Tuesday, June 28, 2016

One of the best....

On June 2nd this year we lost my grandpa, Herman Quinton Larson, aka H.Q., aka Herb. If one word keeps coming up since he passed, it seems to be the word generous. He was generous of himself to his family, friends, community and country. He was especially generous with grandma. His wife of 72 years who frequently told her - up til the very end - that she was "the sweetest girl in the world."
Grandpa had the kindest heart and was a wonderful storyteller. He loved nothing more than a good bar and some coffee and talking.
It seems so surreal to think of grandpa not being there. How fortunate to have a grandpa for 37 years. One of my greatest joys is that my kids got to experience his love and that he got to know them. He always told me what wonderful kids they were and that we should be proud and that he was always so proud of his own family.
I will miss him always...he was truly one of a kind. I feel like it would be an injustice to do anything but celebrate the life he lived - and lived well.

One gift he gave to all of us was recording, in his own words and handwriting, his WWII experiences. He did not do this until just 3 years ago - in 2013. I'm so grateful he did. What a story to tell. Hope you enjoy and appreciate it.

This is about my experience in WWII - by HQ Larson

I was born on our farm near Pilot Mound, IA on 4-23-19. The youngest of five brothers and one sister. I graduated from Boxholm High School in 1936 when our country was in the Great Depression. In 1937-38 I attended the University of Iowa. My brother Arnie was at home but in 1938 Moved to his own farm, so I stayed home and helped my folks farm 360 acres and did a lot of carpentry work with my dad.

Then came Dec 7, 1941 and we were in the war. It seemed to change everything and everyone. I had the Army physical in Dec and rated an 1A and single and knew I'd be drafted soon, so I enlisted in the Marine Corps. It was April before I went to boot camp in San Diego. It was still the "old" Marine Corp and the training was tough. But I learned discipline and got into good physical condition. I was assigned to the Marine Air Depot on North Island. They sent me to a 12 week clerical school in Toledo, Ohio. Then went back to North Island in San Diego. 

My mom came to my Aunt Bess, in Long Beach, and I got two 48-hour passes to see her. I was glad as I was homesick and concerned about my folks. They had to quit farming when I left. On return to base we moved to a tent camp on the base waiting assignment. 

One day a sergeant came wanting volunteers for a radio-man/gunning school in El Centro. I volunteered. It was a 12 week course and on completion we were sent to Cam Marimar, a Marine shipping out base. We had our shots and given supplies and in four days we were aboard a ship, The Rotterdam, an old dirty Dutch freighter - all ship orders were given in Dutch. It had been taken over by the War Department. The holds were full of war supplies except for the top of the rear hold, where they had hammocks 4 high for 50 Marines to sleep. We didn't know where we were going, but we zig zagged across the Pacific and came to New Caledonia, the first land we saw since San Diego. The trip took 32 days. They had no docks so we climbed down 30 rope ladders with our sea bag to small boats. We stayed one night, then up rope ladders to another ship that took us to Espiritu Santo, an island in the New Harberdies group. The Navy was building a big base there and we were put right to work. I helped gas our planes as they came in. My name was in the gunner pool at headquarters after several weeks I was assigned to fly with Capt Dan Cummings, as his radio-man/gunner. He was from Poducah, KY and had been in the battle of Midway. We were assigned to fly the SBD dive bomber, had a two man crew and carried a 1000 lb bomb under the plane. They often mounted a 100 lb bomb under each wing and wrapped belts of 50 cal machine gun bullets around them to make them more effective on troop support missions. The Marines also had a TBF bomber, three man crew and carried 4-500 lb bombs in a bomb bay. They used a gliding tactic to deliver the bomb. Then they had the Corsair fighter planes and were with us on every mission to protect us. If not for them I'd probably not be writing this. 

In 1942 and 1943 this was the extent of the Marine Air Force in the Solomon Islands. The current goal of the US was to capture the Philippines. To do this we needed sea and air control in the South Pacific. The problem here was the huge Japanese air and naval base of Rabaul located on the NE tip of New Britain island. We chose not to invade it, but bomb it out of use. To do this, air bases were needed closer to Rabaul so our SBD and TBF could reach it. As the Solomon Islands were as far SE as the Japs controlled, thats where the Marines started to turn the Japs back with a land on Guadalcanal to capture air strip the Japs had had started. After about 8 months of hard fighting the island was declared secure. 

