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Francis Austin       Thomas B. Hall, Jr.       Carolyn Rice
John B. Buschmann       Thomas S. Jeffrey, Jr.       Harold T. Scott
Houston Crews       Charles Lewis       Charles N. Smith
Charles M. Hall       Lauren L. 'Dick' Miles       Earl L. Thomas

Francis Austin, E-8 (Fireman First Class) in the United States Navy

Francis Austin #3One of the few men I interviewed who saw action in the Pacific theater was Mr. Francis Austin. Not only did he serve the United States in World War Two, he was called back to fight in the Korean War five years afterwards.

Mr. Austin served aboard a repair ship in the last stages of the war with Japan. Although not a Marine himself, he participated in the landings on Okinawa in a "logistics support company," which provided backup for the invading Marines. He was land-based from that point forward, until the war ended.

When asked about his experiences, Mr. Austin told me that "the most frightening part was when we invaded Okinawa, and to see all those planes coming over the mountaintop, and you were in a bare field, a potato field for cover, so you had nowhere to run..." His view on race relations, while giving the general picture, are very insightful: "We were separated from the white units, although we did the same things and worked together in a lot of areas. But it was always like a separate thing. There were times that you felt that you didn't get a fair shake... but that was the times so you accepted it and you went on. That's the way it was."

Francis Austin #2Many of the veterans that I interviewed, when asked about their views on the war, said that they were fighting for freedom; freedom from Hitler, from Nazism, or simply freedom of all people involved in the war. Mr. Austin explained: "Well... we was fighting for the freedom and safety of the United States, because we had been attacked by Japan and then Europe was drawn into it. Everybody was fighting; it was a World War. At that time, you were just fighting for self-survival."

Francis Austin #1Mr. Austin also volunteered his Korean War story as well: "Well, after the first war was over, I got a job in New York City, because that's where I was going to stay... In July 1950, I was recalled to duty, [after] the war broke out in June 1950. They gave me an equivalent of my old rating, except this time it was Engineer, First Class. So I was sent to Norfolk, Virginia, where I caught a ship around to California, where we loaded up with ammunition and supplies and headed out to Japan." Mr. Austin served on a fuel ship that made runs from Sasebo, Japan, to Pusan, South Korea. It was during his time in the Pacific that he experienced an oblique form of racial discrimination: "...the ship I was on had a rating coming up for Chief Motor Machinist. I was eligible to take the test. And on the morning I was to take the test, I got an order to transfer to YO-179, which made me miss my exam. When I got to YO-179, they didn't know I was coming; they had no need of a man of my they had one extra man. They finally transferred the other guy...but what got my goat was I missed the exam for Chief, and I think it was deliberate. I will always feel that way, because no one else was transferred but me from that ship, and I was transferred to a ship that did not know I was coming and had no use for a man of my title. That was the turning point; after that I decided I wasn't going to stay [in the Navy], so I got out as soon as I could. So I made a career with the city of New York, which was successful for me, and all in all, I can say that I have had a reasonably good life, regardless of the war or whatever else came my way."

Complete transcript of Mr. Austin's interview.

John B. Buschmann, Second Lieutenant in the U. S. Army Air Corps

The Second World War was really the War that gave rise to the use of aircraft in large numbers as fighters, bombers, ground support and troop-carrying machines. It is not surprising that almost half of the men I talked to had affiliation with either the Army Air Force or the Army Air Corps.

Mr. Buschmann, although he trained for special missions involving ground support in Europe, was taken off of training as the end of the European War was in sight. When the war ended, he was transferred to Seattle for training in high-altitude air protection of bombers in the Pacific. This too was cancelled when President Truman gave the order for the atom bombs to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "I got ready for both sides, and the war ended before I got sent," Mr. Buschmann remarked.

Mr. Buschmann was made a second lieutenant when he was called up in 1943 after signing up in 1942. However, he made an unusual choice: "...There was a period of time that they released the people, and I enlisted as a master sergeant. I applied to go to school, and I took all the tests, and they gave me back my rank as a second lieutenant. I came back on active duty as a pilot again and went to school." After the war was over, he continued to serve for another eighteen years.

