I should probably start just pre-war. I don’t want to go into my early boyhood; but just pre Pearl Harbor.
We were a Sea Scout Troop that had use of a Boy Scout Camp just north of Chicago. It was a great weekend and we enjoyed every bit of it. We had hiked, had classroom study and walked through the wood, studied trees, played games and really had a great time.
We awakened to a bright sunny morning and arose to look out on a beautifully landscaped area, wooded and as beautiful as any state park could be. Unfortunately this was our last day and we would be headed back to Chicago. There were about twelve of us young lads, sixteen and seventeen year olds plus the skipper of our Sea Scout Ship, a very nice seventeen year olds plus the skipper of our Sea Scout Ship, a very nice man who was part of the volunteer group in the community center in Chicago
The community center was the hub of our activities in our neighborhood. It was sponsored by the Methodist/Episcopal religious organization. The placard on the front of the building read M/E., a four story brick building on Halsted Street and Eighteenth Street, around the corner from Sts. Peter and Paul Lutheran Church that I attended.
On the first floor of M/E was a chapel where people went to services. As a part of the neighborhood group we all participated in the offered activities. It was wonderful because it kept all the people off the street and all together and maintained a nice peaceful situation.
There were ball games which were tournaments and they lead those during the summer. There was a swimming pool with lockers on the lower level. There was another gentleman volunteer, an ex-naval officer, who taught swimming and Life Guard lessons. He could swim like a fish and was an inspiration to everyone interested in water activities. I got my Life Guard Certificate there.
The second floor was designed for the girls for sewing and home economics. The third floor housed a library and the fourth floor was a gymnasium where there were basketball games and tournaments throughout the season. As kids we played a lot of basketball.
The neighborhood was a mixed group make up of Czechs and Slovaks, Lithuanians, German, Italians and others. It was a wonderful time and place to grow up and see the way the nationalities kept the peace and everyone got along well.
As I mentioned, it was the last day at the camp so we cleaned, swept and put everything in order in the camp, got our gear in order and my group went into the skipper’s car headed for Chicago. He had the car radio on and though we were all talking, he heard something alarming and asked us to quiet down. It was the announcement of the attack of the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. There were bits and pieces of information and we were stunned and amazed that this was happening. We were very irate and did a lot of shouting about the Japanese. We could not believe that this was happening.
The next morning I went to school and there at Harrison High we heard the now famous “Day of Infamy” speech delivered by President Roosevelt. Everyone was amazed and shocked.
Following this there was so much information on the news, in the newspapers, on the radio broadcasts and magazines, that it was overwhelming. The stories about the courage of our people who were there during the attack was unbelievable. We continued to see Pathe’ News Reels at the movies of our sunken fleet and destruction all around. It was devastating to the point of disbelief.
We were aware that in the rest of the world there was a lot of chaos and that things were not going well. The Nazis had marched over almost all of Europe and it seemed that the English were on their last leg.
In the Pacific the Japanese had come down without fear of our fleet and attacked Corrigedor and then followed the Bataan Death March. They were taking other islands. It almost seemed that we were powerless and it gave one an unbelievably awful feeling. It was a chaotic time the whole month of December 1941 and the following year.
It did get better later even though the Japanese had attacked Wake Island and although Marines had done a wonderful job of defending it for a long time, the Japanese finally took it. The other good news was that when the Japanese attacked Midway Island there was a big victory for us because our carriers were there and had sunk several of their ships so that they left without trying to take the island. We were relieved and happy about that one.
There was a state of panic. Some of us were outraged and crushed and I think that is what led to our determination to go into military service.
When I got home my parents were both very upset. They had the radio on and it looked like pandemonium had set in and it was not inconceivable at that time that the Japanese would take over Hawaii. Everyone was upset. My father was upset because the Nazi’s in Germany had taken over almost everything. It looked like the whole world was collapsing.
It was a very patriotic time and as I mentioned everybody in my age group wanted to enlist. We were 16. This whole time the papers were full of stories about the heroism and bravery and all the pictures of ships that were sunk. You’d see them in the newspapers and at the movies “Pathe News”. We went to school the next morning and heard the now famous “Day of Infamy” speech from President Roosevelt. We were all riled up and heard that the recruiting offices were full of enlistees. The whole month of December 1941 and the following year was a very chaotic time. There was nothing but bad news.
After Pearl Harbor the Japanese took over Wake Island with its Marine defenders and the Philippines. The only good news was the Battle of Midway, which came a little later in which we won a relative victory and sank a few Japanese ships.
Over in Europe it was bad news as well. The French had fallen. The English were the only ones left and they were being bombed regularly. The Russians were being pushed back on all fronts. It was a bad time. The general depressed feeling was that we were going to be an island resisting the Japanese and the Germans and we didn’t look too strong compared to them.
On the home front the draft was in progress; but with Hitler’s various victories in Europe there arose a segment of German Americans, in various cities in the United States that formed the German American Bund and they openly marched in their brown shirts with swastikas. After all they contended, that this is a country of free speech. Very depressing. The feeling that resulted from this was all the more anti Germany and anti Japan.
High school continued that year and we would listen to various radio reports about the progress of the war, which continued to be all bad. We would go to the movies and see Pathe News or Movie Tune News and see pictures of the bombing in London and sinking of ships.
During my high school years I always thought of flying that was always a very popular theme. I thought I’d go into the Army Air Force or into the Naval Air Force that was what I was really crazy about. But at that age, at 16, I didn’t have the right education to be considered or the right age for being accepted into the air corps so thoughts went elsewhere.
Finally, during the rest of the year because of Wake Island and the Phillipines and the showing that the Marines had made they got more publicity plus some background thing I had heard about the Marines we all three decided that when we went we would go to the Marine Corp.
At Harrison High School in Chicago I tried out for the football team and the swim team and made both, that was in the spring of ‘42. As it turned out I didn’t fulfill any of the requirements because of the things that followed. During the summer we played soft ball and baseball on organized teams.
On August 7th of ’42 we got the news and it came like a bombshell that the Marines had landed on Guadalcanal, an Island that no one seemed to know anything about or ever heard of. We started getting the news about the landing and the battle progression as it occurred. At one point in August it looked like the First Marine Division was in big trouble because the Japanese were landing a lot of troops and there was a lot of combat and our Navy was not able to give the protection that our troops needed.
This was the frosting on the cake. After badgering my parents for months about joining the service and using the fact that I would be drafted sooner or later any day. They finally consented to signing my application for the Marine Corp and I was very elated about that at the time.
The three of us went down to the recruiting office in downtown Chicago and turned in our applications and were told to report for our physical a few days later, which we did. I remember one incident during the physical, which you might have heard before; but there was a young fellow in front of me In line and the navy corpsman was giving us the color blind test. I could see in front of me the numbers that appeared on the colorblind test but he was unable to see them so he was rejected. The Navy corpsman suggested:
“Why don’t you try the Navy they might be able to take you”.
This made me feel that they were taking the cream of the crop in not taking somebody for something as small as color blindness.
We all passed. John Kurowski, Dick Buegel and I and were ordered to report for swearing in and leaving , This was August 31, 1942. Several days later we went to the recruiting office again with approximately fifty new recruits and were sworn in. We went to the railroad station after a few hours to board a train to go to San Diego boot camp
I’ll never forget, my parents came down to the LaSalle St. Station among a few other parents who also showed up and at that age I was a little embarrassed and felt they should not be there.
We boarded the train and as I waved to them I could see that my mother and father were very concerned thinking they might never see me again. Now years later I think of the consternation that I caused them but; it was one of those things for that time and it happened and it is over.