GMV: “The purpose mainly of this mountain division was to get the Germans off of Riva Ridge, and Mount Belvedere; it was a 2,000-foot cliff…the plan was to climb at night.”

When were you born?

June 1918. 

How old does that make you today?

[100.]

Where were you born?

Everett, Washington. There was a physician by the name of Dr. Forrest who delivered me for $25. My wife said, “Well, that’s probably about what you are worth!” {Laughs} 

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GMV (left) with his mother, brother, and baby sister at Horne Lake, circa 1923

Can you tell me about any specific memories you have from your childhood?

We’re part of Tom Brokaw’s ‘Greatest Generation’. My first memories are when my little sister was born; she was two years younger. My mother said, “This is your little sister, Lurene. You’re supposed to take care of her.” There were three in our family; my brother was two years younger than my little sister, so four year’s difference with me.

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The shack at Horne Lake, circa 1923

We went to a logging camp in British Columbia on a little lake called Horne Lake. With horses, they would haul logs out to a chute into the lake, and then the log would go whipping down into the water. My dad was a logger and would bring the logs up and fasten them together, and then they’d pull a raft of logs to the other side of the lake where the road came in. They’d put them on a logging truck and bring them Nanaimo to a sawmill. I was there from the time I was 5 until I was 7; my little brother was in diapers, and my mother had the old-fashioned diapers that you had to dry. I can still see her on that corrugated scrubboard, washing diapers. My job was to get drinking water- we used lake water for washing clothes and baths once a week. My job was to take the canoe and containers and paddle across the lake to a spring, fill the containers, and paddle back at 5 years old. You learned responsibility early during those days. 

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GMV, age six, canoeing on Horne Lake, circa 1924

We had kind of a rural beginning; when I was 12, we got indoor plumbing. After the logging at Horne Lake, then there’d been an election, and President Roosevelt was elected. There were a lot of jobs offered, and my dad was offered a job on highway maintenance in a town called Scenic. Earlier, he made an agreement with a gentleman by the name of Hans Anderson that we would live in his house and cook his meals and milk the cows and do that kind of work in return for staying at the house. That was a log house that’s still there- I went up and visited a few years ago, and it’s still there. It’s modernized [with] indoor plumbing and lighting. I went through the 8th grade at Lake Roesiger Schoolhouse. Then, I spent one year with my aunt in Everett, Washington, because I figured that I needed to see what a civilized world would be like. We traded kids; my aunt had a child who was immature- when he was a baby, she’d put him in her hand and his legs would hang off the side, he weighed about two pounds- and he was always frail. He went to Scenic with my brother and sister, up in the mountains and skied and hiked and whatnot, and I came to Everett, Washington and went to the 9th grade. 

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GMV in front of Hans Anderson’s log house at Lake Roesiger, their family’s residence from 1926 to 1932

On his college experience:

I went to the Skykomish High School in Victoria, which gave me a scholarship at Washington State College, which included room and board. They gave me room and board for one semester, so I went there and eventually graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Geology in 1941. I got a job as [a] teaching fellow the next two years, and August 31st, 1941, I married my high school sweetheart.

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GMV with snowshoes as a high school junior at Skykomish High School, circa 1935 

We went to Pullman because she was going to enroll in college too; I remember we rented an apartment for $25 a month, and the deal was that we’d take care of the furnace, which was right off of the apartment, in return for [the] room. The woman who owned the house was Mrs. King- her husband was dead, but she was a wheat farmer. We went to school together, but one weekend- it was December 7th, 1941- we were coming back from getting wood for our little stove and I stopped for gas. The guy told me, “The Japs hit Pearl Harbor.” December 7th, 1941. A day that will live in infamy. Do you remember how you felt at that moment? It was a sad situation because on the campus there was ROTC, and all the students, freshman, had to take ROTC. Some of them made it a profession, so they were walking around, knowing that they’d be called for duty. I got a bachelor’s degree in 1941, and came back for a master’s; I was given one deferment because I was a teaching fellow and handled about six laboratories a week and taught Geology 1 when the professor was gone. I got one deferment, and then it was a matter of waiting to be drafted. I was drafted in October of 1943. How did you feel when you got your draft notice? {Laughs} Everybody was concerned, and particularly because they were looking for first lieutenants, and I thought about that, but by the time I applied, they were pretty well filled up. I knew if I continued, I’d end up in the infantry, and my chances of coming back alive weren’t too good. That’s when I saw that notice on the bulletin board, and I signed up for that. 

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GMV (far right) working as a section hand on the Great Northern Railway in Scenic, Washington, circa 1935

George Marshall went to President Roosevelt, and suggested to Roosevelt, “Why don’t we start with mountain climbers and skiers.” I was taking basic training at Camp Roberts, California, in 1943, and a notice came up on the bulletin board that they were looking for volunteers for the 10th Mountain Division. I volunteered, and my buddy, who was a professional football player, volunteered too. We were accepted, and we were accepted into General Ruffner’s headquarter’s unit, so it was a pretty special unit.

