Oral History Interview with Leo J. Crowley

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Record 107/959
Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
Classification Archives
Collection Gordon Doule
Dates of Accumulation 1993 - 1993
Abstract Cassette recorded oral history interview with Leo J. Crowley by Gordon Doule. He discusses his experiences in the 32nd Division during World War II.

Interview with Leo J. Crowley
Conducted by Gordon Doule

{C: signifies Mr. Crowley and D: signifies Mr. Doule}

C: [ ] township. My spouses name is Bertha Irene [ ]. Married May 15th, 1993. I was a [ ] operator, Universal Foundry. I went to school at Washington School and Oshkosh High School. My mother's name was Elizabeth [ ]. I lived approximately 64 years in Oshkosh. I was in H Company, 127th Infantry, 32nd Division. I had [ ] eighteen and a half years of service. I enlisted in 1932. I was discharged May 18th, 1956.

What I remember most about Oshkosh is my term at Oshkosh High School and belonging to the National Guard. It wasn't very much different when we returned except that there was no Guard, no National Guard, and I served in the following places: in Australia, New Guinea, Netherlands East Indies, and the Philippines.

I'd like best to express my experiences in Buna, New Guinea. The most important person that I met was General Herb Smith. I keep in touch with my buddies, one in Douglas, Colorado, one in Nebraska and one in [ ] Oklahoma.

It started with our induction into federal service October 15th, 1940 at the Armory "B" in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Three companies, namely [ ] H Company and Service Company. The required shots were given and medical examinations were completed. Bags and foot lockers were loaded on the train at the Northwestern Depot. We marched to the depot where we were assigned to our cars. We said goodbye to our loved ones and headed south, picking up other units on the way. It was a long trip to Beauregard, Louisiana.

[ ] was a temporary base camp. It consisted of mess halls for each unit and twelve tents in a row. These tents were pyramidals, stretched over 2x4 frames. They had one door and a wooden floor. Each tent had room for six cots. The showers were 50 gallon drums with a rope you pulled to take a bath. The soap was the regular G.I. and would take the bark off a hedge fence. We soon learned to cope with the "jiggers". They bit you wherever clothing was a tight fit. Along with that, there were snakes and scorpions to contend with. A scorpion sting paralyzed your stomach muscles and made a person ungodly sick. The snakes were something else to contend with. There were pygmy rattlesnakes, water moccasins, and the worst of all, the coral snake.

The camp itself was mostly out in the open, with very few trees. We soon learned that we would be going to, on Louisiana maneuvers to take in all the southern part of the state. This was the Blue and the Red army. Our company kitchens put out all the meals. And these maneuvers, after these maneuvers we were allowed to rest for a few days and return to camp. As soon as we returned, we were notified that we should pack all our equipment for a move to the new camp.

Our new camp was Camp Livingston which was a far better facility although we still had tents with the wood frame, and the mess halls were more modern. And we finally had showers with hot and cold running water. And we also had modern toilets.

It wasn't long before we were notified all NCO's would be training cadre for the new inductees. After six weeks of intensive training these men were placed in various units to bring the division up to full strength. Soon after that we were told that we were to participate in maneuvers that were to take place in the Carolinas near Raleigh and Charlotte. We took a long trip by truck, all across the South. At the completion of our maneuvers, we returned to Camp Livingston for a rest.

Then we received the orders to pack all our equipment and be ready for the move to a new destination which turned out to be Fort Devons, Massachusetts. For us this was the real thing. We knew that this was a staging area for the European Theater of Operations. We were again housed in clean barracks with fresh mattresses and cots. The days were spent drilling and getting ready for combat. We'd get three day passes to go to the cities of Boston or Concord. It was short-lived however. We received word to pack all of our gear and be ready to move out at a moment's notice. We boarded a train and were off to God knows where.

As it happens, we traveled clear across the United States to Fort Ord, California. More barracks and we found out that this was the staging area for the Pacific, the South Pacific. For a limited time, we received passes to town. Then these were cancelled. We were put in trucks and taken down to the harbor. Here we boarded a boat to be assigned a bunk area. All the bunks were hammocks. We then went back to our barracks wondering if or when it was going to happen. Although we didn't have long to wait. All leaves were cancelled and we were loaded on ship under cover of darkness. Our ship was the Mount Vernon. We passed under the Golden Gate bridge and were on our way.

The first thing we received one morning was a life jacket which was to be with you at all times. We were to steer a zig-zag course because of Japanese submarines in the area. The first night out, we were rammed by a sister ship in the port side. We lost only one forward life raft but kept on going. Meals were served in shifts. The food was very good. But many of the fellas became seasick. Along with this we had boat drill every day. We spent a great deal of time writing letters home.

During our trip, we found out that the Japanese had been defeated in the Battle of the Coral Sea. If they had been [ ] through, we would have been like a group of sitting ducks. We studied Australian currency so that we would know how to deal with the people when we reached our destination.

We landed in Adelaide, South Australia. We were put on trucks and moved to our new camp at Sandy Creek. We started out on training exercises in the Mount [ ] ranges. From here we moved north to our new camp. It was called Camp Cable, in honor of the first soldier to be killed by enemy action.

We found out the Japanese were moving down the coast of New Guinea rapidly. They had landed at [ ] and Buna. In August 13th, 1942, the Japanese had started their drive on Port Moresby. They started with a thrust through the Owen Stanley Range. Our outfits were brought up by boat to Townsville. From there we would be flown to a jungle airstrip east of Buna. We were put aboard a plane with all of our equipment which was tied down. We had orders to clear the plane as soon as we landed. They did not want to be caught on the ground in case of a Japanese air attack. We moved into the jungles and slung our hammocks. We had to sleep off of the ground because of the huge ants and the insects. There was plenty of grass six feet tall and sharp as a razor all around. [ ] because [ ] flooded them. We soon learned to get along with the natives. They were very colorful, with flowers in their hair and chewed Betel nuts that stained their teeth red. But they were very loyal to us and the Australians. They would crawl up the tall coconut palms and knock down nuts. And all they would get would be two cigarettes or a small portion of salt. We learned about what to eat and what not to eat. The green nuts were the best source of milk. The dark nut was for eating. These natives carried out all of our wounded. They were called "the angels of mercy."

