The Duke Alumni Association plans to honor alumni who died while on active duty in the military.
We are in the process of adding names to the existing memorials and need your help to ensure that the list is accurate and inclusive. If you know of someone not on the list who should be or have a correction to a name already on the list, please contact the Duke Alumni Association. We are continuing to work with military authorities to identify and verify Duke alumni who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Please help us assure that their sacrifice is not forgotten.
World War II had far-reaching effects on the Duke community, from the establishment of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps, to government-funded breakthroughs in medical and scientific research, to the postwar GI Bill, which educated thousands of returning veterans. Faculty members and employees worked with government war agencies, including several scientists who collaborated on the Manhattan Project to develop nuclear weapons.
Over the course of the war, 7,000 alumni served in the various branches of the armed forces; more than 200 died. We invited alumni who were involved in the war to share their experiences.
Tom Hart '44, J.D. '50
As he was beginning the second semester of his junior year, Hart was called to active duty with the U.S. Army Air Corps. In February 1943, he and some 200 of his Duke classmates were transported to Raleigh, put on a train, and sent to Miami Beach for Army basic training. Hart is now a retired vice president of Bowater Inc., and lives in Redding, Connecticut.
We got off the train on a hot, sunny day and were herded into the backs of open-air trucks and driven across the causeway to Miami Beach. We were told that there were about 50,000 Air Corps trainees on Miami Beach, and as we in civilian clothes were arriving at the South Beach art-deco hotels, it seemed thousands of marching troops yelled at us, "You'll be sorry!" And they were right to a large extent.
Our Duke group was quartered in small hotels off Collins Avenue containing GI beds for furniture. Contingents from other Southern and Midwestern colleges were also training as units. We dressed in sweaty "civvies" for two days until we were issued our high-cut shoes, olive drab coveralls, and "sun tans" (dress uniforms). It was a tough four weeks of shaping up and learning "the Army way."
We had several hours a day learning close-order drill and marching in columns of four up and down the streets. Lou Bello ['47], later an NCAA basketball referee, was our song master, yelling out "Duke Blue and White Song" and "Paddy Murphy" as we marched along. Physical training was held in the city park housing the baseball stadium where the Phillies had trained in 1941, when Tommy Prothro's ['42] father was manager. The park's grass was worn off from the marching and running feet of GIs.
One sport we engaged in was "Miami Murder": 200 fatigue-uniformed Dukesters would line up like a rugby scrum opposite 200 Georgia Tech guys, with a huge, ten-foot-diameter rubber ball in the middle. The object was to push it over the opposite goal line. We put our football players in the front ranks. Like a tug-of-war, once one side gathered momentum, it was a rush of bodies over others, with bruises galore.
Jerry Damren '49
Damren entered Duke in September of 1941 with hopes of playing baseball for Coach Jack Coombs. Three months later, Pearl Harbor forced him to change his plans. He tried to enlist in the U.S. Marines but failed the eye exam. He was inducted into the U.S. Army and sent overseas, first to North Africa, and then to Italy. A retired school administrator, Damren lives in West Lebanon, New Hampshire.I was inducted in Durham and sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in November 1942, and then to Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, for basic training. From there, I went to communication school at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I became a radio operator in a tank. I did not like this assignment, so I volunteered to go overseas.
In Naples, Italy, I was assigned to the 351st Regiment, Company G. We moved to Rome and continued on a northerly route up the peninsula of Italy. The Po Valley was our goal. As we arrived in that area, the Americans gained control of Vedriano, which was a key stronghold.
The Germans brought in reinforcements, and another battle for this territory began. During this fierce battle, Company G was surrounded and fighting desperately. A German radio message was intercepted, telling their troops: "Attack Vedriano. Vedriano is decisive!" This was followed by: "Vedriano retaken. Eighty Americans are captured."
Company G, with approximately 150 soldiers, had approached closer to the Po Valley than any unit in the Fifth Army. The area was close to the main lateral road for the German forces. Eighty members of Company G were captured on October 24, 1944. General George Patton liberated us on April 29, 1945, at Stalag VII-A in Moosburg, Germany. The German propaganda gave the 88th Division the nickname "Blue Devils" because this outfit fought with tenacious resistance.
Theodore Robinson '40
As a U.S. Navy midshipman, Robinson asked to serve on patrol torpedo (PT) boats, known for their speed and nimbleness in delivering enormous firepower—enough to sink a battleship. Now retired from AT&T and an avid gardener and environmentalist, Robinson speaks frequently about his World War II experiences to various civic organizations. The following is an excerpt from his presentation, "JFK and PT 109: An Eyewitness Account."