Mr. Buschmann explained his eagerness to sign up and be a part of the armed forces: "...When you're young, you don't think too much [about it]; the country called on you because they had a reason that they had to help the world at that particular time, so you went. There wasn't any big political reason as to why I should go or why I shouldn't go... you thought it was the right thing to do, so that's what you did. "

Mr. Buschmann never saw combat in the war, but he had two major experiences which he related to me, one of which happened after the war. He was forced to land in cloud cover so thick that he and his radar operator were forced to land on instruments alone. The visibility was zero and he told me that "and they had to come look for us; of course I told them what runway we were on, but they had to come look for us." He explained that you had to have faith, not only in yourself and your crew members, but in the airplane designers and the ground crews. "it speaks well of the capability of the men that worked on the airplane, their training, their aptitude, their dependability, and their willingness work and do the job right and not do it partway," he concluded.

Complete transcript of Mr. Buschmann's interview.

Houston Crews, Private, First Class in the United States Army Air Corps

Mr. Crews was twenty in October of 1942 when he enlisted in the U.S.A.A.C. He was sent to Camp Lee for a short duration, and then was reassigned to a base near Harrisburg. From there, he was reassigned to Kellogg Field at Battle Creek, Michigan, where he stayed from November 1942 until June 1943. He went overseas and landed in Scotland in August of 1943; from there he was assigned to a B-17 airbase near Eccles Road on Notterdam Heath. "[Eccles Road] is nothing but a train station...right between Cambridge and Norwich," Mr. Crews recalled. He was there until July of 1945, three months after the war ended.

Although Mr. Crews was never involved in active combat, he assisted in preparing the planes for the bombings of the Atlantic Wall fortifications. "The day before D-Day-of course, they didn't tell us; we knew nothing about it until after it was all over-I was on KP that day, and just came off of 12 hours of KP, and the guys I was working with told the guys in the control tower to come down, and Captain Keller said he wanted everybody at work at 7:00 that night...he talked to us, just said we had something big coming up. He knew what was going on, he'd been to a meeting and knew the invasion was coming; but we didn't know; they didn't tell us until the next day. We put off sixty-some planes that morning, starting at 2:00. They went out and about 9:00 they were coming back. And every plane they could get available to fly again they would reload them with bombs and send them out again. They came back... the third mission went out about 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon, but we didn't have enough to make up a full group, because a lot had gotten shot up and damaged," Mr. Crews said of that fateful day.

Mr. Crews also went on a flight over Holland to drop food to the trapped Americans and British in Holland. "They [the airplanes] had to cross the channel with their wheels down at 600 feet. The Germans said if they didn't fly that pattern that they'd shoot them down...and you could see all the anti-aircraft guns following you along," he recollected.

Mr. Crews, when asked about his reason for fighting, said "Freedom. I personally feel like we should have gotten into it before we did... Churchill, he tried his best to get Roosevelt to help them out, but he wouldn't do it. Didn't do it until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and then, of course, he declared war against the Japanese and the Germans. I guess if we hadn't of went in there, who knows what we'd be doing today?"

Mr. Crews's most memorable experience was indeed unforgettable. Because England is so foggy, there was a man at the end of the runway and "...he'd sit there and give them the green light when it was time to go, if they couldn't see the control tower, couldn't see the end of the runway a lot of times. They'd take off, and some of us would go down to the other end of the field and let them know if the plane got off the ground, because the control tower couldn't see if it was off or what happened. And one morning I was out there, had a field phone, kept the control tower on the line, talking to them all the time. And one plane didn't make it off. Crossed right on over and went down through an ammunition dump. But nothing exploded, no bombs or anything that was detonated. The landing gear collapsed, tore the plane in two. Nobody was hurt. Just lucky."

Complete transcript of Mr. Crews's interview.

Charles M. Hall, Sergeant in the U. S. Army Air Force

Mr. Charles Hall joined the U.S.A.A.F at the age of twenty-one. He had been drafted, but was not called up until May of 1943. However, it was discovered during his training in B-17's and B-24's (he was going to be the ball turret gunner on a B-24) that he could not go into combat; complications with his sinuses prevented him from flying at high altitudes. Consequently, he was assigned to Armament School in Denver, where he was taught how to service different caliber guns for the bombers.

