Review of Radioman
Radioman: An Eyewitness Account of Pearl Harbor and World War II in the Pacific by Carol Edgemon Hipperson. Published by Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Minotaur of New York, copyright in 2008.
Review by William F. Sauerwein, 1SG, US Army (Retired). B.S., Historical Studies from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville (SIUE) in 2004.
This book proved truly informative and provided several experiences seldom explored in World War II history. I thoroughly enjoyed the “oral account” of an individual sailor, without the psychoanalysis (or “psycho-babble”) of an academic with a Ph. D. The book covers the life of a young man coming of age during a bleak time in our history, the Great Depression. He survived that and then, like the rest of his generation, endured the sacrifices required for winning World War II. Radioman further reveals that even during the national mobilization of World War II individual Americans still worked toward their individual goals. It also reveals the harsh lessons and sacrifices of ignoring the threats of “rogue nations” and ignoring military readiness in the face of these threats. An entire generation of Americans sacrificed, on the battlefields and the home front, for preserving this nation. Today those remaining of that generation die from the infirmities of that sacrifice and “old age,” taking their experience with them. We, the heirs of what they fought and died for, owe them the respect of learning from their experiences, and heeding their warnings.
The book covers the adult life of Ray Daves, originally from Vilonia, Arkansas, near Little Rock. It begins a timeline in June, 1936, a time of steadily increasing tensions in the world. Sixteen-year-old Daves typified the experiences of a generation of young Americans, who faced an uncertain future. He embarked upon the world after quitting high school following his sophomore year, the “tenth grade.” Describing himself as the “renegade” of the family’s seven children he expressed dissatisfaction with his future on the family farm. As a “farm boy” myself, I fully understand the longing for life beyond the cornfields.
Daves recounts his life in an America that the majority of Americans today do not understand, even given today’s situation. He states that Americans then did not call it the Great Depression, instead labeling it “hard times.” During these times everyone focused on their families and sacrificed their individual dreams for helping their family survive. While today’s youth put off adult responsibilities as long as possible, Daves’ generation lacked that luxury. Older children, like Daves, quit school and took whatever jobs available, even if it took them far from home. The phrase “jobs that Americans won’t do” did not exist at that time, something today’s “entitlement mentality” cannot comprehend. As Daves reveals, married men also journeyed far from home for any job and sent their families the money.
The first stop in Daves’ journey took him into a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp in Idaho. He describes the CCC as one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (FDR) “New Deal” programs. The historical notes identify the CCC as FDR’s first and most popular program and the first organized attempt at preserving the environment. Daves explains the hard work they performed in the parks and forests, building irrigation ditches for farmers and work on the infrastructure. When a Baptist youth group from Spokane, Washington conducted a church service at the camp Daves met his future wife, Adeline.
Unlike many of FDR’S “New Deal” programs, the CCC did not create a new federal bureaucracy. The Armed Forces administered the CCC and military officers commanded the camps, something that provided them useful experience in the future. Daves states that most of the men in the CCC “were just killing time until we were old enough to join the real military.” Therefore, the CCC gave these young men valuable experience for their future service in the Armed Forces.
Of importance for us “baby boomers” and later generations these men earned five dollars per month. Actually they received thirty dollars per month and the government sent their families the difference, no questions asked. Daves stated that many of the married men also sent their five dollars home, keeping none for themselves. After all, the CCC camp provided them “room and board” and their remote location held few sources of entertainment. Again, this symbolizes the willing sacrifices these young men made for ensuring the survival of their families.
Daves explains that life at the camp did not focus entirely on hard, physical labor; opportunities existed for taking educational courses. Learning of his desire for joining the Navy, the assistant camp commander, a Navy officer, guided Daves toward the proper courses. He completed a typing course, which elevated him into the job of company clerk. This not only exempted him from the hard labor but increased his pay as well. Daves explains that while performing his duties he kept informed of global events by listening to a radio.
This symbolizes something else I liked about the book, the “Time Lines and Historical Notes” included in the back. I read the book a second time and after each chapter I purposely read the appropriate chapter’s notes. This put Daves’ individual life experiences in context with the changing events of the world. His seeming lack of concern regarding these events seems typical for the time, given my conversations with members of that generation.
By June of 1936 the aggressions of the “rogue nations” of the day, Germany, Italy and Japan seemed apparent for anyone concerned. Japan manufactured an incident with China and conquered Manchuria in 1931, establishing the puppet state of Manchukuo. Italy conquered Ethiopia in 1935, incorporating it into its Italian East Africa empire. In violation of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles Germany “remilitarized” the Rheinland, the German territory west of the Rhein River that borders France. The “international community” of the day, the League of Nations, passed resolutions of condemnation, which did nothing. The “superpowers” of the day, the United Kingdom (UK) and France, proved unwilling to enforce these resolutions; therefore, the aggressions increased.
A “side note” regarding Germany’s aggression based on my personal experience in Germany during the Cold War. Officially Germany “remilitarized” the Rheinland in 1936; however it began in 1935, at least in one location. I learned upon my assignment in Baumholder, Germany that the German Army built this cavalry installation in 1935. Anyone with experience in Baumholder knows of the bad weather, either rain or snow and very little sunshine. The Germans selected Baumholder for this reason, the bad weather prevented British and French aerial reconnaissance. Aerial reconnaissance represented the “satellite technology” of its day; something we must consider when believing our “advanced technology” infallible.
Also about the time Daves begins his oral history an often overlooked war began, the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Since Daves never mentioned it he probably overlooked it too; however it did influence global events. Sometimes called the “dress rehearsal” for World War II it normally gets overlooked because of the massive impact of World War II. Officially the “superpowers,” the US and most Western democracies adopted non-intervention policies. However, this did not deter the European “rogue nations” with Germany and Italy supporting one side and the Soviet Union the other. These nations used the battlefields of Spain as a “testing ground” for their war machines and tactics. The danger of such wars expanding outside the nation’s borders always exists, particularly given the political volatility of the parties involved. This proved particularly problematic for France, with a long border with Spain, and the UK, that controlled Gibraltar, something Spain disputed. Since the pro-German side won that war it presented a danger that France and the UK must consider. The potential for Spain joining the Axis Powers remained a threat until the tide of battle turned in favor of the Allies.
Before continuing with the book let me mount my “soapbox” and explain the global situation building for Daves’ generation. Following World War I two nations reigned as “superpowers,” the aforementioned UK and France. Since medieval times these two nations competed as rivals and enjoyed few years without engaging each other in combat. That changed in the early 20th Century as both feared the rising threat from an aggressive German Empire. These two nations remained allies following the war and the world seemed ripe for peace given the massive cost in blood and treasure of the war.
Geographically, the UK possessed the largest empire in the world, with France holding the second. What strategic areas one did not control, the other controlled; the UK’s Royal Navy dominated the oceans and France boasted Europe’s most powerful army. These two nations held the power for enforcing international law and stifling any aggression by potential “rogue nations.” The League of Nations depended on the strength of these “superpowers” as “global policemen” for enforcing their resolutions.
Conversely, the rising “rogue nations” of the day appeared geographically small and disadvantaged and the strong Axis alliance did not exist. Germany lacked any empire and the Treaty of Versailles limited its armed forces, economic production and commerce. Italy and Japan, Allies during World War I, possessed small, regional empires in the shadows of the larger British and French colonies. This probably stoked their jealousy of their “allies” and their desires for expanding their empires. Furthermore, Japan, an island nation, suffered from a lack of agricultural production and “living space” for its growing population. It also lacked sufficient domestic natural resources for becoming an industrial and military power.
