Tag Archives: Navy

Reading Letters from the Front on Veteran’s Day

Veteran’s Day Letters From the Front

As we approach Veteran’s Day, when we honor all those who have served our country in the armed forces, I have been looking at letters from the front written by some of those sailors and airmen (no infantry in this batch of my family).  Like most letters from men and women in battle, they generally reflect a longing for home mixed with a desire to reassure the folks at home. But what makes these two letters from uncles to their nephews so poignant is the way they show hopes of peace that came to naught.

A Letter From the South Pacific During World War II

In the very first paragraph of his letter to his nephew, Uncle Bill Anderson hopes that this World War really will be the last one and his nephew will not have to take part in another.

WWII Letter Transcription

WWII Letter from Wm. J. (Bill) Anderson to nephew Paul William (Bill) Kaser who was born October 25, 1944. Uncle Bill Anderson wrote many letters from the front to the folks at home. This one is special because it presents such a vivid picture of the Solomon Islands and the life of a SeaBee during the war in the Pacific.

[Note: there were no paragraph indentations in the original letter. I have added some to make reading a little easier.]

Twelfth U. S. Naval Construction Battalion (Special)

c/o Fleet Post Office, San Francisco, California Nov. 20, 1944

Dear Bill –

I will call you Bill as they say that is what you will be called and they tell me you got that name from me. I don’t know why unless it is because I am over here in the South pacific trying to get this War over, the one to end all Wars, as they say but that was what the last one was for to{o}, so don’t think that there won’t be one for you to see. We hope that you won’t but if you don’t see one you will be able to say you helped pay for one any way as this one will keep us all paying for a long time.

I am in the solom {Solomon} group of Islands. That is all I can tell you now. The island I am on is about 5 miles across and 15 miles long about ½ of it is covered with coconut trees the rest is jungle and so thick you can hardly get through It is very hilly and steep. It is a coral island, not much top soil, but there are some large trees back in the hills. It is very pretty. You can see 5 or 6 islands from here and the sunsets are very pretty over the water. It gets very hot here in the day time and it rains about every day.

My Battalion is a Special as you can see by the heading on this letter. We unload and load ships. Have been here 11 months now and handled over a million tons of war supplies of all kinds. I am a store keeper by rate. That is a checker. We check the cargo on and off the ships and send it to the different destinations.

The army moved all of the women off this island. They are on another island about five miles from here but we can go over and see how they live. They live in grass houses, not very big and no floors in them, no bed or table of any kind. They sit and sleep on the ground. It is plenty dirty all over and they have sores all over the most of them. If one lives to be 35 yrs. Old, he is considered and old man so don’t believe all the pictures you will see of the pretty girls over here. All they wear is a short skirts.

Have not seen any real action. Had 2 bombings when we first got here and nothing big since. We are getting ready to move now but do not know how soon or where to as they don’t tell us for fear the Japs might get the news and be waiting for us some place out on the sea.

There are a few natives here on this island. They are not very big, about 5 ft 2 or 3 and very black and skirt around their waist. The men and women dress alike and cut their hair the same way. The little boys and girls do not wear any clothes till they are 7 or 8 yrs. old. They get married at 10 to 12 years of age. They are very thin but picturesque as you are to be taught. There are no wild animals here except pigs but a lot of different kinds of birds. A lot of white and green parrots, a few snakes, and lots of rats and all kinds of bugs. We sleep under mosquito nets all the time and live in tents with wire screen all around.

Well, I guess this will be enough for your first letter as you are not very big yet but thought you would like to have a letter to put in your scrapbooks from the South Pacific as when you get a little older, you will have to learn all about this war from history, so good-bye for now. Will be seeing {you} before long.

Your Uncle (CB) William J. Anderson SK2/c

Unfortunately, his wish for permanent peace did not come true.

The letters from the front continued. 25 years later, the baby he wrote to–Paul William (Bill) Kaser– who received that letter from the Navy C.B. in the South Pacific had grown up.

In 1969, a second “Uncle Bill” served as a Lieutenant in the Air Force, assigned to Vietnam.

Letter from Vietnam

The second “Uncle Bill” sent a letter to his nephew, 7 1/2 year-old Kenneth Paul (Butch) Badertscher in Scottsdale, Arizona. Paul W. Kaser, the second “Uncle Bill, stationed at Bien Hoa air base wrote an illustrated letter to “Butch” who was 7 ½ years old.

This letter, one of many letters from the front sent by the journalism major turned soldier, was another special letter because of the illustrations and descriptions attempting to make the war understandable to a small boy.

The airman plays guitar for Vietnam orphans during the war.

