Tell Them I Was on the Franklin

Tell Them I Was on the Franklin

By John Elliott Norman

April 29, 1996

The war started on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I can remember Milt Buss, my dad, my brother Ralph, and me standing in the yard where Ralph lives, when Milt was picking up cream to take to town, and wondering where Pearl Harbor was located. Well, I did see it and the damage the Japanese did to it and wondered why we didn’t lose the war right then.

After war was declared, it was only a matter of time until I would have to go in the service. The normal way would be to wait to be drafted and go in the Army and go wherever they sent me. But I did know that if I went into the Marine Corps I would go to the Pacific. I don’t know why but I always liked the idea of the Pacific. I also liked the blue dress uniform of the Marine Corps. So that is what I decided to do. Of course, I never did get a suit of Marine Blues.

Meanwhile Beth and I got married as we had planned, and enjoyed about two months
of married life on the farm. Finally my draft notice came. So I went up to Minneapolis to
enlist in the Marine Corps. I did have a problem with a fever, which seemed about to keep me from enlisting. But they retested me and it went down. I went into a room with about twenty or thirty guys to get sworn in. I really didn’t know what happened so I asked a guy and he said, “Now you are in the Marine Corps.”

Later that day we got on the train at the Milwaukee Depot [which is still there] and took off for San Diego. When we got to Omaha, the railroad hooked up a bunch of other cars coming from the East and South we had a whole trainload of Marine recruits.

I can remember going across the country to Salt Lake City, Texas, and coming up along the ocean at San Diego, pulling into the Depot, and getting out only to have drill instructor people yelling at us. We went out to the Recruit Depot, or Boot Camp, as it was called then and is called now.

Boot Camp was quite an experience. We only had eight weeks compared to twelve weeks now. Our platoon was made up of 60 guys and two drill instructors. The first thing we did was take all our clothes off and send them home. I didn’t wear civilian clothes again for three years. I still remember running around naked most of the day after sending our clothes home. We got our medical shots and stood in line for hours getting things done like our hair cut, new clothes, supplies, and such.

The idea of boot camp is to break the boots down and then build them up again the Marine way. I don’t think I had it any better or worse then anyone else. I thought our D.I. were fair and good. On the Rifle Range at Camp Matthew, I made sharpshooter, which is between expert and marksman–which satisfied me. But make no mistake about it, boot camp was just as rough as it was supposed to be. I am very proud that I made it through and became a Marine and once a Marine, always a Marine. But finally the big day
came and we all lined up on the parade area. So we graduated from boot camp.

Then we were told where to go on our assignments. A few went to Raiders, an elite
outfit, some went to Cooks and Bakers School, and some to Radio and Telegraph School which left me and all the rest of the platoons. We were ordered to go down to the Bay, got on long boats and went across to North Island. I was in Marine Aviation.

We bunked in hangers that they weren’t using. Shortly after arriving, we were given a physical for going overseas. In checking me over they found a hernia. They sent me back and forth between doctors and finally I was on my way to the San Diego Naval Hospital. I must have got the hernia in boot camp, as I was O.K. when they checked me in to the Marine Corps. I was in bed for nine days–nowadays they don’t keep you in long at all.

Beth came out while I was in rehabilitation. It was wonderful to see her again. I had rehabilitation at a place in Balboa Park and I was, able to get some liberty. Beth and I got a room and also to do a lot of sightseeing around San Diego. But after a while they sent me back to North Island. All the guys I knew before had gone overseas. I can remember doing some work details and very little training. Anyway we were getting ready to go overseas. On any of these deals it is always hurry up and wait. Sometimes we had to load ships, including ammunition ships.

Waiting to go aboard the USS Luraline (a former luxury liner) I decided to go back up town to see my wife one last time. Incidentally, I didn’t get permission to do this. When I left our sea bags were all piled up on the dock. When I got back, they were gone. I never did find it until we got to New Caledonia where the unclaimed ones were all piled on upper deck.

The ship had 5,000 Marines aboard and went overseas without any other ships along. We never sighted any land for close to three weeks. The weather got warm very quickly so we must have gone south and then west. We didn’t see any land until New Caledonia. I got seasick–like I always did–when I got on a ship. I would get over it and then get a dull ache in my stomach. I got ashore on New Caledonia so saw a little of the island on a work detail.