At the time, when one of the “rogue nations” decided it needed more colonial territory it faced two choices. It might conquer territory already controlled by the UK or France; something suicidal in the early 1930’s. Or it must conquer a weak, independent neighbor which did not threaten the strategic posture of the “superpowers.” For example, Japan conquering Manchuria in remote, northern China did not threaten the “superpowers” since they both already held extensive quasi-colonies in China. Ethiopia, the only independent nation in Africa, seemed ultimately inconsequential against maintaining cordial relations with Italy.
History documents that when Japan invaded Manchuria the League of Nations passed a resolution condemning this aggression. If so inclined, the “superpowers,” backed by whatever symbolic military power from other nations, might have ended Japan’s ambitions in 1931. Such bold action might have squelched the ambitions of Germany and Italy before they began. Or, this bold action may have merely delayed German and Italian aggression until they grew militarily stronger. No guarantee exists of achieving the desired results when taking a course of action; human behavior proves too unpredictable. However, we do know what resulted from ignoring these threats; the most costly war in history. Following World War II the UK and France remained “superpowers” in name only through the benevolence of the new “superpower,” the United States (US).
Unfortunately neither the UK nor France possessed the political will for stopping aggression, and without them the League of Nations proved impotent. Both nations suffered horrendous losses in World War I and virtually bankrupted their treasuries financing the war. Of significance, both nations borrowed heavily from the US, and still owed this money when World War II began. Although not yet a “superpower,” and far from a military power, this economic leverage from the US certainly influenced both nation’s foreign policy. The Great Depression further sapped their economies and military expenditures proved unpopular with the voting public. Only an eccentric “back-bencher” member of the British Parliament (MP), Winston Churchill, called for military readiness. In William Manchester’s The Last Lion Churchill laments the “new generation” of MP’s unwillingness to defend the British Empire.
Many sources call the World War I generation the “Lost Generation,” disillusioned with the “status quo” by their war experiences. They blamed the privileged “ruling class” for the war and demanded “change” and “social justice.” Many of my fellow “baby boomers” arrogantly, and selfishly, proclaim themselves as the originators of these movements. The “boomers” merely followed in the footsteps of the “Lost Generation” and their rejection of the “establishment.”
Every movement needs leadership and guidance, and the more extreme of the “Lost Generation” embraced socialism and its big brother, communism. Socialism represented something new and trendy and promised hope for those disillusioned with the “status quo.” After all, the Bolsheviks showed the way by seizing power in the former Russian Empire, and overthrowing the “ruling class.” Throughout the 1920’s socialist and communist parties expanded globally, ultimately controlled by the newly established Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Moscow-trained agents ran these local parties and the rest of the world felt a genuine threat from these parties.
At SIUE I took a Russian history course from which I learned the dark realities of the Bolshevik Revolution. Although a political minority, they held the advantage in firepower and the willingness for using it. They also proved better organized politically than the members of the provisional government, who hoped for democracy in Russia. Building a new authoritarian regime on the ash heap of the old proves easy, since the people already instinctively obey. Individual liberties confuse people who never experienced them and creating a democratic nation among such people takes time and education. Unfortunately the Bolsheviks never allowed the time and took control of the education, stifling democracy before its birth.
Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik leader, established a state security agency, the Cheka, (forerunner of the more infamous KGB) and a period known as the “Red Terror” ensued. During this period the Bolsheviks eliminated all opposition and stunned the world by murdering the entire Russian royal family. This brutality sparked the Russian Civil War between the Bolsheviks (Reds) and the counter-revolutionaries (Whites).
One reason that the world ignored the situations in Germany, Italy and Japan was the immediate threat in Russia. When Churchill warned of the need for military readiness, he focused on the Russian problem. After all, the Treaty of Versailles (supposedly) limited Germany’s military capabilities and similar treaties restricted its wartime allies. Italy and Japan, Allies during the war, remained Allies, at least in the minds of British and French leaders.
Russia began World War I as an Allied Power, a member of the Triple Entente with France and the UK. However, under the Bolsheviks a defeated Russia made a separate peace with Germany and its allies in 1917. This freed large numbers of enemy forces for other theaters at a critical time for the remaining Allies. Already the Bolsheviks proved themselves a “rogue regime” and they controlled a large, but backward, nation with tremendous human and natural resources. The UK, France and some other European nations supported the “Whites,” who ultimately lost because they lacked the political and military cohesion of the “Reds.”
This foreign support increased in 1919 when the Bolsheviks held a conference of the “world’s socialists” and formed the Communist International, or Comintern. The Comintern called for the overthrow of “capitalist” governments and the establishment of “soviet republics.” Later the Comintern created “universities” for training budding communist leaders in targeted nations; particularly in British and French colonial empires. Today many academics, especially those with leftist leanings, dismiss this threat and claim the Western nations “over-reacted.” However, with open warfare occurring in Russia, Comintern provocateurs active in their countries and the popularity of socialism these nations felt threatened. With the harsh memories of World War I fresh in their minds, these nations undertook necessary actions.
This does not mean that the Western Powers did not need some domestic change; all revolutions begin with some perceived grievance. Working conditions in the great industrial nations proved harsh, unsafe and in some cases inhumane. Colonial subjects, who shed their blood during the war for the “imperial powers,” demanded more liberties and even independence. Conditions in rural America seemed little better than after the Civil War, lacking electrical power and telephone communications. Since the political leadership of the Western democracies rely on the will of their voters, they must address these domestic problems. If the voters demand social programs over military readiness, the politicians comply, or face future unemployment; global conditions be damned.
By 1920 the “Reds” won the Russian Civil War, formed the USSR and consolidated their power. This included conquering former territory of the Russian Empire, taken away when Russia capitulated to Germany in 1917. This proved ironic since the Bolsheviks condemned the Western Powers’ “imperialism” and championed “self-determination for oppressed nationalities.”
This confirms one of my theories regarding military strategy; a nation may change ideologies, but it retains its traditional strategic goals. For example, the Russian Empire felt its power limited because it lacked “all weather” seaports and direct access into the open sea. During this time a powerful navy represented the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) of the day. Projecting this naval power demonstrated a nation’s prestige and greatly enhanced its economic power.
Throughout most of the 19th Century the UK and Russia engaged in the “Great Game.” Russia actively challenged British dominance in the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. Ironically, Soviet foreign policy in this area closely mirrored that of the former Russian Empire. The Soviets conquered the newly independent Caucasian republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, all formerly part of the defeated Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey). They further continued extending their influence into Iran, much like their predecessors, the Russian Empire. In 1920 the newly formed Iranian Communist Party established the short-lived Socialist Republic of Gilan in that present day province with the assistance of the Red Army.
One might ask about the actions taken by the US at the time when facing these world situations. Although the US only participated in World War I for about eighteen months, it suffered heavy losses during that time. It does not take years of sustained combat for suffering the long-term effects of that experience. American troops even briefly participated in two of the Russian intervention campaigns with British, French and Japanese troops. However, the Americans came from the Versailles treaty conference feeling slighted by their wartime allies.
US president Woodrow Wilson felt that the Allies rejected his Fourteen Points, which they did, and felt American participation marginalized. Wilson, a Democrat, similarly slighted his Republican “loyal opposition” by not including any of them among the peace delegates. The Republican-controlled Senate rejected Wilson’s cherished membership in the League of Nations, supposedly keeping the US from foreign alliances. Isolationism, pacifism and non-intervention became the dominant ideologies of a majority of the American public. We naively believed ourselves immune from the problems of Europe and Asia because of the natural barriers of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This isolationism increased with the onset of the Great Depression as the nation focused on fixing its domestic economic problems.
