Military Story of Victor Weidensee in WWII
It was a usual day of relaxing for a group of young male college students at SDSC on December 7, 1941. They were having their noon meal together in the boarding house where they stayed when suddenly one of the students who was listening to a radio announced the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which was the moment that forever changed the lives of these young men.
After some discussions of the event we all knew that we were going to be called to military duty because we were enrolled in ROTC and we had been told by our ROTC instructors of the possibility of war with Japan.
I was a freshman in college at this time and at the time was not interested in a career in the military. My father had been in WWI and had told me that war was not a glorious business and hopefully neither my younger brother nor I would ever get involved in one.
The next week we were informed that because we were ROTC students we would be mustered into the military at once and I received by ID number 17085439 which would be my ID number throughout the time I was in the service. Date of enlistment was December 4, 1942 and went active April 12, 1943. We were allowed to stay in school until we were called up and reported to Ft. Snelling, Minnesota where we were finally "branded as being in the real Army." From there we were sent by troop train to our first basic training in the Infantry at Camp Wolters near Mineral Wells, Texas. Before leaving Minnesota we were told we would have our choice of service and many of us wanted to join the Army Air Corp..
Audie Murphy (photo right) also trained at Camp Wolters.
When we got to Camp Wolters and met our first regular Army master Sergeant Poindexter we found out that we were not in the Air Corp, but in the "foot slogging" infantry! I had taken the tests and been accepted for the Air Corps pilot training program. I was shocked to find that the Army did not keep its word. So much for volunteering!
I spent 13 hellish week in basic training during the hot days of summer in Texas and learned how to be a soldier, according to Sgt. Poindexter!
In the meantime I finally found out that my request to join the air corps was accepted and when I finished the basic training with several others who had requested transfer were sent to Dickenson College in Carlyle, PA to begin our training. My class was made up of mostly airmen who had been gunners on B-17s in Europe and now were wanting to be pilots, a tough bunch of chaps who knew what the score was!
While here I was able to play in the band with some of the finest musicians I have ever known. I was a green kid just turned 19 and these fellows were professionals who had been in some major dance bands before the war. I had a great time during this experience.
After a month or so we were told that the Air Corps was closing all pilot training programs and we were sent by train to a replacement camp in Miami, Florida, to receive orders. Here we were given permanent KP duty for about one month and received Air Corps basic training. This was in the hot steamy summer and needless to say there were many unhappy campers. The only thing that made it bearable was that we were housed in luxurious beach hotels and were able to swim in the sea and play on the beach when not on KP duty.
After some time we were asked if we would like to transfer to either gunnery or mechanic school. About this same time we were also asked if we would like to volunteer for a new group that was being formed.
We who put up our hands met with a Col. Arvid Olson [right in photo] who had been a member of the AVG (Flying Tigers) under General Chenault in China and was the number two man in the organization.
He informed us that he was forming the 3rd Commando Group. For action in the Pacific. He then told us the group would be similar to the 1st Commando Group, which was in China and Burma and we would be trained to operate behind enemy lines. The Group would consist of fighter squadrons of P-51s, liaison squadrons of Stimson L-5s, troop carrier squadrons of C-47s and gliders.
To me this sounded like an adventure and anything was better than KP. We were organized and sent to Drew Field, Florida, to begin our training. The Group was activated on May 1, 1944.
We were issued a 45 automatic pistol, a combat knife, and either a carbine or a machine gun as our weapons. The training included work in guerilla fighting as well as how to live on the land. We also learned how to use the gliders and how to use communication equipment. We spet a lot of time flying in the DC-3 transports and the L-5s on maneuvers, simulating behind the lines combat. This was along with plenty of physical training to assure we were fit for whatever might come along completed our training.
Our mission was to establish and maintain an airstrip behind enemy lines, to provide for our own supply and air defense, to attack targets in the enemy's rear areas and to furnish air support for ground troops.
After the traing period was complete we were sent to San Francisco and departed for the Pacific in early November 1944. The fighter squadron personnel and the DC-3 transports flew to New Guinea where they picked up new P-51 aircraft. The other members of the 3rd Commando Group departed on a troop ship in early November and arrived on Leyte in the Philippine Islands on 1 December 1944.
One of the worst experiences of my life was found on the troop ship. It was crowded with several thousand troops and we were soon out to sea after leaving the Golden Gate Bridge, the rough seas made most everyone sea sick. I never left by bunk for several days and lived on boiled eggs, which a friend, who did not get ill, brought me. When I recovered, the rest of the trip was OK even though we enlisted men were unaware of our destination.
After a rather boring trip on the ship we arrived at Leyte in the Philippine Islands on 1 December 1944 which was shortly after the invasion by the American forces. When we finally got organized, the fighter squadrons were active bombing and strafing the enemy air baes on Mindanao taking off from a base at Tacloban. The troop carrier planes dropped supplies to the ground forces and also transported wounded. It was while here we were attacked by the Japanese air borne troops who destroyed many of our L-5s that were parked at the air base. Thank goodness for the infantry who blunted the attack and in a short time restored order.
