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Remembering Heroes - August 1945

By Leocthasme


I thought that some readers might be interested in (ancient) history, and that history indirectly applies to you. Because it just might be that many of you would never be here today if it weren't for a hero or two. I began this some time ago, however, it has taken me a long time to write it, not because I am slow or lazy or out of it, but because I had to be accurate with my account. Remembering things of over 50 years ago is not difficult for me, but remembering them with accuracy is much more important and somewhat more time consuming.

So, here is the story, and I hope it is not boring. You may want it to complete part of your own personal history, or keep it for reference when reading about historic events.

I was never a hero of any sort in WWII. I never had any intention to be one or even had any idea to be one, but many ol' geezers my age became heroes, not by choice but by accident. The only reason I ever went to war was to shake the 4F designation put on me because I could not see well enough to be a mud marine. So, I got into the Merchant Marine, at least in my young mind it was better than 4F, no thought of any heroics, whatsoever. Just wanted not to hear the words "4F" because in the days of the war that was as bad as having AIDS or something.

But, let's take the story of Col. Tibbitts (hope I spelled his name right), who was the pilot and commander of the Enola Gay. There was a real hero. I suppose you know that he and the crew of the Enola Gay were credited with putting an end to the war with Japan. Yep, he and his crew and that plane ended the war, saved millions of Americans and our allies' lives, saved a lot of what was left of civilians and soldiers of Japan too. If Tibbitts and his crew had not dropped the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in August of 1945, we may have still been fighting another couple of years and probably a million or two more lives would have been lost.

Warlords who had no intention of ever giving up ruled Japan at that time. And, if you know anything about the geography of that Island you know it is like one great big mountain, up one side and down the other. The Japanese were dug into every hill from the sea to the top. And, if we were going to win the war we would have had to take each one of those hills from the sea to the top, a very costly, in lives, military operation. We already knew how costly, because we already had the experience with such smaller Islands like Iwo Jima. You might find a picture of a Puma Indian and three other marines raising the American flag on top of the Mountain on that Island. That Indian, a hero then, died a drunk on the side of the road a few years later, mostly because many other Indians thought him a fool for risking his life for the white man's war.

It's tough to be a hero, and it was tough for that Indian and for Col. Tibbitts, too. To this day there are those who think America, and Truman, and Tibbitts were worse than Hitler for dropping 'The Bomb.' I suppose they are entitled to their thoughts, which is what we all fought for in the first place.

So, you wonder, how do I know all this? Well, at the time I was there. Right off the Philippines. I got there early in June of 1945, on an old rust bucket tanker, the La Placentia, top speed about 9 knots, built in 1909 so its hull plate said. You think we weren't using every bit of junk we could find to get men and material from one side of this planet to the other? The La Placentia, was an old tanker, that used to haul crude around the Texas and Louisiana ports where the Refineries were. But, they got it through the Panama Canal and loaded it up with bunker oil and a deck load of planes at San Pedro, California. And, they sent us off to the Philippines to fuel the ships and ship tenders that protected the rest of the amassed fleet, which was getting ready to invade Japan. The 'Mighty Mo' was right there too.

We left San Pedro in April, and got there some time in May about 4 or5 weeks later because we took the long way around, by heading south around the Marianas Islands and along the Equator all by ourselves; we were too slow for most convoys. But we got there and loaded off our bunker oil and our deck load of planes for a carrier. And, then they sent us through the Indian Ocean, which was safe then, to the Persian Gulf to get more fuel for the big boys. Between May and July we made three trips to the Gulf for fuel oil. And, finally late in July with our last load of oil we waited with the rest of the fleet for our orders to move up.

At the time I wondered what the hell the wait was for because every day the damn Japs would send over the Kamikaze Planes to try to knock off a ship or two and they were doing a fair job of it. At the time I was in the black gang, an engine oiler, but, we (me and the other three guys on the same watch) had to man the port side 40mm. And, of course, I was the damn fool triggerman on that gun. If anyone would have known I couldn't see, they sure as hell would not have had me pulling the trigger on that thing. But, thank goodness we were in the harbor so by the time the big guys got at them not too many of those paper mache flying bombs, with a twelve or fourteen year old kid flying them (that's how rotten the Jap war lords were), were left to shoot down.

