Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

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Q-Ball
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Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

Post by Q-Ball »

I apologize for posting this a day after Thanksgiving, but re-telling the story to my extended family yesterday (partly on ZOOM call, thanks Covid), I realized it was the 75th anniversary of Thanksgiving 1945. Many families in the US had alot to be thankful for with the war ended, but our family in particular, as my grandfather told this story, which I have asked my kids to hand down.

My grandfather was Cpt. (later Col.) Melvin Janssen, and he served in the 41st Division as an artilleryman. After graduation from ROTC at the University of Illinois, he was sent to Ft. Sill for advanced artillery training, then to the Pac NW for pilot training in an L-3 observation plane, or Piper Cub. The primary job of a L-3 pilot was spotting artillery, and the US Army felt they would rather have flying artillerymen than pilots who were trained to spot rounds. (It may also have been a jurisdictional thing, as gramps was a pilot, but NOT in the USAAF, just US Army). He had a couple brushes with death during the war during the New Guinea campaign, and spent 2 months in hospital at Zamboanga with hepatitis, but made it VJ Day unscathed. The 41st Division was sent to Kure on occupation duty, and gramps was assigned to the nearby island of Eta Jima, home of the Imperial Naval Academy.

Eta Jima as part of the naval academy had a cave complex full of naval munitions. Standard roles were no longer needed on occupation duty, so very often units were assigned things outside their normal job description; it was the job of his unit to safely dispose of these munitions. As artillerymen, they were trained on how to handle shells and explosives, and someone had to do it. The works was tedious and slow, and involved a few dozen men removing munitions one by one and safely de-activating them in conjunction with the engineers. Work started in early October 1945, and was proceeding apace, with safety of course paramount.

On Thanksgiving Day, 1945, his CO took a boat over to Kure to have dinner with a general, leaving Cpt. Janssen in charge. No work was scheduled for the day due to holiday, and a dinner was planned in the mess hall of turkey (shipped from the USA Frozen), as well as mountains of canned sides. Everyone was looking forward to a day off and half-decent food, and talking post-war plans when everyone got home.

At approx. 1230 hours my grandfather was shaving for the mid-day dinner, when all of the sudden a small explosion then a massive explosion rocked the island. All hands dropped what they were doing, including gramps, and rushed to the cave complex. It was quickly evident what had happened: The cave blew up! Once they picked through the debris it was also obvious that nobody was hurt. Had it been a normal workday, dozens would've been killed, including possibly my grandfather. After securing the area and phoning HQ to report, dinner was served, just 3 hours late.

The 41st Division was deactivated at the end of 1945, and gramps returned to the states in February of 1946. He saw his daughter for the first time, and was eternally grateful for Thanksgiving thereafter and the great fortune it visited upon him.

I hope my fellow Americans (and Canadians!) had a great Thanksgiving, and I hope it means as much to your family as it does to ours.
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RE: Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

Post by RangerJoe »

Those men there definitely had something to be thankful for!
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RE: Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

Post by BBfanboy »

ORIGINAL: Q-Ball

I apologize for posting this a day after Thanksgiving, but re-telling the story to my extended family yesterday (partly on ZOOM call, thanks Covid), I realized it was the 75th anniversary of Thanksgiving 1945. Many families in the US had alot to be thankful for with the war ended, but our family in particular, as my grandfather told this story, which I have asked my kids to hand down.

My grandfather was Cpt. (later Col.) Melvin Janssen, and he served in the 41st Division as an artilleryman. After graduation from ROTC at the University of Illinois, he was sent to Ft. Sill for advanced artillery training, then to the Pac NW for pilot training in an L-3 observation plane, or Piper Cub. The primary job of a L-3 pilot was spotting artillery, and the US Army felt they would rather have flying artillerymen than pilots who were trained to spot rounds. (It may also have been a jurisdictional thing, as gramps was a pilot, but NOT in the USAAF, just US Army). He had a couple brushes with death during the war during the New Guinea campaign, and spent 2 months in hospital at Zamboanga with hepatitis, but made it VJ Day unscathed. The 41st Division was sent to Kure on occupation duty, and gramps was assigned to the nearby island of Eta Jima, home of the Imperial Naval Academy.

