December 6, 2000: Features


As the Princeton Class of 1942 gathered in Alexander Hall for its initial orientation meeting, the media were reporting international tensions of increasingly grave concern. As senior year began, the situation had not improved substantially. The death of classmate Bud Wade in the sinking of the Reuben James on October 31, 1941, brought the war close to home, but campus life went on with no discernible changes for the next five weeks.


With Pearl Harbor came the virtual certainty that those who were physically able would be called to service. By commencement time approximately 40 percent of the members of the class had entered into reserve programs leading either to commissions on graduation or to officer training. Others volunteered for induction or were called in the draft. Of those who began their senior year, 17 were allowed to accelerate their graduation and 32 received War Certificates as evidence of withdrawal in good standing to enter the service. The great majority, however, remained until graduation - but on borrowed time.

Approximately five-sixths of the class served in some capacity, from Adak to Auckland, from Bastogne to Bougainville, from Casablanca to Chungking, from Oran to Okinawa. Some were exposed to grave danger while others had important posts in which they were not close to combat. Twenty-five classmates gave their lives. Many others were wounded. Two classmates received the service's second highest decoration (Distinguished Service Cross; Navy Cross). There were quite a few Silver Stars and even more Bronze Star Medals, along with many Purple Hearts. Seven classmates became prisoners of war.

The following are excerpts from just a few of their remarkable stories.


Henry S. Austin, Jr.

Henry S. Austin, Jr. spent more than three years in the Navy as a pilot, serving on the aircraft carriers USS Hancock and USS Ticonderoga and receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Air Medals. On January 21, 1945, the Ticonderoga was attacked.

This fateful day will never die in the memories of a gallant ship's crew and marks the beginning of the last chapter of this log of the cruise on the "Big T." After early noon chow, I repaired to the ready room to prepare for the hop. At about 12:45, without any warning, every A.A. battery of every ship in the fleet opened up. As most of us rushed out to see what it was all about, GQ sounded so most of us returned to our stations in the ready room. About one full minute after it happened it was over. The ready room gave a quick compulsive heave and the firing stopped as quickly as it had begun. We all knew that something we had become firmly convinced would never happen had just happened: the "Big T" had been hit.

As we later learned, three kamikazes had attacked us at once. Why there was no warning from the radar we didn't yet know, but the ship never got to GQ before we were hit, and, as a result, the damage had more far-reaching effects than would otherwise have been the case. . . . The immediate destruction from this explosion was terrific. Men were working on the aircraft on the hangar deck and were burned to death immediately.

Taken completely by surprise, the men available after the explosion did a job nothing short of miraculous in controlling and eventually extinguishing the fires on both decks. Barely recovering from the effects of this first blow, we fought off two more attempts to hit us, and then, only 40 minutes after the first, a second one got us, forward and high on the island. . . . it was here that Commander Miller was killed. The executive, Commander Burch, had his foot badly shot up, but suffered no other major injuries. The captain had his right arm smashed and his neck badly cut. He lay on the deck refusing aid until the cases requiring immediate attention were taken care of. He was unable to take visual control of his ship, but kept well informed of the developments and remained on the bridge until he lost strength and was forcefully removed by the doctors. . . . The dead were buried at sea the following day. The ceremony took a long time. There were many dead, I believe about 150.


Gordon Bent

Gordon Bent was commissioned as a second lieutenant of field artillery at the ROTC ceremony during 1942 commencement. After volunteering for combat duty, he served in Africa and Italy, earned a Silver Star, and was separated as a captain in November 1945. One of his most memorable moments came near the end of the war.

One of the significant prizes of victory that came to us was the surrender of Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering. Since Hitler's suicide, he was the titular head of Germany and its defeated army. . . . At the time, Goering was among the missing and was assumed to be hiding in the alpine foothills, which he was. Two days after the official VE-Day, a smartly dressed German major came into the 36th Division area, which adjoined our headquarters in Kufstein. The major announced that he was Goering's aide-de-camp and was prepared to offer his commander's unconditional surrender. Although unexpected, the offer was accepted with alacrity.