Of course, I was the same then as I am now. Always knew a good offense was the best defense. So, the other three engine crewmen and I put enough lead up in the sky. The planes probably didn't get shot down; they just flew into the lead and fell down. I really don't ever remember that the gun crew and me ever got credit for a 'kill'. In a way I am happy about that. But at the time I hated the Japanese because they were using their kids to fight a losing war that they would have never given up.

By about the middle of August of that year the 'Big Boys' in the fleet had begun to move up. They were off the coast of Japan getting ready for the big invasion; but along came God, Harry, Tibbitts, and the Enola Gay and put an end to the whole damn thing. After that our old 9 knot rust bucket moved up too and gave the rest of our fuel oil and supplies to the Allied fleet in Tokyo Harbor and we went home. Got back here late in September, with ballast and a couple of our repatriated POWs. And, we took the long way back too, took us almost 45 days because there were still those 2-man subs in the Pacific who didn't know the war was over. They, too, (like Kamikaze pilots) were sent from the Jap 'War Lords' to blow up themselves and whatever ship they could find; but they had no way of knowing the war was over. All they were was a little tin sub with two guys to run it and built onto a big torpedo.

That story may make you wonder about heroes, I suppose. Were those poor little kids heroes for flying a bunch of ragged planes with a built in bomb? Maybe to themselves they may have thought they were because they were doing something for their homeland. Were the nuts that blew themselves up with a little tin torpedo sub heroes? They may have thought so, too, in their own little mind. You will also have to remember the German soldiers of WWII. When Hitler was dead and nobody was there to put a gun in their back to keep them fighting, they quit. They were heroic, I suppose, because they had sense enough to quit fighting and thus save themselves and other German civilians from death and destruction.

Still, I have the idea no one ever starts out to be a hero. It is just that sometimes things fall into place that make us heroes, and we hardly know it at the time, nor do we want it after we realize it. It seems that after the war had been over for a while, President Truman finally called the crew of the Enola Gay in to the White House. And he honored them. During that meeting Mr. Truman was talking to Col. Tibbitts and asked him how he felt about what he had done.

"It was a job that had to be done, but some people are maybe not pleased with me doing it," was the reply.

"Well," said Harry, "you just tell them to go kiss butt (Harry may have used a bit stronger language), you didn't have a damn thing to say about it. Just you tell them, I sent you."

Now, there is a story about a couple of heroes.

And, of course if someone ever says that we were terrible people for using the bomb and killing all those Japanese, just tell them that if 1,000,000 American GIs had died in 1945, at least 20,000,000 offspring of those guys would not be here now. It just could be that someone who is telling us how bad we were, would've been among those missing, or it just may be even you.

From one of the old geezers of WWII.

 

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Reader Comments

Name: Tom Harper Email: Unlisted
Comment: A final point, the Roman armies of the late Republic were comprised over half of Roman citizens, before that more like 3/4. After the Social War of 90BC all the Italian allies who had made up the other half of the Roman army gained citizenship, in effect they became Romans. Military service for non-Romans in the provinces ended with guaranteed citizenship and state pension of 13 years worth of wages (225 denarii). The Roman carved their own empire along with their allies, and when their allies rose up to demand rights the eventualled ceded. It is not right to claim that one of the largest empires of the ancient world was contructed by mercenaries on behalf of someone else.

