October 17, 2003
By the time this column is in your hands, Laura and I will be returning home from Nashville where we attended the annual reunion of my old World War II outfit, the survivors of the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes. It was (and is) a truly great daily newspaper and it was an honor to have been asked to serve on the staff. The Stars and Stripes had its origin in the Civil War and it is still published today in a vastly different form. The men I worked with during WWII were clever craftsmen and intelligent newsmen, dedicated to upholding all the highest principles of journalism. Our mission was to provide men and women in military service in the Pacific Ocean Area with a fair, balanced and accurate daily newspaper that reflected their viewpoint and provided an outlet for them. The edition that I worked on was based in that fabled paradise, Honolulu, Hawaii. I am still wondering how I was fortunate enough to wind up in that spectacular location, doing the kind of work I love. Some of the other editions were headquartered in places such as battlefields and, eventually, in occupied Japan. We knew we were specially chosen and blessed to have a tour in Hawaii. There was a unique bonding by the staff and an obvious determination to put out a good product. It was unlike anything I have seen in civilian life since then or before. The S&S Alumni Association is composed of men and women who worked on any of the editions, in Europe and in the Pacific.
The real answer to the question of how I became part of that Honolulu staff is not really hard to find, but the pathway was convoluted. Let me tell you about it as briefly as I can. One day in the early part of 1943, about 20 young civilian men of my age were tested at Perry High School by the U.S. Department of the Army to determine our qualification for the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), with the precautionary advance notice that all of us, regardless of that test, would have to survive regular basic Army training after our induction. If we did all right in three months of basic training, we would be assigned to a university "somewhere in the United States," where we would spend four years earning an engineering degree before assignment to an Army unit. I, for one, knew that I was never intended to be an engineer. Yet I passed the preliminary test. When I was inducted in the spring of 1943, I had been working here at The Perry Daily Journal for two years. The Army assigned me to Camp Fannin, near Tyler, Texas, for basic Infantry raining in June, July and August of summer heat. Several others from Perry, including my good friend David Thomas, also were sent to Camp Fannin. All of the Noble county group came through basic successfully but we were assigned to different schools for engineer training. David went to Rutgers, in New Jersey, and I was sent to St. Bonaventure University, a pleasant little Franciscan school in Olean, New York, just southeast of Buffalo.
Everything went reasonably well at St. Bona's until December 1943, when the Allies faced increased bitter resistance from the Nazis in Europe and elsewhere. There were many Allied losses. As a consequence, the ASTP program was virtually shut down to provide more men for combat. My roommate at St. Bona's, Chick Sappington of Corpus Christi, Texas, was sent to medical school. His father was a physician, but Chick wanted to be a farmer. He had completed two years in the Cornell University school of agriculture before the war. When the program closed, most of us were shipped from our campus dormitories to Infantry barracks and units that were staging for combat. More on this personal memoir in the next column.