4 Away from Home -- World War II

By Bernard D. Major

 

Hompage

 

                                          Vince, Agatha, with Geneal Major?

Bernard Major in Navy Uniform

 

We drove down to Spring City on weekends as often as we could to visit my father and  mother. They were always happy to see us and their grandchildren. Dad continued to farm the small farm south of the house, but the war in Germany continued to spread to other countries. England and France were at war with Germany. Germany soon took over France (Italy joined the German army), the Netherlands as well as others.

 

The United States joined England to try to stop the German Nazi's under Adolf Hitler. The Japanese thought that this was a good time to attack the U.S. holdings in the Pacific as we were tied up in the European War, so they attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and other Islands including the Philippians and took them over. This doubled the war.

 

 

Bernard with Ron

The draft continued to take all of the young men that didn't have deferments and found that many more were needed. In December 1944 they canceled all deferments for men under the age of 25. I didn’t turn 25 until the next October 1945. I knew then that I would have to go into the military. I did not look forward to going into the war. I did not want to leave Eva and the two children, Ardith and Ronald.

 

 

 

Enlistment in C.B.'s

 

I knew that I would have to enlist in one of the branches of the military, because if I was drafted I probably would be a foot soldier or infantry. My brother-in-law, (my sister Geniel's husband) Bill Burr was already in the Navy C.B.'s (construction battalion), so I thought I would check on it to see if there were any openings in it. It was in the Naval Reserve. I went up to the recruiting office of the Navy. I believe it was in the post office building on 4th South and Main. I found there was some openings for carpenters, but I would have to take a test to see if I qualified. I took the test and was accepted into the Naval Reserve C.B.'s as a carpenter's mate, second class.

 

I told my supervisors at the Garfield Smelter that I enlisted. Art Becksted, the superintendent of maintenance, and Paul Frank, the foreman, had given me good letters of recommendation that I had taken with me when I applied to get into the Navy C.B.'s.

 

 

It was not easy to leave that January in 1945 and leave Eva and the two children. I didn't know whether I would be going to Europe or the South Pacific or when I would be coming home. I had been down to Spring City to bid farewell to my mother and father, and my sister Geniel, who was staying there with Mother and Father while her husband Bill Burr was in the service. He was stationed in Alaska. Saying goodbye to Eva and the children was most difficult, but I knew that her parents and her family were close by and would watch out for her. Her brother Grant (just younger than her) was in the Navy and was stationed in Hawaii in Honolulu (formerly called the Sandwich Islands). 

 

Train Ride 

 

I boarded a train in Salt Lake (I believe it was the Denver and Rio Grand Depot) along with 19 other men from Utah. Two of them I got closely acquainted with, Harry Swofford and Wally Christainsen. Our destination was Providence, Rhode Island where we would begin our training. The train stopped in Chicago for about an hour or so where we changed trains to go to Providence. We had a sleeping car on the train and ate meals on the train. We boarded the train again (our train car transferred to another train), and we arrived in Providence after midnight.

 

When we got off the train, the snow was up past our knees, and the train station was like the small wooden train station in Spring City. It was all dark, and no one was around, and it was bitter cold. We waited for a long time, and no one came for us. Finally, someone was able to reach the Navy base by phone, and they sent a bus to pick us up.

 

Boot Camp

Photobooth pictures of Bernard

 

We arrived at the barracks and was assigned our bed. We were so tired we just took off our shoes and coats and lay down on our beds, but not for long, as they got us up early to go to breakfast. After we ate, we were sent into an assembly room where we were instructed on what we had to do and what we could do and couldn't do. We were issued Navy clothes, both the Navy dress blue and Navy white dress uniforms, of which we were to wear whenever we left the base on leave or when we were required to wear them at base. 

 

We were also issued Marine green or military color and a M-1 rifle that we were to train with. We were assigned with 20 other men from Georgia to form a 40 man battalion group. The Georgia men, when they found out where we were from, asked us if we were Mormons and Harry and I said, "Yes, we are Mormons." They wanted to know how many wives we had. Harry and I said that we only had one wife, and we each had two children at home.

