11:45 | His first ship assignment and voyage was memorable. Naval Armed Guard John Laster was knocked out by a loose firing lanyard and, later, had to help round up 500 monkeys, who were bound stateside for research, after their cage broke open.
Keywords : John Laster US Naval Armed Guard Liberty Ship SS Alcoa Patriot Torpedo Junction
"Jawga Boy" John Laster enlisted in the Navy and was trained to be an armed guard, a member of a gunnery crew protecting vital war supplies on Liberty Ships.
A Liberty Ship carried 28 gunners on board. John Laster was a loader and served on all the different guns. With the 3 inch 50 AA gun, they could put out 6 shots in 9 1/2 seconds. "Not bad for a bunch of country boys!"
John Laster recounts a humorous story of a drunk Merchant Marine officer trying to smuggle two bottles of whiskey aboard ship while in the Panama Canal. He wound up being shot and lightly wounded by a guard who was later billed $1.50 for the bullets.
The training continued after deployment for Naval Armed Guard John Laster. He recalls gunnery training in a tent in the Iranian desert, firing mocked up guns at projected combat films.
As John Laster steamed into The Mediterranean aboard the SS Joseph McKenna, German soldiers tracked it through the Straits of Gibraltar from positions in the hills above. Just out of New York on the return, a ship ahead suffered a sub strike.
When the Liberty Ships he was guarding rode the really big waves, the entire ship would tremble, according to John Laster. He remembers being more afraid of storms than the enemy.
Naval Armed Guard John Laster was proud of his proficiency at his task of loading the deck guns on Liberty Ships. He describes the procedure and details the guns and different shells.
On his second trip aboard the SS Joseph MacKenna, armed guard John Laster experienced his most intense combat of the war when his convoy suffered a heavy air attack off the coast of North Africa. Part 1/2
During the intense air attack experienced by Naval Armed Guard John Laster, he saw the SS Paul Hamilton hit by an aerial bomb, causing a mile high plume of smoke. "One second they were there, the next they were not." Part 2/2
In the port of Naples, there was a system of warning lights to signal gun crews whether they should fire at enemy planes or let the port gunners take care of them. Unfortunately, recalls John Laster, the crew of a French ship did not heed the lights.
The war in Europe ended while John Laster was aboard the SS Arthur Dobbs. Planning a night of drunken celebration in Calcutta, where he was docked, he wound up on Shore Patrol duty instead. Then, back in Egypt, he was assigned to the SS Glenn Curtiss.
The SS Arthur Dobbs had the toughest armed guards in the fleet, according to John Laster, so tough they were thrown out of Egypt after an epic bar fight with British soldiers. Assigned to the SS Glenn Curtiss, they finished war duty in Tinian.
John Laster never felt the enemy "had anything big enough or good enough to keep me from coming back...I am still here, some of them are not." He swears he is ready to go back and he urges vets to leave a history and a record as he has done.
Injured and dazed from his bail out at 18,000 feet, Bob Honeycutt was taken into the home of an Austrian family until the local officials came to arrest him. He was cared for so well, he had to wonder, why were these civilians treating him like a friend? Part 2 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
From the information they had and the mock-up of the island they saw, the Marines figured Iwo Jima would be an easy operation. Bill Richardson went ashore with his artillery battery as soon as they could get on the crowded beach. It was immediately apparent that it was going to be a monumental battle. Part 1 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN R. ASMUS.)
With a commandeered truck, newly liberated POW Bob Honeycutt made three trips into Belgium, loaded down with as many freed US airmen as he could carry. He'd lost half his weight and was eaten up with lice, but he'd made it. When he got back home to Chattanooga, both he and his family had a big surprise. Part 6 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
The Japanese were so well dug in on Iwo Jima in that the field artillery couldn't get to them. The flag had been raised on Mt. Suribachi but there was a long way to go to secure the island. When he wasn't wondering where that Japanese round was going to land, Bill Richardson had to deal with the cold, wet conditions. Part 2 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN R. ASMUS.)
At the Royal Palace in Caserta, GI Tom Hanlon was busy being an electrician, making the huge building into a place the US Army could use. It was good duty, so, naturally, he was sent away as a replacement on the front.
It was his 29th mission, a bombing raid over Austria, when Bob Honeycutt's luck ran out. First they lost an engine. Then, when they dropped behind the formation, they were swarmed by German fighters. As the gunners fell one by one, a rocket finally set the plane on fire and blew him right out into the air. Part 1 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
When at anchor in Pearl Harbor, Jesus Cepeda would attend mass on Sunday with his friend from back home in Guam. As he waited for him on deck, he heard a big rumbling noise, like hundreds of planes at once, but as he searched the sky, he could see nothing. Then he turned to the north.(This interview made possible with the support of ALBERT SMALL.)
In Dachau, Rogers witnesses thousands of starving prisoners in a concentration camp. He remembers the many other displaced civilians, forced into labor, who suffered at the hands of the nazis. (This interview made possible with the support of TIMOTHY R. COLLINS.)
