Heroes: the Army
"...This was just the beginning of the experiences of an Army Signal Corps Company of 185 enlisted men, six officers, and their missions on Guam. The date was December 28, 1944, and it would not be until January 28, 1946, that these men would again be on a Navy vessel homeward bound..."
John Paul Redmond
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. A., 49th Signal Corps,
Heavy Construction Battalion
- Dates: 1943 - 1946
- Location: Pacific Theater
- Rank: 1st Sgt.
- Birth Year: 1922
- Entered Service: New Haven, CT
Left to Right: Bernie Kramer, CT; Ray Bushey, VT;
John P. Redmond, CT; unidentified.
1946, Riverside, California
Young men were drawn together...
"World War II: Servicemen from the North and South
Young men were drawn together from the Northeast and deep South, serving their country during World War II, from camps in Tennessee and Missouri to Guam, with eventual victory over Japan and then homeward bound.
January 1943. Fort Devens, Massachusetts. A snowy welcome greeted another unit of draftees, soon to be United States soldiers, from the New England states. After a few days of tasting army cooking and being issued uniforms and other necessities, the soldiers boarded a troop train for the long ride to Paris. No, not Paris, France, but the warmer climates of Paris, Tennessee, and Camp Tyson. The young New England men were soon blended into one unit with another group of new soldiers from the state of Mississippi; these men would serve together for the next three years.
When the new recruits settled in -- and this experience I will never forget -- a few from New England were assigned to barracks with men from Mississippi. I was one, and I took a bottom bunk. From the top bunk came the question "are you a Yankee?" Before long, the men from the east, who were probably fans of the Yankees, were just another bunch of privates, along with the "rebels" from the South.
Under the banner of the 316th Anti-aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion, with basic training finished, the technique of how barrage balloons operated as a defense mechanism was foremost on the minds of the officers in charge. A simple explanation is that a barrage balloon is anchored singly or in a series over a military objective to hinder the passage of enemy aircraft. Those familiar with these balloons will remember them in the opening scenes of D-Day during the movie "Saving Private Ryan."
In July of 1943, the entire battalion was on another train, this time leaving Tennessee for Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and, finally, the Mojave Desert in southern California, for a month of training. We figured we would be going to Africa, but the rumors were wrong. Other barrage balloon outfits were going to Europe, but we were being deactivated in late 1943 and early 1944 to become the 49th Signal Heavy Construction Battalion. This meant another train ride, this time to Camp Crowder, Missouri. Instead of balloons, we were now trained how to be a soldier for a totally different mission: climbing telephone poles. Luckily for me, I was destined to be an office clerk, so no climbing for me.
In 1944, the 49th left Missouri on yet another train, this time northwest to Fort Lewis in the state of Washington, near Seattle. We would spend our last days in the States over Thanksgiving dinner. I was a member of Company A which consisted of 185 men and six officers, all ready for overseas duty. Company B of the 49th didnít leave Fort Lewis until early 1945. Our destination: Iwo Jima.
We left the port of Seattle, first going north to Alaska, then on to Hawaii on a "Victory" ship, the Fred C. Aimsworth, a part of the fleet of ships quickly built for transporting troops. After Hawaii, we headed southwest to a small atoll called Eniwetok, part of the Marshall Islands. We were able to leave ship for a swim which felt just great after two weeks on board. Eniwetok would later become famous in 1948 as the site of the US atomic tests.
Our final stop was the island of Guam, a U.S. possession and the largest (216 square miles) of the Mariana Islands in the western Pacific.
First Sergeant John P. Redmond, on Guam, 1945
Two Missions In Mind
(The following story is about Company A's stay on Guam and was written as an assignment when I finally got back to the States and attended college in New Haven, Connecticut.)
