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Interview on experiences in World War II

View at Kansas Memory

Creator: Weatherwax, John Thomas

Date: November 13, 2006

Level of Description: Item

Material Type: Manuscripts

Call Number: World War II Oral Histories Project

Unit ID: 211761

Biographical sketch: John Weatherwax was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas. His father and his Uncle Tom were both veterans of World War I; they had volunteered together as YMCA Volunteers because they were too old to get in otherwise. His father was a musician and he and his three brothers traveled to every state in the Union as well as Canada and Mexico performing. He was the second commissioned officer ever to direct an Army Band, the first being John Philip Sousa. As a young man in junior high school John Weatherwax and his sisters started singing in all the school's oratorios and also sang in his Dad's choir at the First Presbyterian Church in Wichita. He received an alternative appointment to West Point but was told that the other guy probably would qualify and he would just be wasting the price of a train ticket so he decided that he would go to Wichita State University. His Uncle John (his mother's brother) lived in New York and persuaded him to go to Kansas University and he would help pay for his college education. He talks about the hard times during the Depression and how he worked at S.H. Kress making sandwiches for ten or twelve cents an hour. In his junior year of college he decided he wanted to be a banker like his uncle so he changed his major to accounting and became a CPA. He tells how he and his wife eloped at the age of seventeen and were married a year and three days before Pearl Harbor. At his Dad's urging he joined the ROTC and was a four year member at KU, attaining the rank of captain and he describes what the summer camp was like at Fort Leavenworth. The Army let the seniors in ROTC graduate and then they got their orders. He and his wife rode the train to Fort Benning, Georgia where he was sent for officer's training. From Fort Benning he was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington where he was assigned to the 33rd Division, Company A. He tells of "section eighting" one of the recruits because he didn't know his left from his right and didn't have the mental capacity to learn what was necessary to obey orders on a moment's notice. Also, he describes the Army food and the weapons they were trained on. Civilians played a huge part in the war and he mentions how his mother went to work at Boeing Aircraft in Wichita as a guard and caught a spy. She received a nice letter form the Department of Defense congratulating her. John says that the day he got home (back to Lawrence) the war was over. He commented to his wife why there weren't many people out celebrating and she told him that they were now out of a job and didn't know what they would do. John gives his thoughts on respecting the President and what happened with General MacArthur and President Truman. When he first arrived at Fort Lewis they were training to go to Attu and Kiska in the Alaskan chain of islands but instead of going there they received orders to go to the Mojave Desert south of Sacramento to train to go to North Africa. He described the desert as "hotter than the hinges of hell" and said their two big problems were water and rattlesnakes. After ninety days in the desert their orders were again changed and now their mission was to the Southwest Pacific. He was glad they were being sent there instead of Europe because he didn't want to be cold, he had enough of that in Washington. After four days on ship they disembarked on Molokai, Hawaii which he describes as "a beautiful place" with lots of pineapple ranches, a horse ranch and large cattle ranch. He was on Molokai for three months and Oahu for three months where he attended a Ranger school and was a weapons instructor at Camp Shafter, Schofield Barracks. While still in the States he had bought a ukulele and learned to play it so he played with a couple of Hawaiian bands one night. They then shipped out to New Guinea and that is where he encountered his first combat. He was leading an I and R platoon (Intelligence and Reconnaissance) whose mission was to locate the Japanese and find out what they were doing. They were in the mountains above Finchhaven in dense jungle when they came upon three Japanese sitting around a fire cooking breakfast. His sergeant "riddled them", that was the first Japanese he saw. They went back to Finchhaven and then made the same maneuver to Hollandia, the capital of New Guinea. From there they shipped out to Morotai in the Moluccas chain where a fighter strip and a bomber strip were located, their mission being to wipe the Japanese off the island which he describes as being about 8 miles wide and twenty miles long. On Christmas Eve he ran across some buddies of his from K.U. and they had a meal of fried chicken, baked potatoes and sweet potatoes, got drunk together and he got back to his company about two o'clock in the morning. On Christmas morning they landed on the beach at Morotai and in the afternoon they went into a coconut grove and routed the Japanese. That was where he earned his Combat Infantry Badge which he considers his most important medal of the war. Their next objective was the Pulau River where he earned his second Purple Heart, being wounded by a grenade. Another story he tells is of a Sergeant Tuttle from Lawrence that was disabled and sent home, years later he joined the Kansas Highway Patrol. One night John was driving home from Kansas City and went into a ditch, just missing a concrete bridge abutment. Sergeant Tuttle pulled up and asked him if he was all right and then followed him for a ways, never checking his breath or anything. From Morotai they go to the Philippine Islands to Luzon and land in the Lingayen Gulf which was part of the Bataan Harbor. This was where John says we lost eight thousand of the ten thousand men that started the death march. He talks about the battle on Skyline Ridge where he lost twenty-two of his thirty or forty men, loosing his friend Sergeant Webber. He doesn't know how he got out of it. A guy came up behind him as he was in position with his rifle zeroed in on a bush where he knew a "Jap" was and said he was wanted on the radio. As he was halfway down the mountain he heard a shot and the young man who had replaced him was hit in the middle of the forehead. That was one of the times he asked "Why me, Lord?" "Why am I still alive, and that poor guy's dead?" Next he describes his toughest fight which was at Camp Five where his battalion commander had him take his platoon up the mountain to block a trail coming down out of Igaroti Land. It was about five o'clock in the afternoon and he wondered why they were being sent at that time of the day. It was very dense jungle and you couldn't see very far. They got along all right until about midnight but when the moon went down the Japanese mounted what they called a "bonzai attack" or suicide attack. He remembers this being the time he was positive he was going to die and made his peace with God because he said that they weren't going to surrender and there was no way out of there. However, when the sun came up they were all still alive, the score that night was 123 to zero. John then talks about having malaria 3 times and dengue fever and the Atabrine tablet they took every day to try to prevent malaria. Another incident he relates is about the best cup of coffee and the worst cup of coffee which he made with a little fire from wax paper while in his foxhole. In July of 1945 people with the top number of points could be rotated to the States for ninety days if they promised to come back for the invasion of Japan. He got on a freighter, one of the Liberty Ships, and remembers how memorable it was coming under the Golden Gate Bridge. While on board the ship they heard that the atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. On August 14th as the train headed out of Cheyenne, Wyoming they got the news that the Japanese had surrendered. He was awarded The Combat Infantry Badge, three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star. Other than being in the Reserve that was the end of his Army career. While in the Reserve he got orders to report to Korea but at the time he was in K.U. Medical Center with polio. Again he thanked God for not having to go where he feels he would have frozen, he hated cold weather. He describes what the Japanese did as "intolerable" and says that he wrote a letter to the Journal-World (Lawrence newspaper) regarding his feelings. One thing he wants to say to whoever might hear it in the future is: "for those who have fought for it, freedom has a taste the protected will never know."

Summary: Weatherwax enlisted in the Army (Infantry) in 1941 and served until 1946 in Company A, 33rd Infantry Division, 136th Infantry Regiment. Interviewed by Pattie Johnston on Nov 13, 2006, Weatherwax talked about military experiences in the Second World War. The 2005 Kansas Legislature passed a bill funding the WWII Veterans Oral History grant program. This transcript is from one of the community institutions receiving grants. The transcript of the interview is presented here; the original video copy of the interview is available through the Watkins Community Museum of History (Lawrence) and through the Kansas State Historical Society.

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Title (Main title): Interview on experiences in World War II

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019-14-05-06  Mini DV Tape (2) 

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