Uncle Sam’s In A Jam.  But Not To Worry.
Help’s On The Way From An Unlikely Source .

…as told to Tony Welch

An astounding number of American teenagers, both male and female, altered their birth dates in order to serve their country during World War Two. The practice reached its peak in 1943. Over time, nearly 50,000 were detected and sent home. Among the many who eventually managed to enlist, a handful was discovered – court martialled – and then stripped of any valor awards they might have earned. But the great majority – some 200,000 — went unnoticed and served honorably for the duration.  Among those sworn in was Walter Holy (rhymes with ‘moly,’ as in ‘holy moly’). Walter and his wife Frances reside in Vancouver, Washington, just over the Columbia River from Portland.  There’s a possibility that Walt’s combat boots are still stashed in the hall closet, just in case.  What might Walter be thinking?  If you’re never too young, then you’re also never too old…?


“I had a close boyhood friend named Robert Palmer,” Walt begins.  “We lived in the same town.  Bob was 14 and wanted to get in the Navy.  He talked to me about it, and we decided to try it together.  I was a year older than Bob. My parents were divorced and I lived at home with my mother.

“So we both went in for a physical exam.  Bob passed with flying colors, but I failed.  I was underweight, color-blind and had 20/30 vision. And because we were buddies, and determined to stick together no matter what, we had to figure out a way to beat the system.

“So we went down and registered for the draft – which by law you had to do on your eighteenth birthday – on the very day you turned 18.  I went in first and asked the lady: ‘Is this where you register for the draft?’  And she said yes.  And maybe ten minutes went by, and then Bob came in. No eye contact, nothing. And he asked the lady the same question.  So we both registered.  The date was April 11, 1944 – the day we both turned eighteen. That is…kind of.  On paper, anyway. Neither of us was asked a single question.

“So when we were done, I said to the gal: “What can I do to go right now?”  And she said: “Go down to the end of the counter and fill out the blank form titled ‘Request for Immediate Induction.’ And then Bob did the same thing.  Again, no questions asked.

“So while we’re waiting to get called up, Bob and I went to work in the Portland shipyards.  I believe the job description was called marine electrician helpers – lots to do with wiring and insulating a ship’s interior.  I quit high school in my sophomore year, and Bob quit even earlier. My mother never interfered. I told her of my intentions, and she was okay with that.

“In May we got orders to report to the induction center. More physicals.  By pure chance, my older brother Arnie showed up – he was going into the Marine Corps.  He didn’t have much to say – but whatever it was suddenly caught Bob’s ear.  Bob Palmer and Walt Holy  – the glue that always stuck together – suddenly began to fall apart.  So Bob passed the physical with flying colors, got sworn in as a Marine, and left me stranded because I flunked my second physical.  But the Army wasn’t quite so fussy.  It had lower standards.  So that’s where I ended up.

“Seven of us inductees got shipped north to Fort Lewis, Washington.  Here I was, 16 years old, and I was put in charge on the train. Then in mid-May a bunch of us were shipped out to Camp Roberts in California, for basic training.

“Not long after D-day, I noticed these big posters being plastered around the base — ‘Jump Into The Fight!’  So I decided to do a little recruiting of my own, so to speak.  I rounded up ten other guys who were like-minded – lots of esprite de corps, gung ho. Deep down I was really rooting for them, because I knew I couldn’t pass the paratroop physical. The test for color-blindness was going to stop me again.

“So during the exam a nurse walks up to me and she’s got this open box full of cotton balls, all different colors.  If you’ve ever taken a color-blind test, you’ll recall that numbers are hidden in a crazy-quilt kind of background. If your eyesight is normal, you can distinguish the numbers apart from the confusing maze pattern.  The nurse said to me:  ‘Pick out a green ball.’ Luckily, I could make out the very faintest haze of green on some of the balls, but none of the numbers were visible. So I said to her:  ‘Which shade of green do you want me to pick?’  And she said:  ‘OK – you pass.’

“There was close to a hundred who qualified, and off we went in freight cars to Fort Benning and jump school.  Have you ever peeled potatoes in a rocking freight car for four days straight? That was my introduction to the paratroopers.

“Two months of training and five jumps later, I was in.  There’s lots or stories floating around about how tough it was to make the grade.  For example, if a trainee decided to quit – or failed to meet the standard early on – he was returned to the regular Army for infantry combat training.  But if a wannabe made it past his first jump and then threw in the towel, he was treated like a convict and sent to the guardhouse under lock and key.  And after a while off he went to a repple depple as an infantry replacement.  In my own case, I took pretty much everything in stride.  Hard physical work came natural to me.  Even before I was a teenager, I bucked hay bales that weighed eighty to a hundred pounds, stacking them five layers high.  And I worked on a tug boat assembling log rafts that we chained together and then towed down the Willamette River from Oregon City to Portland. Had to learn how to keep my feet under me.  I got dumped once by a rolling log and came this close to buying the farm.  And I was heavy into running. Sometimes I’d run seven or eight miles, for no reason at all.

“So I think it’s fair to say I had a certain level of self-confidence based on what I’d accomplished as a youngster. I made it a point to volunteer for anything and everything.  Since the airborne was a strictly volunteer outfit to begin with, they expected to see that same spirit displayed each and every time a challenge arose.  After awhile it became just plain habit.

“That’s not to say I didn’t step in it – but good.  One day I came out of my tent and walked past a second Louie. I made some casual remark he didn’t like.  Now, a second lieutenant – the lowest of the low among the commissioned ranks, and comparatively speaking equivalent to the pecking order of a lowly private in the enlisted ranks – is not only the dumbest animal in the military, but also the most dangerous. The next thing I knew, I was charged with insubordination, disrespect to an officer, and for good measure — drinking on duty. I was arrested and confined to quarters – with an armed guard, to boot.

