Carlton Pleasant Hill-Martinez celebrated Veterans Day last November by featuring the stories of some of the residents who served in World War II and Korea. It was so popular that we decided to do it again in May. But when it looked like it would be another set of stories about living veterans, this time including Vietnam, one of the vets pointed out that “Memorial Day is about those who died” in service to their country, not those who lived. It took a while but finally, the solution became apparent. We should feature the living veterans talking about those they knew, either as relatives or as buddies, who did not survive the war. The profiles won’t be very long but the focus is where it should be in the month of Memorial Day. Also included is a piece about Richard Young’s teenage high school years during war time, the loss of an uncle and a brother, and enlisting the day after graduation in 1945 when it was thought by most that the war would last at least another two years.
By June 1945 most Americans believed what most of the government believed: that World War II would last for at least two more years because the Japanese would fight so hard to defend their homeland. The existence of the new atom bomb was known only to a few scientists and staff, a very few high-ranking military officers and government officials, and, unfortunately, the Russians.
In the summer of 1945, Richard, who had just finished basic training, was a GI on a ship headed for the Philippines where fellow Carlton Pleasant Hill-Martinez resident, Paul Moser, a new 2nd Lieutenant in the Navy, was already helping to prepare for the planned American invasion of Japan’s home islands. But for the development and use of the atom bomb in August 1945, it probably would have been a long, terribly bloody fight for both sides. However, American history will always include an ongoing argument about whether or not the means were justified by the quick end of World War II. Welcome to the Nuclear Age.
World War II Comes to An End: The Richard Young Story
Carlton resident Richard Young graduated from Albany High School on one day in June 1945 and enlisted as a GI in the United States Army the very next day. He knew what he was getting into as his family had already received two of the telegrams every family dreaded. Richard’s oldest brother, Raymond, a B-17 gunner, had been killed in France in 1944 by a Messerschmitt fighter. His mother’s brother, Uncle Ted, died on his ship, the destroyer, Greeley, in the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942. Two other family relatives had lost their lives as well.
In the summer of 1945, after basic training, Private Young boarded a troop transport ship in San Francisco headed for the Philippines. The immediate mission was to ‘clean up’ the scattered remnants of the defeated Japanese Army on the island of Leyte and then to train for what was expected to be a very difficult, dangerous, and lengthy invasion of the home islands. The soldiers made a number of treks through the jungle looking for any movement but all they ever saw, according to Richard, were the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers. Richard had his rifle with him but he never had to use it.
The real impact of World War II was on his teenage life. During the war, sports were mostly the only ongoing student activities outside of the classroom, he recalls. Fortunately, Richard was an outstanding athlete who played football, baseball, (his favorite sport), and basketball.
Richard was the youngest of four children, three of whom were boys. Raised in the East Bay, the war had been part of his life for almost four years. As with many families at the time, “The War” was a constant shadow hovering over their lives with the fear of a telegram announcing a relative’s death always looming.
One day it came to the Young household, still grieving over the death of Richard’s mother from uterine cancer the previous year. His father, a taciturn veteran of World War I, was just leaving the house in 1944 when Richard arrived home from school.
“All he told me was ‘look up on the ledge’” where important mail was kept, Richard remembers. There was a yellow envelope. Inside was a telegram from the War Department regretting to inform the family that Richard’s oldest brother, Raymond, had been killed in the skies over France. It was the last of his 24-flight stint as a gunner. He probably would have been given leave to go home for 30 days had he returned to base safely.
Two years earlier Richard’s uncle, a naval officer who had turned down a promotion by Admiral Halsey to an aircraft carrier because his favorite ship was a destroyer, was on the USS Greeley during the early fighting in the South Pacific. He was killed in the Battle of the Coral Sea which occurred over four days of May 1942. Both sides had heavy losses of ships and sailors before the U.S. Navy finally won. The battle was a turning point in the war in the Pacific.
“Grandma was very upset,” he remembers. “‘Uncle Ted was the youngest of her children.” He was also a bit of a ‘wild child’ and lots of fun, Richard remembers.
A gifted athlete, Richard played football, baseball and basketball at Albany High School, even playing on the varsity football team as a freshman. Later, after leaving the service, he played baseball at Santa Rosa Junior College, known for its outstanding sports program.
During high school, he became good friends with Berkeley High baseball star and future professional baseball player and Oakland A’s manager, Billy Martin, as well as renowned Bay Area player and major league manager, Jackie Jensen. Jensen had heard about Richard and asked to meet him only to find out that he was a shortstop not a pitcher, which was all Jensen was looking for at the time.