Daves mentions that in school he learned of global events, specifically events in Germany. He further remembers hearing popular CBS personality H. V. Kaltenborn on the radio and his parents’ belief of an inevitable war with Germany. In our age of cable television with 24/7 news we find it difficult to understand families sitting around radios. However, these radio broadcasts provided their links with the “outside world,” much like our televisions today. This news did not deter Daves from his desire for joining the Navy, seeking a better future.
Although rarely mentioned, hard economic times often prove lucrative recruiting grounds for the Armed Forces. Steady pay and a good benefit package make the long hours and harsh working conditions bearable. I remember similar conditions during the late 1970’s as double-digit unemployment, inflation and interest rates enticed many recruits. However, during these times the Armed Forces often tighten their standards for enlistment, something Daves soon discovered.
Daves did something else typical for his generation; he lied about his age for entering the Armed Forces. In this day of computer technology, Internet access and instant checks we cannot understand how such things happened. We must understand that in those days the nation’s education system proved inadequate often creating a functionally illiterate society. Government agencies at all levels kept poor records, again based on the level of education and experience of the officials. Furthermore, verification proved difficult, time-consuming and relied on the US Mail; which in itself often proved inadequate.
Unfortunately, Daves’ entry into the Navy at this time proved difficult because he did not lie big enough. He gave the Navy recruiter his age as seventeen-years-old, although only sixteen at the time. However, the Navy only accepted recruits eighteen years of age or older, which crushed the young man.
Daves thought of reenlisting in the CCC for another year; however he did something else common for that time. At the invitation of an aunt living in Oregon he and his two older brothers sought work there. During the Great Depression the unemployed did not sit home in despair; they traveled where rumors of jobs took them. We all know of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, where an entire family moved in search of work. I enjoyed reading about the “road trip” taken by Daves and his brothers from Arkansas to Oregon. With today’s convenience of interstates we forget that in the not-so-distant past paved roads seemed a luxury. Daves and his brothers made this trip with little money and without a driver’s license. This information provides a most interesting insight into “normal” life at the time, and reflects a simpler, although harder, time.
The brothers found work in Oregon, with better pay, and Daves learned the definition of “minimum wage.” This proves that even during the worst of economic times motivated people may find work. Daves planned on continuing his work in Oregon until he reached age eighteen, the acceptable age for the Navy. However, typical of the time, and this time too, one of his brothers got “laid off” and disrupted his plans.
Daves’ Navy career began following a bus ride to the nearest recruiting station, a post office in Portland. Upon completing his tests Daves experienced something I often heard about, but never knew anyone who personally experienced it. The Navy accepted him; however it lacked any openings and sent him home awaiting orders. He returned to Arkansas where his parents expressed the emotions of all parents upon learning of their child’s future military service.
This probably occurred because while Daves anticipated his Navy service the world situation continued deteriorating. Japan invaded China in 1937 and the media featured stories of Japanese atrocities in Nanking. Iris Chang graphically details these atrocities in her book, The Rape of Nanking, which includes the sinking of a US gunboat, the USS Panay. Germany annexed a very willing Austria in 1938, a violation of the Treaty of Versailles and the “international community” did nothing.
Daves reveals an opinion at the time that we must draw lessons from given the world situation today. He states that he viewed German dictator Adolph Hitler as a “harmless kook” and saw no “bone to pick” with Japan. In my thirst for knowledge of this crucial period in history, not just US history but world history as well, I found this opinion prevalent. My alma mater holds volumes of the diplomatic documents of the US State Department of this time and the reading proves scary. The path chosen by the “superpowers” and the “international community” then starkly parallel the path chosen today.
First and foremost the US policy hinged on isolationism and pacifism and conflicts in Europe and Asia seemed far removed. The public, focused on the economy, demanded social programs and not military spending; which they believed invited intervention. Despite the harsh economic conditions a significant portion of the American public viewed military service as distasteful. World War II historian Charles B. MacDonald mentions in his book, The Mighty Endeavor, signs stating “Dogs and Soldiers not allowed.”
Daves received his orders from the Navy in the spring of 1939, however he does not mention the specific month. At the time the Spanish Civil War ended and the Munich Conference guaranteed “peace in our time” with the sacrifice of Czechoslovakia. The British and French public eagerly embraced this as avoiding war; unfortunately history records a different result. In response Congress authorized a twenty per cent increase in the US Navy, which included a new seaman apprentice, Ray Daves.
The chapter title for Daves’ introduction into Navy life is basic training; however the Navy and Marine Corps call it “boot camp.” The historical notes believe this comes from the official title Basic Orientation and Organizational Training, hence the acronym “boot.” I searched the Navy’s official website and found no official confirmation; however, given my experience the acronym sounds likely. Apparently Daves did not know the official definition, and probably did not ask (a wise decision). He describes a strange new world in which he must learn a new language, something common for recruits of any service. Ironically, Daves completed “boot camp” just as World War II began in Europe.
Obviously, given the book’s title, Radioman, Daves attended radio school, then in San Diego, California. I do not know how the Navy classifies its communications personnel, but the Army classifies them as combat support, not combat arms. This means that they directly support combat arms units in the performance of their mission. The Army organization assigns a communications platoon in each combat battalion, and further attaches a radio repairman in each company. However, the radio/telephone operators (RTO) at platoon, company and battalion level all hold the unit’s combat skill.
Daves explains that while at radio school Germany invaded Belgium and the Netherlands, which seemed insignificant at the time. During this chapter I found the one thing I disliked about the book; Daves and one of his buddies met John Wayne. As a big John Wayne fan myself, I grew envious when I saw their photograph with “the Duke.” Oh well, I live with my disappointment and congratulate Mr. Daves for this personal experience with an American icon.
The Navy, like the Army, assigns communications people with all of its units and Daves subsequently served on a destroyer, a cruiser, a submarine and an aircraft carrier. He further served in several shore assignments, including at Pacific Fleet headquarters (CinCPac) at Pearl Harbor. Of significance, one of Daves’ buddies, George Maybee, received orders for the battleship USS Arizona. Daves’ assignments provide an insight into naval operations at various levels, and the parts they played in the overall war.
Let me mount my “soapbox” again and describe the world situation the grossly unprepared US now confronted. Again, the harsh lessons at this time provide a scenario that we ignore today at our peril. I previously mentioned the relief felt throughout the UK and France following the sacrifice of Czechoslovakia; Hitler’s “last territorial demand.” Political leaders and the general public in the democratic nations deliberately blinded themselves regarding the threat posed by Hitler.
However, Hitler soon made demands on Poland for territory called the “Polish Corridor,” including the Free City of Danzig, modern Gdansk, Poland. When Poland ceased to exist in 1795 this area became part of the Kingdom of Prussia, forerunner of the German Empire. Germany lost this territory through the Treaty of Versailles and it separated Germany proper from its East Prussia province.
This demand shocked the UK and France and they entered into a military alliance with Poland. Both believed that just the threat of military action by the “superpowers” deterred any German aggression. Unfortunately, Hitler, using the Czechoslovakia “appeasement” as an example, did not believe them serious regarding Poland. Since neither of the “superpowers” significantly increased their military preparations or deployed troops to Poland Hitler seemed correct in this judgment. Besides, both nations continued negotiating with Germany in hopes of a Munich-style settlement that avoided war.
