Ted Gutches, Jr. – “I was on the last military vessel to leave Honolulu before the Japanese attacked.”

Ted Gutches 1

Theodore “Ted” Gutches, Jr.

U.S. Army 44th and 266th Coast Artillery and the Transportation Corps

Pre-WWII Hawaii and WWII Alaska


The start of my Army career, I had just made my eighteenth birthday at the end of May 1939 in New Jersey.  I was a wanderer for a long time when I left home and hardly ever went back after my fourteenth birthday.  I supported myself one way or another.  I hitchhiked a lot. I went across the United States, twice —

What?! Really!

— on my thumb.

Wow. And your mom said, “Ok?”

Well she knew I had to wander.  And when I came back I had lots of stories to tell.

[Then] I was mulling over in my mind what I wanted to do.  I wanted to travel more and I didn’t know how ‘cause I couldn’t hitchhike across the Pacific Ocean!  I wanted to go to the Philippine Islands and Hawaii and on June 9, 1939 I went to the second floor of the post office building in Passaic, New Jersey, and I enlisted. [The United States had not yet entered World War II.]

Now I thought that I could go into the Air force and maybe continue flying [he had become a pilot].  They did not have an opening in the air force because at that time the Army was small.  I think it was 275,000 men and they are usually very, very particular who they got.  But they had an opening in the Coast Artillery.

Now the Coast Artillery was of the people other than the Air Force.  It was considered to be the elite – over the field artillery, over the infantry, the engineers, everything else.  And they had marvelous, exciting things that they did.

Well anyway, I joined and they said you are going to the Port of Hawaii, to Fort Kamehameha at the entry to Pearl Harbor.  It had big concrete – things, and it had big, big guns in them – BIG ones – and the disappearing mounts and things like that, and barbette mounts.

A barbette mount is one where it’s set and the recoil goes down in the ground and you can turn it around and you can make it go up a little ways [almost vertical] and you get to a point where a rise in elevation reduces the range.

Well I liked the Coast Artillery because this company had its own steam engine [he shows me his hat].Fullscreen capture 4112016 113931 AM.bmp  This is the regimental badge of the 44th Coast Artillery.  The ring is a railroad ring.  They used to put the train with a gun on that.  It’d recoil and go around.  And there are two Hawaiian spears.  But then after six or eight months – after I really got to learn the steam engine (you had to shovel coal and make a fire, not oil.  And it was bituminous – soft coal.  Once in a while you get anthracite, but not often because it was so expensive and the Army was very careful about what it spent in those days.) There were two guys to shovel coal and I was the engineer.

I was a PFC [private first class] then, and an army private’s pay was supposed to be $21 a month.  So you made $21 a day/ once a month. [He chuckles]

Anytime I got a chance to run the steam engine, I did.  But then all of a sudden, they decided, “We don’t need this steam engine.  We don’t have to have the expense of it. We’re going to sell it to someone who has narrow gauge tracks up in the mountains somewhere or some other country.  We are going to use Hawaii’s railroad steam engines to pull our guns around.”

So they got rid of the steam engine.  BUT [the Coast Artillery] had the sixty-inch  [carbon-arc] lights to light up the sky.

Fullscreen capture 4122016 63901 PM.bmpThere’s two carbon things in there.  And you had to be careful to bring in the positive one and bring it to the negative one.  The negative one was [as big around as his thumb].  And the front end of it has a little cove.  And you would bring the positive one with the electric charge to it but it must not touch that other carbon! ‘Cause if you did, you’d probably knock the edge off of it and then the little ball of light would spill out.  So you had to go in there and ignite it and as soon as you did, you backed off three-eighths of an inch at the most.

It took skill! And I could do it quick!  And now I have this huge light up in the sky! Five thousand feet!

Fullscreen capture 4112016 114701 AM.bmp


And [the Coast Artillery] had its own interesting things.  It had its own trucks and I liked working on trucks. I could take an engine out of this truck and I’d pull it all apart and Monday morning it’s back on the line working.

You WERE a mechanic.

But I didn’t want to be a mechanic.  That’s what happened when I tried to get at Hickam Field which was right next to Fort Kam.  I went over there to try to get transferred and they said, “Ok, we’ll transfer you.  We’ve got a place for you in the machine shop and you’ll be rebuilding engines there.”

“But wait a minute.  I want to fly.”

They said, “No, we don’t have any openings for flyers.  All the flying spots are taken up.  You won’t get that.  You’ll have to go into the shop and repair engines and clean spark plugs.”

I said, “The hell with that.”

So I didn’t do it.  And besides I was interested in the Coast Artillery – especially the big guns! Oh I like that!

The gun would come and get it all set up to put the projectile in it.  We have a projectile that weighs more than a Volkswagen automobile.  You open the breech and you have six men carrying this one big projectile on a rack.  They bring it up to the breech and four guys with a ramrod come and shove that projectile up into the breach of the big gun.  Then they back away and here comes about six guys with bags of powder.  Raw silk bags.  They have to ram those bags up in behind the projectile.  Now we close the breech. KA-LUMP!  And now you wait for the signal from the leader on how to aim the gun – so many degrees this way, so many degrees that way, so many degrees up or down – and fire.  He pulls the string, and the detonator which you had put into the breach, shoots a flame out of it and lights up those silk bags with the powder in it and sends that projectile 30 miles out into the sea.

That’s amazing!  What’d you do about the sound?

Oh boy! (He puts his fingers in his ears and chuckles)

And they had some guns — the 155’s which are a little over six inches.  The 155 GPFs had wheels on them.  They were a present from France from World War I.  And they said right on them that that’s what they were.  Six and one-tenth inches. There were guns from six inches to sixteen inches in diameter.  And those shells weighed well over a ton.

They could do some damage!

It was exciting!  I liked the Coast Artillery!

There wasn’t really a threat at that point, was there?

No.  We really didn’t have any idea that anything was going to happen.

Then the end of my tour – now in between I did some other things – I went to Japan, China, I went to India, I went to Borneo, Brunei, and Sarawac, the Philippine Islands.  We were testing radios.  Hallicrafters radios was trying to get the military to accept their radios.


Hallicrafters.  Man, they made beautiful radios.

I’ve never heard of them.

And they were very light! The radios we getting up to that time were made by the Signal Corps in New Jersey.  I think it was Monmouth, New Jersey.  And they were heavy.  I mean, you could drop them off of a cliff and nothing would happen to them. And they were very simple.  No sophistication here.  But with the Hallicrafters, it was different.  And they wanted us to take these radios and I went with a sergeant and a few other guys.  We went to these places really quick, set up radios to test them out to see how far we could reach with them – if we could get someone from forty to fifty miles away.  But we moved along very quickly and then we went back to Hawaii.

I was on the last military vessel to leave Honolulu before the Japanese attacked.  I had just maybe a day or two before arrived in San Francisco.  And I was at Presidio, San Francisco when — I was in the supply shack.  It was Sunday morning.  I was pushing my helmet, my rifle, canteen across the desk to the supply sergeant.  I was saying, “There you can have it. You can have it now.”

He had a little radio up there.  The little radio was playing music.  All of a sudden the music stopped.  “The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor.” With that, nothing ruffled this guy.  He just come behind my stuff and he said, “You’re not leaving.”  [Mr. Ted chuckles]

Anyway it wasn’t very long I was there. I was just like all the other guys.  We were supposed to be in transit going somewhere.  This was just an intermediate stop off place.  Well all my stuff had already been sent by train.  It went back to New Jersey!

They said, “You’re going to be reassigned up to Sitka, Alaska.  You’re going to set up radio stations,” which I did.  I was the chief operator.

How long were you in Sitka?

Oh, almost a year. And then Captain _____ -– I can’t remember his name now – kicked me out, but I went to more exciting things.

I was smart alecky.  That was my trouble. I was going to be with my men. And I had five or six guys who were part of the radio section and I was constantly trying to teach them something.  And when I was told to man the radios, everyone of them guys, “Into the radio shack!”

A couple of them complained about it.  “You can’t use all of us at one time!”

“I’ll use all of you one time or another as I get to ya. Get to the radio shack.”  But I think they respected me for that!

But all of a sudden, one day a captain called me into his office.

I said, “Yes, sir. You called me?”

He said, “Corporal Gutches?”

“I know what you’re about to say, sir.  I’m busted.”

He says, “Yes.”  He said, “How’d you know that?”

I said, “I’ve been knowing it for days!”

He said, “How did it get out of this office!”

I said, “I’m not telling you a thing.”

How did you know?

Somebody told me. He said, “I’ve got good wind from the office.  You’re gonna get busted. And you’re gonna get shipped out.  You got everything set up now.  Everything working smoothly.  They’re gonna send you out.”

I was surprised.  I thought I had a place to stay there for however long.

I said, “No court martial?”

[The captain] said, “You want one?”

I said, “No!”

I took off the stripes. “There.”  [It] don’t bother me!

So what was the reason?

I didn’t stay to find out.  I said, “Am I dismissed?”

He said, “Yeah! You’re dismissed.”

“Sir! Thank you.”

I walked out. I got my stuff packed up and the next boat that was going south to Seattle, I was on it.

So I went to school to learn how to use landing barges.  These were the Higgins boats that were built in New Orleans. With the great Marines in ‘em.

And it wasn’t too long that my boat was put on a big ship and so was I and we went north and all around the curve of Alaska out toward the Aleutians.

And the next thing you know, I’m piloting that thing into shore and the Japanese were on that island!  But they fell back.  They did not confront us on the beach.

We got on the beach and I unloaded some men.


Invasion of Attu, an Aleutian Island of Alaska. (Photo U.S. Signal Corps)

I was loading a couple of trucks and then I came and I was bringing a D8 Caterpillar ashore.  This guy was told that as soon as he hits the gate – and the gate was down – he should raise his blade and go straight ahead.  But he didn’t.  As soon as he got it on the gate, he turned to the right and he broke the cable.  I couldn’t close the gate.  So if I couldn’t close the gate, I couldn’t sail that boat.


Invasion of Attu (Photo U.S. Signal Corps)

So that means I have no boat.  What I’m supposed to do is go on the beach and help unload other boats and get the supplies to the soldiers.

I said, “I’m not gonna do that.  They’re shooting up there.  I’m gonna see what it is.”

Well, I went and as it turned out, I saw a soldier that had been hit.  He wasn’t using his rifle, so I took his rifle.  And I start chasing after the Japanese.  Well, there was a little group of us and we were deciding which way we’re gonna go because the Japanese kept falling back and falling back to the northeast.  And that’s where they had prepared trenches and stuff to fight us off and get rid of us.  They were just falling back for that – slowly.

Well we were standing in a group talking, “You want to go this way?  You want to go that way?”  I didn’t really know anything about infantry, you know?

I was a coast artillery guy.  And by this time they had disbanded the coast artillery.  There was no more.  They decided that because the way airplanes can come from any angle, there was no point in keeping the coast artillery which had guns for shooting [out in the sea].

Anyway a bomb went off.  I didn’t know it was a bomb.  I thought somebody had pushed me and knocked me down.  I fell in the dirt.  I kind of shook myself a little bit and got up.  All of a sudden I felt very hot and wet.  And I went like this with my arm [he reaches around behind his back] and remember I was all dressed for winter.  And I could feel my jacket was all ripped up.  I look at my arm and it was all bleeding.

Oh gosh!