 

We had to wear the military clothes including the underwear, so we were not able to wear our garments. We had to go through inspection every morning, our bed and sleeping area as well as our dress. We were all given a military hair cut, (almost shaven) cut close to the head. We went through class instructions and physical training each day except Sundays of which we were given to attend church on the base, write letters, etc. On Saturday afternoon, we did our laundry and cleaned up. If we did anything wrong, (break military rules) we were given extra K.P. (kitchen patrol--washing dishes, etc) or guard duty. We had our regular guard duty assignments of which I did many times, but never K.P., nor did I break any rules.

 

The training was hard. When the snow was melted, we had to go on many long marches, go through many tough military exercises including climbing through barbed wire entanglements. Our training was the Marine training course. I remember having two Saturday leaves. One, Harry and I took a bus into New York City. We just walked around for awhile before taking the bus back to camp. The thing I remember most was that the buildings were tall, and the people on the sidewalks were always walking fast in all directions. I had never seen tall buildings like that before. I thought of it as a city that was in a hurry, cars, buses, streets, sidewalks, and very tall buildings that seemed to be reaching for the sky.

 

Another time, we took a bus into Boston, Massachusetts. Eva told me in a letter that the children, Ardith and Ron, needed some knee length warm stockings to keep them warm, so we went into several stores before I found them. Harry was upset with me because I took too much time and didn't have enough time to sight see. Boston was a beautiful old city. Many of the buildings were from the early days of the people that first arrived there. There were cobble stone streets. The area seemed to be quiet and

peaceful--just the opposite from the busy New York City. After getting back to camp, I mailed the stockings home. I may have bought other things. I don't remember.

 

During the many times I trained and marched through the New England countryside as spring came, it was so beautiful. The roads and trails went through the rolling hills. The maple and other trees were beautiful. I can close my eyes now and see the beauty of it and the sweet smell of the clean countryside.

 

We had to wash our clothes by hand and hang them on the many clothes lines by our barracks. Our clothes had our names, and I believe our military number written on them with a marker like the Magic Marker we have today.

 

 

Leave

 

 

After our training, (I believe it was the end of March or the first part of April 1945), we were given a week to go home for a visit before given a new assignment. We were given discounts on our travel by air or bus, but we still couldn't afford air, so we came home by train and returned the same way (Union Pacific). It took two days both ways with lots of waiting time at the major railway stations while we changed trains, so that left us with only two or three days at home. But it was worth it to get back home with Eva and the children, Ardith and Ronald. I still had the Hudson car, so we drove down to Spring City and visited with my mother and father. Geniel was staying there with her son, Leonard while Bill was in the military.

 

Before going into the service Dad had come to Salt Lake and stayed with us while he worked for Utah Power and Light Company down in the coal fired steam generating plant on North Temple and 1400 west. Eva's father was working there also. I don't remember how long Dad worked there, but he thought he should return and work on the farm to help the war situation. Eva's father, Alois Hollingshaus, was injured on the head while he was working there and died from the injury on September 29, 1943.

 

 

 

Transferred

After returning back to camp at Providence we were told that we were being transferred from camp. We were put aboard a train and left. There were a large number on the train. We were not permitted to get off the train at any of the stops. (It was a military train.) I guess they thought that some of the soldiers would jump off the train and disappear. The travel was very beautiful, especially along the Mississippi River. After arriving at Gulfport, Mississippi, we were quarantined (could not leave our barracks or camp).

 

 We were told that we were going over seas. They would not tell us where we were going, only to a base number, and that we could write a letter home, but we could not say anything about when we were leaving or where we were going. I was able to find out from one of the full time Navy personnel that was stationed there that the base number (I believe was 926) we were given was in the Hawaiian Islands. We had to leave our letters unsealed so they could be checked by the security officers to be sure that we hadn't written anything that we were told that we couldn't say anything about. In my letter, I told Eva to send me a temple recommend. The only overseas temple was in Hawaii.

 

Boarding the ship at Gulfport, Mississippi

 

We boarded a troop ship at Gulfport, Mississippi and went out to sea. I was put in a compartment about midship and was assigned the top bunk. They were five high. I thought that it would be better to have a bottom bunk, then I wouldn't have to climb a ladder to get into bed or to fix my bed, but I soon found that I had the right bunk. Everyone sat on the bottom bunk, and when the sea started to get rough, the ones in the bunks above started to lose the contents of their stomachs, and you can imagine how the lower bunks and floor looked like and the smell was far worse.

