||Earl E. Hendricksen was born in Denmark, Wisconsin on August 21, 1925 to parents who were native to that area. His father worked as an auto mechanic and his mother was a homemaker. He has one sister.
Earl remembers the Great Depression as a time when the family watched their pennies even though his father remained employed, working ten hour days for 40 cents an hour. Earl completed high school in June of 1943 and enlisted in the Marines at age 17 immediately thereafter. He tried at age 16 but failed. He went to Camp LeJeune for basic training in January 1944 after which he was trained to be a an operating technician for the Mark XVI radar. He was assigned to the 4th Marine Division in Hawaii in December 1944 and participated in the invasion of Iwo Jima in January 1945, serving as a radio operator. He was in the second wave and endured 15 days of hell on the beach before being able to move inland.
Casualties on Iwo were very heavy and Earl was fortunate in only suffering a minor wound which required minimum care. He had some close calls as did all of the other Marines who landed. They were completely exposed to enemy fire and the enemy was almost invisible in their caves and bunkers. Earl had for a time the job of tunnel rat, going into caves with a buddy and ascertaining whether Japanese troops will still there. The cave systems were quite extensive and well supplied with everything but water. It was a scary assignment!
The island was declared secured on the 15th March and Earl left for Hawaii on the 16th. Those on Iwo still faced a lot of deadly battles with the Japanese and many casualties continued to occur. Earl said the Japanese soldiers were excellent fighters.
Earl trained for the invasion of Japan on the big island of Hawaii but went back to the states in September 1945 after the war ended. He enrolled at Oshkosh State Teachers College and graduated with a BS degree in 1950. He taught in Fond du Lac until the Korean War began and then went back into service in December of 1950. He had a contractual obligation to the Marines.
He went to OCS and served as an officer until they wanted to give him a desk job. He transferred to the Army and served as an infantry officer. He married an Oshkosh girl in 1950 and they had two children.
Earl served in many capacities and retired a full colonel in 1973. He served in Washington for a time trying to integrate the communications systems of various government agencies. He and the other 56 officers serving with him were totally unsuccessful. He also served as deputy commander of Raven Rock in Fort Ritchie, Maryland, a formerly top secret place that the president and key personnel could go to in the event of a national calamity. He served also as Asst. Chief of Staff for Gen. Michaelis in Korea in the late 1960's and early 70's.
Earl operates a small import business with an office in downtown Oshkosh. He enjoys fishing and hunting.
Earl showed me a 33 rpm. phonograph recording of a conversation he and another soldier had with a newsman on Iwo Jima during the battle. He has never played it because of its size. It is about 18 inches in diameter with only a small portion near the center containing the conversation. I told Earl that if he was successful in getting the thing copied to a tape that he should let the museum know since it might be very interesting to hear what was said in what apparently was the heat of battle.
||World War II Oral History Project
|Dates of Accumulation
||January 5, 2005
||Cassette recorded oral history interview with Earl E. Hendricksen completed high school in June of 1943 and enlisted in the Marines at age 17. He went to Camp LeJeune for basic training in January 1944 after which he was trained to be a an operating technician for the Mark XVI radar. He was assigned to the 4th Marine Division in Hawaii in December 1944 and participated in the invasion of Iwo Jima in January 1945, serving as a radio operator. Earl had for a time the job of tunnel rat, going into caves with a buddy and ascertaining whether Japanese troops will still there. The island was declared secured on the 15th March and Earl left for Hawaii on the 16th. Earl trained for the invasion of Japan on the big island of Hawaii but went back to the states in September 1945 after the war ended.
Earl Hendricksen Interview
5 January 2005
Conducted by Tom Sullivan
(T: identifies the interviewer, Tom Sullivan; E: identifies the subject, Earl Hendricksen. Open brackets
[ ] or bracketed words indicate that either a word or phrase is not understood, or that proper spelling for the word is unclear, in that order).
T: It's January 5th, 2005 and I'm Tom Sullivan at the Oshkosh Public Museum with Earl Hendricksen who was in World War II. Earl is going to be telling me about his experiences in that war. Let's begin then Earl by having you tell me when and where you were born.
E: Okay. I was born in Denmark, Wisconsin on August 21st of 1925, Denmark being a small farming community.
T: Were your mother and dad both from that area as well?
E: Yes. My dad was in World War I and after he got out after World War I he went to Denmark and he was an automobile mechanic at the Ford garage in Denmark. My mother lived in a small town by the name of Eton, which was about six or seven miles from Denmark. And after World War I they got together and married and had two children, myself, and I have a sister that's 15 months older than I am.
T: Is your sister still living?
E: Yes she is.
T: Tell me about your childhood. Where did you go to school, grade school and high school? And what kind of activities were you involved in when you weren't in school, for fun, recreation and so forth?
E: I went to school first of all in grade school in Denmark from grades one through six. Then junior high school in Denmark. Then in high school I had four years in high school graduating in May of 1943. On the activities that I was engaged in was mainly basketball and softball.
I also at that time was selected by the principal who we called, "Coach Rasmussen," I was leading the fitness group in preparation for World War II. Coach Rasmussen on there knew that most of us would be going into the military, of which out of the fifteen male graduates, there were fourteen of us that went into the military. And Coach Rasmussen started, when this was my senior year, the fitness report, I mean fitness program in which we were taking and doing calisthenics. We were doing two- mile runs. And what he said, "I want to have you prepared in case you have to go into the war." I was the leader of that group.
T: That sounds like that was a good idea. Probably stood some of those guys in good stead, you included probably.
E: Yes. There was two teachers there on it. They were very interested in preparing us young men for the military. One was Coach Rasmussen and the other was Gordy Hansen. And what it is, they changed a lot of their courses so that now they were teaching aeronautics. They were teaching ballistics, I mean of all things! And they were especially interested in physical fitness that would coincide with going into the military.
T: You were growing up during the Great Depression. How did the Depression affect Denmark and your family? Was your family affected at all by the Depression? Did your dad lose his employment?
E: Yes, I can take and remember as part of the Depression, my mother and dad were real concerned. I was young at that time and it didn't really affect me because I had a very wonderful mother and dad.
And the one thing, not one but one of the things I remember about the Depression is that my dad worked by the hour. He worked sixty hours a week for forty cents an hour. He was fortunate to have a job. And what it was, it meant that he got twenty-four dollars a week. He was paid in cash and I would have to go up to the garage, get the cash, bring it home to my mother. She'd put it out on the table and then split it up. This went to the grocer, this went as far as utilities, this went for part of paying for the mortgage on the house.
And another thing, I came down with an attack of appendicitis. And I remember going to the hospital from Denmark to Green Bay, a distance of fifteen miles. I was laying in the back and my mother and dad were wondering how they would be able to pay the forty dollars that was required for my operation when I got to the hospital. And I still remember them saying, "We'll find a way." My dad kept on driving. So the Depression - you look at what it costs now for medical - it was forty dollars for that operation.
T: You just told me how a couple of these teachers at your school were preparing you fellows for possible service in the war. As you remember, there was war in the Far East and there was war over in Europe. At that time, did you and your pals really give any serious thought to the fact that you might have to go in the service?
E: You see Tom, I'm laughing on that one. Because we had, one of the kids in school, Nubs Finkston, he enlisted when he was still a senior in high school. And I enlisted when I was a senior in high school. I was sixteen years old but my dad caught me and he pulled me back out. And we sat at the kitchen table on it. We made an agreement. I graduate from high school, he would sign for me to go into the Marine Corps.
So I was only seventeen at that time. And ten days after I graduated from high school I was down at San Diego going through boot camp.
Now to answer your question specifically, we all thought we were going into the military. We were all preparing for it and like I previously mentioned, I think there were fifteen in the graduating class and fourteen of us served in the military. And what it was, we had no pilots, there were three or four of us that went into the "grunts" on it, being the infantry. We had bomber, a tail gunner on a B-17. We had a couple paratroopers and most of us enlisted. Very few were drafted because when the draft was looming right over our heads on there, we enlisted so that we could select the service that we wanted to go into. I think that was kinda prevalent at that time. And a lot of us were concerned that the war might be over before we could get in.