“I took a big chance and asked to see my commanding officer.  I told him I was under-age, hoping that the charges would be dropped. He had virtually no reaction to my confession, and replied that he was going to let the charges go forward.  I can’t be sure, of course, but I believe he was thinking – okay Holy, you wanna play with the big boys, then go do it.

“The guard assigned to watch over my confinement was a former preacher turned paratrooper, and apparently very sensitive to what he viewed as an injustice.  At the pre-trial hearing, he testified that he was witness to my encounter with the officer and that none of the charges were true.  The second lieutenant was nowhere to be seen that day.  The court prepared a letter for the guard to sign – which contained a number of falsehoods. He refused to sign it. By the next day, all charges were dropped.  So back to my commanding officer I went. He informed me that even though I was underage, my parents would have to request my release in writing. And what did I think of that?  I said: ‘Sir – ship me overseas.’  And he said:  ‘That’s what I want to hear.’  And that’s when it became apparent to me that the airborne lived in a snug little world of its own, guided by its own set of rules and regulations. None of which was anybody else’s business.

“Meantime, my outfit was long gone overseas – 1,250 out of 1,500 having graduated. I left New York harbor in March aboard the J.S. McAndrew, an 8,000-ton army transport jam-packed with 2,400 military aboard. A bunch of ships in the convoy. Halfway to our destination, at around four in the morning, a beat-up French aircraft carrier lost its steerage and plowed almost head-on into the McAndrew. The carrier cut through the starboard side of our bow at about a 20 degree angle, then continued on for another 75 feet until it exited on the McAndrew’s port side. I was fast asleep on the sixth tier of bunks.  If the collision had occurred no more than a couple seconds later than it did, the incoming bow would have smashed right through my compartment. So I missed getting it by about ten feet. A bunch of paratroopers were berthed in the severed forward section of the ship. Seventy-one of them were crushed to death or drowned and many more wounded. We all thought we’d been torpedoed, and there was a mad scramble in the dark trying to sort things out.

“So here we were, missing half our bow with the big ocean swells breaking against the exposed compartments on the port side. The captain finally got his vessel turned ass-end to the waves, to reduce the flooding. It took four days under tow to reach the Azores, where we boarded a British passenger ship heading for England. Then onto another transport, headed for France. In the middle of the channel, the ship’s engine blew up.  Then back again to Southampton under tow, where we tried our luck aboard a Polish vessel.  That one finally made it to Le Havre. And from there by train to northern France, where I was assigned to the 101st Airborne, 506th Regiment, I Company, Third Battalion.

“By this time what was left of the German army was pretty much on the run.  Mostly we acted as clean-up squads behind the various infantry battalions.  Okay — the things that stick in my mind, big and little – that never go away.  One day I was chatting with a medic, who was tending to a former concentration camp inmate still wearing his striped prison garb.  Another German strolled up, nicely fitted in civilian clothes.  Out of nowhere, the medic tells the ex-prisoner to take off his prison rags.  He then turns to the German and tells him to undress as well.  The German loudly refuses.  The medic then draws his Colt .45 – which sidearm field medics were forbidden to wear. Where upon the German strips down to his underwear in record time. So they swap clothes. The prisoner looked real sharp in his new wardrobe, despite being not much more than skin and bones. The German – not at all happy.  The medic was all smiles – his good deed for the day.  Little things…

“Another time I was ordered to bring a wounded paratrooper to a distant aid station for treatment. The regiment had acquired a German-made Opel sedan.  Half the car was a storage bin, stuffed with company records and documents. So away we went and I let the soldier off at his destination.  But then I got lost – most of the road signs were destroyed and somehow I got turned around. I went up and down the autobahn, around and around the clover-leafs.  Every now and then I’d hear cannon fire.  This went on for three days. I was sleeping nights in the car. Finally, I decided it was safer to restrict my driving to the country roads. Why?  Because one night I was parked on the autobahn half asleep. I heard a noise, and it kept getting louder and louder.  I started the car and pulled way over past the shoulder. It wasn’t but a few moments later that a column of Shermans came roaring by – a bunch of crazy French tank drivers going like mad in the dark. Too much wine! That made the second time the French almost got me.

“So anyway –I’m driving along a country road the next day and up ahead is this column of marching solders.  They hear me coming from behind and move over to let me pass.  I slow down to a walking pace.  Only then do I realize they’re Germans, and fully armed. As I pull alongside, I notice one of the soldiers is carrying a backpack and there’s two bottles of booze sticking out the top.  Now mind you, I’m not wearing my helmet. And I’m driving a German vehicle. Just another civilian, right? I stick my arm out the window and point at the bottles and ask the soldier if I can have one.  He gets my meaning somehow and reaches over his shoulder, grabs a bottle, and hands it to me.  He’s as up-tight as I am, maybe more.  From the tone of his voice and gestures and facial expressions, I realize that I’m pushing my luck – and then some.  So I gently step on the gas and gradually move ahead, hoping nobody takes a close look. I happen to take a sideways glance, and across the valley I spot a M20 armored reconnaissance vehicle.  Just at that moment a German artillery round strikes the M20 and there’s a cloud of smoke and fire and lots of noise.  A perfect diversion, and one more reason to get out of there and find my way back. Which I eventually did.

