Biography of John Lucas
Teletype Operator, 349th Signal Corps Company, 86th Fighter Wing, South Pacific, Philipines, Occupation of Japan, US Army
John Lucas’ WWII Memories
Dec 7th (1941) was a vivid day for both Mavis & I. It was a crisp, cool day when on Sunday afternoon we heard the announcement about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Not too long after High School I got my greeting from Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This was back in 1943. Now, this was the president who they always claimed went out on his boat to practice his acceptance speeches, and the story is told that he held out his hand & said, “My friends”, and a bunch of suckers jumped up in his hands!
I was inducted at Ft. Leavenworth and took my basic training in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was sort of like a vacation spot there. We were located possibly a hundred yards from the Gulf of Mexico. Two boys from Sabetha, Cedric Priest, and a boy by the name of Maynard Davis, who I‘d played football with, were in separate halls down there.
From basic, I went to Fresno, CA, to Hummer Field. I can remember being in the same tent with Peter Fairchild. He was a noted artist that had drawn Judy Garland’s picture at that time, and if I remember right, seeing his picture in one of the magazines. From Hummer Field, we went to camp Pinedale, a short ways away. This was a Japanese replacement camp. It was quite a run-down place. They put American boys in there and had already shipped the Japanese out. I’d taken radio down at Topeka and this helped qualify me for out there to go to camp Koehler (SP) up near Sacramento, where we studied code and procedures.
After we’d had our schooling, we were shipped out to camp Stoneman, CA. This was the port of embarkation. After going under the Golden Gate Bridge, most of the fellas became a little bit sea sick, but it didn’t take long to get over it. I remember we headed down toward the Christmas Islands. And I oft times wondered if this was where Haley Skinner’s aircraft carrier went down. As we neared the Equator, I remembered them initiating some of the new Navy boys that hadn’t been there yet, and even some of our own boys joined in. I received the paper myself, as an official “Wetback”!
We docked in Earl/Oral/Aurel Bay. Altogether we went to 4 different points in New Guinea. Looking at a map of it, it resembles Turkey. The highlight of my stay in New Guinea was when we went to Buma, a turning point of the American soldiers against the Japanese. The foliage was nothing I’d seen the likes of, probably comparable to Vietnam.
From our initial landing, we moved on up to the Hollandia and Finchman area (April, 1944, date taken from John’s map of N.G.) I was stationed in both places. In one of these was McArthur’s headquarters. Somewhere along the line Opal & Kenneth Smith’s oldest boy had typed up my papers. I don’t remember ever seeing him back home here, but evidently it was to sign me to my permanent place. I know some of the boys from Darrin, Australia came over and joined up with us to form a full Company. It was the 349th Signal Corp, attached to the 86th Fighter Wing. At Finchman, I believe it was Jack Benny, Larry Adler, Carol Anderson, and some other entertainers came & I remember there was such a crowd there that the only way we could view them was thru field glasses that were being passed around and this was for only a moment. We moved up to a place I don’t remember the name of, after 30 years, it’s kind of hard to remember. But when we were in the bay (Milne?), I remember the dive bombers diving for a while and they finally hit their target, the tremendous blast & smoke came up. When we were on the beach finally and unloaded I remember Woodcock taking to scouting the area, and he said the Japanese were still in their leg irons, they hadn’t been attended to , that is, they hadn’t been buried. The troops there were assigned with new machine gun replacements, so evidently it was a touchy place. From this area we flew by C-47 planes up the coast of New Guinea to the island of Beok, that is, we were still on the mainland, but this is to pinpoint the area, and we passed over a convoy. I remembered it was quite a sight for us boys because it was the first time that most of us had ever flown in a plane. It took us about a month to finally clear this area up where it was halfway livable. I remember we were building a dining area for a place to sit down to eat and we heard a terrible explosion and what had happened was, a plane had come in on the strip and a bomb had lodged in there, and the pilot evidently didn’t know it, and it set it off and blew the plane to bits. I can remember going over and I could see nothing but the motor left of it, and it was hundreds of yards away from the original blast. This was the place where some of the old mountaineers were mixing their coconut oil and their fruit cocktail and raisins and so forth, and fermentin’ ‘em. I can remember a big Texan getting high on this and they started chasin’ the Lieutenant with an axe and they finally chased him down and a kid from Chicago belted him in the mid section and that laid him out the whole next day! We