 

I was assigned to the ship's company and put in charge of that area of the ship (the troop compartment) and had the benefits of going up on deck and eating with the ship's crew. There were other troops on the boat also, Army, Marine, etc. all replacement soldiers or assigned to over sea units. On the top bunk across from me was a young man who had been training for the Catholic Church Ministry. We had a lot of religious talks that were good. He didn't try to convert me or I him, nor did we argue about our churches.

 

Harry Swofford was assigned to a compartment on the front (bow) of the ship and it was very rough sailing. Everyone of them were sick during the voyage.

 

Crossing the Panama Canal

When we got to the Panama Canal, the captain of the ship wouldn't let any of the troops up on deck. I was permitted to be on deck along with the regular Navy crew as I had been assigned to ship's company. The canal area was very beautiful. A tug boat came along side our ship, and a canal officer boarded our ship to guide us through the canal. We left the Atlantic Ocean into a long concrete trough wider than our ship and higher. Large steel doors closed behind us. We were in the first lock. Water began to rise. Soon we were able to see over the side walls. The gates at the head of the ship opened, and the ship was pulled forward by machinery on the side of the boat (I'm not quite sure how it worked) moved forward into the next concrete trough (lock), and the gate behind us closed, and again the ship raised to a higher level. This time I could see that we were near ground level and a wide canal, like a river, was in front of us. It was wide enough for two large ships to pass. (I think there were locks side by side for ships coming and going at the same time.) We sailed down the canal for sometime and then came into a large lake of which we sailed through. Several merchant ships passed us going the other way.

 

Hawaii

Hawaii Sceneries 1945

 

 

 

 

When we got to the end of the canal, we came to more locks that lowered us down to the Pacific Ocean, and sailed on to Hawaii. I don't remember how many days it took to get there, but I remember it was hot down inside of the ship, and I was glad that I was able to go out on the deck.

 

After arriving, there we were put on buses and our sea bags, etc. were put on trucks, and we were taken to a base not far from Honolulu where we stayed in barracks. The next day, they called us to assembly and told us that we would be given work assignments, and that we should volunteer for the job we wanted as each job was called out. When they got to truck driver, I volunteered for it. I had seen the trucks that hauled the food, especially the fruit, and I thought it would be great to work on it. They took us to our destination. They gave me a truck, one with one wheel, two handles and a metal box between the handles and the wheel (wheel barrow!). Others were given shovels, picks, hoes, rakes, etc. I don't remember what they called them, but our assignment was to clean up all around the base. (Some were assigned to pick up all the cigarette butts on the ground that had been thrown down by the servicemen.) That was a big disappointment.

 

I got in touch with Grant Hollingshaus and arranged to meet him in Honolulu. He showed me many things of interest. A couple of things I remember most was some of the destruction from the bombing that remained. There was a lot of beer taverns and night places, but we didn't go in any of them. Also, there were large trees where stems or roots would hang down from the limbs to the ground and were growing with the tree. I think they called them Mango trees.

 

I told Grant I wanted to see the temple, so we planned to go that next Friday. As we would take a bus that would take us to the other side of the Island, I made arrangements to get leave to go, but early Thursday about 2:00 a.m. we were called out of bed and put on buses that took us to a troop ship where we boarded and left the island. I never had an opportunity to call Grant to let him know.

 

 

Bernard on Statue of King Kamehameha in Hawaii

 

Troop ship 

 

 

The troop ships were escorted by Navy war ships to protect the ships from the enemy (Japanese) planes, ships, airplanes, and submarines. The ships traveled in a zigzag method to keep the Japanese from knowing which direction we were going or where we were going. Again, I was assigned to ship's company, only this time I was assigned to the carpenter shop. The regular shop crew tried to tease me or test me. They told me to take a level and go up to the chaplin's office and see if the filing cabinet was plumb (level). How can you tell if anything is plumb or level when the ship is rolling from side to side and up and down? Well, I left with the level and came back to the shop where they were all waiting for me to return. I told them that all was well, the filing cabinet was plumb and level. They really laughed then, and I was accepted into the shop crew like I was one with them. I slept up on deck with the others from the shop as it was very hot down below deck in the troop quarters.