A friend, Chuck Herbison, received orders to fly his aircraft to the division field, and I eagerly joined him to receive this major surrender coup. Goering . . . was fat and round as advertised, with a large cherubic face to match. Although without medals for once, he wore a field marshal's uniform and a pistol on his belt.

The 36th Division commander had ordered us to fly our plane to his field because we had the only L-5 airplane around and they figured the smaller L-4 couldn't lift "Hermann the German." When he climbed in, he said, "heiss," meaning "hot," as our cockpit had been sitting in the sun all day. It was the first I knew that he didn't speak English, as did most of his fellow officers . . .

At the last moment, Chuck was replaced as pilot of his own plane, outranked by the divisional pilot who sought the glory. They were about to taxi away when we remembered Goering's pistol, his reputation as a flyer, and that Switzerland was not far away. It was removed. By me! For a brief moment, I had in my hands a finely polished holster that without doubt contained a Luger. This was not only my long-sought souvenir, but perhaps an exquisitely inlaid model. A major tapped me and I passed it on, as he did very shortly to a lieutenant colonel. With so much rank around, it no doubt ended up with the two-star general in attendance, leaving a chagrined chain behind.


John D. "Tex" Farrington, Jr.

John D. "Tex" Farrington, Jr. was an Army officer stationed in Luzon, Philippines, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. Farrington and two other officers were ordered to southern Honshu, the largest Japanese island, to lay the ground for the American occupation.

Two other officers and I were ordered to report to a Navy command ship in Zamboanga, Mindanao. We were put on a little DE (destroyer escort) and headed for Okinawa to pick up special thermite grenades. We were to precede the occupation of southern Honshu by 10 days and insure that there weren't any nasty surprises waiting for our troops.

We finally entered the Hiro-Wan, a Honshu bay, preceded only by a mine sweeper that was having a lovely time popping off dozens of mines. After a rather weird surrender ceremony, I headed up a mountain on foot. A typhoon had totaled the mountain roads. With me was a Nisei interpreter and a Japanese naval lieutenant. We walked through the town of Hiro, where its mayor and a delegation surrendered the town - an eerie experience - giving me their flag, which I still have. At the top of the mountain, up about 2,000 feet, was a complete installation of six 5-inch guns ready for battle, in violation of surrender terms. Quaking in my boots, I convinced them that they would be attacked by sundown if they didn't stand down, which to my vast relief they did. There were no further violations. When we finished our assignments, we three commandeered a Japanese charcoal-burning truck and drove to Hiroshima, possibly the first westerners there since the bomb was dropped. It was a ghastly scene that can't be given justice here. Later, I flew around Nagasaki for over an hour. The horrors of an atomic war are indescribable.

Later, we were able to sit on a hillside and watch the vast American armada assemble and come so efficiently ashore and occupy a foreign country, a rare privilege to watch an unforgettable scene.

Upon return to Luzon, I was appointed commander of Prisoner of War Camp #21, to contain 3,000 of General Yamashita's diehards. I was given one sergeant, four corporals, and 110 GIs. It was like establishing a small city: buildings, tents, sewerage, electricity. And it was the most fulfilling job I ever had.

I tried to run the camp based on the principles of the Four Freedoms. There was freedom of the press in a camp newspaper, occasionally read to me. Freedom of religion through chaplains invited to the camp. But, most important, we had freedom of speech, as long as it didn't get out of control. This was a revelation to the Japanese! Each Sunday, my desk was moved out to the parade ground, and I was available to openly discuss any subject and, in return, to ask them about their beliefs. At first, there were only a few attendees, but after a few weeks, up to a thousand came, and were well prepared. It was quite a challenge and a defining event that I recall with pride.


William C. Orr

Before William C. Orr joined the Navy in late 1944, he played a scholarly role in one of the greatest secrets of the war - so secret that he didn't even know his own involvement.

In the final months of our senior year, Professor Hugh S. Taylor, himself involved in research for the Manhattan Project, urged chemistry majors to pursue graduate study in areas where he knew there was a shortage of trained personnel. In my case, he suggested Berkeley, where the field of nuclear chemistry had begun to emerge as a consequence of the needs and the opportunities created by the development of E. O. Lawrence's cyclotron.