But Richard’s baseball skills were coveted by the colonel he served under in the Philippines. Soon he was on a team playing around the island. They celebrated the end of a game, he notes sarcastically, “with a ‘feast’ from ‘little boxes filled with food and cigarettes,” also known as C rations and K rations. “I met some damn good people playing baseball,” he says, even if the food wasn’t that great. But army rations were about to disappear from his life when the Japanese surrendered in late August with an official ceremony in early September. Richard and his mates were soon on their way home and out of the Army.
He decided to go to Santa Rosa Junior College. He had relatives in Santa Rosa and the JC had an outstanding athletic program. While there, Richard was picked by a minor league team in Nevada to play. “That was a fun time,” he says, adding “and a couple of good years. I played a whole bunch of teams.” But when it came time to sign another contract, the shortstop decided he wanted to be a teacher instead and enrolled at San Francisco State.
Besides his interest in sports, Richard is a history buff who loved a good argument with his teachers about some historical event often involving the British since there appears to be a streak of Irish blood mixed with the patriot in the family as well.
“The family has a long history in the American Army,” he says, including the French and Indian War and the American Revolution where an ancestor was an officer under General Washington. His ancestors from Virginia include “a very strong man” who served under Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. After that, he went to Texas to fight the Indians before moving to California in the late 19th century.
When asked about any regrets he might have about his life since his birth in Berkeley in 1927, Richard immediately mentioned his mother’s death in 1943. “It was the first time I heard the word ‘cancer’” he says, looking away sadly.
Carlton Veterans Recall Relatives, Friends and Comrades Lost in War
Most US veterans who have served in recent wars starting with World War II lived to come home and lead normal lives although not all escaped the lifelong effects of wounds, both physical and psychological. But a significant number of Americans in those conflicts came home in flag-draped caskets if at all. Carlton residents, including veterans whose stories appeared in other issues of the Carlton Times, share their memories on this Memorial Day, of those they knew who died serving their country in wartime, whether hot or cold, since 1941. Also featured in this issue is Richard Young’s story. He was in high school from 1941 to 1945. During that time, an older brother and an uncle died, one in France and one in the Pacific. He could have waited to be drafted, but he enlisted in the Army the day after he graduated in June 1945 and within 2 months was crossing the Pacific to serve in the Philippines, and most likely, in the expected 2-year struggle to conquer the Japanese home islands because the atom bomb was still a secret to all but a few.
The Survivors remember…
Len Burnand is a new Carlton resident who moved in on April 15. A retired Master Sergeant in the Air Force, he spent his career first doing data processing and later working with computers thus helping the Air Force keep up with the amazing changes in everything from routine record keeping to planning military operations. Stationed in Del Rio, Texas at the beginning of his service, Len met Melvin Voss who was his supervisor and mentor for 12 years. “I really liked him,” Len recalls. They worked together in Texas and in Germany. Later, Melvin was transferred to Vietnam to work with data processing and the early computers. Sadly, he was killed there in 1972. Len doesn’t know how but guesses “probably by the VC.”
Charles “Chuck” Wiscavage: Retired Chief Master Sergeant, United States Air Force. At age 19, he was a right gunner in a B-29 combat crew during the Korean War. “Our crew flew 28 combat missions over North Korea – 8/51 to 3/52,” he says. He also was the first at Carlton to submit names of combat friends who did not come home. Two members of the close-knit group of whom Chuck says, “we stuck together wherever we were,” died on a mission on October 31, 1951. Right gunner Charley O. Parr of Klamath Falls, Oregon, was 20 when he was killed on that night over North Korea. Bill Murray, 19, of West Virginia was a tail gunner who lost his life on the same mission.
Chuck Carnes served in the Army Signal Corps Cryptology unit from 1953 to 1955, when the Korean War was over in the same indefinite way it is today. When asked to contribute to the Memorial Day tribute to the servicemen who died as a result of the wars, cold or hot, the U. S. has participated in since 1941, he didn’t hesitate to talk about his first cousin, Jimmy Harris. Jimmy, like many boys and young men in the 1920s and 30s, was fascinated by airplanes. By age 16, he had earned a pilot’s license and was crop dusting farms near his Nashville home. When the US entered World War II, sergeants could be pilots. Jimmy qualified immediately. Chuck knows that he was a pilot in Italy during the war and was sent at some point to Officer Candidate School. Jimmy stayed in the newly created Air Force after the war. He advanced up the officer ranks so quickly that by 1960 Colonel Harris was a full or “bird” colonel, meaning the eagles on his shoulders revealed his rank. A rise in rank from full colonel would require stars which he probably would have earned had he lived. Jimmy was soon wing commander of an air refueling wing at Emendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. One day he was sitting in the cockpit waiting to leave on an inspection trip. As the KC135 began take-off the whole plane suddenly exploded and crashed, killing all on board. It was found later that one of the eight pumps inside the KC135 that transferred the fuel into the plane being filled up had been overlooked for cleaning. All the fuel pumps in the KC135 must be thoroughly cleaned before it can safely fly when not on a refueling mission or there would be a tragedy like this.
