed but decisions were made and I guess we all have to live with that.

Hanging over our heads, so to speak, was the question of when we would be leaving for Korea since most of us felt this was inevitable, especially since we continued to pack our equipment for loading on board ship. We were trying to cram as much training as possible into our schedule for operation of all our radar and communications systems and at the same time not get the spare parts buried too deep in case we had trouble.

Despite the accident in which we lost five men we continued with our one day in three military fitness program for everybody although we found other things to do besides beach landings from LVT's. It was apparent to all of us in MGCIS-2 that having a career Marine for our commanding officer had its good points and its bad points but most of us were happy to be in the unit, given that we were committed to the Marine Corps in any event.

About the time we went down to Camp Del Mar from El Toro we first really began to get acquainted with one another, probably because the move was a little like going overseas again, and we now had all our personnel. The officer in charge of our radar group, Captain Landsberger, was an Electrical Engineer and one of our other officers was an Electrical Engineering instructor at Purdue University before he was called up with the Reserves, so it must have been through some discussions with them that I began to seriously think about going to college.

Probably my thoughts were that this was now a "lost cause" (thus became more desirable) because I had several years (the years "lost" at Western Electric) during which I should have gone to school and I knew there was a time limit for eligibility under the World War II Gl Bill. Here I was now--in the Marine Corps, with a war on, and no foreseeable time when I could anticipate becoming a civilian again. Ellen and I seldom talked about my going to school since it only could be a "pipe dream" at the moment and maybe, given my nature, we didn't talk about it much at all. (But how are these dreams any different from those of overseas in 1944 and 1945 when I thought about someday studying vet medicine at Kansas State with Pat Patterson?) I think now that I must have received more direct encouragement from Captain Landsberger but about the only thing we could plan ahead for was our impending move to Korea.

And then came ALMAR-22, literally out of the clear blue sky, unheard of, unprayed for, and totally unexpected! So, what's ALMAR-22? "ALMAR" is the acronym for an "All Marines" directive and the "22" might be the sequential number of all the directives issued since Day 1 in the Marine Corps, they're that infrequent.

But what it said was that all Marines who were combat veterans of World War II and who were Reserves could request a release to Inactive Duty. This directive was issued in late May, 1951 and on June 12th, I was transferred back to El Toro, to await my release to Inactive Reserve status, effective on June 25, 1951. This almost happened so fast it was hard to believe it was the Marine Corps doing the paper work.

During the time after applying to be released under ALMAR-22 and until my actual transfer back to El Toro my plans for going back to school were starting to firm up quickly. My decision, nurtured by the encouragement I'd received, to go to the University of Minnesota and take Electrical Engineering at the Institute of Technology (IT) now seemed realizable.

My vague plans from probably as far back as during my last months at Western Electric had always seemed so out of reach and now the timing was right to actually do something about it. Not only did the opportunity present itself by my release to inactive duty but the expiration date for my Gl Bill eligibility was fast approaching (my being called up to active duty probably would have extended that date, but I didn't know that at the time). I knew I'd have to get three of the four credits of high school math that I was missing to get accepted into IT so my plan was to start working to get those and in the meantime enroll in the College of Science, Literature, and Arts (SLA), hoping to transfer to IT as soon as I had the math credits. Of course, I had no real idea if this plan was going to be possible but I knew I had to get going if it were to have any chance of working out at all.

Without the enlightened attitude of the State of California towards higher education my plan would have been very difficult to carry out. California had an excellent Junior College system which provided two years of college to any resident, with no tuition charge, and it seemed like many communities had a local Junior College.

Just down the way from Tustin is Costa Mesa in which Orange Coast Junior College (OCJC) had been established only a few years previously. Before my transfer back to El Toro I found that OCJC had an extensive summer school program and that they'd enroll me in an algebra course which was equivalent to ninth grade algebra in high school (I guess this course was designed for those who failed their high school algebra, but it was just what I needed). They also had a course called Remedial English which I thought maybe I could use, too, since my last English course had been taught around Miss Olson's desk at Isle High School to only a favored few back in 1938/39. So I was enrolled--but classes started June 15th and I was still in the Marine Corps!

