43rd Infantry Division Inducted into Federal Service 75 years Ago

News photo of 152nd Regiment officers as they prepare to leave for active duty training. My father, Capt. Wilber E. Bradt  is on the far left,  [Photo: Bangor Daily News, March 15, 1941, front page]
News photo of 152nd Regiment officers as they prepare to leave for active duty training. My father, Capt. Wilber E. Bradt is on the far left, [Photo: Bangor Daily News, March 15, 1941, front page]
The 43rd Infantry Division, with elements from four New England states, was inducted into Federal service on February 24, 1941, for one year of active duty. Europe was an Axis fortress, with only England and Russia free of German Nazi domination. The Germans would attack Russia in June and America would not enter the war until Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was attacked by the Japanese on December 7, 1941.

During early March, the men and trucks and howitzers of the 152nd Field Artillery Regiment left towns all over Maine for Camp Blanding, Florida.  The regiment would not return home until victory 4.5 years later. Capt. Wilber Bradt, my father, a 41-year old chemistry professor was on the staff of the regiment and thus helped organize the departures. He, with the regimental commander and others of the staff, would finally leave for Florida on March 15, 1941. Old movie footage shows the regiment’s departure from snowy Bangor, Maine, and their early days at Camp Blanding, Florida. (My dad appears briefly on the train platform in the background facing the camera at time 3:48 of the nine-minute clip.) In the photo above, taken just as they were departing Bangor, he is the officer on the left end.

By March 15, my mother, my sister and I had left Bangor, Maine, and were settled into an apartment on West 73rd Street in New York City. Thus, just 75 years ago, began the sagas of our World War II experiences, that of Wilber with the army in the Pacific Theater and that of my mother, Norma, in New York City.

My trilogy, Wilber’s War: An American Family’s Journey through World War II, tells the whole story. It has been reduced in price from $125 to $79 and readers of this blog can get it for 25% less than that ($59.25 plus shipping). Use discount code BLOGWW at www.wilberswar.com. It’s a most touching story of jungle combat, intense love, and human frailty. Please consider buying it and telling your friends about it.

Wilber’s 116th birthday, tomorrow, Feb. 1

Wilber, the protagonist of Wilber’s War, was born on Feb. 1, 1900. Tomorrow will be his 116th birthday, hard to believe. Here is a photo taken of him with his grandmother and mother. Decades later, his mother described his birth in a letter to my sister, Abigail. It is a nice bit of insight into life in those years.  Here it is in full except for bits at the beginning and end:

Sunday P.M. Jan. 29, ‘61

Dear Abigail

. . . . . Sixty one years ago at this date, I was expecting Hale’s father [Wilber]. I hope I shall not bore you. We were living on Hunter Ave. in Bloomington on Friday, Jan. 27, 1900. On that day, I had trouble with the heating stove. We were burning coke and using Cannel(?) coal for kindling, but I couldn’t keep the fire going. When Hale [her husband] came home from school, I was sitting behind the stove and there was no fire. He was impatient and said I should be able to keep the fire going when he built it. He had been gone all day as usual on school days. [He was a teacher at the High School.] Took lunch from home. No school lunches those days.

When he rebuilt the fire he found the stove clogged with ashes and coke; it needs plenty of “draft” to keep it burning. Hale came to me and put his arms about me and said he was a beast to scold me. But he spoke too late. My first pain had begun. Neither of us knew anything about childbirth and were so old we were ashamed to ask any questions. I was 24 and Hale was 28.

When the fire was going, Hale had me go to bed and he went to see a doctor a fellow teacher had recommended and to send a telegram to his mother. She had promised to come to us. [Before] Hale left me, he told me I must stay in bed until he returned and I promised I would. There were not telephones near us and it took Hale some time to walk 12 blocks down to the doctor’s and the telegraph office, then back. While he was gone, I heard the fire engine bell come somewhere near; then men’s voices in excitement, and a cow bawling. Then chopping. I heard later that a barn on the opposite corner from us had burned. The owner couldn’t be located and he had t he barn locked, and he was carrying the key. The chopping was to release the cow, but she died. All that time, I stayed in bed where I couldn’t see a thing and no one came near.

I was happy to have Hale come. The fire had frightened him until he was near enough to see it. Just a short time before this, he had been vaccinated and it had “taken.” His arm was badly swollen and painful. Twenty-four hours later, we had an answer from Hale’s mother. She would come soon. I remember how both of us cried. Help was on the way!

Hale stayed with me during the next few days. I don’t remember when Mother came. I was conscious only part of the time, but I knew another doctor was called. (It was Dr. Ernest Holland’s father.) I remember thinking I must be “pretty bad” to have two doctors. I think I thought [sic] I might be going to die and I recalled that Hale’s Sunday pants had a rip in the stride. I thought “He will want to wear them to the funeral and he will find them ripped. Then he will marry some one who keeps the rips mended and he will love her better than he does me.