T: When you say that, and I've heard other guys say that, it's really sort of strange. But I know a lot of young men felt that way. They wouldn't be able to get their licks in.
E: Well when I came home, I went in, in June. Like I say, I graduated the last week in May and the first week in June I was in San Diego. When I came home on leave in September en route from San Diego to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, out of the fifteen, I would say that nine or ten were already in the military service. That was during the summer of 1943.
T: And you picked the Marines. Why did you pick the Marines? What was the attraction?
E: It goes back to my dad. Like I said, I had a wonderful dad. And we'd sit at the kitchen table and have our meals. And my dad, after working for sixty hours every week, he always used to say, "If only I had stayed in the military I wouldn't have to work this hard." So that sunk into the little tyke there. So then when World War II rolled around I had made up my mind I wanted to go into the Marines. I wanted to go into the infantry. And I had a cousin that was killed at Tarawa. And he came home before that in dress blues. And that made up my mind right there.
T: It was a pretty neat uniform.
E: I wanted a dress blue uniform! But ever since I was about fifteen years old I had wanted to be in the Marines. And I wanted to enlist for six years. My dad said no, he would not approve. I could have when I got to be eighteen but I was only seventeen. He said he would take and approve the "duration and six," that was the going rate, you know, at that time. There were very few term enlistments for three years, four years, six years which they have now. So what it was, was duration and six. He would approve of that so that was the agreement. That was the bargain. He would sign and I'd go for the duration and six. (The duration of the war plus six months).
T: Tell me about your training. You went to San Diego first. Was that your boot camp type of training?
E: Yes. That was seven weeks.
T: What happened at Camp LeJeune. I guess that was the big Marine base, wasn't it?
E: Yes. I mean it is now. It's a tremendous base. At that time they were just building up. And by just building up, there were no sidewalks then. They were brick barracks and I was sent there for electronic training. And so I went to Camp LeJeune and went into electronics. From there I went to Fort Monroe for advanced electronic training. That was an army base. And I came out as an operator technician for the radar, what they called the Mark XVI at that time. Now the Mark XVI was a piece of equipment that was designed to take, track and have fire power against the Japanese Navy.
So from Camp LeJeune it was overseas as far as to one of the islands over there, to the Hawaiian Islands where we set up the Mark XVI's. And that didn't last too long because all of a sudden they found out that there was no Japanese Navy left.
So then I got my wish. I got into the infantry.
T: So after your training a LeJeune you, how long were you there at Camp LeJeune?
E: LeJeune? I arrived there in September of 1943 and I left in January of 1944.
T: And you went right over to the Far East?
E: I went to a replacement depot or a replacement unit at Camp Pendleton, California. And from Camp Pendleton they took, in the middle of the night one night they took and brought us up to San Pedro, California where a destroyer was waiting. And there were sixteen of us that were going on a special mission. And so they put us aboard the destroyer. We took off going towards Hawaii. We went past the Hawaiian Islands. All of a sudden the ship turned around. It was the destroyer, the USS Calahan. All of a sudden the ship turned around, dropped us off at Pearl Harbor. Because I remember going into Pearl Harbor and seeing the ships still there that were capsized as a result of December 7th.
And they dropped us off at the pier, we got off, they took off back out to sea. And Tom, to this day I don't know where we were going. All I know is that the ship turned around in the middle of the, not the middle but in the Pacific, took us back to Pearl Harbor, dropped us off and took off again. And there all fifty some of us were standing on the dock; didn't know what the heck was coming off.
T: Well that sounds sort of typical of the service though, in some ways.
E: "Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind's made up!"
T: Let's go back just a second. Tell me a little bit about your Marine training. One hears about how tough it was and you see these movie accounts of Marine training. Was it quite a rigorous affair?
E: You can see that I'm laughing on that. You can't pick it up on the recording but you can see I'm laughing. At boot camp down at San Diego I was what they called "the feather merchant." Feather merchant is one of the smaller guys. And because when I went in, this will be interesting, when I went in I went into the recruiting station. I weighed one hundred and sixteen pounds and I was five foot three and a half. In order to get into the Marine Corps you had to be a hundred twenty four pounds and five foot four. So the recruiting sergeant took and put me on the scale and looked over my shoulder while he was stepping on the back of the scale. He said, "By golly, you just made it!" And then he measured my height. He jabbed me in the carcass and I went up like that - "By golly, you made that too!" so I was the feather merchant, meaning you were always at the end as far as on any drill. And I was one of the smaller guys in the platoon. I would say I got knocked on my duff at least once a week on it, by the DI (drill instructor). You touch anybody now, see I'm retired military now, if you touched anybody now you were in trouble. Then it was just "shape up." And that was a way of taking and enforcing it.
So the training was rough on there. We were doing about sixteen hours a day on there at Sad Diego and they were preparing us as far as what we were going to run into when we got over in the Pacific. And boot camp was, as I recall, was four weeks of intensive training at San Diego. Then two weeks on the rifle range. Then one week back at San Diego in preparation for our next assignment. And from there the platoon was split up and some went to Camp Pendleton, some went to special training such as myself. And most of em went to Camp Pendleton to go with the infantry or what we call the "grunts."
And Ironically, to show how critical it was for manpower at that time and the replacements for the Marines that were being lost over in the Pacific, there were, I would say ten percent of my platoon in August 21st of 1943. I can remember that date because it's the date of my birthday. And got out. Within three months there was ten percent or maybe five or six that were already dead. That had gone into infantry units.
T: Well let's go back to Hawaii now. You're standing there on the dock. What happens then?
E: Okay, they put us into a replacement depot there. That was on the main island of Oahu, right outside of Honolulu. And that's where the Marines used as a transient center. So if you went to the Pacific and you were not with a specific unit, you went to transient center and then the infantry divisions and the battalions and the aviation groups, they pulled out people from the transient center to fill their ranks.
So when an infantry division, as an example, when they First Division came back from Guadalcanal, they were short people, especially from wounded and malaria. Well, instead of going back to the states, the first thing they would do is drain the people out of transient center. Because they were already there. And then you'd take and they'd go from there back to the combat units again. And so you never really got settled in there. You had your sea bag, you lived in a tent on there and you ate your three meals a day on there and then you just waited for orders to go back to combat units.
T: At what point did you realize that you weren't going to be doing the radar business. Did somebody come up and say, "Well Earl, that's all off now. There's no Jap Navy." When did you find out that, that wasn't going to be.
E: When I hit transient center for the second time on there. The first time I hit transient center as a radar operator technician. Then I was assigned to the big island of Hawaii over at a place they called Camp Tarawa, which was up in the mountains between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. They, on there we were working radar on there and training as far as tracking. Now you say, "How do you track in the mountains on the sea?" Well they were up high enough so they could. Then we'd also modify. We would take vehicles and put tin foil on em and track the tin foil across the plateau up there in order to keep in training.
So when they took and disbanded the Coast Artillery unit, which was the Tenth Defense Battalion, they disbanded that and sent us back to transient center. So now all of a sudden we knew that was the end of our radar training and radar operation. So out of transient center they assigned us to units and when I received the orders to go to the Fourth Marine Division there were four of us that went to the Fourth Marine Division. When I got there, went to the 25th Marines. One stayed at regimental headquarters and then First, Second and Third Battalion you know, within the regiment. They sent us down. Then by going down to the regiment, initially I was a radio operator and then I got to the infantry and back to the radio operator again.
T: The Fourth was one of the divisions that were involved in Iwo Jima.
