We were loaded onto the USS Chicagoff, a revamped freighter. The beds were iron frames with canvas slings, four high, two men side-by-side, with room for only one person to get through the aisles. Rifles, clothes and ammunition were piled everywhere. There was no ventilation. The weather was horrible, the sea so rough you couldn't stay on deck or eat.
It took 30 days to Attu, an island in the Aleutians, stopping only one day at Kiska for a three-mile hike with full field packs. We landed on Attu in May 1943, the ground still frozen. You try digging a foxhole and think it's impossible until ack-ack is fired over your head.
After the enemy was cleared out we built roads with pick and shovel, eight hours on, eight off. We were so hungry we cooked Japanese rice on campfires, mixing it with fruit cocktail or anything else we could find.
In our spare time, we made rings out of silver quarters or aluminum from Japanese planes. (My wife still wears one with a heart on it. Before I left stateside, I had married my sweetheart, Mary Thurber. I couldn't see any future in it, being in the infantry. Our 50th anniversary comes up this year.)
On a ship after leaving Attu, my outfit was in the second wave at Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. The first night the Japanese hit us from both sides with grenades, automatic weapons and small-arms fire. The fighting continued several days. After it was over we were ordered to pick up guns and ammo -- "Police up the dead enemy." I found a samurai sword in a pill box.
IN THE INVASION of Leyte in the Philippines we landed at Tacloban, crossed the island and moved down. The enemy was dug in in bamboo thickets with machine guns and rifles. We got one big break -- a Japanese transport was caught by our Navy and sunk.
Navy bombers dropped bombs on us, killing or wounding 10 or 12 in our platoon. The 105 artillery unit short-rounded us and killed or wounded nine more. When the Navy plane dive-bombed we emptied our rifles at him. We lost more troops from friendly fire than to the enemy. Until recently, the military hasn't mentioned such losses.
It was on Leyte that I got my Purple Heart. Shrapnel cut my left foot and the tongue off my left shoe. Our medic dressed it and said, "No time off." It was a C-ration wound -- no worse than opening a can of C-rations.
We traded for bananas, coconuts, tuba (fermented coconut milk -- wicked stuff). I traded a T-shirt for a handmade bolo knife which I still have.
Then on to Okinawa. The Navy's big guns softened up the island. We were in the second wave again and got ashore under a lot of artillery fire.
The Okinawans buried their dead in porcelain urns in hillside crypts. Our squad members could sleep in these tombs when not on guard. I hope their ancestral bones have forgiven us!
I was discharged Oct. 1, 1945, at Camp Beale.