WWII thoughts occasioned by luncheon conversation at Holiday Estates, Rapid City with Jim Kerr.
Jim, my resident neighbor, after several luncheons revealed that he joined the Army Air Force to be a pilot. He washed out and became an ammuniton loader for the famous P-38 twin-fuselage twin-enigine bomber/fighter which could fly 440 mph, a fast speed for the time. In short order, he was sent to one of the Pacific islands to practice his skill as a loader. He relates that he moved from island to island never learning their names but one.
  • He missed meeting Charles Lindbergh by one day upon arrival. Lindbergh was named a colonel. Lindy advised pilots how to nurse more miles out of each gallon of gasoline. Eventually, the P-38 gave way overnight to the mighty P-51 fighter, an effective esccort to the recently supplied B-29 Super Fortress.

  • On Tinian island (now conquered), Jim noticed an unusual amount of security around a newly arrived B-29. He continued to load his aircraft. Only later did he learn the plane was the Enola Gay. No! He never heard President Truman make his radio announcement that Hiroshima was struck with an atomic bomb. From Tinnian Jim was transferred to Guam. Brother Tom arrived after his duty in Tokyo Bay and shore leave in Tokyo proper. Jim’s new duty on Guam was to load the B-29s with supplies for the military based in Japan. Guam, as Tom narrated, was infested with Japanese soldiers unwilling to surrender or ignorant that the treaty ending hostilities was signed.

  • Coming out of their caves the Japanese soldiers would fire on the airfield with small arms and small rockets fired by striking the base of the missle on the thigh. (This would be the counterpart of the G.I. missle fired from the nozzel of a rifle.) The blast came as Jim was half in the bombloading compartment and half outside fully exposed to the full blast when the missle struck the apron. Jim’s left kneecap was destroyed. Shrapnel struck his legs and thighs. Marines wiped out the shooters before they could reach the safety of the almighty caves.

  • Jim never left the Guam hospital from that day until the day he was loaded onto a ship heading for the United States. During some part of Jim’s stay in the hospital Brother Tom arrived and eventually sorted mail for Jim Kerr, United States Army, Base hospital. A final note: Jim Kerr’s injury has not been covered under “WOUNDED IN ACTION” designation. Jim’s wound came after the peace treaty was signed in Tokyo Bay, an action witnessed by Brother Tom.

    Jim Kerr wore for the first time his baseball hat yesterday here in the dining room. He was an honor vet to Washington D.C.. He is a VFW and Am Legion member. As stated before, he was wounded on Guam by a Japenese soldier after the peace treaty was signed. New info: he remained in the hospital on Guam in the hospital for several months (as opposed to being shipped to Calif for treatment. Slight irony. My brother was on Guam within Jim’s span having arrived after the signing on the Big Mo. Brother was assigned to the post office.
  • Upon arrival and on duty in the post office, three marines with rifles entered and asked, “Did you see some Japs come through here?” With that the marines ran into the bush with the intent to capture the ill informed foe. Jim was bed ridden and had no recollection of the post office on Guam. Brother had served on the USN Piedmont (post office), a floating mechanical support repair shop of great size,

A Chicago Boyhood (10-10-12)

Thoughts become helter skelter as vague fears mingle with little grounded national events.  Luckily, the imagination sorts things out.

The alert came over the radio.  Announcements seemed to becoming one after another. “Sabotuers Have Ears,” “Don’t waste fat?”  “Don’t waste gasoline?  Don’t waste! (fill in the blank) To my ten year old mind these messages had a real sense of urgency.  Alfred Hitchcock’s film “Sabotage” did the trick.

Was the iceman an enemy looking for targets to drop on Berlin?  Were the civilian boaters on Lake Michigan on their way to a submerged submarine?  Would an airplane from the local airport bomb the local war production factory?  Needless to say, my imagination focused on these supposed activities.

But the one that almost hit home read something like this. “There will be a bomb dropping exercise this Sunday between 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM in the immediate area!  Civilians are cautioned to stay indoors to avoid being targeted.  Expect to see simulated aircraft flying  overhead!”

Naturally, I made certain that after Sunday dinner I would be outdoors looking for Japanese or Nazi aircraft.  Amazingly, everyone in town heeded the alert and the stated warning. I was alone walking down the alley.  I was alone as I passed the milk store?  I was alone as I approached the Sherlock grade school.  Just then, I heard the drone of an aircraft.  And, I was certain the pilot spied me.  I didn’t know if I should walk naturally.

Strangely, the Palace Theater’s showing crowd were nowhere to be seen . Curtain time was 1:00 PM.  Eerie!  Now I was certain the pilot or his observer spotted me.  He banked his airplane to my left, dipped and proceeded to make a second pass. The war came to my town.  I was destined to be bombed.  No doubt about it.   Should I run for it?  Find shelter?  Should I fall flat on the ground?  Should I pound on a neighbor’s door, “Shouting  we’re going to be bombed! To the basement!  Hurry!”   Too late.