“Superpower” impotence and German strength influenced Italy into signing the “Pact of Steel” with Germany, the beginnings of the Axis alliance. Although unprepared for war at the time, Italy’s decision upset the balance of power in Europe. This agreement removed any illusion held by the UK and France of Italy as an ally. France must station adequate numbers of troops on its border with Italy, reducing the number available against Germany. The Italian Navy threatened the Royal Navy’s dominance in the Mediterranean and security of the Suez Canal. Weakness and appeasement does not persuade others into supporting an alliance or cause, no matter how just.
The UK and France, both with established intelligence agencies, missed the German-Soviet non-aggression pact, which essentially made Germany and the USSR allies. Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939; the UK and France declared war on Germany September 3, 1939, and virtually did nothing. Poland pleaded for the promised aid, unfortunately neither “superpower” prepared for providing it. French military doctrine, based on the horrendous casualties of World War I, called for a defensive strategy. Therefore, France concentrated its military spending into building the best high-tech fortifications on its border with Germany, the Maginot Line.
British doctrine invested heavily in the Royal Navy and initially relied on the French Army for ground combat. Any German attack on France must (logically) fail as its troops encountered the Maginot Line, allowing time for a British mobilization. The UK did not begin assembling an expeditionary force until Germany invaded Poland, too late for any intervention.
History records that France did launch a weak offensive against Germany on or about September 7, 1939. With its 85 Army divisions still scattered around its borders with Germany, Italy and (pro-German) Spain, or still mobilizing, only 9 divisions participated. Fearing the German border fortifications called the Siegfried Line, built in violation of the Versailles Treaty, they attacked timidly. With the bulk of German forces invading Poland, the Siegfried Line appeared more formidable than in reality. Manned mostly by poorly trained reservists the German high command feared a strong Allied offensive here. However, French forces only penetrated about five miles along a fifteen mile front. Short of the Siegfried Line the French troops stopped and prepared for a German counterattack. When Poland collapsed at the end of September, French forces withdrew; this indicated Allied weakness and provoked further German aggression.
Following the war General Alfred Jodl, Chief of Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command, testified at Nuremburg his relief that the Allies did not attack the still-unfinished Siegfried Line. The famous German tank general, Heinz Guderian, expressed surprise that the Allies did not take advantage of this German weakness. Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel, High Command of the Armed Forces, confirmed that in September, 1939 only 30 divisions of poorly trained reservists with three days supply of ammunition manned the Siegfried Line. Again one can only speculate the results of a strong French thrust into Germany; however, we know the results from Allied inaction. Furthermore, with the German senior officers already growing disillusioned with Hitler, such bold French action might cause Hitler’s downfall.
A little covered event might have further discouraged the already timid Allies from assisting Poland; the Soviet invasion of Poland. I previously mentioned the non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR, and how the Allies’ intelligence missed it. Before the invasion of Poland both the UK and France sought Soviet assistance for deterring German aggression. However, Soviet dictator, Josef Stalin, proved very good at deception and playing both sides. Soviet troops invaded eastern Poland on September 17, 1939, ending any hopes of Poland’s survival as a nation. Most historical sources state that the Soviet invasion shocked the Allies; however, I found no evidence that it hindered their already timid response. This diplomatic failure provides a lesson for today’s leaders as they struggle for “consensus” against the current “rogue nations.”
Following Poland’s defeat a period began called the “Phony War” as Allied and German forces observed each other from their respective fortifications. With the defeat of Poland only the UK and France remained at war with Germany. The other nations naively believed they could remain neutral in this war, as most of them did during World War I. Germany shattered this illusion of neutrality when it invaded Denmark and Norway in April, 1940. When the UK and France sent an ill-prepared, inadequate expeditionary force into Norway it suffered defeat.
Belgium’s professed neutrality defies common sense since Germany violated its neutrality during World War I. They did build fortifications along their border with Germany and made defensive arrangements with the UK and France. However, Allied troops must not enter Belgian territory until German troops invaded, depriving them of adequate time for preparing defenses. History records that German troops, using their new blitzkrieg (lightening war) tactics that stressed mobile warfare, quickly broke through the Belgian fortifications. They outflanked the superior numbers of Allied forces, unprepared for this offensive, forced the evacuation of the British and surrender of France. Within six weeks the German Army defeated the two “superpowers” and occupied most of Western Europe. Most neutral observers believed that only the obstacle of the English Channel prevented Germany from conquering the UK.
Of significance, France now entered a period of national humiliation with its surrender and formation of the Vichy government. France deteriorated from a respected “superpower” with a vast colonial empire into a collaborationist, puppet of Germany. Before the German blitzkrieg no one, not in France or the rest of the world, foresaw this disaster. As the “sole superpower” the US must learn from France’s tragedy as we interact with today’s “rogue nations.”
The shock of the blitzkrieg resounded across the Atlantic Ocean and into the “seat of power” in Washington, DC. MacDonald describes this shock for FDR and the American military commanders at just how unprepared the US was for war. He further states the opposition both in the public and the Congress for launching peacetime military preparations. However, as the global situation deteriorated and Japan joined the Axis Powers, Congress authorized extensive military spending for defending the Western Hemisphere. Unfortunately, as MacDonald states, one does not overcome twenty years of neglect merely by passing legislation and authorizing funds. Building the implements of modern warfare and training the expanded manpower for using it takes months, even years. Until then those already in the armed forces, like Daves, must defend America’s national interests with the resources at hand.
With the German victory in Europe Japan saw the opportunity for conquering the largely undefended colonies of the UK, (Vichy) France and the Netherlands. This situation provides a lesson that “superpowers” with extensive global responsibilities and strategic interests must heed. Before World War II the “superpowers’” global responsibilities focused on defending their large colonial empires. Although the US does not maintain a colonial empire we maintain defense treaties with many nations protecting them from aggression. A “superpower” must maintain adequate forces for these global commitments, or the affected nations may seek other arrangements. Unfortunately at the time neither the UK nor France bothered with adequately defending their colonies from aggression.
Today many “experts” on geopolitics and military strategy (most of whom lack military experience) define “superpowers” and “regional powers” as they determine “threat levels.” They usually reach their conclusions based on the statistics of the total power of the nations concerned. However, these “experts” often overlook one key fact: assembling that power and projecting it in the threatened region. The “superpower” must project power everywhere; whereas the “regional power” need only project power in its region. In Asia in 1940 Japan held the superiority in power and projected it where its enemies proved weakest.
Let me discuss Japanese aggression for a moment and how it ultimately resulted in war with the US. I previously mentioned Japan’s weaknesses that prevented it from growing into the industrial and military power it desired. This meant that Japan must import these resources from the Western nations, giving them leverage over Japan. Flexing its power, Japan first defeated China (1984-5) and then Russia (1904-5), giving it control over Korea and a foothold in China. Although Japanese power alarmed the “superpowers” and the US it did not seem threatening since Japan maintained treaties with them.
Japan further emerged from World War I as the only nation in a better position, militarily and economically. For a minimal cost in lives and treasure Japan greatly expanded its empire and prestige. Military conquest seemed the solution for Japan’s problems, particularly as military “hard liners” assumed control of the government.
Most Americans today do not know the extent of Japan’s reach across the Pacific Ocean before the war. The Treaty of Versailles gave Japan a “mandate” over the former German Asian and Pacific possessions north of the Equator. This gave Japan control of the Marshall, Caroline and most of the Mariana island chains. Japan effectively controlled the entire ocean between Hawaii and the US-controlled Philippine Commonwealth. Only the American island bastions of Guam and Wake, surrounded by Japanese territory, linked Hawaii with the Philippines.