I almost passed out.  So anyway, they took me to medical and were picking out the shards.  There’s some scars there from it [he points to places on his inner right arm]. They were tee-ninetsy pieces of metal and gravel.  That’s what had torn up my jacket.  In fact my jacket was falling off of me.  They picked out as much as they could.  And that was going to give me trouble later on.  But they powdered me real good with sulfanilamide and said, “You’ll be alright. Those are very superficial cuts.  You shouldn’t even say you’re wounded.”

An officer came in and said, “I don’t recognize you!  Who are you?”

“Corporal Theodore Gutches.” [saluting]

And he said, “You’re not a corporal anymore!”  He says, “You’re not supposed to be here! Get you’re a** out to the beach and unload boats!”


“And I’m putting you on unsatisfactory pay status!”

“Eight dollars a month for three months.”


[He laughs] But I didn’t care, you see.  Every time I took a job, especially the radios.  The radio job called for a certain rank and was going to be given that rank, no matter what.  I never did soldier for money.  If I didn’t have enough money to buy it, I just didn’t buy it!  But if I did, I would!  If I was broke, it didn’t matter.  It wouldn’t be long and [they’d] be giving me more money.  And they’re gonna feed me besides that. [He shrugs]

So were you just a private then?

Fullscreen capture 4112016 114427 AM.bmpI was a private while I was there on the beach.  And all of a sudden I was given a position on a wooden tug boat.  That’s important!  A wooden boat could go over a minefield and not attract the mines. I felt safer plus it made such nice noises while it was in the sea with the wood shifting against – and you got to know the sounds.  A sound would start at one end and go all the way to the stern!

Anyway, we were given the chance to volunteer for things. And I was one.  I was gonna volunteer.

First one was, because of the ships we had sunk – like Massacre Bay — our boats coming in would get their propellers wound up in all the cables of the sunken ships.  So somebody had to go down and cut’em.  They had one civilian who, in one afternoon, taught us how to dive. He said, “When you get to this stage, there’s a wooden platform and the derrick that you were on lower you down on the platform to where you could cut the cable.

There were four other guys who had volunteered at the same time I did.  We had a canvas diving suit and a big brass helmet.  One of the things you learn is when you go down in the water is you let water inside the suit as an insulator.  Because it was going to be cold, you want the water [inside].  And you have a little valve at your chin to regulate how far the water was up inside your suit. You wanted it just up under your chin.  So you’d hit that valve and keep that water right there. If you didn’t hit it, the water was gonna creep up.

I’m down in the water and all of a sudden I hear, “BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!”  I heard about four booms and I said, “Uh, oh.”  I knew that was one of the Japanese observation aircraft and they always carried about six bombs. And I think I heard five.  And then he dropped a bomb at starboard side forward [of the ship from which Mr. Ted was diving].  I was port aft working on a cable.  When that bomb went off, it squeezed the suit together and all that water went up into the helmet!

What’d you do?!

Well immediately, the two guys who were pumping air for me, they left!

Oh no!

But the other guys who were cranking to get me up – I was only down about fifteen feet – they cranked me up and got me out of the water and unscrewed my helmet.

And they said, “Are you alive?”

And I said, “Yeah.”  All my teeth were loose.  My nose was broken.  My eyes were the blackest eyes you ever saw.  And there’s a scar [above my eye where] something had cut.  And the cook sewed it up with mercerized thread!  He had too!  It was impossible to get to medics!

You’ve had some close calls!


Well while I was in the campaign up there, the Japanese were still fighting us.  And there was a banzai attack or two.  Thank God I was not involved in that.  I heard the screaming and the cursing and everything.  It was not that far away. As the Japanese attacked, they attacked with bayonets tied to a stick or a rifle and they attacked our troops and it was hand-to-hand fighting and they fought hard. And you could hear all the screaming.  Our officers said, “You don’t move! You don’t get into that! You stay here because they might get here next! Be prepared!”  And we were waiting for somebody.

Fullscreen capture 4112016 114344 AM.bmpWell after we had Attu secured, they asked for volunteers to go to all the other islands around this bigger island, Attu and Kiska.  And I volunteered to go with five or six men.  We would go with a small boat and go and search the island.  We found evidence of them being there, but, thank God, we never got into a firefight with them.

They left, or you just couldn’t find them?

They left.  Somehow they got off.

Now what had happened – it has a strange ending to it.  The Japanese had actually started to evacuate the islands. They still had troops fighting us on Attu, but they were taking troops off and taking them to Kiska. The Japanese had submarines as big as our destroyers – huge!  As a matter of fact they had a hanger on ‘em for an airplane!  They were much more sophisticated than ours, but they didn’t know how to use them!  You never heard of these big submarines doing anything! They kept them someplace like a harbor somewhere.  But they hardly ever used ‘em.  They would use them to evacuate Kiska.

I’ve left out an awful lot of stuff – It was an exciting and different kind of life.  I don’t know anybody that did the kind of stuff I did!

He continues his story telling me about his adventures with a traveling theater group when he was fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen.  They performed plays and many Gilbert and Sullivan Operas.  His favorite was H.M.S. Pinafore of which he could perform any of the parts.  He even sang me a few measures!

But when I went into the army, there were duties I pulled with the army – especially during the war.  There was excitement.  And half the time you didn’t know whether you were covered or not – that somebody was watching for you and watching and looking at what you couldn’t look at.  And you didn’t know where the enemy was coming from.  You knew you had buddies around you to help and you was helping them.  I tell you it was exciting!

Where did you go to OCS?  

The school was right off of Lake Ponchartrain in New Orleans.  That’s where I met my wife.

I see!  She’s from New Orleans?

Oh! You can bet! Deep South!

While I was the chief radio operator for the 266th Coast Artillery, I sent in a letter requesting to go to OCS.  Then I forgot about it!  I was on the tugboat and the war was actually coming to a close.  We were closing in on the Japanese and we knew that the next thing was either, we were gonna attack their homeland, or something.  But that was the next feasible step, to us. I got an order to report in three months to the school at Lake Ponchartrain (New Orleans, LA).

So when did you get out of the Army?

Okay let me tell you about that. That’s an experience.

All of a sudden some little pieces of metal come sticking out of my back, and when I’d go to put a shirt on it was catching in it and it was cutting my back and I knew I had to go to the hospital.  So I reported to the officer and I said, “No good. Metal is trying to get out of me.”

He sent me to Walter Reed in DC.  I’d go there for outpatient and they’d treat me a little at a time.  Everytime they’d take out a little bit.  All in all, they took out over 300 pieces!


[He laughs.]  The were little teeninetsy things.  They were like little splinters!  And they did a whole lot of tests and found out I was deaf in my left ear.

They said, “You’ve got to resign your commission.”

I said, “You’re kiddin’!”

They said, “No.  You’re deaf in your left ear. You can’t tell the direction of sound.”

‘Not one single soul in the forts where I go to knows that I’m deaf.  Not a one!”  I had figured out how to learn where things were and was always able to get into a position to hear everything with this good ear.

He said, “But WE know. You resign your commission now.”

I said, “For a guy like me with only two weeks of high school and becoming an officer, I’m on my way up!” [He smiles]

Anyway, I didn’t care about rank. It didn’t impress me at all.  I did resign my commission.  And now I had to find a place to work.  My father in law, when I had asked him if I could marry his daughter, he arranged for us to be married that year.  I met her August the 23rd, 1946 and we were married December the 28th 1946.  And most of that year I wasn’t even there.  Correspondence.

How did you meet her?

Okay.  I’m sitting in the barracks.  It’s a Saturday evening. I and four or five other guys – we’re polishing brass and fixing the uniforms and stuff like that.  We had decided to stay in rather than go running around in town. And all of a sudden this colonel walks in.

He said, “I need five volunteers to go dance with these girls who came from New Orleans.  They’re at the rec hall waiting for you guys. [Pointing] You, you, you, you, and [pointing at himself] you!”

I said [whining], “I don’t want to do that.”  Well you don’t much argue with a colonel.

“Class A uniform! Get your tails down to the rec hall within the next hour!”

Well, all of us were there.

I walked in and I look down at the end of the hall there, and there’s this GORGEOUS female! Oh my God!  Wow!  My heart – I thought it was gonna bust through my chest!

I said, “I got to know who that is!”  So I started walking toward her and she’s talking to another soldier.  And I first thought, “I gotta get rid of him!”  He doesn’t have any stripes.  I was a corporal.  I out-ranked him!  But before I got there, he suddenly turned around and walked off.  So I walked up and I said, “Would you dance with me?”

She said, “Oh, yes! I’d be glad to!”

I said, “What about your boyfriend?”

“Oh, I saw you coming so I sent him off to get some drinks.”

She saw me coming!  There was electricity between us before we even met!

Well I have something I want to show you that my husband found last night online and I want to see if you can identify this person. (I show him a copy of a photo of himself as a young soldier in Alaska (the photo at the beginning of this article) that he has not seen since his copy was lost in Hurricane Katrina.)

That’s me!!

That IS you!

This was taken up in Alaska!

Yes! And here’s another one. (I show him another copy of a photo of him in Alaska.)

Look at that!  I was a corporal then.  Ha!! [he cackles out loud]

Son of a gun!!  Now I never could get – a picture or anything about me when I went on the internet trying to get me!

My husband knows how to search real well.

Well I need to learn something from him!

We found it on this site. Evidently you had given the Harbor Defenses of Sitka, Alaska these pictures and they still have them.

Oh yeah, I was the chief radio operator and I set up five radio stations.

Well here are some more pictures that are small. Here is one of your commanding officer.

Yeah, he’s the one who kicked me out of the company!


And then I went to OCS (Officer Candidate School) – and I made it.

That’s when you got 2nd Lieutenant?

Yes. That had to surprise him.  ‘Cause he thought I was a ”no-good-nick”!

But you showed him.

I showed him.

[He looks back at the first photo ] Son of a gun. [He chuckles]

(Click here for a video of Mr. Gutches reacting to his photo.)

Ted Gutches 2

Another photo of Cpl. Ted Gutches in the island of Sitka, Alaska

John Alexander – “…Very Much Like M*A*S*H” (Part 3)

Spec 4 John Alexander Camp Eagle

Spec 4 John Alexander Camp Eagle

Sgt. John Alexander

356th Combat Engineer Battalion – 101st Airborne


Children threw rocks

[Click for a Vietnam-era video about the role of Combat Engineers]


Screenshot (60)What kind of engineering did your battalion do in Vietnam?

Our company did a lot of work for villages — building roads for people to get products to market. When I left Vietnam we got a yearbook that shows some of the things they did for community service for villages and stuff.

John AlexanderVietnam-010What our company did a lot was clear landing zones. So a lot of them used their demolition training. Instead of cutting down trees, a lot of them made C4 and cut them that way and then sawed them. They would go out and open landing zones. If there was a landing zone open and they closed and it then they decided to go back, they would check it for booby-traps and stuff.

We only lost one person during the year I was there. This other one got about I guess 25 or 75 yards from the helicopter and they found several booby-traps and mines. They decided to go back to the helicopter because it was too dangerous and they missed one. He stepped on it and lost both legs. He lived for a couple days and then died. He was a really nice guy.

So I guess they had booby-traps everywhere.

Yeah. That was the scary thing.  A lot of the booby traps.

Then they [also] had different deadly poisonous snakes. When I was out on guard duty before I came back on emergency leave, I did get bit by a poisonous spider over there.