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Calculating triangulation points at Camp Roberts, California, circa 1943

Where did you go to boot camp for the 10th Mountain Division?

In Camp Hale, Colorado. 

How many men were in the 10th Mountain Division?

About 10,000. There was an infantry unit and an artillery unit with four gun placements; the infantry was the biggest part of it, and they were divided into subdivisions. 

You mentioned that you saw Elvis Presley perform before you went overseas. What was that like?

I didn’t see much of him, because we were shipping out, but he was performing in Newport News, Virginia. I never did see Bob Hope, because he visited the troops in a number of places and was very popular. 

The 10th Mountain Division was based in Italy. What was the weather like there?

When I got there, it was cold. It was about 20° and there was a couple feet of snow on the ground. The first few days we were there, they put us in a schoolhouse, and we put our sleeping bags out on the floor. There was a certain amount of warmth in the building. 

What was your job or assignment?

My job, being in the headquarters artillery, we’d major out at a 1,000-foot line, and then we’d turn angles from each end of the line and by triangulation, we could get the location of a target. It might be a bridge across the lake, it might an ammunition dump, you never know. This was coordinated with the 7th and 8th Army; the British were in the 8th, so occasionally I had to go over there and give them the information, and I remember this one time I went over there about noon, and they were having tea! {Laughs} I said, “You’re having tea during the war?!” The shells were flying! “Well, we put a cork in the cannon!” 

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GMV at a triangulation point overlooking Vergato; Germany can be seen in the background, circa 1945

There was another experience when I was tracing one of these lines; we’d look back and then stick a pin in the ground at the end of it. I looked down, and I was just about to stick it in the eye of a dead German soldier. I’ll never forget that. 

On the 10th Mountain Division’s participation in the campaigns of Riva Ridge and Mount Belvedere:

Then, the purpose mainly of this mountain division was to get the Germans off of Riva Ridge, and Mount Belvedere; it was a 2,000-foot cliff, and they were looking right down at our throats. They sent us over there in January, and it was in February that the assault was planned to take the Germans by surprise up on the ridge. It was icy, it was about 20°, and the idea was to climb at night and get up there in the morning, which we did. I was in the artillery unit, but I was with the infantry unit because I was a forward observer, which meant I was up in the front lines. We took the Germans by surprise; one of them was frying bacon. One of them were in their sleeping bags. There was one machine gun unit that was firing at us. Another fellow who was a Senator from Hawaii, Daniel Inouye, lobbed a hand grenade into the machine gun nest and wiped the Germans out, but he lost an arm in the process. 

What was scaling the mountain like? 

War is hell. It was passable by climbing with normal hands and feet. Did you know what would be at the top of the ridge? We weren’t sure; we knew that we had a special mission, and of course all of us were young, but I was quite old- I was 23 years old. I had a wife, but no children. But, anyway, after we got the Germans off of the ridge, we chased them. They decided that they would herd all the prisoners up in an airport, which they did, and had a Jeep driver and two other people with me. One of them was Lyle Goodrich, from Detriot, Michigan, and one of them was Gus Teborek and he was a professional football player out of Chicago. The other one was Bill Beaver, and he was the grandson of the owner of the Marietta and Peyton Varnish Company in North Carolina. We chased them all the way across the Pole River and into Austria. They were on the run, and a lot of them were coming back, voluntarily surrendering with their hands up. Well, once we broke the line, we had this Jeep with the four of us; it was just a matter of chasing the Germans, which we did. When we got to the Pole River, the Germans were blowing up the tunnels and bridges on Lago di Garda. Lago Como, which was a popular lake, was just west. Largo di Garda had a lot of fancy villas; a lot of artists were there. We finally chased the Germans out of there, and they were going up towards Austria. What’d they done- they had fashioned devices that looked like big boulders, but they were actually machine guns. We had to get rid of those. I was not in the infantry, I was in the artillery, and was an observer. The job we had was to survey targets for the artillery; I was in the 7th Army, which was under General Mark Clark. My right flank was the 8th Army, and that was under General Montgomery. He had a Brazilian division in it, a unit of 6 from India, which their sabers- it was kind of a motley group. We finally chased the Germans north and got them into Austria. By that time, the Battle of the Bulge was on under George Patton, and the war ended on June 8th, 1945. A lot of the guys were sent home, they had enough points- you got points for your years of service, whether you were married and had children- I was married, but I had no children, so I didn’t have enough points. {Laughs} So, they assigned me to the 55th engineering battalion, and we were shipped to the Philippines.