On the night of August 1, 1943, a Japanese destroyer roared out of the darkness of Blackett Strait and rammed PT 109, slicing it in half. The boat was skippered by a young Navy lieutenant named John F. Kennedy, destined to become President of the United States. I was a few miles away on PT 159, the lead boat in the attack, standing next to the PT commander in charge of the entire operation. We witnessed the explosion….
A week later, we got word that the crew of PT 109 were still alive, trapped miles behind enemy lines. Two PT boats were selected to sneak through the darkness and bring JFK and his beleaguered crew to safety. I volunteered to go along on the boat that picked him up and was the first to talk to his burned and starving crew.
A month to the day after the rescue, I lost my own boat, PT 118, in combat and was sent back to Tulagi [in the Solomon Islands] and lived in the same tent with JFK while we were both recuperating. I learned about [his] most intimate thoughts, not only about what had happened that fateful August night—he was concerned about how the loss of his boat would look, given that his father was ambassador to the Court of St. James's in England—but also what he was like as a person. We became friends, as only two men thrown together by the fortunes of war can.
John C. Long '49
Long was a technical sergeant in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945 and served as company clerk of D Company. His battalion kept the 3rd Infantry Division supplied, from Casablanca to Florence. He lives in Durham, Connecticut.
I remember being herded into a forty-by-eight rail car for a scenic journey from Casablanca to Oran and Algiers. While we were there, along came Bob Hope and his USO troupe. Imagine a British-style steel helmet with the inner lining pulled tight so that the helmet sat on the top of his head. What a sight—what a laugh! Unfortunately, the Luftwaffe ended the show after fifteen minutes by bombing the ships in the harbor.
Next, we crossed the Mediterranean to Italy. Anzio-Nettuno [sites of Allied landing beginning January 22, 1944] was a five-month stalemate. The mosquitoes had a field day while we endured shelling, bombing, and small-arms fire. Then another sea voyage—this time to La Belle, France. Fortunately, the Romanian division of the Axis powers opposing the invasion of Provence wisely decided to surrender en masse. A great "traffic jam."
On the coast road to Toulon and Marseilles, we encountered an SS unit and dug into the sea hillside. After losing two tanks, the Army radioed the Navy for its floating artillery to help us out. What cooperation! No more SS.
Still on the road, here comes a Frenchman (he was almost shot) running down a hill from a farm waving bottles of wine he had hidden from the Germans. His name was Joe Moscow, and he had been a taxi driver in New York City in 1935, when France called him back to serve in the French army. Excellent Bordeaux.
Alfred H. Kent '49, M.D. '53
Kent was assigned to the U.S. Army's 103rd Infantry Division. Several years ago, he wrote an essay for a compilation by 103rd Division officers. This excerpt is an account of an incident that took place the morning of November 16, 1944, in La Bolle, France, when he was wounded by enemy fire. The battle, part of a winter offensive through the Vosges Mountains, was the 103rd's first combat operation. Kent is a retired thoracic surgeon and lives in Auburn, Alabama.
Our medics were overwhelmed by the number of wounded. Finally, there was a pause in the enemy fire, and two medics dressed my wound and carried me about a hundred feet to a foxhole. A few minutes later the medics dumped a second wounded man in on top of me. He had a sucking chest wound, and it was difficult for him to breathe. We were wedged together on our sides. I was able to pull his shirts up and put my hand over the hole in his chest. He coughed a lot but eventually began to breathe more easily. He was Sergeant Fuhr.
We were to stay wedged in that small hole all the rest of that day and all night.
At some point, he became convinced that he would not survive. He made me swear that I would take his wedding band and return it to his wife and tell her all that had happened. I reassured him as well as I could, but I wasn't so damn sure myself that he would survive.
We were finally taken out of the hole and moved to an aid station a little over twenty-five hours after being wounded. Eventually, we were both evacuated to field hospitals for surgery, and we both survived.
Fuhr died a few years ago, but his family told me that he related the story of his wound and my efforts to help him many times. They said he credited me with saving his life.
Melvin D. Small M.D. '59
Small was a sergeant in the 44th Infantry Division. He says that the following account of "how I personally paralyzed the French 4th Armored Division" is the only event in his eight months of combat that he can look back on with a smile. The incident took place in December of 1944 in northern France. A retired gastroenterologist in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Small now works in the field of pain management.
I was freezing and silently cursing myself for having volunteered to interpret for the airplane mechanics as we headed east to the airstrip of the French 4th Armored Division through a steady downpour of sleet and rain. Sarge, the American mechanic, was driving the open Jeep bearing the two of us and a collection of tools and parts to repair the 4th Armored's artillery spotter plane.
