Second World War - Pacific Theater

Explore the Oral Histories from Washtenaw County and Michigan Veterans who served in the Pacific Theater

  • Lindhout, William Pierce

    William Lindhout was drafted after one year at Michigan State University. He received his basic and specialized training at Great Lakes IL, Millington TN, Hollywood FL, New Bedford MA, and Oceana VA. He was then assigned to the VT 82 Torpedo Squadron. Lindhout had 33 missions as an aviation radioman (which included gunner and photography duties). His missions included support of several Pacific Island landings, and participating in the first Navy strike on Tokyo. Lindhout's medals include the Distinguished Flying Cross, five Air Medals, Pacific Theater, Atlantic Theater, and the Unit Citation. His DSC reads in part, "in action against enemy Japanese forces in the vicinity of Honshu, Kyushu, Nanpo Shoto, and Nansei-shoto - Lindhout contributed materially to the success of his plane and to the inflictions of damage to enemy shipping, airfields, and installations. His courage and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States." This veteran's other citations were equally complimentary regarding his courage and devotion to duty. After leaving the Navy, Lindhout completed his studies in Architecture at the University of Michigan. His company has a very long list of buildings that they designed. Although semi-retired, he represents the third in a line of four generations of architects.
  • Butcko, Joseph A.

    Joseph Butcko was born in Ypsilanti, and at the time that World War II broke out, he was apprenticed in the tool and die business. He was drafted into the armed forces at age 19. Joseph was already married at that time, to his high school sweetheart. Both of his brothers were also serving in the war, both in the Pacific Theater. He chose to enter the Navy and went to basic training at the Great Lakes institution, in Chicago, IL. Joseph traveled briefly to Norfolk, VA, and then was sent back to Chicago, to practice gunnery at Navy Pier. He was eventually shipped out to Guam, as a helmsman on a Landing Ship Tank (LST). There were over 100 men on his crew, and despite the fact that it was considered a big crew, he eventually got to know every soldier on it. While on Guam, he saw many soldiers returning from the battle of Iwo Jima in ambulances and taken to the hospital up the mountain - this experience really drove the reality of war home to him. Joseph took part in the attack on Okinawa, in which he drove a shuttle landing craft (a small craft) back and forth from larger boats, to carry marines to the beach. There were many Japanese Kamikaze planes involved in this battle, and he saw his brother's ship hit by two Kamikaze planes - luckily, no one was killed. While serving in the Pacific, Joseph ran into many friends from Ypsilanti, as well as both of his brothers. After the war was over, Joseph served in China, keeping the peace. He also helped facilitate the transportation of Japanese soldiers and civilians, who had been occupying much of China, back to Japan. When he was discharged from the Navy, he returned to Ypsilanti to work in the tool and die manufacturing business.
  • Laws, Richard Allyn

    Richard Laws was born in Michigan on May 1, 1923. After high school, he became a door-to-door salesman for Awrey Bakery Co. He did so well that he bought his own truck for $880 and paid it off in the first six months on the job. Richard even helped his parents buy their house. At the time, Richard was not allowed to enlist in the military because the Government had closed enlistments. He was eventually drafted and volunteered for the Paratroopers. He was assigned to the 511th Heavy Weapons Division. Richard (he likes to be called Dick) made a total of 25 jumps and 6 of those were in combat conditions. He was in constant battle for a year and a half which included his time in Guinea, Leyte, Luzon, and Okinawa. It was in the Philippines that he lost his best buddy with whom he had planned to go into business with at the end of the War. Dick's company was assigned with the task of creating a diversionary battle in order to draw the Japanese away from Los Baños Interment Camp where 2,200 American, Australian and various other civilians were being held. It was believed that the prisoners were only days away from being executed since the Japanese were withdrawing. All prisoners were rescued without any casualties. There were a number of nuns in the Camp. When they saw the parachutes coming down, they said the "Angels were coming." Dick's unit adopted the White Angel designation for their Unit. From the Philippines, Dick's unit was shipped to Okinawa, days before the Japanese were driven out. In August, two Atomic Bombs were dropped on Japan, which convinced them to surrender. Dick was picked to put together a unit to land in Japan and prepare for the others who were to arrive later. There were some tense moments when they landed, and Dick told his group to keep the door locked when he deplaned. If there was any trouble, they were told to take off without him. Although tense and difficult because of the language barrier, the situation went well. Dick became the first American to set foot on Japanese soil. Dick became a member of General MacArthur's Honor Guard. In appreciation, the General gave him a Japanese sword and two rifles as thank you gifts, all of which he still has. Dick's citations include: Good Conduct Medal; Bronze Star with three Battle Stars; Bronze Service Arrowhead for Philippines Liberation with two Battle Stars; Victory Medal; American Theater Ribbon; Asiatic/Pacific Theater Ribbon. After service, Dick returned to Awrey. He keeps in touch with his old buddies and in June of 2004, at the age of 81, drove his pickup truck to Reno to attend a Regimental Reunion.
  • Tracy, William B.

