In July 2000, before I searched my Dad's personal effects, I searched
the internet for information about the
Infantry Division, also known as the Dixie Division
because of its Southern roots. Dad was proud of his service with the
Dixie Division. He was fond of saying that it was composed of the
Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida National Guard, Suh!
During my search I discovered Mrs. Marion Hess (left). She was
married to Fredrick W. (Fred)
Hess, Jr (right). Fred Hess was assigned to H Company, 2d
Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment.
The 124th Infantry Regiment consisted of three battalions. Each
battalion consisted of four companies, and each company had about 200
men at full strength. 1st Battalion consisted of Companies A, B, C,
and D; 2nd Battalion consisted of Companies E, F, G, and H; and 3rd
Battalion consisted of Companies I, K, L, and M (letter 'J' was not
used). Companies D, H, and M were heavy weapons companies.
Dad was a rifleman in F Company, 2nd Battalion. In his diary entry of
18 June 1945 he mentioned the "30 caliber heavies." Fred Hess manned one
of these machine guns in H Company, 2nd Battalion. Marion told me
that Fred's weapon was the
Caliber Water-Cooled Heavy Machine Gun. Marion Hess recorded some of her
War II Memories in her stories
to Newcastle and
Walk Up The Avenue.
Left: Lou Hall and Marion Hess at the 31st Infantry Division Reunion
in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on 24 August 2000. (Paul Webber)
I learned from Marion Hess about the 31st Infantry Division reunion
on Thursday, 24 August 2000 at the Radisson Inn North in Colorado
Springs, Colorado. I attended the reunion and met Marion, a
delightful lady who reminded me of my mother. Marion introduced me to
Mr. Louis (Lou) Hall, one of "the boys from F Company" who had shared
a foxhole with my Dad on Mindanao. Marion described my meeting with
Lou as a rare event. Meeting him was a happy surprise. He remembered
Dad as a tall skinny guy with curly black hair. Lou is from the small
town of Nemaha, in southeast Nebraska near the Missouri River. He
I did my basic training at Camp Beale, California, and trained as an
artilleryman. I landed in
after it was captured, and later joined the 31st Division on the side
of a mountain near the Driniumor River in New Guinea. Just like
that, I became an infantryman. New Guinea was a hard fight for
Left: Lou Hall on Morotai in 1945, before the landing on Mindanao.
Chaplain (Captain) Thomas A. Colgan (Photos Doris Hall)
Lou Hall's weapon was the
Automatic Rifle (BAR). He remembers combat in New Guinea,
Morotai, and Mindanao, digging in four-to-a-hole, and pulling guard
in two-hour shifts. During the Battle of Colgan Woods on Mindanao,
where Chaplain Colgan was killed on 6 May 1945, Lou said that he was
one of the men who recovered the padre's body. Later during that
battle, he was firing his BAR from a "chevron" position (a
description of the shape of the hole) when a Japanese mortar round
impacted behind him and blew him out of the hole. Lou said:
I still remember flying through the air with my arms out.
They put me in a field hospital that was made of tents set up
in the kunai grass.
He was not seriously injured, and returned to duty. At one point he
was also hospitalized with malaria for two weeks. He remembers being
with Dad at Malaybalay and in the mountains near Silae. Silae was
where the boys of F Company narrowly escaped being killed by Japanese
mortar fire. I remember Dad telling me about this episode. He said
that the unit moved into a position previously held by the Japanese.
Later, the CO had a bad feeling about the position and moved the unit
back across the river to another position. Japanese mortar fire fell
on the first position early the next morning. Here is the way Lou
Hall remembered it:
We were on the push north to capture a Japanese airfield near
Silae. American dive bombers would bomb and strafe the field by
day, but the Japs would fix the holes at night. Then the Jap
planes would use the airfield as a jumping off point to bomb our
medical and supply rear echelons. F Company reached Silae and
had dug in on the top of a hill for the night, when the CO realized,
'This isn't a good place to be.' Just before dark, Lieutenant
Powell moved us across a creek and had us dig into the top of another
hill. At dawn the next morning, Japanese 75-mm mortar fire
plastered the other site. Their mortars were behind a hill, and
they couldn't depress the angle of the tubes enough to hit us.
Left: Major Tom Deas at Camp Pickett, Virginia in 1943. (Tom Deas)
Right: Major Deas on Morotai in 1945, with the
124th Infantry Regiment
Headquarters Staff. (Marion Hess)
Through Marion Hess, I also
discovered Dr. Thomas M. Deas of Homer, Louisiana. Dr. Deas has
written of his World War II experiences as Regimental Surgeon of the
124th Medical Detachment.
Until 2007, he met every year with the surviving medics of the 124th
Infantry Regiment from the Pacific campaign. I attended Tom's WWII
Medics' Reunion at the Wilson World Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, on 6
October 2001, and took the photo at lower right. It shows Dr. Tom
Deas, his daughter Peggy Godfrey, and his grandson David Cook, just
completed a local television interview.
Peggy Godfrey (left) lives in
Moffat, Colorado, where she is a
and a cowboy poet. She read her poem
Real Wealth at the reunion.
David Cook, Peggy's son, is a high school teacher. In July 2000 Dr.
My Regimental Medical Detachment was composed of 120 enlisted
men, 8 MDs and 2 dentists. Later they cut 3 MDs out and
we had just 5 assigned docs. Usually we had 4 docs and
about 85-90 enlisted because of casualties. Most of the
time the Captain assgned to HQ as the Asst Regimental Surgeon
was down in the Battalions. Most of the time we did
glorified first aid and tried to get casualties back to the
rear to keep us from slowing down our advance. My medics
stayed with the soldiers, at least stayed up with them.
My HQ medics were always right behind the lead battalion.
We treated and evacuated as fast as possible. It worked
very well in the PI as we could get the most critical patients
back fairly rapidly. In New Guinea, I held patients in
my arms at night, knowing they were going to die because we
couldnt use lights and had to move when our troops moved.
We were right in the middle of 15,000 Japanese Troops. It
was H---. But we did carry some for 3-4 days. Used
AntiTank Company to be litter bearers. Took 8-10 men per
litter. I don't remember ever being afraid except
sometimes in the jungle at night when those darn snipers shot
about every two minutes. The bullets would hit a tree and
ricochet with a 'spling.'
I cant praise my medics enough. I had a number KIA [killed in action]
about 30-40 WIA [wounded in action] and lost some to age. Paul, I
could talk about those boys all night long. That is the reason we
still meet. We are a family. Right now we are down to about 20 plus
or minus that we have been able to keep in contact. We meet in
October. I am 'The Old Man'.
Left: Some of the 124th Infantry Regiment medics on Morotai in 1945.
This was after New Guinea and before the Philippines (L to R): Back
Row: Robert E. Marx, Warren L. Dykes, Burdette McNaughton, Gerald
Fried, and Eric Murrah. Front Row: Maddox, Malcolm McLeod, Wilbur Viet,
Delphia LaBorde, and Leonard Hawkins. Right: Herb Thurston, another one
of Tom Deas' medics, during his training at Camp Blanding, Florida in
1941. (Photos Herb Thurston).
In April 2004 Tom Deas wrote:
The photo [above left] was taken on Morotai. They were a mixture of
the various Battalion Medics. I came into the outfit when we were
already split up into Battalions, and many of these boys I knew just
by reputation. Many I never saw, though I tried to know all of them.
