GB: “I underwent bombings when the Japanese bombed our airfields, I saw shot down planes and remains of the pilots.”

What is your birth year?

1920.

How old does that make you today?

98 and a half. 

What branch of the United States Armed Forces did you serve in?

Navy.

What countries did you visit during your service?

After I finished all training inside the continental U.S., I went to the Southwest Pacific, which means New Guinea, Indonesia, [and] the Philippines. So you were in the Pacific theatre? Yes. 

Where were you born?

Portland. Have you lived in Portland your whole life? Mostly. 

What was the technology available during your upbringing?

We had a telephone and an automobile. 

Did the Great Depression have any effect on your family?

Yes. My family, and every family. 

Who was President?

Hoover, and then Roosevelt.

Do you recall hearing about Pearl Harbor? 

I should say. That’s a day I will never forget. I was a senior at Oregon State, and belonged to Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. We had our formal initiation that Sunday morning, in the chapter room- tuxedos, and so on. We came upstairs, and somebody said, “The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor.” Several people asked, “Where’s that?” People didn’t know, in those days. That happened, and my then-to-be wife was a junior at Oregon State, living nearby, so I went over to visit her, and to talk to her about the impact that this would have. 

How old were you?

23.

Were you drafted, or did you enlist?

After I graduated, I went to work, as most graduate engineers did, for large corporations. General Electric, in my case. I went several places, and I was in Eastern Massachusetts, in a factory, when I decided that I didn’t think I was contributing a whole lot to the war effort, because my boss and some of those I was working with were getting drafted, but I had a draft exemption. I went down to Boston, and applied for and received a direct Navy commission as an ensign, which is the same as a second lieutenant in the Army. 

What was your family and friends reactions to your enlistment? Did they know you’d enlisted?

Well, they were on the West Coast, my wife and I were on the East Coast- she was the only family who was concerned. We were both on the same page. 

Why did you pick the Navy?

It seemed to be that they had pretty good opportunity, and perhaps easier to get into. That’s where my friends that I had seemed to apply. 

What was your boot camp or training experience like?

Little background- at that time during the war, the US was totally mobilized, and was shoving materials- ships, planes, and people- overseas as fast as they could crank them out. When I received my commission in June of 1943, I got orders saying that I would not be called to active duty until September, at which time I went to what they called indoctrination school, in New York City. We were officers, it was basically telling us how to be Naval officers. Learned about the Navy. From then on, we cranked through three months of pre-radar in Bowdoin College, in Maine, then three and a half, four months of radar at MIT in Boston, then I went to Washington, D.C. for beach jumper school. Then I had a leave of 30 days, then I flew directly to New Guinea.  

What was the weather like?

{Laughs} All of the tropics are a big change. They are hot, humid, muddy- too much sun. I don’t like tropics. 

What was your job or assignment there? 

You have to recognize that the military is highly inefficient. I personally don’t think I really accomplished anything- I was there because I was supposed to be there, and I did what I was ordered to do. I never personally killed anybody. I was listed as the technical observer on Navy patrol bombers. I travelled all over; I flew missions, I had enlisted men assigned to me. They flew some of the missions, I flew a couple. I went from land-based bombers to PBYs, which are flying boats. I saw a lot. 

1200px-consolidated_pby-5a_catalina_in_flight_(cropped)
Consolidated PBY Catalina, circa 1940-1945. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consolidated_PBY_Catalina

Did you have any experiences or interactions with the Japanese forces?

No, not live ones. Just dead ones. 

What equipment did you carry with you?

The only personal equipment we had was a .45 pistol. What we had was electronic equipment. You gotta remember, this was primitive- it was a lot of years ago- but we had equipment to find Japanese radars, which I did. 

Do you remember your uniform?

You bet. {Laughs} When we started out from our 30 day leave, we thought we were going to Australia, which is where McArthur’s headquarters were. I took everything I had, which was khakis, dress blues, whites- however, during that 30 days, McArthur moved his headquarters to Hollandia, New Guinea. We never got to Australia, we got to New Guinea. I got to other islands- Morotai, which is in Indonesia- I saw the most action there. Well, it was obvious to me after a few weeks that I was never going to be wearing dress blues and whites, [so] I packed them up and sent them home. We all wore khakis. 