I took off my boots while on guard duty and it bit me by the heel.  At first it would look like take a little ball point pin dot. In about two days it starts getting bigger. Just dead skin. In about four or five days, they cut an area probably about half inch or three quarter inch round and a quarter inch deep and it was all dead skin. They caught it in time, or I guess you could lose a foot or more. It is a brown recluse or something. I don’t think getting bit by one counts for a purple heart.

But that was the only thing I had for medical other than when I came back from emergency leave…they’d had some cases of Hepatitis [in the camp].  They’d had a typhoon that went through the area and washed out a lot of the roads in our base camp, and a lot of those areas had to be rebuilt.

Hepatitis shots aren’t good! They’re about 10 cc’s and give you a big knot on each cheek. The person in front of me that got the Hepatitis shot, bent the needle…tailbone.


Children threw rocks

South Vietnamese soldiers let children throw rocks at the American soldiers

But one other thing that happened in Vietnam is that, when I went to China Beach, we were waiting for a jeep or a truck to go on a boat to go across some water, and there were some South Vietnamese soldiers there and some little kids.  The Vietnamese soldiers just watched  the little kids throw rocks at us.  We had a medic that was….he was just ready to shoot them, because they were throwing rocks at us! But another soldier stopped him.

That’s a good thing.

Yeah.  It was hard to tell what the South Vietnamese solders were going to think. It was a little tense, that moment.

We were by the ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam] 1st Division, and it was one of the outstanding South Vietnamese regiments.  So I think that helped around our area, too.

So their presence made things better?

Yeah. But I did hear of some incidents where our people messed up and almost had standoffs between ARVN and our soldiers.

What was the relationship like normally — because y’all were there to help them.

Well in that case a lot of the ARVNs lived with their families and were married, and our soldier’s propositioned an ARVN’s wife…

Yeah, I guess that would do it.

…that kind of made it a tense standoff.

Taking liberties where they shouldn’t.


But I also know, at least there were lots of rumors over there that a lot of the soldiers out Screenshot (27)in the field didn’t like the commanding general, which was Zais [Gen. Melvin Zais]. Rumor was they had a $10,000 reward out for someone to kill him. Now how true that is or not…

He was the leader of the South Vietnamese?

No, the 101st. I think it was his outhouse or one of them anyway, was booby trapped one time.

So they really didn’t like him.

No. But you know, some of the officers, of all different ranks, aren’t good. You see poor officers and you see poor management people in industry.

You wonder how they got to those positions.

Yeah. Sometimes just by who they knew. But then other times people did end up, like that lieutenant that was over me. He got promoted to captain while I was over there. So I think we had several captains in our organization for a while.

What rank were you at that time?

I had gotten promoted to Spec 5.

What is that?

E5. Same thing as a sergeant but you don’t have command over other people.

And for that I had to go in front of a board.  I was recommended by a company captain and the lieutenant , and had to go in front of a review board and pass it to get promoted.

Screenshot (78)One other thing that happened while I was over there is I was selected for an honor guard. And at our battalion there was a formation and they selected a few of us from each company to go and represent us. So we had to dress in our best fatigues and go up there and we had formation and they presented a bronze star to a bulldozer that had seen action. So we had a ceremony and a bronze star that was presented to a bulldozer! You know, you don’t have to be all strict.

Well that bulldozer worked hard!

It did. I mean it saved some lives.

But another time we had incoming rockets. The Vietcong sent in some rockets one night, to hit our helicopter battalion and hit the oil storage. They took a load of people from our company, and while I was in the truck going up there to help clear the runways and stuff so the helicopters could have it, one helicopter was hit, and you could see parts flying above you.

There were 1,500 fifty-five-gallon drums of oil that were blown up that night.

So we went up and helped to pick up rocket tubes and other things to keep the runways clear. The only person who was hurt that night was a bulldozer operator who got his hands burnt from the heat.

But they had some rockets that landed in the aisle ways of some of the living quarters of the people who lived by the helicopter pad.

They weren’t hurt?

They weren’t hurt. They had a lot of duds, so that was good. But they had enough that it made it an exciting night!

And it was lucky that just one person had his hands burnt.

Screenshot (69)Now another incident that happened while I was over there was that right up from us was a helicopter pad where the infantry company loaded up supplies and ammunition, and took it out to the field.

And one day, I don’t know if it dropped out of their cargo net or somehow went off within the cargo net, but there were flares and rockets and everything flying up and going off and some of us were out there taking pictures. I just had a new camera and it didn’t have any film in it. Otherwise I would have had some good pictures!

And someone yelled, “Incoming!” There were probably about ten or fifteen of us standing there, [but when] I turned around there wasn’t a soul in sight. And about then it landed fifteen feet in front of me. But it happened to not go off.  It was a flare or something. I could’ve gotten burned probably, but that would have been it. Still, that was still kind of scary. Those people, they scattered fast. I mean all I did was turn around and there wasn’t anybody there!

The bunkers were probably a hundred yards apart or 150 yards apart. You could yell to each other, but you weren’t real close.  And sometimes we had starlight scopes and sometimes we didn’t. (Now it looks like the army has them all over the place, so you can see at night.  It’s interesting what you can see with those.)  They were usually kept in a safe in the company area.

So one night I had guard duty and you always had your orders read and you were supposed to call and get permission to fire if you saw anything, then they’d turn around and say, if you’re being charged, “Shoot.” Some of these orders, you know, they didn’t even make sense. But that was supposed to be if you saw someone and couldn’t identify them, because they would send parties out at night time to see what else was going on. You might have friendly troops coming back in.  I never saw any go out or come back in. But one night, I’m pretty sure someone came through our line and several of our bunkers looked and never could find him, which is kind of scary.

You had these claymore mines which were about an inch thick. Inside you had a little sheet of lead that was probably about an eighth of an inch thick or three-sixteenths  and divided into little squares kind of like a waffle where it would break up into maybe a thousand little bullets — if it went off. It is curved shape so it would cover an area out front. You’d have wires going back to your foxhole.

One morning when we went out to check them. I did find one turned around aimed at us.

Wow. I hope it was turned by accident.

We don’t know, but my guess is someone turned it during the night. But they would—Vietcong would do that a lot of times. So you would fire on yourselves.

One time there was a convoy and stuff that got stolen off the truck. They were sneaky. They could get on and off without getting caught sometimes. The convoy is just driving through. So things like that could happen too.

Were you nervous a lot over there? Were you always on your guard? There wasn’t any downtime I guess.

Not too much. The people on guard duty were more or less sacrificial. There were early warning systems.

Screenshot (62)One night, I don’t know what happened but at one of the sites right outside of where our office area was, they set off tear gas.  The people on guard duty came crawling back to our area, which was dangerous because they left the front unprotected.

But the tear gas was bad. It covered our whole company area. It can burn your eyes and make them water.

I got a little bit used to it in OCS. You took turns being in charge of different things. One time, I had a unit that I had to keep in formation and we got hit with tear gas three times as part of the training.

I had a unit I had to keep in formation.

They said, “Why can’t you keep your people in formation?”

But that night, a lot of them didn’t have gas masks or anything. They were suffering out there. That was a little bit scary.

Another thing we did while I was there was,  one night they had out in the A Shau Valley they were told there is some bridge that needs to be blown up.   They took everyone in the company area and we unloaded our ammo bunker on the helicopters or trucks to take to our helicopter pads.

We put shaped charges — kind of like a bomb that they could put on a bridge or something to blow it up.  All they found was couple of sheets of metal, but they put one on it and blew it up! [He chuckles.]

I don’t know if they brought back any explosives. They didn’t mobilize us to reload our stockpiles. I guess they kept it out in the field or used it.  But we worked probably four or five hours loading everything up from our ammo bunkers. Everyone worked together to do it and you didn’t mind it.

The guy I replaced as parts clerk had his own private jeep that he stole. He wrecked it the week before I took over. So he just wrecked it and took off and left it.

You had to be careful because if you had a spare tire on a vehicle and someone needed one, they would steal it rather than fix their own. So in a way, that was a lot like M*A*S*H.

While Mr. John was at Camp Eagle in Vietnam, Bob Hope came with his USO show and performed for the 101st Airborne on Christmas morning, 1969.  

John AlexanderBobHope4

Bob Hope and Connie Stevens

John AlexanderBobHope

1968 Miss World

1968 Miss World

John AlexanderBobHope5

Connie Stevens sings for the Screaming Eagles

Mr. John had a great vantage point for the show, considering there were over 15,000 servicemen in attendance.

Screenshot (27)By the time I left we were down to 80 something from 140, almost 150. At that time, we were becoming a little undermanned. Then went down from there, but I don’t know how fast or how much. At that point, they weren’t really asking people if they wanted to re-enlist. That pretty much ends it on Vietnam.

Were you married at this time?


While I was over there, I sent in my application to go to graduate school at Mississippi State since I had my BS from there. I got accepted so when I came back I got an early out because if you had less than four months, they would let you out of the service. That was 1970.

Thank you, Mr. John, for sharing your story with me, and thank you for your service!



John Alexander – “…Very Much Like M*A*S*H” – Part 2

at Camp Eagle

John Alexander at Camp Eagle near Hue, Vietnam (1970-71)

Sgt. John Alexander 

Army 101st Airborne, 326th Combat Engineer Battalion

Vietnam War

(Continued from Part 1)

John AlexanderVietnam-012At that time, they just started the de-escalation of Vietnam. So there’s a few people they were going through changing their orders from Vietnam to Germany.  Mine were left Vietnam.

I went over and I think it was probably because of being in OCS, I ended up with a combat engineer company. In Vietnam, they had all West Point engineer officers except for one that was an ROTC officer. I think that made a big difference.

Screenshot (21)The attitude and training of the officers—they were very much like M*A*S*H on TV. They did an outstanding job. You can be relaxed and lax on some of your rules and still do a good job. They were more interested in the job.

Like, the laundry thing and uniforms were a lot different than now. Things were sewed on. Now a lot of it is attached no matter what shirt you are wearing. A lot of times our laundry would get mixed up and you would get someone’s shirt with a different name, maybe different patches, maybe no patches.

One of the things people did when we didn’t have a patch — I was with 101st Airborne, 326th Combat Engineers, Company A — and if you didn’t have a 101st patch on your sleeve, you drew a stick figure of a chicken for the eagle. [We laugh.]

While I was over there, I was inspected by the assistant commander, General Smith, and he was I guess over supply and different things. I found him to be very knowledgeable and a very nice person. He came down and I think he was planning on spending only 10 minutes with me but, he spent probably a half hour or 45 minutes with me.  He understood everything I was doing and as a result later, my lieutenant wrote a letter to my parents saying that the General thought I was one of the best parts clerks he had seen in 28 years of service. That letter though, I had to get it—right now [our VFW post] has it.  I was trying to get a hold of the lieutenant that wrote it, but he wrote it to my parents.  I didn’t know about it until after I got back. The General never said anything about the fact that I had a name tag different than my name when he was sitting there. [He chuckles.]


Spec 4 John Alexander Camp Eagle

Spec 4 John Alexander (r) – Camp Eagle, Hue, Vietnam

One of the things we did while I was there as a parts clerk for the motor pool was, I had my parts put in metal containers so that we were able to, if we had to, pick up our parts and take them out to the field. I didn’t have to, but we had that capability.

I was stationed at Camp Eagle which was a large 101st Airborne camp south of Hue [pronounced “way”]. It was the capital of that province of South Vietnam and was fifty miles from the DMZ [de-militarized zone]. So it was up by the A Shau Valley, which was a very active path through which the North Vietnamese and Vietcong traveled.