Marx was a T3 and died of acute Hepatitis in the Philippines a little
before the war ended, while we were in PI near Malaybalay, after
Colgan Woods. He was a fine person. Leonard Hawkins was a Corporal
and I believe he was the last one of my boys that lost his life. He
was KIA up near Silae where your Dad was. By the way - Marx had
Bronze Star, McNaughton had Bronze Star, Gerald Fried had Bronze
Star, Viet had Bronze Star, and LaBorde had Bronze Star - all for
Valor. All my medics had the Bronze Star for Merit because of the
Left: Tom Deas assisting a wounded soldier from the third battalion
at the Melita River, just north of Kabacan, Philippines on about 30
April 1945. This was the area where the second battalion of the 124th
Regiment encountered its first Japanese resistance on Mindanao on
27-28 April 1945. Right: Tom Deas helping with a litter patient
during the battle of Colgan Woods on Mindanao, between Kibawe and
Maramag, on 7 May 1945. This was Tom's 29th birthday. The man on
Tom's right was the air liaison. Tom saw him struggling with the
stretcher and went to help him. The heavy fighting was about 100
yards down the trail behind them. (Photos Dr. Tom Deas)
The Medical Detachment, 124th Infantry Regiment, was awarded
Battle Honors and a
Presidential Unit Citation for its outstanding performance of duty in
action in Mindanao, Philippine Islands, during the period 6 to 12 May
1945. This became known as the Battle of Colgan Woods, in honor of
Chaplain Thomas A. Colgan, the Regimental Chaplain who was killed
during the battle.
Above: The Battle of Colgan
Woods by Jackson Walker. This painting depicts Chaplain
Colgan braving Japanese gunfire to come to the aid wounded
medic Robert Lee Evans. Evans and Colgan were both killed.
(Photo provided by Marion Hess)
In October 2003 Tom Deas referred to this photo and told me:
It didn't look like that. The trees were all stripped bare of
leaves from all the firing. We never did clear the Japanese
from those woods until our artillery arrived to help.
In October 2005 Herb Thurston, one of Tom Deas' medics, told me:
We medics didn't wear the Red Cross brassard on our sleeves, because
it was a target for the Japanese. The artist added the brassard in
the painting to identify the medic who is shown giving aid to Evans.
In 1992 Dr. Deas wrote a series of three articles for the
Guardian-Journal newspaper of Homer, Louisiana, entitled From
Olden Times: A Day in the Life of a Regimental Surgeon. This is
the story of his combat experiences on Mindanao on 5 and 6 May 1945,
just prior to the Battle of Colgan Woods. Tom sent me copies, and I
have transcribed them here:
He also wrote Last Full
Measure, the story of PFC Hugh Summerfield, one of his medics who
was killed in action during the Battle of Colgan Woods. Marion Hess
Did you know that Tom had a medic who gave up a stripe to get
into the 124th Med. Detachment? Name was
Slagel. He was in and out of the Army and ended up the
only medic who served in three wars. They had to mold a badge
just for him. He died last year  and the Army named a
mess hall at Ft. Sam Houston in Texas after him.
Left: Sergeant First Class Wayne E. Slagel of Taylorville, Illinois,
in Vietnam. Right: SFC Slagel's 3rd award of the Combat Medic Badge
(CMB). Wayne Slagel received this award for duty as a combat medic in
World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He was one of only two men to
receive the 3rd award of the CMB. (Photos by Paul Webber at the AMEDD
Museum, Fort Sam Houston, TX, August 2006)
I was sad to learn that Marion Hess died on 29 August 2001. On 12
August 2001 she wrote:
I am still around, BUT you won't believe my story. I came in the
hospital last Mon. for dehydration, etc. Was doing well and was
to go home Thurs. On Thurs. 4:30 a.m. I proceeded to go into my
bathroom after the nurse had finished her thing 20 min. before.
I proceeded in and unbeknownst to me she had spilled water on the tile
floor. One step in and I went skiing. Lucky me!!! I
broke my ankle in 3 places and now scheduled to stay here in rehab as
once before for a couple weeks. I would not let them do
surgery and opted for a cast. I was afraid my bones are so soft
from the drugs that they would not hold the screws and I am afraid of
infection. I heard the bone crack in the same place as 1981 in
the previous break. The break is nasty but set well. Just
a matter of time now.
Then she suffered a stroke. Tom Deas wrote:
Paul, Marion Hess had a massive stroke a few days ago and died last
night at about 10 PM, Aug 29, 2001. I'll miss her.
Above: Survivors of the 124th Infantry
Regiment Medical Detachment at Camp Stoneman, California, in
December 1945. Some medics returned home before December 1945 and
are not in this photo. (Raymond L. Roach)
Left: Master Sergeant Aubrey (Paul) Tillery in 1943. Right:
Paul Tillery in 1989. (Paul Tillery)
Paul Tillery was the Regimental Motor Sergeant with Service Company,
124th Infantry Regiment, and has written a history of the
Infantry Regiment in World War II. It is a detailed account
of the rigors of infantry basic training, and a history of the
regiment's campaigns on New Guinea, Morotai, and Mindanao. He
also wrote the poem
Service Company, for the
first Service Company reunion in 1983. Both provide valuable
insights. For more history and photos from Paul Tillery, see
City During WWII. I contacted Paul in October 2000, and he
My thought is to make known the terrible conditions under which our
foot soldiers had to fight in the SW Pacific and especially at the
River in New Guinea. I think it's a story that needs to be told.
The Driniumor River is east of Aitape, on the north coast of New Guinea.
On 18 August 1944 the headline of the Southwest Pacific NEWSMAP
was: Aitape Defeat
Wrecks Jap 18th Army. The 3rd Battalion, 124th Infantry
Regiment, under the command of Lt Col George Dent 'Pappy' Williams,
was awarded Battle Honors
and a Presidential Unit Citation for outstanding performance of
duty in action near Aitape, during the period 12 July 1944 to 7
August 1944. Read Dr. Tom Deas' personal account of a Japanese
Beach Attack, and his
piece entitled Those Eyes,
in which he recalls the horror and exhaustion of the Driniumor
River Defense in July-August 1944. In August 2001, Dr. Deas
revisited his Memories
of Combat at the Driniumor River.
Left: Mr. William (Bill) Garbo Sr of Laurel, Mississippi. (Bill Garbo)
Read other veterans' accounts of combat at the Driniumor River by
Garbo. Bill Garbo was a member of the
Quartermaster War Dog Platoon,
and served with both the 124th Infantry Regiment and the 112th
Cavalry Regiment. I learned more of his experiences in a
telephone interview with Bill Garbo
on 2 February 2002. Delbert
Parris was in B Company, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment,
and was wounded by
fire at the Driniumor River on 8 August 1944. I learned
of Mr. Parris through his son, and called him on 21 March
2002. He remembers combat on New Guinea, Morotai, and
Mindanao. Delbert Parris said:
We had been fighting near the Driniumor River for 19 days.
The Japanese had just about quit attacking, and our CO said we
were going back to the beach. We got to the beach and dug
our perimeter. The next morning we got out our K-rations for
breakfast. Those K-ration boxes burned good, and we used them
to make cooking fires to heat the rations. I think that an
artillery spotter from the 32d Division spotted the smoke from our
cooking fires, and called in artillery on us."