Tell me about any specific memories or experiences that stand out.

You bet. Christmas Day, 1944. I had to get from where I was in Indonesia with my guys up to the Philippines; McArthur had landed in October, and I tried to get transportation, but there was a big rush going up there. Finally, from an island, I learned there was a convoy going up there that would take a week. I thought, “Well, I’m not getting anyplace here, so I’ll get my guys on the convoy.” I got on the convoy, an LST, which is a landing ship tank, and on Christmas Day, 1944, we piled up on the sand beach near Tacloban, pretty close to where McArthur landed. We hitchhiked into Tacloban, and they had a fantastic Christmas dinner set up for McArthur’s staff, which I was part of- GHQ. They had a printed menu- I still have it. 

A lot of things happened. I underwent bombings when the Japanese bombed our airfields, I saw shot down planes and remains of the pilots. I was in Manila, which was in a terrible state of destruction- unbelievable across the Bataan peninsula. Meanwhile, we were miserable from the heat all the time. 

What was the experience of the bombing like?

You got a warning, usually- a few shots. You were supposed to get undercover, which we did when we were greener. Then the floodlights would come on, and you’d see the Japanese bombers up over our field. They wrecked a lot of planes; we’d go down and look at them the next morning. After a certain length of time, it was too boring to get up and go undercover; you just stayed in bed. {Laughs} Did you experience air raids often? It depended on where you were. 

What were the most trying and difficult moments of service?

No. I did what I had to do. Saw a lot, did a lot. The only time I really was hurt was when we had to go to a rear base- I wanted to be in the front, where the action was. 

What were the best memories of service?

{Laughs} There were lots of incidents that happened, but we weren’t there for fun. 

Were you injured at any point during your service?

No; I was ill, and in the hospital briefly one time. 

What were your friends and family’s reaction to WWII as a whole? I know the United States was very isolationist during that time.

Once Pearl Harbor happened, everything changed. Everybody was in it to go and do what had to be done. 

How did you stay in touch with your family?

{Laughs} I’m amused at the people nowadays- we wrote letters. There was no emailing people back home, or anything else. We wrote mail, and it chased us all around the Pacific. Sometimes, I’d get a letter a couple months late, all out of sequence. Everything was mail. 

Do you remember the food strongly?

Not particularly. I don’t think it was anything to write home about, but I can’t remember what I ate. {Laughs} I know one thing; the water was always terrible. To purify it, they had to dump a lot of chemicals and stuff into it- it was almost undrinkable. Of course, you were perspiring constantly, so you needed a lot of liquid. I, and others, didn’t drink enough, and you paid for it. 

Did you have a lot of free time on these islands?

I guess most of it was free time. Did you ever interact with the Natives on the islands? Yes. I have one little story- we were at one landing field, and there were a couple of Natives. They were always friendly, and I thought, “I’ll ask them a question. Are you Christians?” They looked at me kind of blankly, and he was a little more knowledgable. He says, “Jesus Christ?” And they said yes. They understood pidgin English. 

What kind of music did you sing or listen to?

Big band. 

How did you spent your free time? Did you play cards?

We never played cards- a lot of people did. I bunked with our pilot. We didn’t do a whole lot. 

Did you ever name any of your planes?

The flying boats that we had- I was in charge of two PBYs- I inherited a group from a fellow who came back home. They were already labeled R-1 and R-2, for radar 1 and radar 2.

What did you think of your fellow enlisted men?

I kept in touch with some of them for a few years, but like all things, when the war is over, you grow up. Mostly they were pretty good. Some of them led lives, or had led lives that I didn’t think were appropriate- not for me, anyhow- but that was their business. 

Do you recall hearing about the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Sure. Anything to get the war over. 

Why, or when, did your service end?

