13:09 | After a nerve-wracking mission to bomb Tokyo and a typhoon, B.E. Vaughan and the destroyer O'Brien suffered a second kamikaze attack which killed all three of his hometown pals who served with him on board. Then, began the grim task of collecting the personal belongings of the dead and preparing them for burial at sea.
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While plowing behind a horse one day, on his family farm in South Carolina, B.E. Vaughan decided he didn't want to be stuck behind that plow forever. "I want to be somebody." So he enlisted alongside three friends who were drafted.
B.E. Vaughan already knew how to drill. In a Home Guard group he'd done well but when he got to boot camp, they executed the "Halt" command a little differently and this led to a little tension with the Drill Instructor.
Shipping out on a newly commissioned destroyer, B.E. Vaughan went straight into the chaos of the Normandy invasion. All around him was "a slaughterhouse," but the crew performed a valuable role as soldiers struggled to get a foothold, knocking out pillboxes on the bluffs.
Setting out from Portsmouth after a short break following the overwhelming experience of D-Day, B.E. Vaughan and the O'Brien joined a task force with the battleship Texas supporting the landing at Cherbourg. Their support was so good that they drew the fire from the Texas onto themselves.
One of B.E. Vaughan's shipmates on the O'Brien went over the hill as they prepared to head to the Pacific, sure that he wouldn't make it back. He walked up the gangplank in Hawaii, though, after a change of heart. In one of their first Pacific actions, they came to the rescue of the USS Ward, whose captain had fired the first shot of the war an hour before the attack on Pearl Harbor began.
It was Condition One Easy, which means B.E. Vaughan could step outside the gun mount and have a smoke. But before he did, everyone started running by and he saw the sailor just outside the hatch look up and "his eyes just about popped out of his head."
The atomic bombs had ended the war and B.E.Vaughan had the experience he'd hoped for, sailing into Tokyo Bay in dress blues. The things he'd seen haunt him to this day and he wonders how it was that he lived and others died. He recalls the moment when, as a typhoon bore down on his ship, he decided he was ready to die and it was OK.
While still in Tokyo Bay before heading home, B.E. Vaughan was tasked with running the whale boat to shore to transport some personnel. It didn't work out so well.
The war was over but B.E. Vaughan faced one more trial, getting home without any money. As in war, those who served looked out for each other.
After the Pearl Harbor attack, Warren Parker became an MP based on where he was standing in line at the induction center. So many men were counted off and sent to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for basic training. Later, in California, the unit built a mock POW camp in the desert, but their "prisoners" never showed up.
Moving toward Rome, Al Brown knew his brother's unit was nearby, and for an awful moment, he thought he had found him mortally wounded on the battle field. He never found his brother but a mortar round nearly found him.
When the guns of the approaching Russians could be heard, the German guards emptied the prison camp and marched the allied prisoners westward across Austria. Clyde Burnette waited in the woods where they were left by the guards until a lone American tank rumbled up.
Bombardier and navigator Charlie Gribi remembers volunteering for every available mission in order to get home by his daughter's first birthday. He also passed up a promotion, which may have saved his life. Video provided by the Clermont County Public Library. Visit charliegribi.com for more information on his life and missions.
Serving occupation duty in Salzburg, Austria, Howard Margol's unit was stationed at a large displaced persons camp. Each soldier had to take ten German prisoners into the woods on firewood detail. This led to an ironic situation when a prisoner escaped from one of the crews, though it wasn't the one you might think.
On his first bombing mission, B-24 Gunner Clyde Burnette saw another aircraft explode in mid-air. One man got out but his parachute was in flames. It was a sobering introduction to combat. He recounts some other close calls, including the time they had to return with a payload of special 2,000 pound Blockbusters and broken landing gear.
Herman Buffington explains how it's more difficult than it sounds to get from the rope ladder on a troop transport into the Higgins Boat waiting at the bottom. When they stormed ashore at Okinawa, there was no opposition at first, but that would soon change, especially the snipers. The Americans learned to judge how close the shot was by the sound of the bullets that missed them. If they got closer, you had to make some decisions.
In the prison camp, Clyde Burnette only saw one American shot by the guards, a man who snapped and started climbing the wire. In the infirmary, a Yugoslav prisoner invited him along on an escape, but Burnette had to return to the general population and he missed his chance to try to make it to Italy, where his brother was posted. The camp was Stalag 17B and it became famous after the war when a prisoner wrote the story which became a well known Hollywood film.
Near the end of the war, the POW's were forced from their camp and put on a forced march to nowhere. They walked 800 miles in 3 months, says Don Ogden. He suffered from the food deprivation and unsanitary conditions, but he also met a new friend, Harold Thompson. Passing through a small town, he witnessed an unbelievable act of cruelty at the hand of a young SS trainee.
After liberating Metz and being struck by a German counterattack, Arnold Whittaker recalls the massive numbers of replacement soldiers sent in to his company, and the dangers those inexperienced soldiers posed to their seasoned peers.
It wasn't easy at the Siegfried Line, says Jack Myers. There were tough pillboxes and bunkers, but he was a gunner on a tank destroyer and he could put a three inch shell right through the gun portals. The Germans had much better tanks, but the American armor was endless, a massive force that could not be stopped. Especially once they got the new 90 mm gun. Mr. Meyers also describes a Christmas Eve incident that shows the human side of war.
When the 1st Armored Division hit Casablanca, there was no opposition, but along the coast at Oran, it was a different story. Ed LaPorta had the landing craft blown out from under him, but thanks to his training, he made it to shore. By the time the German fortress was knocked out, his company had suffered 80% casualties.
When John Huffhines hit the beach at Iwo Jima, it was just about the time the Japanese defenders unleashed their heavy artillery. They had been waiting for the beach to get crowded and, in the hellish barrage, he buried his face in the sand and knew it was the end of the world. Then he shook it off and rose up.
Two weeks after his discharge, Marine Braswell Deen entered the University of Georgia law school, and two weeks after he graduated, he was running for office. After decades of public service, he still thinks about those nights on Peleliu.
Sailor Sterling Baker saw a note on the bulletin board asking for volunteers who were single, had no close family ties and who were excellent swimmers. Off he went to become an amphibious scout, one of the precursors to today's SEALS. Armed with only a knife, he was trained to infiltrate a beach undetected ahead of an amphibious landing. He did not get to try in his first operation at Algiers.
Braswell Deen recalls getting ready for the amphibious landing on Peleliu and then the chaos of the landing itself. The shelling had been tremendous, but as on so many other islands, the enemy survived and the Marines faced heavy resistance as they hit the beach.
There was a tremendous need for B-17 crews and this led to Don Scott being drafted right out of his sophomore year at Virginia Tech. His first training stop was Miami Beach where he was billeted in a hotel right on the beach. That was very nice but the next stop was Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He didn't mind a bit since it was the radio school he wanted.
The new B-17 crews crossed the Atlantic but there was still more training to be done before they could start their missions. They had to fly in formation and that was very tricky, according to radio operator Don Scott. With that skill mastered, the bombing began.
Florence Fattig, a nurse in the Army Nurse Corps, goes into detail about how front line field hospitals worked, what kinds of injuries they saw, and the role she played in treating injured soldiers in Europe during World War II.
Charles White was a "90 Day Wonder" out of Ft. Benning when he shipped out to the European theater. Right away, the fresh Lieutenant was cold, wet, and miserable. At the Maginot Line, he had to take over his company when the captain was shot.
They told Clyde Burnette that if he enlisted instead of waiting for the draft, he could pick his specialty school. He held out for aircraft maintenance school while they tried to make him accept others, and was soon training as an engineer and gunner on heavy bombers.