E: Yes. The Fourth Division, when I went overseas the first operation they had was Marshall Islands. I wasn't with them at that time. And the next one, they were in Saipan and Tinian. And I wasn't with them on the initial one. And then I joined them in December of 1944 and we loaded out in January of '45 out of Maui and went to Iwo Jima.
Well we had a little stopover at Saipan where we had a little fracas going on there. There was a small landing party that went in. But I called it a cakewalk. Then on to Iwo Jima. After Iwo Jima then back to Maui and then the war was over.
T: I see. On Saipan did your unit suffer casualties?
E: No. Like I said, it was a cakewalk at that time. But what we were doing, we would just go in there, there was a lot of Japs that were in caves on there that were in the far end of the island. And what we would do is just by taking and going and we'd just land for a short (time) and go back out again. We were just practicing landing on the LCVP's and also on the amtracks. But no, as far as the, it was a cakewalk. I mean there was…
T: Now Iwo Jima was not a cakewalk. Let's talk about Iwo Jima and how your unit landed there and so on and so forth.
E: On that one Tom, I look back, as far as I watched the movies and read the articles. And I have to actually admit I don't see how any of the first waves, any of the assault waves, anybody lived or came out of there. There was no place to hide. There was no place to go.
I landed with the second wave and what they had, I was a radio operator at the time. And I was in with what they called the command boat. It was a tractor, amphibious tractor. And what it was, the unit, not the unit but the group was known as the "freeboat." That means that the "Old Man" (probably a reference to the commander of the 25th Battalion) could go in any time that he wanted to but he had to go in basically with or before the fourth wave. Well when we got the report on the radio, very little resistance on the first wave going in, the Old Man says, "Take er in." So the tractor driver took, and I landed with the second wave on Iwo Jima. And what it was, I was on the Blue Beach area. I can't recall if it was Blue 1 or Blue 2.
T: I know there were several beaches because I think you had two or three divisions that were going in, in that invasion process. That was a small island, wasn't it? Couple miles wide and how long was it?
E: It was like a pork chop and the farthest distance I think was five miles from Mt. Suribachi to the north end of the island. And the widest part we'll say two and a half miles, something like that.
But what we landed, we landed on the slim part of the pork chop. I did not land on the Suribachi part. I landed on the Blue Beach. And like you said there were three divisions. Yes, there were three divisions but there were only two divisions that landed on D-Day. There was the Fourth Division and the Fifth Division.
T: One was held in reserve.
E: The Third Division was held in reserve and they came in after we really got wopped. And we really didn't have that much left. So they came in and went through us and continued the attack because I would say we were, I would say, considered ineffective due to casualties.
T: Were you able to see the enemy at all? As I understand it they were pretty well dug in, in caves and pillboxes and things like that. And you fellows were all completely exposed. I guess you couldn't dig a foxhole in the sand. It was kind of mushy.
E: You could dig a foxhole. It wasn't a foxhole but you could dig down into the volcanic ash. As fast as you dug down it filled back in. And when you hit the beach, by hittin the beach to get up on the terraces, the only way that I could get up the terrace because of the other equipment was, I had to take my radio. I was carrying an SCR-300, which is a good infantry radio, FM. And was to take the radio and throw it up in front of me and use it as an anchor and then pull myself up. Because otherwise I associated it with being a kid and going to the gravel pile in Denmark and trying to crawl up the gravel pile with that pea gravel on it. And you'd take one step up and go three quarters of a step back. So you had to take and crawl up. You couldn't walk up.
T: Heavy equipment must have had a terrible time then.
E: They couldn't get in. And if they could get in on it there was no place to go. Because they couldn't get up the terrace and then there was so much damaged equipment or blown up equipment on the beach, and dead bodies on there and wounded that, no.
I read certain articles that this unit or this wave could come in, that wave could come in. As far as I was concerned, in our area in blue, the third wave was rejected. I mean they turned around and then they found another place to go in. Because the Japs let the first wave in. Like I said, I was on the radio and no resistance. I mean scattered resistance. And the second wave got hit pretty hard. But the third wave trying to get in really got clobbered. And those were the waves that we needed in there. We needed the third and fourth wave because that was our machine guns. That was our mortars. That was our, flame-throwers we had with us you know, as far as on the assault wave.
T: So the first and second waves were just small arms more or less.
E: Small arms. Small arms and light machine-guns on there. See, the principal weapon as far as the infantry is concerned, I'm talking about the "grunts," the principal weapon in there are the rifles and the BAR, Browning Automatic. And then they had some 30-caliber light machine guns. But then also, the companies had 60-millimeter mortars on there. Some of those got in. But what I'm talking about are the heavier machineguns and especially the 81-millimeter mortars. Those are the babies that really can do it. They couldn't get in.
T: When did this begin to change to your benefit? When did things start to improve? How long did this initial phase that was so awful last? You were just taking these tremendous casualties, not being able to go anywhere. When did it start to shake out a little bit so that you could do something?
E: Didn't. Because actually the beach got clobbered consistently. Because everything was zeroed in by the Japanese there. They knew exactly when they fired a mortar shell where it was going to land. Because they had it figured out. This mortar with this charge, see a mortar has charges from one to eight I believe. When they were shootin at this azimuth and this degree, it'll land in that spot. And it wouldn't miss by any more than fifteen, twenty yards. So they had the beach you know, zeroed in.
Now the safest place after the beach was up maybe a distance of oh, 500 to 700 yards off the beach. That was safer but the beach never did have any relief until I would say, about fifteen days afterwards. After they got Suribachi that relieved some of it. But the Japs were still firing from the quarry and they were firing from Turkey Knob. They were firing from Hill 382. And they had it all zeroed in and they could see it. They could observe.
T: How many Japs were on the island?
E: Well, they were all over the place but you couldn't see em. The only thing I can report on that is what I can read now. Some twenty-one to twenty-three thousand.
T: Well, for a small island I suppose that was a lot of defenders.
E: They were in caves on there. And by being in caves, some of the prisoners that we got, we got very few, our unit didn't. We weren't too interested in prisoners. Tom, you're laughing but that's true. I mean you take a prisoner. That means it takes two guys in order to get the prisoner back. And the Japs would be shootin at their prisoners. So we weren't really that interested in taking prisoners.
T: I guess philosophically the Japanese weren't really interested in becoming prisoners either. It was not a noble thing to be captured. They preferred to die.
E: Well, if there's a Samurai or in that group and they were good soldiers, Tom. They were outstanding soldiers. And discipline, they knew what they were doing. They knew how to do it. They had practiced it. And like I stated numerous times, if we ever go to war again, an all out war, I surely hope the Japanese are on our side. Because to me they proved that they were soldiers.
T: I was going to ask you your opinion of the Japanese soldier because of your contact with them. Were they formidable enemies? And you've pretty much answered that.
E: They were outstanding. They were outstanding. As far as patience is concerned, they could take and last on there. They could follow instructions. And I know we see a lot of movies and we hear a lot about the Italian soldiers. You know the stories. The Italian salute - both hands up in the air. But no, the Japanese, they were good soldiers. And as far as marksmanship is concerned, you read about their squint eyes and they can't see. Malarkey! Those son-of-a-guns could pick off a fly at 400 yards.
See, what they did on there, a couple of the prisoners that we did get, and it later came out that the Japanese looked forward to being bombed and shelled. Because that's when they could pull in to the caves. And that was their rest period.
And there were caves there. And I'd like to describe what the caves were like. I was, after I went in there, like I said I was a small guy on there. By being a small guy I was what they called in Viet Nam a tunnel rat. Well I was a tunnel rat on Iwo Jima. And my mission, when I'd get instructions, was to go in and find out what was in the tunnels.
And they had like little spider holes. And you could crawl in there. They'd be about two feet or two and a half feet opening. You'd go down into that spider hole and as soon as you got down at an angle, say down to about fifteen feet underground, there was a room. And the room was maybe twice the size of your room here. Which would say, be about twenty-five to thirty feet in diameter. And from that room there'd be a tunnel going to the right, there'd be another one going a little farther like on a radial, going around. And there'd be tunnels, maybe six tunnels leading off this assembly room. And then you'd go down into that tunnel and then you'd go a distance of say, a hundred to two hundred feet, maybe three hundred feet at the most. You'd come to another assembly area. Once again the tunnels would fork out.