The war was over. Of course, there were millions of people overseas, and they can’t all come home at once, so when the war was over I was in the Philippines. We just waited. To get people out, there was a point system, dependent on how long you’d been in and where you’d been. There was nothing for us to do anymore- we were just putting in time at this sea-plane base. My boss was a full Navy captain on the other side of the Philippines, and he finally ordered me. First, he ordered my enlisted men to go, and they all went. I was sorry to see them go; I was left behind. As usual, they had messed up my orders. Finally, I got a telegram that said, “Come at once. Bring your gear.” Somehow, I got over to the other side of the Philippines, walked up to where he was, and he said, “How would you like to go home?” There was a ship leaving down the harbor, and I had to get on it, so that’s what I did. 17 days coming back on a ship, but I was still in the Navy- I wasn’t out. 

How did you feel about going home?

I finally got home, and got to San Francisco- sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge was a wonderful experience. I got ashore- we didn’t fly in those days, not commercially- and took the train home, and arrived. My wife was living with my parents- she stayed with them during the war in Portland. I arrived home around 9:30 at night. I heard the taxi door slam, and came running down the door. I had 30 days leave, but I wasn’t out of the Navy. I had orders to report to Seattle, to get further orders of what to do, which I did- we got a car and drove up to Seattle. Then I got orders to report to training school in Bair Island, in California. That’s where we went. When we got there, there was nothing to do- no students to train. {Laughs} The war was over! We just had a good time for a month. Then this point system cut in- they kept lowering the number of points required, as they could handle the logistics of getting rid of the people. I wasn’t discharged; I was put on inactive duty after a month down there. I got out, came home, and went to work. 

Did you have a family after the war? 

After the war. Two daughters. 

What was your job or career after the war?

I went to work for Portland General Electric. 

How did your military service affect how you think about wars today?

Well, it’s always going to happen. It’s a necessary evil. It’s predicted in the Bible, and it’s going to happen again. I think it’s awful, but it’s just the way it is. 

Do you think the world has any misinterpretations about WWII?

One misinterpretation is that we never should have dropped the atomic bomb. I think that’s completely wrong, because in the long run, there were fewer lives lost that way then if we had invaded Japan. They were waiting for us; Japan had been defeated, as everybody said, but they would not accept that. The warlords were running it, and they were going to fight until the last civilian was killed.

Did you know anything about the plan to invade Japan?

We just knew that it was ultimately going to happen. Okinawa was the terrible battle; we knew it was going to be the next one after that. We weren’t informed of any details.  

How has living in Portland now shaped your veteran experience?

They had reserves that met regularly, but I did not participate in that. We moved to Spokane; we were there for eight years. They were going to start something up there, but they didn’t have enough interest- I would have participated. It died on the vine. Finally, I got a letter from the Navy one year, that said that they noticed that I hadn’t been active. I was a full lieutenant, which is the same as an Army captain, and it was a request for me to resign my commission. Well, there wasn’t any alternative, so that’s what I did. 

How did your service affect your life?

Greatly. Everybody that was involved, it was probably the biggest thing that ever happened in our lives. 

Author’s Note: GB was not able to provide any personal photographs from his service in the Navy. The photos below are provided for the reader’s reference, but do not describe GB’s exact experience or his surroundings. The images are cited to their respective owners. 

pby_catalina_landing
PBY Catalina, circa 14940-1945. Retrieved from https://westerntrips.blogspot.com/2011/08/one-of-most-amazing-aircraft-of-world.html
2011.018.073_1
Members of the Armamant Section on Morotai Island In 1945, circa Feb/March 1945. Retrieved from https://www.ww2online.org/image/members-armament-section-morotai-island-1945

Author’s Note: This project was recently featured in Portland’s Street Roots Newspaper. Read the article here: http://news.streetroots.org/2017/11/10/these-veterans-have-lived-something-extraordinary-portland-student-listens-shares

This interview has been lightly edited for readability. However, to maintain integrity, and to respect the stories of the veteran, content has not been altered from the original transcription. This interview was originally recorded and later transcribed. Questions partially retrieved from:

“Guidelines.” Veterans History Project. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 23 June 2017. <www.loc.gov/vets/guidelines.html>.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s