Eta Jima as part of the naval academy had a cave complex full of naval munitions. Standard roles were no longer needed on occupation duty, so very often units were assigned things outside their normal job description; it was the job of his unit to safely dispose of these munitions. As artillerymen, they were trained on how to handle shells and explosives, and someone had to do it. The works was tedious and slow, and involved a few dozen men removing munitions one by one and safely de-activating them in conjunction with the engineers. Work started in early October 1945, and was proceeding apace, with safety of course paramount.

On Thanksgiving Day, 1945, his CO took a boat over to Kure to have dinner with a general, leaving Cpt. Janssen in charge. No work was scheduled for the day due to holiday, and a dinner was planned in the mess hall of turkey (shipped from the USA Frozen), as well as mountains of canned sides. Everyone was looking forward to a day off and half-decent food, and talking post-war plans when everyone got home.

At approx. 1230 hours my grandfather was shaving for the mid-day dinner, when all of the sudden a small explosion then a massive explosion rocked the island. All hands dropped what they were doing, including gramps, and rushed to the cave complex. It was quickly evident what had happened: The cave blew up! Once they picked through the debris it was also obvious that nobody was hurt. Had it been a normal workday, dozens would've been killed, including possibly my grandfather. After securing the area and phoning HQ to report, dinner was served, just 3 hours late.

The 41st Division was deactivated at the end of 1945, and gramps returned to the states in February of 1946. He saw his daughter for the first time, and was eternally grateful for Thanksgiving thereafter and the great fortune it visited upon him.

I hope my fellow Americans (and Canadians!) had a great Thanksgiving, and I hope it means as much to your family as it does to ours.
Great story! Thanks for sharing!

My father's close call was in 1944. His Corvette, Fennel, was one of several ships hunting U-744 on the second longest U-boat hunt for the war. They had already lost and re-acquired contact several times over about 30 hours, the sub staying submerged the whole time. They finally got a really solid contact with other ships triangulating and made a depth charge run, then another after that. As they were dropping charges, there was a tremendous explosion just behind the Fennel that lifted her stern about six feet and knocked everyone off their feet. The ship suffered screw damage and some leakage and the stern was slightly warped - she had to limp off and let other ships continue the attack, but was still there when the sub surfaced a few hours later - out of air and out of battery charge.

Fennel et al engaged with guns and kept the Germans from getting their deck gun in operation, then rescued survivors as the sub sank. They rescued the sub's Captain who revealed later that he had fired a gnat homing torpedo and was sure he sank one of the ships attacking him. This torpedo must have hit one of the depth charges Fennel was dropping, or possibly was set off just before it hit Fennel because of a depth charge explosion. My father was the CPO in charge of the aft depth charge crews, so if the torpedo had struck he would most certainly have been killed, and I would not be here. So for the quirk of fate that spared my father and his ship, I am thankful.

On the plus side for him and the crew, the ship (then near the Azores), were ordered to New York for repair of the warped stern and screw damage. NY in 1944 was as lively a town as they get, and it was quite an experience for a young man from the Canadian prairies! Much more welcoming to sailors than dour Halifax where the local populace resented the heavy navy presence, probably because of the drinking and bar fights - and the need to hide their pretty daughters! [;)]
No matter how bad a situation is, you can always make it worse. - Chris Hadfield : An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth
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RE: Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

Post by RangerJoe »

I read about two British sailors who were on Liberty in New York City. They were sledding down an alley or something like that and were caught by a police officer. He took them to the station and told the desk sergeant what had happened and that he as going to take them to something like room 22. The desk sergeant agreed with the decision and said that he would join them. The to British sailors feared what was going to happen to them. It turned out that they were taken to a bar, they did not buy a drink, and they returned to their ship rather inebriated.
Seek peace but keep your gun handy.

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RE: Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

Post by NigelKentarus »

Thanks for sharing.
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RE: Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

Post by BBfanboy »

ORIGINAL: RangerJoe

I read about two British sailors who were on Liberty in New York City. They were sledding down an alley or something like that and were caught by a police officer. He took them to the station and told the desk sergeant what had happened and that he as going to take them to something like room 22. The desk sergeant agreed with the decision and said that he would join them. The to British sailors feared what was going to happen to them. It turned out that they were taken to a bar, they did not buy a drink, and they returned to their ship rather inebriated.
Like I said - great town!
No matter how bad a situation is, you can always make it worse. - Chris Hadfield : An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth
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RE: Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

Post by spence »

I read about two British sailors who were on Liberty in New York City. They were sledding down an alley or something like that and were caught by a police officer. He took them to the station and told the desk sergeant what had happened and that he as going to take them to something like room 22. The desk sergeant agreed with the decision and said that he would join them. The to British sailors feared what was going to happen to them. It turned out that they were taken to a bar, they did not buy a drink, and they returned to their ship rather inebriated.