So you'd go down there and it was dark, needless to say because it was underground. But the way that the tunnels were, consider a mushroom. They were about two and a half feet wide and then they would go out to the right like a mushroom and then come up on an arc. So they'd be about five and a half feet tall. Maybe about that distance. I could walk through em. But my buddy that, we always worked as a team, Walter P. Gill, he was about six foot, a little over six. He always had to bend down.
Now on the platforms that they had, or on the mushroom part, there were shelves and that's where they had stuff stored. And also they used those as far as for bedding is concerned, where they could lay on that. So they wouldn't lay on the floor but they could lay on those shelves. But mainly they used this for storage. Now our mission, when we went down there, from the "Old Man," was to find out what's down there and look for any maps, or look for anything that would be useful for intelligence.
T: At the time were you reasonably sure that there weren't any live Japanese troops there?
E: Let's put it this way, I look at it now and how stupid can I be? I'm not kidding, Tom. No, we had no idea because what the Japs would do, they knew those tunnels just one end to the other. And I'll get back to what was down there, what we'd bring out. We found practically everything except water. There was no water. Saki, ammunition, hand grenades. The rice on there, food. And one thing that was real good. We found a couple cases of shrimp. They tasted pretty good.
T: Why wasn't there any water?
E: Water was the most critical thing on Iwo Jima. There was no water. The only water that they got was what they collected in cisterns. They would have like a panel or a hill going down. Or a rock going down. And it would go into a cistern. And in the cistern that was their drinking water. There was no fresh water on Iwo Jima at all. So the fresh water they had was rainwater. They collected it in cisterns. And what we did as far as by going in there, when we ran into a cistern on there, we always found ourselves a nice little juicy Jap that maybe had been fermenting for a couple days. We threw him in the cistern, knowing that you know, they couldn't come back and get the water.
But you asked one question before that and I diverted it.
T: I don't recall what it was, Earl.
E: Okay. But anyway on those tunnels, those Japs would go through those tunnels and they could pop up behind you, alongside of you. You wouldn't even know it. And then they were in, coming from a dark area. And they wouldn't open fire as far as repeated fire and try to engage in a firefight. They'd fire one or two rounds at the most and down they'd go again. So that way they didn't expose their positions. And if you tried to take and go into the tunnel, it didn't do any good. They were long gone and would pop up someplace else.
T: Now how many days were you engaged in combat on Iwo Jima?
E: Okay. On combat, Iwo Jima was not like any other island on a long-term basis. There was no place to go. Stop to think of it, like Mohamed Ali said, "You can run but you can't hide." And that's what it was. Even though, even when we were really clobbered and we had practically nothing left, they pulled us back in what they called the reserve. By going back into the reserve, we were still only three or four hundred yards behind the front lines.
So we were within mortar fire, and we were, snipers, no problem with them because they'd just pop up out of a hole, not pop up out, they'd stay in the hole. But they'd fire out of the hole and then they'd pull back in. And like you mentioned about surrendering. Where our CP was, our Command Post was, we had picked up quite a few casualties while in the command post. That's when I was a radio operator for the "Old Man." And all the guys were shot in the head. So that was an indicator of a sniper. Now why did they shoot in the head, because which way were they looking? So you never could pinpoint where they were shooting from. So then they got the dogs up there and the dogs pinpointed that from this cave there were Japs in there.
So they took and brought demolition teams up and flame-thrower people up. And well, the flame-thrower people we had. And by going in there and an interpreter. And out came a Jap, one Jap. And he was interrogated as far as who else was in there, in this cave. Well, there were twenty-nine Japs. Now they were only seventy-five yards from our command post that we were operating in. They could observe everything we were doing. And so we talked to him as far as surrendering was concerned. And he said he would give us an officer. He would go in and talk to em. Well on that, he went in and eight came out to surrender but there were still twenty-one in there. So we put enough dynamite and stuff in there to make believers out of em. And Tom, the whole island seemed to shake with the amount of dynamite that we used. And what happens? Out comes a little Jap brushing himself off.
But the others chose to die instead of going in there, including the officer that came out to negotiate. He elected to stay in there. Because he was going to stay with his men, I guess. But the others came out. Now that's how close they were. Seventy-five yards. And they had been there for three, four, five days. They would just come and pick off a couple of Marines and then go back in again.
T: During this initial period, what did you do for food, that sort of thing? Did you have some sort of rations that you could…?
E: There were no hot meals. The ah, when we landed I went from an LST into an amphibious tractor and then we had our gas masks or other equipment. Well we, most of us figured what the heck are we gonna do with the gas masks? So we threw those overboard and then in our pouch we put food, mainly K rations. And then we also had some C rations. Some cans of C rations. So we loaded our gas masks full of food.
And we had two canteens of water. And then all we got during that time was one canteen of water a day. Water was critical on there. So as far as eating is concerned, we mainly ate K rations which is like a little cracker box now. Like Nabisco, we'd open that up. Heating, if we did eat a meal, most of em we ate cold. If we did heat it we used CW2 which was an explosive, a dynamite explosive. And we took and we'd make a little pocket and we'd take and throw this C2 into an open flame. It wouldn't explode. It would just give off, like a butane lighter. So that we would take and eat our food that way.
But K rations was the big one. C rations as far as when we settled back.
Usually in the attack or when we moved out, we were all done at say two thirty, three o'clock. That's when we would dig in. And set up night defensive positions. So that we had some time then, and we always worked in teams. Like there were three of us on there that worked as a team. And one guy would always be on the alert and the other two would be digging into some foxhole behind a rock or something like that. And trying to eat some food.
(The first tape ends here).
T: Earl, I want to ask you about care of the wounded. You know there were a lot of casualties there on Iwo Jima. Tell me what kind of care they got, how they got it, how did they get them off the island? Can you go into that a little bit?
E: I can cover some of the items there. And first of all, on the wounded, when somebody was hit on there the first thing you'd hear was "Corpsman!" And anybody that would say anything against a Navy Corpsman, I have no use for. They are God-sent. Without them, I mean they were tremendous. They would take care of the wounded, a first or second echelon or whatever you want to call it, patch-up job. And then if they were real bad they would give em a shot of morphine and put an "M" on their forehead, that they had received, you know, morphine. But they would patch em up and either they would rejoin the unit if it was just a scrape, rejoin the unit. If they would take and classify them that they needed additional attention, they would go back, they would be taken back to a battalion aid station.
And what we had was Doc [Hayfer] there. Doc Hayfer would take and classify them in three groups. The first group would be, patch em up and back to the front. Back you go. The second group, evacuate as far as to a hospital ship. And we had the hospital ships sittin offshore. And if they could walk, they walked. If they had stretcher cases or something, somehow they would get em back. I really don't know that part of it, Tom because I never got back into that area for evacuation. And the third one, Doc Hayfer had his hands full by saying, "There's no way this man could live." Say like on a gut, belly shot or shrapnel that really had torn em up, especially in the stomach or the chest. That way they would just give em some more morphine and they would die, because they could not, there were so many he could not take and administer. He could save what he could, which he did. Tremendous doctor. But those that had no chance of living, no. They were just made comfortable until they died.
And as far as getting back is concerned, what we would do is that in the front there, if somebody was hit, we couldn't leave our post to take em back. Somehow they hadda get back. If they could walk, good. I can remember Baker got hit bad but he could still walk so he went to the battalion aid station and I heard that he was out on the hospital ship. But as for caring for the wounded, the corpsman. God sent.
T: What was, if you know this, what was the percent of casualties in your particular unit? Let's say a battalion. What percentage of the guys got hit?