were near several of the 215th (?) Infantry Division, and I can remember Woodcock and Jennings who were in my tent going out on patrol with some of these infantry boys. They came across a camp fire and they laid-in-wait there for their return, if there was any to return, and finally a couple Japs showed up and the infantry boys ordered them to drop their trousers as they were good at hiding hand grenades inside and what’d happened was they dropped them alright, but they pulled ‘em back up and grinned and about that time they cut loose on ‘em and they were left laying over the cap fire. Woodcock and Jennings brought a few souvenirs back but they were pale, and I imagine they were sorry they went on that job. The nuisance raids here were a nightly thing. One night they hit the radio tower. They set a big 500-lb bomb and this really rocked the island. Another thing that happened was that when out radar fouled up and the Japs had given the warning alright, but they went in between the hills as it was a sort of mountainous area around there and they thought they’d left and they were just holing up out there til things cleared up, and then when they gave the all clear, then out they came. I can remember things seemed peaceful there for a moment, then all of a sudden, the bombs began to explode around us, and I remember diving under a big table there and we had a big Lieutenant there who was always bragging that he wasn’t scared, but I noticed he wasn’t around after the thing was all over with. One of the bombs had exploded near the radar plotting tent and it busted things up in there and they’d hit our truck with gasoline and the truck burnt, besides burning up our gasoline supply. One lit right close by our radio shack and we were connected right next door to them, probably 15 feet from me, but this didn’t explode, or this might have been a different story. Smitty, a boy from Missouri, was awarded the Purple Heart. We always teased that he moved too slow, he couldn’t get out of the way. Of course, he took this good naturedly, but he won the award over it.
J. Edwin Orr’s picture appears in a book up to our church, and this man held evangelistic services in the French Haven area. I’m almost certain it was he who came up and held services after this bombing. I remember very vividly that he had no area to go to services to here, and to my knowledge no chaplains were in this area and the last I’d been to one was aboard where the Catholic folks held Mass one Sunday morning, and I remember those few boys of us who knew about Christ had worshipped in those services that morning. We were placed on alert that the Japs were in the area and we were all issued ammunition and given fair warning about this. Woodcock went to sleep with his gun right next to him and he had a flashlight under his pillow and during the night, a terrible noise let out and a scream, and what’d happened was Woodcock was having a nightmare, and he was taking this flashlight and was throwing it at the “Jap”, hit his big foot, and that really raised a stink in the camp!
Landing craft made periodical trips out to this island of Beok. They had an air strip out there. This was an old coral island. I can remember one day several of us went out there just sight seeing and we gathered shells off the coastline. I had a bracelet made out of those and had those sent back to the states. Once again our orders were to move on up. I remember that evening were taking trucks and went up to a real high area overlooking the bay where the Navy ships were. After dark, the usual nuisances were coming up the coast. I remember seeing searchlights pick one out as he came up from many miles down and when he had gotten up over the Navy Ships, they really boned him up there. It exploded almost directly overhead, but it was out of our danger area.
My cousins Jack and Byron New were stationed within a few miles of me here. In fact we had had short visits with each other on occasion. After we’d shipped out of this area, we’d learned that the Japs attacked in force and the troops were forced to burn the quartermaster and other buildings and supplies there. In fact, Byron would have full knowledge of this as he was cited for acts of bravery there.
It was no secret now we were headed for the Philippines and I remember a few days out, we ran into what would be called an aftermath of a typhoon, with very angry seas. I can remember at times our ship was on top of the waves and we could see very well, then all of a sudden, we were down in the trough of the wave and only our ship was visible. Water would wash over the decks and we had to be very carful not to be swept off. I remember it broke the chains that anchored the trucks down and they had to be re-tied several times. Looking over our map it looks like it would have been the Zulu (SP) sea, which we’d ran out of these heavy waters and it was smooth sailing again. The next morning I noticed I noticed the moving of a Jeep over onto the right side of the boat and anchoring it down. It had a mounted machine gun on it. We were the third ship back of the outside flank, first the Flagship, then another ship, then our “LST”. We were part of a 100-100 ship convoy.