“There’s no denying Bavaria’s a beautiful country, that’s for sure. Even in wartime. We finally made it to Berchtesgaden, where Hitler had his mountain retreat. Sorry to say, I never made it up there.  We were bivouacked in the town below, arriving almost on the same day Germany surrendered. I was walking across the city hall courtyard with another guy when I happened to look ahead and noticed a DUKW driving along.  DUKWs were a large amphibious bathtub-like vehicle used to transport men and cargo over land and water. Think of a big open boat with wheels. There was a series of large stone archways bordering the courtyard.  The amphib suddenly turned and headed straight for one of the arches with the obvious intent of driving through.  I shouted out: ‘Look Al – they’re not going to make it!’ Which wouldn’t have been a big deal, except for the bunch of German prisoners who were aboard –  all of them packed together like sardines and standing upright.

“Al remained riveted to the spot – absolutely refusing to move. The war was over, and he wanted nothing more to do with the dead and dying. I ran over to the archway – and then wished I hadn’t.  Some of the prisoners had their faces literally ripped off . Around 25 had serious injuries, and at least a half-dozen died from the impact right before my eyes. The DUKW driver jumped out and took off at a run and disappeared.  All I could do was stand there and think of the irony of it all. To go through the war and survive, and then die like this.  That really hit home – the sadness of it has never left me to this day. It made me think of the couple accidental encounters I’d been through, and barely escaped.

“The 506th occupied a number of other towns before going back to France for more training.  Then Harry dropped the bomb, and not long after that the division was disbanded and we shifted over to the 508th.  In January, 1946 I decided to re-enlist, still a PFC. Went home on 90 days leave, came back and became a military policeman in Italy. Followed that up as a truck driver in Trieste, on the Adriatic. Discharged December, 1948.

“I went to work for Crown Zellerbach and stayed with them until 1956.  I was tinkering with the math one day and realized that if I went back on active duty, I could retire in another 15 years. Whereas if I stayed with Crown Zellerbach, it would take 37-1/2 years to retire. I got to discussing this with some of the older guys at the mill and more than one said he was kicking his own butt for not staying in – now that they were too old to re-enlist.

“So that’s what I did. Joined the air force. But I didn’t quit at twenty.  I stayed on for a total of 32-1/2 years, including my earlier service during the war. The last eighteen months were special extensions, and I was welcome to more of the same if I wanted it.  Beside stateside duty in Texas, I was stationed in England, France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Norway, Holland, Taiwan and Vietnam.  Missed Korea somehow.  My specialty was aircraft and engine maintenance, plus a good chunk of time as a technical instructor.  Retired as an E-9.  In plain English – that’s a senior master sergeant.

“Say… want another cuppa coffee?”

Going back to antiquity, boy soldiers were commonly recruited in virtually every country of the world. Gradually the practice came to be frowned upon, and ultimately prohibited. Personal accounts -such as the one you’ve just read – reveal the depth of guile that determined youngsters were capable of -  no matter what nationality. In England during WW1, underage volunteers would often slip a piece of paper inside a shoe before entering a recruiting office.  When the sergeant asked the lad if he was “over 18” – the legal age to enlist — the applicant could then honestly reply in the affirmative (thanks to the number 18 written on the slip of paper he was standing on). In Germany, entire classrooms of male students would march to the nearest enlistment center – often led by their much-older teacher to set an example. Numerous cases are documented where patriotic-driven British fathers were turned away because of their advanced age.  An underage son would then apply in place of his father, who in turn was perfectly happy to forge any necessary paperwork. The family could now proudly proclaim it had done its part – for king and country.

America’s monarch – Uncle Sam – can’t make any claim to royalty, but he’s sure got his hooks into loyalty.  Sam has no friends more devoted than the Veterans of Underage Military Service – VUMS for short.  Though every country has a history of underage enlistees, only the United States can boast a nation-wide association devoted to the care and keeping of underage veterans.  Founded in 1991, VUMS has chapters in numerous states.  Its principal goal during the past 20 years has been (with apologies to Walt Holy) to raise holy hell with the military establishment over the issue of underage veterans’ rights and privileges. Many thousands kept their secret carefully tucked away. Exposure carried the real threat of lost retirement pay, VA health care and other benefits. Congressional lobbying efforts, followed by an avalanche of angry newspaper editorials, eventually led to legislation that exonerated and protected the “childrens’ crusade” from further retaliation. Yet there’s still a scattered few who refuse to step forward, convinced that it’s all a sham.

Don’t ask — don’t tell?  VUMS members held the patent rights to that battle cry long before it was resurrected for an altogether different purpose.


The Japanese Named It Sulfur Island.

The U. S. Marines Called It (Censored)


For seven months – May through November, 1945 – George E. Pickett and three fellow sailors held sway over what would soon become the world’s most iconic and instantly recognizable piece of real estate.

None of them held a trust deed to the property, and yet this foursome lorded over their patch of ground with all the authority of a cop on the beat.  Trespassers and interlopers were warned away by a sign reading:  “DANGER – 5,000 VOLTS!  KEEP OUT.”

“Each time I stepped out the front door of our Quonset hut, there was this sprawling panorama five hundred feet below,” Pickett recalls. Not more than 35 feet away, an American flag danced atop a new flagpole. “On a good day I could see clear to the north end of the island, five miles away.”

The island referred to is Iwo Jima, and the viewpoint facing Pickett’s mountain home is exactly where the U.S. Marines planted the Stars and Stripes atop Mount Suribachi.  George first came ashore on Iwo thirty-five days after the flag raising.  He would spend the next seven months treading the consecrated ground upon which the eyes of millions became fixated – thanks to a single photographic image.