The drone of his engine to a whisper.  He was coasting toward me.  Would there be Stuka whistles screaming?  There is no escape?  Lo, I could only await for my fate.

There, I saw the co-pilot door open.   A final dip of the right wing.  I saw the “bomb” released.  I saw its bright sheeting.  I saw its chunky bag-like shape.  I froze. Then lofting the final few yards, there,  before me it hit.  A kind of soft thud.   The chuck container exploded and spread its contents in a wide circle on the blackness of the street.  A  fine speck-like powder mixing with the sun’s rays. Having survived the “BLAST,” I felt the same kind of elation when learning, as I sat hear the radio, that “Terry of the Pirates escaped the clutches of a sinister foe.”

There was no damage to the street.  The powder had all the appearances of my mother’s cooking flour.  Moving along to the Palace Theatre, I wondered if the bomber pilot the single engine airplane hit any other ”target.”  Was I the only casualty?  I wonder to this day.  Oh yes, the film that Sunday afternoon featured a new actor named Gregory Peck as a Russian patriot fighting German tanks. His role was make believe too!

Army Veteran Recalls World War “Salvage” Bridges along Mississippi (10-20-12)

The Remagen Bridge which spanned the Rhine River was the only bridge not destroyed by retreating German troops to their homeland.  Several soldiers from Rapid City remember going across this bridge as the Battle of the Bulge moved into Germany, including Peter Dahlberg, Paul Priest, Warren Fagerland, and Bob Drew.  Crossing the bridge in the dark of night, they would grasp the pack of the person in front to find a footing.

After reading about this World War II battle once more, former soldier Bob Hlavin of Chicago (once of Rapid City) remembered youthful experiences with bridges along the Mississippi River near Chicago:

The French engineers immediately after the Great War re-worked German “blow-up bridge” defense “crevices” for TNT. Thus, when the bridge wiring and TNT [that was] planted was sparked, only one section blew, resulting in a mere hole in the flooring/deck at the midway point.  Army engineers quickly covered the breach. Ironically, prior to WWII, dated (perhaps obsolete) railroad bridges spanning the Mississippi River were dismantled and sold to Chicago area locales for one dollar.

Such a bridge was reconstructed in my home town. I vividly recall the planking that was in place or not ”in place.” The planks would “jump” as auto and trucks would pass over them. Failed planks left gaps. According to the article, a tank destroyer’s weight was too much for the “patch”. Eventually, the vehicle, which was hanging on end, went on its way.

Another local bridge, near a place of employment as late as 1970, caught fire and was destroyed.  As a passenger in my father’s car, I experienced thrill after thrill listening to the loose railroad bridge planks “dance.” Dad often times moved right or left to miss a lesser void measured in inches.

The old Mississippi bridges were in operation during WWII, each spanning one of the two largest rail yards in the world. Often times I watched locomotives with 30, 40, 50 freight cars shuttling through these same “yards” tons and tons of war materials destined for battle zones.  I would say our town got its dollar’s worth with the purchase of the Mississippi River railroad bridge.

My Visit to  Bob Hope Memorial in San Diego (2-28-14)

Note: Bob Hlavin spent his boyhood in Chicago during World War II and afterwards joined the US Army.  For a period he lived in Rapid City, South Dakota, where he was a regular at the Black Hills Veterans Writing Group. He’s back in Chicago now, but recently visited the Bob Hope Memorial in San Diego, California, in the shadow of US Navy ships.

I was pleased and surprised to discover the Bob Hope salute to his broadcasts and visits to military bases.  I found the “exhibit” by chance.  It’s the third of three buildings (attractive) set in an arc to meet the needs of travelers.  Well, Bob’s mike was heard among the service men (statues) depicting the various branches of the service.

I wanted to study Bob as he delivered his jokes one after another with raucous applause and laughter mixed in. Suddenly, I realized I was one of the “statues” servicemen at bases from around the world.  I was jarred into reality.  I STOOD in the center of the group!

Blackouts during WWII Chicago Boyhood (10-18-12)

During World War II, rural children might remember long summer days by the brook–or skipping across flower-filled meadows, perhaps lying in the lush grass to watch clouds pass by.   But those in big cities probably experienced the terror of blackouts as families scrambled to secure their homes and neighborhoods against possible enemy bombs.

Army veteran and guest author Bob Hlavin can’t forget the heightened impressions of blackouts during his Chicago boyhood, where he now resides again after living in the Black Hills:

BLACKOUT ALERT.  Every movie goer in town had at one time or another a newsreel vividly showing large sections of London, England, in flames after continuous aircraft bombing raids by the German air force. Audiences seeing the footage sat dumbfounded by the scale and severity resulting from mass numbers of the German air fleet.  With the declaration of war with the Axis, Chicago area cities and towns were instructed to hold a blackout drill.