Despite its early victories in China, Japan now found itself in a costly quagmire and regarded by the “international community” as a “rogue.” Although Japan’s armed forces proved technologically superior against the Chinese the numerical superiority and territorial expanse of China neutralized this edge. Furthermore, Japanese aggression cost it the commercial support of the European democracies and the US, its major trading partner. Covertly both the UK and US provided China military and economic aid while they embargoed Japan. Japan saw its only solution the conquest of the rich resources of the vulnerable European colonies in Southeast Asia.
Japan long viewed these European colonies with envy and as future parts of its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Now the events in Europe seemingly provided the opportunity for another easy conquest for a massive gain of resources. The defeated Netherlands government-in-exile in London lacked the national resources for reinforcing the oil-rich Dutch East Indies (modern Indonesia). Vichy France suffered under the restrictions placed on it by Germany, which prevented reinforcing French Indochina (modern Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam). The UK focused its armed forces on defending the British Isles and the Suez Canal. This removed from Asia large numbers of troops from Australia, New Zealand and India. It rendered the strategically important Singapore naval base, which controlled the Straits of Malacca, vulnerable. The only thing that prevented Japan’s conquest was the still-neutral and still-militarily unprepared US.
In September, 1940 Japan officially joined the Axis Powers, the “winning team” at the time. Through the coercion of Germany Japan received concessions in French Indochina from the Vichy government. Orders from France, either deliberately or not, did not reach Indochina in time and French forces resisted for several days. This provided the evidence of Japanese aggression for the world and reaffirmed Japan’s status as a “rogue.” Japan’s occupation of Indochina gave them a strategic position within easy striking distance of British and Dutch colonies.
The US suddenly found the UK and the Netherlands pleading for American protection for their Asian colonies. In Gordon Prange’s At Dawn We Slept we learn that FDR, before the Allied defeat in Europe, transferred the Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor. This occurred following the Fleet’s annual Hawaiian training exercise in May, 1940 for deterring Japanese aggression. Prange further states that FDR did this without prior consultation with his military commanders, including the Pacific Fleet Commander. It further occurred at about the same time that Daves completed his radio school and rejoined the Pacific Fleet.
Japan’s aggression in Indochina proved the breaking point in relations with the US, setting the course for war. FDR tightened the already existing embargo against Japan; denying Japan desperately needed oil and steel. Ending the embargo required that Japan end its war in China and withdraw its troops from Indochina. In the superior position, militarily, Japan saw no reason for negotiating with achieving its goals in sight.
The occupation of Indochina caused a change in US strategy regarding the defense of the Philippine Commonwealth. Previously considered too distant and too expensive for defending the US invested little manpower and materiel in the Philippines. Following an initial abandonment, the mighty Pacific Fleet would fight its way across the Pacific escorting a relief force. At the urging of General Douglas MacArthur, commander of US forces in the Philippines, the US began transforming the Commonwealth into a credible threat. However, the “wheels of the bureaucracy” turn slowly and the US did not officially change strategy until April, 1941.
Unfortunately Japanese intelligence monitored this build up of forces in the Philippines all the way across the Pacific. Japanese military planners realized the key position that Hawaii’s location held in this build up. They further realized, as did the Americans, that no matter how strong the Philippines became it still required a timely relief. With the Pacific Fleet now in Hawaii that relief seemed a more imminent threat. This made the Pacific Fleet, now preparing for war, a tantalizing target for Japan, before the US achieved readiness.
Daves describes service in a navy preparing for war with obsolete ships and equipment against enemies with far superior capabilities. As the nation struggled with rebuilding its long-neglected armed forces these inadequate forces must protect the nation. He further describes the mail he received from his parents and Adeline worried about him, letters written by the loved ones of military personnel in similar situations.
While the US and Japan prepared for war, Daves anticipated his first thirty-day leave in November, 1941. Unfortunately for him the Navy cancelled all leaves and went on alert amidst a flurry of war warnings. He states that the messages indicated potential attacks in the Philippines or Thailand, with no mention of Hawaii. Most other historical sources confirm these messages and the “experts” deemed an air attack on Pearl Harbor “impossible.” Like the Army, the Navy seemed more concerned with spies and terrorists among the large, local ethnic Japanese population. He mentions extra guards posted around the docks and details painting doors and windows on oil storage tanks for camouflage.
I found particular interest in Daves’ activities on December 6, 1941, the day before the attack. Since no one knew the exact day of Japan’s pending attack, learning what people do on the last day of peace proves informative. Furthermore, I enjoyed reading about his Sunday morning, just before the attack, again with no anticipation of the approaching devastation. Traditionally military personnel enjoy Sunday as a “day off,” except those rostered for duty, and anticipate rest and relaxation. The sun awoke Daves at 0630 hours, 6:30 A.M. for civilians, and he anticipated the special Sunday breakfast meal, pancakes. On December 7, 1941 the novelist James Jones, then stationed at Schofield Barracks, a few miles from Pearl Harbor, anticipated a similar experience. Jones, a soldier in the 25th Infantry Division, wrote the novel, From Here to Eternity, based on his experiences. He states that the Army Sunday breakfast ration included an extra bottle of milk. As sounds of the (still unknown) Japanese bombing drew these men outside, they brought their milk with them for preventing its theft.
As Daves approached the mess hall he heard the noise of the still unidentified aircraft flying low, too low, over Pearl Harbor. He believed these reckless (American) pilots in trouble for “safety violations.” This reminds me of the scene from the movie, “Tora, Tora, Tora,” and the two naval officers looking for the plane’s identification for reporting a “safety violation.” Prange records that many initially assumed the attack part of a well-executed air raid drill.
Although taken by surprise American military personnel reacted quickly and Daves quickly reported for duty. He describes his duties carrying ammunition for a rooftop machinegun crew engaging enemy aircraft. At this time he sees his first enemy killed, sees the Arizona sunk and describes how that affected him. Daves’ memory of the death and destruction that day reminds everyone of the need for eternal vigilance. It also reminds everyone of the price of remaining free in a world threatened by global “bullies.” Finally, Daves’ personal experience as he assisted with the horribly wounded portrays the human cost of national failures.
Following the attack the American troops not engaged in casualty evacuation and clean up braced for more attacks. They further engaged in rumors, the pastime of military personnel with idle time. Defensive plans for Hawaii at the time included repelling an invasion force and thwarting sabotage by agents. Therefore, the rumors included Japanese paratroops landing; something mentioned in one of the final scenes of the movie “From Here to Eternity.” Another sailor “saw” Japanese ships unloading troops on Barbers Point, near Kalealoa, Hawaii on Oahu’s southwestern point.
After his experiences assisting with the cleanup of Pearl Harbor, which included burial detail, Daves requested sea duty. He stated his desire for revenge against the Japanese, a common reaction when one loses a buddy. However, Daves lost over two thousand buddies, and saw much of that horror and participated in the aftermath. This took him aboard the aging submarine, USS Dolphin, where he learned why submariners lived in barracks when in port.
After the Japanese attack Daves reports that all information became “classified,” even personal letters home. I do not think that people today understand the fear of revealing classified information at the time. The nation embraced the phrase “Loose lips sinks ships,” and endured censorship for protecting “our boys.” Today no one cares when the media routinely publish classified information that jeopardizes military operations, and the lives of our troops. During World War II such irresponsible action would have resulted in an arrest at the very least.
The problems with the Dolphin emphasize the overall military readiness deficiencies suffered by the US early in the war. This addresses one of the reasons why I did not join the Navy; if an Army vehicle breaks down, you get out and walk. If a submarine breaks down, you sink with it; if any ship sinks, you end up helpless in the water. Even in combat, if enemy fire damages your armored vehicle you stand a good chance of survival. I think I made my point.