Our small group of replacements was headed to an old tub of a ship and went to New Hebrides. That only took a couple of days. I can remember a Sgt. coming down into the hold when we were and telling us that we were going to Guadalcanal. Everybody was excited but me. I wasn’t thrilled as it sounded like a good way to get killed. So we went on another old tub–even worse than the last–and headed for Guadalcanal. It was very hot in the ship then because we were in the tropics. We left California in the winter and now it was summer.

We pulled into Guadalcanal harbor and started to unload. There was more than one ship. All at once we were told to put out to open sea and scatter. I remember some doctor came aboard and wanted to know why he couldn’t bring his patients aboard as some were in bad shape. He demanded to see the Captain. This he did and I remember him coming back and accepting the fact that we were leaving. The reason we were pulling out was that the ship had received word that the Japanese were coming down to attack again.

So in about two or three days we were back in the harbor again unloading supplies, men and also loading up men who had been in combat. It has been over fifty years but I can still see those Marines coming aboard our ship. They were very sick looking, almost skeletons, with vacant stares and eyes that had seen everything. When they got into the boats to go on the ship, they didn’t look back to the ‘canal at all.

They put our little group of replacements ashore, but there was no one there to meet us. After a time we just started walking inland, didn’t know where we were going, but just walking. Finally a truck came by and a Marine yelled, “Are you guys are supposed to go to VMF 122? We said we were and he told us to jump in. He took us to a tent where an older Marine, a Gunnery Sgt., I think- talked to us” like a Dutch uncle and said things like that we had to take a crap, go out in the jungle, dig a hole with a shovel, and the cover it up and so on. We were moved around quite a bit on Guadalcanal, but mostly on Henderson Field. The first night I was there, there was an air raid. It was the first one I had ever been in on. First the air sirens went off-a very mournful sound. Then the ack-ack guns went off. They never seemed to hit anything, but they tried. We always had our air raids when the nights were clear. Just before I came home, they got night fighters. Before that they didn’t have any planes that could go up at night and do anything.

After the ack-ack, we heard a whistling sound which was the daisy cutter bombs coming down. They were anti-personal bombs to kill people. That first night they laid a string of bombs right along where my foxhole was and a guy was killed not very far from where I was. I can still hear people yelling, “Corpsman, corpsman”. This made a lasting impression on me. I stayed up all night discussing life and death with a Marine from Mississippi. We never did solve anything, but we were really scared.

I was a replacement so I did all the dirty jobs like cleaning up areas, mess duty, picking up supplies from the food supply place run by the Army. We sort of helped ourselves to some extra supplies. As it was our tent got plenty of canned pears and peaches, etc.

One time our tent got sugar, yeast, and raisins from the mess hall and we made some “pole climber” wine in a tin container. One night we decided to drink it. We kept everybody awake yelling around and singing. People would come over and politely
ask us to shut up because they had to work the next day. We asked them to come in and have a drink. Nobody would do it. I guess they were afraid they would get food poisoning.

The next morning we didn’t go to work and the Sgt. came around to see what was the matter. I don’t remember catching any hell or getting put in the brig. In fact there were no brigs on the island. They were only worried that we would get sick from the container. But we didn’t.

Guadalcanal was an island about thirty miles long and about five miles wide. Coming up on it from the sea, it was like a beautiful green emerald set in the ocean. The ocean itself was beautiful in the bay, but the island was a terribly hot, mosquito-filled jungle, full of wildlife and funny sounds. The rivers had crocodiles in them. There was malaria, dengue fever, ulcerated sores, elephantitus, yellow jaundice, jiggers and such.

There were natives on Guadalcanal who had red, fuzzy hair. They chewed betel nuts, which was some kind of drug. They were naked except for a loincloth or some such kind of clothing around their middle. They couldn’t speak English except some pigeon English and they liked our cigarettes. I didn’t see any of their women and heard that they moved them to another island when the Japanese and the Marines came ashore.

After several months of just cleaning up and mess duty, I got fed up and went to see the Master Sergeant who was head of Aviation Ordinance. He was a Southerner. He asked me what boot camp I had gone to. I was afraid he’d just say I was a Hollywood Marine (which is what they called those of us who went through boot camp in San Diego). Anyway I got put down on the line working on 50 caliber Machine guns on F4U fighter planes.

It was mostly sitting under the wings waiting for planes coming in or taking off. The work was cleaning guns and replacing ammunition. It was better that what I had been doing.