After the course was over, he was transferred to Panama City, Florida, to go to Gunnery School. One day at Gunnery School, Mr. Hall heard his name called at mess: "I couldn't figure out what I'd done; I thought I'd done something wrong. They called us in and told us we'd been selected because of our I.Q. to go to Instructor School. So rather than be assigned to a pool [to go overseas], I went to Instructor School in Fort Myers, Florida." After completing Instructor School, Mr. Hall became an instructor on a gunnery range at Fort Myers, Florida, where he spent the rest of the war.

His beliefs on our cause during the war were that "you did what you were told. Nobody wanted to go into the service...but if the Federal Government said go, you went. I mean, I know we were fighting for a good cause, fighting for democracy."

Complete transcript of Mr. Hall's interview.

Thomas B. Hall, Jr., Sergeant in the U. S. Army

Mr. Thomas Hall was another man who came very close to seeing combat in the war. He was drafted and joined the Army in June of 1942, when he was 21, and underwent basic training in Georgia. From there he was assigned to an armored infantry battalion. He remained in the service until the Korean War broke out.

Mr. Hall's was one of the last divisions to go over, in January of 1945, and he said that "we were attached to just about every army over there, and then in the Battle of Munich, part of our division was committed to action in the Battle of Munich, but I was in the section that stayed in reserve and didn't actually get involved in combat. I was close enough to hear the small-arms fire and the artillery fire going back and forth over our heads, but I didn't actually have any hand-to-hand combat." When the war ended, he was pulled out of duty and transferred to southern Germany and Austria.

Mr. Hall told me, in response to my question, that "we were fighting for our very existence, because of what Hitler had done in Europe and then Japan attacked us at the same time." He said that except for people who had physical problems, "the only ones that stayed at home were the ones that didn't pass the physical to get into the Army unless you had dependents like you parents, if you had to stay home and farm or take care of them. But if you didn't go into the service, you were looked down on unless you had a good reason."

His most memorable experience was being in southern Germany just before the surrender in early May 1945, and seeing the huge numbers of surrendering German soldiers. He had an opportunity to see Eagle's Nest (Hitler's home) and Dachau, one of the notorious death camps where thousands of Jews were systemically destroyed as part of Hitler's "Final Solution." "The smell went for miles," Mr. Hall remembered. "And yet there were people living within a mile or two of that place that claimed they didn't know what was going on there. And of course, there were a lot of them that had been freed by the Allied troops, they were walking the roads, walking away just to get away and get as far away from it as they could."

Complete transcript of Mr. Hall's interview.

Thomas S. Jeffrey, Jr., Colonel (end of war), Major General (upon retirement) in the United States Army Air Corps

Mr. Jeffrey is a retired general who not only served in World War Two in the Air Corps of the United States Army; he supervised no less than 35 nuclear tests in the Pacific after the war ended. He spent some time in Washington as well while working in the Pentagon.

Mr. Jeffrey went to VMI and, after becoming an electrical engineer, went to the flying school in San Antonia, Texas. From there, he was sent briefly to Langley Field, Virginia before he was transferred to Puerto Rico. He spent three years there flying reconnaissance patrols for submarines and photographing minefields off South and Central America.

When he came back to the States, Mr. Jeffrey went to bombardier school in Midland, Texas. Eventually, he became part of a new bomber group in California. He led it to Framlingham, on the southern coast of England, in July 1943. From there his bomber group flew raids, including support for the Normandy invasion, until the war ended in Europe. He moved to Germany when the headquarters of the Air Force was relocated. Eventually, after returning to the U.S., he became a part of the 509th Bomb Wing, which dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the war in the Pacific. After World War Two, Mr. Jeffrey was in charge of the development of atomic weapons and directed nuclear testing on several atolls in the Pacific. He retired as a major general.