London is also a great town. Way back in 1969 I was on a cruise that included London as one of the ports. Back in those days one had to wear their uniform when they went on liberty. A friend of mine and I
went to visit 222 Baker St (the mythical Sherlock Holme's apartments). There's s pub downstairs in which there was a large contingent of former/older British merchant mariners. Some them had been pulled from the North Atlantic by Coasties after being sunk by German U-boats. To make a long story short, as we were wearing our uniforms, the uniforms were recognized and thus we never bought any drinks until midnight when we had to return to the ship (Cinderella Liberty).

For some reason I still remember it was 'Whitbread Ale' that we were drinking. I wonder if they still make it.
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RE: Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

Post by rogueusmc »

Col. Baker, USMC, Ret. told me a story about my dad in Vietnam. They were on patrol and were heading back when they got hit. Dad was moving for cover when a bullet hit and knocked him off his feet. Dad called for a corpsman afraid to move. When the corpsman got over there, dad told him it was his back that got hit. He felt the blood running down his back. The corpsman helped him get his pack off and was examining his back for the wound when he kinda grunted. Dad looked at the corpsman as he was licking his fingers. He asked him what the heck he was doing...lol. Apparently, the bullet had transited his pack passing through a can of beans as it went. It was the beans that had been running down his back. He said that the lack of pain didn't mean much to him as he had heard that you don't feel the one that gets you...lol.
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RE: Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

Post by Chris21wen »

ORIGINAL: spence
I read about two British sailors who were on Liberty in New York City. They were sledding down an alley or something like that and were caught by a police officer. He took them to the station and told the desk sergeant what had happened and that he as going to take them to something like room 22. The desk sergeant agreed with the decision and said that he would join them. The to British sailors feared what was going to happen to them. It turned out that they were taken to a bar, they did not buy a drink, and they returned to their ship rather inebriated.

London is also a great town. Way back in 1969 I was on a cruise that included London as one of the ports. Back in those days one had to wear their uniform when they went on liberty. A friend of mine and I
went to visit 222 Baker St (the mythical Sherlock Holme's apartments). There's s pub downstairs in which there was a large contingent of former/older British merchant mariners. Some them had been pulled from the North Atlantic by Coasties after being sunk by German U-boats. To make a long story short, as we were wearing our uniforms, the uniforms were recognized and thus we never bought any drinks until midnight when we had to return to the ship (Cinderella Liberty).

For some reason I still remember it was 'Whitbread Ale' that we were drinking. I wonder if they still make it.

Checked it out. Whitbread brewery no longer exists, it was sold sometime in the 90s but is still brewed under licence using the Whitbread name. I don't know if it's the same taste etc, don't drink it. The company Whitbread has morphed into a restaurant group.
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RE: Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

Post by RangerJoe »

ORIGINAL: rogueusmc

Col. Baker, USMC, Ret. told me a story about my dad in Vietnam. They were on patrol and were heading back when they got hit. Dad was moving for cover when a bullet hit and knocked him off his feet. Dad called for a corpsman afraid to move. When the corpsman got over there, dad told him it was his back that got hit. He felt the blood running down his back. The corpsman helped him get his pack off and was examining his back for the wound when he kinda grunted. Dad looked at the corpsman as he was licking his fingers. He asked him what the heck he was doing...lol. Apparently, the bullet had transited his pack passing through a can of beans as it went. It was the beans that had been running down his back. He said that the lack of pain didn't mean much to him as he had heard that you don't feel the one that gets you...lol.

That is a good story. It has happened more than once. Someone had an looking out for him that day.
Seek peace but keep your gun handy.

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RE: Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

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ORIGINAL: RangerJoe

ORIGINAL: rogueusmc

Col. Baker, USMC, Ret. told me a story about my dad in Vietnam. They were on patrol and were heading back when they got hit. Dad was moving for cover when a bullet hit and knocked him off his feet. Dad called for a corpsman afraid to move. When the corpsman got over there, dad told him it was his back that got hit. He felt the blood running down his back. The corpsman helped him get his pack off and was examining his back for the wound when he kinda grunted. Dad looked at the corpsman as he was licking his fingers. He asked him what the heck he was doing...lol. Apparently, the bullet had transited his pack passing through a can of beans as it went. It was the beans that had been running down his back. He said that the lack of pain didn't mean much to him as he had heard that you don't feel the one that gets you...lol.