The battle of Buna was a slow one. The Aussies moving up the coast and our units cutting them off on the north and the east. The end came as the Japanese abandoned their pillboxes and decided to swim to [ ] from Buna. This proved to be their mistake. Our forces had taken that point the day before. Air support was called in for a number of strafing runs and all of our heavy weapons opened up on them. Three days later the beach was covered with Japanese dead. It was called "maggot beach." Yamashita gave the 32nd a new name, "The Bloody Butchers of Buna." All that was left was the mopping up of the stray Japanese.

We then were shipped back to the resort beach for a long needed rest. We received replacements 'till the division was again [ ]. We were notified that we'd be back in action soon.

Our next move proved to be to Itapi where we were supposed to set up two lines of defense positions, one on the [ ] river, as the first line of defense, and set up on the [ ] river. On the night of July 10th, General [ ] asked his men and penetrated the first defense line at a cost of over 200 of his best troops. Our units counter-attacked and regained their old positions. Our outfit, being in reserve, was [ ] into action by moving up between the two lines, pushing all the infiltrators back into the mountains at [ ] where they were hammered by artillery and heavy mortars. Very few survived. What was left fled up into the mountains. We pulled a night march back to the beach, carrying our wounded. Thus ended the battle for [ ] The Japanese lost a total of seven regiments destroyed out of nine.

They moved up to Leyte Gulf, coming ashore in November. We passed through parts of the 24th Division. We went down the [ ] highway to Limon. We took it and the Yamashita line was broken. [ ] of course met its first defeat at [ ] Ridge. Organized resistance on Leyte was broken. From here we marched to the sea. We fell back to the beach for a rest. This lasted for three weeks before being shipped out again. It was Luzon.

We arrived on the island in the middle of January. We landed at Lingaean Gulf. By this time our troops had fought into the very heart of Manilla. In the north and the east, we swept into [ ] Province, near the [ ] mountains. Here the 32nd went into action at the village of San Manuel and then to the village of San Nicholas where we saw numerous Japanese one man tanks that were destroyed by our advance troops. Just beyond the village, our truck convoy was fired on by Japanese artillery which was dug in in the mountains. We abandoned our trucks and took to cover. Later we moved up on foot to Santa Maria. This was our first look at the Valeverde Trail. It was only wide enough for a water buffalo or one person. But as fast as we took ground, the engineers built a road using armored bulldozers. This road was used by tanks to help us drive the Japanese from their caves and pillboxes. Our job was to protect them so that they could fire directly at the caves. We wondered how they got up, most of them up there but no one asked. Most of them carried 105 millimeters. Slowly but surely the Japanese were pushed back. It sure seemed good to be able to breathe fresh air, fresh mountain air instead of the rotting jungle. All of our supplies were air-dropped to us by, when we were on the trail. This proved to be very good.

When we were half way up the trail, I was relieved from duty and notified that I was up for rotation home. I was moved to an area in the rear and transferred to Lingaean Gulf for transport back to the United States. From here we were put on boats that put us ashore on Angel Island, California. We received haircuts and medical exams. Then it was on to Fort Sheridan, Illinois for physicals before being sent home to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I received my discharge May 18, 1945 and reached home on the 19th and celebrated for two days. I was finally back.

One thing I forgot to mention was our mascot. A dog that adopted us at Beauregard, Louisiana. He went through everywhere our outfit went. On the boat, he was carried on in a duffel bag, both on and off. He received all the campaign medals and on his return, they were pinned to his blanket. Upon his return, he lived in the town of Winchester with his master until he died. His blanket resides in the Oshkosh Museum with the [ ] from Buna mission.

And we had several fellows with us that went AWOL at Camp Livingston, Louisiana. They were transferred to the ah, Merrill's Marauders. And their names were Freddie Wolf and Gordon Macke. And we had several others, one friend, Joe Wrobel, he was transferred to ah, Headquarters Company. And some were transferred to Ripon Company.

D: And Red Lawlor from Red's Pizza was part of the 32nd, wasn't he?

C: Oh, yeah. Red Lawlor from the 32nd Division. He was our cook and ah, and one of my chums from Nebraska and one from [ ] Colorado and one from Witachee Oklahoma.

D: And most of those fellows, when you got back here you just grew , you bumped into those fellows from time to time all of these years and ah, and you had reunions, didn't you?

C: Oh, yeah.

D: Didn't you say that Red was also a historian?

C: Oh, yes. He's the historian for the 32nd Division here in Oshkosh.

D: He would probably have a lot of…

C: Yeah. He would probably have a lot of paraphernalia that you could use.

D: I'd better get hold of Red and subject him to the same kind of interrogation I've been giving you. And if things don't screw up like they have we can get it done a little more quickly. Well, I certainly appreciate your help and if you think of anything more I would appreciate that you give me a call and if you know of anybody else that ah, you know you run across people that ah, that wouldn't mind doing this. You know we want to do it for the people that come behind us of course. I'll be in touch then .
Event World War II
Category 6: T&E For Communication
Object ID OH2001.13.13
Object Name Tape, Magnetic
People Crowley, Leo J.
Subjects World War II
Pacific Theater of Operations
32nd Division
Title Oral History Interview with Leo J. Crowley
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Last modified on: December 12, 2009