Mr. Jeffrey remarked that "I have often thought my objective there, as the commanding officer of the 100th Bomb Group, was to do as much Germany as possible with the minimum loss of life and equipment." He went on to explain that "we were so close to it... we don't think that much about who's working on the strategy, and the point of the exercise, and all this sort of thing. We knew that we fighting for the country, but we were not completely aware... of the part we were playing in the thing."

One memorable experience was being in Paris just as the German surrender became known. "I was in Paris was the war was ended...I wanted to see what happened to the Frenchmen, what the Frenchmen did, when the treaty was signed...because I was privy to the time that the announcement was going to be made, at 11:00 A.M., that the Germans had surrendered. So I drove there, and got in the middle of the main street in Paris... so many people got on top of the car that they blew out all four tires. I left it there, got on a train and went back to where I was stationed, and that's how I saw the end of the war."

Mr. Jeffrey was unsure as to his most memorable experience during the war. " can't think of any specific part of my participation that was any more outstanding than the other. I guess things like dropping food supplies in Warsaw, Poland, and then landing in Russia and loading up with bombs and flying to Italy and dropping bombs on Hungary or some place... and then loading up with bombs and going back to England is probably the sort of thing you'd remember."

Complete transcript of Mr. Jeffrey's interview.

Charles Lewis, Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps (Air Forces)

Mr. Lewis was the only veteran that I interviewed who had served in the Marine Corps. He volunteered at the age of 18 in 1942, and saw action in the Marshall and Mariana Islands.

Although he was not wounded during the war, Mr. Lewis was in a crash after the war ended. "I had 48 missions, and we came home, and the third time we went up for operational training, we crashed the plane," he recalled. "I broke both legs and I injured my back."

Mr. Lewis served as the gunner aboard a Douglas SBD dive-bombing/torpedo-bomber Dauntless. He showed me many things he made from everyday objects in the Pacific, such as a bracelet made from a piece of aluminum from a Japanese plane, and a piece of cat-eye from a shell that grows in the Pacific. He told me that, out of the 48 missions he flew, there was only one encounter with Japanese air power. "We were pretty well secured in the area pretty shortly after we got there...we got most of our action from ground fire," he said.

One of the recreational activities in his unit was fishing for sharks-with a piece of cable for a leader and a coconut as a bobber. "We got our Seabees to make us a hook, and we'd throw it in the ocean with bait on it. We caught several sharks that way," he recollected.

When asked about his reasons for fighting, he stressed that he was "very supportive" of the war effort. "...The Japanese...their sole purpose was to defeat this country completely and invade this country. This was survival of the country," he stated.

Because he flew combat missions, Mr. Lewis was often called upon to run repeat missions, so that he was in combat for much longer sometimes that the ground troops were. It seemed from his description that the whole dive bombing experience was a very memorable experience in itself. "But we had been through all of our flight training; they had told us what to do in case of emergency...we were ready. They train you exactly what to do and how to do it; you hope you just remember it," is how he succinctly put it.
Sgt. Lewis at the rear gunner's position on a Douglas SBD Dauntless Sgt. Lewis at the rear gunner's position on a Douglas SBD Dauntless
Sgt. Lewis is first on the left. Sgt. Lewis is first on the left.
Bomb damage to a Pacific island as seen from Sgt. Lewis' aircraft Bomb damage to a Pacific island as seen from Sgt. Lewis' aircraft
Sgt. Lewis' log book for July 1945 Sgt. Lewis' log book for July 1945

Complete transcript of Mr. Lewis' interview.

Lauren L. "Dick" Miles, Staff Sergeant in the U. S. Army, Engineers

Mr. Miles was actually in the army before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was in the reserves and was called up in 1943. He was sent to Camp Lee and from there to Camp Gordon, Georgia. He said that training was challenging. "You had to train to be a good soldier to protect yourself and protect others," he commented. As an engineer, his job was to build bridges and, during defensive action, to slow down the enemy.

L. L. 'Dick' MilesMr. Miles came over three days after the invasion of Normandy (D+3). He was in the Battle of the Bulge, in the winter of 1944-5, and was forced out of the village he was in when the German forces broke through only miles away. "They broke through where a brand new division was in the line, all brand-new, young boys, 18, 19 years old...and we had to get the hell out of there right quick, and we did...I was a demolitions man, and I had to TNT, nitroglycerin to blow trees, blow holes, all that stuff."