Being in the 101st Airborne, did you ever have to jump out of a plane?

No, what they did was more air repel – they were repel qualified — where they went down ropes out of a helicopter.

What year was this when you were over in Vietnam?

I was over there from ’68 to ’70. When I first got there, I was made assistant to the company clerk. I think I was the 148th person out of 150. We were so overstaffed.

So that first two weeks there they didn’t even realize where they put me. They never came around in the morning and woke me up.  So I got up when I felt like it. I always missed the formation.  They had a formation where they went around picking up cigarette butts and policing the company area. Usually I would miss breakfast, but I got to work after breakfast.

The food over there for the most part was good. But sometimes we had the same food for months. They kind of got the same rations.

What was a typical meal?

Breakfast wasn’t bad. There for a while spam, and stuff like that, is what they got stuck on for a while.

Screenshot (27)But on my second day on the job as assistant company clerk, I had to update a company record of two of the people from the company.

One had been killed. The other had both arms and both legs blown off and lived for three days before he died.

Then another one ended up I think having metal plates put in his head. That one got the Silver Star. What happened was they had found a tunnel and were gong to put explosives in and blow it up. A North Vietnamese soldier popped out of it and started shooting. The guy—a 101st airborne soldier — was wounded,  but he still ended up killing that North Vietnamese soldier.  I don’t know what else he did, but he ended up getting a Silver Star for his actions.

One of the things I thought was different was that at the top of the hill from us were the Gulfport SeaBees. They had their own base within our base. They got a new commanding officer shortly after I had gone over there and he thought they had it too nice. So he made them give up their metal pots and some of their air conditioning units and different things that made our unit a lot better! We had people going up like rats to carry away their stuff that they didn’t want! So instead of an army cot I had a nice metal cot with springs. [We chuckle]

We had barracks with windows all along the sides for air [flow], and metal roofs with sandbags on top to catch shrapnel and to hold metal on. At least we had “not-bad” living quarters.

Was it hot?

The temperature part of the year was extremely nice, and part of it was where, in the afternoons it would rain about 2:00 or 2:30. Before that, you would get completely soaked because of the humidity, and then the rain would soak you the rest of the way. [He chuckles.] Part of the year it was 120 in the shade. It was hot. As a result, when I came back I weighed 118 pounds. I gained probably 15 or 18 pounds in two weeks, drinking water, after coming back. And that’s why my uniform — I’ve never been down that low since — and that’s why it doesn’t fit now.

Children threw rocks

But our company had two 2 1/2 ton dump trucks (those were the big trucks)and seven 3/4 ton dump trucks, which is like a 3/4 ton pickup, but it had hydraulics where it had a dump body in the back, because we were an engineer company.  We had, I think, five or six jeeps.

The Seventh Cavalry had a big base within our base, and theirs was a helicopter unit.  They had a lot of Cobra helicopters and Chinooks, and the bigger troop-carrying ones, the Hueys.  Sometimes we would trade parts.

One time I had some Australians come by and they tried to get some parts off of us, and I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. So I didn’t help them out.

But then I had to be careful. I was very good on having what our motor pool needed and when we needed it and, like everyone, I didn’t always have authorized parts.

I had to be careful because our helicopter battalion got caught in an inspection and they had a full helicopter of excess parts that weren’t authorized. I never got caught on it. I learned to sign my officer’s signature just as well as he could.  It wasn’t authorized, but I think he knew it.


Screenshot (65)[Like I said earlier,] we operated a lot like M*A*S*H.  We would have formations and stuff — people would pet their dogs. We had some ceremonies for some people presented with medals and stuff and people would stick out their gut and do all kinds of things and make faces. We didn’t take it too serious.

One time, the aviation company had a jeep that was made into a dune buggy which wasn’t authorized.  When they had an inspection one time, that dune buggy ended up in our company and our officers were driving it around making use of it while the other company was being inspected.

We had the officer over me [who]  One time he had to go to the medics because he fell out of the jeep in the company area trying to catch a baseball.

Then we did have — I’m not sure if it was a medic or one of the other guys that got a Purple Heart from the medics and some of them would mess around out in the fire bases shooting 79 grenades. They had a little shotgun that had a little barrel and little shells that shoot grenades. They don’t arm unless they go a certain distance so they would stay in that distance and shoot them at each other. One of them somehow went off. I don’t know if it bounced and went far enough to go off. I think he got a purple heart.

Then you would hear other people where someone would just kick something that was like a flag or something like a South Vietnamese flag or North Vietnamese and it would be booby-trapped and it would go off and they wouldn’t get a purple heart. A lot of things depended on the officers and what the people did for the people.

Citations and Medals

I will say our company was very good about putting people through [for] things.  I did get an army accommodation medal while I was there. I got the bronze star for my service. It was for outstanding performance. The bronze star can be given for two things. One for combat or it can be for outstanding performance. I kind of thought everyone got that, but they didn’t.  a lot of people in that were even in combat didn’t get it.

So I had two Vietnamese Service medals. I’ve got the National Defense Medal and the Army Commendation Medal. I have six medals.

We had for the company area, soldier of the month every month. I did receive soldier of the month while I was over there for my performance and I got to go to China Beach because of that. While there, I was afraid I would end up getting an Article 15, for sunburn.

China Beach

China Beach, Vietnam – John Alexander, back left

One day I went out fishing on a sand bar and got sunburned and then I fell asleep on the beach.  I was kind of a red lobster. So if you couldn’t perform your duties you could end up getting an Article 15, or written up for it.  I ended up okay.

Emergency Leave – Hurricane Camille

While I was there, I went home on emergency leave after two weeks as company clerk. I went home because of Hurricane Camille and I spent about ten days or a week at home. Our house in [Hurricane] Betsy, had water up to the end of our driveway.  For Camille, we had probably about 8 feet of water in the yard. It only came up and stayed about a half hour and it was out. A lot of the furniture was ruined, but some of it was saved. I helped my father fix it up and clean it out.

When I was home on emergency leave, I went up to Mississippi State and went to football game.

Fort Dix Protest

Then when I went back, I was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey and I was held over there instead of being shipped out from there right away back to Vietnam. We were held over because there were war protests of the Vietnam War.

So I was picked to guard a hippie in this gym. They had seven or eight.  They took them out and dumped them off and made them walk back. But one evidently caused enough damage that they were bringing charges against him. So they put him in this gym in a folding chair and had several of us on each corner in the area roped off. They wouldn’t  give us any ammunition, but they gave us a gun.

Did he know you didn’t have any ammunition?

I don’t know.  That was interesting. The secretary of state at that time came by and was viewing what we were doing.

Fort Dix was kind of an eye opener. Everybody in our group had been sent on emergency leave and was from Vietnam. Fort Dix kind of treated us as if we were dirt. We weren’t welcomed there at all. Everyone was put on guard duty all the time or KP and we had one Vietnam dog handler that was an MP. They put him on KP and wanted him to clean grease traps and stuff.

What was the reasoning behind their attitude?

Screenshot (29)I don’t know. I spent several nights on KP besides guarding that one prisoner.

When we first got there, they put us in the barracks and officers came in and they wanted everybody to jump to attention and people didn’t.  Everybody just kind of looked at them because in Vietnam you didn’t salute your officers.  Over in Vietnam, you had a job to do and the officers didn’t expect to be saluted or anything, but you treated them as officers and you did your job.  There, they wanted it like you were in basic training. People didn’t go for that. Most of them had been out in the jungle in combat and stuff.

Now one thing I didn’t agree with—I was told by an officer in the infantry battalion that was next to us that they had one guy who wasn’t cooperative, so they took him out and dumped him  and forgot where he was for a little while. That doesn’t make happy soldiers. Our company wouldn’t have done that.

In Part 3, the final installment of Mr. Alexander’s interview, he discusses more about serving in Vietnam.

John Alexander – “…Very Much Like M*A*S*H”

John Alexander

Sgt. John Alexander

U.S. Army – Vietnam

 101st Airborne, 326th Combat Engineers, Company A

John Alexander is an active member of local military organizations and is the current commander of VFW Post #3652 in Hammond, LA. He served in Vietnam as a parts clerk for the 101st Airborne Combat Engineers. As he describes his military unit in Vietnam, he said his experiences were very similar to the casual, yet professional attitudes shown in the ’70’s hit TV show, M*A*S*H.  Part 1 of this interview takes us through his training experiences before leaving for Vietnam.

Thank you for your service to our country, Mr. John.

I would like to hear about what made you want to go into the military when the Vietnam War was going on?

Screenshot (18)Let me start with my background. My father only had a couple of years of college and he tried to join the army during WWII,  but couldn’t get in because of his feet so he became a guard at an ammunition plant in Des Moines, Iowa. He ended up working for the state highway commission in Iowa and [after that] he worked for some fairly large construction companies. Then he came down to Biloxi and worked on housing at Keesler Air Force Base.

We ended up moving down to Biloxi [where] I graduated from Biloxi senior high and went to Perkinston Junior College. I got two years there in industrial arts and then went to Mississippi State and got my bachelors degree.

At that time, the Vietnam War was starting.  I wanted to go into the Air Force as a pilot, but because of eyesight, all I could qualify for was as a navigator.  But I picked up a double major so I’d have enough time in ROTC to get my commission. This was about ‘67 [but] somehow I didn’t get in even though I qualified on the score in the test. By then, I [had] changed my course schedule so I was stuck going an extra year to undergraduate.  So I had five years and I had all the requirements in physical education and industrial education and industrial arts. [I decided to do my student teaching in industrial arts.]

Did you go into industrial arts because your dad was in construction?

I got into industrial arts because I had an industrial arts teacher in junior high school in Iowa that was very good and I really enjoyed it. His name was Mr. Hand.  He became the highest-ranking enlisted man in the Air National Guard in Iowa and was the liaison for the commanding general up there. He ended up with forty-some years of service before Vietnam, so he got out at a good time.

I was born the fifth son of five. The oldest brother was in the army in Alaska and he was crew chief on helicopters and he became the crew chief for the commanding general helicopter and twin-engine small aircraft. Then he went on to having an insurance adjusting business in Minnesota. He ended up flying from his office in North Dakota to his home in Minneapolis and he crashed in a snow storm and died.

Oh my.  Did all of your brothers go into the military?

The second one went into the Air National Guard in Iowa working all the time at guard camp and just spent the minimum time and got out.

Screenshot (29)The next one was a teacher. He went in about the same time as my second brother. He ended up going to Wyoming and getting time off and enjoyed it. So that is why I think he spent his career in the Air National Guard.  He had a better time at the guard unit.

Then the fourth brother went into the Navy and it was unfortunate, but he spent a little bit of time in the brig.  He ended up dying of cancer in a VA hospital in Iowa.

Delayed Enlistment — Then there is me. After I got my BS degree, I went down and joined delayed enlistment. Delayed enlistment was a program they had back during the Vietnam era where you could sign up and have up to four months before you actually went in. So I went down and passed the physical and everything on August 2, 1968 and I didn’t go in until November 2, 1968. So I had a little bit of time there to do before I actually went in.

Basic Training — I went into Fort Polk, Louisiana—which was Camp Polk then. When I was there, it was officially changed to Fort Polk. It was upgraded because of the Vietnam War and the amount of trainees coming through there.  It was one of the main places for jungle warfare for infantry—

Didn’t they have something like “Tiger Village” that simulated Vietnam?