The K-ration was packaged in an outer cardboard box and an
inner wax-coated box which burned quite well. For
in-depth accounts of the battle, see
the Driniumor: Covering Force Operations in New Guinea, 1944 by Dr. Edward J. Drea,
by Marion Hess, and
Left: Archie Peers on Mindanao in August 1945, shortly after
the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. (Archie Peers)
Archie Peers was in F Company, 124th Infantry Regiment, and
wrote the poem
The Men of the
One-Two-Four. I called him in Krum, Texas, in June 2001.
He is 79 years old, a retired postmaster, and is active in the
Elks organization. He does not remember my father, but when I
mentioned my Dad's diary, he hurried to get his own and read a
passage he had written about the casualities in F Company
during the Battle of Colgan Woods. He was in the 4th platoon
(the heavy weapons platoon) and still writes to his former
platoon leader, Albert Francis Magone of Monongahela,
Pennsylvania, whom he described as "a pure Italian." Archie
said that he was a runner. He explained:
On Mindanao in 1945, we were on the offensive, and the Japanese
were on the defensive. Our company would send out patrols,
and the Japanese would wait in ambush. The guy on point
usually "got it." There were lots of casualities.
As a runner, I was sent back by Captain Goodman [F Company
Commander] and Lt. Magone to get a machine gun squad, plus
whatever they wanted from the mortar section, and bring it up to
In March 2002 Archie Peers wrote:
On our last patrol before the war's end, three other grunts and
I carried a badly wounded soldier back along the trail to a field
hospital (three tents with surgeons and emergency whatever) through
no man's land. We were instructed by the Regimental doctor
not to give him water due I imagine to his heavy dose of
morphine. We left the C.P. about 9 pm and found the tents
along the trail around 3 am. Some Captain told me to grab a
blanket from the pile and lie down. About that time they
opened the flap on the tent and brought the litter out, covered
with a blanket. We had carried in a dead man and I never
knew who he was or the three others with me as litter bearers.
The trail was rough and to this day I condsider it the toughest
night of my nearly eighty years.
Left: Frank Savant at Camp Stoneman, California, in December 1945,
after returning from overseas. (Frank Savant) Right: First Sergeant
Jack Silverthorn of F Company, 124th Infantry Regiment. (Jo Ann Poe)
Archie Peers told me about another F Company soldier, Frank Savant. I
called Frank in Iowa, Louisiana, on 25 January 2002. He was in the
3rd platoon of F Company with my Dad and Lou Hall. He remembers my
Dad as a quiet guy who didn't have much to say. Frank said that he
had enlisted at a young age, and was with the 124th Infantry Regiment
since its activation at Camp Blanding, Florida, in November 1940. He
remembers the New Guinea campaign, the Battle of Colgan Woods, and
combat in the mountains near Silae. He said that the unit lost as
many men to tropical diseases as to the Japanese. He recalled 1st
Sergeant Jack Silverthorn who got "black malaria" and died on
Dr. Tom Deas says that this was
Fever, a complication of malaria. Archie Peers was a good friend
of Jack Silverthorn. He recalled that Jack was originally from Iowa,
but moved to California before the war.
Right: Robert Buchanan (front left) and his buddies in F Company,
124th Infantry Regiment. (Robert Guy Buchanan of Albertville,
Alabama, through his daughter Jo Ann Poe)
Frank Savant said:
He [Jack Silverthorn] turned black, and died in 3 days. It was rough
going on Mindanao. We lost a lot of people, more than on New Guinea.
I have a photo of the men of F Company that was taken at the end of
the war. Only 27 of the original 217 men were left.
He also talked about the native Moro people of Mindanao:
They weren't the friendliest people. You had to be careful around
them, but we got along OK and some of the Moros scouted for the
company. They didn't like you fooling with their women - didn't even
like you to look at them. One day I had to go on a patrol across a
river, and we ran into the Little People. They were very
short, wore only G-strings, and carried bows and arrows. The Moros
stayed away from them - wouldn't even cross the river with the
patrol, because they knew it was their land.
In February 2002 Frank Savant wrote:
I do remember your dad. I was the NCO who picked them [the new
replacements] up at the Battalion Headquarters and escorted them to
the front. I was probably the NCO who carried the submachine
gun. All platoon Sgts carried one. But I was not the one
who shot the Jap. I also was very upset about that and raised
hell about it. We were told to shut up and forget it.
Placid Stuckenschneider, OSB, was a member of the 34th Infantry
Regiment, 24th Infantry Division during World War II. He wrote
The Last Campaign:
Mindanao, a revealing account of the foot soldier's life in
jungle combat on Mindanao in 1945. (Dad's friend John Branz also
served in the 24th Infantry Division on Mindanao.) Brother Placid
sent me a copy of his story and wrote:
My story is from one PFC's point of view - from a foxhole.
Left: A C-47. Dad mentioned this aircraft several times.
These planes and their crews were essential because they air-dropped
food, ammunition, and medical supplies to troops in the jungle, where
supply by land was impossible.
Right: Tom Deas, Tackle for Louisiana Tech in 1935.
Dr. Tom Deas told me about a
friend, Jimmy Mize, with whom he had played college football at
Louisiana Tech. Tom and Jimmy met at the airport in Shreveport,
Louisiana in 1946. Tom wrote:
I was in Shreveport at the airport and saw a very good friend with
whom I played college football in l935. He was watching those
old C-47's, which were used by the airlines for passenger planes in
l946, and I also was watching them. I said, 'Jimmy, I love that
old C-47! That thing used to feed me in the service.' He
said, 'I used to drive one of them and I love them too.' We
talked a little and I found that he was the pilot that dropped our
rations and supplies to us down in New Guinea! He told me that
he had lots of trouble flying over those New Guinea mountains because
of the air currents. I always thought the C-47 was probably the
most important plane in the Pacific.
I called Mr. Jim Mize
in Ruston, Louisiana, on 30 January 2002, and he shared some memories.
Beginning in June 1943, he flew with the 433rd Troop Carrier Group
out of Port Moresby, New Guinea. In July-August 1944 he
dropped supplies to units fighting at the Driniumor River near
Aitape. The planes were affectionately known as Biscuit
Bombers, and the troops loved them. Mr. Mize said:
We flew north out of Port Moresby over the Owen Stanley Mountains
to support operations near Buna and Lae. Later we dropped
food and ammunition for the troops fighting near Aitape. We
had to hug the ground a lot because the clouds were stuffed with
rocks! We made our drops from 300 feet. In New Guinea
many Japanese troops were surrounded, bypassed, and left to
starve. If an aircraft went down near them, it was bad.
The Japanese were unmerciful. After Manila was recaptured we
were based at Clark Field, and flew many liberated POWs from
Manila to Tacloban, Leyte. I witnessed so many Army, Navy,
during the war. They were great men. From June 1943
until August 1945, I logged more than 3800 hours, most of it over
water." (Read more.)
Robert Hyde flew C-47's with the 317th Troop Carrier Group
in New Guinea and the Philippines. The 317th was known as the
Jungle Skippers. Bob wrote:
I was particularly interested in the account of Mr. Mize. I
also flew from California to Nadzab, New Guinea. I followed
just about the same route. Then north through Mindanao, Luzon,
with side trips to China, Korea, and even Japan.