E: It depends on where you were with what unit. Like when I was with B Company, a rifle platoon, up there out of the platoon, as far as I know only three of us walked off the island. And I wasn't with them too long because when the "Old Man's" other radio operator got clobbered, got hit, he asked where Hendricksen was. Well he was up with B Company. And he says, "Well, get the little shit back." Excuse the language but, "Get the little shit back." So I left B Company and went back to battalion headquarters and I was the "Old Man's" radio operator for the rest of the campaign. And I would say back at headquarters on there, the casualty rate was maybe thirty to forty percent. Up on the lines when I was in B Company it was just constant. I would say out of B Company, out of the 240 approximate men you know, that landed, there were maybe ten or fifteen that were still left that weren't wounded or weren't killed.
T: Those are horrendous figures.
E: Like I got hit. But I didn't turn myself in because I was given my option, that I could be evacuated and go out to the hospital ship or go out to the front. That's when I was with B Company. And no way was I going to go back on that beach, so I went back to the company. That was the safest place.
T: It sounds like those who were waiting to be evacuated were in probably just as much danger as where they had been.
E: Yes. Like I said, the four of us went you know, from transient center to the 25th Marines which was the 4th Marine Division. And one stayed at regiment and the other three, I went to the 1st Battalion, Hickson went to the 2nd and [Ulitsky] went to the 3rd. Now on that [Hayton] who stayed at regiment, which was back at the beach, he got killed. He stayed on the beach and he got killed. I was hit on there and Hickson was hit but he stayed. Ulitsky was hit and he stayed on there. But see, there was a lot of, what the Japs were using on there, hand grenades, hand grenades and also anti-tank weapons that caused a lot of, and mortar which caused a lot of shrapnel.
So if you got a little piece of shrapnel and it didn't hit you in a vital place, you were okay. Like a lot of people say, just hit me in the duff so I can get the hell out of here. But then they'd look at the beach and they'd say, "No, no, I don't want any of that."
T: Oh, gosh! Well at some point the tide must have turned to secure this island. How long did that take before the battle of Iwo Jima was completed, before it was over with?
E: Well we heard that the island was secure, was captured and complete and we were still engaged in major fire fights. Because it was a political deal as far as we were concerned. And everything had to be rush-rush. And when they declared that island secure, we were engaged on the northern part of the island with one helluva firefight going on. And the Marines were still being killed in there two weeks after it allegedly was secured. I think they called it secured on about the fifteenth or sixteenth of March, or maybe a little before that.
But anyway we left, which was the 4th Marine Division, because we didn't have anything left. And the people that I really felt sorry for were the replacements. Those kids were coming right out of boot camp. They had no combat training. They had like no four or six week advance combat training. They were put aboard ships. They came over to Iwo, like going over to Iwo, come right up to the front line and they didn't know nothin. I mean they weren't you know, combat experienced people. And they got hurt. A lot of em got hurt. Let's put it this way, they didn't know enough to duck at the right time, or what to do. And so as far as casualties are concerned, the front line troops, they got clobbered.
T: When did you get off the island?
E: I think it was the sixteenth of March. I know I landed on the nineteenth, nineteenth of February. But I think it was the sixteenth of March.
T: Well that's a long period of time for sustained action, I would think.
E: There was no relief. I mean like I said, when we'd go back in reserve we might be four hundred yards behind the front lines.
T: It's hard for someone like me to comprehend that type of situation. It is just incomprehensible for a lot of us who weren't there.
E: Like I said, I mentioned at the start of this interview, I don't see how any Marines that landed on the assault waves on Iwo Jima could come out in one piece. Because there was no place to hide.
Now you mentioned about digging a foxhole. I'll tell you what the Japs had there. When you got up off of the beach and you were going towards Radar Hill, Turkey Knob, Hill 382, by going in there it was like sandstone. It was lava that was caked. And you could take, and they had prepared foxholes or firing positions for their machine guns and for their riflemen and so on. They'd go down about the size Tom, of your desk here. And they'd be down about five feet. Your desk is say 36 inches by 5 feet. And then it would go down about five feet. And with a shooting platform so they could rest their elbow on it.
And those were the foxholes that we'd head for. That way, when we got up there we didn't have to dig in. But there was one unfortunate thing on that. And that is a lot of those foxholes they had zeroed in with mortars. And if one landed in there - it could accommodate three guys. Because at night when you would get into one of those places, three guys could go in there, one guy would stand guard and two would try to get some sleep. And you'd go for two hours and take and exchange.
But the foxholes, when you got up into those lava beds on there, they were nice. They didn't cave in at all.
T: Where did you go then after you got off the island of Iwo Jima?
E: Back to Maui.
T: I see.
E: And we were preparing at that time for the invasion of Japan. And Japan was scheduled for invasion in November. Now by the time that you would leave an assembly area or a training area such as Maui, until you would get into assaulting a beach, usually that was about a six-week period. Because you would go from your assembly area or your base camp, and then you would go aboard ship. And usually they would bring us over to Honolulu for maybe four or five days of R&R. And then you would go to another assembly area where they would pull the flotilla together, the Navy ships that formed the flotilla. And from there you would proceed to your assault area. Well, from the time that you would leave your base camp until you got to the assault area, you were looking at about six weeks.
T: Now at that time when you went back to the Hawaiian Islands, were you with - don't know just how to describe it - were you with other replacements, replacement that were coming from the states or with combat veterans all together. Or were you mixed up?
E: Mixed, because when you came back as far as you know, a unit, you had not too many of the original crew left. But they would form the cadre as far as the, for the companies. And then the replacements would come in. A lot of the people would come in from transient center who had been with the unit before, gone to the hospital, gone to transient center and back to the unit again. Back to the 4th (4th Division). Also there would be replacements coming in from boot camp or from Camp Pendleton. They'll fill up the unit so you get back up to say, a rifle company strength of approximately 240 men.
T: Where were you then when the war ended? Were you at that particular location?
E: We were in Maui. We were preparing. We more or less had finished our final training. See, because the training would go like this: They had already undoubtedly selected what beach we were gonna hit. And from what I heard, the 4th Marine Division was selected to, or was designated to hit five different locations, two on Honshu and three on Kyushu. And then go in a distance of oh, say two miles and then the Army come in with their massive equipment. Because we didn't have the massive equipment. Pull through us and then we'd pull back out and make another amphibious landing. From what I heard or learned later on is that we were scheduled for five landings. I can't verify that, Tom. It's just hearsay.
And so we would practice on the type of beach that we were expected to land on. Like in preparation for Iwo Jima, we were told, what we were doing, we were landing on beaches, an entire battalion of about 1200 men. We were landing on a beach that was little more than a hundred yards wide. And so they were concentrating what units would go in and this was the only area that you had. We had more area on Iwo than the hundred yards if we wanted it. Like I said, I landed on Blue Beach. There was Blue One and Blue Two. Now I don't know which one, if it was One or Two was too heavily defended so they didn't land on that one. So we landed on the other one.
But anyway the training at Maui was based on what type of beach we were gonna hit on Japan. Now the ships were in the harbor. They were getting ready to take us out. And when the war was over, they went out, there was quite a few aircraft carriers there because they were forming the flotilla. And the other ships, and they dumped a lot of that equipment into the sea. Came back in and by coming back in, the war was over, they loaded us aboard anything they had available to bring us back to the states. I came back from Maui to San Diego on an aircraft carrier.
T: When you heard that the war had ended, was that a joyous occasion or was it sort of subdued?
E: No, joyous. Because we knew, I mean it wasn't any big secret as far as we concerned, after going through Iwo Jima, that if we had to land on five beaches our chance of survival to come back out was nil on there. Because we knew how fanatic the Japs could be on there and landing on five beaches on the Japanese homeland…. But I mean the word was around, "Jeez, I hope I get it in the a-double- s, you know, on the first one so I can get out of there and go back home."
