From: Near Portland, OR
My grandfather worked in the Kaiser shipyards in Vancouver, WA, making Liberty ships and jeep carriers. Wish I'd asked him more about it before he died.
I've been to the site of the Vancouver shipyards. It's condos and some waterfront restaurants now, the McMinnemans has pictures up on the wall from the shipyard. A well restored LCI is moored downstream and across the river a bit.
The males in my family have largely been fortunate enough to be the wrong age or in the wrong place to end up in wars. My mother's father's family has been in North America since the 1680s, but the only wars anyone has been in have been the French-Indian War (where an ancestor was the commander of Roger's Rangers), a minor role in the US Revolution, one grandfather who was an ambulance driver in WW I, and my father in WW II. The ancestors who were in this country during the Civil War were out west in Nebraska and Utah and were too busy surviving to deal with the war back east.
My father's father was too old for WW I and he was the youngest of his immediate family, so his whole family was out of that war. By WW II all my father's cousins were too old.
My mother had two cousins who were old enough for WW II. One had a multi-track mind, he could play the piano, read the newspaper, and carry on a conversation at the same time. He graduated high school in 1943 and got accepted to Harvard with, I believe, a deferment because of his brilliance, but he joined the Navy instead and became an officer via OCS. He was part of an advance landing party at Iwo Jima and got killed in a pre-invasion bombardment (according to my mother's story). The other cousin of age was a bit younger and he was still in flight training when the war ended. He ended up flying F9Fs from the Oriskany in Korea.
My mother's high school shortened the school year by a couple of months and graduated the girls (it was an all girls school) early so they could work in industry in 1943. My mother ended up working at the Northrop plant, which was close to home. She said her job was filing "winterization orders". She said they all looked the same, but it appears they produced such orders for each plane produced. At the time the Black Widow was just entering production and it was an open secret around the plant. They had orders that when they heard a plane they weren't supposed to look out the windows. My mother was so disinterested she didn't bother.
She had a full ride scholarship to college so I think she got out of that job to go to school in the fall. She was very happy to leave that behind her.
My father was in his second year at the Art Center School of Design in late 1941. He graduated high school in 1938, but had to work two years to save up money. He wanted to go to engineering school, but his father got him into Art Center to get him away from his mother (who was pretty nutty). One of his high school classmates was Ira Kepford who became the USN's top F4U ace. My father wanted to fly and volunteered to get into flight training. To get the requisite 2 years in, he got permission to go in after the end of his second year.
The physical showed his eyesight wasn't 20/20, he was only slightly myopic, but that was enough to keep him out of flight training. He wanted to be a fighter pilot, but I don't think he had the temperament for it. He would have made a good transport pilot though.
His second choice was the Signal Corps as his major was photography. He ended up being assigned to the First Motion Picture Unit which was making training films early in the war. Everyone in the unit had to qualify for OCS and he got an appointment to officer training, but they talked him out of taking it promising him they would take care of him. He wishes he went to officer candidate school now. He was disgusted with the way the unit was set up, everyone with Hollywood experience was given an officer rank and everyone else was enlisted, regardless of talent. He said the best Hollywood people had figured out how to stay out of the service and the officers were mostly the idiots who only worked in Hollywood when things were very busy and they were scraping the bottom of the barrel. Everyone was also given top secret clearance with a card signed by a general in the Pentagon saying that if this person gives you and order, assume it is from this general in the Pentagon.
He even appeared as an extra in a P-38 training film, I saw the clip on Discovery Channel once. I've been trying to find that clip for years to show him.
As the work on training films died down, his unit did other things. For a while he was down in Florida filming experiments for attacking bunkers from the air. He got to see the B-25G/H in action firing dummy shells into bunkers. He was pretty impressed with the damage done just from the impact alone.
He was also sent to the opening of the Bell Georgia plant which was built for B-29s. They had some early Boeing built B-29s there.
The Navy's success with The Fighting Lady got the Army chomping at the bit to make a movie of their own and half his unit was sent out to the Pacific to gather footage for a possible movie. They mounted 35mm motion picture cameras in the noses of B-25s and traveled with the 5th AF up the north side of New Guinea ended up at Tacloban. He was with the first B-25 unit at Tacloban, the only other units there were some P-38 squadrons. Richard Bong and Tommy McGuire were there when he was there and he saw them around the base.
He was reassigned to another project that was to film all the bomb runs into Japan from the Marianas. They went up in a recon B-29 loaded with cameras and bomb bays full of fuel and they would film a number of bomb runs each mission. He said the B-29 was the most comfortable plane he flew in during the war. It was quiet, no oxygen masks needed, and a lot of room to get around and stretch your legs. But the missions were gruelingly long, over 12 hours.
His unit has a C-54 assigned to it for moving men and equipment from one place to another. When flying to Saipan in the middle of the night, the pilot strayed over Truk and they got shot at. He said it was quite a light show and startled the hell out of all of them.
After Saipan his half of the unit was rotated home and the other half was to be sent to Attu. He had a lot of leave saved up and was about to take it when two days before the Attu contingent was to ship out, a lieutenant came down with a appendicitis and they needed a replacement. Only two people who had just came back weren't sick with some kind of tropical disease and my father was the only one who wasn't married, so he got tagged to go. My father thought it unfair that he, a corporal, was taking the place of a lieutenant, so he went into his CO's office and told him he's replacing a lieutenant on this trip, so maybe he should give him work of the quality they are paying him for. His CO said he knew he was too professional for that, but he would do something. My father got a field promotion to a butter bar, but while they filed the paperwork to make it permanent, the Pentagon never processed it. When he came back from Attu in September 45, they told him he could be mustered out then as a corporal, or he could go into the reserves as a lieutenant. He decided he was done with the military and opted to be mustered out as a corporal, though not before taking the three months of leave they owed him.
He took three months leave, then came back at the end of the year for one day. He and some other guys who had done similar decided that they wanted to get flight pay for that month, so they all piled into a B-25 and flew to San Francisco and back to get enough hours into get flight pay for their last month. My father got a chance to fly for a while and he was riding in the nose when they came ashore at very low level near Santa Barbara. He said they panicked a herd of cattle who stampeded and he watched the cattle disappear under the nose as they flew over them.
He has a lot of funny stories from the war, but he's only admitted the scary parts a few times. Every time they took off while sitting on the taxiway he would wonder if that day was the day he bought the farm. He's a very sensitive guy, though he won't admit it much, and I can tell a number of things still haunt him from the war. He will talk to me more than most people, but I still haven't gotten him to fully open up. He's in his twilight years now (96 a week ago) and I suspect some of his stories will go to the grave with him.
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