As we arrived, we were greeted by several volleys of grease-gun fire—modified Thompson submachine guns—which was directed at the sky by the Moroccan guards at the airstrip. After appropriate introductions and a request to see the mechanic in charge, the tools and supplies were promptly transferred from the Jeep to the tent near the airstrip. Our work began with a rather lengthy dissertation by Sarge, which I translated for the French mechanic. Since the French mechanic had his own view of the process, and Sarge felt that he was in charge, more time was spent arguing about the process than in fixing the plane. I finally decided to go into the tent to warm up while they diddled with the plane and their respective authorities.
There was a pot-belly stove in the tent that was loaded with wood and kindling, and I used up a full pack of matches trying to start it. I went out to the plane and picked up a Jerry can of gasoline, which I carefully carried into the tent. I poured a small amount of gas on the wood in the stove, closed the can, and carried it back outside, without noticing that I had left a trail of gasoline from the stove to the plane. I went back into the tent, threw a match into the stove, and barely made it out of the tent before the ensuing conflagration consumed it and the parts and special tools that we had brought.
The Moroccan guards were startled into their favorite activity and began firing into the sky again, and then got close to the fire to warm up, thinking this was a great way to end a miserable day. The French mechanic and one of the pilots had their day, and even in French, none of it was pleasant. Since I inadvertently had done my part to ruin American-French relationships, and there was nothing more we could do without tools and airplane parts to ameliorate the situation, we left to another hail of sky-directed bullets as the guards saluted our departure.
Dean McCandless '46, M.D. '50
McCandless was a lieutenant and communications officer serving in the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. He participated in four campaigns—Sicily, Italy, Normandy, Holland—without serious injury. During the Battle of the Bulge (December 16, 1944 to January 25, 1945), waged in the Ardennes toward the end of the war, McCandless was promoted to Regimental Communications officer, a captain's job. A retired family-practice physician, McCandless lives in La Quinta, California.
On January 7, 1945, on a snow covered trail in the woods about a half mile from Goronne, Belgium, I got shot in my left shoulder and knocked flat in the snow. There I lay, very still, fearing they might shoot again. Soon a battalion surgeon found me, asked if I could get up, then bared my shoulder right there in the snow, dressed the wound front and back, restored my garments, and gave me a sling for my arm. Thus, I was in scant distress and wanted to continue with my wire parties. He insisted that I return with him to the aid station and that I be evacuated to the rear.
Shortly [afterward], someone noticed my helmet. There were two bullet dents just at the front edge. Had I not been looking downward at the narrow trail in the snow, those bullets would have entered my forehead, and my wife, Polly, would have become a widow!
Archie Lugenbeel '57
Lugenbeel served as a seaman first class on the USS Wallace L. Lind in the Pacific Theater. The ship and its crew saw action in the battles of Luzon, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa and witnessed the surrender in Tokyo Bay. Before retiring, Lugenbeel was dean of health sciences at Trident Technical College in Charleston, South Carolina. He lives in Panama City, Florida.
Our ship's responsibility was in bombardments, picking up our downed pilots, shooting floating mines, and destroying enemy aircraft. During the Okinawa campaign, the Japanese sent thousands of kamikazes at the fleet. No way our air patrols could keep these planes out. As a destroyer, we were basically saved from their suicide attacks because they wanted the [aircraft] carriers, cruisers, or battleships as their prize.
One of the Jap pilots flew within a few yards of our ship, and I could see his face, flight goggles and all. If I had had a baseball, I could have hit his canopy with it. That same day, a Jap pilot flew over a baby flattop [escort aircraft carrier]. He got above it on the fin tail and dove to strike it but saw that he was going to miss it and pulled up. This he did three other times, until he splashed in the ocean.
Our ship accomplished the following: enemy planes shot down as assets or direct kill—ten; pilots (ours) retrieved from the ocean—sixteen; floating mines destroyed—127. We were at sea 348 days, covered 120,000 miles, and expended 55,804 rounds of ammunition.
Richard H. Owen III '37
Owen served as a gunnery officer aboard the destroyer USS Daly. Only a few weeks after the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, Owen received orders to report to duty there. Shortly before Owen died in 1999, he was invited to speak at a Navy memorial celebration. This is an excerpt from his prepared presentation.
When I stepped to the ground at Nagasaki, my foot met a thin layer of glass. It shattered under my weight, and I was reminded of the thinly frozen mud puddles I enjoyed invading as a child. Apparently, the heat from the exploding bomb had melted the earth into a thin cover of glass even at this point, which was about five miles from the bomb center.