The trucks were loaded with GI's. The trip from the Guam shore was finally under way as these newly arrived troops from the States were driven through the ruins of Agana, main town of this island in the Pacific. This was just the beginning of the experiences of an Army Signal Corps Company of 185 enlisted men, six officers, and their missions on Guam. The date was December 28, 1944, and it would not be until January 28, 1946, that these men would again be on a Navy vessel homeward bound. The trucks reached their destination at a clearing located two miles from Northwest Field. This airstrip, in months to come, would play an important part in the numerous bombing raids on Japan.
This Company was selected for a very important assignment: the installation of a large communication system for the Navy under Admiral Nimitz and the 20th Air Force under the command of General Spaatz. Before the actual story can be told of how these soldiers worked and found pleasure in their off-hours, background information concerning Guam should be noted.
Guam was to be the center point for all air and sea attacks on the island of Japan. The Central Pacific commands of the Army and Navy would issue the orders on when and where to strike next from Guam. It is all history, the bombing of Japan by the powerful B-29's and constant sea maneuvers by the Navy. My story will never go down in history, but Guam played an important role in the history of World War II, and my Company did its part in adding to the island's usefulness.
With their first and utmost mission in mind, the Company's second consideration was the establishment of a community that would be suitable for all personnel. While the regular crews of pole linemen were on scheduled jobs around the island, a home crew of electricians, carpenters, and all-around handy men were left in the company area setting up a camp. Try to visualize the many facilities around your home, place of work and city, and you realize the vast amount of work that was in store for them.
Sanitary measures were of first importance. A water tank was erected for drinking water and bathing water. Bathing was a luxury considering where we were stationed. Once our tents were set up, the next problem was clearing away the outlying jungle for the use of the motor pool to house the many jeeps and trucks for a heavy construction outfit like ours. A telephone system also had to be set up because of the important contact between the crews and main office of the camp. A lighting system was installed in each tent. Streets that ran past the tents were named "Broadway" and "Church Street" by the men.
It may seem strange that a place of eating, or "mess" as it is commonly called in the service, did not enter the scene of our camp. Arrangements were made before we arrived on Guam to eat with the Navy. Our mess was a large Quonset hut. Spam and beans seemed to be the only two products the Navy could muster out of their storehouse. One good result of not having our own mess hall was that we were never troubled by hungry Japanese. All mess halls on the island had been raided on different occasions by these dejected "people of the rising sun."
In time, the company area developed in a neat and tidy tent city that resembled any Army camp in the States. Four men were assigned to each tent with ample room for beds and the belongings of each soldier. The officers had their own area located near the main headquarter tent. Although troublesome, mosquito nets had to be used on the cots while sleeping. Mosquitoes were not the only pests to contend with since large rats were also plentiful in the area due to the thick jungle that bordered our camp. The medical staff took steps to rid these pests by setting food traps daily. The first few days, the rats would get a hearty diet, but, by the third day or so, poison was their main dish. This effectively eliminated these surly creatures.
Time hangs heavy for anyone on an island like Guam, even when the mail is filled with letters from the folks and friends back home. Our commanding officer found a remedy for everyone when he secured a motion picture machine and screen from the Navy. Now that I think back, the Navy was rather good to us Army "dog faces." The picture machine was just what the doctor ordered for those long evenings hanging around the camp. A spot was picked out for the theater location, and a stage and seats were set up. Everyone was eager to pitch in to help as this was an enjoyment for everybody. Back home, we took everything for granted; but, on an island in the Pacific, a motion picture about cowboys, love, girls, etc. is a treat and reminds everyone of home. The installation took less than a week, with the palm trees coming in handy as staging for the screen. We saw first-rate pictures from the States. Frequently, we had to watch the same movie two or three times. The larger theaters built by the Navy were the settings for numerous USO shows sent over from the States. Our little theater wasn't important enough to warrant the USO. Whenever possible, however, we secured a jeep or truck and drove to the larger movies to see the real American players in action. Yes, life on Guam seemed like home with only a few minor adjustments!