T: It's been said - and it might be true - that dropping the bomb may have saved lives on both sides because one can imagine how the Japanese would have defended their homeland. I would tend to agree with that. I don't know how you feel about that but it seems to me like that would have been a terrible carnage if we would have had to invade.
E: Tom, if they hadn't dropped the bomb, I wouldn't be talking to you here today. Because you have a lot of people who are critical as far as the atomic bomb is concerned. But as far as I'm concerned the atomic bomb saved millions of American servicemen. I'm not talking about thousands but millions. Because when you check now and look into history, how the Japs were preparing for us; like in our training they were psychologically preparing us to shoot men women and children. Because they said they will attack. And from experience on Saipan - I wasn't there - on Saipan and also on Okinawa they found that the Japanese kids, the Japanese women, the old men and everything, they had no regard for life and all they wanted to do was kill Marines. Now when you get to the homeland of Japan it would have been the same. They wouldn't have given up. The atomic bomb as far as I'm concerned saved millions of American lives.
T: So you came back on a carrier. I imagine that was a sort of thrilling experience because they're quite a little bit different than your ordinary troopship.
E: Well, I'm smiling again. On that one, when we'd get ready to go into combat, as an example when we took off from the Hawaiian Islands to go to Iwo Jima via Saipan we'd sit there on the ship with our legs dangling over the side. And we really didn't give a darn as far as the whole works. We were carefree. Now we came back on the carrier and if you want to look at the carrier, you look right down the middle of the top deck. That's where all the Marines were sitting and congregating. There was nobody out on the edges at all. Everybody was congregated right in the middle. They didn't even want to come close to the edge; scared that they would fall into the ocean. But it was ironical because nobody was within twenty, thirty feet of the edge of the carrier.
But what it was, nah, it was the same as a troop ship. All you did was stand in line as far as you know, to eat. And on the carrier coming back there was a regiment on there. Twenty-five hundred Marines on there. And they didn't have the facilities to cook. There was no place to sleep except on the top deck. And then if you wanted to go down below, there wasn't any aircraft on there because they had dumped all those. They had gotten rid of those so they were using the carrier as a troop ship.
T: When did you get back to the states then?
E: Ah, September of 1945.
T: Were you mustered out then?
E: No. By getting back in September of '45, the first thing that they did to alleviate a lot of problems in discharging and processing people out, you were given thirty days leave, unaccountable. It didn't count against your two and a half days you got per month. It was a freebie.
T: Yes I understand.
E: So they would take and give you the thirty days. And I also received orders to go to Camp LeJeune. And by going to Camp LeJeune I had another, what they call process, travel and process of fifteen days. So I had forty-five days off. I went back to Denmark.
T: What was your rank when you were discharged?
E: Pfc. Private first class.
T: Now you received some commendations here. Can you tell me a little bit about those Earl? There was a Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster. And National Defense Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster. Is this something that came on later in the game or…?
E: No. a lot of those were automatic. It depends upon the area that you were serving, the length of time that you were serving. As far as the individual medals are concerned, no, I received no medals for heroism. If people ask me I say I was just doing my job.
T: And then when you got out and went back to Denmark, I understand from our previous conversation you decided to enroll in college.
E: I decided I was going to college when I was still in the Marine Corps, still on active duty. I was taking college courses by correspondence.
T: I see. When you were in the service, did the mail eventually catch up with you? I know when you were on Iwo Jima there wasn't a guy passing out letters. At least I don't think there was. At some point your mail probably caught up with you.
E: When I got back from Iwo Jima on there, back from Maui the mail caught up. If I recall I had 65 or 66 letters waiting for me. See, because one screwy thing about that Tom, that over in the Pacific it wasn't like being in Europe. You know where you can see there are such things as girls. Over in the Pacific we didn't think there was such a thing as a girl unless she had on a Red Cross uniform. So what it was, we wanted to make sure there was one back there in the states. So we'd write - those of us who were young whippersnappers and not married or engaged - we'd write to numerous girls, hoping that there'd be one left by the time we got home. Well the patriotism of the American people, the girls, the mothers and fathers, whoever it was, they'd receive a letter from a GI. They'd answer it. So when I came back from Iwo Jima, if I recall, I had 65 or 66 letters waiting for me. Most of em from young girls I had known.
T: Well that's not too hard to take. Then you enrolled in Oshkosh State Teachers College. And did you graduate from Oshkosh?
T: And what kind of a degree did you have?
E: I got a Bachelor of Science with a math-physics major. Well actually I had a math-physics major, education major and an English minor.
T: What was your next move then after you graduated?
E: I went and I taught school in Fond du Lac for one semester. And the Korean War came up and I was a product of the Marine Corps. They were just waiting to call me.
T: Were you in the active reserve?
E: I was in a special category, being in the PLC, Platoon Leader Class. And as far as on the active reserve, no I didn't go to training here because my contract with the Marine Corps called for, they left me alone but when I got the notice, I go. They allowed me to stay until December of 1950 here in Oshkosh and Fond du Lac. And then I reported for the third special basic officer-training course. So they had plotted me to go to an officer-training course. So I received the orders. So I went to Quantico. And then from Quantico I went to Camp Pendleton. And then from Camp Pendleton I went to Alameda, California. And from there to Headquarters, Marine Corps. And by being in Headquarters, Marine Corps that was paper pushing. I didn't join the Marine Corps to push papers so I transferred to the Army and got back to the infantry.
T: And how did that affect your commission? Was it detrimental to your commission at all?
E: I lost six months in date of rank when I transferred from the Marine Corps to the Army. And the reason for that, they put me with a West Point class. So I was six months ahead of a West Point class of the same year. So in the event that, everything goes by date of rank, you know when you're selected as far as seniority and who is going to be the boss. So they put me back with the West Point class. So in the event that they, a couple of West Pointers and myself were in the same outfit, I would have been the boss-man by date of rank. So justifiably so, they put me back so that I would be with the West Point class. And that way the "old man" or whoever was commanding could make his choice whoever was going to be the boss in between the three of us or whatever it was. So I lost six months in rank but I didn't get any reduction in [ ].
T: And what was your rank at that point?
T: You were a Captain, I see. Where did the Army send you, Earl? Did you go to Korea?
E: No. I went to Korea twice, yeah but not during any combat event. Where the Army sent me, the first place that this school indoctrinated me on how the Army thought, versus how the Marine Corps thought. And there are various schools on there. So it was an indoctrination you know, courses. Also they knew that I was electronics and had that so they designated me as a communications officer. But one stipulation that I had made when I agreed to transfer from the Marine Corps to the Army was that I go back to the infantry. So the reviewing officers or the board of officers that I appeared before, when I told em that they looked at one another and said, "Did we hear right?" I said, "Yes, sir. I want to go back to the infantry." They looked at me and said, "We don't need any further; you're in."
So going back to the infantry, my first assignment was "The Big Red One." And the Big Red One, as far as the Army is concerned is the top-notch infantry division in the United States Army. So I got what I wanted there.
Then from there I went to the 24th Infantry Division. And then from there they sent me to ROTC duty at Rennslaer Polytechnic Institute, called RPI in New York. And while there they financed so I could get my Masters Degree in engineering.
From there I went to Korea for the first time as a battalion commander.
T: What was your rank there, Earl?
E: Lt. Colonel.
T: And what year was that, that you went to Korea?
E: '65 and '66.
T: What were things like there then? Was it just this business of the DMZ? We had what, 50,000 troops or so there?
E: Yeah, I don't recall how many they had there. My job there, I was the commanding officer of what they called the "Long Line Battalion." And I was responsible for the operation of forty-seven mountaintop sites that ran all the way from the DMZ down to Pusan and out. And the number of troops there, I think they had two divisions there at that time so that would be 50,000-55,000. Plus your support troops. It was fifty-thousand plus. How were conditions there? They were kinda antiquated but they were comin. You could see that those ambitious people, give em a chance, give em you know, as far as an opportunity and they could do it. And they proved that they could do it.