In mid afternoon we’d passed a burnt up Liberty Ship that had washed upon a beach. The Navy evidently knew of this danger area. It was on the island of Mindora which was south of the island of Luzon (SP) where Manila is located on. Without any warning, a plane had come in right on our eye level. In fact, if anyone was good enough shot, I believe they could have picked him off. No shots were fire, not even by the mounted machine gun. Possibly the reason was that the destroyers flanking the convoy had been in this danger area of the fire power. When our captain realized what was going on, he came up and ordered the troops below deck. I remember several of us boys were lagging behind. This plane crossed over behind us and hit several Liberty ships back and I noticed excitement in the planes back there. Evidently they’d gotten it out, so it could continue on with our convoy. Talking later with Jack (New), he’d come up with this convoy, and he was back of them yet, and he said that they’d buried 12 boys at sea the next day. The ship was too far back really for me to see any great activity, only the initial. The Navy had hollered for someone to pass ammunition up and as we were in the back, the Captain motioned for us to go ahead and help. But then in a matter of minutes, the flack and the smoke screens made the day as black as pitch. Fire from the anti-aircraft and the fire from the big guns of the destroyers out there and the flames from the planes going down was quite a sight to behold. The destroyer evidently had radar on their guns, however, it was, I was thankful for the Navy that day! The Navy boys reported 22 planes were shot down. And, after things had cleared and we were sailing along, we rode into a beautiful sunset. I remember having a radio going, and we went up and an announcement was being made by the Jap propagandists, the “TOKYO ROSE”, that told that our convoy had been sunk already!
As it began to get dark, we could notice campfires and camp lights along this island, evidently this was Mindora, that was being by-passed by the Army. We landed at Lingaen (SP) the third day after the initial attack. The noise from the anti-aircraft, batteries, and cracking from the artillery was still heard and this lasted for about 10 days. Our primary duty was always to set up a radio teletype and message center first, before our own quarters were up. Both fighter planes of the Army and Navy were landing on dirt here already at a village by the name of DaGupen (SP). Bulldozers soon had the airstrip beveled off and I remember some of the boys had the detail of laying the steel mat on the airstrips and this was really a task, not so much of the work itself, but because of the heat. Of course, we were used to this heat at New Guinea, but still it was a problem. ‘The Navy had shelled the churches here at Lingaen, evidently these were where Japs had holed up and they didn’t trust them at all.
After we’d settled there, one of our guys had asked a girl for a date, and she refused him, saying she had a Jap anise boyfriend, so all isn’t the truth you hear. The Methodist churches, along with the Catholic churches were leveled, and we worshipped with the Methodists. In fact, they had a Pilipino minister there who could give any American preacher a good go. When they talk about missions, I often times think of this church being full. Here at Lingaen, we set up our quarters in a rice paddy, and, one night, the rains came up overnight, and I can remember the bottom of our cots were all wet, our shoes, barracks bags were all floating, it was quite a mess. We had to laugh the way a Pilipino had climbed up a coconut tree, he just went up hand and foot. The calluses on his feet, I imagine, were really thick, as he slid clear down that big tree!
Fifty to one hundred planes would take off and land daily, except in inclement weather. They would go out on rendezvous, then fly back over our base, it was quite a sight. We spent many a night waiting up with the searchlights, waiting for the return of some airmen who may have either been lost, or until the time of gas ran out, they kept lights on for them. We had night fighters in our squadron. I remember they were well loaded down with radar and the latest equipment at that time. In fact, I’d taught a Tech Sergeant on procedures and so forth in the code department.
All wasn’t sadness in the Army. I remember 2 pilots had come back from a…I don’t know what they were ding, but they buzzed the nurses’ tents and knocked the tents over. Woodcock, just as soon as he’d seen what was going on, followed the big shots out to the airstrip, and they grounded those pilots right then and there. After a successful mission, the pilots would give what they called a victory roll, and I remember these 2 planes made a misjudgment, and collided head-on. I was standing watching them and saw a streak of smoke come straight down. Smitty, who was our P.H’r, was placed on detail hauling ammo up toward Manila and they said he’d seen a truck run over injured Japanese soldiers. These Japs were tricky people.