They had Tiger [Land], which was like a Vietnamese village.

I was lucky—they had South Polk and North Polk. I was at North Polk. [There you are far enough away from the rifle range that], you rode in trucks. They put you in these two-and-a half-ton, cargo-like trucks — open on top and packed in like cattle, but at least you rode. Otherwise, you had to march for about twenty miles to get to any place.

I didn’t go to graduation because when [our] flights or buses where leaving for advanced training, mine happened to leave about the time they had the graduation ceremony. So I missed [it].

Advanced Training – Combat Engineer — I flew up to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I was put in the combat engineer training. (When I signed on delayed enlistment, I also signed up for OCS [Officer Candidate School], which I was guaranteed at that point.)

Did you choose combat engineering or that is where they assigned you?

Screenshot (25)That is what they said I was going to do. That might have been because of the industrial arts. Because a lot of people got E2 out of basic, if you were scheduled to OCS, you usually didn’t get a promotion out of basic or out of advanced training. They saved those promotions for other people.

So I went to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for combat [engineer] training. It was interesting because sometimes there was snow on the ground and sometimes there wasn’t, but we went out to build bridges and stuff across the water [anyway].

We woke up one morning and there was ten inches of snow on the ground, so they marched us back to camp area. One guy dropped his rifle and broke the stock it was so cold. Sometimes you would be in open areas for lecture and it was so cold people wanted to fall asleep.

One time we were building pontoon bridges, which are the boat bridges with the metal going across the top for roadways. You would have to get the pontoons inflated. In the water you would have to turn them around, so we would wear hip boots. If you messed up— like I had to duck down because the rope was going above my head and water rushed in my boots. You got really cold.

Sometimes you would have night maneuvers going across the water and landing on the other side. You got to act like John Wayne!

How long was that training?

Combat [engineer] training was, I think, three months.

Screenshot (41)Towards the end of it, if you are supposed to go to OCS, they weeded people out. Even though [you were] guaranteed to go, they didn’t guarantee which OCS [you were going to].

I was offered infantry OCS, and you had to accept it, or you were out. That was the only choice they gave you. I went ahead and accepted it and they came back about fifteen minutes later and changed it to engineering OCS. If I had not accepted the infantry, I wouldn’t have gotten the engineering OCS. So again, it was a way of weeding people out.

Engineering Officer Candidate School (OCS)

So then I went to engineering OCS in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. That was a very good and enlightening group of people I was with. We had some of the brightest people I had ever met in my life.

We had one guy that was kind of short, frail, and mousy.  He was probably maybe 5’4′. He had an IQ of a genius.  You could ask him any question about any subject and he could talk about it for a half an hour. Sometimes the instructors got side tracked. They would ask him a question and he took up the whole time. Everyone just loved him. Even though he was kind of frail, he made up [for it] in intelligence.

We had another individual. His father was an Army General and when we were mid-class, he got transferred to the Navy officers candidate school. He put in to be a pilot and that took priority, and his father was okay with him transferring from one branch to another too. He was a real nice guy.

Screenshot (31)[We] only got a few hours of sleep at night.  It got to where, if they would have put me out in the road to get run over, that would have been okay.  You were that tired.

We were in old barracks and the one next to us were forced to take all their footlockers, beds, and everything, and had to set them up in the street outside their barracks for inspection.

We would have these army manuals. There were two hundred and fifty of them or so. Even though you didn’t have time to read them, everyone had them at the end of their bunk beds and they had to be in a certain order. They would come through—the officers—and knock them over.  You’d have a whole aisle-way of everyone’s different books and all of them messed up. You’d have to find time to straighten those up.

You’d have to polish your boots and stuff. You did it in the few hours time you had to sleep. You did it under your blanket with a flashlight in your mouth.

Some of the things that I’ve read in several books about WWII and what people have gone through in combat — it simulates how tired you get and what different ones have to go through.  They’re too easy now.

We did have an officer in one other company. Even [other] officers turned against him. He ended up ruining about one-hundred-and-fifty rifles by having people polish them so much they wouldn’t work anymore.

That didn’t go over well. Instead of taking his commission away, they just sent him to Vietnam and let someone else suffer.They had a ceremony when he left and they all turned their backs on him. So who knows what else he did besides the rifles.

That is one of the bad things about the military and the industry. A lot of times, people who shouldn’t be in management or officer positions—they just transfer them.  They don’t want to deal with them. You see that a lot. So I saw kind of what happened there.

You hardly ever had much of a meal. We had to eat what was called a square meal. You had to keep your eyes ahead and know where your plate was and eat in a square — up and over to your mouth. All the time, your upperclassmen were asking you questions and you couldn’t eat while they were asking you questions. Screenshot (22)One of the nice things was when you got KP. There were all these trays of uneaten food and you would just grab food–pies and different things– and eat while you were in KP cleaning the plates off. I loved KP. [He laughs.]

One of the things that happened to me on OCS–I think it was a good thing.  At one of the meals I had, the upperclassman—I can’t remember what he did, but I thought it was really gross, and not right. I had just had enough so I told the upperclassman off and I got up and walked out of the mess hall, which had probably a thousand people eating.I am sure a lot of people heard me tell him off.  I headed back to the barracks and about halfway back or so, he was running after me and he kind of halfway apologized. Anyway, I was still mad. So I can’t remember what he said. I think that in a way, that was probably a good thing — [that] I stood up for what I thought was right. Just knowing he had to run after me was an indication of that.

That was a turning point — when I decided to drop out. But it took several weeks before I was able to get out.

Dropping Out of OCS — At an exit interview, they asked me why I continued — there are a lot of people who drop out. You start off with one-hundred-and-twenty in a company. They had first candidate, junior candidate and then senior candidate. At each one of them, they replaced half or two-thirds of the company. So usually by the time you graduated, out of the original people, there might have been like twenty to thirty.  So it was pretty rigorous training.

At a later interview they asked why I continued to work hard and not give up, like I guess most of them did. I said I didn’t think it was fair for the others trying and staying in, to hurt them. So I continued on for while I was in there.

As a result, because of those two incidents, when I did drop out, I got promoted to E4.  While you were in, you got pay grade as an E5, which is sergeant. But that was only on paper. When you dropped out, you went back to E2, which was the same thing you were in basic training. I became an E4. They said that was almost unheard of. I think probably both incidents contributed to that.

I didn’t think it was right to hurt other people. It was a good group of people. It was just I had made up my mind [to drop out].

Screenshot (19)I think if I had gotten a turn-back after the first part—I got a four-way turn-back—only to get people to drop out. Some people were turned back and put in other companies and start part of their training over. They could do that several times at first. Some people actually tried to do that. The philosophy was to spend enough time in OCS and your other training, and not have to go to Vietnam.  So they would ETS [Expiration of Term of Service] out of OCS!  [He chuckles]

So what happened to a candidate if they dropped out?

At that time, you were guaranteed Vietnam. You had to wait for your orders.

So you knew you were going to have to go once you dropped out and that was okay with you? You didn’t mind going to Vietnam then? I mean, that’s a big decision to make!

If they would have, when they had turn-back, given you enough time to rest up and recover some, I think it would have made a difference.  But I was so physically exhausted [that I did not want to continue].

Waiting for Vietnam — So at that point, when I dropped out, I had about two weeks in a holding company in Fort Belvoir to wait for my orders.  We got to go to Washington, DC.

We had a couple of guys that learned to sew and had a sewing machine and they were probably making a thousand or two thousand dollars a week because most of the candidates in OCS had these baggy pants and you’d have them tailored so they’d fit nice and neat. So they’d rip the pants and sew them up for a couple dollars a pants and they made a good fortune out of that. Once in a while when you were in the holding company, you’d have KP [kitchen patrol], but other than that you’d have free time. So some of them did very good.

at Camp Eagle

Kind of proved that what you did in the military, you could make a difference on your attitude. Those guys could have just done nothing and had nothing to show for it. They came out very enterprising.

After I had two weeks in the holding company, then you had two weeks before you went overseas. Then I went out to Oakland, California to fly to Vietnam.

In Part 2, John Alexander finds himself in Vietnam…

John Nutefall — The Air Traffic Control Scholar


Master Sergeant John Nutefall

U.S. AirForce

Air Traffic Control 

NKP (Nakhon Phanom, Thailand) , Madrid, United States


US Air Force Master Sergeant John Nutefall

Mr. John Nutefall had a successful career as an air traffic controller during and after the Vietnam War. He obtained two bachelors’ degrees, two masters’ degrees, and learned Castilian Spanish before serving in Madrid. Unfortunately a brain injury caused him to give up his career in air traffic control and a stroke left him unable to pursue doctoral studies. But Mr. John, a kind and caring man, continues to stay active in local military organizations, participating in veteran’s events and reaching out to other local veterans.

Mrs. Nutefall was also present at this interview. Her comments are in italics.


Fullscreen capture 312016 11536 PM.bmpWhen did you begin your military service?

I had to plead with my father to sign the papers for me to enlist in the service at age 17 because at that time it was covered in snow in Buffalo, NY.  My birthday is in January.

At that time of year, there is snow up to your head!

And then some! [He laughs]

My father finally signed the papers so I could enlist in the service, so I joined the Air Force, January 27, 1961.  Then I went to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas for boot camp.  The orders they had scheduled me for had been destroyed and I was sent to Lincoln Air Force Base in Nebraska as a diesel mechanic.

So why did you join the Air Force?

I would have joined the Marine Corps, but at that point in time, the Marine Corps said, “No,” so I joined the Air Force.  Second choice! [He chuckles]

So you are a mechanic…

…at Lincoln Air Force Base in Nebraska.  Two bomb wings at Lincoln, Nebraska!  B-47’s!  And a one-star general in charge of that base!


I was there for two years and after that I was reassigned to Fairbanks, Alaska.

Wow, what did you think about that?

They made a movie about that!  “North to Alaska” (1960) that was very popular!

That’s good!  Everybody was probably jealous then!

Yes, ma’am!  So I went to Fairbanks, Alaska and I was there for eighteen months and had a ball up there.  Really!  Had a lot of fun.  But money didn’t go very far.

How did you have fun in Fairbanks, Alaska?

I bought a rifle and with that I went out into the woods and went hunting.

Did you get a moose?

No, no, but I had a lot of fun hunting.

You had the whole state of Alaska to do that in!

Fullscreen capture 312016 12017 PM.bmpYes, ma’am!  Then they wanted me to re-enlist.  And I said, no, no.  I wanted to be in air traffic control.  So you take a test and then they sent me to air traffic control school at Keesler Air Force Base. Yay!


Did you realize how difficult a job that was going to be before you started the school?

No, no. Big load of pressure! I wound up with twenty-two years of service.

All as an air traffic controller?

Yes, ma’am, except for the first four years as a mechanic.

How long did the school at Keesler last?

The school was about sixteen weeks.

That’s it?  I figured you’d have to study a year to learn everything you needed!

No, no, no.  Sixteen weeks of school and then I went to an Air Force Base at Harrisburg Pennsylvania.  My first assignment as an air traffic controller!  I also base rifle and pistol _____ at that point in time.  I was qualified as expert in both rifle and pistol at Harrisburg!

Wow! That’s a feather in your cap!