Left: A Landing Craft Infantry Large,
Dad mentioned the different types of landing craft on which he sailed
in the Philippines. These were shallow-draft, flat-bottom boats of
various sizes, that were designed to land men and materiel on the
beaches. The lack of a keel enabled them to run up on the beach, but
made the ride rougher at sea. Mr. Bill
Martin was the Executive Officer, and then Commanding Officer of
LCI(L)-637 in New Guinea and the Philippines during World War II. I
called Bill in Aztec, New Mexico, on 22 March 2002, and he talked
about his service in 1944-1945. He was last stationed at Subic Bay in
the Philippines, and spent eight months transporting mail and people
between Subic Bay and Manila. He said:
On our first trip to Manila there was a horrible smell in the air. I
investigated and found an old walled city by the harbor. One of the
buildings was a jail, and it's roof was gone. Inside were two large
cells filled with decomposing bodies. Apparently the Japanese had
locked these prisoners in the jail and left them to starve. The
British had an aircraft carrier in the area which transported
liberated British POW's from the Japanese prison camps on Formosa to
Manila. My boat transported some of the former POWs from the carrier
to shore. They were walking skeletons.
Left: A steam-powered locomotive pulling a train. Right: Union
Station in St. Louis, Missouri.
Troop trains were used for
cross-country troop movements during World War II. These trains were
pulled by steam-powered locomotives, coal-fired machines that
generated a lot of soot. Tom Deas wrote of his troop train travels
during 1942-1944. He said of one train:
It was a coal-burning cinder tosser. My collar, neck, and
clothes were filthy.
Dad probably rode the Missouri Pacific Railroad to Little Rock,
Arkansas in December 1944, on his way to basic training at Camp
Robinson. I have wondered about the route he took in April 1945
between St. Louis and Fort Ord, California. I contacted Mr. Don
Snoddy of the Union Pacific Railroad, and he wrote:
Troop train routes were never published. I've talked to vets
who were on them, and who knew railroads, and they criss-crossed the
country sometimes rather than taking the most direct route. If
he had taken the passenger train route, he would have gone to Kansas
City then on the Santa Fe to Los Angeles. His other option was
on the Missouri Pacific to Dallas and then on the Southern Pacific
I asked whether he might have traveled to Fort Ord via Denver and
Salt Lake City. Mr. Snoddy replied:
The route you suggest is quite probable. Except he wouldn't
have gone through Denver; he would have gone through Pueblo.
It's the route of the Royal Gorge, the train that goes through the
Rockies not around them. It would be a straight shot on the
Missouri Pacific, Denver and Rio Grande, and Western Pacific
On this route, he would have started the journey in St. Louis, and
traveled through Kansas City, Pueblo, Cañon City, the
Gorge, Grand Junction, and Salt Lake City, before arriving in
Oakland; but as Mr. Snoddy noted, it is unlikely that he took such a
direct route. Mr.
Verne White, a veteran of the 503d Parachute Regimental Combat
The troop train was a boring experience. We had to be moved
in a somewhat confusing fashion in order to mislead the enemy spies
as to our final destination. Oh yes there were spies from the
Axis powers, Germany, Italy, Japan, and even some U. S. citizens
who disagreed with the participation of the nation in the war.
Consequently we were routed in other than a direct route to San
Read another account of troop train travel by
Tom Higley. Also read the story of the
Canteen. This is where the citizens of North Platte,
Nebraska, fed more than six million GI's on the troop trains
that stopped at the Union Pacific Railroad's Bailey Yard during
World War II.
Left: Photo postcard of Bob Webber and other new Army inductees at Fort
Sheridan, Illinois. Right: Bob Webber during basic training at Camp
Dad was drafted on 28
November 1944, and was inducted into the U.S. Army at Fort Sheridan,
Illinois. He sent this postcard to his parents on 1 December 1944,
before being transferred to Camp
Joseph T. Robinson near Little Rock, Arkansas, for infantry basic
training. This camp was named in 1937 for U.S. Senator
Taylor Robinson, the Senate majority leader during FDR's first
presidential term. During World War II, Camp Robinson was
expanded to 48,188 acres and was used for basic training and to
house German POW's. During basic training Dad qualified as
sharpshooter with his primary weapon, the
rifle. The M1 used an en bloc clip that held 8 staggered rounds.
The clip and rounds were inserted into the magazine as a unit,
and the clip was ejected upward after the last round was fired.
Dad told me about loading and firing the M1:
You used your thumb to push the 8 round clip into the top of the
rifle. If you weren't quick enough, your thumb got smashed
by the bolt as it snapped forward. You had to hold the rifle
firmly against your shoulder and cheek, or the recoil would beat
He also told me about firing a machine gun downrange, and watching
the tracer bullets to adjust aim; he fired expert with the
Cal Air-Cooled Light Machine Gun. During one long hike he became
dehydrated and exhausted, and had to be returned to the rear. I
remember him saying:
The Army picked the most miserable swamp land, good for nothing else,
and made it a basic training camp.
Infantry Basic was rigorous.
James E. Mahony of Lorain, Ohio, said this of Camp Robinson:
Camp Robinson, Little Rock, Arkansas. There was an infantry training
camp where I stayed until September . At that time,
I had quite an experience, as life became 'full speed ahead.' They
gave us all the things and all kinds of courses to get us in the proper
condition and training. There were obstacle courses, and things
of that nature. It was quite strenuous and the temperature was
quite high. We would take long hikes, and we'd also participate
in parades...So, it was quite strenuous.
J. Blass, Camp Robinson was a
...replacement training center ...where we taught them rifle
marksmanship. We taught them what we called dirty fighting, which I
taught for a long time; knife and bayonet fighting, basic map
reading, booby traps.
Read more about the history of
Camp Robinson and
Senator Joe Robinson.
I found a series of photos showing Dad and his good friend John Branz
visiting a priest at a large campus. I learned that these photos were
taken at Subiaco Abbey in Subiaco, Arkansas. John Branz's daughter
Anne saw these photos and wrote:
I recognized the Priest immediately. He is my Great Uncle, Father
Ambrose Branz. My Mom believes Dad was visiting him, perhaps in
Notice that Dad and John were not wearing their rifle marksmanship
badges, so they were still in basic training at the time of this
visit. Sister Magdalen Stanton at
Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas, confirms that this is
Subiaco Abbey in Subiaco,
Arkansas. It is located in the Arkansas River Valley between
Little Rock and Fort Smith. In February 2004 I sent Sister
Magdalen a copy of the photo of John Branz shaking hands with his
uncle, Fr. Ambrose Branz. She replied:
The building photographed is on the Subiaco Abbey campus, Subiaco,
Arkansas, which is approximately 50 miles directly east of Fort
Smith. There have been many additions and the flora is quite
luxurious now, so the campus looks different.
Sister Magdalen also confirmed through a friend at Subiaco Abbey
that Fr. Branz left Subiaco to help found a new Benedictine priory
in Corpus Christi, Texas, and later died there. The Corpus Christi
priory closed about 2003.
Ambrose C. Branz died in Sandia, Texas, on 15 October 1982.
(Source: Social Security Death Index)
2. Corpus Christi
Abbey (1927-2002): On 11 December 1927, monks from New Subiaco
arrived in Corpus Christi Diocese to open a high school. The
foundation was made a dependent priory in 1949, an independent
priory in 1959, and raised to an abbey on 22 July 1961. The school
was closed in 1972, and the monastery was moved to Sandia, Texas,
in 1975. The monastery closed in August 2002.