With the invasion of Luzon the Group moved from Leyte to the Magaldan Airfield on Luzon in late December 1944.
The ground personnel went from Leyte to the Lingayen Gulf on an LST and while on this trip we went through a hurricane. The weather was so bad and the sea so rough that at times we thought we would capsize. However on this sea trip I did not get sick even though I spent much time sitting in the seat of a truck on the open deck because the Navy did not want troops in the enclosed cargo deck area because it was full of 50 gallon barrels of gasoline and a single spark could have set it off with a bang. Needless to say, this was not a cruise ship and I wondered how the Navy sailors could stand the service very long. Again we lived for several days on boiled eggs, as this is all the cooks could prepare.
When we got out of the storm, the trip was fine and it was on this trip that I saw the first Kamikaze attack on the ships in the invasion fleet. It was not very intense but was the first and only time that I observed this type of warfare.
When the Group set up at Magaldan Airfield, the fighters provided ground support to the troops and patrolled the air for enemy aircraft. The Troop Carrier C-47s evacuated wounded soldiers and carried supplies where needed (including beer flights to Australia). The L-5s of the liasison squadrons worked in evacuation combat spotting for artillery, and for communication and transport of officers in the field.
In April the Group moved from Mandalen to Laoag on the northern tip of Luzon 150 miles behind enemy lines. The Group operated the airfield and was supplied by the troop carrier squadron. The P-51s provided ground support for the Army and the Philippine guerrilla forces as well as strafing missions to Formosa. In June 1945 the air base become the staging field for combat operation against Formosa. The base also served as an emergency-landing place for aircraft that had been damaged in combat or had mechanical problems and needed a safe place to land.
To me this was an exciting time and I made many friends of the personnel in the Guerilla army. These folks provided great protection for us Yanks from the Japanese. We were also given the opportunity to get to know these folks and I can recall many positive social contacts.
In August 1945 the Group moved to le Shima in the Ryukus from the Philippines. I remember the flight to this island in a fully loaded DC-3. The weather was bad and we were forced to return to Laoag Base but no one had told us and when we arrived back on the aborted flight we were surprised because we thought the new base was so similar to what see had left. So much for communication. What I remember of this flight as that I shared the plane with a jeep and piles of other equipment, which was not really tied down. My seat, if I remember, was sitting in the jeep.
It was while we moved to Laoag that we received a new Group CO. He was Lt. Col. Walker Mahurin who had transferred from the 8th Air Force to the 5th after having had a successful tour of duty as a fighter pilot in Europe. He was the first American Ace having destroyed over 25 enemy planes. He had received every medal that the Army gave except the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Purple Heart and the Soldiers Medal. He was an energetic, driven person and I believe when we met him he was about 29 years old. He was a fellow who led by example and everyone liked him once he got established. I became a friend of his as he paid little attention rank. I was an Air Operations Staff Sergeant who, along with Master Sergeant McNally, pretty much ran the Laoag Air Base.
He was an aggressive pilot and led the fighters on many missions to Formosa. On one mission he lost there aircraft to enemy fire and was forced to bail out into the ocean where he survived in the rubber boat until rescued by the Air Sea Rescue people. He tried to get the medical doctor to say he was wounded because he had some sores from the salt water but was not able to do this and thus did not get a purple heart.
The Group was at le Shima Air Base when the Japanese surrendered. We were elated with the news and looked forward to our next assignment. In October 1945 the Group moved to Chitose Air Base on the Northern island of Hokkaido in Japan. When we over into the barracks we found they were infested with fleas. We were all sprayed with DDT and spent the first weeks cleaning up the quarters. While here we were all counting our points to see when we could go home to the U.S.
I believe that most of the men enjoyed being part of the occupation forces and while we are always on our guard we found no difficulty with the Japanese of the area.
While here I enjoyed the free time to visit some Japanese sites and to sample the culture. One memorable trip was when I had the opportunity to visit Hiroshima and to view the destruction caused by the A bomb. To view this type of destruction made me hate war as a means of settling any dispute.
While waiting to see if I would go home I was thrilled when I found that I had enough points ( believe it was 85) to return to the U.S. and leave the military. When I told the CO and Master Sergeant McNally of my desire to leave they tried to get me to change my mind and remain in the service. However I had decided I wanted to continue my education and really wanted to go home. Furthermore the Group was to be deactivated in February 1946 and all personnel re-assigned to other units.
I left the Group and went to Tokyo where I was assigned to a mini aircraft carrier which had been converted to a troop ship and returned to the U.S. And then by train to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, for my discharge on Dec. 28, 1945.
At that time the Group was awarded several commendations and I received the Soldier's Medal for action in the Philippines for which I saved a man from drowning in waters off Luzon. I was awarded the following for my service in New Guinea, the Philippines, the South Pacific and the Army: The Distinguished Unit Badge; Philippine Liberation Ribbon with Bronze Star; the Good Conduct Medal; and the Soldier's Medal.