Yes, thank you!  So I spent two years as air traffic controller there and at that point in time the head of air traffic control facilities was retiring and at that time the FAA still had where they could transfer with the Air Force without any problems. So he beat out some of the other people competing for the job – the director position at Harrisburg airport. So he took that position as air traffic controller. Yay!

That was the civilian airport. Right?

Yes! He transferred over from Air Force to civilian.

So they left you there at the Air Force Base? What rank were you at the time?

I made Sergeant!  Three stripes.  Then I went to the head quarters for Air Training Command at (Lackland or Randolf) Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. It had dual runways.

So this is about the late ‘60’s at this point and Vietnam is going on.

Yes ma’am.  And my next assignment just happened to be Nakhon Phanom,  Thailand!  Also called NKP.

Tell me about your service there.

Fullscreen capture 312016 11808 PM.bmpAll WWII aircraft – B-25’s like a B-24 – same aircraft, twin engine, A-1– engines – single propellers, OV-10’s – dual engines, O-2’s push and pull, CH-47’s and Groupers.  I had a ball!  [He laughs]

I’ll bet!

CH-47 helicopters took special forces people across the border into Cambodia.  I had a blast! [He laughs]

I had four stripes at that point in time. Yay!  I was the air traffic control supervisor – shift supervisor!

Don’t mess up on your shift!

I had a blast at Nakhon Phanom!

I’ll bet you did! What were your duties there?  I mean, who was coming and going – all those aircraft coming and going from missions?

Yes, yes.  That’s true!  Now what would really get my attention as supervisor of flying was Major Charles Deneaux.  He was one of the people who was so fantastic.  He also volunteered for a second tour as a “Sandy” one pilot [search and rescue pilot].  He had a direct line to the President of the United States


…get on “Guard” channel, talk to the command post.  Command post would talk with people on “Guard” channel –

“This is Sandy One. Get off Guard.”

“Nope.”  Back up.

“This is Sandy One. Get off Guard channel.”

“Nope.” Back up.

“This is Major Deneaux! [He chuckles]  Get off Guard channel!!”

Fullscreen capture 312016 25652 PM.bmp[Mr. Nutefall  waves his hands as if he is clearing a table with a swipe. And grins at attention.]

He’s in control!



That was right in the middle of the war!


So you stayed at that air force base for the whole time you were over there?

Yes, ma’am. [He makes praying hands].Fullscreen capture 312016 31252 PM.bmp

I know!  Thank goodness! [He laughs]

One year tour.

Now he was not IN Vietnam.

Right.  He was in Thailand.

Well, we “didn’t have any bases there…”

[He laughs, while motioning Shhhhh…]

Hmm, well I know one man that was at a base in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive where they attacked all at once.

Yes, ’68.

That was scary!  Well I’m glad you were out of harm’s way at the base that didn’t exist!

[He laughs motioning “Shhhh” again]

Are there any other incidents or stories you’d like to share about that time, or was it business as usual?

It was business as usual, but business was fantastic!

You were a shift supervisor the whole time you were there?

Yes! Four stripes. Staff Sergeant.

Then after that my assignment was Klamath Falls, Oregon.  Got my fifth stripe!  We had a radar control facility – GCA – Guard Control Approach.  I was there less than a year. Then I went to Victorville, California – George Air Force Base.  I was there for two years, ’72-’74.

You were still doing air traffic control?

Yes, ma’am!

There moving you around everywhere!  You’re seeing the world!


Since the war is over by now, you are just doing general Air Force stuff!

Yes, ma’am! [He chuckles]

Then they tapped you as an instructor.

Yes! I was an instructor at Keesler Air Force Base! Yes, ma’am!


I got my sixth stripe at George Air Force Base. Master Sergeant – E-7!

You are teaching the youngsters now!

You catch on fast! [He chuckles] I was there for four years at Keesler.

That’s when you got your first degree.

Yes, my first degree. As an air traffic controller, I went to school part-time on the GI bill. Well here again, at George Air Force Base I went to pilot training in off-duty time.  I got my commercial pilot’s license.

Oh!  I didn’t know that!

Yes, ma’am!  Talking to the air craft I could tell him what to do because I knew what it was like being up there myself!

Very good!

He got certified as a twin engine pilot.


Yes, ma’am!

So he went to the University of Southern Mississippi while he was teaching at Keesler. And because of the credits he earned in the Air Force in their school, he graduated with a Bachelors’ degree in both Industrial Education and Psychology with a minor in Air Traffic Control.


Now he’s got a Masters’ degree in Board Certified Social Work and a Masters’ in Business Administration.

[He looks at me proudly!]

My goodness!

Fullscreen capture 312016 11925 PM.bmpEducation! [He smiles]

Then I was sent to Madrid, Spain.

Before you went to Spain, you went to language school.

Yes!  I went to the Defense Language Institute where they teach different languages.  So I went to California to learn Castilian Spanish.

I guess it would help to know the language.

Especially as an air traffic controller!

The problem is most Americans don’t speak true Spanish.  We speak Mexican which has a mixture of Spanish, Indian and Portuguese in it.  And to put him in the tower he needed Castilian Spanish.

Real Spanish. Huh!

So THEN you went to Madrid!

Yes ma’am.

One night [in Madrid] he went out [to a bar] and a Special Forces Team was there and they started picking on this woman.  He took exception to it and they worked him over. 

Fullscreen capture 312016 12107 PM.bmpIt was three days after I got there.

Oh shoot!

My point exactly!

They found him face down in a parking lot.  At three different

points that night he was declared dead.

They reallyREALLY worked him over!

He was gone for four and a half minutes at one point.  No heartbeat, nothing!

You are a walking miracle!

Thank you!

They literally were signing his death certificate when he sat up.

[He chuckles.]

He was in the hospital for twenty-one days two weeks of which he didn’t know who he was.  The day he got his memory back they informed him his mother was dead.  They flew him back to the States for her funeral and then brought him back to Spain. And of course, he went under psychiatric treatment in Germany twice.  He had what they called as “shaken baby syndrome.”  They kicked him hard enough in the back of his head that it cut a lesion on the front left lobe of his brain.

He went under psychiatric treatment for that and for the fact that he did not want the divorce [his first wife wanted].  That’s when he and I met.  We were in a “support group” of individuals who were going through divorce, but had not initiated it.

And also since he had been unconscious for more than three hours, the Air Force has a rule that if you are unconscious for more than 10 minutes, you are no longer eligible to be an air traffic controller.


Thank you!

You are also no longer eligible to be a sergeant.


So he lost his job description.  That meant he couldn’t be an air traffic controller, but he couldn’t be sent back to the States either without a job description.

Soooo, you were in this big loophole.


He’s in a catch-22!  He’s got time off all the time because he can’t go to work. 

But you’re getting paid.


We are in this country that is absolutely gorgeous!

I had an eight year old son and between the three of us, we went everywhere!  We saw parts of Spain that a lot of people don’t see.  Tell her about the Valle de los Caídos.

Fullscreen capture 312016 11911 PM.bmpOh, the Valley of the Fallen.  It was an amphitheater that when the organ played, it would echo through the hills.

After the Spanish Civil War, Franco dedicated this valley to the fallen troops of Spain and built a cathedral in the side of the mountain.  And in the morning, you’d go in that valley and the fog would be in there and then that pipe organ would start the music for mass. And it would roll through the whole valley!

Mr. John and Mrs. Nutefall listed multiple sites throughout Spain that they were able to see.

Now I was still married to my ex-husband at this point because you couldn’t get a divorce in Spain. And I couldn’t go home and get a divorce because you can’t divorce a serviceman who is overseas.


So my ex-husband came back to the States, got a divorce, came back and let me know — which meant I had to go back. John signed the paper so that when I got back, because his wife and children were still at Keesler, I could go and get his divorce finalized.

Oh, wow.

We had been writing all these letters, and as I was heading back, the day I was due to leave, he got a letter from the Secretary of the Air Force telling him that they were sending him back to the States. They had reclassified him.

You weren’t free anymore!

[He laughs]

I got a new position as the Education Superintendent at Hanscom Field in Boston, Massechusetts.

Nice!  What did you do?

The Air Force encourages all of their airmen to get more education.  His job, although he still had a seizure disorder, was to coordinate classes at universities for these airmen all over the United States and Europe and to coordinate their training through the different Air Force schools.

Some of the airmen were getting their degrees through the Harvard Law School.


Usually the people there are becoming officers, are finishing a degree, have their degree, but are wanting more education, or have a special project they are working on for NASA.

Wow, very good! With all your degrees, that was something you were able to be qualified for!

We stayed there for one year.

We loved it up there.

I love the history!

Well our house on base was near the spot where Paul Revere got stopped.

Oh really!

So getting back to our timeline, when were you in Boston? 



We retired in November of 1981. Show your ID card.

And I’m in uniform!  I was thirty-eight.

That’s right before he went to LSU to get his Masters in Social Work. He was supposed to be going to Ball State because he was already in Ball State, but he got down here and my grandmother was sick and we decided to stay in Louisiana.

Is there anything else about your career that you would like me to know?

He was a board certified psychiatric social worker, working as a secretary of clinical services at Colosseum Mental Hospital in New Orleans, which means he was in charge of the doctors and nurses.

I was accepted to pursue a doctorate in social work at Tulane University.


Wow! How many degrees do you have?!

but I had a stroke at that point in time.

Oh no! 

Aw shucks! [He chuckles.]

Thank you for sharing your story. What a career! Thank you for your service, Mr. John!

Mr. John is still active in local veterans’ activities and in service to other veterans.




























Theresa “Teddy” Anderson – (Part 3) “If you’re captured, save a bullet for yourself.”


Lt. Theresa Rizzi Anderson

Nurse – 804th Medical Air Squadron

Army Nurse Corps/Army Air Corps 

World War II – Pacific Theater

Air Medal Recipient

[Continued from Part 2]

SONY DSCWe hopped from one pilot to another.  You never knew who your pilots were [going to be].  They just waited until you got in the plane and then off you went.

We were serviced by the 40th Squadron, I believe. Anyway, they knew where to go and all that stuff.

But [after a while] — I had gone on a blind date with [a pilot].  We went where they were getting their promotion and silver bars. I ended up with a little blonde man with blue eyes, but he wasn’t very big.  He was so drunk. Oh, my, God.

I had just gotten back from Brisbane and I was going to bed and [the nurses] forced me to go on a blind date. Even helped get me dressed.

So we got there and he looked at me – he was so drunk – and said, “Chicken! Let’s dance!”

Well when that kid got on the dance floor, he had wings for feet!


Wooooooo! That boy could dance! Oh my God.  We danced all night!

So on the way home I told the other girls, I said, “He can dance, but I’m through! The man doesn’t have a brain in his head. I don’t want to see him anymore.”

Well, you do.

Fullscreen capture 9302015 71035 PM.bmpSo the second time – see, you couldn’t go anywhere ‘cause there was nothing up there.  They had to come in a jeep to pick you up. There was no PX – nothing! Just you.  And they’d come pick us up and we’d go to Moresby and we’d go dancing.  They had a juke box and they had a ramp over the Coral Sea where you could dance.

Oh wow!

And we would go down there and we’d go dancing and then they would take us back to the barracks.  Well the second time he came to pick me up, all the way there and all the way back, his hands were everywhere. [She waves her hands around and has a startled look on her face.] And he looked at me and he said, “Chicken, I just washed my hands and I don’t know what to do with them.”


Edward and Teddy

And I said, “This is it! Never again will I ever have anything to do with this kid!”

