Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Dickey Chapelle on Iwo Jima

Dickey Chapelle in a 1942 selfie
Wisconsin State Historical Society
Image #64787

Dickey could barely control her excitement when the lieutenant agreed to take her to "the front." She would soon be taking photos of the most important, most violent battle of the Pacific War.

So she was puzzled when, 40 minutes later, he stopped the truck in a desolate, quiet area of volcanic ash ridges. This was the front? She climbed to the top of the empty ridge, took some photos, and left.

Marines climbing a ridge on Iwo Jima
Photo NOT taken by Dickey Chapelle
Accredited to Louis R. Lowry, USMC
Courtesy of Betty Michels McMahon

Back on Guam that evening, Dickey discussed her day with Barbara Finch, a more experienced war correspondent. Barbara was surprised to learn the front had been so quiet.

"Tell me every sound you heard," she said.

"A tank fired once," Dickey replied. "A man shouted...and there were wasps and I could hear the shutter of my camera click."

"There were what?" Barbara asked?

"Wasps, I guess. Insect noises anyhow."

Barbara smiled. "I don't think we'll file that the entire front was wholly inactive today, after all. And--I guess somebody will have to tell you., There is no insect life on Iwo Jima. It's a dead volcano."

"You mean, those weren't--"

"They were not wasps."

Dickey had come under direct Japanese sniper fire.

From "Dickey Chapelle: "As Far Forward as You'll Let Me" from Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater.

Friday, March 3, 2017

"I've told you the truth." The endurance of Singaporean Elizabeth Choy

Elizabeth Choy

Japanese guards ushered Elizabeth into a tiny cell, measuring 10 by 12 feet, so crowded with prisoners--most of them Chinese--there was no room to sit down. Everyone was kneeling or squatting. It was absolutely silent. No one was allowed to speak. Bugs crawled across the filthy floor.

Almost every day, Elizabeth was taken out of the cell, interrogated, beaten, and brutally tortured. The Kempeitai wanted her to admit she was anti-Japanese and pro-British. She always denied it. "I'm just wanting to help those in need, never mind what race," she would say. "If you should be in the same position, you are my friend, I would help you also."

Between beatings the Kempeitai questioned Elizabeth about other things...She denied all knowledge of these accusations. But each day, she was threatened with death if she didn't confess.

"I've told you the truth," she would reply. "I cannot tell you any more."

"Then we are going to execute you."
"All right," she would say. "If I have to die for telling the truth, I will die."

From "Elizabeth Choy: "Justice Will Prevail" from Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater

Monday, January 9, 2017

Diary entry relating a mysterious & remarkable Pacific Theater rescue

April 17, 1943,
Found 17 Army & Phil Nurses in a Jap Suppli depot. Overran the island and kill all Jap guards. Took all Nurses back on our P.T. Sea Gypsy all women were in very bad shape none weighed over 80 lbs. all were given up for gone but they all lived. We lost 3 men on this deal two of My very good friends Don & Ned Ypeppske. 
Bud 4/17/43 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Elizabeth MacDonald, Pearl Harbor reporter

REPORTER ELIZABETH MacDonald, on assignment in Honolulu, was in bed on the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941, listening to a radio broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Suddenly an announcer cut in. “The islands are under attack,” he said. “This is the real McCoy.” Elizabeth didn’t think it was the real anything; she was sure it was just another army maneuver. But a few minutes later, she received a call from her photographer at Scripps Howard News Service. He wasn’t sure which country was doing the bombing, Germany or Japan, but he did know that the US naval base at Pearl Harbor was under attack.

During the first half of their drive to Pearl Harbor, Elizabeth and the photographer didn’t notice anything unusual; it was a typically quiet Sunday morning. But when they got closer, Elizabeth saw something shocking. Reporting later, she described it as “a formation of black planes diving straight into the ocean off Pearl Harbor. The blue sky was punctured with anti-aircraft smoke puffs.” It was the second wave of Japanese bombers. Looking over her shoulder, Elizabeth suddenly saw “a rooftop fly into the air.”

She wrote that she now understood “that numb terror that all of London has known for months. It is the terror of not being able to do anything but fall on your stomach and hope the bomb won’t land on you.”

The Japanese had targeted the battleships in Pearl Harbor and the nearby airfields, not civilians. But because the Japanese destroyed most of the US planes before they could get airborne and do battle, frantic US military personnel on the ground tried to shoot the Japanese down with anti-aircraft guns. Some of their misfired ammunition destroyed buildings, killed 68 civilians, and wounded 35.

Elizabeth was not allowed near Pearl Harbor—the US military did not want female journalists on the front lines of military action—so she focused instead on the civilian casualties in the area and the desperate attempts to save them.

“The blood-soaked drivers returned with stories of streets ripped up, houses burned, twisted shrapnel and charred bodies of children,” she wrote. In the morgue, Elizabeth saw bodies “laid on slabs in the grotesque positions in which they had died. Fear contorted their faces.”

As Elizabeth watched firefighters bring victims inside—some of them with the acronym DOA (dead on arrival) marked on their foreheads—she wrote that life had suddenly become “blood and the fear of death—and death itself. . . . In the emergency room . . . doctors calmly continued to treat the victims of this new war. Interns were taping up windows to prevent them from crashing into the emergency area as bombs fell and the dead and wounded continued to arrive.”