Pickett’s assignment – classified Top Secret –was to help make Iwo and its surrounding waters a more secure place by introducing radar to the island, which technical advancement had proven invaluable at sea during surface engagements with the enemy.  Initially trained as a radio technician, George went through a further 18 months of radar instruction before being assigned to a sector known as GROPAC 11– Group Pacific Eleven.  GROPAC’s hush-hush mission was to install elevated radar-ranging equipment on certain specified islands throughout the Pacific.  Pickett and a boatload of technicians departed San Francisco on February 1, l945 aboard a Dutch vessel and crew leased to the U.S. Army.  “We stopped at five islands in all, over a period of sixty days,” Pickett notes.  “While underway at night we had to take turns manning the crow’s nest, because the ship had no radar.  Would you believe we got paid extra for that? – fifty cents an hour.  When we arrived at Iwo on April first, a large group of departing marines came aboard and we went ashore in their LSTs.  I left the ship with sixty bucks, cash in hand. Never could figure that one out.”

On his first morning ashore, George carefully picked his way across a mutilated landscape.  Knowing virtually nothing of the unrestrained violence that preceded his arrival, Pickett was suddenly brought up short by an open trench layered with Japanese soldiers. An obviously hardened Seabee bulldozer operator repeatedly ran his tracked vehicle back and forth, gradually filling the gravesite. One of many mass burials, as it turned out. Pickett’s second rude awakening came when he learned that beneath the island’s surface of volcanic pumice were thousands more entombed Japanese, scattered along eleven miles of tunnels and in innumerable caves.  An alarming number of them, as the Marine invaders were quick to discover, remained very much alive and aggressively combative.

Less than a week prior to Pickett’s arrival, a force of 350 determined survivors left their underground labyrinth and in the pre-dawn hours of March 27 infiltrated the Marine lines undetected. Pausing briefly to regroup, they then assaulted the sleeping quarters of the 7th  and 21st Fighter Groups. Amidst total confusion, the groggy Mustang pilots suddenly found themselves overrun and outnumbered.  Within the spread-out tenting area, chaos reigned. In one encounter, some cooks armed only with long-handled soup ladles and other kitchen utensils drove six Japanese out of the mess tent – and lived to tell about it. From outside the perimeter, U.S. ground crews and other support personnel quickly joined the fray.  The frenzied Japanese ransacked the area, tossing grenades inside tents and then gunning down or bayoneting any survivors attempting to flee.  When the skirmish finally ended at mid-morning, 330 Japanese lay dead; those not killed committed suicide.  Forty-four U.S. pilots and support personnel died, with another 100 wounded. The encounter marks the only known WW11 engagement between aviators and infantry. “Our own tents near the airfield were only a few hundred yards away from where the attack took place,” Pickett remembers.   “That’s when we starting posting armed sentries at night.”

In consequence of the mounting death toll on both sides, hundreds and then thousands of bloating bodies became feeding and breeding grounds for millions of flies.  Marine and Seabee sanitation teams, often under fire themselves, quickly fell behind in their recovery efforts.  In a moment of inspiration, a pair of C-47 cargo planes was outfitted with improvised spraying equipment. The aircraft made repeated low-level passes over Iwo’s terrain, leaving in their wake misty clouds of DDT.  The disease-carrying fly population – just one more threat to human health — plunged dramatically. The bushido-driven Japanese proved far more resilient.

GROPAC’s first project, at the far north end of the island, was to install seventeen radio transmitters for the joint Army/Navy Communications Center.  Each transmitter was equal in size to a refrigerator; the condensers stored within were wired and bundled, then each unit connected in sequence.  “It took close to a month to complete,” George notes. “After we finished, the Navy officer in charge went out to a ship and brought back a pile of steaks that we cooked up on a grill – his way of saying thanks. And I got advanced to petty officer second class.”

Next stop…Suribachi.  Within the walls of its volcanic cone – as well as along the steep slopes rising 550 feet above the island floor – dozens of cave entries were discovered shortly after the flag raising. Flame throwers and dynamite satchel charges were lugged up the mountainside. In one cave alone, by actual count, 142 charred bodies testified to the effectiveness of flammable napalm. How many cave dwellers remained was anyone’s guess, connected as some caves were to tunnels leading downhill to the island itself. But for the moment all was peaceful on the mountaintop– and there was every hope that it would remain so.

“A construction battalion roughed out a two-lane road up the mountain, and we used our assigned weapons carrier to haul all our gear and unassembled parts,” Pickett explains.  “The winding mile-long road ended about fifty feet below the highest point of the volcano’s rim, on a leveled plateau.”  A just-erected but empty Quonset hut – home sweet home – greeted the quartet.Adds George: “The Seabees also built a four-hole outhouse nearby, so that each one of us had his own throne.” Pickett seriously doubts if any prowling Japanese ever used it. “One of the first things we did was build a shower stall, using a 150-gallon external fuel tank from a P-51 Mustang fighter plane. Shaped like a teardrop. We installed the tank on top of the shed that housed the motors that ran the electric generators. Talk about king of the hill!”

Pickett on more than one occasion expressed delight at finding himself in a war in which he was totally ignored by the enemy.  “I never once got shot at!” he’d exclaim, feigning disappointment at being short-changed — but in reality profoundly grateful, as evidenced by a toothy grin. Nearby, a thirty-foot steel tower loomed above the compound.  The plan was to attach the radar oscillator at the top, then follow through with all the necessary connections to the electronic apparatus packed away and waiting assembly.

With a Raytheon company technician standing by, the four-man team finished the complex task in a week.  To Pickett’s surprise and delight, the radar apparatus immediately came to life and did what it was intended to do:  detect any approaching or passing surface vessel within 35,000 yards.  The great majority of Allied shipping in that theater of war was equipped with a sensor that automatically returned a coded signal to the GROPAC station atop Shuribachi.  Any vessel under radar scrutiny that failed to respond was presumed to be unfriendly. “The Army Air Corps on the island operated similar radar towers to detect approaching enemy aircraft,” George explains.  “I remember seeing B-29s taking off and landing on our radar screen as the revolving oscillator picked them up. It only broke down once during the seven months of continuous operation.”  A nearby duo of gasoline generators supplied 5,000 volts of electricity to the system.

Pickett graduated high school in Wheeler, Oregon at age 16, then went to work for a journeyman carpenter in need of an apprentice.  By the time he enlisted in the Navy on his twenty-first birthday – and newly married to boot — George was thoroughly familiar with residential construction, having helped erect five dwellings. He also delved into wood carving and furniture making, a vocation he was to pursue in later life.

Standing alone in the empty 20×48-foot quonset, George quickly sketched out a workable interior design.  “I set aside one-quarter of the space for us four guys. Then half of the hut to hold all the radar gear.  The last section went to house Joe Hayes, the lieutenant jay-gee in charge. Hayes was an OK fellow, a school teacher from the Midwest somewhere.  He was seldom around…left us pretty much alone.  And would you believe – he didn’t drink!  Sweet man – he sold us his weekly booze allotment for the same price he paid for it.” Hard liquor, especially well-aged bourbon, was the currency of choice on Iwo. Nothing else of value came close, excepting genuine Japanese flags, sidearms and samurai swords for which the liquor was eagerly traded.

With lumber and tools supplied by the Seabees, Pickett partitioned off the quonset and then proceeded to furnish the interior.  He designed and constructed four spacious bunk beds (no army cots for these swabbies). Then a table and chairs, plus a large dresser with four drawers, one for each occupant. Further personal touches followed, and living began to resemble more of a peacetime setting than a war zone.

Making the best of it atop Mount Suribachi wasn’t all domestic tranquility, to be sure.  During installation of the radar tower, a human skull was unearthed – undoubtedly Japanese.  “We decided to hang it just below the posted danger sign on the tower, to give the warning further emphasis.  Somebody came up with the bright idea to insert two lights within the empty eye sockets. The lights served to illuminated the skull and warning sign at night.”  The adornment must have done its job, George reflects, because to his knowledge no surviving Japanese lurking in caves within the mountain ever came snooping around the premises. For a final touch, a pair of eye glasses was added – after all, weren’t all Japanese born near-sighted? Newspaper and magazine cartoonists early in the war liked to portray them wearing inch-thick spectacles. “That’s what everybody was led to believe back then,” Pickett notes.  “That is, until the shooting started.”

A group of ten Navy radar operators took turns commuting to the mountaintop.  Their task:  monitoring the radar scopes 24/7, while Pickett’s on-site crew of four maintained the power plant and electronic equipment. One of the radar operators, a second-class petty officer named Jack Gary, decided to fill his off-duty time with a new hobby.  Armed with a portable tank of oxygen and connective breathing tube (plus a lantern and .45-calibre sidearm), Gary began exploring unsealed caves and tunnels he thought reasonably safe to enter. Not for nothing had the Japanese named this place Iwo (Sulfur) Jima (Island). Ascending sulfur fumes from hundreds of fumaroles scattered across the devastated landscape provided a constant reminder that ‘Iwo was hell – without the fire,’ as one Marine aptly put it. The highest underground temperature ever recorded on Iwo was 156F; even more troublesome, nowhere on the island was there a natural source of drinking water.

“I went along with Jack a couple times,” says Pickett.  “We navigated one of the tunnels and it finally opened up into a rather large excavation.  I think it might have been a hospital, or emergency room.” Slumped along a bench against one wall, a dozen Japanese soldiers in the first stages of mummification testified to the utter hopelessness and despair of their troglodyte existence. “One of them had his arms folded around a samurai sword,” Pickett continues.  “Jack scooped that up in a hurry, and then he proceeded to look for wrist watches.  Finally, he got out a pair of pliers and started yanking all the gold teeth he could find.  He later made rings out of monel, a nickel and copper alloy, with some of the better gold teeth mounted in the center.  I don’t know…that’s just the feeling some guys had…almost an automatic reflex.  No more regard than if the Japs were animals.”

Then came a day in late November; time to pack it up and pack it in. George remembers:  “We carefully dismantled all the classified radar equipment and boxed it, well padded and secure.  And that included the skull from the tower, in its own special container with the eyeglasses and all.  Lord knows, though…our shipping containers probably ended up at the bottom of the ocean – just another pile of post-war surplus.”  Pickett gave the room a final once-over, then walked through the open doorway for the last time and across the hallowed ground, clutching his seabag.

Part fantasy, part Dante’s Inferno, part netherworld – the imagery of Iwo Jima will likely remain in the American consciousness for a very long time. As in:  “My great-great-great-great grandfather fought on Iwo Jima.” George Pickett well knows he got but a whiff of what transpired there, and is ever grateful for being spared the savagery* that engulfed so many others of his generation.

For each of Iwo’s eight square miles, 3,255 American servicemen were killed or wounded.  Add to this figure 21,060 Japanese casualties, and the total exceeds 46,000 dead/wounded/missing in action over a 45-day period.

George Pickett at age 22, and now a spunky 88.  George and his wife Thelma have been wed 68 years, and reside in a suburb of Portland, Oregon.  Coincidentally – or perhaps intentionally? — sons Mike and Harold both served in Vietnam as electronic technicians. One Navy, one Marines.

An Artilleryman Follows
In His Father’s Footsteps
by Tony Welch

“I was standing on the back porch as he drove away in his car,” says Bob Lamkin. “And that’s the last I ever saw of him. I was six years old.”