One time in late April I got a V-mail letter {which was not in sequence} but I
knew I had a son, John Jr. John Peterson from Austin, Minn. was a tent mate, and he also
finally got word that he had a son also born on April 19th. It was quite some time later before we got the Red Cross notification about John’s birth. Those notices were supposed to be delivered very quickly, but we sure found differently

Every so often when we went to mess hall, which was outside, there would be a couple of corpsman. They were parceling out Atabrine, which was a pill to prevent us from getting malaria. It had a very bitter taste. Gossip went around that it would make us sterile, so we didn’t want to take it. The corpsmen would make us put the pill in our mouths and take a drink of water. Some guys would try to hold it under their tongues and then spit it out.
Sometimes there was an officer watching us and would make them go through the line again. Incidentally, the Corpsmen were Navy who were assigned to the Marines.

Sometime in Mayor June VMF 122 {which we were in} was rotated back to Esprito Santos {New Hebrides}. We just got back there when the old Gunnery Sgt. lined up the squadron personnel and told us that they were going back to the States. But we replacements hadn’t been over long enough. We were transferred to VMF 124. Finally we were transferred to VMF 214, the Black Sheep Squadron. Nothing too exciting happened on Esprito except more “bull gang” work. Sometimes nobody cared if we worked or not.

One thing I remember is when some of guys complained about being over there so long without women companionship and wanted to go home. Pappy Boyington lined us all up, standing in the rain, and really chewed us out. He said he knew we had been over too long, but if necessary we would stay another two years. That shut everybody up and I heard no more complaining.

Major Pappy Boyington was a Marine Corps ace who shot down 26 Jap planes. Then he was taken prisoner of war until the end of the war. He was a character who was a hard drinker, but he also put together a squadron of misfits into one of the best groups in WWII. I think they shot down more planes than any other squadrons. I was very proud to be in his squadron. Pappy Boyington was the only prisoner captured that weighed more after he was released then before. He worked in a kitchen.

I did see two fellow Marines from Lake Crystal and Madelia– Lloyd Bowen and Bob Grimes. When you are along way from home, like half way around the world, anybody from near home is a neighbor.

We finally got word that we were going home. We were happy to hear it.

We boarded the Matsonia (a sister ship of the one we first sailed on). These ships were luxury ships that went back and forth between Hawaii and California before the war.

Nothing stands out in my memory about the journey home except that when we pulled into the dock at San Francisco there were some women workers on the dock. They were not real good lookers, but the ship exploded with shouts and yelling. They were the first white women we had seen in over a year. We were unloaded and herded to a train, which took us down to San Diego. Very shortly, I was on my way home to see my wife Beth, my new son and my folks and other family. It was like heaven. We had a 30-day furlough and it was over too soon. My orders were to report back to Goleta, California which is right out of Santa Barbara.

I had a wonderful furlough but finally, Beth, John Jr. and I got on a train and took off for Santa Barbara. We got to Los Angeles and took a bus up to Santa Barbara. We stayed at a house until we got a nice apartment. Santa Barbara was the best duty I had in the Marine Corp. VMF214 became a brand new squadron with a lot of ranks to be handed out. Anyway, I ended up being a staff sergeant, much higher rank than I thought I would ever get.

Santa Barbara was a beautiful city and still is whenever we have been out there. The base was located where the Santa Barbara airport is now. And the Santa Barbara College is where the barracks, mess hall, and so, located on the hill.

Around the first of the year, we were getting reports that we were running out of islands to put marine bases on, so the Marine Corps were putting air squadrons on aircraft carriers.

On November 18, 1944, my second son Tom was born in Cottage Hospital at Santa Barbara while I was on guard duty.

Finally, our orders came down in January of 1945 that a part of our squadron was going on an aircraft carrier. So a bunch of us guys took off for Santa Rosa to get the planes ready to go into combat.

Beth and the two kids, of course, followed me up to Santa Rosa. We were up there less than a month. We then were taken by bus to get aboard the U.S.S. Franklin. Some of the single guys had already boarded at Bremington, Washington. The ship came down to Oakland, California, where the rest of us got on.

On February 7th we left the states at 4 p.m. for Pearl Harbor. February 14th, we arrived at Pearl Harbor to unload planes. We went out to sea again on the 15th on a shakedown cruise. Our planes went to Barbera’s Point for engine checks and bore sighting guns. Three guys went with them. Joe Titus was one of them.

On February 16, we lost two Lieutenants when they collided in midair. We never did find a trace of them.