That is a good story. It has happened more than once. Someone had an looking out for him that day.
OK, RJ - you are in charge of designing a bullet proof vest that incorporates cans of beans! Be sure to make the warranty void if any of the cans are emptied.
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RE: Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

Post by RangerJoe »

ORIGINAL: BBfanboy

ORIGINAL: RangerJoe

ORIGINAL: rogueusmc

Col. Baker, USMC, Ret. told me a story about my dad in Vietnam. They were on patrol and were heading back when they got hit. Dad was moving for cover when a bullet hit and knocked him off his feet. Dad called for a corpsman afraid to move. When the corpsman got over there, dad told him it was his back that got hit. He felt the blood running down his back. The corpsman helped him get his pack off and was examining his back for the wound when he kinda grunted. Dad looked at the corpsman as he was licking his fingers. He asked him what the heck he was doing...lol. Apparently, the bullet had transited his pack passing through a can of beans as it went. It was the beans that had been running down his back. He said that the lack of pain didn't mean much to him as he had heard that you don't feel the one that gets you...lol.

That is a good story. It has happened more than once. Someone had an looking out for him that day.
OK, RJ - you are in charge of designing a bullet proof vest that incorporates cans of beans! Be sure to make the warranty void if any of the cans are emptied.

Use the packing bubble type of system but gel packs instead of air and instead of plastic, use Kevlar. That would also work for hockey.
Seek peace but keep your gun handy.

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“Illegitemus non carborundum est (“Don’t let the bastards grind you down”).”
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RE: Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

Post by CaptBeefheart »

Great story, Q-Ball. I'm getting a deja vu. Did you tell it before or did I read it somewhere else?

Cheers,
CB
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RE: Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

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ORIGINAL: CaptBeefheart

Great story, Q-Ball. I'm getting a deja vu. Did you tell it before or did I read it somewhere else?

Cheers,
CB

Maybe many many years ago? I did relay a couple of his experiences recently during the New Guinea campaign. Unlike alot of men who served, he told all the stories.

He spent Thanksgiving 1943 at Ft. Lewis Washington right before shipping out; he was married just the month before on-base. Grandma made dinner purely from cans. It wasn't the best food, but memorable nonetheless.

My grandmother took a train from Illinois to get married, and her best woman was another soon-to-be bride she met on the train. They were married a few days apart and stood up in each other's wedding. Sadly, the other bride became a widow.
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RE: Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

Post by radar »

Thank you for a great WWII Thanksgiving story. My father was in Japan that day, but unfortunately, I have no idea how it went for him, though I'm sure it was not as dynamic as your grandfather's!
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RE: Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

Post by Speedysteve »

These are great stories to hear! Alas my grandparents were (perhaps fortunately) only operational after the war and were stationed garrison at Malta and Tobruk but...just wanted to say great hearing the stories and Whitbread do still exist (I sell to them)but like much of the brewing industry there’s been masses of consolidation over recent years
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RE: Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

Post by Moltrey »

My story is from my father, or Pop to me and my brother. He was a AO2 with VBF-16 onboard the USS Randolph with Task Force 58. Went through the typhoon from hell that you all have heard about.

Pop's berthing area was at the front of the ship on or near the forecastle deck. As you would imagine, the deck was nearly completely dark in wartime cruising conditions. Every night when finished with work his route back to his bunk was up into the island, forward around the 5" turrets, walk along the starboard flightdeck, count two dim lowlights in the deck, drop down into the starboard catwalk and down into the forecastle. One night while doing just that, something made him pause after having come around the guns and forward along the deck. He noticed that there was something shimmering in front of him. Then it dawned on him, he was staring at the phosphorescence in the water... somehow he had missed one of the dim lights and nearly walked right off the rounddown. Told us he laid down right there for a few minutes to gather himself before going below.
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RE: Thanksgiving Day, 1945: Family Oral History

Post by BBfanboy »

Yikes! That could definitely soil the underwear!
No matter how bad a situation is, you can always make it worse. - Chris Hadfield : An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth
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