Lamkin, now 91, is referring to his father, Robert L. Lamkin, a veteran of the Spanish-American War (1898-99) and the Philippine Insurrection that closely followed. The senior Lamkin served during the latter conflict, which claimed over 4,000 American lives. And then — a quarter-century later — he simply disappeared.

What ties could possibly link – much less bind — a child to a father who suddenly abandons his family?
“What I remember of my father is that he fought as an artilleryman in the U.S. Army,” Bob recalls. “My only image of him is from an old photograph. He’s in his uniform standing beside a 155 millimeter cannon.”

This single connective thread, fragile though it be, would eventually lead Lamkin to a different battlefield half a world away. In his own time and in his own way, Lamkin managed to forge a path that reunited him with the father he would never come to know.

The Spanish-American War and subsequent conquest of the Philippine islands eventually involved 126,486 U.S. troops. In this 1902 photo, a battery of 76mm Hotchkiss cannons clear the way for attacking American infantry. Bob Lamkin’s father would have helped man a 570-pound howitzer like this, pulled by a team of three mules.

But first things first.Bob Lamkin had a few blind alleys to traverse before reaching his goal.“I transferred to Oregon State University as a sophomore in 1940,” he explains. “ROTC was required, and thinking back on my father I chose the field artillery (FA) rather than the infantry or engineers.” Later, Bob joined the Enlisted Reserve Corp and remained in school until called to basic training at Camp Roberts, California. Then off to FA officer training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Part way through the course, Lamkin suddenly found himself transferred to infantry OCS at Fort Benning, Georgia.Two weeks short of graduation, he was called before the examining board and without explanation transferred to yet another base in South Carolina.Surprise! Lamkin’s back in artillery school.

Then as now, soldiers were apt to use a naughty acronym – SNAFU – to describe a military mix-up. But Bob wasn’t complaining – far from it.Private Lamkin was finally where he set out to be.In the military, head counts are always done alphabetically. Lamkin recalls two infantry classmates at Fort Benning by the names of Lambert and Landis who stood either side of him at every roll call. “They both graduated from infantry training, both were commissioned as shave-tail lieutenants, and both died a few days apart during the Battle of the Bulge. So you could say the board did me a favor.”

Following graduation, Lamkin’s class assembled at Boston harbor where it boarded a converted banana boat, bound for Europe. Skipping a stopover in Britain, the ship crossed the English channel and off-loaded on the French coast. “We gathered up our guns and ammo and towing vehicles and went a short ways inland to a chateau, where we hunkered down. The chateau had been a Wehrmacht headquarters, until our infantry chased them out. I think it was around the end of June, almost a month after D-day.” Bob also notes that chateau living was a welcome surprise; Normandy had yet to fall and the battle of the hedgerows kept dragging on. With each passing summer day, the din of battle gradually faded as the Allies gained a solid foothold in southern France.

And then George S. Patton arrived on the scene…
Bob’s battalion served under the Third Army, commanded by General Patton. Says Lamkin: “He was always in a rush to get there first. When Patton took off, he went like a raped ape and woe betide those who couldn’t keep up.  I remember reading a story in Stars and Stripes that quoted him as saying ‘I’m going to cross the Rhine if I have to send home a boat-load of dog tags.’ That didn’t sit too well with the troops, as you might imagine.”

Lamkin was assigned to headquarters battery, the command staff for the entire battalion. Each FA battalion consisted of three batteries (A, B and C), totaling in all 12 guns and a complement of support troops. Thus, a typical infantry division was backed up by fifty-four 105mm howitzers, the workhorse cannon of WW11. Experienced artillerymen in a race against the clock to engage the enemy prided themselves in executing given commands in the shortest possible time span. Bob Lamkin was witness to just such a performance the first time out of the bullpen – and likely owes his very life to a set of skills perfectly planned and promptly executed.    “Our battalion and a number of others began moving inland, until we finally ended up in Belgium just behind the front line in an area adjacent to where the Battle of the Bulge was going on. We had just unhooked all twelve guns from the towing tractors.

“Without warning, a salvo of artillery shells descended at our rear, maybe a hundred feet away. The terrain ahead was sloped, with the hilltop facing us, and the firing was coming from somewhere out of sight beyond the crest,” Lamkin recalls. A lethal concoction of dirt, smoke and flying shrapnel sent Lamkin scampering for the nearest sanctuary – a parked Jeep. Crawling beneath the framework and laying spread-eagle to minimize exposure to what he knew was coming next, Bob clenched his teeth and tightened his sphincter muscles. A second salvo of equal force arrived moments later, this time exploding in front of the battery. “Whoever was shooting at us likely had a hidden forward observer ((FO) calling the shots,” Lamkin explains. Bob tried further to shrink himself in anticipation of the grand finale — the gunners were about to split the difference and drop the last load right on target.
Just as suddenly, Lamkin relates, the air overhead was rustled by the passage of numerous artillery shells coming from various directions. Ever alert, the headquarters command post had simultaneously contacted no less than thirty-one other batteries scattered around a five-mile area, and provided them with estimated co-ordinates of the enemy’s location. A blanket of destruction – well over 100 shells – saturated the distant landscape in what is termed a TOT (time on target) concentration. “Very lucky for us,” Bob grins. “We never did get that third salvo.”