Mr. Miles told me that he was fighting to keep Nazi Germany from taking over the world. "They weren't just aiming to take the United States, but the world. If they could have taken England, they would have." His most memorable experience was landing on the beaches of Normandy. "You know, it was something exciting... Didn't worry me, I wasn't scared; what did I have to be scared of? If I got hurt or killed, it was just another thing that happened. "

Complete transcript of Mr. Miles' interview.

Carolyn Rice, Major in the Women's Army Corps (WAC), Women's Air Force (WAF)

Mrs. Rice joined the Women's Air Corps (WAC) in 1942, and spent the next thirteen years in the service. She spent four years in Japan after the war, where she experienced the Korean War from a close distance.

She said of joining the service, "I wasn't particularly interested, but my mother thought I should go in. And my brother, my younger brother, was already in." Mrs. Rice was stationed at several Pacific islands during the war, but never saw combat. "We went to Australia, then we went to New Guinea...I ended up in the Philippines," she recalled. She was sent to Japan after the war for temporary work.

Mrs. Rice went through a lengthy thirteen-year career in the Air Force, where she met her husband. When her son was born, she had no choice but to resign her commission.

She said of fighting during the war, "...we were very patriotic. We were fighting for democracy for the people who had been [defeated] by the Germans and the Japanese...people just wanted to do their duty. "

Although she had no particular experience in mind when we discussed her time in the Pacific, Mrs. Rice had several interesting stories. She said during air raids, she would hide in her tent rather than risk having a rat run across her foot in the trenches. "I decided I'd rather be bombed then have a rat run over my feet. So I stayed in my cot. The guard would come around to my tent and say, 'Come out! I can hear you breathing!'" She also recalled a paleontologist who wanted to study a certain tribe (see transcript for full story).

Mrs. Rice also mentioned that everyone got conditions of one sort or another; rot, amoebic dysentery, and other unpleasant things were inevitable in the jungle climate. But, as is always the case: "I guess the food was the worst. I remember when I got off the ship in New Guinea-I'd gotten off at Noumea, at the French Islands, and in Australia-and when we finally got to Dutch New Guinea, for the first three days, every meal I ate, I didn't feel sick but it just came up as soon as I walked out," Mrs. Rice remembered.

Mrs. Rice had many other incidents, both during and after the war. Some of these incidents involved her family; her brother was shot down over occupied France and her husband was almost captured by Koreans. However, she put it best at the end of her interview: "You see, I don't remember anything but little things. The big things, you had to let them kind of wash over you."

Complete transcript of Mrs. Rice's interview.

Harold T. Scott, Master Chief Sonar Technician (E-9) in the U. S. Navy

Mr. Scott was originally going to enlist in the Marine Corps; like many other men in the period directly following Pearl Harbor, he was extremely eager to join up. However, at 19, he was too young to join the Marines without parental permission, so he joined the Navy instead. He went on after the war to spend twenty-one years in the submarine navy.

Mr. Scott spent most of his time during the war in the Atlantic on the destroyer Turner. He commented wryly, "We sunk one U-boat, and one U-boat sunk us, so we ended up even, so to speak." He was reassigned to the destroyer Areda in the Pacific, where he was present for such battles of the invasion of Okinawa.

Freedom and patriotism were, naturally, the two things for which Mr. Scott had enlisted to fight. "Something had to be done," he declared. "The Germans and the rest of them were taking over Europe...and then when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor-that was it. We could not remain a free nation with other nations [unfree]." Mr. Scott told me that all he knew was that he was against Hitler and what he stood for, and that was enough for him to enlist.

Mr. Scott had many memorable experiences while serving on the two destroyers. He was able to save twenty-four men when his first ship was sunk. He also remembers a kamikaze attack at Okinawa. "There were a lot of ships anchored in Buckner Bay in Okinawa...he hit a ship, killed a lot of people." Mr. Scott also got married during the war; a memorable experience within a memorable experience. "Met a lot of good people, lost a lot of good people...some of the things that happened while I was in the Navy," he concluded.

