D W J—My Dad—Part One
One hundred years ago today—I don’t know the hour—the cries of a newborn baby boy pierced the air. It was a momentous day as Carl and Hazel Johnson welcomed their first child into their home on North Ward Street in Ottumwa, Iowa. They named him Donald William. He grew up, served his country in World War II, and in late December 1951, he became my dad. For almost fifty-seven years, when we were together, I could hug and kiss him, talk to him, laugh with him, cry with him, and tell him I loved him. I wish I’d had more years to do all that. There’s so much I’d like to tell him—ask him—show him—now.
In 2004, I spent Thanksgiving weekend in Ottumwa with Mom and Dad. By then they were sharing a room at Vista Woods Care Center (nursing home). I asked Dad if he would talk to me about his military experiences (something I’d been meaning to do for years). Without much arm-pulling, he agreed. I sat at his computer and typed away while he reminisced. (He called his PC “Old Ned Too.”) In today's blog, and next week in Part Two, I’ll focus (mostly) on the military side of Dad’s life story. His words are in italics below; [my comments are bracketed.] I hope you enjoy these tributes to my dad.
Kemper Military School and College, Boonville, Missouri
I was at Kemper from September 1940 to May 1942 and while there was a member of the Army Infantry ROTC. I also played sousaphone in the band both years. During my second year, I was designated a cadet staff sergeant and was put in charge of the bugle corps which was a separate unit of fifteen to eighteen cadets of either tenor or baritone bugles. We got up earlier than everyone else and “trooped and stomped” to make enough noise to wake everybody each morning. The band’s main function was to play for parades. One fall Saturday we were transferred to Columbia to play for the University of Missouri football game.
At about 1:00 p.m. on December 7, 1941, we were preparing for the Sunday parade when we learned (probably from the radio) of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. We went ahead and had the parade anyway. It wasn’t long before the senior cadets in ROTC were called to active duty.
[I didn’t think to ask Dad if he wanted to attend Kemper or if his parents insisted. I’m guessing he was okay with the idea.]
World War II
On November 12, 1942, I went to Kansas City, Missouri to enlist as a naval aviation cadet. [His enlistment photo is to the right.] After enlistment, I was sent home on inactive duty until March 11, 1943, when I was ordered to active duty. I reported to Ames, Iowa where I enrolled in a war training school and learned to fly small aircraft.
[Dad never lost his interest in airplanes. He subscribed to Flying magazine for many years.]
The first time I soloed was on a Sunday, a beautiful April day. I flew a Taylorcraft single engine high wing aircraft. I had a lady instructor, in her late 30s I expect. At that time, she had two students: me and another fellow whose name escapes me, but he was in China when I was there.
At the first part of June 1943, I was ordered to St. Mary’s College Preflight School near Oakland, California. I was there until the first part of September 1943. While there, I received a fifteen-day leave. Mom and Dad and Carolyn [Dad’s sister] were in Los Angeles to visit Uncle Cy [Dad’s dad's brother] and Aunt Bea, so I joined them there.
At graduation from St. Mary’s, I was offered and accepted another fifteen-day leave. I was then assigned to Livermore, California for primary flight school training (similar to the kind of training taking place at the Ottumwa Naval Air Station).
[President Richard M. Nixon served as Aide to the Executive Officer at the Ottumwa Naval Air Station from October 1942 to May 1943. Scott Carpenter, the second U.S. astronaut to orbit the earth, was also stationed at the Ottumwa NAS.]
Just before Christmas 1943, several of us cadets were put on a train for Corpus Christi, Texas where there were several outlying training fields besides the main one. At Cuddihy Air Field (similar to Ottumwa NAS), I had more basic flight training where we flew the SNV, a single engine basic trainer. I returned to the main station at Corpus Christi for instrument flight training (also with the SNV). Following that, I was sent to Rodd Field for the final squadron testing where I flew the SNB (Beachcraft twin engine trainer).
Early in 1944, I declared an interest in being transferred to the U. S. Marine Corps Reserves following graduation. (Most guys did it this way—the Reserves, I mean.) At that time in my training, it was probably the peak of the number of enlistees.
