6:20 | 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.
Keywords : Sterling Baker USS Thomas Stone (APA-29) swim Amphibious Scout knife beach Sea Air and Land Team (SEAL) underwater demolition frogman Suicide Squad Algiers Africa 20mm gun German Junkers JU 88 Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM) Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP)
Sterling Baker had been trying to join the Navy since he was fourteen and he finally succeeded in 1942. Trained as a coxswain in the amphibious force and assigned to the USS Leonard Wood, he had a short detour when he went AWOL because the others had leave after boot camp and he didn't. This would prove fateful when he visited his girlfriend and fell for her roommate.
After a successful operation at Algiers, The USS Almaack was headed back to England when it was torpedoed off Portugal. Sterling Baker was in his bunk when it hit and, though the ship remained afloat, he never slept below deck again. While repairs were underway, he served in Casablanca, where he had a memorable Christmas.
The USS Almaack had been repaired and upgraded and headed out again, this time to the Pacific. Coxswain Sterling Baker had moved up the food chain to hatch leader, supervising the unloading and loading of landing craft. During an air attack, he became a 20mm gunner. At Saipan, he looked through his gun sight toward shore and saw something disturbing.
Ashore at Guam during a lull in the fighting, the sailors of the USS Almaack started eating coconuts and drinking coconut milk. This caused quite a commotion in the toilet facilities later aboard ship. Sterling Baker relates what one old Chief did to get the line moving, and how someone got revenge.
At Leyte, Sterling Baker had to operate in a smoke screen, unloading landing craft and supplies for the invasion. It was unnerving because he could hear attacking aircraft above but he couldn't see them. When underway, the amphibious cargo assault ship would lower paravanes into the water, which would cut the mooring cables on mines so they could float to the surface for disposal.
Sterling Baker had to wait several days to get all his cargo unloaded at Iwo Jima because of the slow advance inland. This was his last action and he was transferred to Alameda Naval Air Station where he manned a converted PT boat used for rescue operations. He reflects on his scout training that he never got to use.
Having successfully passed all the tests for cadet training, Clayton Nattier arrived in Santa Ana for preflight classes. The next step was primary training where he flew the Stearman trainer, a bi-plane. The site had been a private aviation school and was fairly luxurious compared to the next stop which was an actual military base.
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.
B-24 flight engineer Bill Toombs was over Germany when bad went to worse. One engine was shot out. Then an 88 round went right through the number four wing tank. It didn't blow up the plane, but they lost all the fuel for that engine, so now they had two engines out. They made a desperate run for Brussels, which had been liberated.
He picked up a new B-17 loaded with freight for some bomb group in England, then Clayton Nattier flew the first leg of the trip up to New Hampshire. That's where the weather got nasty and he and his crew had to wait out several delays.
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.
A new B-17 pilot was required to fly two missions with an experienced crew before he flew his own missions. The first of these for Clayton Nattier had him over one of the most heavily defended targets in Germany. He would return more than once.
Rufus Dalton was at the Maginot Line bouncing mortar shells off an old citadel. His unit was suddenly pulled and sent to take Patton's place in the line after the general was summoned to the Bulge. Once they got there, a fierce ten day battle ensued due to the last major German offensive, Operation Nordwind. Part 1 of 2.
Near the end of the war, the food supply in Holland had been disrupted and there was widespread hunger. Henk Duinhoven was lucky to be in the countryside, where gardens had been harvested. When he heard the sound of Canadian tanks, he knew that liberation was finally at hand.
There were radios in the camp, built with bartered parts that the guards traded for D-Bars and cigarettes from Red Cross parcels. Clayton Nattier didn't have a radio in his barracks, but he saw the typewritten rundowns of the latest news from the BBC. He well remembers when the Germans stopped distributing the Red Cross parcels. It was just after the best meal he'd had as a prisoner.
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.
It was a fierce week long battle for the city of Heilbronn. Even though they were only delaying the inevitable, the Germans weren't beat, yet. Forward Observer Rufus Dalton went into the demolished city looking for a rifle company he was instructed to find. It was an eerie setting with the city in flames all around him. Part 2 of 2.
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.
The men of the 92nd Infantry Division had to fight on three fronts. They had to fight the Germans. They had to fight the racial animosity of their fellow soldiers and commanders. And they had to fight Congress, which wanted to maintain segregation in the Army. Lyle Gittens made it through all that with an undampened spirit.
Wes Ruth was eating breakfast when he saw the planes coming in. He thought they were ours until the bombs started falling. As he drove frantically to his hangar on Ford Island, he saw the USS Arizona hit. The Japanese had made their move. As a photo-recon pilot, he was dispatched as soon as the attacks ended to search for the enemy fleet.
John Souther was on reconnaissance patrol when he nosed his halftrack up over the edge of the gully in the Tunisian desert. A round from a German 88 immediately tore through the engine compartment, but left him unhurt. They paid mightily for that shot. With his radio, he began spotting artillery on their position, under fire the entire time. He was awarded the Silver Star for this action.
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.
When he had to bail out, Jim Wicker was literally sucked from the cockpit when he released the canopy because of his high rate of speed. He was just a hundred miles inland a few days after D-Day and the Germans caught him almost immediately. As he sat in solitary confinement waiting for interrogation, he was comforted by his faith.
Bill Adair was suffering from the effects of a concussion when the battle for the Philippines came to an end for him. Along with thousands of others, he was forced to surrender and was facing the prospect of joining what would become known as the Bataan Death March. Then fate intervened in the form of an ambulance without a driver. Part 1 of 2.
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.
Bill Garrison was standing in a chow line when a man up the line suddenly dropped, shot dead by a sniper. That was only one hazard at the air fields in China; the others being Japanese air raids and infiltrators. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
He bunked with regular B-17 crew members, but Bill Livingstone was a gunnery instructor who was there to keep skills sharp. He was also there to substitute for any crew member who was not able to fly. His very first mission turned out to be a memorable one. Part 1 of 5.
Bill Adair may have been the luckiest man in the Bataan Death march. With a commandeered ambulance full of casualties, he threaded his way through the ordeal thanks to luck and guile. At the end, though, there was a camp waiting for him just like all the rest. Part 2 of 2.
Hannah Deutch was a teenager when the Kindertransport rescue effort became her means of escape from Germany. England was taking in thousands of Jewish children and she got her papers in order and left. Right away, as the oldest one in the large group, she became the leader on the journey.
On his first raid in North Africa, reconnaissance platoon leader John Souther captured a hundred Germans with no losses to his own unit. His job in the 1st Armored Division was to be out in front with his eyes open, and he was doing just that when a huge amount of enemy was spotted. Rommel's big push had begun.
The room in the POW camp barracks was small but it housed eighteen men, including downed pilot Clayton Nattier. It had a tiny stove which was much improved with a little American farm boy ingenuity.
After D-Day, the ship was full of holes so John Mahmarian spent some time in a British dry dock while it was repaired. Then he made 25 trips back and forth delivering personnel to join the growing foothold the Allies had made. His most dangerous encounter was an episode of friendly fire, though he was almost shot by an ungrateful German pilot he plucked out of the English Channel.
There was no friendly interaction with any of the German guards, recalls downed pilot Clayton Nattier. They were just plain mean. As the end of the war neared, Col Hubert A. Zemke again negotiated a deal with the commandant which guaranteed the safety of both prisoners and guards as the Germans withdrew.
John Mahmarian was a pre-med student when the attack on Pearl Harbor sent shock waves through the nation. He entered a Navy program that would allow him to finish school and then receive a commission. The naval training he received then was unlike any schooling he had ever encountered.