Accordingly, in 1942, the United States seemed to be vulnerable to arial attack.  Sirens would sound. Civil Defense Wardens would direct automobile drivers to pull over to the curb. Shades were drawn.  Blinds folded downward.  As a Cub Scout, I felt I should share my authority on blackout requirements with Mother. She, in turn, shared her authority over me.  “Yes, you can stay on the front porch stoop. You cannot roam the street in front of our house.”

Childhood seemed to me to be a host of restrictions.  These restrictons, as in this case, became insufferable.  Why should  I stay in a six by six foot area when my older brother by three years could move about as he pleased.  Oh, how the tension built throughout the late afternoon of that most exciting day.  Adults were speculating as to what surprises the Civil Defense intended to “spring” on we civilians during the exercise.

Would floodlights search for enemy planes?  Would violators of the window blackout  be dragged out of the comfort of their living room and tossed in jail?  Would those vehicles attempting to move about in the total darkness crash into each other?  Would sirens announce the air raid?  Will we civilians outside at the time of the alert be guided to designated safe shelter?  Who would be the air raid captain for our block?  Were we expected to put pails of sand on porches?

Within a couple of hours after sunset, moving  police vehicles  sounded off throughout the town. Mr. Neighbor, Mr. Backscratcher stood in the center of the street wearing a white helmet.  He was the Air Raid Warden!  His whistle never stopped blowing.  Leaving my assigned front  porch viewing area, I ran to the street curb boarding the two land parkway. I was next to Mr. Neighbor yelling, “Pull your car to the curb!  Pull your car to the curb!  Now!”

I felt sympathy for our neighbor.  Drivers just wouldn’t stop. Why not?   After all, he was doing an important job.  He was looking out for our safety.  Ultimately after much;forceful language and threats of imprisonment, the entire curb area in front of the line of houses was occupied. Surprisingly, out of the complete darkness dozens more autos came to a stop right smack dab in the middle of the two lane roadway. These late arrivals were jammed bumper to bumper.

They were ordered to stay put.  Well, out of chaos came chatter. Folks in the automobiles were excitedly talking to earth to other.  In fact they were merry!  And, because I was now in the middle of the street among  many stalled automobiles, I could see the outlines of the passengers in fond embrace much like those couples I recalled seeing in the motion pictures on Sunday afternoons, adult fare.  Egads, couples were “necking!”  Unseen, I blushed unseen blushes. Back I retreated to deserted viewing station on our front stoop.  Mother, seemingly unaware of my roaming, announced, “Ice cream on the table!! Come and get it!”

Oh yes, Mother had some words about the suitability of Mr. Neighbor as a fit person to hold such an important position.That was the only blackout alert we had throughout World War II.  As for Mr. Neighbor, not too long after the alert he moved out of the neighborhood or was drafted.  I don’t know which.   One last bit relative to all lights out at our residence:  we had an icebox.  Ice boxes didn’t come with a light bulb back then.  Somehow an awful lot of babies were conceived in the United States during the war years.

Response to Granddaughter’s West Point Classroom “Problem”

Problem presented thus: Your squad is on patrol.  Five soldiers are in a straight line.  The second man in the straight line is shot with a leg wound by a hidden sniper or by a member of an ambush squad of similar make-up.  How do you react to the situation?  How do you deploy your able force of four?

The instructor may designate one cadet/soldier to do all the thinking/action reaction or ask five participants of the squad for input.  What is positive or negative in the action taken either by single re-actor or group.  In the critique the instructor may point out that the area around the compass defense indicates that the squad has no idea where the “shot” came from.

Below is my reaction to the “problem” sent by Granddaughter Grace from West Point–obviously a first-week cadet indoctrination study exercise.  My son Robert, an 82 Airborne veteran with a stint in Korea on the DMZ, cites his reaction to the same exercise: “Check ammo put every one on full auto and charge in one direction breaking the ambush.  We practiced this all the time.   Maybe in our modern army you would call for support.”

My summary is based on my Advanced Infantry training, and, in fact, very similar “problems” to my training in Leadership School. One could say it was advance, advanced basic training for “aspiring” NCOs.  Leadership School was phased out shortly after my cycle passed through at Fort Ord, California.  I could cite three exercises in detail if requested relating to a party of four, a party of six, and the third for a company in a fixed position moving into an assault mode.

Very interesting sketch of a squad level disposition of troopers:  Injured soldier, surrounded, with comrades in a defensive position around the “compass.”  This a “problem” presented to the participants in the squad.  In fact, this may be the solution to the issue.