After completing basic training, Dad and John Branz went home on
leave. Here are photos of the two friends back home together, posing
in their uniforms. Jean Webber wrote on the back of the photo at
left, "Sometime near Easter 1945." Easter was on 1 April 1945. This
photo was taken at 2300 Belleview, and the St. Elizabeth Church
steeple is visible in the background. The photo at right was taken in
front of the Branz home. After this leave, Bob and Johnny traveled to
Fort Ord, California, and shipped out together aboard the U.S.S.
General E. T. Collins. After arrival in the Philippines, John
Branz was assigned to I Company, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th
Infantry Division, while Dad went to the 31st Infantry Division.
Left: The Combat Infantryman Badge. In the words of Tom Deas, Dad was
a foot slogger, an infantry rifleman. He arrived on Mindanao
after the worst of the fighting was over, and was involved in the
dangerous mopping up operations. It was his unit's job to
search out and destroy the Japanese who were fleeing eastward from
Silae toward the Agusan Valley in northeast Mindanao. Dad told me
that he never saw the Japanese soldiers who shot at him, but he
recalled the unmistakable sounds of artillery and mortar rounds
flying overhead, and rifle rounds ricocheting in the trees. He said:
Whenever we were on patrol and heard enemy gunfire, everyone would hit
the dirt and fire back in the direction of the gunfire.
The 2d Battalion, 124th Infantry, was awarded
and a Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism in
military operations against an armed enemy, during the period 22
April 1945 through 27 June 1945.
Marine Air Group 24 (MAG-24) was based at Titcomb Field, Malabang, in
April 1945, and provided close air support for Mindanao ground
operations. These air support operations were directed by Support
Aircraft Party 30 (SAP 30) of the U.S. Army Air Force. Captain
Martin M. Rudich wrote a
summary report on the activities
of SAP 30, which gives insight into the 31st Division's
operations on Mindanao. It documents that air attack was often
used instead of artillery because of difficult terrain conditions,
and describes the weather on Mindanao on 3-15 June 1945 as
"abominable." Tom Deas confirms that the jungle was thick, the
roads were mud, and most bridges were destroyed by the retreating
Here is an excerpt from
Southern Philippines, 27 February - 4 July 1945 by Stephen J. Lofgren
for the U.S. Army Center of
On 30 June General Eichelberger [8th Army Commander] reported to
General MacArthur that 'organized' Japanese resistance had ended.
But as the Japanese did not fully share that view, small unit mopping
up operations continued for some time. Throughout Mindanao,
pockets of Japanese troops, safeguarded by the impenetrable terrain
of the island's unexplored jungle expanses, survived until the end of
the war, when some 22,000 emerged to surrender. More than 10,000
Japanese died in combat, while 8,000 or more died from starvation or
disease during the campaign. From 17 April to 15 August 1945,
820 U.S. soldiers were killed in eastern Mindanao and 2,880 were
wounded. The Philippines had been liberated.
Left: The Japanese surrender on Mindanao. Lieutenant General Gyosaku
Morozumi of the Imperial Japanese Army (right) formally surrendered
to Brigadier General Joseph C. Hutchison, Commander of the U.S. Army
31st Infantry Division, in
City, Mindanao on 8 September 1945. Here is a transcript of the
surrender document. (Marion
Left: Bob Webber on Mindanao. He appears to be convalescing at a
field hospital. (Bob Webber)
There were many tropical disease hazards in the Pacific. I remember
Dad talking about having to take
to prevent malaria. Prior to the introduction of atabrine, malaria
was epidemic among troops in the Pacific Theater. The drug was not
well-liked because it was bitter and turned the skin yellow; and it
didn't always work. Dad said that on 6 August 1945, the day the
bomb fell on Hiroshima, he lay ill in a field hospital with
malaria. Dad also spoke about how F Company 1st Sergeant Jack
Silverthorn died of malaria. At age 25, this man was already an
"old man" to the younger troops.
Dr. Tom Deas wrote:
People sometimes stopped their atabrine to get home. I took two
tablets a day and never had any problem, except GI upset sometimes.
I remember writing a poem to
I had it on occasions and thought I was going to die!!
Dad told me about one hospitalized soldier who had shot himself in
the foot. This
wound (SIW) was intended to buy a ride home. This was a high price
to pay, as an M1 round causes a large exit wound. Soldiers, sailors, and
airmen were used up during World War II. If they recovered from an
illness or injury, they were sent right back into combat.
Real War, 1939-1945, and
at Sea, published by The
Atlantic magazine, are revealing articles. Dad's older brother,
Webber, flew B-24s and B-17s in the 487th Bomb Group of the 8th
Air Force during World War II. He survived 34 combat missions over
Europe. Roy said:
You had to fly until you were dead or they thought they could replace you.
Left: Nagasaki, Japan, after the second atomic bomb was dropped.
(US National Archives)
The second atomic bomb was dropped on
on 9 August 1945. Read about the
to Drop the Atomic Bomb at the Truman Library. For more information,
see Hiroshima: Was It Necessary?
On 2 September 1945
formally surrendered. Here is the
Document. If Japan had not surrendered, the Allies were prepared
to launch Operation Downfall, the invasion of the Japanese
homeland. The 31st Infantry Division was scheduled to be part of
the second phase of the invasion, Operation Coronet, and
probably would have fought elements of the Japanese 12th Army on the
Kanto Plain near Tokyo.
There would have been massive loss of life. See
An Invasion Not
Found in the History Books by James Martin Davis in The Omaha
World Herald, November 1987; and
Downfall: US Plans and Japanese Counter-Measures by D. M.
Giangreco, US Army Command and General Staff College, 1998.
Right: Map of proposed Operation Downfall.
After the war ended, Dad did not have enough "points" to come home
immediately. On 10 May 1945, two days after VE Day, the War
Department announced the
Point System, which assigned points to service members based on
their length of duty, whether they had served at home or abroad,
their combat records, and their family status. Each service
member received an Adjusted Service
Rating Card to tally the points. 85 points were required
for discharge and, in theory, those with the highest scores would be
brought home first. In practice, many service members in
critical military specialties had their discharges delayed.
Left: The Alcantara family on Mindanao. Right: The Alcantara family
and five American GIs. In Dad's things I found a series of photos of
the Alcantara family. On the back of the photo at right he wrote,
"The Alcantara Family with whom we stayed while up in the mountains."
Dad is the GI in the middle of the back row. He identified the head
of the Alcantara family as Victor, and gave two of the four
daughters' names as Nina and Linda. I presume that this
was in the mountains near Malaybalay after the war had ended.
Left: Unit patch of U.S. Army Forces Western Pacific (AFWESPAC). This
patch is on the left shoulder of the Eisenhower Army jacket
that Dad wore home in 1946.
The 31st Infantry Division returned home by Christmas 1945. Units
which remained in the Philippines after the war became part of
AFWESPAC, an administrative command with headquarters in Manila. The
Area Command passed to the control of AFWESPAC on 25 August 1945.
After the war, Dad and Lou Hall were reassigned to the 506th Engineer
Light Ponton Company on Mindanao. They stayed on Mindanao for another
year. When I met Lou Hall in August 2000, he spoke about playing
volleyball with the boys of F Company before they were broken up and
reassigned. He also reminisced about pulling bridge guard duty. This
consisted of guarding a bridge check point, awaiting surrendering
Japanese soldiers, loading them on trucks, and sending them to the
Lou told me about receiving his first beer ration after the war. He
tried to keep it cold by putting it in the river while he was on
bridge guard. The beer stayed warm!
