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The War Years
Wesley R. Slaymaker & Avis Hickerson (Sister)
Recorded by Helen Slaymaker in Fullerton, NE
[Click HERE for a history of the 37th Division's participation in World War II, and specifically quite a lot about the 129th Infantry.]
This is the way the conversation went as Avis (Wesley's youngest sister) and Wesley were talking. He was wounded at Clark Field on Fort Stotsenberg, Philippine Islands. They had helped liberate some prisoners of war at Cabanatuan on Clark Field.
Now we go back to when he was on Fiji Island. There were lots of horses on the island being sold at $5 each. Several of the officers bought them. Their Captain bought a stallion. He heard that Kenny Cadwallder and Wesley Slaymaker were cowboys, so he asked them to castrate the horse. They roped and held him down, did the job, let him heal and then broke him for riding. They had about 50 horses in their battalion. They got word they had to move to the other side of the island. They could go around the mountains (150 miles) or straight through them (30 miles). Wesley, Kenny and a few others rode heard on the horses over the mountains. It took them 3 days. There were wild cattle in the mountains so they shot one and barbecued it for fresh meat. They ended up at Suva and met the Australians who were there to relieve them. The Americans got a kick out of the way they called them "mate". They had big hats with one side of the brim turned up.
From Fiji they went to Guadalcanal (in the Solomon Islands) for 2 weeks. The battle was over, so they had clean up duty. There were a lot of snipers in the hills picking off Americans as they built a new airstrip.
Then they went to New Hebrides (now known as Vanuatu) on outpost duty. Here the squad of men could do their own cooking. They watched for aircraft etc... Wesley was in charge when Douglas McArthur came to inspect the outpost and visit the men. Back on Guadalcanal they shot wild chickens and trapped flounders in the ocean. They barbecued them on a hill. The infantry always got the dirty duties they called "shit duties". While unloading a ship they ran across a 50 pound bag of onions that found its way back to their squadron, and it sure helped the taste of the C-rations. They also copped many cans of turkey which was to go to the officers and did not make it there. The men had no transportation, so they carried everything with them on top of the standard 50 pound infantry load.
From New Hebrides they went to Bougainville in the Solomon Islands for 13 months. There was lots of war activities on that island. [See this link to read about the Battle of Bougainville from a medic's perspective or here for a historian's account of 'Hell on Hill 700, a crucial battle for the 37th Infantry Division at Bougainville or here for the Army's Official History of its campaign in the Northern Solomons.] They set up an airstrip with barb wire entanglements around it and mines on the outside with pill boxes on the interior. They shut off the supply lines to the remaining Japanese on the islands. The kamikaze Japanese came in droves with no weapons except bayonets and sabers. The pill boxes mowed them down in the entanglements.
From there they joined a convoy of 1000 ships heading for the Philippines.[See this page (once the page has loaded, search for '9 January' or 'S-Day'), which briefly covers the Invasion of Luzon, which is what I gather Grandpa is describing. This page gives a nice history of the Pacific War and has a paragraph about this invasion under "1945". And this page describes the rationale behind the invasion.] Wesley was on a landing ship tank(LST). As they headed for the beach he could see the Heywood. That was Glenn Carlisle’s ship, his brother in law. As they landed [click HERE for an illustration of the larger Pacific perspective] they remained out in the water as the Heywood straffed the beach. He said the concussion was terrible. As they came on shore, however, there was no resistance. No Japs in sight. The 1st day they went 5 miles. After the tanks broke down, they traveled and fought on foot all the way to Manila Bay & Clark Field.
They ran across a nest of Japanese in the mountains next to Clark Field. Wesley got hit by an American gun that the Japanese had captured. He had a funny feeling that morning as they were setting up their guns on this small hill. He had one gun on each side. They hadn’t fully dug in when they began giving and receiving fire from caves in front of them. During the fight the Japs snuck in behind their position and surrounded them. They were running out of ammo and Wesley sent Jerry Baum, another Atkinson boy and two others to go back and get more ammo. The other two got killed and Jerry was wounded. He played dead and they took his wallet but left him with only a wounded hand. They wanted the watch on another dead man and chopped his hand off to get it. Wesley was wounded in the elbow and middle back at 4pm and lay there until 9am the following day. Evidently he helped a comrade into a cave after he was wounded and received the bronze star for that but he doesn’t remember doing it. A comrade put a tourniquet on his arm and the medics came and started plasma. Wes didn’t think he was going to make it. There were only 2 machine gun squads that weren’t killed or wounded. He laid there another 15 hours before he was taken to a field hospital in an old mill from a sugar plantation. There was one big room with cots for the wounded with the operating table right in the middle. He was getting whole blood when someone said, 'Is that you Wes?' It was Jerry Baum.
Then he was transferred to a tent hospital somewhere on the island of Luzon. The nurses were young Philippine girls and he was getting an IV drip. He was taken by stretcher and loaded on a C-47. That’s where he saw his first white nurse. The plane was intended for cargo and gave a really rough ride. Their stretchers were attached to the side of the plane. They landed on a beach and he was transferred to a hospital ship, the Marigold. He was on that ship for 2 weeks and eventually ended up in Dutch New Guinea. (Dutch New Guinea is now known as Irian Jaya and is a province of Indonesia.) The Japs were kamikaze dive-bombing everything. The hospital ship had several terrible burn cases and deaths from the dive bombing. He wrote his first letters since the wounds from New Guniea where he stayed for 3 weeks. [Note: From the letters, looks like at least five weeks he was in Dutch New Guinea.]
Then he was transported on to an old troop carrier bound for San Francisco and Letterman General Hospital. He got robbed just before landing and had no money. He knew his sisters, Virginia and Jean were in port so he wrote a free letter to them. They figured out what streetcars and busses they had to take to get there. They had no idea what they would find when they got there. They got to the hospital and walked the wards until they found him.
From there he was transferred to O’Reilly General Hospital in Springfield, MO. He now weighed 119lbs. He got his first leave since joining the Army from here, over 3 years. He got a 10 day leave and got home the day after his youngest sister Avis graduated from High School. She and their parents met the train he was on in Atkinson. Avis was working at Spences Grocery at the time and everything was rationed. Mr. Spence told them to forget about the rationing and take whatever they thought Wesley might want. He was so hungry for fresh fruit and milk when he got home.
Wesley’s mother Serena couldn’t stand not knowing where he was. So she got an 8x11 map of the Pacific Theater like the one he carried and told him to poke a hole in the paper he was writing his letter on over his location as all the mail was censured.
His first leave he went to a dance at the Crystal Ball Room in Atkinson. Helen Zink was home on vacation from nursing in Grand Island and went to the dance with here older sister Marge and her husband George. She danced every dance that night with Wesley. Every time he got leave he traveled through Grand Island to visit her.