Jim Tresposkoufes: Jim was the subject of one of the stories in last November’s honoring of Carlton’s veterans of war. You may remember that he landed at Normandy, was captured a month later and spent 7 or 8 months as a “working POW” in a German box-making factory. Now 99, he was released in 1945 and going home while passing by the early stages of the American cemetery at the landing site. He remembered how beautiful the section he saw was. “I wanted to go back to see it all but I never did,” he said regretfully. (Editor’s Note: Three weeks after his statement, Jim passed away peacefully in his sleep at Carlton. He was proud of his service to his adopted country. Those who knew him are grateful for his service and are proud to have known him.)
Dave Jacobson graduated from Daly City’s Jefferson High School in 1965 as the Vietnam War was heating up. He joined the Army and drew two years of duty on the business side of the military in Alaska. Two fellow students were among the 25 percent of draftees who were directed to the infantry. Emil Bess joined the Army and lost his life in Vietnam. Jim Benate was the first member of the class to be drafted. He chose the Marines. He also was the only one of the pair Dave got to say goodbye to before he left for what turned out to be his death in Vietnam.
Maybelle Jolley: Readers may recall Maybelle’s story of being a nurse at Walter Reed Hospital after the end of World War II. As a Castlemont High School student in the early 1940s, she also came face to face with the impact of the war on so many young men in the Oakland high schools. One of them was a boy in her church group named Laddy Bent, the minister’s son. The group of six couples were close. “I went with him for a while,” she recalls, and then he left to join the Navy and become a submariner. “It was such a shock for all of us” when news of his death came, Maybell remembers sadly, nearly 75 years later.
Paul Moser’s father came from Pennsylvania so every summer in the 1930s, the family drove from California to visit for a week. During the visits, Paul hit it off with a cousin, Donald Hanna, who was a year or two older. “We bummed around together. He was a good friend, like an older brother,” he remembers. Donald went into the service right after he graduated from high school but before the Japanese attack. On December 7, 1941, he was serving at Pearl Harbor although Paul doesn’t know what he was doing or what ship he might have been on. When Paul and his wife visited Hawaii in the 1970s, they toured the Memorial and searched through the list of those who lost their lives that day. Donald’s name was there.
Val Kingwell graduated from Alameda High School in 1943 and joined the Marine Corps B-12 officer training program at UC Berkeley, later transferring to USC. A fellow student, Ed Fry, also joined the Marines. Ed was the 18-year-old son of a golf pro. He was one of many Americans who lost their lives in the bitter battles on the island of Okinawa from April to July 1945. Okinawa and nearby Tinian were the last stops toward the home islands of Japan and the end of the war. The invasion of Okinawa was one of the costliest in loss of lives of all the Pacific battles. There were 50,000 Allied and 84-117,000 casualties on the island.
Ed Vining grew up in Montgomery, West Virginia, a small town “where everybody knows your name.” He has three stories to tell. First, Noyes Kinder was a few years older than Ed and old enough to establish a flying school. That was quite common in small towns and cities in the 1930s when airplanes were the most amazing things around that ordinary people could actually learn to use. Ed, himself, learned to fly while still in high school. When the war started, Noyes joined up and soon found himself in the cockpit of a Curtiss Commando cargo plane. He then was given one of the most dangerous flying assignments in the war: the Burma/China route through the Himalayas. His job was to keep the American and Chinese troops equipped to fight the Japanese no matter how much rain, snow, tall mountains, storms, and enemy fire he had to go through. He kept flying until he went down during a storm. Another loss for Montgomery occurred early in the war when Arnold Nalen, the community’s first to join up and then became the first to die in combat. Ed thinks Arnold probably lost his life in North Africa in 1942/43. He notes that the Army fought in North Africa and Europe while the Marines were the main troops in the Pacific. Ed himself, joined the Navy at the beginning of the war. After two years in the states as a naval aircraft mechanic, he was posted on Tinian, not only to keep the airplanes working but also to be an occasional gunner on Navy Privateer bombers that were chasing Japanese shipping near the home islands and bombing factories on the island of Kyushu. In the squadron he served in, eight of the 15 planes and at least about 70 of the men were lost from June to August 1945.
The stories of the servicemen above focus only on a minuscule number of Americans who have died in wartime for our country since 1941. Families, friends, and those they served with will remember them as individuals. The of us will remember and honor all those we did not know except that they fought and died to preserve our country and thus for all of us.
Written by Harriett Burt, Carlton Senior Living Pleasant Hill-Martinez Resident
This Memorial Day tribute is also available below as a PDF.