Right: Japanese soldiers surrendering near the Pulangi River at
Valencia, Mindanao, in September 1945. (George Young)
Left: Macajalar Bay at sunset, low tide, in 1946.
Lou Hall said that the 506th Engineer Company was located "up on a
hill near Cagayan, on Cagayan Bay." This was
Oro, on Macajalar Bay. Lou told me that he had prior experience
with heavy equipment. When he was a boy, his father "ran a blade"
(ran a bulldozer) for the Nebraska Highway Department. When another
soldier was transferred home, Lou was promoted to Tec 4 and assigned
to supervise the dozers and heavy equipment of the 506th motor pool.
Right: The tractor named Death Trap. It was supported by only
two large drive wheels and the pin which connected it to a trailer.
Lou Hall said that operators of this vehicle paid particular attention
to that connecting pin, because if it failed the tractor would pitch
forward and kill the operator. (Lou Hall)
Left: Lou's friend Chris playing basketball in the 506th
Engineer Company area. The tractor named Death Trap is parked
in the background. (Lou Hall)
Lou Hall said that one of the first
things he did was use a dozer to clear an area of jungle for a
baseball field and a basketball court. He said that they also set up
a place to wrestle. He remembers that Dad didn't wrestle, and that
Dad said, "You guys are too tough." Lou also described how he built
I took a dozer and dug a trench. Then I knocked one end off of a 50
gallon drum, set it in the trench, and filled in around it. On top of
this I put a piece of wood with a flapper seat. We put up a small
tent for privacy. Once in a while we removed the top, dumped gasoline
over the mess, and burned it to help control the smell. One time a
guy named Parmele [Nelson C. Parmele Jr] poured the whole five gallon
can of gas into the barrel. That was too much. When he lit it, the
flames shot up fifty feet!
Left: Lou and Doris Hall in Mesa, Arizona, on 6 March 2002. (Paul
Lou Hall remembers the loading of ships at the dock in Macajalar
Bay. He used tractors to haul equipment to the docks, and recalled
that Filipinos worked the docks, while U.S. personnel worked the
lines aboard ship. He said that the Americans sent much equipment by
ship to Pusan, Korea. He also spoke of having to detonate surplus
dynamite in a remote canyon, to prevent it from being stolen by
Filipinos. He shipped out of Manila aboard the U.S. Army Transport
Sea Barb and arrived in San Francisco Harbor on 11 August
1946. Lou was diagnosed with leukemia in 1995, and had a recurrence
of the disease in April 2004. He died on 14 May 2004. On 21 May 2004
Lou Hall was buried at
Acres Cemetery in Scottsdale, Arizona. Scottsdale VFW Post 3513
turned out to honor him, fire an M1 rifle salute, and present the
American flag to his widow Doris.
Right: Lou Hall's grave marker on 24 November 2004. (Paul Webber)
Left: The docks at Bugo, Macajalar Bay, Mindanao, in 1946 (Bob
Webber). Lou Hall had a photo of this same scene. On this photo
Docks at Bugo where we loaded Heavy
equipment - Crane barge at far right
used to load heavier pieces
Left: Edward J. Zabrusky. (Michigan State University)
Dad had a friend named Tec 5 Edward Zabrusky, Army Serial Number
37713618, whose name is in his address book. I have a
roster of the 506th Engineer
Light Ponton Company which shows that after the war, Ed Zabrusky was
assigned to the 506th, along with Dad and Lou Hall. Then he was
reassigned to Headquarters Company, Base K, AG/RC, in Tacloban,
Leyte. I found two typewritten letters that Eddy Zabrusky wrote from
Leyte to Dad on Mindanao in 1946:
The letters reflect a friendly person who enjoyed tennis and playing
the piano. They include comments about several
mutual friends. I did an
internet search for "Edward Zabrusky," and found a reference to the
Annual Zabrusky Lecture at Michigan State University in East Lansing,
Michigan. I wrote to the university, and received a message from
Terry Denbow, Vice President for University Relations, who told me
that I indeed had the "right" Ed. MSU's Ed Zabrusky was the same Eddy
Zabrusky who had befriended Dad on Mindanao. Before moving to
Michigan State University, he was a reporter for the Colorado Springs
Gazette-Telegraph (now The Gazette). He joined the MSU News Bureau
(later called Media Communications) in 1956, and became its director
in 1962. He retired in 1994. Terry Denbow wrote:
He attained legend status here because he was not only a pro, but an
extremely kind and thoughtful man.
Left: Dorothy Zabrusky (left) and Betty Zabrusky (right) in October
2000. (Paul Webber)
I learned from Terry Denbow that Ed Zabrusky has two surviving
sisters, Dorothy and
Betty Zabrusky. In October 2000 they lived in Colorado Springs
only a few miles from my home. We met, and I learned that Ed Zabrusky
never married. He died in Colorado Springs on 24 July 1998, and is
buried at Lakeside Cemetery in Cañon City, Colorado. The
Zabrusky Family is from Cañon City. There were five girls and
three boys. Dorothy and Betty are the only survivors.
George G. Frye was a mutual friend of Dad and Ed Zabrusky.
I called George on 8 April 2002, and he recalled being transferred
from the 31st Infantry Division to the 506th Engineer Light Ponton
Company after the Japanese capitulation. He remembers my Dad
as being tall and skinny, with blue eyes. George said:
The 506th Engineer Depot was on a big bluff near Cagayan de
Oro. There were two miles of winding road from the top of
the bluff down to the beach and the town. Bob and I were
both Catholic; we used to get a jeep and go to the Catholic Church
in Cagayan on Sundays.
There is a high bluff about
one mile south of Macajalar Bay that rises to 400 meters above sea
level. This is probably where the 506th Light Ponton Company was
located in 1945-1946.
Left: Bob Webber in Cagayan de Oro. There must have been time for
more than church. I found this photo which shows Dad holding the
reins of a horse-drawn cart. This photo is dated 26 February 1946 and
contains this handwritten note:
Local transportation in Cagayan - Bob
After the war, Dad was assigned to at least four different units
on Mindanao. The first of these was the 506th Engineer
Light Ponton Company. In May 1946, he was with the 686th
Quartermaster Bakery Company; in June 1946, he was with A Company,
311th Engineer Construction Battalion; and at the end of his tour
he served with Headquarters and Service Company of the 311th
Engineer Construction Battalion. He attended the Adjutant
General Administrative Clerical School, Class #8, and graduated
on 27 July 1946, with "demonstrated proficiency" in Military
Occupation Specialty Number 405 (Clerk Typist). The commandant
of the school, LTC Wallace V. Eslinger, wrote him a letter of
commendation which said, in part:
I am taking this oppotunity to commend you upon the splendid record
you attained while a student at this school. The exceptional level
you consistently maintained was the result of individual initiative,
hard work and sincere effort. You have excelled in your academic
work and your conduct has been exemplary.
It was about this time, perhaps during the clerk typist course, that
he typed a History of
the 506th Engineer Light Ponton Company. I remember Dad
showing me this document in 1968 when I was taking a summer school
typing course in high school. I retyped a portion of his
original document for practice. During my search, I found both
documents saved together in his dresser drawer.