 

One day, the alarm went off and the Navy gunners were called to their stations. One of the Navy escort ships began firing up into the air. I couldn't see anything, but I learned later that they were firing at a balloon they suspected was carrying a Japanese bomb. They never hit anything, and they never determined what it was or if it was anything at all. The Navy ships were on a high alert all the way. Being made part of a ship’s company, I was out on deck. I was looking through the big telescopes. I saw Japanese, which is one way they had of delivering a bomb. They were suppose to follow the air currents and go to the United States.

 

I guess the most I remember about this trip was that it was the most depressing time of my life. As far as you could see in any direction there was nothing but water. When the sun went down, it sank into the ocean like a red hot coal, and the night turned black, my thoughts were of my family, and I wondered if I would ever see them again. I prayed for them, and prayed for myself that I would live to return home. I prayed that if I should die, I would die on land and not in the ocean.

 

Our ships passed between two islands. They were Saipan and Tinnau. After several days, we arrived at the island of Guam. As we came closer to shore, I saw that all the coconut trees were missing the tops and many trees were on the ground. This was from the bombardment of the ships and planes as they fired on the Japanese military before taking the island back.

 

 Ships anchored in Guam.  Picture taken by Bernard in 1945.

 

 

Sub surfacing at Guam in 1945 taken by Bernard

Guam

We came into the old port and docked, and we went ashore. Boy, it was great to have land legs again and walk on solid ground. We were put on trucks and taken to our assignment. I was assigned to the 76th C.B. Battalion. It was a heavy equipment battalion. They were working on the breakwater that was making the port larger. There was no harbor there at all, just a coral reef. I was the only one from my original company that was assigned there. The others were assigned to other battalions.

 

Friend in front of headquarters sign taken by Bernard 1945

 

I was assigned to a tent with three other men. They were there before me. The sides of the tent were rolled up to let the air in. It was hot there in the day time and cool at night. We had a canvas cot to sleep on. One of the men in the tent was the company barber. He was a very nice person. Later, he sent home for some flower seeds and planted it around the tent. The native women would come and ask him for flowers (several of them worked in the laundry on the base), and they would give him bananas in return. One kind of bananas were called a finger banana. It was small, yellow, with a red blush on it and was the best tasting banana that I have ever tasted. None of the men in my tent smoked or drank, of which I was most grateful.

 

Bernard with friend in Guam

 

Protected at the Banana Grove

 

In the camp of the 76 CB’s was a tent camp. We walked up over the ridge over north of the camp and down into a ravine where there was a banana grove. One time I cut a large branch of bananas and took it back to the camp for them to ripen. The next day or the second day after I did this, a marine patrol went through there, and they were ambushed. It killed all the patrol. The Japanese were all hold up in caves to hide in. Even when I left, they were still hiding. They didn’t know that the war had come to an end. Needless to say, I didn’t go into the grove again.

 

Building a Break Water

Note Apra Harbor half way up on left side of map. 

This is where Bernard was building the breakwater.

 

 One of my responsibilities for the 76th CB battalion; we were making a large break water. I was assigned to the breakwater crew. I was given a large 10 wheel dump truck (Mack or Uclid). Here, I was a carpenter and was assigned to drive one of these monsters! There was no openings in the carpenter shop, and the 76th battalion's main assignment was to complete the breakwater that was being built by civilian contractors when the Japanese took over the island sometime after Pearl Harbor.

 

The cab of the truck was high, and you had to climb up into it. I soon learned that I could drive it, but there were many challenges. I had to back up near a large front end loader or crane that loaded the truck with coral rock that was being dug out of the cliffs next to the ocean, then I drove it out on the breakwater, which was wide enough for two trucks to pass.

 

The breakwater ran out into the ocean parallel to the shore, making a bay or port for ships to dock and keep the rough ocean waves from coming in. I would drive out to the end, and wait for my turn, then I had to turn around (this was the hardest part) and then back up to the end and dump my load in the ocean. This went to the ocean floor and gradually filled up to above the ocean level and kept moving out into the ocean. Some of the coral rocks were so large that two or three filled the truck.