Capt Cummings and I joined a group of 18 pilots and 18 gunners, called a flight crew, and went to Guadalcanal and to replace the flight crew there. This was my first combat tour from July 1 to Aug 31, 1943, Cummings 3rd tour. They were still clearing out Jap troops when we came and we did troop support strikes and bombed Munda and Central Coloman islands. After this tour Capt. Cummings went home and I then was assigned to fly with Lt. Frank Kleager, for the 2nd and 3rd tours.
On our 2nd combat tour, Sept 29 to Dec 3, 1943, we operated from the security captured base on Munda. From here we bombed Bougainville and other North Solomon islands. On one trip to Bouganville, we were at 16000 feet and about half way there, when our engine quit. Kleager turned back and into a glide. He got it started again, but it stopped right away. I was on the radio but got no answers. Then he was able to get it started again but it ran poorly, with reduced power and we could not hold our altitude. He was able to nurse it back to our Munda base where the runway was built right down to the water. We hit the runway pretty close to the water. 

On Nov 1, 1943 we were on a strike on Bouganville and that was the day the Marines made their first landing there at Empress Augusta Bay. We bombed and strafed the landing area ahead of the Marines.  We saw the invasion fleet in the harbor. 

As the Marines captured each major island, the Sea Bees came in the build an air base. Then a ground crew of over 500 men were brought in to run the base. They stayed on that base as the front moved north, as we needed to hold the area taken as many Jap troops were still on these islands. We flew the planes assigned to each base. 

It was hard living on these front line bases. Building the air strip was first priority. Everything was in the tents and on Munda. We had to cut out a place in the jungle to put up our 4 man tents. It was very hot, the water was bad and so was the food. 

On Munda we had a 2 or 3 week period when ocean crabs, the size of dinner plates, came ashore to lay their eggs. There were thousands of them and they crawled all over. Many were on our main road and were crushed by trucks, then the hot sun baked them and they smelled terrible. When we used the road many men threw up and that made it smell worse. 

The Marines had several flight crews, like ours, operating in the Solomons. We were rotated to relieve each other as the front moved north. After each combat tour we returned to Espiritu Santo base and sent to Sidney, Australia for one weeks rest. I was to Sidney twice, after your third tour you went home. It seemed we moved a lot. We were either in combat or getting ready for the next tour. This was when we got new men, to replace those lost or that went home. 

Our names were carried on MAG11 Hdqrs rolls. Then at each base we operated from we used that squadrons number. On Guadalcanal it was VMSB 141, Munda 234 and Bouganville 241. This was for mail and to keep track of us. My friend from clerical school, I.J. King worked at the Guadalcanal Hdqrs and I got to see him several times on our trips up and down the Solomons. He said he kept a close check on the transfer sheets as they came through to be sure I was on the live roll. 

On our third combat tour, Dec 30, 1943 to March 18, 1944, we operated from the new base on Bouganville. Now we were within our planes range to Rabaul. We made twelve missions there, a 4.5 hour flight to bomb and strafe it. We also bombed Bouganville and near by islands. After the Marines made the first landing 11-1-43, they expanded the area around the air strip and brought in Army troops to guard and hold it. An estimate of 30,000 Japanese were trapped on the island. We ran a 24 hour patrol, Marine by air, Navy by sea, to prevent any resupply to them. The Japs had five air fields on the island which we kept unusable. They also had big guns in the mountains near our base. They shelled us every night for the first three weeks we were there. They did a lot of damage and the sea bees were constantly repairing the runway. Our Navy had many big ships in the harbour and at night they shelled the mountains where they saw flashed from the Jap guns. It was loud and frightening in the dark. We spent part of every night in the fox holes by our tent. Their guns were well hidden and we made many trips to try to locate them. These trips were called "Pistol Pete's." I also went twice on Pistol Petes with Fleming in his TBF. The shelling gradually tapered off. We must have hit some of them or they ran out of ammunition.