Transcription of Letter from Vietnam

1 April 1969

Vietnam

Dear Butch,

Here is a map of North and South Vietnam. {Drawn down the right side of the page.}

I am writing this letter from a spot near the airplane on the map. It is called Bien Hoa Air Base and is near the large city-capital of Saigon

I am also sending you some Vietnamese money. It is called “piasters.” Share it with your brothers. The picture is of King Hue who helped free Vietnam from the Chinese many years ago.

This is a very hot country and has many jungles and rice fields.

The people in the country are poor and their children do not have good schools to go to as you do. They often have only half as much food to eat as you do.

But, the people are friendly and one of them, an old man from Hanoi (see map) is teaching me to speak Vietnamese.

We have a Squadron mascot named “Ruben” who looks a little like Bitsy. [Dog of Butch and his brothers].

I will write another letter soon and send more pictures. Read this letter to your brothers.

Uncle Bill

{Drawing of a dog with a Vietnamese

cone-shaped hat.}

& “Rubin”

Wars Continue

World War I was not the promised “war to end all wars,” World War II  did not fulfill Navy man Bill Anderson’s hopes to guarantee that his nephew would not go to war.  And the chain of family members in service to their country continued.

The “Butch” in Bill Kaser’s letters from the front grew up to join the Navy nuclear submarine force during the Cold War. In his case “the front” spread across all oceans.  Although he did not have a nephew, he did have a son.

And as the navy-air force-navy-air force rotation continued, Kenneth Paul Badertscher’s son (Also named Kenneth Paul) joined the Air Force and  served in the mid East.

David William  (son of Paul William Kaser, AF veteran), saw combat as a Marine in Iraq.

Now both those 3rd generation veterans, David and Kenneth Paul II,  have small sons.  Will they escape the unwanted tradition that has continued unbroken for three generations? Will they be writing e-mail letters from the front, Skyping and otherwise communicating from the front to children at home as they explain some exotic far off land where American troops are fighting? We can only hope, along with Uncle Bill Anderson, that the chain will be broken before a fourth generation.

The Veterans We Salute

  • William J. Anderson, Navy, World War II South Pacific 1944
  • Paul William Kaser, his nephew, Air Force, Vietnam 1969
  • Kenneth Paul Badertscher, his nephew, Navy, Cold War 1980
  • David William , son of PWK, Marines, Gulf War 2, Iraq 2003
  • Kenneth Paul , son of KPB, Air Force, Gulf War 2, Iraq 2006

These five veterans follow in the footsteps of all the other family members and ancestors we honor on Veteran’s Day. We thank all of them, not just on Veteran’s Day, but every day for our Freedom.

More Details

I wrote earlier about Uncle Bill, and drew on history of the Special 12th Battalion.  That history says that the battalion stayed in the Russell Islands from January 1944 until May 1945 when they went to Okinawa.  Apparently, the history was off. if Uncle Bill is correct at least his contingent were on a tiny island in the Solomons in November 1944. I do not question that he was in Okinawa later, because he brought home Japanese pottery as souvenirs.

I am no closer than ever in figuring out what exact island he was on, as sources only talk specifics about the five or six larger islands in a cluster of 1000 that make up the group, and one that is 15 miles by 5 miles does not warrant mention.

The battles of the Pacific are detailed in this article with many photographs. And the map below comes from the U.S. Marines record of the battles. To put things in perspective, the entire Solomon Islands could sit inside the state of Maryland.

Solomon Islands

Map of Solomon Islands Campaign showing U.S. and Japanese bases.

BIEN HOA AIR BASE in 1969

Veterans in the Family–William J. Anderson

Seabee William J. Anderson

I have listed all the veterans in my family as I find them.  Please pay tribute to them here. (You will also find the names of the people in the family picture below by clicking on that link.) However, I must admit, I have many more veterans to add that I have discovered the in the past year. Those include Charles Morgan, son of my great-great grandfather and his first wife, who fought in the Civil War for the North.

Now I would like to focus on one particular World War II veteran, now deceased, my uncle William J. Anderson.

Bill and Sarah Anderson 1942 or 1943

Bill and Sarah Anderson, August 1943 in Killbuck, Ohio

World War II Family 1942 or 1943

World War II Family August 1943 gathered in Killbuck Ohio home of Guy and Vera Anderson. William J. Anderson is seated on the right hand side in his Navy blues.

 

Uncle Bill served in the United States Navy as a “SeaBee”–C.B., Construction Battalion, in the islands of the South Pacific roughly between 1943 and 1946. In 1942 or 1943 he and other relatives gathered at the home of my Grandmother and Grandfather Vera and Guy Anderson in Killbuck, Ohio. He was probably at the end of his initial training period and would be shipped out to the Pacific in December 1943.