Complete transcript of Mr. Scott's interview.

Charles N. Smith, T3 Technician in the U. S. Army

While a guest of Mr. Smith and his wife Sallie's gracious hospitality, I learned that he was one of the first people to work with what can be called "computers," ancestors of our mainframes. This was due to his work in artillery/fire control, which required such knowledge. He enlisted in September of 1942 and was called to active duty in November. He and a friend went to Bell Laboratories for three months to learn how to operate the first electronic computers for anti-aircraft fire control. (His wife Sallie participated in the interview later on.)

From New York, he went to Texarkana, Texas. He was transported by train from Texarkana all the way through Canada. Eventually he boarded a ship and arrived in England in September of 1943. He stayed in England for the six months following D-Day in Cheltenham. He stayed in Paris for three months after coming through northwestern France. "Then the Battle of the Bulge came and they wanted volunteers to take vehicles and personnel carriers to get our soldiers out. I went on that trip," Mr. Smith recalled.

After Paris, he went through Belgium and into Germany. In Bonn, by coincidence, Mr. Smith actually recognized someone he knew from Dillwyn. After Bonn, he moved on to Butzbach, Germany, where he was to spend the remainder of the war. "[But] I never did fire a gun," Mr. Smith recalled.

Mr. Smith had a unique impression of the reasons we were fighting: "Fighting to free the Jews. Hitler was killing them all. That was the main thing," he declared. Although this opinion was not widespread at the time, it is reassuring to know that our soldiers had such ideals. He also believed in fighting for the freedom of the European countries enslaved by Hitler's Third Reich.

One of Mr. Smith's many entertaining stories involved a large number of bicycles. Where he was in England, the soldiers used bicycles for transportation, and one day a company of soldiers left for Europe. Mr. Smith bought five or six and sold them (at profit, of course) to a new group of soldiers that had just arrived in England.

Mr. Smith has so many stories that it would be impossible to summarize them all. I only wish that I had had more tape and more time to hear and transcribe more of them.

Complete transcript of Mr. Smith's interview.

Earl L. Thomas, Staff Sergeant in the U.S Army, Signal Corps

Mr. Thomas, like Mr. Smith, worked with the predecessors to computers. These machines were called teletypes and were one form of communication during the war. Mr. Thomas, when finally called up after being deferred eight times, first went to a camp in Missouri to learn to operate the teletype and repair telephones in the field.

Mr. Thomas arrived in Cherbourg, France, directly following the Normandy invasion. His unit, the 102nd Ozark Division of the 9th Army, went through France and Luxembourg sandwiched between the English in the north and the other Americans further south. After the war, he stayed in the Bavarian mountains of Germany for some time before returning to the States and was in charge of one hundred square miles of communications.

Earl L. ThomasMr. Thomas believed that we were in Europe to keep Hitler from taking over the entire world." He didn't care how many people he killed, as long as he had control of the world," Mr. Thomas declared. "Russia and Great Britain was the only ones he hadn't swallowed up in that part of the world... but if anyone got in his [Hitler's] way, he would knock out. And if [he had won], we wouldn't have a free world at all."

Mr. Thomas had several moving experiences, not the least of which was liberating an American P.O.W. camp."...they were so glad to see us, they were just crying, a lot of them were real ill, and some of them just as skinny as they could be, some of them had dysentery," Mr. Thomas recalled. "I called down to the kitchen to send a truck on down with as many rations as they could spare. But that was the most impressive thing in the world, all those soldiers crying, crying because they were so glad."

Mr. Thomas also firmly emphasized that words, pictures, or movies could not fully detail the impressiveness of our air power during the war. "You cannot read a book, you cannot watch a film, or anything, anything, and realize how many airplanes the United States built that could be in the air," Mr. Thomas marveled. "If you took your binoculars and look up there, all up above them were all these fighters. And I have never seen to this day how in this world that they built so many planes in such a short time."

Complete transcript of Mr. Thomas' interview.

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"Right in the Thick of It"
Last Updated December 24th, 2002
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