Left: A Pro Station on Mindanao. Pro stands for
prophylactic. The sign over the door reads: Department of
Health Social Hygiene Clinic (VD). (Lou Hall)
Morale was high in the Philippines after the war. The troops were
8000 miles from home, but nobody was shooting at them. Accidents and
venereal disease were the biggest threats. Mom told me that Dad spoke
of the common practice of Filipino farmers offering their daughters
to GIs. Marion Hess told me that Fred Hess spoke of having the time
of his life working with dozers and other heavy equipment. In Eddy
Zabrusky's typewritten letter to
Dad on 5 May 1946, he wrote (in all-capital letters):
SO YOU AND THE SEA URCHINS DON'T SEEM TO GET ALONG? WELL HERE THEY
HAVE JELLYFISH TO CONTEND WITH. CRABTREE BRUSHED UP AGAINST ONE WHILE
SWIMMING AND IT LEFT NUMEROUS OPEN SORES ALL OVER HIS LEGS. THAT IS
ONE REASON WHY I DON'T LIKE TO SWIM AROUND HERE.
The next paragraph begins:
WHAT IN HECK ARE YOU AND FORD AND WECKY [Weckman] TRYING TO DO? YOU
KNOW A FELLOW COULD GET HURT IN ONE OF THOSE VEHICLES.
Dad spoke to me about his encounter with the sea urchins while
swimming. This was probably in the waters of Macajalar Bay.
He also told me, and my Mom confirmed, that once he was riding in the
back of a truck which was involved in an accident. He took some
splinters in the scrotum from the bed of the truck.
Left: U.S. Army rank insignia for Corporal-Technician Grade 5 (Tec 5).
Right: Bob Webber returning home. This photo was probably taken in
Manila Bay. (Bob Webber)
Dad finished his Army enlistment with the rank of Tec 5, with
Headquarters and Service (H & S) Company, 311th Engineer Construction
Battalion on Mindanao. His Army discharge certificate confirms that
he departed the Pacific Theater on 14 September 1946 and arrived in
the States on 30 September 1946; It also states, "RECOMMENDED FOR
FURTHER MILITARY TRAINING," but Dad decided not to stay. Tec 5 Robert
T. Webber was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army at the
Separation Center, Fort Sheridan, Illinois, on 29 November 1946.
Among his things I found photos of the U.S. Army Transport General
O. H. Ernst with this caption:
Stamped on the back of each photo is this notation:
611 LARKIN STREET - SAN FRANCISCO
SOUVENIR PHOTOS OF THE PACIFIC
Dad must have bought these photos after disembarking in San
Francisco. Left photo: Alcatraz Island is at far left, and the ship
has a slight list to port. Right photo: The ship's port side deck is
swarming with GIs returning from the Pacific Theater. Dorothy
Zabrusky, a nurse, saw this photo and exclaimed:
No wonder they all got sick!
Dorothy told me that her brother Ed Zabrusky contracted malaria
during the war, and had relapses after returning home. Helen
Branz, the widow of John Branz, told me that John also had malaria,
and returned home ill and very thin. John returned home soon
after the war because of his father's sudden, unexpected death.
Left: Bob Webber standing within a boxing ring on the main deck of
the USAT General O. H. Ernst as it arrived in San Francisco
Harbor on 30 September 1946. He and the other men are wearing field
jackets in this cooler climate. Alcatraz Island is visible in the
background. (Bob Webber)
I sent Dad's photos of the General Ernst to NavSource Online.
They are posted here:
General Oswald H. Ernst (AP-133)
USAT General Oswald H. Ernst
Yves Hubert sent me a photo of
an earlier arrival of the General Ernst in San Francisco Harbor, when
it was operated by the US Navy as the
USS General Oswald H. Ernst
On 7 June 2007 Mr. Thomas J. Mulhern of Waco, Texas found Dad's
diary website. He wrote:
I was just browsing the web when I ran across your your father's
story and found that old "AFWESPAC" patch I hadn't seen for over 55
years. I read further and found the pictures of the General Ernst
which had carried me from Manila to San Fransisco, California. What
memories. Did your Dad mention the ship's sound system playing the
recording of "Beyond The Blue Horizon" every morning and evening of
that trip? Brings tears to my eyes every time I hear that number. I
was there in Luzon, mostly in Manila and Quezon City for about a
year, and never in combat. In fact I enjoyed most of that time over
there. I was a T/5 in an Ordanance Company when discharged in 1946. I
recollect that there was a horrific typhoon a short time before we
loaded for the trip to the dock [in Manila]. You were right on the
sale of the pictures. When we debarked at San Francisco, they were
waiting there for us. I bought 2 for about $10 which at that time was
1/5th of my month's pay.
Thank you and may God bless you and yours,
Thomas J. (Irish as Paddy's pig) Mulhern
Left: A 16-petal chrysanthemum. This is the
Right: Dad holding his war souvenir, an Arisaka
38 carbine (Bob Webber)
Many GIs brought home souvenirs from World War II. Dad brought home
a Japanese Arisaka Model 38 rifle. The photo at right confirms that
his souvenir was the 38-inch carbine version of the Arisaka 38 (not
the 50-inch standard Japanese infantry issue, or the intermediate
44-inch version). This was the type of rifle used against him on
Mindanao. He didn't speak about how he got it, but I remember him
showing it to me when I was about 12 years old. He demonstrated the
bolt action mechanism, and showed me how to stabilize a rifle for
firing. He wrapped his left forearm in the sling to assure a firm
grip and stockweld. He let me examine the weapon and I remember
many details. The wooden stock was dark brown and weathered, and
the sling was intact. The rifle bore was relatively small
(consistent with a calibre of 6.5 mm). The bolt handle was
straight, and protruded through an opening in the curved metal dust
cover. The dust cover slid on tracks on each side of the receiver,
and moved with the bolt. The action was stiff, but it still worked,
and there was very little rust. The round button-like safety at the
rear of the bolt assembly could be turned with the heel of the
hand. There was an adjustable rear sight ladder which flipped up
for long distance aiming. I remember the 16-petal chrysanthemum
stamped into the top of the breech. This symbol indicated that the
weapon belonged to the Japanese Emperor. Here are photos of an
Arisaka Model 38 Carbine
and the Model 38 breech and
bolt. The chrysanthemum stamp is visible on the breech, in front
of the closed dust cover. (Read more about the
Arisaka Model 38 rifle.)
At that time the rifle was a curiosity, and I had no thoughts about
how it had been used. I never saw Dad fire it, but Mom did. She told
me that he was home from college during the Christmas break of 1948.
She was visiting him at his father's house in East St. Louis on New
Year's Eve, and he brought the rifle out on the front lawn. He fired
one round into the air at midnight. My sister Laura told me that,
with the permission of Dad and her 7th grade teacher, she once took
the rifle to school for "show and tell." Times were different then.
The rifle was stolen during a burglary in 1976.
Left: Bob Webber on the Cornell University campus at Ithaca, New
York, in September 1949. In the background is McGraw Tower of Uris
Library, which houses the Cornell Chimes. The
Jenny McGraw Rag
(aka the Cornell Changes) is the first song played at each morning's
chimes concert. (Jean Webber)
Dad attended Cornell University using the Albert C. Murphy Chemical
Engineering Scholarship, which he earned for academic achievement at
East Saint Louis High School in 1944. Cornell held the scholarship
for him until he returned from his Army service, but decreased his
$1200-per-year scholarship by the amount he received from the GI
Bill. Here is an excerpt from the letter which Dad received from
Edward K. Graham, Office of the Secretary, Cornell University, dated
5 June 1944:
I merely have in mind Federal aid that might, together wtih a
full payment of the Murphy award, give you a lot more than you
needed... All I am thinking of is a Federal scholarship plan for
veterans that might duplicate, in part, the work of your Murphy
Dad earned the Albert C. Murphy scholarship by academic achievement.