 

 

 

More from the Web about building the breakwater in Guam 

76th SeaBees of World War II

Apra Harbor

Apra Harbor at Guam

 

...under Island Commander, Major General Larsen, USMC, the 76th NCB ...One of the greatest feats of any single construction battalion, to date, was the huge sea wall which the 76th NCB built at Apra Harbor, moving 2 million cubic yards of dirt and coral blasted from nearby Cabras Island (the break now referred to as the Glass Water Break, or breakwater,  is still present.) Engineers have compared the massive construction at Apra Harbor to digging the Panama Canal and erecting the Great Pyramids of Egypt. The construction of massive floating docks early upon arrival at Guam in 1944 was also performed by the 76th. These docks enabled the Seabee Stevedores to unload ships that pulled into the waters near a then shallow Apra Harbor. The Glass Breakwater  protected Apra Harbor from storm and wind surges and enabled better protection to dredge the harbor floor. Once deepened, larger ships were able to come into the harbor for unloading of war materials.  The entire Apra Harbor project was one of the most important and mighty efforts which contributed to the war in the Pacific. The feats performed by all the SEABEEs at Guam enabled Allied and U.S. Military Forces to take the war directly to the Japanese homeland.  

 

Giant Earth Mover from 76th NCB 

 

Life Spared

 

 

 

Bernard took this picture of friends in front of a earth mover that he drove

 

One day, I was working on the afternoon shift, and was out near the end of the breakwater waiting to unload my truck. It was nearly dark with a heavy overcast. There was one truck ahead of me to dump. While I waited for it to dump, a jeep with two officers drove by my truck to the end of the breakwater. Just as the truck passed me, a large tidal wave hit the breakwater and went over the end of the breakwater and took the end of it and the jeep and officers with it. I don't know if they ever found their bodies or not. The tidal wave started out in the ocean between Guam and Okinawa. They had me dump my truck right where I was and told me to leave. I know that my life was spared, but I was very scared.

 

 

Reassigned to the Carpentry Department

I didn't sleep that night, and the next day I went to the officer in charge and told him I was too nervous to drive the truck again and asked him for another assignment, preferably the carpentry department. He said there were no openings in the shop, and I would have to drive the commander's jeep when he wanted to go some place. I was not called that day, and the next day I was told that the chief officer of the carpenter shop department was going on leave home as he had been the time limit overseas, and I was going to take his place when he left in two weeks or so. The chief and the other men in the carpenter department were very good to me and drove me around the different jobs and assignments as well as some of the other bases on part of the secure part of the island.

 

When the chief left, he told me to take a cabinet to an officer at the large air base on the island. They advanced me from carpenter mate second class to first class (one level below a chief petty officer, but we were all classified as petty officers). I took the cabinet up to the officer at the air base, and he gave me a bottle of liquor. He said that was what they gave the chief for the special jobs he did for them. What was I going to do with a bottle of liquor? I didn't drink, and only a commissioned officer was permitted to buy or have it in his possession.

 

Bernard asked this young boy if he could ride his water buffalo

 

I was assigned a weapon carrier vehicle to use with my assignment. That evening, I went up to the Naval headquarters where my friend Harry Swofford was stationed at another C.B. Battalion and told him about my experience and my concern about the bottle I had. He said, "Don't worry about it. There are plenty here that will take it." He took it and a few minutes came back with some money, I think it was $20.00. I was greatly relieved to get rid of it.

 

Projects

While with the 76th C.B. I worked to complete a recreation complex for Navy personal for a rest period from their war activities. After several months, the war ended with Japan (September 2, 1945), and the 76th C.B.'s were disbanded, and we were transferred to the 23rd C.B. where I was assigned to install concrete forms for large blocks in the ground to tie up ships when they came into dock. Then, I was assigned to build a large activity building for the Red Cross, where the military personal went for game activities and other recreation provided by the Red Cross for the service men. After completing this, we built a second one.

 

 

 

 Project worked on by Bernard on Guam

 

 

 

 

Japenese Prisoners

The Japanese prisoners were brought here to do labor work around the building. They were guarded by our Military Police. It was during this time that the Japanese officer (see picture) that was with the prisoners came and asked me (he spoke good English) if I would allow one or two of the prisoners that had experience with construction to work on the large Dewalt cut off saw. I told him that I would have to ask my officer, Lieutenant ? that was over me, if it would be permissible for the Japanese prisoners if they could do some cutting on the large cut off saw. He said it would be alright as long as the Japanese officer was instructed on safety and instructions on the work and would be responsible for the men. Each one of the men lined up and took one turn on the cross cut saw.

 

Towards the end of my duty in Guam, I was in the charge of a large officers home building project, but I was called home, so didn’t ever get that finished.

 

 

Christmas Card sent by Bernard from Guam 1945