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Name: Tom Harper Email: Unlisted
Comment: I can barely read this immensely one sided explanation. Truly the first hand account of the war is useful and educating, but the justication continuously given is mind-numbingly familiar. The justification of the beligerence of Truman in saving thousands of US and allied lives by bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki always shocks me. The deaths in most vile conditions of so many CIVILIANS cannot be justified by the saving of soldiers lives. Is our global society so militant? Also, why is the Enola Gay always credited with ending the war? Why is Bock's Car, the bomber of Nagasaki erased from history so often? Shall we quietly forgot those tens of thousands of deaths? After all, it's just a city, the details are pointless and trivial aren't they? Statistics as opposed to tradegies, as Stalin would later say. A further glib comment in a posted reply also vexes me. Both the Germans and Russians were making atomic bombs, but the Americans "just happened to get it first". I find this hypocrotical in extreme as part of the delay in German atomics was caused by the operation against German heavy water factories in Telemark, the heroes of Telemark as they say. Yet this pieces reference is to remembering heroes and you have completely snubbed these men out. I'll also question you comment on Germans using gas and machine guns because they wanted to win WW1. Most machines guns were US made and gas was used by both sides within a very short period of time. The US weren't above devious means of getting the "right side" to win either, the Lusitania being commonly thought of as smuggling weapons in her hold. Furthermore, if the only goal of war is victory at whatever cost, surely the Geneva convention is mute, and the crisis over Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons is equally pointless as if victory is all that matters he has every right to use them! Obviously not. Victory is not all that matters, or it is if we reduce ourselves to barbarians with no thought for the future of society. "The real and lasting victories are those of peace, and not of war" Ralph Waldo Emerson said and I agree.

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Name: Hong Chang LEE Email: Unlisted
Comment: THIS PAGE JUST TALKS A WAY OF LOOKING WAR UNFAIR IT MAKES JAPAN LOOKS BAD

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Name: Ben Knol Email: bk1130@yahoo.com
Comment: Thank you for sharing such great memories. I particularly like the comments on teh stigma of a 4-F classification. I have Found that even today, those who were 4-F in WWII are still ashamed. I do not think that is necessary. Many 4-Fs patriotically strived to find alternative means of service to their country only to face ridicule and shame from others. I would like to hear from any 4-fs or relatives of 4-Fs. I am collecting oral histories from WWII era 4-Fs for a scholarly research project. So please e-mail me if anyone wnats to share a story of their own or maybe of a family member. Thank you

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Name: leocthasme Email:
Comment: Jesse Anthony: Thank you for your comments. It is a shame what wars will do to the world. IN WWI, another war to end all wars, my father was a soldier. He was in France all the way 'til the end of that conflict. He died from the effects of WW1, GAS! There was no atom bomb then but the devastation was extreme. My father died from the effects of the gas used in WW1. So whether we invent the ultimate destructive device or we destroy humanity with other inventions it seems to not matter to humans who are intent on killing each other. In a war, the goal is VICTORY, for whatever it takes to get it. Not only were we working on atom bombs, so were the Germans and the Russians. We just happened to get it first. And seeing what the Germans and the Japanese did during WWII, in a way I am happy we did get it first. In WWI, the Germans wanted to win that war too, so they used poison gas and another new weapon at the time, the machine gun, which could mow down hundreds of soldiers at a time. The object of course was to win, and win at all costs. Humans, for some reason or other, fight for riches, territory, expansion of their territory, to conquer other humans and force them into slavery. and any number of seemingly good reasons, and just selfish reasons. We may in time learn to be good to each other and not force our wills on others. I am not talking about one country or another I am talking about all countries. If we do not learn to get along with each other and share with each other we will eventually all kill each other with some destructive power no one will be able to control. Think of this, we are building a space station now, it could be the next ultimate weapon, from a point in space, every spot on earth could be controlled. Mankind has the technology, WHO WILL USE IT? AND FOR WHAT PURPOSE? My generation will be long gone, but the new ones will have to get along or the consequense is total destruction. Right now, without some intervention from a source other than human, mankind left to its own devices will destroy itself.