We came back to Pearl Harbor on Feb. 20 and had liberty in Honolulu and Waikiki from Feb. 21 to Feb. 23. Then we pulled out from Pearl Harbor on another shake down cruise.

On February 27, Lt. Husted came in for a landing and his belly tank dropped as he hit the flight deck and caught fire. He burned to death. I will forever remember attending my first burial at sea.

On Feb. 28, we passed the island of Malakia where they had a leper colony on the northern tip of the island. We passed a floating mine. I also saw a whale that day for the first time. We arrived at Pearl Harbor approximately at 4 p.m., had, mail call and enjoyed some liberty. I saw a hula dance performed by the USO on the beach near the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the only hotel on Waikiki Beach.

We left Pearl Harbor at 7:45 a.m. and had quite a fleet with us. On March 6 we crossed the International Date Line.

On March 13, we arrived at Ulithe to refuel. We left Ulithi on March 14 with the third fleet, which was known as the fathom fleet. There were ships as far as the eye could see. We were in task force 58.02.

On March 15, our planes flew the combat air patrol. They were watching out for enemy planes and ships.

On Sunday, March 17, we passed floating mine which missed our ship by 200 yards. I went to church on the deck. I worked late that night getting ready for our first air strike at Japan. I had to get up at midnight to start work on the first strike. We worked on 100-pound bombs and 5-inch rockets. The first strike began at 6 a.m. and I immediately went on the next one with no break.

On March 18, in the midst of preparing for the next strike, we had a GQ (general quarters, the highest alert meaning we had to be prepared for enemy attack) at 3 a.m., which we had worked right through. We kept right on working hard all day and the following night. The 100-pound bombs were supposed to be for personnel and airplanes. The island to be struck was Kyushu, the southern most islands off of the mainland of Japan. Our planes destroyed 40 planes on the ground and about 15 in the air, besides doing tremendous damage to ground installations. At dusk, we were 58 miles off the coast of Japan. During the day, Japanese planes had been trying suicide dives and bombings on other carriers.

We ate at 11:30 p.m. and started working again at 12:00 without any sleep at all. I was doing assembly of rockets and sending them up on the elevator. During the night, we had been steaming north to attack the main Japanese fleet. Our planes were to strike Kobe, about 50 miles from Tokyo.

At about 6 a.m. on March 19, the first flight took off with Major Bailey. The bombers were to take off later and were loaded with 180 rockets and 18 Tiny Tim bombs on the hanger and flight deck. Down in the third decks, we were getting ready for the next strike. Some of us were going to chow.

At 7:15 a.m., I was just proceeding to do another task when a tremendous explosion occurred. My first thought was that somewhere a fuse had been carelessly set off. But the noise was immediately followed by smoke. Men started running everywhere. I grabbed my helmet and gas mask and followed a crowd that went to a compartment on the port side, second deck. We first tried to go forward, then aft, but both were on fire. By this time, the fire had spread on the hanger deck setting off gas, rockets, Tiny Tims, bombs, and ammunition. Explosions started slow and proceeded so violently that I thought sure the ship would blow up. The explosions were right above our heads on the hanger deck. The lights went out and smoke poured in more all the time. I had put on my gas mask. The heat was terrific from the fire above. At some point in this time I ran into Ken Thompson and stayed with him all during the attack. Ken did a lot in helping people staying alive. Some of the men around us suffocated from the smoke, but I didn’t realize it at the time. They wanted to open a hatch right above us, but some men kept that
from happening because the explosions were happening right above us.

During this time, we were led in saying the Lord’s prayer several times by some fellow who said: “There’s only one guy that will get us out of here, so let’s start saying it.” And all the time, I also prayed the 23rd Psalm, The Lord is My Shepherd …, by myself (a prayer that Beth and I have often said together). For even then, I had a deep-set feeling that God had led me to safety.

After about two hours of this, the explosions above had subdued to a point that we felt we were safe. Finally, we heard that someone had opened a hatch above for us to get out. We filed out slowly, letting the worst sufferers out first. We had been down there two hours. The sight which greeted our eyes on the hanger deck was too horrible to mention. Although the fire and smoke were still there, we could see enough. Everything was burnt. I looked up to the gallery deck and saw a dead body hanging down burnt to a crisp. Ken Thompson wanted to jump off as soon as we got up to the flight deck but I didn’t because I couldn’t swim. Later Ken was glad we didn’t.