As a matter of record, artillery ‘serenades’ on the battlefields of Europe occasionally reached eye-popping proportions. In a single nighttime engagement, an attacking battalion of German infantry was stopped in its tracks by a defensive barrage totaling 11,500 rounds in various calibers, including 155mm. During the Battle of the Bulge, U.S. artillery fired an estimated 1,225,000 rounds from 4,155 “tubes,” as cannon barrels were labeled by their handlers. To be sure, the infantry paid all due respect to incoming rifle and machine gun fire. Beyond that, artillery (and its first cousin, the mortar) were horses of another color. Incoming artillery barrages that seemed to go on forever – thirty minutes of continuous drum fire was not uncommon — often left survivors on both the Allied and Axis sides “cringing, crapping and crying” in their foxholes – as one GI lyrically put it. Between August 1 and November 30, 1944, Third Army medics cataloged the following physical damage; for every gunshot wound, there were two explosive shrapnel wounds. No such tally was kept of the dead.

Once business in the Ardennes was attended to, the battalion was re-assigned in support of a tank corps. Exiting Belgium into Germany in late January, 1945, Lamkin’s battery spent day after day in relentless pursuit of the retreating Germans – further evidence of General Patton’s desire to lead the pack.* “We’d move into an area and get set up. Then the tanks would pass through until they met enemy strong points. If that didn’t get the job done, they’d back off and we’d take a crack at it. Then the infantry moved in.” ** Not once did Lamkin’s group ever have to resort to direct fire. “That’s when you shoot directly at a visible target on the ground,” he explains. “All our distant firing at unseen targets involved a lot of computation and co-ordination. We used high explosive (HE) shells almost exclusively. Some exploded on contact, some we set for air-burst.” Though assigned to duties within the headquarters command staff, Lamkin got in his fair share of licks behind the Model M2A1 howitzer as a breech loader – or ammo man. What he couldn’t keep track of were the number of times his battalion picked up and moved. Like playing a continuous game of hop-scotch and leap-frog, as Bob puts it.

Once over the Rhine River via a pontoon bridge, the battalion skirted Cologne and continued cross-country into Bavaria, with stops at Schweinfurt and Frankfurt. “We only paused if a target was assigned to us,” Lamkin notes.
Unlike the front line infantry, who were obliged to dig new foxholes most every time they moved, cannoneers enjoyed the ‘luxury’ of sleeping bags spread out on the ground covered by shelter halves – so called because two men, each joining together a canvas half shelter — were provided a measure of protection from the elements.

Lamkin’s battalion wasn’t exactly on a guided European tour, though on rare occasions it seemed that way. Next stop: Czechoslovakia – country number five. Lamkin soon discovered there were other ‘tourists’ out and about, enjoying the springtime blossoms and other amenities. “We were heading for Vienna, Austria, when the news came down that Germany had surrendered,” Bob relates. “A few days later several of us were checking out a small village when we came across a farm house with some activity going on. What do we find but a half-dozen Soviet soldiers. So we all sat around celebrating and got kinda drunk on Russian vodka.”

Strict rationing of a dwindling supply of ammo from October 11 – November 7, 1944, restricted the Third Army to twenty 105mm rounds per-gun-per-day –- in all, 76,000 shells. The subsequent drawn-out Battle of the Bulge far exceeded that sum on any given day.

Fortunately, none of the men in Bob’s battery were killed, nor did they suffer any battle wounds by war’s end. Returning to Germany as part of the occupation forces, Lamkin and half-a-dozen buddies were assigned to the 115th FA Battalion motor pool in Frankfurt. “It was a great time for us,” he reveals. With virtually the entire German transportation system smashed to smithereens, getting around proved a major challenge. “In the beginning,” Bob notes, “the only thing we had to worry about was the upcoming invasion of Japan. At one point we actually trained for that, until the Japanese surrendered in August.” The motor pool assignment, says Lamkin, proved to be a gold mine in disguise. Senior officers and master sergeants – the ones who ruled the roost and had the power to return favors – made heavy use of the vehicles under Lamkin’s care. The twinkle in Bob’s eye suggests that a barter service second to none flourished within the battalion.

And then there was the irony of it all. Wars are loaded with the ironic; scattered events have a propensity for linking up with one another. One chance happening leads to another and – voila! To wit:

“From time to time,” says Lamkin, “some of us were called on to help man the checkpoints along a major roadway. We were on the lookout for certain documents issued to returning German veterans by the occupational authorities. If they possessed such signed and stamped documents, we let them pass. It was their ticket back to civilian life. Those others men who lacked such documentation were turned over to the MPs and sent to a POW camp for further interrogation and disposition.

“One day this young man approached the checkpoint. He looked to be in his early twenties – around my age. He spoke perfect English, no accent. His papers — everything was in order. I noticed his clothes were a mix — half military and half civilian. We got to talking and swapping stories about where we’d been during the war, and what our duties were. As he got deeper into the details, it slowly became evident that this fellow standing just a few feet away had once tried his damndest to kill me.”

A further exchange of background revealed that the detainee’s parents had immigrated to America just after WW1 and settled in the Midwest – Iowa, to be exact. Their son had paid relatives in Germany an extended visit just before the war broke out – which timing proved disastrous. Despite his status as an American citizen, he’d been drafted and assigned to an armored regiment.In his fourth year of combat and now an officer, he found himself fighting on the western front.

“He turned out to be a commander in a Panzer brigade,”Bob explains, “and it was his battle group of Tiger and Panther tanks that attacked us with their seventy-six and eighty-eight millimeter cannons that day in Belgium. He told me our plunging artillery fire had destroyed or crippled nearly half his armored force.”

A second chance encounter proved even more dramatic, containing as it did all the elements of a Shakespearian tragedy. “Not too far away there was a liberated concentration camp,” Lamkin continues, “and it was fairly common to come across former inmates wandering around. One day this figure came down the road, and when he saw us he turned and cut across a field. We fired a few machine gun rounds in his direction and that got his attention. So here’s this Jewish kid, 14 years old. He told us he’d escaped twice from the camp during the war, each time from a lineup leading to the gas chambers. How he managed that, I can’t imagine. We let him hang around and he’d scrounge food from nearby farms.”