I graduated from Rodd Field on August 9, 1944 and was designated a Naval Aviator and commissioned a second lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps Reserves. I was granted another fifteen-day leave and returned to Ottumwa on the train. I remember traveling with my friend Jim Greene. We traveled all night, got to Kansas City in the morning, and we were hungry. We went to a hotel and got a big breakfast—pancakes, eggs, etc. I caught a train to Ottumwa and Jim headed for extreme North Dakota.
After this leave, I returned to Corpus Christi where I entered a PBY-5A flying program. The PBY was a full-blown seaplane; the 5A had both wheels and pontoons. Following that program, I was assigned to a Marine Corps Air Station at Edenton, North Carolina. Jim Greene and several other friends from Corpus were there as well. We trained in an SNB-type aircraft with the anticipation of flying the PBI (B-25).
(The thing that had me worried all during my flight training was what they called “white coat hypertension.” I got nervous that my blood pressure would be too high to fly. I had to retake the blood pressure test because it was high even then.)
Out of the blue on December 23, 1944, I received overseas orders and soon had one of the most fun experiences in all my military life. Arlo [Anderson—also from Ottumwa and a relative, sort of—Arlo’s mother Lena was a sister of Dad’s Aunt Edna who was the wife of Dad’s Uncle Chester who was Dad’s dad's brother—got all that?] and I had planned on meeting my cousin Floyd Johnson at his home near Washington, DC. But with these orders we had to cancel our plans. Several of us from Edenton had already started out on a bus, then we caught a train for DC and when we got as far as Richmond, Virginia, somebody got the phone number for United Airlines. Because we had overseas orders, we could bump anybody on the plane. We ended up renting a limousine in Richmond, drove to DC, and flew from DC through Cincinnati to Chicago. I caught a train there and arrived in Ottumwa on the afternoon of the 24th. The guy at the train station in Ottumwa offered me a ride over south. Dad [a funeral director] was on a funeral, and I walked in on Mom unannounced. It was quite a deal.
Somehow, Arlo also wrangled a leave and came home a day or two after I did. We had some fun at the Rathskeller in the Hotel Ottumwa basement. It was heavily supported by naval personnel from the air station.
[Dad is number 13 in the group shot above]
I flew out of Des Moines to Los Angeles, then got down to San Diego where I reported for duty at the Marine Corps Air Station at El Centro where I trained for four months in the R4D (DC-3, C-47). I shipped out of San Diego on 9 May 1945 and arrived at Manus Island in the Admiralties on 28 May 1945. I was assigned to VMR-153, part of MAG-25 [Marine Air Group 25] on Bougainville [in the western Pacific, northeast of Australia]. I remained there until the end of the war when the atom bomb was dropped. I was on Manus Island when we heard about the bomb.
When I was assigned to Bougainville, we flew cargo runs and occasionally personnel but mainly mail and cargo. I flew as far as Guadalcanal and several islands in between. I also took some trips to the Philippines. After Japan’s surrender in August 1945, I was assigned to Tsingtao Marine Air Station (an old Chinese air station) in North China where I spent nine months before coming home. At that time, I was flying R4D aircraft from Shanghai to Tsingtao to Tientsin to Peking (Beiping/Beijing).
We spent several days in Tientsin, roughing it in the field. We lived in old Japanese barracks and ate field rations mostly although we occasionally got some hot stuff. We had no johns. The first thing we did was dig a hole and cut a hole in a chair and that was it.
In July 1946 I was assigned to South Field in Peking for several weeks before flying to Hawaii. From there I took another military transportation to San Diego, then finally home to Ottumwa for two weeks before heading to the Great Lakes Naval Station in Chicago to be deactivated. Had I known what was going to happen in 1950 [the Korean War], I would have resigned my commission. By staying in the Reserves, inactive as it was, I recalled to active duty in 1952.
[That little chair in the yard in the first picture above currently lives in Milwaukee. It belongs to Henry and Hazel, two of Dad's seven precious great grandchildren.]
[Dad's high school senior picture is to the right of his diploma.]
Next week, more military experiences, plus a lot more. Stay tuned!
Blessings to all.
Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two dogs. My Mother’s Friend is her first novel. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com.