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GMV (front row, left) at Aringay, Luzon, Philippines, circa October 1945

Do you recall your reaction upon arriving in the Philippines?

I was glad to get off a troop ship. Bunks stacked five high- you couldn’t sit up. We had a racial issue, too, because there was one unit that was all Black men, Black Americans. There were a lot of racial episodes down below in the ship. That wasn’t very fun. When we were going through the Panama Canal- back then, there were monkeys in the trees and everything, not like how it is now with houses and developed. 

As we came into the harbor on an LST, an American destroyer was in the process of sinking a Japanese submarine. Then, an announcement came over the PA system- I was on a troop ship when they sent me through the Panama Canal to the Philippines- and they announced that they had dropped a bomb of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Shortly after that, there was an unconditional surrender to General MacArthur on an aircraft carrier. That was the end of the war in Japan, and Hirohito and the Prime Minister surrendered. We went in and disarmed the Japanese, and I went home in January of 1946.

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GMV (looking directly into the camera) landing in Manila circa August 1945

Do you have any memories of the Italian people you interacted with while overseas?

I do. In fact, when we came into Italy, we came into the harbor at Naples- Napoli, they call it. We came in at the coast of Naples in an LCI- a boat that carries the infantry that carries about 100 people. It was really stormy, and a lot of the soldiers were sick and throwing up, and their helmets were rolling on the floor. It was a mess downstairs, so I got out of there. I got up on top, and I lashed myself to the mast of the boat. I noticed that stored up there were boxes of groceries, so when I had a chance, I looked, and there was a big can of canned turkey. I put that in my duffel bag, and I took it with me when I got to Italy, and we came into Piza. That was the assembly point for the entire Riva Ridge/Mount Belvedere. I hadn’t had a bath in a long time, but I got acquainted with a family there, and I told them, “I would like to have a bath.” They said, “We’ll gather the firewood, and we’ll eat and fix up a bath for you.” I said, “I’ll only do that if you accept this can of turkey, and maybe you could make noodles and we could eat it.” That’s what they did- they rolled out the dough and cut the noodles, and we had turkey and noodles for dinner, the whole family- mother and father, grandmother, grandfather, grandkids. We all sat around a big table and everybody was drinking red wine, including the kids and eating turkey and noodles! {Laughs}

Did you ever have any interactions with the German soldiers?

Only after they were taken prisoner. I had a minor in foreign language in college, so I spoke German- not very well, but I could get by. I soon learned Italian. 

What were the most trying and difficult moments of service?

Lack of sleep. I remember going three days without sleep, and I could lean up against the Jeep and go to sleep. I never really- I wasn’t in the infantry, so I never had the occasion to meet a German soldier during the war, face-to-face, except the prisoners. I remember I injured my shoulder and my right arm was in a sling, and they sent me back- this was when we were in Italy- outside of Venice, there is an island called Lido, and it was a recreation place for soldiers. I went back there and went down on the beach and looked around; there was a German girl there laying on the beach. I talked to her, and she was the sweetheart of a German submarine commander! {Laughs} I talked to another guy who had been a machine gunner in the infantry, and he was gone because, at the end of the war, the Germans were putting 12-year-old kids in uniform. They said, “To see these kids coming, and have to mow them down…” It was almost more than he could handle.

I don’t know, in a lot of ways, the war wasn’t as hard as some of the basic training. {Laughs} Were you are crawling on your stomach, and they are shooting over your head.  I don’t know, in a lot of ways, the war wasn’t as hard as some of the basic training. {Laughs} Where you are crawling on your stomach, and they are shooting over your head. 

What were the best memories of service?

I loved the noodles and turkey! Probably the most was when the Germans surrendered, and I had one of these little sample bottles of Southern Comfort, and another guy and I celebrated the end of the war with that little bottle of Southern Comfort! {Laughs}

You mentioned you were injured during the war. How did this happen?

{Laughs} I didn’t get a Purple Heart, because it was an accident. I was in the Jeep, and my driver was driving around rounding up prisoners, but there were a lot of shell holes. He dodged one, and out I went and landed on my shoulder. 

What was the food like?

We had a good chef. There was the usual Army fair, but this guy would trade with the locals, and he would get fresh eggs and things like that. We ate quite well. He’d just go down the line with a canteen- there was a special plate that they had that fit together and had two sides and compartments to put food into. Of course, when you’re really moving, then you had a choice of either a K-ration- which was a paper box with cheese and crackers and a chocolate bar in it- or you could go to C-rations, and that was a can. At that time, the C-rations were baked beans, hash, and something else- I forget. You had no way, usually, of heating it up during the war. 

At the time, did you realize the significance of the campaigns you were a part of- Riva Ridge and Mount Belvedere?