Everywhere we went, the scenery varied, but all had the same characteristic. It appeared that some giant, irresistible force had pushed the earth down upon itself. No buildings remained, just dust, compressed debris. There were some piles of this rubble/debris where a masonry building had been toppled, then compressed. Factory chimneys were toppled to a 45-degree angle, left in this crazy position, ready to fall but not doing so. The metal reinforcing from some buildings was melted and now configured as a melted candle with its wax congealed and hardened into some grotesque shape.
The color of the landscape toward the center of the blast was indescribably peculiar. I never saw a color just like it. It was not gray. It was not black. If death has a color, this was its color, spread as far as the eye could reach and with absolutely no penetration of a sun's ray.
Donald Bright Buckley '45
Buckley was in the Duke NROTC program and became the fighter director officer on board the USS Newman K. Perry. He spent twenty-five years as a Creative Director with four of the top 10 agencies on Madison Avenue, earning 13 Clio Awards for his commercials for Fortune 500 clients. He now lives in Salisbury, Connecticut, where he owns and operates Buckley and Buckley Antiques.
We were sitting off the coast of southern Kyushu, ready to go in for the final invasion of Japan. We'd survived kamikazes and typhoons and were about to perform the mission for which we'd been trained. Twelve picket destroyers equipped with carrier-quality air plots capable of handling the protection, retrieval, and safe return of our carrier-based strikes, operating far closer to the targets than the giant carrier task forces.
The countdown was on. And then … Japan surrendered.
We were the first ship into Nagoya harbor. A cheer went up when we sighted our first victory trophy off the starboard bow: the bombed-out remains of the huge Mitsubishi aircraft factory. It had been the hatching ground of the blood-thirsty vultures that preyed on our ships and shipmates, the Zeroes and Betty Bombers.
My responsibility was to control fighters launched by the carriers in day or night intercepts of enemy aircraft, using top-secret radar and radio. Pretty big job for a twenty-one-year-old ensign fresh out of Duke NROTC. And the strange thing about it was that I got this coveted job because of my involvement with the Duke Ambassadors, for which I played tenor sax, and the Hoof 'n' Horn Club, for which I wrote two musical comedies.
The Navy's Bureau of Naval Personnel had concluded that musicians were prime candidates for intense fighter director training. In their view, the ability to work simultaneously with melody, harmony, counterpoint, lyrics, and orchestration was closely related to the task of working with the airspeed, course, altitude, wind, and weather of both an incoming enemy aircraft and your outbound fighter.
After three months of occupation duty, sailing from Nagoya to Wakayama to Yokosuka, I got my orders homeward aboard the USS Hermitage, a converted liner, carrying 6,500 troops and 500 Navy crew members. Five days out, black smallpox broke out, and we began a fourteen-day quarantine. Word spread through the ship, and we were on the edge of a panic situation. I went to the captain and asked permission to put together shows to keep the troops occupied. Permission granted.
Fate was with me. There was a store room aft with band instruments from the prewar days when the ship had posh cruise entertainment. Talent exploded from the troops and crew. Suddenly, I had a sixteen-piece jazz band, a hillbilly quartet, a nightclub emcee, and a star singer from Xavier Cugat's band. We did three shows a day on the main deck and kept the returning GIs occupied, entertained—and calm.
Almost every member of the Duke Ambassadors was in a reserve program. When we all left to go to war, we'd had great plans to re-form the band and hit the road. MCA (Music Corporation of America) had offered us a fat contract.
There had been sixteen of us. But only eight came back.
Walter E. Shackelford '42
Shackelford was a senior at Duke when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He joined the U.S. Naval Reserve (now Navy Reserve) and graduated before going to the U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipman School of New York (at Columbia University) and then to the U.S. Naval Academy for training as a communications officer. A retired photographer, Shackelford lives in Durham.
At the surrender on the Miyake-shima islands south of Japan, I received a sword and pistol as victory booty. Many years passed before I took out the sword and had a Japanese native translate writing on the bag covering it. The writing gave the name of the owner, Takuyo Seno.
I had a son working for Piedmont Airlines who had a Japanese boss. He was kind enough to see if the owner was still alive and found that he was. We contacted him and found that he would like to have the sword back, as it had been given to him by his father when he became an officer in the Japanese army.
When I arrived at Narita Airport, there was a Japan Airlines official looking for me at the baggage. After picking up my baggage and sword, he took me to a private room where customs officials carefully opened the box, examined the sword, recorded a lot of data, and then rewrapped the sword.