Daves recalled his relief upon arriving back in Pearl Harbor and walking on dry land. He found conditions at his barracks changed and all of his buddies now gone. This reflected the needs of an expanding navy during wartime as it dispersed experienced people among the growing number of “newbies.” The Navy, and Army as well, promote their experienced people into higher leadership positions and they lead their young recruits into battle. Unfortunately higher casualties usually result from this since you initiate both inexperienced leaders and inexperienced enlisted personnel. However, we continuously use this system because we purposely maintain our peacetime armed forces under strength.
Daves requested sea duty again and found himself assigned on the aircraft carrier, USS Yorktown. With most of the fleet’s battleships out of commission, the aircraft carrier assumed the dominant role in naval warfare. Even though outnumbered by the Imperial Japanese Navy, the battered Pacific Fleet must delay Japanese aggression. He describes his experiences as the Yorktown went “in harm’s way” headed for the Solomon Islands. Of interest, even in the midst of war, a war the US was currently losing, naval tradition still held. I speak now of the Navy’s “pollywog” tradition for initiating a sailor crossing the Equator for the first time.
The Yorktown and its task force engaged in a dangerous “cat-and-mouse” deception plan. Daves describes the tension as the numerically inferior American ships raided Japanese installations in the Solomons. Unfortunately their raids alerted the Japanese of at least one American carrier in the region. During the Battle of Coral Sea the Americans lost the carrier USS Lexington and the Yorktown suffered severe damage. However, this battle prevented the invasion of Australia by the Japanese.
Anyone familiar with the Battle of Coral Sea, or who watched the movie “Midway,” knows of the extensive damage suffered by the Yorktown. The ship’s mechanics estimated it needed three months in a dry dock, probably at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. Daves began thinking about his overdue thirty day leave and visiting Adeline in Spokane. However, the Navy soon dashed this dream when the captain announced that the Yorktown would be in Pearl Harbor for only three days. The epic effort of the crew and yard workers at getting the ship seaworthy in this short period of time deserves a page in our history books.
On schedule the Yorktown departed Pearl Harbor headed for the ocean area near strategic Midway Island. After the heavy losses at Coral Sea Daves describes the problems with integrating new crew members, especially new, inexperienced pilots, within the crew. One thing that Daves mentions is the inferiority of existing American aircraft when facing the more modern Japanese “Zero” fighter. The historical notes state that by mid-June, 1942 the US deployed a more modern torpedo plane. Unfortunately this occurred too late for the upcoming Battle of Midway.
This highlights a fact largely ignored by academia regarding the Americans who fought the Battle of Midway. First, after Pearl Harbor the entire strength of the US Pacific Fleet consisted of three aircraft carriers, one of them barely seaworthy. Against them came the might of the Imperial Japanese Navy; including six aircraft carriers and eight battleships. With naval supremacy the Japanese divided their ships among two operations; hopefully for dividing the Americans as well. The Americans knew of their weaknesses and inferiority of equipment; however, they understood that they alone prevented Japanese domination of the Pacific Ocean.
History records that Japan intended on occupying Midway and using its air base against Hawaii. Midway became the primary target for the Japanese following the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo on April 18, 1942. Following the debacle at Pearl Harbor and continuous American defeats FDR authorized this daring raid under Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle, an Army bomber pilot. While the Yorktown task force conducted operations in the Solomons the other American carriers did the same elsewhere in the Pacific. The USS Hornet penetrated deep into Japanese waters and launched 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers from its deck. Doolittle’s bombers flew low for avoiding Japanese radar, bombed Tokyo, shocked the Japanese and raised American morale.
This raid deserves greater coverage in our history because of the willing sacrifice made by the Americans that participated. Foremost, Doolittle and his men knew that a carrier deck lacked sufficient space for launching their bombers. This squadron trained in short takeoffs in the utmost secrecy until they achieved proficiency. Again in the strictest secrecy these bombers loaded aboard the Hornet and headed toward Japan. Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. commanded this task force, and he and his sailors knew the dangers involved.
During the launch the air crews risked plunging into the ocean and once airborne they risked engagement by Japanese air defenses. If they survived the raid, they must find unknown airfields in China while low on fuel. None of the bombers reached the airfields, with all the crews either bailing out or crash landing behind Japanese lines. All of those who survived their landing endured epic ordeals of escape, captivity or execution. I strongly encourage that all Americans interested in this raid read about the courage of these Americans when facing impossible odds.
Doolittle’s Raid proved Japanese “experts” as wrong as the American “experts” regarding an air attack on Pearl Harbor. They believed these bombers must launch from land and Midway, as the closest American territory, seemed the logical choice. For preventing further raids on Tokyo, and possible harm for the emperor, the Midway operation must assume priority.
The tenacity of the Americans surprised the Japanese, which upset their timetable for achieving their conquests. While the Pacific Fleet sparred with the Japanese Navy American and Filipino troops, cut off from supplies, still resisted. The Battle of Coral Sea sunk one Japanese carrier and severely damaged another, forcing them on the defensive. This loss reduced the number of carriers available for the Midway operation and improved the odds for the Americans. Facing certain defeat and destruction the Americans prepared for the Japanese at Midway and their courage saw our nation through its darkest hours.
Examples of American courage include Major Floyd B. “Red” Parks, USMC, the commander of VMF – 221 on Midway. When alerted about incoming Japanese aircraft, Parks led his outnumbered pilots into the air in their obsolete fighters. Suffering heavy losses these brave men hardly delayed the Japanese attack and only shot down seven Japanese aircraft. Aircraft launched from the American carriers went beyond the “safe” range of their fuel in search of the Japanese fleet. This caused a lack of coordination with the initial attacks on the Japanese carriers, and heavy American losses with no visible results. Despite seeing their comrade’s planes go down around them these pilots pressed their attacks until shot down themselves. However, they disrupted Japanese operations long enough for better coordinated attacks based on the intelligence provided by their failed attacks. I believe America owes these men more than merely airing the movie “Midway” on the anniversary of the battle.
Historically, the Battle of Midway stopped the Japanese advance and allowed some respite for the hard-pressed Americans. Although the “sleeping giant” “awoke” the US needed time for building the manpower and war machinery for a counteroffensive. Training new recruits and organizing them into new units requires months of effort. The vaunted “Arsenal of Democracy” remained in its formative phase and did not realize its full potential until late 1943 or early 1944. This battle, fought six months after the Pearl Harbor debacle (June 4 – 7, 1942) raised American morale after almost continuous defeat.
How did the US Navy, devastated after Pearl Harbor, deal the Japanese Navy such a crippling blow? A significant contribution came from a group of dedicated Americans that never participated in direct combat, the code breakers. Through a Herculaneum effort these cryptanalysts broke the Japanese diplomatic code and some naval codes before the war. Prange describes the toll this operation exacted when its first officer in charge (OIC), Army Lieutenant Colonel William F. Friedman, suffered a nervous breakdown. This operation intensified after Pearl Harbor and met with slow, but steady, progress that greatly assisted US operations. Through a deception plan developed at Pearl Harbor the Americans tricked the Japanese into revealing Midway as their objective.
Here the Japanese provided an important lesson for all future military planners regarding operational security. Their string of victories against the Allies made them arrogant and complacent regarding their capabilities. They further believed their codes unbreakable and, fortunately for us, did not change them. Another lesson, no “leaks” occurred among those Americans with this knowledge and no one in Congress knew about it.
