Many young persons from this area became 'fresh fish,' a name given to new men by the old soldiers of the Civil War, 1861-1865. On the long list were names of many young men who were called into service by the U.S. government draft in 1940.
They were called to serve only 'one year,' but many were still in the army Dec. 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, including the Old Timer, who was drafted in Sept. 1941, was still in Basic Training, and his stay in the army quickly changed to four years.
On Sept. 25, 1941, he rode to Crown Point to mount the bus to Fort Harrison at Indianapolis where we would stay a short time. Others on the bus were friends -- Anthony Vandermark (MIA) of Lowell, James Echterling of West Creek Township, cousin Francis Bieker of Crown Point, and many others from Lake County. Our bus took us to Fort Harrison at Indianapolis where, after a short stay, we were soon traveling to new assignments miles away. The Old Timer was sent to Fort Warren, Cheyenne, WY, for Quartermaster and Infantry training. Soldiers were allowed to wear white shirts and black ties with their regulation uniform, and brown belts were worn at the waist of the tunic or blouse.
After many weeks of army 'chow' we were looking forward to that first day into Cheyenne, where our excitement quickly turned to utter disappointment as we approached the first restaurant . . . a sign on the door read "No Dogs Or Soldiers." The local residents told us that some of the old cavalry men at the fort had torn up the town a bit. The soldiers were not welcome into business places until the war began.
Soon there was a 'latrine rumor' that our group would be sent to the Philippine Islands with the 27th Division, and in Dec. '41 we were rushed to a troop train for California, were reassigned to Fort McDowell, San Francisco, CA . . . but we stayed in the bay for three months, missing the Death March in the Philippines.
A happier day came when this writer met some old Lowell friends at the Fort! He met Vincent Beckman on a company street. While we were greeting each other, Roger Buche exited a nearby building, then all walked to nearby barracks where Charles E. Van Nada, Lowell, was busy cleaning his 'new' 1903 rifle and rolling his pack in preparation for going aboard a troop ship to Australia the following day. All three were in the Army Air Corps. Days later our group, after surviving an 'accidental' double shot for yellow fever (imagine 500 soldiers with yellow jaundice!), was loaded onto the 'President Johnson,' a converted troopship headed for the South Pacific.
We were carrying our WWI 1903 Springfield rifles and wore steel helmets of 1918. Cheers went up when land was seen after the seven-day voyage on the Pacific. We were soon docking on the island of Oahu, Hawaii! Some of us were assigned to an old army Quartermaster outfit at Fort Armstrong near downtown Honolulu and the 'Aloha Tower.' Again old friends met -- Peter Jaeger of Lowell visited this writer, and later the same day Irene Beckman, a classmate and a Navy Nurse at Pearl Harbor, also brightened up his day. After his year's stay on Oahu, the OT was assigned to 'Task Force 914.'
Carrying an M1 rifle this time and wearing the newer 'bucket' style steel helmet, we were soon landing on the beach in a barge. It was Canton Island, a small coral reef in the Phoenix Islands where U.S. bombers were stationed as they bombed the nearby Gilbert Islands, held by the enemy who bombed our base many times with huge flying boats during the spring of 1943.
After a year on that desert island of white coral, surviving the bombs, listening to the 'Gooney birds,' enjoying diving in the clear lagoon, we were taken by ship back to Hawaii, and to Schofield Barracks in the mountains of Oahu.
Another pleasant meeting soon took place, for when the OT answered the company phone while on 'CQ,' "Captain Dinwiddie speaking!" It was the Lowell dentist, Dr. Abbot Dinwiddie, who aided his father when installing braces in the mouth of this writer many years before. In addition to many meetings with the friendly doctor, several other local friends met on the island. Hayden Patz, Tom Combs, Lew Stowell, and the OT took several trips together on the island using military vehicles. We searched in vain to find Gene Flatt of Shelby, but his outfit kept moving.
Happy meetings also happened when the OT was stationed at Camp Atterbury, IN, in 1945, as he was working to help with the discharges and medals of Officers, and had the pleasure of meeting them and making sure that two local officers were awarded proper awards: John Keithley and Dr. Charles Black.
A reminder that more interesting stories of WW2 can be heard from several veterans in their tent at Buckley Homestead (near the Gift Shop) on May 3 and 4 -- a great military program -- don't miss it!
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