I proceeded from there to the front of the ship. The chaplain met us with a bottle of whiskey. Then a Catholic chaplain named Father O’Callahan (the bravest man I ever knew) came down from the flight deck and asked for men to fight fire I above us, so I went up and helped the best I could even though I was afraid of explosions near the fire. K.K. Thompson and I ran into Joe Titus up on the flight deck. He was glad to see us because he thought all the ordnance men were killed. He was really shook up because he couldn’t swim. About this time the cruiser, the Santa Fe, pulled right alongside-smashing her sides up pretty bad. The order came for the Air Wing to abandon ship. I went across on a rope to that ship.

They gave us coffee and cigarettes. At this time we were close to 37 miles from the mainland of Japan. Other destroyers and cruisers were picking up survivors in the water-those that jumped or were blown overboard. I cannot say too much for the men and officers of the Santa Fe for they treated us like kings. Everything they had was ours–clothes, money, smokes, bunks, food, etc. It was very crowded but the five-day trip to Ulithie was pleasure. One thought which is uppermost in my mind now is when we first came aboard; all the men left from the two Marine Squadrons went and sat around a big table. We were discussing what had happened and yet trying to forget. I had not yet got over the shock of losing ordinance buddies, I made the statement that I knew them and their wives and how my wife and I had visited with them so often. One of the other fellows with a grief-stricken voice said: “Quit talking about it, will you.”

About this time the Japanese came over again in an attempt to sink the Franklin. As the Santa Fe was on GQ all the time, our first warning was the firing of guns. We all hit the deck clawing the steel. One of the men said calmly to the other: “Must be a bogie up there.” We then learned that men on the cruisers in a task force with carriers and battleships feel as safe as a babe in arms as the enemy always strike at the bigger ships.

The first night the Franklin was towed by the Pittsburgh. We learned the next day that they had difficulty getting it started for it was dead in the water and the screws and rudder were all fouled up. In fact it floated to a distance of 37 miles from the mainland. But they got it started up to 2 knots an hour and increased it r until she was proceeding 21 knots under her own power. An amazing engineering feat.

One of our men -Bob Dixon- didn’t get the word to abandon ship. He was fighting fire at the time. He stayed on until we got to Ulithi. Dixon was on a big gun passing ammunition on the hangar deck. He got the Bronze Star for Bravery. During the bombing run of a Japanese plane, he helped man a 20mm gun which helped throw off the plane’s aim and dropped its bomb beside the ship. For that he is supposed to get a citation of some kind. He was also aboard when they threw over some of our men’s bodies. Most of them were only identified by their dog tags. Most of them on the hanger deck were cremated so badly they were scooped up in GI cans and thrown over. I thank God that I was spared the necessity of that job.

At Ulithi, we were put on a receiving ship, the General Scott. We were only on it that day and then were put on the Onita. During this time we had no clothes except the ones we had on. We were dirty and filthy with sweat. On the Onita they let four of our men go over on a Higgens Boat and get most of our sea bags. Ken Thompson got my sea bag with my winter clothes, ID card, sunglasses. I lost most of my clothes, spelling lessons, stationery, farm bulletins and many other minor items. But considering everything, I got by lucky. They say my locker was pretty well destroyed.

On the Onita, we proceeded to Guam where we were put on the island for two days. This was relief after being at sea so long. And it’s no secret that if I wanted to go to sea, I would have joined the Navy. We saw VMTB131, Perry Schwartz’s old outfit. MAG21 and VMF225. I went over and tried to join VMF225, but no dice so the day before Easter, we were on the USS Barnes, a carrier headed for Pearl Harbor. We all went to church on Easter and heard a very good sermon. After that the rest of the week we just laid in our sacks and ate. The best chow in a long time. When we got aboard the Barnes we were having chow when they started blasting in the harbor. We hit the deck and scattered our mess gear and it clattered on the deck. People laughed at us.

We got to Pearl Harbor on April 9th and in a few hours got the good word that we were headed back to the good old U.S.A. I never want to leave these states again. Our second day at Pearl Harbor, we were to leave at 4:00 p.m. so I sneaked over to the mainland to see Evan Morris. He had heard about the Franklin and was headed down to see it because the Franklin was already there when we arrived. But it left the next day. He was very pleased to see me. So I asked if he’d write my folks a letter telling them their eldest was safe. A little amusing item along that line. We got a big mail call at Pearl, almost a month’s mail. One fellow, Petrie, got a letter from an aunt who said that as long as he was on a carrier, he was pretty safe. And he said: “Here I just about get my head blowed off and nobody worries about it.” So we surmised that our wives were already spending that $10,000 life insurance money and celebrating single life again!