After receiving an honorable discharge from the Army Air Corps at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, on Deomber 19, 1945, I too took the train to Gettysburg, South Dakota, where I was united with my parents and friends and I was ready for a new chapter in my life. I was 25 and ready to move on. I had been in the Army from December 4, 1942 (date of enlistment) until discharge on December 19, 1945.
I entered service as a young man of 18 and left a mature and confident man who knew what he wanted to do with his life.
This next section is some high points of memory of my service because most of the time life in the service is somewhat boring and routine. Those are not in chronological order and are just highlights as I remember them.
1. I remember the shock that I got when I discovered that I was in the Infantry and not the Air Corp as I thought the Army had promised. I believe this helped me to "not volunteer" too often when given the chance.
2. The shock when I first saw the destruction of Hiroshima by the A bomb--and later to see how the bombing of Japan had destroyed everything. My mind set has since been against war as a solution to anything.
3. I remember one instance which was humorous and that is the time T/Sgt. Heard from Georgia (who was a cigar smoking L-5 pilot who still loved the civil war). The incident was when he took off from the air strip behind enemy lines and did not have enough speed to clear a very large tree in his path and he and the airplane stalled out and settled into the tree--about 100 feet above the ground. He was not hurt but was forced to crawl out of the plane to climb down the tree to terra firma. If I remember correctly, he still had his cigar in his teeth.
4. Our L-5s were often used by the brass of the infantry to observe--or sometimes I thought they were just going on a joy ride. One interesting flight involved General Joe Stillwell who if one remembers always wore an old army style hat which he proudly wore all the time. One day he took a ride with one of our L-5 pilots out over the water of the Lingayen Gulf. While in flight he opened the windows and the old Army hat blew and found its way to the sea. When he landed he was furious and demanded that the Air Sea Rescue chaps search and hopefully find the hat. I do not know what the resolution of this incident was but I do know in future our pilots told the passengers to keep the window closed.
5. I remember the wonderful times we had living with Philippine people when we were at Laoag. Whenever we had time off we would fish in the river using hand grenades (not regulation I am sure) but the fish were collected by the folks and supplemented their diet.
6. I also remember the parties and dances that we were invited to by the Philippine folks whenever we had time off from our duties.
7. I remember the night on Leyte when the Japanese paratroopers flew over our camp and airfield and at first we thought they were Ameericans until they bailed out and began to attack. Thank goodness for the Infantry who saved a lot of Air Corps fellows from an early death. They did a lot of damage to our airplanes but the attempt was short of success.
8. I will never forget the LST ride from Leyte to Luzon in a hurricane. We were sure that the boat would sink because of the wind and high and rough waves. Furthermore all troops were not not allowed into the cargo bay because of the fear that the gasoline stored there would explode if someone lit a match. We sat in the trucks that were parked on the deck to stay out of the weather which was a new experience.
9. I will always remember Lt. Col. Walker Mahurin our CO and a friend who later in Korea was shot down and under pressure from the Chinese was turned against the U.S and was branded a traitor in the U.S. This in spite of his record as a flying ace with many German planes destroyed and also a record of air support for the armies in Europe and the Pacific.
10. I will never forget the travel on the troop ship from San Francisco because of the "sea sickness".
11. After the battle for Manila was finished I took a flight on a C-47 to Manila to pick up supplies. I will never forget seeing the Infantry troops lining up with 250 gallon water tank trailers at the San Maguel Brewery loading up with the brew. Quite a sight but we got our supplies and returned to our base but this was an interesting sight.
I have no regrets of the time I spend because it took a green kid from Gettysburg, South Dakota, and after the experience he grew up by the time he was out knew what he wanted to do and had the confidence to do what he wanted.
Compiled by Victor Weidensee, former S/Sgt. Air Force
Rapid City, SD
Wikipedia note on Mahurin as POW in Korea:
At the start of the Korean War in 1950, Mahurin was serving in the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force. In July 1951 he became commander of the 1st Fighter Group, training in the North American F-86 Sabre. In December he began a 90-day tour of temporary duty with the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing, serving as special assistant to the wing commander, Col. Francis S. Gabreski. Mahurin transferred to the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing on March 18, 1952, to command its 4th Fighter-Interceptor Group. On May 13, 1952, while strafing ground targets, his F-86 was shot down by North Korean ground fire; after crash-landing, breaking his arm, he was captured by enemy forces.
Mahurin spent 16 months in a North Korean prisoner of war (POW) camp. He endured torture that included intense questioning, solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, threats of execution, and brainwashing. While being questioned about claims of the United States' use of biological warfare, he admitted to dropping canisters of insects over North Korea. He was released in September 1953 and retracted his confession. His experience in brainwashing techniques provided the U.S. with invaluable material to develop survival training courses. Nevertheless, he and other returning POWs were condemned by Senator Richard Russell, Jr. and others because of their confessions. He was subsequently promoted to full colonel.