No, not really. Since I’ve been here at [the retirement community], I’ve been invited to go to a 10th Mountain annual get-together. My son went with me, and there was one guy in a wheelchair, and he was pretty much a vegetable. There was one other 10th World War II veteran there, but most of them were Vietnam vets. There were four World War II vets altogether. I did go to that, and also [someone at the retirement community] asked me to go as an honored guest to the dedication of a World War II memorial. I did, and I didn’t care too much for that, because there were many minor politicians that chose that particular time to get exposure. Some of these guys would talk on and on, and that part I didn’t care for. This time when she asked me, I said, “No, I’ll be with my grandson and son.” 

On his discharge:

We came into the Puget Sound and came down to Tacoma. When the ship pulled into the dock, my wife was standing on the dock. {Tears up} Some of the guys took a rope and lowered me over the side of the boat and down so I could hug my wife. Then the captain gave orders that I had to come to quarters because I had broken quarantine. {Laughs} He could’ve impounded the entire ship, but he and the physician on board decided not to do that. He called me into his quarters and gave me a dressing down; fortunately, we were able to muster out. 

Did you have a family after your service?

After the war, my wife, unfortunately, lost a child. My cousin in Everett, Washington, knew about a lady who had a small child that was to be put up for adoption. It was one of these wartime romances, and the young man went off to war and didn’t marry the girl, so she wanted to give the child up. My cousin in Everett knew the doctors, and they were looking for somebody to adopt this child. So, she recommended us, and I was called in for an interview. As I came in for the interview, there was a young woman coming out, and they told me that that was the mother of the child. We were successful in adopting that child, my son Brent, and he was six weeks old. That filled a void since we’d lost the baby. I couldn’t have asked for a finer son. You know, it’s funny, people say, “Oh, you look so alike!” But, I haven’t kept it any secret. The doctors gave me an envelope, and the envelope had the name and address of the father and mother. It was in a sealed envelope, and she said, “This is for you to give to your son. When he wants it, you should give it to him.” I was working for the Shell Oil Company, and living all over the place, but that envelope always went with us and went into a security box in the bank. My son is now 70 years old, and I kept asking him, “Anytime you want this letter and want to know about your blood relatives, it’s in this envelope.” And finally, last year, he wanted the envelope, so I gave it to him. He’d always say, “You’re my parents.” {Tears up} This is true because we’d had him since he was six weeks old. 

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GMV in Alaska circa 1970

Do you think your military service impacted the way you think about wars today?

It did, but I’m sure it didn’t to the extent of those who fought in the Asiatic-Pacific theatre and contracted malaria and suffered some terrible injuries. A lot of them, the main thing was disease, and I didn’t experience that. I did go to that theatre, but the war was over essentially, but I can remember in Manila, which is the capital of the Phillippines, there is a park there. The park has statues of women all around it, all different nationalities of women, and what’s considered beauty for that particular culture. 

Do you think the world has any misinterpretations about WWII from books, movies, or TV shows?

I don’t think so. I think the next war, if it gets into a nuclear war, it’s all over. Whether or not people, like Korea, can have a humane approach that would prevent them from using it, I don’t know. It won’t be anything like World War II, and World War II wasn’t anything like World War I. That was trench warfare. No, I don’t think there will be any parallel.  

On his four books:

I spent three years writing these four books- one that’s a children’s book, a biography of my wife, [and his memoir].

How do you think your service impacted your life as a whole? 

I think it matured me and made me realize how important a human being is. As a result of that, I think the most important thing in life [is] people. Names are very important; I try hard to remember the names of people I meet here so I can address them by their name when I meet them. So, that’s my story. 

You’ve lived to be 100 years old. What perspectives do you think you’ve gained from reaching this age?

Well, in the first place, I’m an aberration, because both of my parents died at 75. I don’t know that I’ve inherited any longevity genes, but I’m glad I’m alive. There’s a lot of kinks in the armor- I’ve had some really nasty experiences, and I could’ve died a number of times. Last time, when I fell down the basement stairs and broke 12 ribs, my scapula, my collarbone, had a concussion, dislocated my thumb, and messed up my left arm- I was a mess. I knew it was pretty serious because my lawyers, with whom I’d just written a will, came to the hospital with two witnesses for me to sign the will. When the doctor came, I asked him, “Doctor, is this a pretty serious event?” He said, “I’ll be frank with you. Most cases like this are fatal, and you have two strikes against you- you’re 90 years old, and this is the worst case I have ever seen.” {Tears up} I cherish each day. I really feel fortunate to still be alive, and still be able to move around. I realize how fortunate I am to have most of my mental facilities because I see people and they are pretty vacant; I feel fortunate, not only to be alive, but to be reasonably ambulatory, and to have most of my mental facilities. You have lived a remarkable life. I have.  

img_0269.jpgAuthor’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>.

 

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