The days wore along, until the next Thursday, Feb. 1st. Wilber was born at 3:20 P.M. I had never seen a newborn baby. My bed had been moved into the living room by the fire and I saw Mother shaking and spanking and blowing her breath into the mouth of six lbs. of baby whose head was elongated, his skin was almost black. I didn’t know until later that the long labor had nearly taken the child’s life. I like to think Mother saved him.

Hale said, when he went back to school, there was always “Convocation” each morning, with the six H.S. teachers sitting on the platform. When he took his place all the B.H.S. [Bloomington High School] students cheered him and he felt like crying.

Hale’s college chum at Uni. of Neb[raska] was Wilber Elmore. At the time of Wilber’s birth, Mr. Elmore was a Baptist Missionary in India. While we were trying to decide on a fitting name for our baby, we had a letter from him. Hale said, “Let’s name the baby for him”, so we did. Years later, Wilber wrote to his father that Mr. Elmore was in N.Y. City. I am not sure as to whether they ever met. . . . .

Affectionately,

Elizabeth Bradt

Wilber’s War price reduced

The retail price for Wilber’s War, the hardcover trilogy in a slipcase, has been reduced from $125 to $79. Persons reading this post can get an additional 25% discount by using code FFWW at http://www.wilberswar.com . Libraries and bookstores get a 43% discount (the codes are on the website). Perhaps this way a few more people can buy and enjoy Wilber’s War. Ebooks are available at lesser prices but they are not nearly as pretty as the hardcover books.

My marketing adventures continue . . . !

My Annapolis trip

Well, I am back from Annapolis, MD. I gave talks at Heritage Harbour  where my sister Valerie lives and at The Annapolis Bookstore. Both were well attended (about 30 and 15 persons respectively) with very attentive interested listeners. Five copies of the trilogy were sold and I came home with about half as much cash as the trip cost me, but I do not regret that rewarding trip one bit. Val and her boys Scott and Gary were most supportive and helpful.

Heading off to Annapolis, MD

Wednesday, I am off to Annapolis, Maryland, where I will give two talks and will sign books on Thursday, January 14, about my father’s odyssey through the Pacific in World War II and about my recently published trilogy about it: Wilber’s War, An American Family’s Journey through World War II. I welcome all.  Light refreshments will be provided. The trilogy (three books in a slipcase) will be sold at both events and I will sign them if you wish. It will be a festive family event because my sister Valerie and her sons live in Annapolis and will be there. Valerie is a principal player in Wilber’s War.

The two talks are at:

Heritage Harbour Community Lodge, 959 River Strand Loop, Annapolis. 10 AM, Thursday, January 14.

The Annapolis Bookstore, 35 Maryland Ave. Annapolis, 7 PM, Thursday, January 14.

Do come to hear about Wilber’s odyssey, the impact on his family, and about the travails of someone publishing his own book.

Wilber’s grave in Arlington Cemetery

My dad, Wilber, was buried in Arlington Cemetery on a dark drizzly December afternoon of 1945. He died by his own hand, of suicide, only six weeks after returning home from a three-year deployment in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He had earned five medals and suffered two wounds during three phases of combat. There was a simple service in the cemetery chapel and a military burial, complete with a rifle salute and the ceremonial folding of the burial flag which was given to my mother.

Wilber's gravestone, rear view. Credit: Bart Hoskins.
Wilber’s gravestone, rear view. Credit: Bart Hoskins.

My son-in-law, now on temporary duty with the EPA in Washington, D.C., kindly took photographs of the gravesite and its surroundings for me. They brought back the memories of that sad day; I was just four days shy of my 15th birthday. My sister Valerie, then 14, refused to come. We were only a small group of friends and family. Wilber’s two brothers were there as was General Joseph Cleland with whom my dad had served in the Philippines. He was Norma’s escort.

A burial site was reserved for Norma next to Wilber but her eligibility for burial there ceased when she remarried. In her grief, she gave the wrong date, Feb. 2, 1900, for Wilber’s birth and that ended up on his gravestone. He was born on Feb. 1, 1900, but was always kidded about being born the day before Groundhog Day so there was often confusion about the date. Some years later, after the marble had been degraded by atmospheric pollutants, the stone was replaced with a new one that had the correct date.

Wilber's grave looking toward Porter Drive, showing red fire hydrant at left edge of tree.
Wilber’s grave looking toward Porter Drive, showing (barely if enlarged) the top of the red fire hydrant at left edge of the tree.