I remember at that time getting a letter from back home from the folks stating that Carmoletta’s (John’s sister-in-law, Earl’s wife) brother had been in a hospital over there and I went on the search for him. When I found him, he was up and around and in good spirits. He’d been shot in the nap of the neck, and he said they’d left him out in the field for dead and some fallout boys happened to notice a flicker of life-movement in his body, and they took him back to the base hospital and saved his life. I remember visiting with some of the boys who had been shot in the stomach, legs, arms, and some had bandages up over their eyes. My heart went out for these boys. You’d think that in this area where we were so close to the ocean, that we’d go swimming a lot, but there were reports of boys getting stung. And also one had even died from a certain type of fish. We did, however, blow up our mattresses and rode the waves one time, of quite a group of us of our Company, but, this was a very uncommon thing.
Peace in Europe was taking shape at this time. Peace was probably being declared there, because our Company had received cases of beer for celebration of it. I can remember some of the boys getting pretty high on it and throwing each other into the river where we were located there, possibly not more than fifty feet from the river bank. I had remembered getting those boys out of scrapes before, and I didn’t want to have anything to do with this, and I just left. I guess they came out alright, though.
Woodcock’s brother had come over from the European area and was located there in the Philippines. I oft times remember Woodcock trying to teach me to play cards, and he never got around to it, I guess. I finally caught on that he always borrowed my paycheck after he’d lost all his money. And he always managed to pay it back, but I always thought he felt like he was trying to teach me so that he could win that money rather than having to pay it back! A pilot that was a major in the 86th had bet his whole paycheck that the war would be over in a certain amount of time, and we sometime surmised he had an in of what was going on about the dropping of the atomic bomb.
Some of us got to vacation in Manila as it had been secured pretty much. I remember us standing on the shore of Manila Bay and the guide pointing out Connegadora, where our troops had parachuted in. He commented about the countless ships that were sunk in this bay, but they had been cleared by now. I remembered gong by the walled city in Manila and rifle fire was still cracking there eat that time, but there was no danger because there could be no penetration of the bullets. If you remember, General Wayne Wright and McArthur were connected with this baton and Connegadora, which is now history. We vacationed in the northern part of Luzon and/at Baggio (SP). Here we noted that the Japs were being brought back in trucks as they’d been taken up there. Baggio is very beautiful, mountainous, country. The Philippines had nothing to be ashamed of, of this scenery. We also visited the Thousand Islands. They were very small. I remember going out on a Pilipino rigger, and before we got back, as storm came up and if they hadn’t known how to handle this, we been in jeopardy. We had made a number of friends here in the Philippines, of the people. I remember a boy in our group that could really pick up their languages, since every province had a different language, although most of them could speak English. Several of us boys were sent on temporary duty up to Clarke Field. I remember as we were going in to the gat where we were to be stationed, that is, after we’d gotten past the gate, and we positioned our truck to unload, we heard commotion up toward the gate, and our truck driver ran back to his truck, and a couple Japanese had came up a draw there and tossed hand grenades over the fence at some of the boys that were setting up and, of course, they shot them immediately. The Philippines came in and slit their ears off for bounty.
We were in the path of machine gun fire by some Jap stragglers, it so happened that they picked on the oncoming traffic that was coming toward us and we’d stopped and dowsed their light and I remember some of the boys hollering at a guy by the name of Baker, “Let’s get outta here!”, and we really rolled outta there and we reported them at the next station. The trouble with integration didn’t start til the last few years. I remember those who went up to Clarke Field were placed on alert on account of trouble between the Blacks and the Whites at the nigh club up in Manila. After we’d gotten settled in our quarters here, we were assigned duty at the same job we had been down at Lingaen. The thing that really took my attention was the new encoding and de-coding ma chines they had like up there, it was on the order of just a plain typewriter, it was electric and this was something new and a lot more confisticated (this word John used, meaning, sophisticated) than what we were used to.
It was at this time after the atomic bomb had been dropped and peace had been declared that I received from the 5th Air Force headquarters while on duty, orders to relay on to fighter units and all those concerned, McCarther’s mission, type of plane, coloring of his planes, escorts, time of departure, and the expected time of arrival. At this time, I never realized that when superintendant of schools (Sabetha), W.O. Stark had advised Lester Beekley and I to go down to this school n Topeka, that I would have such a part. Of course, at this time, I didn’t think anyone thought too much of this message, because it was something that we sent and received in everyday routine operations. These messages were ranked from routine to urgent. We sent out daily coordinates of fighter strikes, including both plane and personnel loss. Duty here at Clarke was short lived, as we then went back to Lingaen.
