2:34 | Looking back on his Navy career, Mortimer Caplin remembers two unusual incidents. The first was during his training when a deputy commander went ballistic over nothing. The second was the striking contrast between the reactions of a British family and a mess table full of Naval officers when the news of Franklin D. Roosevelt's death was released.
Keywords : Mortimer Caplin Fort Pierce Florida England Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR)
Mortimer Caplin had deep roots in New York City but when he saw the University of Virginia campus, he decided on that school. After the undergraduate degree and law school, he returned to New York to practice law but before he left the school, Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke at his graduation. This inspired him to apply for a Navy commission.
As a lawyer in the war effort, Mortimer Caplin was assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence, but he asked for shipboard duty. Where they sent him was even more exciting, Beach Battalion. This was the unit that commanded the beach during amphibious landings. Intensive training followed for the tight knit group.
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 great invasion of Europe was on and Beachmaster Mortimer Caplin, while delivering a message to a neighboring base, got a sense of the enormity of the enterprise, the many different forces and personnel assembling and loading into ships on the coast of England. Back with his own unit, he found out that his landing craft assignment and attached Army engineer unit had all been changed.
The barrage balloons almost gave the Normandy armada a festive feel. That's what Mortimer Caplin thought as he approached Omaha Beach. It had not yet been cleared so his Beach Battalion had to circle in their landing craft. Once on shore, it was sporadic fire, desperate infantry and bodies all around.
Beachmaster Mortimer Caplin landed a half mile from his intended sector of Omaha Beach. He took care of business where he was and then worked his way down there. His Beach Battalion company had many important jobs, clearing the beach of stuck boats, helping the wounded and communicating with the command structure. It was a well deserved glass of wine when he finally got to a French tavern.
After the unbelievable enormity of D-Day, Beachmaster Mortimer Caplin expected to be shipped back to the United States to train other beach units for the Pacific. But he was told to report to the Commander of Amphibious Bases in the UK. They needed a lawyer and he just happened to be one. This turned out to be a lucky break.
He was a Beachmaster on Omaha Beach and a Legal Officer in post war England and he was back in the United States making a name for himself in corporate and tax law. Mortimer Caplin had both Robert and Ted Kennedy in his classes at the University of Virginia and when their brother was elected President, he became the Commissioner of Internal Revenue.
The heaviest action that Jim Sample saw was in the Ruhr Pocket. The German 88 fire was tremendous. The last movement for his unit was a run to Linz to meet up with Russian forces. He was diverted to protect a wayward tank and, while waiting there, he practiced his German with some local children. Hilarity ensued.
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.
Once Germany was beaten, Jim Sample became a bit of a sightseer in Europe. He got to visit Berchtesgaden and Paris, among other places. The principle concern among the troops was points. If you didn't have enough, you might be invading Japan.
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.
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.
After basic training, Jim Sample was trained as a wire lineman, but when he got to an active unit, he became a mortar gunner. He learned how to dial in the mortar fire just right, then never fired it again, even after he got to Europe.
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.
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.
Jim Sample set out for Europe in a convoy, but the third day out, the ship was dead in the water. Hobbled by a bad propeller shaft, the craft limped back to New York. His unit made it to Europe in a bigger ship in another convoy and made its way inland from Le Havre.
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.
There was a little excitement on Jim Sample's trip home when lookouts on the ship spotted a stray mine in the water. They safely avoided that and, after a nice furlough, he had to finish out his enlistment. He became a cook for a while and then got to use the first skill he learned in the Army to finish up.
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.
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 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Other units had gone around the Ruhr, but it fell to the 13th Armored Division to go in and clean up. It was there that Jim Sample came to hate church steeples. They either had a sniper in them or they made for excellent artillery targeting if you were near one. He knocked his own jeep out of commission through a freak accident with a grenade.
Emil DeDonato was an advertising errand boy when his name appeared on the front page of the New York Times as part of the first draft of 1941. That was in January, and in December, war came to America. Soon, he was being trained for amphibious landings in anticipation of the work that had to be done.
While in a staging area in Normandy, Jim Sample made friends with a French family and brought them food, which was in scarce supply. While advancing across Alsace, he thought of a novel way to tell his family where he was without the censors catching it. As he approached Germany, the roads began to fill with freed prisoners and displaced persons.
At the Battle of El Guettar, the first frontal assault failed. It was nine days before the GIs prevailed and pushed on. Emil DeDonato was shuffling between the front and the rear as part of the communications team. He had to dodge superior German firepower in the form of plentiful aircraft, burp guns, 88mm guns and Screaming Mimis.
At the end of the war, Jim Sample had boxes full of pistols confiscated from Germans. He even had some that he took from Hungarian soldiers who were allied with the Nazis. He explains why none of them made it back home with him.
Jim Sample's unit was resting in a town park somewhere in the Ruhr Valley. Another American outfit was across the way and a shot from a sniper rang out. He couldn't believe what he saw transpire after that.