If you are visiting Arlington Cemetery, Wilber’s grave can be found in Section 10, number 10-10599RH. Proceed east on Eisenhower Drive to Section 10, turn right onto Porter Drive. At the red fire hydrant turn right again onto the grass and count rows heading straight for the tree in or at row 4. Keep going; Wilber’s grave is in row 6. The stone is labeled 10-10599RH.

This brings to mind, Wilber’s letter about the memorial service at Munda Cemetery in the Solomon Islands on Armistice Day 1943; see my previous blog on Veterans Day. For him, it was “so, so sad” because three of his junior officers were there in the cemetery. It seems now that Wilber was describing his own burial, which took place two short years later. Today, it is we living who are “so, so sad.”

Veterans Day op-ed

The Daily Caller published my op-ed recalling Veterans Day 1943. Wilber, had lost three forward observers (young lieutenants who spotted artillery fires from the front lines) in the previous three months of fighting in the Solomon Islands. On Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, the division gathered at Munda cemetery for a memorial service. The day before, he wrote to my mother:

Munda Cemetery, New Georgia July 8, 1944, a year after the battle began. These graves were moved to the National Cemetery in the Philippines or to the USA after the war. [Photo: U. S. Army Signal Corps, SC 526385]
Munda Cemetery, New Georgia July 8, 1944, a year after the battle began. These graves were moved to the National Cemetery in the Philippines or to the USA after the war. [Photo: U. S. Army Signal Corps, SC 526385]

“The Armistice Day will be a religious service for our dead who are in this island. It will be a sad Armistice for us for Lieutenants Payne and Malone and Heidelberger will be there in the cemetery from the 169th. However each was doing a grand job when his time came.”

A few days later he described the service to my sister: “We attended a religious and military memorial service on Armistice Day in honor of our dead comrades. We stood at salute while the firing squad fired a volley for each battalion or regiment that had one or more men killed. For us the speaker said ‘For 1st Lt —, the first to fall in the 169th, and his brave comrades that followed.’ Then the volley was fired. It was a beautiful spot that had been made into a cemetery and the service was lovely but so, so sad. I hope too many more don’t ‘follow’ in the next year.”

Thus passed Veterans Day in 1943.

Halloween during war

On halloween, 1943, my father wrote from the Solomon Islands to the wife of one of his artillery 2316 169FA Officers, chapel Ondongaofficers, Dixwell Goff, of Rhode Island, giving him great praise. He wrote: “I saw him save scores of lives for our infantry by placing artillery fire exactly where the Japs were sure we couldn’t put it. I watched him in a critical time adjust our artillery fire so close in to our troops that shell fragments fell all around those of us fifty yards farther back than Dixwell. That time he came back with that big grin and his eyes sparkling because he knew he had done a real Goff job.”  Two months later, the battalion officers were photographed outside their jungle chapel. On this photo our father’s face was circled in crayon by my young sister Valerie, and Goff is the second man to the right, with mustache.

 

 

Off to war today!

Wilber’s last letter before sailing off to war,  San Francisco Harbor, Oct. 1, 1942,

“Hello Beloved [Norma] — Letter No. 2 will be very short. I just want to say again that I love you more than anything else in the world. I’ll come back to you just as soon as possible.

“You know of course not to say anything about your guesses of the movements of the 43d in your letters. Censorship is on.

“Dear Darling Mate of Mine you will be in my arms so many times in spirit even if not in fact. You must not feel alone. I will be beside you all the time. You and Hale and Valerie and I will do many happy things together as soon as we can. Until then My Heart, My Interest, My Love is with all of you until I come back. Please be kind and gentle and considerate to each other so my wonderful home won’t be spoiled. It’s my family, you know.…”

Four days Before Sailing off to World War II

Here is a glimpse of Wilber’s thoughts four days before sailing from San Francisco to help stem the Japanese advances toward Australia after the Pearl Harbor attack. He was at Fort Ord, California. His artillery battalion was rushing to get ready for the long voyage to the Southwest Pacific. He writes to his wife, Norma,

“Sept. 27, 1942 10:15 P.M. — … I have made out “Safe arrival cards” for you …. These cards are held at this Post until our unit reports by wire that we have arrived safely less whoever fell off the boat. They don’t stop the boat for one man overboard, so if I slip I’ll grab a couple to go with me. My orderly is instructed that if I go overboard to yell, “Three men overboard.” Some of my “sarcastic” friends say the splash would justify it anyway. [Wilber was on the heavy side.]

“My baggage and roll goes [sic] out today so I’ll sleep in my size 48 overcoat.… — Your man & Husband, Wilber”

Wilber’s gallows humor regarding men falling overboard was not so funny in reality, but it perhaps helped preserve his and his correspondents’ sanity in those rather perilous circumstances.