A grinning John Kelly (luck of the Irish?) examines his helmet, battered but not penetrated by a nearly-spent chunk of flying shrapnel. Even well dug-in infantrymen most dreaded being caught in a heavily wooded forest; incoming artillery rounds exploded on contact with the tree tops, driving shrapnel into their fox holes and shelters.

“One day we were checking out this fellow whose papers appeared in order. All decked out in civilian clothes. The kid happened to wander up and when he saw this guy, he took off running. One of the guards chased after the kid and brought him back. He pointed at the man and said he was a SS major (sturmbannfuhrer) in the concentration camp. We ordered the man to take off his shirt and there — sure enough — was a SS tattoo*** under his arm.

“We decided it was the kid’s turn at bat. Somebody got a shovel, and on the sly I removed the ammo from my carbine. We shoved the German over on the shoulder of the road and told him to start digging. I gave my rifle to the kid and told him he was in charge.”

“So here’s this SS officer digging away. Every time he paused to catch his breath, the kid would jab him in the arse with the rifle barrel and shout ‘schnell – schnell !’ The grave was maybe two feet deep when suddenly the guy fell to his knees, and with folded hands begged the kid for mercy. We ordered him out of the hole and turned him over to the MPs. Not long after we heard a solitary shot in the distance.“And, you know… I still wonder about that to this day”

Lamkin and his wife of 62 years, Alma, reside in a suburb of Portland, Oregon.After finishing college, Bob spent the majority of his working years in industrial sales.“Most of my closest friends have passed on,” he says. “A couple times we talked about having a reunion in Switzerland, but somehow it never happened.”

* The Third Army under Patton fought continuously for 281 days. No other army in military history ever advanced farther and faster. Third Army killed, wounded and captured some 1,811,388 enemy combatants – six times its own strength in manpower.
“I am the Infantry. Queen of Battle.”
“I am the Artillery. King of Battle.”
The King puts it where the Queen wants it.
(wall placard in the field artillery Enlisted Men’s Club, Fort Sill, OK., 1947)

*** The SS tattoo (Blutgruppentatowierung) was worn by members of the Totenkopfverbande–SS to identify an individual’s blood type – A, B, AB or O. Application was on the underside of the left upper arm. It served to identify blood type in case a soldier was unconscious and in need of a transfusion.

United States Marine Corp. / World War II

Immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, my father enlisted in the Marines. He said he wanted to be a Marine because they were “The Best!” He was assigned to the South Pacific and was a navigator. Unfortunately, my father was very reluctant to share stories or experiences of his years in the service. Later, we learned that this is not uncommon for many miliary personnel. Our family is so proud of him and his dedication and love for our country. He died this past year at the remarkable age of 90. We will always be grateful to the Honor Guard that came to the funeral and the cemetary. This was truly a fitting tribute to one who belonged to “The Greatest Generation!”

Below are some thoughts and tributes that were shared at his funeral – September 2011.

Tribute to Howard J. Grenell
When we hear the word “One of the Good Guys”…most of us would immediately think of the movies and characters portrayed by actors like: John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart… Harrison Ford.

But when I hear the words: One of the Good Guys….I immediately think of one person. MY Father. In all honesy, my dad was truly “One of the Good Guys.”

In fact…my brother would often have conversations with my father stating : Dad, if you do not go to heaven…there is no hope for the rest of us!

Not only was my father one of the good Guys…he was a man who never , ever complained. Even though he had his share of aches and pains these last few years. He always saw the glass half full and was for ever the optimist. Even during our recent conversation regarding the upcoming football season and the Cleveland Browns. My father would simply say…, “ Sally, there is always a chance for a miracle.” My father always a kind word for everyone, enjoyed the simple things in life: flowers in his garden, a beautiful sunset, music, concerts, movies, reading, and a great homemade pie!

Our dad chose to serve and help others when he became a social worker. I remember my mother telling me that when they were first married…my father told her that he would never make a lot of money…but he would never ever lack for a job. And he was right…. He flunked retirement 3 times! When the call went out for help…my father answered it. That’s what good guys do.

There were 2 things very important to my father….His faith and family. My father was a very religious and devoted man. Every morning, he would begin the day with his devotions and prayers and saying the rosery. Three years ago, when he realized that he could no longer drive…his only concern was how would he get to church. After a few phone calls, Pete McCormick and his wife, Mary , were an answer to those prayers. They faithfull drove my father to mass several times a week to make sure that his wish would be fulfilled.

And of course, My father was truly a devoted family man. He enjoyed all family gatherings and celebrations. He always wanted to be there…even if it meant he just sat in the background and listened to the rest of us ramble on. In July, we celebrated his 90th birthday. The whole family gathered together for the weekend. We all knew that this was one of his goals…to make it to his 90th birthday . He outlived all his relatives. His only comment was: I just don’t understand what all the fuss is about? He was humble and modest…. Just like your typical good guy.

He taught us lessons from the heart. For example, when I was 16 I failed my drivers test… I was very upset. He looked at me and said, I am glad you did not pass. “Sally, in life you have to learn to accept disappointment. And if you can…you will beable to survive and handle anything that comes your way.” How true. I have never forgotten those words. …… That was so typical of my father. He taught us many lessons : Patience, kindness, acceptance, perseverance, gratitude, and always, always maintain your sense of humor. And even during his last few days on earth….he taught us one final lesson.. When it is all said and done, and your time has come, you joyfully and willingly ride off into the sun set…because that’s what Good Guys do.