T: Yes, South Korea's come a long way.
E: Yes. They're beautiful people. They really are.
T: How long were you there on that particular tour of duty?
E: I was only there for a little less than eleven months. Then I was selected to go to the Armed Forces Staff College at Norfolk, Virginia. Then after that my next assignment was the National Communications System, NCS out of Washington, DC.
That was an organization or a group that was formed as a directive from Pres. Kennedy. I mean he was deceased you know, at that time. Gone. But he wanted to take, all the communications systems from all the government agencies, nobody could talk to one another. And the same as the intelligence that we have now. The CIA won't talk to the FBI. Well they had the same…
T: No integration at all.
E: No integration at all. Well my job, I was part of it, was to take and get so that the State Department Communications System could be integrated or used by the Department of Defense, could be used by the FAA, could be used by the other agencies so that every agency had a backup.
Now one thing Tom, that's ironical, we had a group there, or there was one officer that was there as a civilian and his job -his sole job - was to track tsunami. Was to make sure that there was communication so that any tsunami could be reported to the areas where the tsunamis might hit. And this was back in 1967. '67 and '68. But there was one department or one group in there and that's the only job they had. How can they communicate, how can people be notified as to a tsunami and by using what communications.
T: How successful were you in the process of attempting to integrate these various departments?
E: I wasn't. They still don't talk to one another.
T: I guess that's a tough row to hoe.
E: Nobody wanted to reveal what they had. Nobody wanted to reveal how much money they were spending or what their requirement was. And I can honestly say that if I was the sole authority - there were 57 of us in the NCS - and I can honestly say that I could save the government the wages of 57 people by taking and telling the NCS, "Sayonara." Because nobody cooperated with anybody. I mean it was, everybody was busy pushing papers.
T: I guess that's a proverbial problem in government. Everybody's protecting their turf.
E: Don't tell anybody anything because they're liable to change it.
T: Were you in that department up until the end of your military career?
E: No. From there I went up to Fort Ritchie which is in Maryland. Now you hear about Fort Ritchie indirect right now. And that is, that was the support base for "Site R," what they call Raven Rock. I see you're shaking your head.
T: I'm not familiar with it at all.
E: Okay, you will when I tell you about it. Raven Rock is underground in the Katakin (Katahdin?) Mountains in Maryland. And in the event that we'd have a, it's only five miles from Camp David. And in the event that, it was built that in the event that there was an atomic attack, that's where the Department of Defense and the high military people, including the president had a place to go to.
See, the president had three options. He has Air Force One, which you're familiar with. Also there were two ships, they were nothing but communications ships. They were loaded so that in the event the president and his staff had to be protected, they could go aboard ship. The other main option was Raven Rock. It's no secret now because it's appearing on TV. It's what they call "Site R." And it's ah, I was the Deputy Commander up there as far as within the site. I was number two man in the site. And my responsibility was to insure that all the powers to be had adequate communication on it to include the President, Secretary of State, Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, right down the line. And as far as to all the major command. But it's known as Raven Rock but we called it "Site R." Underground site. It's in solid rock like a little village in there. I know that you've heard about Norad.
E: Okay. Norad and Site R is basically another Norad. And like I said you couldn't talk about it for awhile but it appears on TV now. Articles are written about it.
T: Well it sounds like it was a very responsible and possibly demanding job.
E: It was. We had times when we had critical times as far as we knew we hadda get through, let's put it that way, or maintain it. My wife wouldn't see me for two or three days.
T: That brings me to the question, when did you get married? At what point in your career did you get married?
E: Okay, can I tell you what my dad used to say? Ever since I can remember. No, I met a beautiful blond here in Oshkosh by the name of Barbs Campbell.
T: When you were in school?
E: And by meeting her, we got married in 1951. She was a sophomore up here at school. And I had already graduated but I met her when she came in as a freshman. I was a senior. So that's why I stayed at Oshkosh as long as I did. I graduated Tom, with 168 credit hours. I kept on putting off getting out so that I could stay with that little blond. Anyway no, and I think that you probably knew her father. Remember Dempsey Hall? There was that custodian there by the name of Ron Campbell. Everybody knew Ron Campbell.
T: I don't remember the name but probably knew who it was.
E: The main custodian at Dempsey Hall. That was her dad. Well we got married in '51 and then we both went to Quantico together when I went through training. She was fortunate that she could go to Germany with me when I was with the 24th Infantry Division. I could also take my two kids with me. And then over in Korea. Well that's my next assignment. That's where we're getting to after I left Raven Rock.
Okay, after Raven Rock I had worked on, I was the project officer, I was the deputy commander when we activated a system called AMP, Automatic Message Processing System. Well we were working out of a cave, an underground cave which Raven Rock is. Well then they had an incident called the Pueblo Incident.
T: Yes, I recall that.
E: On the Pueblo, President Johnson could not get any messages for 24 hours. Could not get anything that was clear. So I believe that I was assigned over to Korea as the Assistant Chief of Staff for what they called the J6. And my mission was to take and basically do the same as what I had at Raven Rock and the NCS. And that was to take and unite the communication systems in Korea so that messages you know, could go out. Not only from one route but from alternate routes in case there was a blockage. So I was over there as the Assistant Chief of Staff for the United Nations command. Working for Gen. Michaelis and also the Ambassador over in Korea.
T: How do you spell Michaelis?
E: M I C H A E L I S.
T: Okay, that looks right.
E: He was the Commanding General of US Forces, Korea. And by working over there, then I stayed over there until 1973 and then I was assigned as the Senior Army Advisor for the Delaware National Guard. I reported directly to the Governor. And I reported in and reported out. Because once again I was back to paper pushing. Tom, I hate paper pushing, I really do.
T: It just goes with the territory though, when you make rank and so forth, you're going to have to push that pencil. Isn't that correct?
E: The best rank, I'm not kidding, the best rank as far as being an officer in the military is the rank of Captain. Because you're with the troops.
T: You're still below the field grade I guess, as they call it.
E: Well the field grade starts with Major. But you're with the troops. You can command, you can serve on staff and the senior officers respect you. No, Captain is the best rank. And the next best rank is full Colonel because that's where the money is. That's where the money and the privileges are.
T: Did you make full colonel?
E: Yup. I had, my nickname over in Korea was "Boy Colonel." I was the youngest colonel in Korea.
T: Really! What was your age when you made bird colonel?
E: Forty, yeah I made it in '68 so I'd be forty-three. But see, after World War II and after Korea the length of time that you served in grade was way up there. From Captain to Major took me eight years. But after that it came pretty fast. But no, I was forty-three and what it was, I don't know if I was the youngest one that was a colonel in Korea but that was my nickname and that was given to me by General Smith, "Boy Colonel."
T: Did you have another assignment after the Delaware National Guard?
E: No. Came back to Oshkosh. That was enough. After Viet Nam was over there weren't any really good jobs. They had so many officers in higher rank, they didn't know what to do with us. So I was, when I left Korea I was notified that I was going back to Raven Rock and Camp David again. Because one of my responsibilities was to take and provide communications to the President at Camp David. And needless to say, when you work at that level you get a lot of privileges and you live high on the hog. Let's put it that way. But then they changed it, and by changing it from Raven Rock to Delaware…
(Side A of tape #2 ends here. The discussion is continued on Side B).
T: Now we can continue. After you got out of the service, what did you do then? Did you go back into teaching or did you do something else?
E: No, I wish I had but I didn't. What it was, I wanted to work for myself so I started a small import business here in Oshkosh.
T: What year were you, did you come back to Oshkosh?
E: 1973. In October of 1973. A little import business and really nothing that fantastic. I just wanted something to do. And so, like my wife told me, after sitting around the house for a month, "Just get out of here and leave my house alone." So I went down and I rented an office in downtown Oshkosh. So I could take and have my coffee, read my newspaper. Next thing I know the police were stopping in there to have a cup of coffee. The post office people would use my place as a break because it was handy.