When Elizabeth left the emergency room and returned to Honolulu, she saw that many familiar shops had burned down. After dusk, she described “the all-night horror of attack in the dark. Sirens shrieking, sharp, crackling police reports and the tension of a city wrapped in fear.”

Excerpts from "Elizabeth MacDonald: Pearl Harbor Reporter and OSS Agent" from Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Bataan-Corregidor nurses on their way home

US nurses, February 12, 1945, recently released from Santo Tomas internment camp
Photo credit: John Tewell

On July 2, 1942, the nurses were imprisoned in the Santo Tomas internment camp in Manila, where they tried, as much as possible, to help the other prisoners as they all struggled to survive on starvation rations.

Finally, on the evening of February 3, 1945, US troops liberated Santo Tomas. They came too late for many of the prisoners, who had by then died of ailments related to undernourishment. All of the Bataan-Corregidor nurses survived.

On Sunday, February 11, 1945, American lieutenant colonel Nola Forrest told the gaunt, exhausted, but elated nurses to be ready for departure on the following morning. She also mentioned that US intelligence officials, who realized these women had never been trained for combat nursing, were eager to debrief them. “You’re the first [US military] women to have served under actual combat conditions,” she said. “Whatever tips you have on how you survived could be of great help to others.”

All the nurses would be promoted to a higher military rank, Forrest said, and would receive the Presidential Citation and a Bronze Star.

Excerpt from "Denny Williams: Nurse under Fire" from Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater 

The Vocal Orchestra of the Palembang Internment Camp

The Colijn sisters, Dutch East Indies, 1939.
 Left to right: Antoinette, Helen, Alette. 
(Both Antoinette and Alette sang in the vocal orchestra).
Photo credit: Song of Survival by Helen Colijn.

Then Helen saw the word ORCHESTRA scratched in large letters in the dirt. Orchestra? She knew there were no real instruments in camp. Had she generated excitement for a performance played on crude homemade instruments?

They would all soon find out. A few minutes later, 30 women, each holding a piece of paper in one hand and a stool in the other, filed out of the main kitchen to face the audience. Children sat in front, while many of the adults, including Helen, stood.

Then Margaret Dryburgh spoke. “This evening,” she said, “we are asking you to listen to something quite new, we are sure: a choir of women’s voices trying to reproduce some of the well-known music usually given by an orchestra or a pianist.” The singers, she said, would sit on their stools just like orchestra performers, in order to conserve their energy.

Then she took her place among the singers. Norah Chambers stood in front of the performers. She raised her hands. The choir began to sing, in four-part harmony, Dvorak’s “Largo” from the New World Symphony.

(Sheet music copied by Norah Chambers for the vocal orchestra.)

“The music soared in its first rich and full crescendo,” Helen wrote later. “I felt a shiver go down my back. I thought I had never heard anything so beautiful before. The music didn’t sound precisely like an orchestra either, although it was close. . . . The music sounded ethereal, totally unreal in our sordid surroundings.”

“Huu, huu.” Helen heard a new sound, “the ugly raw voice of an angry guard,” coming up behind her. Surely Norah could hear it too. But she didn’t stop directing the music.

“Huu, huu.” The angry guard, his bayonet fixed on his rifle, passed through the standing audience. Soon Helen could only see the tip of his bayonet.

The music continued. The angry voice did not. Helen craned her neck: she could no longer see the bayonet. Had the guard put down his weapon? Was he also mesmerized by the beautiful music? Apparently so. “As the Largo moved toward a great, glorious crescendo,” Helen would write later, “the guard remained as still as we for the rest of the concert."

Excerpt from "Helen Colijn: Rising Above" from Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater. 

Click here for more about the vocal orchestra.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Jane Kendeigh lands on Iwo Jima

Jane Kendeigh attempts to comfort wounded marine William Wyckoff. 
Iwo Jima, March 6, 1945.
Credit: US Navy Bureau of Medicine & Surgery Library & Archives

"Although the plane was high enough to be clear of the US bombardment, it was certainly visible to the Japanese snipers below. Jane knew that Japanese anti-aircraft guns on the island had already shot down US carrier planes. One of those guns might still be in action. But an anti-aircraft gun wouldn’t be necessary to take them down; a single bullet hitting the fuel tank would cause the plane to explode. So Jane and the others were relieved when the plane finally swished past the highest point on the island—Mount Suribachi—and settled in for a landing.

Jane’s destination was beside the airstrip: a small sandbagged hospital tent. The roar of guns and artillery was so loud, Jane and Silas could barely hear one another speaking as they hurried inside. There they found doctors and male medics working frantically to save lives in rough conditions. The stretcher-bearers carried wounded men out of the tent and lined them up near the waiting plane. Jane spoke comfortingly to each man, if he was conscious, and checked him as he went aboard.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant DeWitt asked the medics in the tent about the previous plane, the one he’d missed. They told him it was due in very soon; the pilot had lost his way.

This delay meant that Jane Kendeigh had suddenly become front-page news: the first navy flight nurse to land on Iwo Jima, the first navy flight nurse to step onto a World War II Pacific battlefield. Lieutenant DeWitt’s photograph of her speaking to William was transmitted to the United States, where it appeared in nearly every newspaper in the nation."

Excerpt from "Jane Kendeigh: Navy Flight Nurse" from Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater.