7:40 | Robert James was in the shower aboard ship when the alarm went off. He scrambled to his gun mount to man the 20 mm gun and then the threat became apparent. Kamikazes had broken through the air cover and were headed for the convoy. He heard some firing from another gun and turned around just in time to see a horrifying sight. Part 1 of 2.
Keywords : Robert James USS Keokuk (AKN-4) general quarters Kamikaze gun mount concussion shrapnel doctor Corpsman morphine
Robert James was propped up against a bulkhead, going in and out of consciousness. The kamikaze had destroyed the starboard gun mounts and there were many dead and wounded. He was grateful when someone gave him some morphine to ease the pain from multiple shrapnel wounds. This was the beginning of a painful journey to healing. Part 2 of 2.
Robert James and his brother both had to drop out of school to support their single mother. The coming of war meant that they would be drafted and Robert was determined to get in the Navy. He had to convince his mother to sign for him at seventeen. Both brothers went to war and both sent money home.
The weather wasn't too bad when the train full of Navy recruits pulled out of Richmond and headed for Great Lakes Naval Station for boot camp. Robert James, along with the rest, didn't bring heavy clothing and, when he stepped off the train near Chicago, it was into snow up to his knees.
He had joined the Navy, but he still had to drill like the Army recruits. Robert James was at boot camp learning to be a sailor in the dead of winter outside Chicago. He attended classes where he was exposed to the naval weaponry he might use, as well as the planes and ships of the Japanese enemy.
Boot camp was over and it was time to learn your assignment. Robert James was put on a train for California, though he wasn't yet told where he was going. He was housed at Treasure Island for a while, where he got some of that great San Francisco liberty. Finally, he boarded his ship, the USS Keokuk.
The first stop was Pearl Harbor, where the ship was loaded with supplies. Next was a small island where Robert James remembers softball games and beers. When they put out to sea again, his duty was topside and, still, no word on where the ship was bound.
When the crew of the USS Keokuk arrived at their first invasion, they had no idea where they were. The ship was a net layer, spooling out huge submarine nets to protect the battleships and carriers. Robert James watched the action at the beach through his field glasses, where the water turned red with the blood of Marines. Finally, he learned the name of the island. It was Iwo Jima.
The invasion of Saipan and Tinian was easy for Robert James aboard ship. After the crew put in place its submarine nets, its part was done. He did not see the carnage he had witnessed at Iwo Jima. He did hear about some horrific suicidal acts by the Japanese civilians on Saipan.
Robert James got plenty of shore leave in Pearl Harbor when his ship was docked there for resupply between actions. Like many of the men, he had a great thirst for beer, which got him into trouble more than once, but he also had a great desire for something else he could get on shore, something he wanted more than beer.
Preparing for an invasion got to be somewhat routine for Robert James. Shipboard drills would increase. The ship would be fully loaded with the submarine nets it would lay. After the action on Peleliu, they had to head stateside because of problems with the boilers. When they returned to to the war zone, the Japanese had a new deadly tactic they would have to face.
As his ship headed for the invasion of Okinawa, Robert James was recuperating from multiple shrapnel wounds he had received in a kamikaze attack. During the action at Okinawa, the ship was very nearly hit again, this time from Japanese bombs.
Like Robert James, every serviceman in the Pacific was filled with dread over the prospect of invading Japan, but it was the only target left. Their fears were wiped away when Harry Truman made the decision to use the atomic bomb.
They heard the Russian guns approaching from the East and it wasn't long before the men of Stalag Luft III were shipped on a train to Nuremberg. It was there in a freezing outdoor camp that Crawford Hicks saw his friend strip down in the snow to bathe at a water spigot. There was a good reason.
The German interrogator knew more about his bomb group than he did and after a short questioning, Michael Gold was off to a POW camp where he was lucky to share a barracks with the other officers from his crew. The German rations were supplemented with Red Cross parcels that arrived from Sweden.
Frank Gleason talks at length about how Japan began pushing their way into China in early 1945, and the last ditch efforts by his crew to destroy bridges and other vital structures along the way while U.S. troops pulled out of the area.
After breaking out at Anzio. Hubert Aaron's unit marched into Rome, the only American unit to capture an enemy capitol during World War Two. He received a Silver Star for actions during that operation. When he went into St. Tropez, with dry feet for a change, he ignored his platoon leader's order to move out through an open field. Then he let his Thompson submachine gun do some talking.
The British had battled the Germans back and forth across North Africa and American P-40's had arrived to provide some additional air power. Crew chief Gordon Markle describes what that was like with the sandstorms, the C-rations from another war, and the German air attacks. He also learned that you don't want to cross the Gurkhas.
After capturing an entire German Panzer division, Hubert Aaron's outfit was moving up the Rhone River Valley when he was wounded in an ambush. Evacuated to Naples, he found out how great was his sacrifice.
The pilot was ready to die. Louie Clark saw him after he crashed his kamikaze into the deck of the destroyer USS Haynsworth. There were many casualties, including a big pot of beans that caught a machine gun from the kamikaze after it crashed through the deck. Clark describes the bravery of men that day and the solemn ceremonies of the burials at sea.