Veterans Day Helped Chicago Man Sort Out Family Memories (11-17-12)

Veterans Day invokes memories of family members who served in the military.  All of the conflicts large or small incurred loss of life for family and friends. After cessations of conflict and the return of surviving comrades, oftentimes, at parting home addresses are exchanged with the promise to meet annually to share stories, to tell of family, and, sadly to call a roll call of those who have departed. pm 13 May 1957 was invited by my father-in-law, Frank Sima, 33rd Illinois Engineers, to join him for the monthly meeting of the local American Legion Hall.

Just as we approached the hall, over the radio an announcement was made that Gary Cooper passed away death by cancer. We were saddened by the great actor’s passing. Sergeant York, Wings, Dr. Wessel, Vera Cruz, Billy Mitchell, to mention a few, pictured Cooper in a wide variety of military roles. Alvin York’s experiences struck a chord with Frank Sima.  He too served in France under fire.  One memorable event involved the construction of an outdoor water reservoir involving planting posts in such a way that stretched canvas would support the weight of holding water.  The construction crew and tanker crews took pride in the completion of their task.

Just then a German Folker circled the reservoir–giving the men time to run for cover–circled a second time and proceeded to drop a bomb for a direct hit sending a sprout of water into the sky and a surge along the ground.  His greatest sorrow involved the construction of cemetery crosses for the graves of those who made the greatest sacrifice.  And,  with the passage of few more years, Frank Sima, without telling me where we were going, drove downtown Chicago, and, in particular to the La Salle Hotel situated within the Loop.

Still in the dark as to what was what, we made our way to a maze of mini-meeting rooms. The room we enter held one folding table and six folding chairs. To this day, I have never been in meeting room so small.  Frank shook hand with two men. Early arrivals. I was introduced as a veteran, serving in post World War II in occupied Germany.  The meeting was called to order by the president.  The secretary read the minutes of the last meeting a year earlier.

Those who could not attend this year were named.  The president said, “New business.  We three are last survivors of our club, The Last Man’s Club.  I declare this to be the final meeting of this Last Man’s Club.  The bottle of bourbon  on the table will go the last survivor of we three.  Before we leave. One last toast. Would our guest, Robert Hlavin, join us in honoring our dead comrades?”  Together we raised our glasses.  Silently, we left the very, very, small room in the La Salle Hotel.

  • You’re just 10 years old and living in a big city like Chicago.  But the long, long days of boyhood suddenly came to an end for Bob Hlavin when World War II broke out.

Bob died July 23, 2015.  His obit reads as follows:

Robert Francis Hlavin, Chicago-Area Teacher, Hemingway Playwright, Dies at 83

Robert Francis Hlavin, a teacher and playwright who specialized in biographical dramatic works, many focused on writer Ernest Hemingway and produced at college venues and readers’ theatres in the Chicago area, died on July 23 in Rockford, Illinois. He was 83.

Hlavin began his career as a teacher of English at Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Illinois in the 1950s. He joined Triton College in River Grove, Illinois as an instructor in English in 1964, the year the college first opened, and helped establish the ``All Nations Poetry Contest’’ there. He retired in 1992 to further pursue his interests as a playwright and as an independent Hemingway scholar.

His works included dramatic renderings of Hemingway’s stories as well as fictionalized tales of the author. He was given the Certificate of Merit Award by the Chicago International Film Festival for his docudrama ``Hemingway’s Michigan Adventure.’’ Hlavin’s play, ``Mary’s Story,’’ staged in the 1980s and again in revised form in 1998, was based on his interviews with Mary Hemingway and her book "How it Was.’’ In 1989, his suite of Hemingway plays was accepted by the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library and the U.S. Library of Congress for their Hemingway collections. Hlavin’s other subjects included Elinor Smith, the pioneering American aviator; John MacVane, World War II broadcaster; and actress Vivien Leigh.

His correspondence with writers ranging from Nelson Algren to Phil Caputo, Hlavin’s former student and author of ``Rumors of War,’’ provided further inspiration for short plays about the literary life.

Born in Cicero, Illinois to parents of Czech ancestry – his father was a butcher and his mother a housewife -- Hlavin was one of four brothers. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from DePaul University, as well as a master’s in Education.

In 1953, after he completed his bachelor’s degree, he joined the U.S. army, serving in Germany, achieving Corporal Rank of Specialist Third Class, honorably discharged from active duty in 1955.

He is survived by his wife of 20 years, Therese Hlavin, of Rockford, Illinois; his brother Joseph Hlavin, of Western Springs, Illinois; his children, Laura Kaufman, of Libertyville, Alice Demet, Catherine Demet, Robert E. Hlavin, all of Lake Forest, Juliann Seaton, of Elmhurst, Mary Johnson, of Grayslake; a stepdaughter, LaRaie Zimm of Berwyn; 15 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

He will be buried at a private military ceremony at the Black Hills National Cemetery in Sturgis, South Dakota.  If desired, memorials in his name may be given to the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.