When I had been working at the University of California for little more than a year, an urgent appeal was made to six or eight graduate students who, like me, had become familiar with the techniques of handling radioactive materials and performing chemical operations on them. For two or three weeks, our help was needed to carry out some sort of round-the-clock chemical procedure that began with the dissolving of chunks of heavy metal in acid. We were told that the metal had been bombarded in a cyclotron and was therefore highly radioactive, to be kept behind a thick lead barrier at all times. We were not told what exactly we were dealing with or what was to be accomplished. Our instructions were spelled out in terms such as "add solution A until a yellow solid precipitates; filter out the solid and dissolve it in solution B." Solutions A, B, C, etc., were provided to us without further identification. About all that I or the others could deduce was that we were extracting something from the original material and concentrating it to a considerable degree in the course of our work.

At sea, some three years later, I was reading about the work of [scientists] in the Manhattan Project who were studying the chemistry of a new element, plutonium, artificially produced in trace amounts by the bombardment of uranium in the cyclotron. They could observe these trace amounts only because of plutonium's radioactivity, and they badly needed larger quantities - at least enough to see! - if they were to confirm the feasibility of the scheme for separating plutonium from uranium that they were attempting to develop for use on an industrial scale. To produce more of this artificial element, slugs of uranium were bombarded almost continuously for six months in three different university cyclotrons. The slugs were then collected at Berkeley and became the starting material for the process in which I had participated. Quite without knowing it at the time, I now realized that I had been helping to prepare the first visible sample of plutonium ever to exist.


Edgar D. Romig

Edgar D. Romig joined the American Field Service, which provided ambulances and drivers to the Allies, during his senior year and with classmate John Harmon was sent to Egypt, where they worked to rescue soldiers during the battles of El Alamein and Mareth. Later, Romig joined the Army and spent the winter of 1944--45 in France. He earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, among other awards.

My memory fails me a little, but I know we reached Rouen in France in the autumn of 1944 and were in Alsace near Hagenau that Christmas. It was cold and dark, and I felt sorry for the lady and her young son whose barn we were sleeping in. Their village had suffered terribly. On the evening of January 15, 1945, there was an important announcement for us. Our captain gathered us together and told us we would be awakened an hour before dawn for an attack. We would be given white sheets for camouflage since there was snow on the ground. The platoons would move forward in parallel columns through a woods. Beyond the woods was an open field stretching perhaps 300 or 400 feet before reaching a second woods, in which there was one machine gun to be knocked out.

We reached the first woods on schedule. But as dawn approached, something went wrong. We heard American conversation though silence had been ordered. The strange conversation continued for just a few seconds, but enough to alert the enemy. Then someone shouted "Charge" and "Attack." Our squad followed orders and ran forward from the woods where we had been waiting, towards the woods beyond the field and towards what were several machine guns, not just one. I was hit in my left tibia by a machine-gun bullet about halfway towards the second woods. I moved to the rear on my back to a declivity at the edge of the woods from which we had started. There were two or three other wounded men nearby. I read Psalm 23 out loud with their approval.

About 3:00 p.m., as the January shadows began to lengthen, I heard a German voice say "Er ist tot" ("he is dead"). This convinced me that our attack had failed and that I had better try to move. Using my right leg and both elbows, I did succeed in getting through the woods on my back, despite some cuts and bruises, but was not quite sure whether I was going in the right direction. As I continued beyond the woods (west of the woods from which we had started), machine-gun fire and artillery fire continued. Then a brave Dartmouth College medic saw me, rushed to me, and helped me back to safety. A tank took me to a tent hospital where the bullet was taken out. A week or two later, I had a second operation in Paris. They flew me home, with hot chocolate served by English Grey Ladies at a stop in Bermuda in early March.

Two weeks after graduating from Princeton, Prentice K. Smith - along with three classmates, Elliot Pogue, Dick Boenning, and Bob Marquardt, all of whom transferred to tank destroyers and served with distinction - headed to Fort Bragg as a commissioned Army officer. He fought in the invasion of Sicily, landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, and made his way through France, Belgium, and the Battle of the Bulge before finishing out the war in Czechoslovakia. He earned three Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart.

The Sicilian campaign ended and we boarded transports and set sail. The hot rumor was that we were going to the States, but instead we made a wide sweep into the Atlantic and landed on the southwest coast of England. We spent a wonderful winter in Dorset, not knowing it was to be our staging area for D-Day. By May 1944, it became apparent that the invasion would be starting soon. When we finally got briefed, I learned I was to be in the second wave of the landing at Omaha Beach.

The embarkation and overnight trip across the Channel was an event I will never forget. I stayed on deck most of the night and watched the hundreds of troop carriers, planes, and gliders pass overhead. Before dawn, we climbed down nets to the boats that were to beach us. In the water and ashore, there were bodies all over the place, and the wounded were screaming. Abandoned equipment littered the beach. Small-arms fire was heavy. We ran as fast as we could to a sea wall and got to a place where the enfilading fire from the Germans could not hit us. Eventually, a guide who'd made it to the top of the cliff came down and led us up a trail that had been cleared of mines. On top, we spent a sleepless night. I felt completely useless.

The next day, we made a limited advance. On my map, I saw a building called Chateau Rouge that looked like it might be a good observation post. Moving cautiously, my section and I entered the building, which turned out to be a farmhouse. The family inside was terrified. I immediately radioed for missions against terrain I could see. I had the same difficulty as in Sicily pinpointing my location, but word finally came through: "Help is on the way." This time, they only sent a platoon. I continued to target missions for the destroyers and cruisers firing offshore.

At one point, I was asked if I could see Ceresy Forest, because they wanted to fire from a battleship at a suspected ammo dump and tank concentration there. I said, "Sure," just because I wanted to hear what a 16-inch battleship shell would sound like. It came over like an express train. I didn't see it land. That night, we took turns manning the observation post. I chose the last shift because I wanted to be alert at dawn. While I slept, horses and wagons with small units of Germans passed under our window for an hour, pulling back from the front. For these events, I received the Bronze Star.

After the break-out, I was promoted to captain. We crossed the Seine, traveling through the battlefield made famous by our First Division in World War I, and finally hit the Belgian border. Life was dull and artillery ammunition in short supply. But then a Frenchman informed us there was a German strong point down the road from us. I went out with a patrol to investigate. Suddenly, our guide cried out, "Les Boches," and did a somersault through a hedgerow. All hell broke loose, everyone firing and German burpguns sounding off. I jumped over a wooden gate with my radio pack on my back and settled down behind a stone wall to call for a mission. The reply came back: "Missions denied." So I repeated my order, this time making it sound like we had a regiment in front of us before I got action. None of us were hurt. The Frenchman came back full of praise and said the Germans had pulled back. For this act of sheer stupidity, I received my second Silver Star.

From then on, the war turned ugly. We took Aachen, then got bogged down in the Hurtgen Forest, which eventually ended up as the north shoulder of the Battle of the Bulge. It was worse than D-Day. We finally crossed the Rhine at Remagen Bridge, went through the Hartz Mountains and ended the war in the Sudeten part of Czechoslovakia. At some point during this period, I received my third Silver Star. The order was mailed to me at my home address after I left the division. No citation came with it. I have no idea what it

was for.

One day toward the end of the war, I was up in an observation post building when a shell from a German tank came right through the window and exploded against the back wall. I received a slight gash on my right finger. That was my one Purple Heart. The point system being in effect, I accepted it cheerfully for the five points it gave me toward going home.


Charles Crandall

Charles Crandall served in the Navy, stationed in the Pacific, and took part in the Battle of Iwo Jima. His experiences persuaded him to switch from engineering to medicine, and he later became a doctor.

Fear was always a strong presence on the battlefield, but the urge of not wanting to let the other guys down was even a stronger force and kept most of us from turning tail. Furthermore, in the middle of the action, every nerve was taut with a desire to knock out the enemy.

The other idea that continues to stand out to this day, of course, is that many of my friends and comrades were not nearly so lucky as I. The sights and sounds of the battles will never leave me. One of my good friends was blown right out of his shoes and left standing next to me on his fractured legs with no feet; another comrade was blown completely in half - the only thing I could do was give him a cigarette as he lay dying. Or, again, I am reminded of another shipmate who relieved me from manning a forward gun station only to be blown to bits seconds after doing so. The examples go on and on, but that's just about all I am willing to discuss on this subject, except this: Seeing so many friends die in every conceivable way created a sense of despair and hopelessness that, even today, challenges my generally positive outlook on life.