Daves found a totally different Pearl Harbor and Honolulu when he returned with all new personnel again in the CinCPac radio room. Hawaii, strategically located in the center of the Pacific, became the largest transit point for manpower and materiel crossing the Pacific. Honolulu experienced a “boom” from the influx of military personnel and war industry; which included 24/7 service in the bars and brothels of Hotel Street. He describes his loneliness and that all the Yorktown survivors endured a post-combat physical evaluation. Furthermore, they all required counseling sessions by a chaplain for psychiatric evaluation before returning to duty. Toward the end of June, 1942 the Pacific Fleet commander, Admiral Chester Nimitz, threw the Yorktown survivors a party at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Daves describes the emotions displayed at this party, the crew’s last reunion before they dispersed for other duties.
The US Mail finally caught up with Daves and he received stacks of letters from his parents and Adeline. He learned that his two older brothers served in the Army, as well as most of the men from his hometown. This provides an experience that an “America at war” has not undergone since World War II, every able-bodied man in the military. With about 16 million men ultimately mobilized every family became a military family. Through these letters Daves learned of the lives of the people on the “home front” and how the war affected them. His mother, and the other women of his hometown, traveled daily by bus into Little Rock for work in a factory.
Despite working in CinCPac communications Daves admits that he knew little of the global war. He states that it took until the end of that summer before he believed the war might last another year or two. Upon the advice of his buddies he applied for Radio Materiel School, an advanced communications school in Washington, DC. Daves experiences the common guilt of those leaving combat zones for “soft” duty; however, these personnel provide a valuable service.
Expanding armed forces require more personnel involved in the training of new recruits, and veterans provide an excellent source. The US must not only expand its pre-war under strength armed forces, but replace the obsolete equipment it used. Both the Army and Navy worked tirelessly at developing the technologies of modern warfare and training people that use it. Daves, a petty officer with over two years service, including combat experience, personified the perfect candidate for this duty.
Here Daves experiences a US Navy executing its “home front” mission and training personnel for a long war. First Daves describes his experiences on a troop ship with about 400 sailors bound for San Francisco, and leave. Most civilians do not understand that one cannot keep military personnel in continuous combat. Unfortunately this includes some of the civilians working in the Pentagon. The strain of combat on personnel causes “battle fatigue,” they lose their effectiveness and become burdens on their units. Besides, with all shipbuilding and unit organization occurring in the continental US (CONUS) this move integrated the veterans quickly into their new units.
Before reporting for his training Daves took his previously canceled thirty day leave. After several days with Adeline Daves next visited his parents and discovered the changes in his hometown. He reunited with one of his brothers in the Army, home on leave at the time. Again, this reflects a common experience at the time with the nation fully mobilized for war. As stated previously the nation mobilized 16 million personnel for the Armed Forces, through both volunteers and the draft. Officially called Selective Service it provided the required manpower needed for a nation struggling in a global war. We “boomers” remember the draft; however, during our time an abused system of deferments kept many out of uniform. Those deferments proved in short supply during World War II; however, the Armed Forces still rejected about one-third for mental and physical reasons. Rick Atkinson, in his book An Army at Dawn, states that this high number reflects the severe conditions of the depression.
Daves now describes part of the war that we know little about, those who served in CONUS. With so much focus on the “action movie” combat operations we know little of the training that prepared military personnel for these operations. Daves provides that knowledge and the difficulties of passing the required courses for becoming a trainer. His experiences with the “rationing” and other shortages on the “home front” educate us today with the sacrifices of a “nation at war.” The media today often bemoans us as a “war weary nation;” however, outside our military families, the rest of us remain unaffected.
Upon his arrival in Washington Daves found his sister, Verna, who experiences the changing roles of women. Until the next class started at the Naval Research Laboratory Daves stayed with Verna, who he thought “had it made.” In a time of shortages she lived in her own apartment and owned a car. However, she planned on giving up her job with the Bureau of Engraving and becoming an Army nurse. She became the fourth of the seven Daves children in the Armed Forces at the time.
At the end of this eight-month course Daves graduated and received promotion; petty officer first class. Daves received assignment into a little known combat theater, Alaska, where the troops fought the Japanese and a harsh climate. The book proves worthy of the read if for nothing more than learning about World War II in Alaska. Military operations proved hazardous during peacetime given the harsh climate, inhospitable terrain and logistical difficulties. Personnel suffered from cold weather injuries: frostbite, hypothermia, pneumonia and other debilitating, and sometimes fatal diseases. If someone went into the sea from a sunken ship or downed aircraft their chances of survival proved slim. Combat operations made harsh living conditions worse, forced people into circumstances regarded as unsafe in peacetime and added battle casualties.
Although the US Army stationed troops in Alaska since its purchase from Russia in 1867, the numbers remained small. As relations with Japan steadily worsened the Army and Navy both looked more closely at the strategic importance of Alaska. The Army established Fort Mears on the island of Unalaska in June, 1941. In September the Navy established the Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base on adjoining territory. The miserable weather and tundra severely hindered air operations as it prevented firm, dry takeoff and landing fields. Frequent heavy fog also restricted air operations and air support for ground forces. The rough seas hindered naval and amphibious operations and landing craft proved unsuitable for Arctic operations.
As part of its overall Midway campaign the Japanese launched an aerial attack on Dutch Harbor. Furthermore, Japanese troops easily occupied an undefended Attu, the westernmost of the Aleutian Islands and nearby Kiska. Still reeling from the Pearl Harbor disaster and the effects of joining the losing side in a global war the US proved unprepared for war in Alaska. Although the nation’s industries manufactured only military equipment, it proved insufficient in 1942 for a global war. Alaska, though considered American soil, did not rate a high priority in men or materiel. It further lacked the facilities and infrastructure for maintaining large bodies of troops, which caused them further hardships.
Daves found upon arrival at the Cold Bay naval air station on the Alaska Peninsula that the “radio shack” did not exist. As the military presence in Alaska expanded the troops must construct their facilities, often without proper equipment. The shortage of adequate supplies caused an increase in a time-honored, unauthorized military tactic, “scrounging.” With Army and Navy facilities in such close proximity the men “acquired” what they needed from each other.
With Attu and Kiska in enemy hands, everyone in Alaska feared more Japanese invasion attempts. Daves describes the reaction when Aleut fishermen reported the sightings of Japanese ships or planes. He relates the seriousness with which he took these reports upon monitoring Japanese radio transmissions. Because of this the base commander ordered anti-sub air patrols and Daves describes his harrowing experiences with these patrols. Again, the Navy lacked the sufficient aircraft and modified its scout planes for these patrols.
During winter the “midnight sun” reversed into almost constant darkness; that, and the fog, prevented flying. Daves describes the problems brought on by the boredom and how the men coped with it. He passed much of the time by taking his general equivalency development (GED) test for a high school diploma. Furthermore, he studied for his next promotional exam as a chief petty officer; something for which he felt unqualified.
Daves did “make chief,” which required that he transfer to the naval air station on Kodiak Island. He served there as non-commissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) of the communications unit. While at Kodiak Daves experienced something that the Navy, the other Armed Forces and the American public still grapple with, racial integration.
People entering the military traditionally take with them the prejudices they learn in civilian life. Daves mentions his pre-war experiences with “Jim Crow” laws in Vilonia, Arkansas. However, he reveals an attitude that defies the accepted stereotype of “racist” Southerners eagerly discriminating against black people. It seems that Vilonia never enforced the laws and both Daves’ parents abhorred the laws, and raised their children accordingly.
History records that during World War II most black Army personnel served in segregated units, mostly in combat service support (CSS) units. In the Navy they served mostly as cooks and mess stewards and remained as segregated as conditions on a warship allowed. The Marine Corps resisted recruiting black marines until forced into it in 1941 and, like the Army, assigned them in segregated service units. However, the needs of the expanding Armed Forces, the heavy casualties and increasing influence of civil rights movements forced a change.