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Name: Jesse Anthony Email:
Comment: Thank you for your words and wisdom.. there is no substitute for experience as someone dear to me says. I have only respect and honor for you and all those who fought for country, constitution, and honor in any war but especially WWII, which i have an overwhelming interest in. My parents are from very different backrounds and on my fathers side I have relatives who died in labor camps at the hands of the germans, and on my mothers side my grandfather (her father) was a physics professor at Notre Dame who was involved in the creation of the atomic bomb. My mother is a very intelligent and compassionate woman (and to me the wisest person ive ever met), one of the top doctors in California in the present, and much much more, but back when she was still living at home in South Bend Indiana she once engaged her father in a discussion about the merits of his research and participation in the creation of a power that would have such devastating effects and leave lasting radiation and waste products for generations to come. She made the point that we (being the USA and humans in general) do not fully understand or have any solutions for what this bomb will unleash. And even now we know very little about the limits and time frames of nuclear or atomic waste products and their effects. As with anything there is more than one side to the story and as you have said it has saved not only those who would have been killed fighting the japanese but their succeeding generations as well and perhaps I would not be here without its use on japan. At the same time, others, like my mother, can also argue that the health of the earth is as important as those people who engage in war for her, and that weopons (or anything else for that matter) of such devastating nature should be understood thoroughly (and in way that enables them to be used in only the manner intended without effects that will be felt thousands of years later in unknown areas) before they should be used. Now I am no expert and perhaps I may get some of the facts of the story wrong but to me the rationale on both sides seems very legitimate with intelligent concerns, and I was always rather upset with the way my grandfather handled her attempts to express a differing belief than the one he held. As a response to her youthful ideas my grandfather cut the discussion short, closed his mind to her self worth, and then proceeded to pretend she didnt exist for the next three years, not speaking or acknowleding her presence in any way literally. To him she no longer existed as his daughter or a person. He never attempted to apologize or resolve this issue before he died of a heart attack later and occassionally when she talks about him to me and my brothers and sisters it is apparent this still hurts my mother that he could be so firmly set in his ways that a legitimate opposing opinion spoken not out of any attempt to hurt him as a person or insult his chosen work but because of what she felt inside was an affront to his reason. I am not sure if i am expressing myself well or have told the story in the manner i intended but I say to you, do not count out the youth of any generation or find yourself unable to look beyond your own opinions of their worth or "rusted metal of their courage" to face the world as legitimate intelligent people who do not need drugs or escapes from reality. Merely enjoy the life you have built for yourself and others and find contentment in all the great things to which you and your generation accomplished to which much of the free world owes a debt of courage. There is little that it right in it of itself in this world, there are only choices and the courage to live with the choices made and learn from them.