Well, I ended up marrying him. [She grins]


Every time they would come to pick us up – and we never knew how often or who was coming – every time they’d come, he’d get out of the plane and he’d say, “Come here chicken.  I want you by me.”

So that started us dating…well we got married over there.

Over there? Really? That’s cool!


We got married and couldn’t go any place for a honeymoon for two weeks.

But anyway, we were ready to get our promotions and we had recruits coming in.  And one of them was a Jewish girl and she wore the Torah around her neck – a little tube.  Well our chief nurse was Jewish, our flight surgeon – he was also Jewish…I was the only Italian girl.

So it came time for us to get our promotions.  Everybody would get first lieutenant — but me.  The Jewish girl got first lieutenant in my place.

Anyway when we got back to barracks I said something to Mary.  She said, “Let it go.”

I shouldn’t have done that, but I did.

At that time things were bad.  We had run out of food.  Our flight surgeon would come over and say, “Mary, I can feed six nurses,” or “I can feed five nurses.”

There were twenty-three of us!


“I can feed six!”

The hell with the rest of ‘em. Who cares!


Nurses trying to be at home in the jungle

So five or six would go and the rest of us – our noses were out of joint. We were really upset.

So sometimes when the pilots would come they would steal away some — one time we got a five gallon can of milk.  You talk about people drinking milk in a hurry! We had to, or otherwise it was gonna go bad.

One time we got a sack full of onions. Onion sandwiches are good when you’re hungry!

I’ll bet they are!

And we got some crackers. You learn that if you put crackers in the oven, they will get crisp again. And then you learn that if you put potatoes in [a little] water and keep stirring, potatoes will fry in water!

In water?

You had to stand there and keep stirring and keep adding a little water at a time. So we ate!


Everybody ate.  Six of them would go and eat like the Queen of Sheba and the rest of us – it was our own fault.  Our noses were out of joint.  We were just mad.

Why couldn’t he just give a little to everyone?  No.  “I can feed six nurses,” or “I can feed five nurses.” He didn’t care what happened to the rest of us. So we were really upset with him.

[But] I had been in Brisbane, Australia, Dutch New Guinea, and we ended up on Biak.  From Biak we went onto the Philippines.  We stayed most on Biak ‘cause we were going to the Philippines because that’s where all the fighting was going to – from the Philippines on to Japan.  So they put us there on purpose until we would go to Leyte in the Philippines.


Friends (Teddy, second from right)

So we stayed on Biak eight to ten months – all of us at this time. They didn’t separate us.  Like they would take six nurses and a flight surgeon and they’d send you to another island for four or five weeks.  And another six – because we were four flights altogether. And some of the others they would send to someplace else.  And then when you did whatever you did, you’d come on back.  So we’d go back to the big house.

In the beginning we’d fly from Port Moresby in the beginning of the jungle to Brisbane.  We flew the Coral Sea to Brisbane and dropped off patients that were well enough to go home, but were not well enough to fight anymore.

And when we got to Port Moresby they realized they needed us a lot worse going to the front than going down to Brisbane.  So I don’t know how the patients got back.  I guess by hospital ship. But once we got up there, we never went back.  We always went ahead to another island.

Island-hopped all the way up?

Island-hopped all the time.

One island I went to, they had gliders. An airplane would pull a glider and they had all these soldiers in the glider and they would drop the glider and the soldiers would get out and go to the area where they are going to fight.

Oh wow.

But one time, they dropped them too soon and they brought us a whole bunch of soldiers with broken ankles. They were too close to the ground when they dropped ‘em.


So we picked ‘em up and brought ‘em back.  We don’t know what happened to them after that.  We just took care of them while they were in the plane.  They sent them to a MASH unit to get them set and then we would pick them up.

Did you pick up only Army soldiers or any of the wounded from other branches?

We picked up soldiers, period.  I don’t know if they were Marines – all we knew was they had a slip with their name on it and what was wrong with them and what their rank was. It didn’t matter.  We just picked up wounded soldiers and brought ‘em back.

Mr. and Mrs. Edward Anderson

Mr. and Mrs. Edward Anderson – “This photo was taken after we came home. Ooo, he was handsome! We called him toe-head. He was Swedish so he had platinum blonde hair and blue eyes. [I am Italian.] We were like night and day! He was bright as sunshine and I was black, well I was yellow actually.”

Anyway, I got married.  Got pregnant.  And they started sending us home. And I came home in February.  They flew three or four of us together.  We’d fly to Brisbane and then we’d get on the plane and fly to Hawaii.  And from Hawaii we’d fly to San Francisco.

When we weren’t flying, we were cooking – in our heads [imagining good meals].  We’d sit on our bunks and we’d cook. And I always wanted another pineapple salad.  I CRAVED a pineapple salad!  So when we got to Hawaii, the Red Cross ladies had a stand out there so you could get what you wanted.  I asked them, “Do you happen to have pineapple?”

“Oh honey, yes I have pineapple!”

Well, I ate pineapple!

When we got to San Francisco, we knew everything was rationed here in stateside, and we’d been sitting over there for two years and we needed shoes!  You couldn’t buy ‘em over there!

Well we went to one of the places and here sat this Lieutenant [looking cocky] very full of himself. Fullscreen capture 1062015 15232 PM.bmp

Well the four of us walked in there and another nurse said, “We need shoes.  We’d like some rations for shoes.”

He looked at her and he said, “Lieutenant, do you know there’s a war on!”

Fullscreen capture 1062015 15349 PM.bmpWell, that kid —  She got on top of the desk!  She got nose to nose and she said, “Where in the G– d— hell do you think we’ve been all this time!”

Fullscreen capture 1062015 14733 PM.bmpSo we each got three rations for shoes. [She grins]



And from San Francisco, I drove Sue-Sue and I, and we rode the train all the way to Fort Dix.  And we came home.


That was in ’45.

The war was over?

Oh, no.  We came home in February.  I got out in June – my orders were through June. Ted came home in July.

We went to South Carolina for him to be reassigned and then they dropped the atomic bomb. So when they dropped the atomic bomb, everybody got out.

How long had you been a nurse before the war?

I graduated in ’41 and in ’42 I went in to the service and stayed in til ’45.


Shortest (Teddy) and tallest (Nurse Fields) – “Her name was Fields and she lived in Seattle, Washington.  And she could make a piano sit up straight and dance! Woo! She could play the piano!”


Was your weight ever a problem anymore during your time in the service?

Anytime we had to go some place we’d have to weigh – and we did two or three times, we all had it made.  The nurses would stand all around me and one of the nurses would put her foot on the back of the scale.  I’d stand on the scale.  They’d push it up to 105.  I’d get off.  I’d weigh 105 pounds.

Ha ha ha!

And it worked beautifully!  Nobody knew but us.  You know, we didn’t tell anybody.


And I never knew whose foot was behind on the scales.  Somebody’s foot was on the scales on purpose!


Fullscreen capture 9302015 71221 PM.bmpSo I stayed 105 pounds all the time. But when I got home, I weighed 89 pounds.

And I was pregnant.

Skinny as a rail.

Ugly as sin.


Your husband was over there for, how long?

He came home in July.  He was a captain with a C-47 and they invited him to stay when we got into Leyte in the Philippines. If he would stay and take the squadron to Japan, they would make him a Major.

He said, “Put it in your pocket. I’m going home.”

So he had six weeks and we were going to South Carolina for him to be reassigned and when he got there they told him he had to fly co-pilot for a year.

He said, “Why do I have to fly co-pilot?”

“Well, to get yourself acclimated to flying the way you’re supposed to.”

Because apparently we didn’t fly right when we were over there.

Several people said, “Oh, y’all won’t stay married.”

Four of us got married over there.  I know, of the four of us, two of us stayed married. We were married fifty-four years.

Wow, that’s great!

Two other couples, when they got stateside, they divorced.

How many kids did you end up having?

I have three – two sons and a daughter – and they all live close.

Well that’s the story of my life!  It isn’t very much.

It is a lot for me!  You got an Air Medal!  You were in combat and didn’t even know it!

Fullscreen capture 9302015 70715 PM.bmpSo? I got a medal. [She shrugs her shoulders]

[I chuckle]  Well, it says something to me!

It was your choice to go over.  It wasn’t like they drafted you.

They didn’t draft women.

So you just said, “I’m a nurse. I want to go.”

Yes.  We all volunteered.

Well that showed some spunk! [She smiles]

And I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  There were parts of it that were ugly, but you don’t remember those parts.

Well that’s an experience! My goodness! [She smiles] And get to travel halfway around the world!

On a ship near Sydney Aus. on a sightseeing trip

On a ship near Sydney Aus. on a sightseeing trip

Yes, we went to Sydney Australia on leave – when you were able to get one.  In fact they whole time I was over there I only managed to get off twice.  And you stayed a week and then came back up.

First of all you didn’t know if you were going to get leave – they needed you!  ‘Cause there were always two or three of you flying all the time. So when you got off, you went!

Then on our way home, we stopped in Hawaii.  Our plane had technical trouble, so they put us up in a beautiful area!  But they said, “You can’t leave because if the plane is ready to go and you’re not on it, you don’t go.”

So we couldn’t leave.  We stayed three days and we stayed within maybe a block.  Couldn’t go anywhere else.


It wasn’t like we were going to miss that plane home!


Not after two years in the jungle.

I don’t remember.  There’s so much of it I can’t remember.

Well you remembered a lot!

That’s ‘cause we did it every day! We did it all the time.

Well I certainly appreciate you taking the time to talk with me!

I don’t have much to say.

But people like me who were not raised in that time, don’t know much about it.  I was born twenty years after that, so it’s all interesting to me.  And I do this project for several reasons – to honor veterans with a recorded history of their service and to teach following generations about what people did to serve their country.  World War II was a HUGE war that had HUGE consequences. If it had happened another way, we could be speaking German or Japanese and be in a militaristic state.  I’m very adamant about educating others.  I do this so they won’t forget.

Well, thank you.


Theresa “Teddy” Anderson (Part 2) – “If you’re captured, save a bullet for yourself.”


Lt. Theresa Rizzi Anderson

Nurse – 804th Medical Air Squadron

Army Nurse Corps/Army Air Corps 

World War II – Pacific Theater

Air Medal Recipient

[Continued from Part 1]

Nurse in plane could be Teddy Anderson

804th Medical Air Squadron in Brisbane, Australia

One time we were flying to Brisbane with patients.  They told us to fly over the sea. Don’t fly the land because the Japanese had Wewak [New Guinea].  They had a stronghold there.  Well, our smart aleck lieutenant decided we were going to fly over the beach on Wewak.  We almost ended in the water.  They started shooting at us and we went back over the sea.

Fullscreen capture 9302015 70216 PM.bmpHe said to me later,“Lieutenant, what would you have done if we had gone into “the drink”?  Would you have gone down with your boys, or would you have come out with the rest of us?”

You see, when we went in [to the Nurse Corps], they told us, “If you ever have to ditch the plane, you decide.  Are you going to go down with your boys, or are you going to get out?”

Don’t know till you’re there, I guess.

I don’t know.  I think now, if I had gone down with the boys, I’d have been stupid. Because you can’t do anything more once you’ve drowned.  I think now, I would have jumped out with the rest of them.  I’m hoping I’d have been smart enough to do that. But I don’t know.

But anyway, this chief nurse didn’t like us and she put us all in the station hospital and I was sent to the Romance Ward.

The Romance Ward?