I picked up with our Company, and then headed for the occupational forces in Japan. Within a week of peace we were docked in Yokohama, enroute to Osaka by way of train, and somehow we went around through the outskirts of Tokyo. We noticed Mt. Fujima as we were traveling along. The sun shining on the snow caps was really beautiful. The American bombers had burnt out great areas there in the outskirts of Tokyo, right up to their cement bridges and streets. They really looked like they did a really good job. Our quarters there in Japan were formerly a radio factory which the Japanese used. The big thing here was that we’d left all our clothes down in New Guinea and the Philippines. We’d just gradually gotten tired of carrying them and left them behind. Then when we got on ship, it was 3-6 weeks before we’d gotten any extra clothing there.
We had plenty of time on our hands. We had no operations to contend with. I remember one boy talked me into going to the opera Pinocchio with him, and I really enjoyed that. The Japanese brought their rice and fish, and during the intermission, they sat there in the audience and at this.
One big thing I noticed was the lack of any military in Japan when we went in, except some of the Japanese soldiers were in the depots, probably for dispersment to their own homes. The American boy could get on a Japanese train and travel anywhere he chose. I remember Miller and I going up to Kobe and another town, Kaiushu. It was a Japanese ship building center, and boy, they really bombed that out. There was nothing left there. This Miller and I made friends right away because he was a seminary student and his folks were ministers. He had taken some of the boys down to their destination to go back home, and on the way back, there was a rail station right outside o four camp, and this train hit him and took him down the track a quarter of a mile, and there he lost his life. It was my duty to sort out the valuables and send them back home to his Mother in Florida. I was also a member of the 21-gun salute team, and they buried him there in Japan. Oft times I wondered if I could get in contact with his mother and why I’m left to write this.
In a round about way, I’ve heard of some of my school chums that were in Pearl Harbor. Id o not know definitely and did not talk directly with them, so I do not know. It’s fellas like Pat Reed who was in the Korean conflict. Another boy from Leavenworth, Joe Reed, from a different family, who was killed when his truck hit a land mine. A boy by the name of Leonard Hudson, also from Leavenworth, who was ordered to shoot German prisoners with their hands in surrender, but they were unable to take care of these prisoners. What a mental thing this must be.
My brother Jim was in an armored division who were scout patrols within 15 miles of German lines. I remember him telling about him leaving his Jeep, and it being shot up. When he’d returned, he said he’d been inside Hitler’s bunker where he was last known to be and many of them were killed or taken prisoners. Jim took a vacation in Switzerland, and said it was really beautiful country. On coincidence with Jim was he’d been in a doctor’s office, and this doctor looked at him down his face and exclaimed, “Why, Jim Lucas!”, and, here it was Doctor Rucker who was taking care of him! They had a nice visit there at that time. It’s a most peculiar world, because my grandmother New had relatives in Germany, I believe by the name of Muckler, who were reported in Hitler’s army.
Before we left Japan, we were issued a Japanese rifle and saber for each G.I. to bring back with us. The trip back was uneventful, except for shooting up of a stray mine. The sea can be angry as well as beautiful when it is calm. It just took 12 days from the time we left Tokyo til the time we arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge, which was a welcome sight. I remember my 5th or 6th grade teacher getting so mad at me because I couldn’t learn latitude and longitude, and keep it straight in my head. And, here I figured it up I’d been over 12,000 miles of water! I still don’t know latitude and longitude, amazing.
We came in to Angel Island and I remember it was Christmas day the next day, and we stood out in line for our noon day meal for, I don’t know, for probably and hour, hour and a half in the rain, and we could see these GI’s coming out with bananas and goodies in their pockets from Christmas treats, and by the time we got into the mess hall, they were scraping the bottom of the pan! This was compensated though, by my visit to my brothers there in the Oakland / Richmond areas. Here I was really fortunate.
My mind couldn’t forget December 7th totally as a part of war. I’d ever be reminded because our third daughter, Lora, was born on December 7th!
----- John Lucas c.1995
Email: keslers AT macequipment.com To send Email to Mr. Lucas' family copy and paste the email address above into your mail address window and replace the spaceATspace with @ without spaces.
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