    Like many young men of his generation, Bud Tracy served in the Armed Forces during World War II. Eager to see the world, he chose the Navy because he could enlist at seventeen and his uncle could help him through the process. He left high school before his graduation date, but made up the credits by enlisting. Mr. Tracy's wartime service was spent in the South Pacific including the Admiralty Islands. Tracy loved being in the service despite facing the same fears and frustrations that other young men encountered. For example, his first night on guard duty turned out to be one of his scariest moments in the Navy. Tracy mistook an anthill for a Japanese helmet and was told by his superiors to fire. Tracy did not want to alert other possible Japanese soldiers in the area of his location. As a result, he sat and stared at it, imagining the "helmet" coming closer and closer as the hours passed. His battle experiences were full of danger and adventure as well. Mr. Tracy was asked to go into the water and sink shell casings, swim up a river at night to scout the Japanese positions, and save his fellow sailors who were in trouble in the water. While completing his duties, Tracy was wounded on coral and was sent to Australia as a casualty to heal his legs which developed jungle rot. There were many enjoyable moments throughout Tracy’s time overseas. He and his buddies enjoyed pulling pranks on other men in their unit. In one instance, Tracy and his buddies rigged up a fake spider in the tent of one of their friends and surprised him with it when he returned from guard duty. USA Tours passed through the South Pacific while Bud was there and he was able to see Bob Hope and other performers in the tours. He particularly remembered a time when Bob Hope visited and ate a meal in the chow hall with the enlisted men instead of going to the officers' hall as was scheduled. Just as they are to American troops serving overseas today, care packages from home were highly valued during World War II. Mr. Tracy told an interesting story off-camera about a care package that he received from home. A couple of months after Christmas, he received his Christmas present from his family back home. When he got the box, the other men all crowded around because there is an unspoken rule that all packages are shared with the unit. The box was opened to reveal several cans of Spam that his mother had saved up her ration coupons to get for him. However, the sailors were regularly fed Spam for meals and were sick of it by that point. Tracy stated that once the box was opened and everyone saw that it was Spam, they left it for him, and never ever ate a single can of it. When Tracy returned home after his military service was over, he utilized the G.I. Bill to enroll in college. He had a successful career working for the phone company and raised a family. Despite this, like many of the men that he served with, Tracy still feels guilt over an incident that resulted in the deaths of fellow sailors, even though he did all that he could to save them. In many cases, those not involved in the situation can look at it and see that there is no reason for the person affected to blame himself, yet in his mind, he still does. Tracy was very humble in his accounts of his experiences during World War II, yet even in the short time it took to conduct the interview, there were examples of his bravery and heroism. Like so many veterans, he did not give the impression that what he had done was very remarkable in the grand scheme of things, yet it was. He risked his life to save others more than once in the memories that are captured in the interview and that can only be a tiny fraction of. what his war experience was really like.
  • Scarpace, Salvatore Joseph