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Name: leocthasme Email: leo@pencilstubs.com
Comment: To Mike and My Daughter Mary Ann and to Caycee and to all my friends and readers. Yep Mike that was a hell of a war where MILLIONS of Americans, Germans and Japanese and other allied or axis nations lost the cream of their youth. I hope we never see that kind of a war again. of course Korea and Viet Nam were bad enough as far as a great numbers of losses were concerned but it was limited to the 10s of thousands instead of millions. That is bad enough for any one nation to suffer. Hell when we lost 10s of thousands of our guys alone just in Nam for no damn good reason other then we had to help our so called allies (who left after we got there {the French}) even that was too much for one nation to lose and look what we have to show for it. ever since Korea and Nam all our younger gererations have learned to use pot or dope in one form or another because our government gave it freely to the guys in Korea or Nam to keep them awake to fight longer. Actually it even goes back to WWII when we needed our pilots to fly longer missions. They fed them Bennies to keep them awake or Yellow and Red Jackets to let them go to sleep, whatever. Now we wonder why our youth is turned on to all the forms of speed and junk. I do not know what will be the future of our country or for that matter any country whose youth is spaced out. There is no cure for letting the world pass by in a state of 'mental peace' of the moment. There is no cure for not wanting to face the world or facing the reality of the times. Ir does no good to say ' to hell with it' and pop a pill. Nothing goes away just bercause we don't think of it. So are we going to keep ourselves in a constant state of 'don't worry about it'? NO country on earth can survive if its youth doesn't 'worry about it'. Can we survive this plague of nonsence we have contaminated ourselves with? I hope so we were and are still capable of being a great nation, but we will have to wake up to reality and face the things we think are not faceable without a pop or two. We need our clear minds to face the reality of the times. There is no cure for letting it slip or popping it out of our minds for the moment. Nothing goes away unless we face it and end it. I do not know how to get this across to our youngsters but somehow it will have to be done if we as a nation are to survive. All the things that we feel we don't want to face now will continue to build up to a point where they are either faced or we fall on our face to a greater power whether it be an earthly or a heavenly one. I am sure that by then all us old geezers will have succumbed to time and we will have passed from the memory of all who don't want to look ahead or back. However it doesn't matter if we are remembered or not remembered for whatever it is we may or may not have done. All mankind is headed for one final judgement of whether it was here for the good of all or for its evils. I can only hope the good of the few will outweigh the evils of all. Mike I am sure your thoughts were for your country while you were doing for it. I am also sure your thughts are for your family and your friends. And Mary Ann, I hope you never judged me harshly for my commissions or omissions, We are all only human and subject to the frailties of the moment. Human frailties lead humans astray at times. History shows that only a handful of humans ever had the will or the power to overcome all adversities. Even though it sounds great we are not 'one for all and all for one' most of us when the moment arrives do not give our all for all. We usually (even the hero) gets dragged out kicking and screaming for just a little more time. I doubt anyone ever wants to die a hero, but many heroes died. Few go out to get themselves killed just to be a hero. but many of those killed became heroes because of what they did for others. And to all of you, just try to look the world in the eye and do what has to be done at the time. It does no good to put it off or alter our minds to avoid the moment. There is not enuogh mind altering substances in the world to put off the inevitable. All things, put off for the moment or not, will have to be faced by someone sooner or later. If we as a nation can face it as a nation we will remain great. If we let someone else do it for us we will become as Romans, who let the mercenaries do it They didn't do it. Leo C.

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Name: JJ Email: jfeather0@hotmail.com
Comment: Great Story Leo, also a really good picture. My Dad was in WWI. Those guys were forgotten too.

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Name: Mike Email: webmaster@pencilstubs.com
Comment: Leo, Thanks for sharing that history with us. Your way with words sends out so many different messages and details about the events, your interpretations, and opinions in just a few words, not to mention your descriptions make me feel as though I were on the decks beside you, seeing everything that you saw. Being a veteran of a younger generation, I can also appreciate all of this, and yet reminded of the vast differences of between then and now. I would say that today we do not accept losses in the tens of thousands, much less millions like we used to. Young men do not flock to enlistment centers to go to war anymore. In fact the military has become a place to get some good career training and college assistance. The Army is even advertising to the Generation neXt as "An Army of One" to appeal to the super-hero, one man army with a degree. The Army I served in was all about teamwork, not the individual, so I'm damn proud to be a civilian again. What shocks me most, is that while "we don't fight wars like that anymore", it wasn't that long ago, and it may not be too far off where we will be reduced to fighting face to face again. What will the Army of One do then? There is no longer pride in the Flag, Country, or even family or God. When the going gets tough, I fear the "tough" will get going...and not to the front. Your story is a good reminder of patriotisim, even in the face extreme losses. This is mettle our Nation was forged from, but like most metal, with age it has corroded. We need this reminder, to never forget from whence we came. To take out our wire brushes and scour away the corrosion and bring pride, duty, and honor back to our brass.

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Name: Mary Ann Email: supermom_5_1@yahoo.com
Comment: VERY NICE....great memories and thanks for sharing with us....like the picture too!!!!!:)

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Name: Cayce B. Shelton Email:
Comment: Being a young feller during WW2, and having a father and an uncle in that war, I am always moved with by the comments of those veterans that returned. This piece by this brave man inspired me to write one of the best received pieces I have ever written. We can not thank our heroes enough. Great areticle, Leo. Thanks.

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