He earned his GI Bill benefits by serving in combat during the war.
He deserved the full amount of the Murphy scholarship. Mom agrees. In
2004 she said:
They took away the amount of the GI Bill from the Murphy Scholarship.
We really could have used that money, because we were penniless. We
were scraping bottom. Bob had a summer job, but it wasn't enough. We
borrowed $50 from his parents, and $50 from my mother; and we took
out a $250 loan from the college, with interest. We started out in
the hole, but we made it. Bob graduated, had his diploma, and got a
good job with Monsanto. His starting salary was about $360 a month.
We paid back our parents first, and then the school.
Mom said that Dad arrived at Cornell two weeks after classes had
begun, and had to catch up. He took 19 credit hours each semester for
ten semesters to earn his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical
Engineering in 1951. It was a tough curriculum, but much better than
being in combat. He initially shared a house with four other
students. He worked hard, but like most college students, he had some
juvenile moments. I remember Dad telling me how he and his roommates
used to light farts. Mom confirmed that one roommate named Red
had a lot of gas, and provided the raw material for these experiments.
Left: Dad (right) and John Branz (left front) in the choir loft of
Saint Elizabeth Church, East Saint Louis, Illinois, in May 1944.
Dad had a fine singing voice, which he developed by singing in the
Church Choir. Like his mother Irene, he loved to sing harmony.
One of his favorite songs was
Adeste Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful), sung in Latin. At
Cornell he joined the Tau Chapter House of Alpha Chi Sigma, a
professional chemistry fraternity, and had time for some fraternity
fun. In 1997 (five years after his heart attack) he showed me his
fraternity song book, entitled the
As I began reading aloud the lyrics to the song
Souse Family on
page 9, he launched
Drink Drink Drink Drink,
Drank Drank Drank Drank,
Drunk Drunk Drunk Drunk...
I am sure that Dad also enjoyed singing the
Alma Mater on page 3
of the songbook. My sisters Laura and Rita later became Dad's
fraternity brothers when they joined the Beta Delta Chapter of
Alpha Chi Sigma at the University of Missouri-Rolla (now
Missouri University of Science and
Left: Bob and Jean Webber's engagement photo, taken on 25 August
1948. Notice the fraternity pin. Right: Bob and Jean, Johnny Branz
with Helen, and Gerard Tonies with Maxine (seated), courting in
Greenville, Illinois. The car, a 1935 Ford, belonged to Dad. (Jean
My mother and father met in East St. Louis during the Summer of 1947.
Mom said that their parents' houses were in the same block, but they
did not meet until they were introduced by Johnny Branz. They were
married by Monsignor Peter Engel at St. Elizabeth Church on 6
September 1949. Johnny Branz was the best man. They raised eight
children; I came along the year Dad graduated from Cornell. He worked
for the Monsanto Company for almost thirty five years, and became the
Director of Engineering for Monsanto's Agricultural Products Company
before retiring in 1985. He was a good provider.
Dad loved the outdoors and camping, even after being in combat. The
Army taught him how to eat on the run, and he in turn taught us.
During our first cross-country camping trip in 1960, we drove all day
and into the night before stopping at
Rock Canyon State Park near Hinton, Oklahoma on Route 66 (now
Interstate 40). We were all very hungry. Before pitching the tent,
Dad opened cans of cold corned beef hash for supper. It was the best
meal I ever ate! Dad liked to cook camping meals for us on the
Coleman propane stove. He called his favorite recipe Chef's
Delight, leftovers mixed together and cooked in a skillet. It is
good that we kids were not picky eaters. He taught us how to
G.I. a picnic table, that is, clean it. He also taught us
police call, that is, how to line up abreast and walk through
a campsite to pick up litter when we broke camp. Dad taught us to
leave a campsite cleaner than we found it. During the long drive to a
campground, sometimes Dad would lead the family in song, a tradition
he learned from his mother Irene. One of his favorite driving songs
I've Been Working On The
Railroad. Dad enjoyed singing the harmony to this song.
He fulfilled his dream of becoming a pilot by taking flying lessons
at the St. Louis Flying Club at Lambert Field. Mom said that he
and his friend Dale Arrant made a pact to complete flight training
together, or pay for the other's training. She also said:
I never saw Bob so high as when he came back from a flying
lesson. He was exhilarated. He wouldn't drink beer for
days ahead of time, so he would have a clear head for flying.
Left: A Piper PA22 Colt at Colorado Springs Airport on 17 May
2003. (Paul Webber)
I remember this period and have reviewed Dad's
flight log. His first flight was on 8 June 1963, and he received his
private pilot license on 29 November 1963. He trained in the Piper
PA22 Colt, a single-engine, two-seat, tricycle-gear airplane,
which had stubby high wings and looked to me like it shouldn't be
able to fly. After he earned his license I remember many preflight
visits to the National Weather Service at Lambert Field, and many
local and cross country flights in the Cessna Models 150 and 172. My
favorite part of flying with Dad was the takeoff. As the wheels left
the ground, much of the vibration vanished and I was amazed to see
the ground receding, while wondering, "What is holding us up here?" I
also remember listening to the repeating Morse code signature of the
St. Louis (STL) nondirectional beacon (NDB), over the droning of the
It was comforting to hear this rhythmic code and know that we were close
to home. Dad was a good pilot, and I had complete trust in his
abilities. His primary lessons to me were:
Don't stall at low altitude, and don't fly in bad weather.
As the demands of family and job grew, there was less time for
flying. Dad last flew as Pilot in Command on 4 February 1967.
He logged a total of 146 hours of flight time.
The KØMED on his headstone was
his Amateur Radio call sign. When Dad was a boy, his Uncle Bill
Sculley sparked his interest in radio by building an oatmeal box
set for him. Mom told me that Dad began his Amateur Radio hobby
after he took an electronics course at Cornell University. He earned
his FCC General Class license with call sign K9AZO in the Summer of
1951, after he moved the family from Ithaca, New York to East St.
Louis, Illinois. When we moved to St. Louis in 1957, his call sign
changed to KØMED. Dad had an intuitive sense of radio. He knew
it by heart. I remember him stringing dipole antennas, sometimes
while perched precariously on the roof. As my brother Tom and I grew,
Dad taught us
and helped us earn the Amateur
Radio General Class license. We were pressed into service to help
rig a forty foot tower for a yagi antenna, and to climb trees to
adjust dipole antennas. I will never forget helping Dad build a
2-kilowatt linear amplifier in the basement while he smoked cigars.
His handle on the air was Bob
(Baker Oboe Baker). Dad loved the hobby, I think because he
loved being in contact with the world, not being "...cut off from the
rest of the world so completely." I can still hear him calling:
CQ 40, CQ 40, CQ 40 meter phone. This is K-Zero-M-E-D, Kilowatt
Zero Mike Easy Dog, Kilowatt Zero Mexico England Denmark, calling
and standing by...
Paul Michael Webber, MD
Colorado Springs, Colorado