    Salvatore Scarpace has been an integral part of the Allen Park community for over fifty years. He has served as the Commander of Allen Park Post 409. He has supported sponsored youth baseball for many years. Scarpace is a World War II veteran who was interviewed for the Veterans History project on March 8, 2006 at the Allen Post Hall. Scarpace was working in his family business when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1942. He was drafted in February of 1942 and trained before being sent to Australia. He recalled his duties on the battlefield in Australia and throughout the Pacific Islands. One memory that stood out was when he actually felt the "whiz" of a shell go beside his head. Scarpace credits his good fortune to a lucky charm that he always had with him. He recalls VE day and remembers that those in the Pacific Islands believed, at the time, that the end of the war was near. He wasn't so sure in 1945 when his regiment was about ready to invade the island of Japan. Just prior to the attack, about a week he recalls, the United States unleashed the Enola Gay on Hiroshima. The signing of the peace treaty aboard the USS Missouri brought great relief and cheer for everyone, especially his regiment, who was about to invade Japan. Scarpace noted that he, and his fellow soldiers, realized that a mainland attack would have been extremely dangerous. The partying within his ranks was fierce after the signing. Upon returning home, Scarpace's family business wasn't doing well so he had to find another line of work. He soon married and would join the local American Legion. He tried to remain in contact with some of his wartime friends but as time went on that become harder and harder. He doesn't recall holding any racist attitudes toward Germans. It was just their job. He said that there wasn't much of a chance to exhibit racism, not at least in this area, toward Japanese people since very few were in the general area. Each year he attends a reunion of World War II soldiers. He says that it is something that he appreciates more and more every year. Unfortunately, each year the turnout is smaller and smaller due to illness or death. Scarpace believes wholeheartedly in supporting past soldiers of past and present wars. To him, it is a question of doing your duty. He doesn't know if he agrees or not with the reasons for the current war or Vietnam but a soldier's job is to free people of terror. His advice to the youth of today is to appreciate the freedoms that they have, and to appreciate those who fought to give them their freedom. He believes that young people now do not realize the sacrifice made by those in previous generations. At 88 years old, he continues to serve his American Legion Post and his community in a variety of fundraisers and youth activities. He is truly an American hero for all that he has done in his lifetime for the people of the United States.
  • Harwell, William Earnest "Ernie"

    Mr. Harwell enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1942, as he was confident he would be drafted regardless. Initially serving as a military journalist in Washington, D.C., he was sent to the Pacific Theater to report on the Japanese surrender. In 1945, he also traveled to China to report on Japanese war crime allegations in that country. After returning to the United States and his discharge from the Marine Corps, Harwell would go on to broadcast games for the Detroit Tigers for over forty years. Known as the "Voice of the Tigers" Harwell is still honored today by the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park in Detroit.
  • O'Donnell, Daniel Francis

    Daniel O'Donnell enlisted in the Navy when he was 18 years old. He spent eight years in the Regular Navy and five years in the Naval Reserves. After boot camp, Daniel became a gunner controller. He like the Navy in spite of the primitive living quarters. They slept in hammocks. During his time on the Arkansas, they escorted supply ships across the Atlantic. In November of 1944 they took Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Casablanca and Tehran. They also returned him to the United States in December of that year. Daniel was assigned to the USS Iowa which was assigned to support the highly vulnerable "baby carriers." As the war ended, Daniel's ship shelled southern Kyushu Island. When the war ended, Daniel's ship entered Tokyo Bay as part of the surrender ceremonies. Daniel returned home and was discharged. He eventually retired to Fox Run Residential Center in Novi, Michigan.
  • Johnson, Earl Gene

    Gene enlisted in the Navy in 1940, at the age of 19. Living in Tennessee at the time, he was sent first to Knoxville, and then onto Norfolk, Virginia, for his basic training. He was eventually transported to Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, via an oil tanker, where he was assigned to the battleship West Virginia in September 1940. The West Virginia was hit several times during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which led to its eventual sinking. When the opportunity arrived, Gene signed up for duty on the Lexington – however, it too was sunk in the Coral Sea, just weeks before the battle of Midway. He was transferred back to Norfolk, Virginia, where he was assigned to the Thomas Stone, a troop transport. Gene was transferred once again, this time to the North African Naval Headquarters, in Algiers. After the Germans were forced out of North Africa, his entire unit was transferred to Naples, Italy, where once again he worked for the transportation department. After his leave, he was assigned to the U.S.S. Columbus, where he served through the end of the war, until his enlistment was up in 1946. After leaving the Navy, Gene returned to Knoxville, Tennessee. His search for a better job brought him to Michigan in 1948, where he first worked for Packard. He then moved to Ypsilanti, where he worked at Kaiser-Frasier until it closed. Gene quickly got another job at Ford Motor Company’s Ypsilanti plant, where he worked for 30 years, until his retirement in 1982.
  • Hayner, Philip Avery