After eight months in the prison camp, Bob Honeycutt could hear the guns of the Russian Army approaching, but he was not going to be free anytime soon. The German guards forced 10,000 men out of the gate and onto the road, where they began a forced march, with no known destination. The deprivation and cruelty was mind numbing. Part 4 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
Following his French contact at a discreet distance, George Starks parked his bicycle and watched the man enter a bakery. In the back of that bakery, he met Maurice, a member of the Free French Resistance. He was getting close to Switzerland, but he would need Maurice's help to get over the border. Part 4 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
The little known "death march" of the men of Stalag Luft IV lasted 86 days. That was when an Allied tank column rolled up and the Russian prisoners took their revenge on a particularly sadistic German guard. With a friend, Bob Honeycutt set out toward a small town, where they spotted a truck in a garage. Mighty tempting. Part 5 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
On his fifth combat mission, his first as aircraft commander, B-17 pilot George Starks was on the outside edge of the formation when the plane was hit by German fighters. With a wing on fire, he gave the signal to bail out and he was soon in free fall from high altitude over France. He landed hard, hid his chute, and hid in the woods as he heard German troops approaching. Part 1 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
After a hearty breakfast with his German guard, Bob Honeycutt left the comfort of the Alps, where he had bailed out, for the misery of the German POW system. First came the mind games of the interrogation. Then, he wound up at Stalag Luft IV, one of the worst camps, where he learned new meanings for "cold" and "hungry." Part 3 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
After leaving his safe haven in Switzerland, downed B-17 pilot George Starks finally met up with American forces near Evian in France. Then began a long, sometimes pleasurable trip back to his unit in England. After debriefing, he was sent around to give lectures on evasion for other airmen, then back home to Florida. Part 7 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
Senator Bob Dole was sent to Italy in 1945 and assigned to the 10th Mountain Division as a young second lieutenant. Although the war in Europe would soon be over, Senator Dole found himself in the thick of combat outside of Castel d'Aiano. In an effort to try and save his downed radioman, he himself was badly wounded and had to remain on the battlefield through the heat of the battle. (Interview conducted in partnership with the Eisenhower Foundation as part of their Ike's Soldiers program. https://eisenhowerfoundation.net & http://ikessoldiers.com)
Chan Rogers experiences a couple of close calls on the Siegfried Line. His unit stumbles upon a nest of sleeping Germans, suddenly finding themselves in a harrowing firefight. Later, when facing off against a group of German pillboxes, they are showered with deadly shrapnel from tree bursts. (This interview made possible with the support of TIMOTHY R. COLLINS.)
After a long trek across France, George Starks was finally next to the Swiss border. From the time he hid his parachute until the time he stepped across the creek that was the border, he had been helped by sympathetic locals. When he was finally out of occupied territory and free in Switzerland, he was surprised when someone else showed up. Part 5 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
Jack Houston had just helped his buddy dress a wound when he volunteered to return to the Okinawa hilltop where they were getting the enemy cleared out. When he got the jump on three of them, his muzzle flash gave him away and he had to leave in a hurry. He flung himself off the hill where he came face to face with a rifle. Part 5 of 6. (This interview made possible with the support of JOHN & BARBARA MCCOY.)
The Russians were close enough that the American POW's could hear the fire in the distance. Their guards roused them all and put them on the road in a forced march, leaving their camp in Poland and heading for Germany. It was seventy nine days of freezing cold out in the open, with very little food. (This interview made possible with the support of PHILIP J. O'NEILL.)
After bailing out, evading German troops and hiding in the woods, B-17 Pilot George Starks was helped by French civilians and put on his way over land toward Switzerland. He had a broken bone in his foot, but he managed to make good time, with some help from locals. German troops were everywhere but his young looks and beret gave him a chance when he encountered them. Part 2 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
Two engines were out, a third smoking, and they were were losing airspeed and altitude, but they were flying level and pointed home. Then time ran out for the B-17 and Don Scott had to slip down the hatch into the slipstream. Part 2 of 3.
It was their third mission over Berlin and they were heading home. Four German fighters pounced on the B-24 and it was engulfed in flame and going down. Clyde Burnette fought for consciousness as the other crew in the back of the plane bailed out. He woke in free fall with no idea how he had made it out, and soon he was in German custody. Everyone made it out of the plane except George "Danny" Daneau, the nose turret gunner, who went down with the aircraft.
George Starks had evaded capture all across France and was safe in Switzerland, where he had it easier than downed airmen who had actually come down in Switzerland. They were supposed to stay put and wait, but he had other ideas, which led to the liberation of Evian on the other side of Lake Geneva. Part 6 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
The first operation for the 4th Division was the landing on Roi-Namur. Lawrence Snowden remembers that, though it was an easy victory, valuable combat experience and important lessons were imparted on the Marines.
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.
As he made his way through France in disguise, downed B-17 pilot George Starks encountered German troops, stole a bicycle and made friends with many locals. In one town he was sheltered by the chief of police, who had a very friendly daughter. Part 3 of 7. (This interview made possible with the support of DOROTHY J. D'EWART.)
Tom Hanlon recalls when his unit received brightly colored markers to lay out on the road when they were traveling, to keep friendly planes from mistaking them for Germans. Just because he was a telephone wireman, it did not mean he was not in danger and he has the decoration to prove it.