It was Nov. 11, 1942, and I was sitting at the Holt’s Café in Boonville. My uncle, Joe Bauer, had said the day before, “Ralph, tomorrow is Armistice Day, and you’re going in the Army!” On this day, my brother, Paul, his wife, Mary Ann, and my girl, Levina, were there to share a meal before I left for Jefferson Barracks, in St. Louis. After being told I was physically able, I received a uniform and boarded a train to Camp Callan, in California.
Later I was sent to Honolulu and went by train to Schofield Barracks. The native kids traded us something (it might have been a kind of fruit) for our candy. The fruit made me vomit, so I had to go to the hospital. The doctor thought I had appendicitis, so he operated. He determined later, I had food poisoning. I was put on limited duty as a guard.
I was on Ford Island, in Honolulu, for about 16 months. I visited with Amandus J. Schoen, who lives in Tipton now, and other friends from the Pilot Grove area, including Ed O. Stoecklein, Harold Young, Shorty Krumm and Leroy Eckerle.
It was June 24, 1944, and the war was over in Europe. I was a corporal and my outfit got assigned for combat duty. It took almost four months to get to Saipan. Our escorts, the destroyers, would often spot Japanese subs in the South Pacific and took detours to avoid them.
The Marines were ahead of us. They were trying to take the island of Saipan from the Japanese. The 2nd and 4th battalion Marines went in first; probably more than 200,000 Marines. However, they went in too fast and overlooked the snipers, who dug holes to hide in. At night snipers came out and killed many Marines.
Offshore stood the Army’s 27th Division. They came on land with their anti-aircraft guns and cleaned out the snipers. Later that night, we went ashore jumping from the pontoons into water three feet deep. I held my backpack, rifle and clothes over my head. A picture of my sweetheart was well wrapped to keep it dry.
It took several months, but eventually the island was cleared of Japanese. When the last ones wouldn’t give up, they were simply crowded off the island. Several of them jumped off cliffs into the water.
American personnel came in and built a runway for B-29s. They needed to lay a base for the airstrip. Every few minutes there would be a big boom and coral would fly up and hit us just like shrapnel. Finally, the man in charge said, “Let’s do it all at once.” They wanted a powerful blast so they could pulverize the coral. They set 300 cases of dynamite, 30 tons, go off at one time. The whole island shook with this huge “Boom!” I’ll never forget how deafening it was.
This one-mile wide island shook like an earthquake had hit it. Trucks hauled the coral up to build the runway.
Some of the smaller boats brought in supplies and food. It was hotter than blazes. There was always a dust over everything. Half of that dust settled on us and developed into lumps under our skin. For two years, we lived and breathed in that.
Our company had eight platoons and my squad, Section 8, was positioned out at the end of the airport runway. In time, two other fellows and I were assigned to build eight buildings. We thought we were pretty good part-time carpenters. Besides the captain’s building, which was the headquarters, we built eight bunkhouses.
We always had to be on alert for the enemy. The Japanese thought they owned the island of Tinian that was about one mile over in the Pacific. They made some sort of runway and built a one-seater plane. They’d fly in low down over Saipan to try to knock out our B-29s. They’d get shot down. One time they shot down the mosquito bar out over my tent. Then the Japanese tried to shoot our airport from their island. We bombed them.
The anti-aircraft guns that had been welded to the big ship were taken ashore. Humphreys was our mechanic for the Navy’s 40-mm cannon. Bench would start up the generator. I was trained to work with the M-7 canon. This gun used 40-mm shells that were over 15 inches long and about as big around as my forearm. The shell cartridges had to be dropped in by hand, so we sat right next to the gun with the explosive boom sounds going in our ears. It definitely compounded my hearing loss.
Originally, I was one of the men on the left or the right loading, where we had to be prepared to elevate the gun if the hydraulics didn’t work. Later I was the M-7 director, sighting and aiming the M-7. After spotting the plane, I had to be able to sight and move ahead of the enemy plane to fire the shells.
The Army’s quad-50 guns were mounted out at the end of the runway. Four .50-caliber machine guns sat on a turret. Strait, the gunner, operated the 50-caliber machine guns. When the enemy flew in and spotted him, he was killed. Then his gun’s turbine got away and was firing out of control. We had to duck to avoid being hit. It was probably a stupid thing to do, but I ducked under the rotating guns, managed to reach in and get to the celluloid’s main switch to shut it down. Someone called for Lt. Rutter to take that operator out of the turret. We continued to protect the airstrip from incoming attacks and were deaf for more than three days. I never did hear much out of my left ear after that.
I was made chief of Section 8 in 1945. After acquiring the necessary points, I flew home to San Francisco and on to Leavenworth, Kan., and was discharged Dec. 6, 1945. I came home to my sweetheart, Levina. I even beat some of my letters home.
Editor’s note: Ralph Reuter died May 25, 2007. He shared this information with his daughter, Martha Gerling, in October 2006.