As a 96th Quartermaster Co. Truck driver, I had the opportunity to confiscate supplies. I would take the large cans of fruit cocktail, peaches and pears and put them in my tool box, behind the seat and wherever I could find a place to stash them.
Once in awhile I was assigned the job, along with others, to drive up near the front lines to haul out the spent troops. As soon as we got out beyond the range of enemy artillery fire, I would stop the truck and dig out my stash of canned fruit and toss them into the back of the truck.
Those men had been on the front lines for around 30 days, as I remember, and had not had an opportunity to even wash their hands, let alone bathe. They would cut the cans open with bayonets and with bare hands, grab the fruit and devour it.
I did not steal the fruit, but redirected it to where most needed.
Another time, we moved and set-up our bivouac area. Shortly after, an artillery outfit moved in behind us and started firing over our heads. The enemy did not like that too well and started firing back at them. The problem was, the shells were falling a little short and into our area.
We were pinned down for a few days and nights and, during that time, I learned to whistle like the sound of a shell coming in. One day during a lull in the shelling, we emerged from our diggings and I don't remember where we were going, but four of us were walking single file through an area that had been shelled and was pockmarked with shell holes. We had also had much rain and the holes had filled with water. I was the last one in line and without thinking, let out a whistle like a shell coming in. Suddenly the man ahead of me jumped into a shell hole in water up to his neck and started screaming for us to take cover. I did not realize that my whistle was the cause of this until, as we pulled him out of the hole, he said, "didn't You guys hear that shell come in? It must have been a dud."
It dawned on me that I was at fault, and with this big Polish guy standing there soaking wet, I was not about to tell him or anyone else that I had whistled. This is the first time I have related this story other than to my wife and if he reads this, I don't think he will come all the way from Wisconsin to kill me.
One day, I was sent with a Sgt. from headquarters to find a cave near the front lines that had Japanese radio equipment in it. We were to bring the equipment back with us for evaluation, I suppose.
We pulled into an area and got out of the truck and walked up behind some men lying on the ground peering around some large rocks. The Sgt. shouted at one of the men and asked how far we were from the front lines. The guy looked around at us and said, "You're in it, fella, you're in it!"
About that time, a bullet snapped over my right shoulder and the Sgt. swore it went over his left shoulder. Anyhow, we hit the ground fast and crawled back to the truck and got out of there. We never did find the cave with the radio equipment, but did get back with ourselves and the truck intact.
One time, I was sent to the beach to offload supplies from an LST. I backed the truck onto the ship and struck up a conversation with a sailor.
I had watched Kamakazie's come in and hit those ships and send flames the length of the ship, it seemed. I told the sailor that I had stood on that island and thanked God many times that I was on the island instead of one the ships. He said, "I have stood on the deck of this ship and thanked God many times that I was on this ship rather than that island."
I guess it's where you're standing when you are looking that makes the difference.
I got around the island quite a bit. In my travels I picked up a pair of Japanese style sandals as a souvenir and had them on the seat of my truck as I backed onto an LST to haul supplies.
A sailor saw them and offered me ten dollars for them. Having no use for money over there, I declined his offer. Another sailor stepped up on my running board and asked what I would take for them. I told him they were not for sale. Then he asked me, "What can you think of right now that you would most like to have?" I thought for a moment and said, "A fresh loaf of bread." He left without a word and soon returned with three loaves of fresh bread. He claimed the sandals and I was satisfied.
But the first sailor was not. He gave me a bad time and asked why I hadn’t told him what I wanted. The fact is, they were not for sale, but three loaves of fresh bread was a great price for them!
I want to say up front that the scrapes we got into on Okinawa were nothing compared to what the front line infantry man went through.
We always tried to get back to our bivouac area before dark and spend the night "dug-in". One day, as dusk was coming on, we (a convoy of trucks and drivers) were going through the rubble called Naha. As we drove along a road leading out of town, we came upon a Marine outfit with their machine guns rat-tat-tatting and tracers going across the road in front of us. As each truck approached a gunner, he would stop firing until we got past, and start firing again until the next truck came along. We saw tracer bullets about six or eight inches above the road and , great credit to the Marines, not a single truck was hit.
I have often thought that the Marine guys must have turned the air blue that night with the language they may have used toward us.
Driving a truck during the Leyte and Okinawa campaigns was the best possible job I could have had. I was in the 96th Quartermaster Company of the 96th Infantry Division and like most, I had my good days and I had some bad.
One day, they had set up a tent as a portable kitchen at the beach on Okinawa. We were preparing to load some ships and move part of our outfit back to the Philippines. The beach was lined with LSTs and we had parked our trucks to chow down.
Our mess Sgt. and cooks were nice guys, but I have never known anyone that could take a few cans of perfectly good "C" ration, mix them together and make the most awful tasting food I have ever encountered.
A buddy and I decided to go onto one of the LSTs to see if we could find some better chow. We had just gotten onto the upper deck when we realized the ship was backing off the beach. We started hollering, "let us off of here, let us off". An officer calmed us down and explained that they had a storm warning and had to get off the beach and ride it out at sea. He also said they would pull back into the same spot we were just leaving.
You may have heard of the typhoon that hit that area and did so much damage to our ships in June 1945. Well, that was it. I upchucked until I had the dry heaves for three days. When they finally beached in the same place we had left, I was one sick dude. The men that had ridden it out on the island had a good laugh as I had turned green from seasickness.
I knew right then that I was a better truck driver for the army than I would have ever been anything for the navy.
In July 1945, part of the 96th Infantry Division embarked from Okinawa on some LSTs for the Philippines to rest up and prepare for the invasion of Japan. I was with the 96th Quartermaster Company and my truck and I were in that group.
About July 24, 1945 as we were between Formosa (Taiwan) and the Philippines, the convoy was attacked by submarines. I was standing on the deck of the LST I was on and looking back at a destroyer escort moving rapidly forward. I looked forward to see what they were after and when I looked back, I saw a column of smoke and flame and debris about four hundred feet in the air where that ship had been. They rammed a sub and were rammed, with the loss of the ship and about 118 men. A couple of smaller vessels picked up survivors and deposited about 55 of them aboard the ship I was on.
Of the men that we had aboard, two of them were buried at sea the next day and many were wounded.
My hat is off to the navy and particularly to the men of the USS Underhill.
I believe it was an infantry outfit of the 27th Infantry Division that was hiking up a hill in the mud on Okinawa. As a 96th Quartermaster truck driver, I, with others, were grinding our way slowly past them when a Lt. stepped onto my running board. I had a field jacket hanging on my gun rack to the left side of my seat and it being a cold wet day, he offered to buy my jacket from me. My first thought was, I don't deal in black market and refused him.
A little further on, I saw a skinny little G.I., shivering in the cold and I eased over near him and handed him the jacket. In a moment, I had a very angry Lt. on my truck again and chewing me , but good.
Had he asked for the jacket and not offered money, I would have given it to him.