Herman Buffington was hunkered down in his foxhole on Okinawa when a mortar round hit close by and a piece of red hot shrapnel tore through his leg. It sounded like bacon frying, but a medic got the bleeding stopped and he was going to be OK. He refused the morphine because he was already exhausted and didn't want anyone else to tend to his tourniquet.
Hubert Aaron says, "I know I'm going to heaven because I spent three months in hell at Anzio." During this battle, he directed some artillery fire that was highly accurate, but then he was on the receiving end as an incoming enemy round put him in the hospital with a concussion. After being pinned down for three months and nearly being pushed back into the sea, the Allies finally prevailed.
Navy Corpsman Frank Walden went ashore at Omaha Beach with the Beach Battalion, a unit charged with managing the beach during the assault. After the shock of seeing the first bodies, and after a frightening rush to find safety in the chaos, he began to treat the wounded.
When his buddy George Farris was hit by a sniper, Bob Royce and two others started back to battalion headquarters to get help. They had to hit the ground when the same sniper targeted them. Royce decided to get up and run for it. After he secured aid and was returning to the front, the sniper struck again.
Trained as a Beachmaster, Mortimer Caplin shipped out for England on the Queen Mary. His unit had a lot of specialized gear and he had to form a guard detachment to keep other units from walking away with it. After they got it all to the Southern English coast, they participated in the ill-fated Exercise Tiger out of Slapton Sands.
The man had been shot up pretty bad, remembers Herman Buffington, who carried him back to the camp. All the way the wounded soldier had pleaded with him to leave him there, but once safe in a foxhole, he wouldn't let go of Buffington's hand, even when the medics prepared to evacuate him.
When he arrived in Burma to join Merrill's Marauders, Stanley Sasine had to jump from a moving plane, run for cover and dig a foxhole. He did not have to face the daunting challenges of the original Marauders, but the perils were plenty. When the General found out that Sasine was color blind, he was made 1st Scout because he could spot the hidden enemy so well. His first kill came suddenly, though, when he came face to face with a Japanese scout.
They were trying to take a ridge on Okinawa where the Japanese had dug trenches and the persistent Americans tried repeatedly to take the position. Herman Buffington got close enough to vault over into a trench where he used the old helmet-on-a-bayonet trick to judge the enemy fire. He received the Bronze Star for his actions in this firefight.
The food was meager in the POW camp, but one of the men in the room with Crawford Hicks had been a cook and so they agreed to pool all they were given by the Germans, along with what they received in parcels, so that he could repurpose it into decent meals. The men relieved the monotony of camp life with lively talent shows.
Herman Buffington was taking some potshots at Japanese troops on the other side of a large ravine where they were foolishly cooking their rice out in the open. When an officer came by and asked how he was doing, he remarked that he was trying to mix a little lead with the rice. The man asked for the rifle so he could give it a try and he proved to be an excellent shot. Buffington could smell the brass and he was right. It was General Simon Buckner.
He was sick with dysentery, but Jack Roan was determined to escape. The Germans were marching prisoners aimlessly on the road, so security was lax. He and two others made their move during a big storm. They hid in the woods and took potatoes from fields until they made contact with allies.
It was late night guard duty and Herman Buffington heard something. Then he saw a figure crouched in the brush. When the next flare went up, he sighted and fired. The figure didn't move so he shot him again. When he found out why there was no reaction, all he could do was laugh. He did get a souvenir out of the encounter, a silk Japanese flag.
B-17 pilot Crawford Hicks was returning from his tenth mission when he spotted the German fighter coming in with guns blazing. The plane was crippled by hits on the engines so they had to bail out. After the others had jumped, he looked down through the hatch to the ground far below, then he fell.
The morning after his capture, B-17 pilot Crawford Hicks woke up in a German jail. After interrogation, he was sent to Stalag Luft III, the POW camp at which the "Great Escape" had occurred several months earlier. On his arrival, he was astounded when one of the guards addressed the arrivals with an unexpected accent.
Upon his capture, Dr. Harold Brown would be thrown into a cell alone until the Germans had gathered others to be sent to the prison camp. He recalls a moment where he would be under a strafing run much like he had been doing before, but luckily he survived it. His treatment wasn't great, but the war was coming to an end so he knew he just had to push through it. Part 2 of 2
Alexander Jefferson recalls his captivity in Stalag Luft III, camp southeast of Berlin. The war was far from over so the Germans were on edge about potential sabotage of their camp, but Alexander recalls his own interesting treatment there.
The POW's were allowed to do whatever they wanted all day except for two roll calls. Crawford Hicks was kept in the same camp where the "Great Escape" had occurred and he describes some of the details of that incident and why he was ordered not to try to do the same.
It was his 30th mission over Europe, and his most memorable. Dr. Harold Brown describes this mission where his plane went down and he had to bail out. Like many pilots who survived such an encounter, he was captured by the locals. Part 1 of 2
The end of the war was imminent, but the Germans were still marching POW's around the countryside. It was the forces of GEN George Patton that liberated the temporary camp where Crawford Hicks was listening to the approaching guns. Then started a whirlwind of activity for the newly freed Americans.