When academia and the media report on the segregation of the Armed Forces during World War II they blame the wrong people. I previously stated that individuals entering the military bring their learned prejudices with them, and sometimes maintain it throughout their service. Since the Armed Forces kept as much separation as possible between the races, changing these prejudices proved difficult. However, Congress passes the laws that govern the Armed Forces based on societal norms, as they perceive them. MacDonald states that most of the powerful senators on the armed services committees came from the South. Unfortunately racism and “Jim Crow” laws do not exist exclusively in the South, or among only white people. One of the worst race riots in our history occurred in Detroit, hardly a southern city, in 1943. Since the general American public lived in a mostly segregated society the “constituents” did not want their sons integrated in the military.
Daves’ unit received its first, and only, black sailor in the spring of 1944; a petty officer third class just graduated from radio school. Daves places his conversations regarding this unnamed sailor in the context of the time; explaining the acceptability of using the terms “colored” and “Negro.” This provides the only account I know during the war of an integrated unit; outside of white officers commanding in segregated units. Regulations forbid Daves, now an officer, from socializing with enlisted personnel; however, he mentions no racial problems in the unit.
These sailors at Kodiak experienced what all military personnel experienced when the Armed Forces integrated following World War II. The normal hardships of military life, a great “equalizer,” place people in circumstances where they must depend on each other. Unit cohesion, success in training, victory in battle and survival depend on individuals operating as a team. Within that team the individuals learn that no matter the differences in skin color or ethnicity people perform the same.
Most Americans know little about the “lend-lease” program, when American industries built the equipment needed by our allies. Documentaries and Hollywood movies feature the convoys crossing the Atlantic bound for the UK and the danger from German submarines. Most supplies bound for the Soviets risked the extremely hazardous Murmansk Run, suffering from German attack and the Arctic climate. Daves provides knowledge of the little-known operation that crossed Alaska into the USSR. Kodiak served as the “hand-over” point for “lend-lease” aircraft for the Soviet Union. He served as a liaison officer for the Soviet pilots during their training in Kodiak. Again, he describes a neglected part of history regarding the uneasy alliance with the USSR. Furthermore, he describes how official policies affected interactions between individual personnel, supposedly allies.
An instructor position opened at the radio school in San Diego and Daves applied for it. Again Daves provides insight into the problems associated with the “stateside” Navy and surviving an America struggling with rationing during a wartime “boom.” His next assignment kept him stateside, and with Adeline (now his wife), at Gulfport, Mississippi as an instructor. As stated previously, the expanding Navy needed experienced instructors for training its new recruits.
The Daves’ “road trip” from San Diego to Gulfport proved informative given the gas rationing and the use of tokens. Eating on the road proved another challenge as food rationing limited the menus, and made the source of meat questionable. They kept aware of the war’s progress from the car radio, which made Daves fearful for his brothers. At this time five Daves’ children now served in the Armed Forces, again, something common at the time.
At Gulfport Daves experienced the death of the only president many Americans knew, FDR. Today we honor fallen presidents with a national day of mourning; however the needs of the war demanded no interruption of the effort. Daves heard about Germany’s surrender on his car radio, and witnessed the local celebration in Gulfport. Again, the victory in Europe (V-E Day) did not generate a national holiday, the war continued in the Pacific.
News from the Pacific proved more sobering as the Japanese fought harder; proven by the casualty rates from Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Daves recounts rumors of Japanese “suicide pilots” during the liberation of the Philippines, before he departed Kodiak. Now everyone knew that hundreds of kamikazes tried sinking our ships by crashing into them. Rumors of the biggest invasion ever planned for invading the Japanese home islands circulated, filling the sailors’ lives with anxiety. The rumored scope of the operation made Daves expect a reassignment back into the Pacific combat zone.
Daves expressed his thrill at learning of the dropping of the atomic bomb at the time. My father, then a soldier in the 1st Cavalry Division in the Philippines, expressed a similar thrill. The 1st Cavalry Division trained for Operation Olympic; the invasion of Kyushu, Japan’s southern-most island. Most war weary Americans at the time expressed similar elation, particularly Americans in uniform anticipating further combat. Unfortunately that elation ended when Japan did not surrender after the dropping of a second bomb. We today do not understand the hardened attitudes of the American public regarding using the atomic bombs. World War II cost the US over 400,000 lives, and that loss touched every American family. The casualty rates during Iwo Jima and Okinawa averaged at 30 per cent as the Japanese fought fanatically until killed. All intelligence indicated even higher casualties from an invasion of the Japanese home islands.
When Japan finally surrendered Daves describes the jubilation at Gulfport and an all night celebration. Daves soon found out that he possessed enough “points” for an immediate discharge from the Navy. He briefly explains the “points” system used for discharging the veterans with the most service first.
Daves then describes his postwar civilian life and his desire for finding a job as soon as possible. With millions of discharged veterans returning home soon he showed clear foresight in finding a job immediately. Daves describes his postwar activities, his job, raising a family and his participation in veterans’ activities, particularly the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. He mentions how the attacks of September 11, 2001 affected him and made him remember Pearl Harbor. This attack did not deter his determination for attending the 60th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Finally Daves expresses something common among veterans, remorse for his lost comrades and not understanding why they died and he lived. He also expresses it his duty now for informing America’s future leaders of his experiences and the price of maintaining freedom. For his past and continued service all Americans owe him a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.
Throughout the book Daves tells his story without indulging in self-pity or bitterness regarding his life experiences. I found that commendable in a time when so many today want sympathy or reward for challenges far less than his. He met the challenges of his time head-on and sought the advantage in every adversity. Even during the darkest days of World War II he never lost sight of his individual goals. Daves’ oral history provides a good example for our military personnel and their families, facing continuous deployments. It further proves a good example for those Americans experiencing a bad economy and unemployment. I ask the question, do we Americans today possess the courage of Daves’ generation, who bequeathed us the greatest nation in the world?
A more important question: do we and our leaders today possess the wisdom for learning from the mistakes committed during the 1930’s? Americans like Ray Daves learned these lessons the hard way through their blood, sweat and sacrifice. I went beyond the “normal” book review because I believe in emphasizing these lessons at every opportunity. Sadly, most Americans today know little about the global circumstances that caused World War II. History courses today ignore them, gloss over them or distort them for a political or social agenda. They further know little about the armed forces, both then and now, that defend them from enemies meaning them harm. I took the liberty of providing some information about the armed forces and how “the system” works. Furthermore, most American do not understand the sacrifices required by Daves and his generation, both during the Great Depression and World War II.
Daves survived Pearl Harbor and participated in the hard-won victories of Coral Sea and Midway. However, these victories did not end the war, as Daves initially believed; they merely ended the string of defeats. Victory required a national mobilization, four years of hard fighting on several fronts and over 400,000 American lives. The world ignored several chances for avoiding this terrible war had the “superpowers” dealt more forcefully with the “rogue nations” in the 1930’s. Today the US deals with the growing threats of “rogue nations” much the same as the previous “superpowers.” Unless we heed these lessons learned at such a harsh price we may face a future like the UK or France. I see no potential “superpower” that shares our democratic institutions or moral values, or feels benevolent toward us. If we wait until we cannot avoid war with the “rogue nations” they may prove too strong. Another generation of Americans may experience national mobilization, including countless more oral histories of war for future authors. We owe Ray Daves and those of his generation more than repeating those mistakes.