October 21, 2003
Here's more of my story about service on the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes, during World War II. As stated previously, I was transferred in January 1944 from St. Bonaventure University in Olean, New York, to the 98th (Mohawk) Infantry division at Camp Rucker, near Dothan, Alabama. I then was a buck private in Company I, 391st Infantry Regiment. David Thomas, my lifelong friend in Perry, was sent from Rutgers University in New Jersey to the 104th Division. His leadership qualities were soon noted and he was promoted to the grade of sergeant. During the following spring, he was killed in action in Germany. It was a horrible demonstration of the waste of life typified by that war.
Although we did not know it at the time, the 98th division was being prepared for an island invasion (of Japanese-held Iwo Jima or Saipan) in the Pacific Ocean Area. Under strict security, we were moved from Camp Rucker by railway to Camp Lewis, in Washington state, where we boarded a converted ocean liner for the voyage to where, we did not know. The destination proved to be training stations in Hawaii, and that was a tremendous relief. We had expected to be immediately consigned to a combat mission. Instead, our assignment was to acquire more training in preparation for future assaults on steamy jungle islands and to secure the Hawaiian islands from possible enemy attack. The Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was still on U.S. minds, and just the thought of the losses incurred there kept everyone on edge. The 98th Division was split into three regimental combat teams. My regiment was sent to Maui. We dug in on beaches around the island and learned the lessons that emerged from attacks on Guadalcanal and other early U.S. conquests in the Pacific.
The commanding general of the 98th division assumed that when we got into combat, some of his individual soldiers were going to earn medals for heroism, He therefore created a "98th Division Public Relations Office (PRO)" to be staffed by men with credentials as writers in civilian life. One enlisted man was to be chosen from each of two of the 98th's regiments, along with one officer from the other regiment. Personnel records were scanned by regimental intelligence sections; I was chosen for the new section from the 390th Infantry regiment because of my civilian occupation with The Perry Daily Journal; Pfc. Roland Powell, who had been a copy boy in Philadelphia, was chosen from the 390; and Second Lt. William C. Fay, who had written some magazine articles, was chosen from the 389th. He was to be commanding officer of the two-man PRO section. The three of us were summarily moved from our regiments to 98th division headquarters where we spent each day fantasizing and writing about combat experiences that might earn Bronze Stars or other awards for our Mohawks when they finally got into combat.
We'll conclude this recollection in the next edition.