William J. Anderson Change of Address Card

Not only does this give me some interesting information about Uncle Bill, but it also highlights when my own family moved from Ames Iowa to Chicago Illinois during the war.

As for William J. Anderson, we learn that in December 1943,  he is with the 12th Specialists Battalion,  Company B-2. He holds the rank of EM 3/C, and his ship is in the Pacific–fleet post office San Francisco.  What does all that mean?

For one thing, it means that the nagging question I had as a five- and six-year-old was finally going to be answered.  We never knew where my uncles and cousin were in the Pacific. Once one of them sent us a souvenir book with pictures and maps showing Pacific islands, and I was convinced (having read too many Bobsey Twins mysteries) that they were sending us a secret code through the book to tell us where they were. I puzzled over it throughout the war, but never learned their locations.

Part way through the war, the Navy created Special Construction Battalions (also called Seabee Specials) for stevedores and longshoremen who unloaded ships in battle zones.  According to a history of the Seabees, the 12th Specialists were trained initially at Camp Peary in Virginia for three weeks and then in Port Hueme in California for six weeks before being shipped out in 1943, arriving in January 1944 at the Russell Islands in the Pacific. After unloading ships in the Russels for sixteen months, the 12th Spec. Battalion left its base and arrived in Okinawa on May 21, 1945. [Okinawa

Seabees emblem.

Seabees emblem.

William J. Anderson Dog Tag

I recently found Uncle Bill’s dog tags, and then saw this picture of him wearing the dog tag as he stood on a tropical island.

I have not been able to find what the meaning is of the serial number. If you know how to decode Navy serial numbers, please let me know.  If you are looking to decode an army serial number, Amy Johnson Crow comes to the rescue here.   However, I did learn that the “O” is for blood type, and the T 6/43 means he got a tetanus shot in June, 1943. I am not sure why he is USNR (Navy Reserve).

History of the 12th Special Battalion

Uncle Bill’s cheerful demeanor hints that this was probably the first post in the Russels, because the next post was not a piece of cake. Okinawa saw the most ferocious fighting in the Pacific, and the 12th was still there when the Japanese surrendered  in August 1945. [See a later post with a letter he writes from the Solomon Islands.]

From Wikipedia: “Between the American landing on 1 April and 25 May, seven major kamikaze attacks were attempted, involving more than 1,500 planes.”

The Seabees arrived at a most unwelcoming time of year, as Wikipedia graphically describes.

“By the end of May, monsoon rains which turned contested hills and roads into a morass exacerbated both the tactical and medical situations. The ground advance began to resemble a World War I battlefield as troops became mired in mud and flooded roads greatly inhibited evacuation of wounded to the rear. Troops lived on a field sodden by rain, part garbage dump and part graveyard. Unburied Japanese and American bodies decayed, sank in the mud, and became part of a noxious stew. Anyone sliding down the greasy slopes could easily find their pockets full of maggots at the end of the journey

You can see a film of the battle of Okinawa at the History website.

It is probably just as well that we did not know he was on Okinawa. We worried enough just listening to the radio news of the war, and seeing the newsreels that followed the features at the movie theater and reading screaming headlines. Had we known he was on Okinawa during that horrible battle, I don’t know how we would have coped. For that matter, I don’t know how HE coped, but he seemed to come through just fine.

William J. Anderson Life Details

The Rank on the change of Address card is EM 3/C, which means Electrician’s Mate, third Class.  While I know that Uncle Bill was proficient at fixing electrical things after the war, he was also handy at a great many chores.  His stories of the war, on a par with the tales in Catch 22,  indicated that he spent more time making deals with incoming ships to get good whiskey and special food for his commanding officer than working on wiring. But the Navy does not have a ranking for Finagling Deal Maker.

William J. Anderson would have been thirty-eight years old when he shipped off to a Pacific Island. That seems old for a warrior, but I read in a history of the Seabees that the average enlisted age of those construction battalion workers was thirty-seven. They were paid $140 a month, which made them one of the highest paid groups in the military.

Military life was not entirely foreign to Uncle Bill, as I described in this story about him in post-WWI civilian camp.

My other uncle, Herbert Anderson, was also a Seabee, as was my cousin, Robert Anderson.

They all came home safe after World War II, although Robert Anderson stayed in the Navy as a career.

I thank them all for their enormous contribution to our Nation during World War II.

 

How I am Related

Vera Marie Kaser Badertscher is the daughter of

Harriette Anderson Kaser, who is the sister of

William J. Anderson