So then I get a call from Miles Kimball. And they said, "I understand," George Hagene, wonderful gentleman, and he says, "I understand that you've been to Korea." And I said yes and he said that they had some items there that they were having trouble with on back orders, coming from Korea. "Because we can't get it. Wonder if you could help us." So I said I'd give it a try. So George gave me the list and I got everything that he wanted on time. So then it was, I didn't work for Miles Kimball but I was an independent supplier for em.
And the next thing I know, I get another call from the Garcia fishing rod people. Same thing. If they had a new idea, "Do you know anybody that can help us out?" So I started importing for them too. And I never got really that involved on it because with my retirement pay and the medical benefits that we had… And I liked hunting and fishing.
T: Well you're in the right spot for fishing. I don't know about how hunting is anymore.
You have two children. Were your kids able to go with you on a lot of your assignments or did your wife and kids stay in one spot so they could have a more settled life?
E: When I went to the various schools, like when I went to the Army Signal School at Fort Monmouth, no, because that was only fourteen weeks, my wife was in upstate New York and I was in New Jersey. But I could get home on weekends. So she was there, I was in New Jersey.
And then when I went to the Command and General Staff at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, no. Because that was a short course again. So there wasn't any quarters available for her on post. The area, Fort Leavenworth is a typical, not a country town but a western town. Not much there but a wonderful post. And no, then we were separated.
But when I went to Germany for three and a half years, yes, she could accompany. We went over together, we came back together.
T: Were your kids of school age then or were they younger than that?
E: Well, over in Germany my daughter was not of school age but my son was kindergarten, first grade.
T: So there was Army schools that they could attend?
E: Army schools. And then we went to Korea. I went over with my wife and came back with my wife and my kids went with me. Both of my kids, I have a daughter who graduated from Seoul American High School in Seoul. And she came back and went to college and she's now a nurse out at Dartmouth University. And my son went over there and graduated from Seoul American High School, went to Beckley College and then graduated from the university up here the same as my daughter. So just as an example, the Army, the way they provide schools and teachers and facilities, they walked through college without even, no problem.
T: I was going to ask you about what kind of education they got. Apparently they got a superior education.
E: Tom, if you wanted to teach in the Department of Defense or for say, an Army school overseas, you better have your Masters Degree plus. Otherwise they won't even talk to you.
T: Earl, when you enlisted in the service, you mentioned that there was a bunch of you guys from high school in Denmark. How many of them, I think there was fifteen or so, how many of them survived the war?
E: All survived. Ironical, because as an example Tom, with that group, I'll just give you an example like I had mentioned before. Fuzzy Hansen, he was a tail gunner on a B-17 with nineteen missions over Germany. Bones Johnson, everybody has nicknames in Denmark, Bones Johnson was with the 82nd Airborne, made two jumps into combat. Randy Osterheide was aboard a destroyer that was hit by a kamikaze and spent quite a bit of time in the hospital. Wilbur Hansen was a corpsman on Iwo Jima with me, in the Third Division. I was in the Fourth.
T: Did you run into him over there?
E: Only, come to that guy. And Wilbur was hit real bad. Ended up with the Silver Star over in Iwo Jima. Spent about nine months in the hospital. But survived.
Doty, Lester Doty was on Iwo Jima in the Fifth Division on Iwo Jima. He got through without a scratch. Now Lester and myself used to get together up at Camp Tarawa in the Hawaiian Islands. We did not meet, well nobody met on Iwo because all you did was live in a foxhole and you were just with your small group. You didn't go socializing.
And I was on Iwo and I was hit. But out of that whole group everybody came back. There were four of us wounded, four or five of us wounded. But nobody was killed and that is ironical, especially with three of us being on Iwo Jima.
T: Do you think the war changed you in any way?
T: In what way Earl?
E: Outlook on life. And that is that "I can do it." I was always a follower except when Coach Rasmussen made me the leader for the [combat]. But I would always wait to see what the other people were going to do and then I would follow. And the war took and changed me to the point that "I can do it. Let them follow me." And it worked. Because when I could go from private to full colonel that proved that I could do it. Am I bragging? Yes, I'm bragging.
T: Well you've got a right, I think.
E: Yes, because what is, the number of people who go in the military who make full colonel is less than five percent of the officers that go in. And coming from such a little town such as Denmark, Dad was an auto mechanic. Did the war change me? Yes it did, definitely.
T: Do you think very much of World War II today?
E: Yes. Quite a bit.
T: Do you attend any reunions of people you were associated with at that time? Or don't they do that?
T: There are some units that get together and some don't.
E: No, because I was in so many different units. And for such a short period of time. And no, as far as for unit reunions, no. I haven't been to any. Class reunions such as the Class of '43 from Denmark. There's four of us that get together three times a year. We either meet in Wausau or we meet in Manitowoc. And we keep in contact with one another.
And then we started in Denmark, well I started it along with a couple of the other guys, what we call "The 51 Plus Group." And that is anybody that graduated from Denmark High School who has 51 years or more, on the third Sunday of August, we all meet in Denmark or in Maribelle. And instead of say, the Class of '41 having a class reunion every five years or every ten years, every year there's a reunion of The 51 Plus. And as an example, for the little town of Denmark, what we had last August on the third Sunday, 11 o'clock in the morning, we had almost 200 people. And some of em went back to the Class of '29, Class of '30. They are one of one left. But they can get together with their group. So those we get together with.
But as far as where the military is concerned, no. I still hear from a lot of em. As a matter of fact, on my computer yesterday I got an e-mail in from "Round Eyes." Round Eyes was my secretary over in Korea.
T: That was a nickname for her? Round Eyes?
E: Yes. Well everybody else was Korean and she was from Texas. Day before I get one from Dick [Deville]. And Dick Deville was my frequency communications officer over there. And at Christmas time we probably communicate or send and receive Christmas cards from maybe twenty that we had served with.
T: That's good to keep in touch like that. Do you think that your military experiences influenced your thinking about the military now. When you look at the news and you see that such and such has happened, do you think back on your military experience and say, "Well yeah, I can understand why that happened." Or, "I don't know what those guys are thinking of." Do you ever have any thoughts like that?
E: Yeah. What it is Tom, my theory on the military is this: if you're gonna have a war, have a war. None of this piddling around. As far as being a former Marine, the way the Marines did it, but they're not doing it in Iraq now. I can't figure out what they're doing over there. I can see what the Army is doing because they're long term. But the Marines are supposed to be shock troops. And go in there and get the job done and get your carcass out.
Now what we're going through in Iraq, I will be perfectly honest, get out of there. I've been with Arabs. As far as ever since 1952, something like that, been with Arab groups. You're not going to change those people. Like when I went to Signal School at Fort Monmouth. There were five Arabs there. One was from Jordan, one was from Syria, one was from Iran, one was from Iraq and one was from Lebanon. They got along beautiful. If you saw one you saw the other one. Now they get back to their country and what are they doing? They're fighting one another. And you're not going to change them because they have their religion, they have their belief. And you say, what do you do with them? I don't have any opinion on that. All I know is Viet Nam, we took a helluva beating there. And Iraq, we're not making any headway there. World War II, back to my theory, if you're going to have a war, have a war. Otherwise keep your nose out of it. Kinda blunt but that's what it is.
T: Well, it's been very interesting and entertaining to talk to you Earl. I really appreciate your willingness to come and tell us about your experiences. It's been a pleasure interviewing you. I thank you very much.
E: Glad to do it.
||World War II
||6: T&E For Communication
||Oshkosh Public Museum
|Location of Originals
||Oshkosh Public Museum
||Hendricksen, Earl E.
||World War II
United States Marine Corps
Pacific Theater of Operations
||Oral History Interview with Earl E. Hendricksen.