My wife was just as vague in her letters about danger to yours truly. I began to wonder if I had overestimated the whole thing. About as we had docked, two public relations men of the Marine Corps came aboard and began interviewing us. It will go in all the papers and Leatherneck. Of course, the fellows began snowing the hell out of them and they copied it all down. I couldn’t force my way through the crowd to tell my story so I listened to the other fellows. As Schwarz says, “A snow job is what they want.”

The personnel of VMF 214 amounted to 59 men, of which 26 were killed on the 19th day of March 1945. Some bodies couldn’t be identified due to the fact that they were burned so badly. Many others were cremated completely. Others were drowned when they were either blown overboard or jumped over the side. At the time the bomb hit, the planes were turning up on the flight deck and it was said that many fellows ran into the turning blades and were badly mangled.

A reporter asked the nickname of our squadron and we told him: “The Black Sheep”. He said, “Oh, Boyington’s old outfit. They’ll eat that up in the states.”

Several of our men will get the Bronze Star and dozens will get the Purple Heart. I didn’t get any awards, but my own life. That is all I want.

So on April 10, 1945 we are headed back to the states for a 30-day furlough.

After coming back from overseas, we landed at San Francisco. We got on a train again to go to Miramar base at San Diego.

We went through Santa Barbara at night and arrived at Miramar in the morning. They really didn’t know what to do with us. We had only been gone a few months and we didn’t have clothes, ID cards, etc. Pretty soon we got a telegram from Admiral Nimitz himself telling us that we would get a 30-day furlough. So then things started happening. Soon we were on our way to El Centro in an old cattle car–an open bus used on bases for transportation.

The rest of the squadron had been moved from Santa Barbara to El Centro. When we got to the base, we were lined up waiting when some guy came by that knew some of the group. He wanted to know where his brother was. We had to tell him he was dead. This sure was hard on all of us.

We got new clothes, sea bags, toilet articles, and all the rest. This time I waited and got an airplane ride to Grand Island, Nebraska, and hitched a ride on a livestock truck to Omaha. Then I got a seat on a civilian airplane to Minneapolis. From there I took a bus to Mankato.

It was wonderful to be home again. The spring season was on so I helped in the fields and enjoyed that. A real bad note was that Beth had a phone call from a wife of a fellow killed on the Franklin, wondering why she hadn’t heard anything for so long, and I had to tell her they were all gone. It was a month before it came out in the papers that a carrier had been hit.

After the furlough, we went back to El Centro. We went further up in the mountains to a little town called Jacumba. We were 40 miles from the base, but it wasn’t as hot as in El Centro. We did meet Dale and Maxine Skow, as he was a navy corpsman with the Marines. They had a cottage very near us and we became good friends.

I spent a lot of time in the Marine Corps just killing time. There would be other times we would really be busy – no happy medium.

We heard about some high-powered bomb that was being dropped. There were false reports of Japan surrendering. Finally, one evening as I was doing guard duty, we heard President Truman announce that Japan had surrendered. You can imagine how happy everyone was. As long as I live I will always be grateful to President Truman for making the decision to drop the A-Bomb.

A little later, the point system came out and since I had two kids, been overseas twice, in combat, I made the 90 points required to get a discharge. So I was sent in the first draft back to Miramar to get a discharge. But we got there and nobody knew what to do with us. Same old story. Finally, a really nice officer took charge. He said he was going to stay in but we wanted to get out and he got us out. Thank God almighty. I went back to Jacumba and then back to El Centro one time as a civilian but still in uniform. I can remember coming out the gate and telling the guards, “I am a civilian!”

Beth, two kids and I got on the train at Jacumba and went all the way across the country to home.

Beth’s Story

We were married in June of 1942. In August John went in the service. His Grandma Upson had just had a cataract operation and needed help so I moved in with her. In those days a person was really laid up with a cataract operation, and not allowed to do anything for quite some time.

After boot camp, John landed in the Naval Hospital in San Diego, so I went to California. I had never been far from home before–so here I was, alone, in San Diego. I had never been alone in a big city before either. The USO had a booth near the bus station to help “lost souls” like me. They got me a room [no cooking] and told me how to get to the Naval Hospital and their visiting hours.