There is nothing heroic or romantic about war; it is something to be avoided at all cost unless there is truly no option left. I can only say that I shall never forget my comrades...and I shall never forget the war.

 

Dick Nalle was a Marine Corps pilot who served mostly in the Pacific. "My entire combat role was bombing and strafing Japanese-occupied islands that had been bypassed. . . . I felt that I had relatively soft war duty on •Dorothy Lamour' type atolls. I was fortunate." He later worked at the Naval Air Test Center, testing Navy pilots.

Mac Asbill (left), who died in 1992, served in the Marine Corps, where for more than two years he was an aide to General Holland Smith (center). He accompanied Smith on amphibious landings throughout the Pacific from Tarawa to Iwo Jima. Asbill earned the Bronze Star and was honorably discharged as a captain.

Jack Stutesman began the war as a commissioned second lieutenant in the Army, serving the 88th Infantry Division as battery officer. Late in 1943 he was named aide to the division's artillery general. Though sad to leave his unit, he was grateful for his life; the officer who replaced him was killed in Italy

Stutesman's division landed in Naples in 1944. "On the night before the great, successful attack toward Rome — that unforgettable May 11, 1944 — I sat with a French officer, a friend of my father. . . . He broke a loaf of bread and gave me half, saying, •I do not know where my son is tonight, and your father does not know where his son is. So tonight, we will be father and son.' He was killed 10 days later."

For his efforts in Italy, Stutesman received the Croix de Guerre and a Bronze Star.

Pete Priester, Jack Ormond, Buzz Seibels, and Clancy Stanard, along with 13 other Princetonians, reported together to Chapel Hill for Navy preflight training. The 17 Tigers then were sent to Minneapolis to train as Marine pilots. Priester, who died in 1973, flew mainly in the Solomon Islands, where his most important and most dangerous mission was neutralizing a Japanese stronghold in Rabau (and where he was narrowly saved from enemy fighters by an Australian). Ormond also flew in the Solomons. Seibels served as an instructor at Corpus Christi before shipping out to the Philippines. Stanard (who bunked with former President George Bush in Minneapolis) was sent to Japan, where he had a narrow escape, shown on page 21.

Jim Merritt (father of former PAW editor Jim Merritt '66) served in the Army Air Corps with the 15th Air Force in Foggia, Italy. On its eighth mission, to a target outside Vienna, his plane took three direct hits from German shells. The 10-man crew parachuted out over Croatia, where all but one were rescued by Yugoslav partisans. (The tail-gunner was captured by German supporters.) Pursued by Germans, the men struck out on a 49-day, 200-mile march through enemy territory, finally reaching the Italian-held port of Zadar, Croatia, on Thanksgiving Day.

Marine pilot Clancy Stanard was hit by anti-aircraft fire on one of his more than 100 combat missions over heavily fortified Japanese islands and bailed out over the Pacific. Fortunately, Stanard was picked up by a minesweeper and returned to base. He earned 17 Air Medals and six Distinguished Flying Crosses, and later served as a pilot in the Korean War.

Of course, it wasn't only the Class of 1942 who served in World War II. Roy Mount '41, shown here on the yacht Sunbeam, was one of a number of Princetonians who served with the Coast Guard, patrolling for U-boats in the Atlantic. Mount explains: "In 1942 Nazi U-boats were sinking our ships right off the East Coast. Yachtsmen members of the Cruising Club of America got the idea that sailing yachts under shortened sail, making no propeller noise, could detect submarines by means of underwater listening devices. The Navy agreed to try it, and thus the Sailboat Picket Patrol against U-boats was launched. Each yacht was armed with two machine guns from World War I plus a Springfield rifle — and, of course, a radio." For three years, from 1942 to 1945, the flotilla of wooden boats patrolled off Block Island and Montauk. Several Princetonians were in the Coast Guard patrol — including John Ely '42, Laurence Ely, Jr. '41, and Lester Wurfel '41, who skippered the Sunbeam — and the entire operation of approximately 25 boats was commanded by Bud Smith '29.