Athlete’s feet.  Anything you want to know that’s contagious and not worth…[she trails off giggling].  That’s where I stayed.

Well, come time to pick up patients, our Major talked her into letting one of the nurses fly – like we were supposed to!  [We were trained to] pick up patients!

They decided Station Hospital should be the first to go.  So one of ‘em volunteered. We started taking patients who were going home if they were well (so we wouldn’t mess up anything…) – we were going from Port Moresby [New Guinea] to Brisbane [Australia].


LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

Port Moresby, New Guinea – Station Hospital – 1943

The first nurse to take the flight down [who was not trained in air evac] said, “I’ll go!”

Well she was sick.  Air sick all the way down.  Air sick all the way back.  Nobody took care of the patients.

The second flight that went down. It was one of our nurses.  Everything went fine!

So the third flight that went down, one of the station hospital nurses said, “I’ll go!”  Sure enough, she was sick all the way down. She was sick all the way back.  So all the station nurses said, “No, we’re not going.”

Until we got it set up to go into the forward areas, we went just to Brisbane. We stayed overnight.  Drop your patients off.  And the next day you got back on your ship and came back up to Port Moresby.

Mary, our chief nurse, would say, “Teddy, tomorrow you fly.”

Sometimes there were two of us.  Sometimes there were three.  Never just one.  Only one nurse in each airplane.  You never knew where you were going.  You just knew you were going to an island.  The pilots knew where we were going.  We never knew what we were picking up.  All we knew is we were picking up patients and bringing them back to our own area because we had station hospitals.

So it went on like this – “Mary, you fly.” “Teddy, you fly.”


Teddy Anderson (front, left)

We’d get up 4 o’clock in the morning – powdered eggs, toast and what-have-you, and we’d have one of our drivers there sitting there waiting for us in the dark because it was 4 o’clock.  We’d go to the strip.  Where the strip was, how you got there, I don’t know.  It was dark! You couldn’t see anything!  So we’d sit there and we’d wait for our C-47.  And we’d get on there with our pilots and if there were three of us going, there were three planes.  If there were two of us going, there were two planes.  They knew exactly how many were going.  Never more than one of us (nurses) to one island.

So we’d get on the plane and up into the forward area – of course it was all islands. And they had to fly through the Owen Stanley Mountains – two big peaks – and they flew in between ‘em.  On your plane, with your regular crew, they always carried supplies up to the general, for what they needed, and then we’d bring patients back so you never had an empty plane.

And when you got where you were supposed to go, it was daylight, and there were a lot of people out there and they had two or three ambulances and you got out of the plane and you waited.  These people knew exactly what they were doing.  They would take the supplies off the plane and they would bring the patients.  We had litter patients and walking patients.  You never knew until you got them. You could put two tiers of litters, or you could have some litters and what we called bucket patients. ‘Cause that’s what those planes had in those days.  They had buckets.  Those were walking patients. And they put’em in the plane and they handed you the manifest, — you got in there and you got out of there as fast as you could go!

I’ll bet!

I mean, in and out in a fast hurry! I mean, people who had to take’em out got the supplies out of there as fast as you could think of.  Before you knew it, the ambulances were empty and we were on our way back to where we were stationed.  When we got there, there were ambulances waiting.  They’d take the patients out, put’em in the ambulances and take’em where they were supposed to go.  We never saw’em againl  We never knew who we had except for the manifest.


Sometimes we were in the air twenty or thirty minutes. Sometimes we were in the air a little bit longer.  And we flew, in those days, 10,000 feet was as high as the plane would go.  Once in a while we’d have problems with respiratory patients and you’d have to go up front and ask if they could go lower.  Well they’d go down to 8000 feet, but they couldn’t go any lower because it was jungle. They were very good.  They did exactly what we asked them to, so we never had any problem with the airplane.

One time I took back a load of mental patients – we called them disturbed patients. And we had one patient who was on a stretcher and to control him, we had to wrap him in army blankets.  And they had him on the stretcher all wrapped up in the army blankets and they were wet.  Well if you’ve got a wet blanket, you can’t get out.

It binds up?

It binds you.  Well this one patient we had, he decided to wake up.  He started fighting.  Oh my god.  I happened to have a sergeant with us.

We were supposed to have a sergeant with us each time. I think I had a sergeant three times.  Then after that, we were so busy, they had to go by themselves.  They had two weeks nurses training at Louisville General Hospital.  That’s all they had. And those boys went by themselves to get a load of patients like we did, and bring’em back.  I often wondered how those kids managed to do it.

But anyway, I had this load of mental patients and we were trying to calm him down.  And of course he was fighting and the plane was rocking and the crew chief came out with a big hammer in his hand [she motions it lifted above his head].  And I said, “What are you gonna do with that?”

He said, “I’m gonna hit the SOB over the head.  He’s not about to crash us in the jungle!”

Fullscreen capture 9302015 71012 PM.bmpI said, “You’re not gonna do any such thing!  Put that thing down and help hold him so I can get him a shot!”

We had a foot locker that was our first aid locker and there were little vials in there with a needle at the end of it.  So I went and got that.  And while they held him – there was no alcohol sponge nor nothing.  You just popped it right through their clothes.  So I gave him a little shot of morphine and in a little bit of time he calmed down and we got the patients home without any problem.

Uhm. Uhm.

But that’s all we did. We’d fly from one island to another.  And once in a while they would separate us.

There were four flights and there were twenty-four nurses plus a chief nurse. So if you were going someplace else, like I went up to Finchaven – north of Port Moresby – I don’t know.  All I know is it was north.  There were six of us and we were stationed there with our flight surgeon for five or six weeks – whatever it was – and we’d go from there and pick up patients and come back to Finchaven and there was somebody waiting for us there to take the patients ‘cause there were nurses somewhere in a station hospital.  We never saw anything.  All we ever saw was the strip.  And that was it!  They never told you where you were going.  They never told you anything except, “You fly.”  That’s exactly – you never heard another word from’em. The next morning you got up. You did what you were supposed to do.

People say, “What islands did you go on?”

I have no idea where we went. All I know is it was in the jungle. There were trees all around everywhere.  You could hear gunshots in the distance.

So it was a battle area of some sort.

No, no, no. Whatever was going on, was going on [motions with hand as the fighting was in the distance].  You could hear the gunshots, but we never felt like we were in any danger. We really didn’t think so.

But apparently we were, because one night, Mary, our chief nurse, said nobody flies tomorrow. Maybe we are going to have a holiday, or a party, or something!  Next morning we got up and she says dress like you’re supposed to.  General Whitehead’s coming to give you all a medal.

“Why are we getting a medal?  What did we do?”

“You’ve been flying combat!”

And they’d been keeping track of our hours.  We didn’t know they’d been keeping – once we flew over one hundred combat hours, then they gave you the Air Medal.


Standing at attenion waiting to receive combat medals for their service in forward areas

Standing at attenion waiting to receive air medals for their service in forward areas (Teddy Anderson is third woman from right)

So sure enough, we all stood in a row with our sergeants and Whitehead came up and gave you your Air Medal and shook your hand and he went to everybody and that was it for the day.  You got an Air Medal!

Wow!  That’s cool!

Fullscreen capture 9302015 70715 PM.bmpOh hurray, hurray, we got an Air Medal. [She shrugs her shoulders.]  The thing that bothers me was that we didn’t know we were flying combat.  Not that you could do anything about it ‘cause we continued to fly anyway.

What did you think about the jungle?

I could do without.  I could well do without it. There was nothing around you.  You couldn’t go anywhere. You’re stuck on this little mole on the top of everything.  It was just there.  There was nothing you could do.  So when we weren’t flying, we were cooking.  We slept on a cot with an air mattress and you did your own sewing if something had to get sewed. But what do women do with the needle when they are through with it?  Popped it in the mattress. [without thinking] We spent more time blowing up air mattresses! ‘Cause they wouldn’t give you another air mattress.  And you’d forget and stick your needle in it again!  We weren’t very bright.

[I chuckle] 

The thing that bothered me really was that we never had a staff meeting with our head nurse, or with the nurses together.  Never had a meeting with our flight surgeon.  Never, ever.  Did anyone tell us what was going on?

Fullscreen capture 9302015 70946 PM.bmpWe [the nurses] were across the road from the men. We were by ourselves in a little alcove behind everything – there was nothing behind us.  We were always on a hill and we never saw the men, except at the mess hall.  The officers didn’t eat with us then.  We sat with other enlisted personnel.

One morning we got up and some of our enlisted men were patrolling with a gun — and never had before.  We asked them what was happening.  And they said that they caught two Japanese coming down into our area back from the jungle some place.  Well we were told, “They were hungry.  They came to get food.” Well this happened two or three more times.  How close they were, I have no idea. But they were close enough that they could walk into our area.

Other than that, we never saw anybody.

Why were you so secluded and kept in the dark about everything?

We never thought about it, but apparently it was something that — was dangerous?  We didn’t think it was dangerous – at the time, anyway.

Maybe they didn’t want to tell you so that you wouldn’t get nervous. 

[She grins] We were young. Who cared!  Somebody asked me one time, “Did you ever think you weren’t going to go home?”

[Shakes her head] That never entered anyone else’s mind. You go fly.  You pick up patients.  When it was over you’re going home.  Well it didn’t always end that way, ‘cause we lost one nurse on her way.  It crashed in the jungle.  We never did find ‘em.  ‘Cause the jungle’s so thick, you couldn’t see where you were going.  And they did say something about there were headhunters in the jungle.  So…[she shrugs her shoulders.]  We never knew what happened to Myrtle.  They just disappeared.

Oh my…


Aborigines in New Guinea — affectionately known as the Fuzzy-Wuzzies, a British term for the natives that they had used since the turn of the century.

And then we had – we called them the “Fuzzy-Wuzzies.”  They were the natives.  They were Aborigines. Our boys kind of civilized them a little bit.  They’d walk around and our boys would cut the sleeves out of their t-shirts when they got old and give them to the Fuzzy-Wuzzies.  And they would walk around with a loin cloth…period…and a t-shirt over it.

They learned two words.  “Hi, Joe!”  Everybody was “Hi Joe.”  That’s all they ever said. And there was a pineapple plantation.

On New Guinea?

Yes, and the Fuzzy-Wuzzies — they civilized them and put clothes on ‘em and taught them English and they worked the plantation.

Well, their hair was all piled up high — and we were taking Atabrine tablets for malaria.   Well, once in a while, General Whitehead would call Mary.

He’d say, “We are having a dance.  Send the nurses.”

Command performance.  You had no choice.  You’d go up to wherever the General was and you’d go to a dance.

Well he looked at me and he said, “Teddy?  I think we’re going to put you behind the lines.”  He said, “As little as you are and as yellow as your skin is, you’d pass for a Geisha girl.

Fullscreen capture 9302015 70946 PM.bmpI said, “Well that’s my last Atabrine tablet!”

Well we didn’t take any more – and we didn’t get malaria. But what we did with our Atabrine tablet was we gave ‘em to the Fuzzy-Wuzzies.  And they would wash their hair in it.  ‘Cause it was a little pill and they would dissolve it and they’d wash their hair in it.  And they’d have the prettiest orange hair you ever saw in your life! [She grinned]


[Their orange hair] standing high and in a white t-shirt!  They were in seventh heaven!  They thought they were the best things in the world!

In Part 3, Mrs. Anderson tells of running short of food in the jungle, meeting the love of her life, and going home.