Maslow Becken of Hanska, MN married Mar's cousins Ardell Knute, was in the Army at Bougainville, also Robert Johnson from Lehigh was there too. They came after I left on March 18, 1944. One trip to Rabaul our bomb did not release so it was hard to pull out of the dive with the extra 1000 lb bomb. On the way home Kleageer swung out from the formation twice and shock the plane some way, but it would not release. We had to land with it on and it was armed. We were the last to land as they had to repair and smooth out areas on the runway damaged by the shelling before we came in. Emergency equipment lined the runway but we landed safely. Kleager was a good pilot.
On days we went on missions, we always left at day break. We flew in three plane sections and they six sections formed a V and we climbed to 16000 ft for the trip. Our hatches were always open and it was cold up there. Each plane had maps of their assigned target. Around five minutes from the target we went into a glide down to 11000 to 12000 ft. to gain speed. Then over the target Kleager would pull the nose up the plan up into a loop, to slow us down and opened the dive breaks on the rear of each wing and we started our dive always 80 degree or near vertical. Right away we'd see black flak clouds floating around and we could see flashes on the ground, like big camera flashes, but they were not cameras but anti-aircraft guns firing at us. Kleager was busy in the dive so I called each 1000 ft to him on the intercom, so he knew where we were in the dive, which took about a minute. About half way down he would fire bursts from the 2-50 cal machine guns, located in the engine cowlings, and timed to fire through the 3 blade propeller. Each fourth bullet was a tracer that burned a white streak going down, this helped Kleager line up on the target, which were usually gunner placements. At 1500 feet he would release the bomb, which hung in a yoke under the plane. The yoke swung the bomb out on release so it would clear the propeller. Then he would pull out of the dive. The G-force was so strong that we blacked out for a moment. As soon as I could move, I'd get the twin 30 cal machine guns out and strafed until we were over water and down to 50 to 100 feet. It was hot down there. We were always jolted by the bomb going off and I could see lots of stuff flying in the air. We seldom missed our target, however a near miss would still do a lot of damage from the half ton bomb. The SBD's were very well built and could handle the stress put on it. When we returned to base and turned in our parachutes, we were given a shot of brandy - to calm our nerves, I guess.

The gun fire and flak seemed to decline as the bombing of Rabaul continued. Navy carrier planes and the Army were also bombing it. We were gradually gaining control of the area. Though on Feb 19, 1944, we were part of a big strike on Rabaul and our fighter planes claimed 40 Jap planes destroyed. This was a hard blow to the air defense of that base. Putting Rabaul out of use was important, as it made the area safer for our men when they invaded the Philippines. 

After we returned from our last strike on Rabaul - March 15, 1944, I was getting my stuff ready to go home, when Kleager came and found me and said a large strike had been ordered on the big Jap base of Kavieng, located north of Rabaul on New Ireland island. As only part of our replacement flight crew had arrived, Kleager volunteered to go and asked if I'd go too, which I did, and other in our group when to fill out the planes available. We flew to Green Island, north of Bougainville, that night. It had been recently captured. They were still working on the runway but we were able to use it. A small ground crew mounted extra fuel tanks and the 1000 lb bomb. We slept under the plan that night and left at day break for Kavieng - a 4 1/2 hour flight. We had extra fighter protection, as we were the first to bomb it. We hit the airfield and some parked Jap planes on it, straffed the base and returned to Green Island, where they gave us enough gas from barrels to get back to Bouganville. This ended my third tour and was eligible to go home and left the island March 18, 1944. 

In our situation it was good to have close friends or buddies. I had four. They were James Fleming, Worcester, Mass, Rodd Pardon, Dowagiac, Mich, Ben Cannon, Angleton, Tex and George Quarternik, Kansas City, MO. Fleming, Pardon and Cannon were gunner or radio men in a TBF squadron. They operated with us and lived nearby on all three combat tours. We usually ate together and hung out such as it was and kept close tabs on each other. George was in our flight crew and on our first trip to Rabaul. His plane never came out of its dive and crashed. Cannon's TBF was lost over Rabaul. Pardon's TBF was with five other TBFs laying mines at night around Bouganville. Something happened and all six planes and crew were lost. As we left the island shortly after that, we never found out what happened. Fleming and I were the only ones left of our little group of friends and we had some adjustments to make. Mary and I visited Fleming at Worcester in 1985 and had a good visit. 

When plans did not return, we always had hope that the crew was able to make a water landing and were picked up and returned some way. When they did not return in a reasonable time, reality set in, but by then the war ground on and new things were happening. 