On June 12th, I reported to my new duty station at El Toro, but not knowing exactly how long it would take to get my release to inactive duty, I still didn't know if I was going to be able to make it work out. But I didn't have to worry--when I explained my situation to the first Sergeant of my new unit, a Casual Battalion, he told me that as long as I made it in for muster each morning he wasn't going to look for me the rest of the day. Senior NCO's, which I was, had open gate liberty at El Taro, so for that last week I was a Marine attending junior college and possibly only the First Sergeant, Ellen, and I knew that.

When June 25th came I was officially transferred to Inactive Duty in the Marine Corps Reserve and I no longer had to report for morning muster. I now only had to report for breakfast at home--pretty nice duty. A year later I requested a discharge from the Marine Corps Reserve and this was granted on June 2, 1952, and so ended my official relationship with the Marine Corps. I'm proud to have served and consider myself very fortunate for gaining the experience.


It's a certainty that when VMF(N) 542 was formed at Cherry Point, North Carolina on March 6, 1944 reunions of the Squadron would have been the last thing on any person's mind and if some prognosticator of the future would have brought up the subject he probably would have been laughed at, to say the least. However, the case may be made that some operations of the Squadron set a precedent for which we, later in civilian life, may only have followed. Consider the first four reunions of VMF(N) 542:

Reunion No. 1: October 28, 1944 - Joining up of the air echelon and the ground echelon at Ulithi after over two month’s separation.

Reunion No. 2: Second week of April, 1945 - Joining up of our advanced party with our pilots and aircraft on Okinawa to begin combat flight operations.

Reunion No. 3: May 1, 1945 - Joining up of our ground echelon with the advanced party, pilots, and aircraft on Okinawa to sustain combat flight operations.

Reunion No. 4: October, 1945 - Joining up the balance of the Squadron with the advanced party of 58 men who went to Yokosuka, Japan September 9, 1945.

So possibly the only thing strange about 542 reunion planning has been the long time interval before the first civilian life reunion occurred in 1977.

Throughout the years we had remained in contact with several of my old friends from the Marine Corps, primarily Ole Eastlund, Ole Olson, and Tut Runyon, so if a transition from the Marine Corps to civilian life had ever been made it certainly was completed by the late '70's, one would expect.

We all had families and jobs to be engrossed with so, with the two Ole's and Tut, rarely would any of us invoke old memories or talk about things we used to do. With the exception of the "Maybe" and the Kinuda outboard, which we still got a big laugh from now and then, the old days in VMF(N) 542 were pretty well forgotten.

Forgotten, that is, until Tut got a phone call from Stub Haggas who lived in upstate New York. One will never know when the germ of the idea of a 542 reunion began to grow with Stub Haggas, Chan Beasley, Lou Sweezy, Jack Kelly, and probably several others, as they more than likely were having "one or two" and talking over the "old days in the Corps". But grow it did, and the genius of it all was that one of the group had some sort of connection with a telephone company which would prove to make the difference between success and failure. It was recognized that everyone had contacts with others from 542, each of which, presumably, would also have their own contacts, and so on.

Since we are all linked together by the phone system, theoretically all former 542 members not deceased, in jail, or really lost or hiding out, could be contacted in a very short time, especially since our phone company "connection" provided very "affordable" long distance rates. And so the VMF(N) 542 Association reunions were born. The address list expanded quickly to about 150 and the first reunion was held in 1977 in St. Louis, Missouri, thirty two years after most of us had last been together as a unit.

At first I thought the reunion would be a good thing but as the date approached I was becoming less sure that I wanted to go. It was much easier to walk away from those days than I thought it might be to open up the whole book of memories all at once. There were about 80 of us who came to St. Louis, plus about 40 wives, and, if anything could be said to characterize this group, we were a bunch of middle-aged people who just got reacquainted and enjoyed each other's company.

Of course, the common bond of being together in the Marine Corps under both good and bad circumstances was the element that tied us together, but nobody spent much time talking about the past. The stereotype of a bunch of old Marines getting drunk together certainly didn't apply, not that this or any of our subsequent reunions have been "dry'' affairs since we've always had a hospitality room with an open bar, but the drinking part, for most, has always been more social than serious.

It's very difficult to describe to others what might be called "camaraderie", especially when it exists from the esprit de corps instilled by the Marine Corps, but that's the essence of our reunions. We were fortunate to have been together as a unit for a longer period of time than were many military units in World War II, so it was natural that tight bonds were formed, more so than many of us realized at the time, perhaps.