People of all ages enjoy viewing a good motion picture, and a great many have an equal interest in the great American pastime of baseball. These GI's were no exception to the rule. With permission of the commanding officer, the sports-minded members of the Company decided to build a ballpark. Fortunately, a large enough clearing was vacant next to where the infield would be located. With the greater part of Guam a coral base, this diamond could rightfully be called a "diamond in the rough." This did not hinder the men; however, and, coral or no coral, a diamond was set up. To add to the atmosphere, a back-stop of chicken wire was erected, along with seats on the sides for players and spectators. It didn't resemble a modern park, but it was another example of Yankee ingenuity. To give it a real modern touch, lights were installed for night baseball. Many games were played with other outfits, both on Sundays and at night. This Company was building a reputation for themselves on Guam due to the theater and the ballpark, and everyone could enjoy good, clean fun and relieve the monotony of overseas duty.
As time went on, the line crews had their own troubles with difficult terrain. Guam has a coral base that made installing telephone poles almost impossible. This was overcome by using special diggers that were attached to the equipment trucks. All the Signal Corps tools were used to advantage in jobs that kept the men busy from one end of the island to the other. The telephone lines had to be set up through thick jungle, since many Navy and Marine outfits were located several miles from their separate commands.
The landscape wasn't the only obstruction that hampered our company from fulfilling its mission on schedule. Japanese soldiers surrendered on a daily basis, and dealing with enemy soldiers fell into the crews' hands. During the invasion of Guam, many Japanese took to the hills and tried to live in the jungles; but, sooner or later, they realized that the Marine stockade offered greater comfort in living quarters and food. They would give up to the nearest American they could find. Transportation had to be provided back to the stockade, so this interruption would affect our work on the line.
The Company not only performed duties that were beneficial to the members of the immediate area but also in the communication field for the entire island of Guam. Their mission was to outfit the island with necessary signal work, and they did, in a way that earned them a high award from the Commanding General of the Pacific. It was a Company award and rightfully so because everyone did his part, either on the pole line or sitting all day at a typewriter. In addition, Company A received the Navy Unit Commendation and Presidential Meritorious Unit Emblem.
Looking back to those days on Guam gives this writer great satisfaction knowing that men of all races, religions, and backgrounds got along so well. Yes, these men were in the Army and had to obey orders but in the line of duty, not on their off-hours. The theater and ball field required cooperation from everyone, from the officers down to the lowest private. This company found that spirit of cooperation that is so lacking in world affairs today.
The two missions were accomplished to the satisfaction of the higher commands of the Army and Navy, the officers in charge of the Company, and all the GI's. To paraphrase an old saying, this Company came to Guam, they saw what was in store for them on Guam, and they conquered Guam. With the end of the war, going home was of paramount concern. In January of 1946, the entire Company left with memories that were vivid enough for this writer to put on paper."
-- John Paul Redmond
12 July 2003: Long lost friends!
We have just gotten together two old war buddies who have not seen each other since WWII! That is correct.
A member of the same unit, the 49th Signal Heavy Construction Battalion, has recently located Mr. Redmond through this web page. With the help of his daughter, Beverly Sumrall, Mr. J. B. Sumrall, of Mississippi, who served in the 49th Signal Heavy Construction Battalion at the same time that Mr. John Paul Redmond served -- have made contact with each other.
We at the World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words, wish to offer our profound THANK YOU to Mr. John Paul Redmond, as well as his daughter,Ms. Nancy M. Deshaies, for their kind offer to bring to us the story of daily life of an ordinary soldier in the U. S. Army's Signal Corps. It is by such kind efforts by wonderful folks such as Mr. Redmond and Ms. Deshaies, that we are allowed to learn a little more about the events that took place in the most troubling times in American history -- World War II.
Original Story transcribed from e-mail messages submitted by the subject of this story on 24 June 2002.
Story originally submitted on: 24 June 2002.
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
Signal Corps Units in the Normandy Campaign
American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll
National World War II Memorial
September 5, 2002.
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