The Army air force moved us around the Solomons and to Sidney, Australia. They used two-engine DC-3 cargo planes with no seats, so we sat on our sea-bags on the floor. One Army crewmen told me that for every three trips they made to the front line bases, they received the Air Medal. The army was pretty liberal with them. The Marines were not so generous, but Kleager and I were both awarded the Air Medal for our trips to Rabaul. Kleager also received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

We soon realized the week's rest in Sidney was needed. Our jobs were tense and tiring. My weight dropped from 210 to 148 lbs when I got home. I lost 14 lbs at Munda. In Sidney most of the gunners stayed at one hotel - an old two story building, but it was clean and neat. We slept four to a large room and the bed were comfortable and clean. Breakfast came with the room, served family style with all the eggs you wanted and a good beef steak. I slept a lot and we took Finish baths every day. Sometimes two. And looked around the city and drank cold beer. We rode street cars that were open on the sides and had a wide step, the length of the car, on each side where you could ride standing up. 
We were at Espiritu Santo after our 1st combat tour I had acquired a wood box, with a lid, that fit under my cot. We had been paid and I had $110 and hid it in thy clothes in the box. The guy next to me, Kooize, had $200 and asked to it in the box, too. We were to go to Sidney in 2 days. That night we went to an outside movie. The next day I looked and my money was gone, Kooize's was still there. I went right to the office and reported it. The officer of the day came back with me and had our men gather in a nut near ours. The huts were like a quonset, with screen and screen door in each end. The OD had each man walk through our hut, alone, and return to the others until all had been through. This game someone the chance to return the money. When we checked, the $110 was rolled up on my cot. We suspected two men, but as the money had been returned the matter was dropped. Stealing was not tolerated in the Marines.

Our flight log book seemed unimportant at the time and we were careless about the entries. So we could not be sure we had all the trips entered. Anyhow, my log showed I had been on 64 missions. 12 of these were to Rabaul. In addition there were many troop support and patrols for a total of 280 combat hours. 
Grandpas actual flight log book
When we left Bouganville on March 18, 1944, the plane stopped at Guadalcanal and I found I.J. King to say good bye. He was from Pittsburgh, Kan. I was never able to contact him after the war. We then flew to Espiritu Santo where we boarded a liberty ship to go home. We 6 Marines were the only passengers. It took 31 days to get to San Francisco. We spent most of the last night on the front port of the ship waiting to see the first lights from San Francisco. We were having breakfast on the deck when we went under the Golden Gate bridge. We got off on Treasure Island and seen the largest mess hall in the world - about a block square. The next day we were on a train to San Diego, then home for thirty days leave. 

Mary had worked two years in Washington DC, for the casualty branch of the War Department. She came home and we were married on May 5, 1944 in Des Moines.

When I returned to Camp Miramar, CA, I had orders to go to Cherry Point, NC with nine other sergeants. We went by train and took a week to get there. Then I was sent to Camp Lefeune(?) and to New river(?), a Marine air field near the base. I rented a house in Jacksonville two miles from the base and Mary came out. She drove a 1937 Ford that Arnie helped her buy and her sister, Helen Burgeson, rode out with her. We were there two months, then I had orders to return to Miramar to go overseas again. We drove the Ford and stopped three days in Iowa. Then my cousin, Velva Berglund rode with us to Long Beach. Mary and I stayed in San Diego and I reported to Miramar every day for roll call. On the third day I and two others had to report to headquarters and were told we were
removed from the overseas list. Something about we had not been back from overseas for six months. I was given the choice to go to El Toro air base or Corvallis, OR. I chose El Toro at Santa Anna as it was close to Long Beach and family.

About this time my great aunt Lottie Erickson, who lived in an apt one block from Aunt Bessie's, was going to her daughter's in New Mexico for a month. and asked us to live in her apartment while she was gone. We did and in a week or so another apartment in the same court became vacant and they rented it to us for $27/month. Mary worked in the credit department at Buffin's Department store in Long Beach. We lived here until the end of the war. We were near our family and it was a pleasant time in our lives, in spite of the war. 

We had sold our car shortly after coming to California so I hitch hiked the 32 miles from Long Beach to El Toro air base each day. I had no weekend duty and usually took my lunch. I walked the half mile early each morning in the dark to a main road and four way stop. I was picked up right away, usually by oil tanker trucks. 

I was on the flight line at El Toro for 3 months. Then they needed office help, as my secondary specialty was clerical, they picked me. I became the master roll clerk and kept track of the whereabouts of every man in headquarters squadron. I typed up a report each month.
I worked at this job until the war ended when Japan surrendered I had enough "points" so I was eligible to be discharged right away. 

Mary and I came home to Stratford in October 1945. I had been gone for 3 1/2 years. 

Thank you for being such a wonderful grandpa. We learned a lot about love and life from you - you will be missed always.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your grandpa's story. I enjoyed reading it. So great that he wrote it all down for your family to have and share.