Also of significance is that the efforts to organize our first reunion were primarily those of former enlisted personnel but our reunions have always included all who were officers as well. Probably no other branch of the service considers rank more seriously than does the Marine Corps and VMF(N) 542 certainly was no exception.

However, to have a reunion of just those who were enlisted men would show a certain sign of disrespect, something which would be out of character for 542. Not that everyone was of a like mind about this—we had one instance where a former NCO came to one of our early reunions, took a look around, announced he hadn't grown any fonder of some of us over the years, and went home, never to be seen again.

We also have found some just not interested in renewing friendships at all and when you think back on their days in 542 you can understand and might say "that figures". Major Kellum probably would be one of those since he only showed up for an hour or so at the one reunion held almost in his back yard. But for most of us our reunions have been a means by which we could build on our friendships as a way of putting the past behind us.

We don't need to tell each other ''war stories", nor do we need to talk about our grandchildren, although some might, and we also don't need to impress anyone with our present status since that's not what our reunions are about It doesn't matter that one of our members was Chief Justice of the Nevada State Supreme Court, another owned the flute company which furnished James Galway with many of his flutes, one was a world wrestling champion after completing an all Pro football career, another became a Marine Major General, or that many of our careers have followed a fairly mundane path or might even have been a real struggle. It's hard to explain how a group such as ours can just sit around and socialize but that's what we do primarily, even though we usually have things to do or places to go beyond the traditional golfing that always seems to be a part of any of our reunions.

A unifying thread and a source of much pride for our reunion association has been our tie with 542 which still remains as an operational unit in the Marine Corps. The F6F Hellcat has been replaced by the AV-8B Harrier, which broadens the mission extensively, and at our first two reunions, at St. Louis and at New Orleans, we had a special Harrier 'fly-in", with the pilots joining us at our dinner.

Unfortunately, a misunderstanding within the higher levels of the Marine Corps terminated our Harrier fly in at the St. Paul reunion in 1982 and we no longer maintain that direct connection with 542. Apparently an overzealous recruiter at the St. Paul Marine Corps Recruiting Office thought his cause would be helped if he released information to the newspapers about the fly in. Unfortunately, this information filtered up to Headquarters, Marine Corps in Washington where it was interpreted that 542 was putting on an unauthorized air show in St. Paul.

Of course, the Commanding Officer of 542 had the proverbial "boom" lowered on him so he had to scrub the training mission, which he had full authority to conduct, and, as he told me over the phone, could be to any place in the United States, including Holman Field, the St. Paul airport. All we would have done, or wanted to do, was see the Harrier up close again and take our turns climbing up into the cockpit, and we would have been totally satisfied to just see a normal take off and landing.

When our reunion was held near Cherry Point (Atlantic Beach, NC in 1990) we were able to go onto the station and into 542's area, although most of the unit was temporarily deployed elsewhere at the time and the Harriers we saw were not those of VMA542. I'm not sure what kind of an impression we made with our presence as we ate in the base mess hall used by 542, maybe it would have been better if we'd just let history speak for itself.

Originally it was thought that a reunion every three years would be a reasonable interval but after the second reunion it was decided that two years between them would be better. This third reunion was in St. Paul so Tut Runyon, Ellen and I were the reunion hosts, which turned out to be more work than one realizes at first. After 6 more reunions at 2 year intervals it was agreed that our attrition rate was now becoming so high that we'd better have them every year before we became a "last man's club".

At our 15th reunion, held in 2000 at St. Charles, IL, we were down to 18 attendees and at our 21st reunion in Phoenix in 2006, we only had ten men who could meet the morning musters so it's questionable how much longer we'll be able to get together. However, arrangements for our 2007 reunion in Duluth have been made and we plan to meet in Santa Barbara, CA in 2008 and Stafford, VA, near Quantico in 2009. A list of where we've held our reunions, or will hold them, is shown below:


Throughout the years that we've had our reunions we've been fortunate to have had a strong participation of our wives, our widows, our children, and even a number of our grandchildren have attended. At our two latest reunions our "support troops" have outnumbered our "regulars" so, no doubt, the time will come when reunions of the World War II version of VMF(N)542 will be only in the memory of family members who survive.

Donald E.Marpe
November, 2006

Rev.June, 2009

Rev. Oct 2013
(Added Hugashi)

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