Sunday, June 29, 2008

Where part of it all began.


A slight change of pace with my blogging today. As I was sorting through a mountain of paperwork that piles up behind me on the desk I ran across the very short story of Dad's account of WWII and how he met my Mum. He wrote it several years ago after Mum nagged him to write his memoirs. Mum's side of the story in her book Pavlovas to Popcorn took over 500 pages (in large print). Dad tends to be a man of few words so his memoirs of that time are considerably shorter but concise. He wrote it when he could still see well enough at the computer and now at 89 most of his sight has gone. I thought he deserved some space to make his mark in history. So here is PART ONE of

WAR EXPERIENCES by Bill Frost b 1919.....
In the spring of 1940 I came home to Fort Pierre after two terms of schooling at Iowa State Teachers college due to the fact that I had run out of money for further education.
The war in Europe had been in progress for several months and I had a gut feeling that my immediate future would be taken care of because conscription or the draft into the armed forces was being re-introduced and the local National Guard was soon to be inducted into the Federal service. I had a choice, either wait for the draft and take my chance or join the national guard and start military life with the people I grew up with. I took the easy option – I joined the guard, Battery C, 147th Field Artillery Regiment.
I enjoyed Thanksgiving at home, then we boarded a troop train at Pierre South Dakota, and we were off to Fort Ord in California. As far as I was concerned, the trip to the coast by train was an experience in itself.
We were only supposed to be in Federal service for one year but it turned out to be considerably longer. The next few months were spent in training for all aspects of warfare including war games up and down the west coast.
Our tenure in the U.S. Army was suddenly increased to 18 months and someone somewhere decided that the 147th be stationed in the Philippines so we were uprooted and transported to San Francisco and placed on a tiny island in the middle of the bay (Angel Island) to get ready for embarkation. Another Thanksgiving came and went and we were herded onto a troop transport, and the USS Holbrook was ready to shove off. The ship’s horn bellowed, the ship’s lines were off and nothing happened. The transport refused to move. We were stuck in the mud at the dock. High tide had not been achieved yet and the question was, “How do you move the ship?” You rock the ship until it gets loose. There was a brain on board who decided to assemble all of the troops on the port side and then have them run full tilt to the starboard and then back again to the port side and then repeat the operation and sure enough the ship started rocking and we pulled loose and away from the dock.
In the meantime I was informed that KP duty was my lot that evening. If ever there was a method devised to test a man’s seamanship, this was the ultimate – working in a ship’s galley the first night out. However the obvious consequences of this detail I put out of mind and carried out my duty. I survived and I knew then that I would never succumb to seasickness.
The next stop was Pearl Harbour and we arrived there on Sunday, November 21, 1941. The place was a beehive of activity as a full alert was in force at the time. Despite the alert we were allowed to venture into Honolulu, so with a dollar in my pocket I set out, had a good time sightseeing, had dinner and went to a movie. Got back to the ship just a few hours before we shoved off.
About the second night into the Central Pacific we ran into some bad weather, high winds, rain and high seas. Watching the big waves breaking over the bow of the ship was not a comforting sight. At this time as we were going west, the Japanese fleet was headed south into Hawaiian waters.
Eventually we heard the news about Pearl Harbor and our chances of getting back to civilian life was put on hold for the duration.
At this time I might mention that prior to the start of hostilities we were sailing in the Pacific with all the ships running lights on and a large American flag painted on both sides of the sip, lit up with spotlights at night. We were well advertised. I might also add that through the efforts of everyone on board many gallons of black paint was used to transform the ship to a wartime vessel.. The flags were the first items to be blacked out and blackout curtains to all doorways and hatches were hastily erected.
The next few days we cruised in a large zig zag circle waiting on orders from the War department on where to go because the military minds of that time figured it would be foolhardy to try and get to the Philippines. It was at this stage of our journey that we started running out of water. So a good shower and a shave were out of the question. Food was also getting short and we received a sandwich and a piece of fruit for lunch and not much more than that for dinner at night. A navy transport that had been running alongside of us had enough water so a plan to tie the ships together and shoot a hose across to our dwindling water supply was devised. The convoy had to slow down to carry out this exercise and the cruiser USS Pensacola and two destroyers were hovering about like mother hens. Three or found inch hawsers were shot across and anchored but then the two ships decided to lurch in opposite directions and the ropes parted with a bang which sounded like a cannon going off. Eventually enough lines were shot across to secure the two ships and we started taking on water. Meanwhile a navy band on the other ship assembled on the aft end of their ship and we were entertained with a band concert. That night it rained and we didn’t need any water. Everyone showed up on deck with a bar of soap and lather was everywhere, on bodies, clothes and hair and also praying that the rain didn’t cease. It didn’t and the mission was accomplished.
The following is an excerpt from a story written about General MacArthur: “MacArthur still believed reinforcements would be sent. In fact a convoy of seven vessels escorted by the cruiser Pensacola was on its way to Manila when the war broke out. The convoy was carrying a field artillery brigade with twenty 75mm guns, eighteen P-40s, fifty two A-24 dive bombers and considerable supplies of ammunition. On December 12th the convoy was re-routed to Brisbane Australia and after a brief stop in Suva, finally reached our destination.
A camp had been set up for us at one of the race courses in Brisbane and as we marched along the suburban streets towards our billets, the local citizenry emerged from their houses to witness the procession. They quietly stared at us, probably overawed and we in turn stared at them due to the state of unreality we were in, brought on by the swift turn of events.
On reaching the race track we checked in, found a tent we could call our own, got paid, received instructions on what to do and how to act in this land down under. All this time we had been working up a great thirst and Australia had a great beer, the race track bar had been opened for us and that was a ‘happy hour’ at its best.
We all received leave to check out downtown Brisbane and needless to say everyone had a great time. Families living close to the race track invited us into their homes for a visit and late supper which was a great way to become acquainted with Australian people and their way of life.
All too soon this brief sojourn in Brisbane came to an end and we were loaded on the smelly old troop ship once again and heading north and I don’t know what they had in mind for us but they diverted our convoy to Darwin. On the way, at the northern most tip of Australia we met up with the remnants of the Asiatic fleet, the cruiser Houston, a couple of destroyers, navy tender and a couple of smaller boats. The convoy then proceeded to Darwin.
The regiment stayed in Darwin six months, from January to July mostly uneventful except on February 19 when we had some unwelcome visitors in the skies above – about 100 Japanese war planes flying over our camp on their way to Darwin and then pounding that place for about an hour, and after that initial raid, a daily sortie of a few planes for thirty days. From then on we were busy setting up our guns along the highway into Darwin, cutting fire lanes in heavily wooded areas, going on patrols after an air raid and plenty of guard duty. Those in the know informed us that an invasion could be expected at any time. It never came and after a period of time the danger lessened.In July 1942 our brigade headed south by truck convoy to Alice Springs and then by troop train to Ballarat Victoria. A little rest and relaxation, a little training and frequent weekend passes to Melbourne. It was on one of these end of the week journeys that I encountered my greatest war experience.

1 comment:

jbjinco said...

This is wonderful. Don't make us wait too long for the next installment. I remember when your mom had him write this and how she was amazed at how quickly he finished. It had to be an incredible experience for anyone, let alone coming from Ft. Pierre!!!