    Phillip Hayner was born in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He joined the Navy directly after Pearl Harbor. Although he was mildly colorblind, Phillip was assigned to the Signal Corps. Somehow, he missed the eye exam at Boot Camp. After Boot Camp at Great Lakes Naval Station, he was assigned to the Signal Corps, and briefly to Navy Choir Company 385. From the Great Lakes, he was transferred to Norfolk, where he was assigned to the Aquitania, which eventually landed in Glasgow, Scotland. On the third wave at Normandy, Phillip was aboard the LCVP, which carried 15 men. His unit was responsible for setting up a Command Post. Most of the action was north of his position. There were times when the German planes unloaded their leftover bombs on his unit. After more than three months on Normandy, his unit returned to England and was assigned to the Empress of Australia, which carried 2,000 German POWs to New York. From there, Phillip’s unit was sent to Camp Pendleton, California where they trained in landing their craft. Afterwards, they were sent to Hawaii, and then on to Okinawa. On Okinawa, their unit was responsible for taking fresh troops to the island, and returning troops to the Philippines, for R & R. Phillip married while he was on leave. Upon his discharge, he and his wife returned to Michigan. They had three children, all of whom did well in their chosen fields. Phillip is a retired tool and die maker, and now lives in Manchester, Michigan.
  • Valenstein, Elliot S.

    Elliot Valenstein enlisted in the Army at the age of 18 following the Pearl Harbor attack. After training he was shipped to the South Pacific. They traveled without escort and landed in Australia. Before the Coral Sea victory, the Japanese were unstoppable. His unit was then sent on to Bombay, India and crossed to Calcutta by train. Elliot received quick training in how to string lines. There was fear the Japanese who were threatening India would link up with the Africa Corp from the East. In Burma, his unit met up with Head Hunters. Elliot's unit worked under a great deal of hardship including swollen rivers and threats of Chinese bandits. When World War II ended, Elliot was in Calcutta. He was shipped back to Seattle and on to Fort Dix. After discharge he spent time in a VA hospital with malaria. Eventually Elliot enrolled in college and began his research project that eventually attracted him to the University of Michigan. Much of his research was supported by NASA. After retiring Elliot continued to live in Ann Arbor and became Professor Emeritus.
  • Strouss, John Philip

    John Strouss was born in Freeport, Illinois on March 4, 1918. His family moved to Jackson, Michigan during the influenza epidemic while he was very young. John attended the University of Michigan from 1937 to 1942. While sleeping in on a Sunday morning, he and his roommate heard over the radio the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Eighteen of his friends went in for physicals, yet only three passed. John's eyes kept him out of the line officers. After several physicals, he was commissioned in the Navy in the spring of 1942. He became a staff officer in the supply corps - those responsible for the food and clothing in the Navy. John was called up in January 1943 and sent to South Austin Naval Yard for basic training (note: transcriber could not verify the location of said naval yard). He was then sent to Harvard University until the summer for supply officer education. He was assigned to Acorn 16 and sent to Port Hueneme, California to wait for the rest of the officers. In September, Acorn 16 was officially commissioned into the Navy and was granted base personnel for airbases in the Pacific. The unit shipped out to Barber's Point in Oahu, Hawaii. From there, they were ordered to Apamama in the Gilbert Islands along with a Marine Corps unit and a CP unit. An airbase was constructed at Apamama in which John worked. John remembers very friendly Natives and nice weather in Apamama. One incident stuck with John. A Japanese submarine was reported in the area. Despite the harsh weather, a scout plane was still sent out. the plane never returned. John was ordered to gather and send the missing man's belongings to his family. After a little over a year, the airbase Apamama was shut down and John was transferred to Guam. He recalls mud and relentless rain in Guam. He was put in charge of the mess hall. Most of the food was canned, yet at one point they were sent fresh ground beef. Hamburgers were prepared for the men, which gave many a feeling of homesickness. After the war, the Navy put together a class for those interested in aiding in terminating Navy contracts. John volunteered due to his business school training. He was sent to Harvard for the class. From there, he was sent to an office in Cincinnati, Ohio to clear plants for civilian production. Later on, he was transferred to the Naval Reserve and left as a Lieutenant Commander.
  • Soraruf, James Anthony

    James was born in Ironwood, Michigan, on May 17, 1924. After graduating from high school, he tried to enlist in the Marines but was told to wait for the draft. He took a job as a tool and dye apprentice in the De Sota plant. He was drafted into the Marines in early 1943. After several difficult boot camp experiences, he was finally sent for training as a mechanic. After months of training, he was assigned to a B25 unit patrolling the East Coast, after which he was sent to the South Pacific. There he participated as a mechanic on several missions. When the war ended, he was eventually discharged and returned to Michigan. He could not get his job back at De Sota but did get a tool and dye job at Kaiser and then Republic Tool and Dye. James lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan and has eleven children.
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