In a few days John was released from the hospital and had a lot of free time for a little while, though he had to spend his nights at camp.

I got a job working in an insurance agency in the Speckles Building, a large office building near the center of town. It as the same type of work I had done before our marriage at the insurance office in Madelia. On weekends and free time we rode the streetcars a lot. We bought weekly passes and could ride allover. We also spent a lot of time at a USO room in a Methodist Church that was also near downtown.

Christmas of 1942 was very lonely. We’d never been away from our homes and family before. Furthermore, we knew he would be going overseas right away. The one bright spot I remember was a very tall poinsettia plant that grew beside the house where we stayed and this beautiful big plant [as large as a dinner plate] looked in our window and was beautiful.

Speaking of Christmas–the next year I was home, John Jr. was a baby, and I hadn’t heard from John for quite some time. The third Christmas of our married life was almost a repeat of the first as we were in California and he was about to go overseas again. In later years, when I looked around at our family all together and having fun, I often thought of those first three Christmases.

I came home by train after John left for overseas, and he was gone just over a year the first time.

John came home from the Pacific for a month’s leave. We packed up for California again and went to Santa Barbara. First we got a room with a family [Bill and Molly Hicks] where I helped care for their two kids and did some housework for our room.

After a couple of months we got an apartment at the back of a house at 1305 1/2 Bath Street. It was pretty nice and we had a good time there. Marce and Johnny Peterson of Austin, Minnesota had a place about a block away. We were together a lot. They had a son, Tom, born on the same day as John Jr. and two other sons. We girls used to take the kids to the beach. We also got acquainted with the other wives of the fellows in John’s squadron– Nita Granaman was a good friend, also Betty McDonald. Almost all of the VMF 214 wives lost their husbands on the Franklin.

Tom was born in Santa Barbara. John came home and said he had guard duty and wondered if he should try to get it changed. Since I wasn’t due for 10 days, we decided he’d be better off to get it over with. The middle of the night I woke up with labor pains. I went over to Marce and Johnny’s. Marce called a taxi and went to the hospital with me. Johnny got John Jr. and took him to their home. I don’t know which one, but one of them called the base. When John’s duty shift was over at 8:00 in the morning, he was given the message to go to the hospital.

The almost a year we spent in Santa Barbara was very nice. We had a nice, furnished apartment, and a lot of friends. The guys went to work every day, and then came home almost as if it were a civilian job. Since the guys all had the same hours, we girls got together a lot and did fun things. My sister, Eleanor, came out to visit us. We had a
wonderful time, all in all.

The squadron got ready to go overseas on the carrier right after Christmas. Some of the fellows, the single ones, went ahead to Bremerton, Washington. The married ones were sent to Oakland, Calif. The master sergeant’s wife had a good size car and she crowded in as many as possible. So, I, with 2 babies, went up north for about 3 weeks. We got a room with a family there and John came home almost every night. I was mostly with Nita Granamin then and she helped me a lot with the little boys.

When the ship sailed, we drove back to Santa Barbara, packed up and I boarded the train again. I went back to Kansas City with Nita and my mother came there, met me and helped me the rest of the way home. Both boys had bad colds and were very, very fussy.

After about 4 months, I got letters quite regularly. A letter came Beth and the boys in California saying that “I hope you aren’t worried because I’m okay.” and something about
knowing I also wrote to Granaman, Marlow, Hill, Shropshire’s wives, so I knew something was wrong for them. All mail was censored so you couldn’t write details or they’d be cut out. Nita G. called me and said she hadn’t heard for a long time. I said I got a letter but he didn’t say much. A few days later, John called that he was stateside and coming home on survivor leave. The day after he got home, the phone rang. It was Marlow’s wife. I simply handed the phone to John and he had to say he was one of the squadron who came home. The War Dept. didn’t notify them until a couple of weeks later.

We packed the trusty old trunk again and headed for El Centro, Cal. There was no air conditioning then, so we got rooms in Jacumba, a tiny town up in the mountains. There were a row of resort cottages, rather crude, all rented by service personnel. Dale and Maxine Skow were in another cottage and we became friends.

Dale bought a little roadster with a rumble seat. Several times he took us to a movie at Acampo, about 25 miles away.

When the war was over, after about 3 months living there, John was in the first bunch mustered out. Then we parked the trunk again, loaded up the kids, and boarded a train for Minnesota.

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.