Two airline officials took my son and me to a waiting car that took us to the police station near the terminal. It was there that the sword's owner, Mr. Seno, several Japan Airlines officials, the chief of police, and some press members were waiting in a private conference room.
I immediately knew Mr. Seno from the photograph he had sent me and stepped forward to shake hands with him. At that point, with an interpreter, I made a little formal presentation of the sword to Mr. Seno, to the effect that I had received the sword as a symbol of victory and was now returning his sword to him as a symbol of peace and friendship between our two countries.
Mr. Seno seemed quite touched and proceeded to open the box and look for the cotton cloth that revealed his name. "That's my handwriting," he exclaimed. He broke into a big smile.
This all happened on Wednesday, September 26, 1984, after a fourteen-hour plane ride. I have to say that this was one of the most exciting and gratifying days of my life. My friendship with the Seno family has continued to this very day. Through all these years we have exchanged cards, letters, small gifts, and pictures of our families. Mr. Seno died on February 1, 2004.
Charles Henderson '41, J.D. '42
In November 1980, Henderson attended a Duke Chapel service and noticed in the church bulletin that the annual presentation of Handel's Messiah was scheduled to be performed on December 7, prompting him to write the following letter to The Chronicle. Among Henderson's family members who also attended Duke are his brother David Henderson '35, and sons Robert Henderson '76, J.D. '79 and James Henderson '83. He died in 1999.
On Sunday afternoon, December 7, 1941, I was a twenty-one-year-old law student. The lovely nurse whom I was dating and I were touched by the wonderful music and "Hallelujah" chorus conclusion, but as we walked out into the chill of the late afternoon we learned that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Everywhere students stood in clusters whispering their shock. Since the draft had already claimed many, and the rest of us were very much "military age," we knew that many in our midst would not survive (and many didn't).
Three thousand miles and [almost four] years later, I was aboard the USS Azimech as a supply officer. We had finished supplying troop transports, destroyers, and escorts with full cargos of food and other supplies in readiness for the deadly assault on Japan that was expected momentarily.
Sitting in the wardroom having a "cuppa Joe" and listening to the Armed Forces radio from a nearby island, I heard the announcement that the Japanese had surrendered, followed instantly by the "Hallelujah" chorus by Handel that I had not heard since that day in 1941.
For me, the beginning and end of World War II was that chorus.
Arthur Peabody '40 and Margaret Braynard Peabody '41
The couple's son, Arthur Peabody Jr. '65, says that his parents, now deceased, got engaged during his father's senior year. At their parents' insistence, they had planned to wait until Margaret's graduation the following year to get married. But when the draft was reinstated in early 1941, they accelerated their plans.
There was a lottery to determine who would be drafted and my dad drew draft number one. Realizing that he would be in the service soon, he drove from Cleveland, where he had been working, to Long Island, to see my mother on her spring break [in March of 1941]. Since he would be in the Army by June, they decided to get married right away. My grandfather, a doctor, helped walk the papers through—blood tests were required for marriage licenses in those days—and they were married two days later. Their honeymoon was a drive back to Duke down the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Dean [Alice] Baldwin had given my mother permission to stay enrolled, but she was required to move off campus for the rest of the term. After she finished finals and was told she could graduate in absentia, she and her mother drove to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where my dad was doing his basic training. He went on from there to Officer Candidate School at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and became one of the many "ninety-day wonders" that those schools turned out. He joined the army engineers as a supply officer.
He was shipped out to England in the early summer of 1942. (I was born almost exactly nine months after his departure.) He didn't return until September 1945.
While in London, he had taken shelter in the Tube during an attack by the German "buzz bombs." The all-clear sounded and he was making his way out when one of the missiles landed and exploded near the entrance. He was blown back down to the bottom of the stairs, landing in a heap of people, none of whom was hurt except for some momentary loss of hearing.
His group specialized in building airfields. Following the landings in Normandy, they completed the first Allied airfield there. A B-25 flew in for a test flight, and my father struck up an acquaintance with the pilot. He was offered a chance to fly back to England on the plane's return trip. He accepted and flew in the nose gunner's position (on a B-25 that is below and forward of the cockpit). The pilot turned out to be a real hotdog, and flew just above the wave tops all the way across the channel. After that trip, we couldn't get my dad in a plane again until he flew down for my Duke graduation in 1965, twenty-one years later.
Jean Wallace White '40
Reared in Newark, New Jersey, White attended public schools and earned academic honors. Her family encouraged her to apply to Cornell, but the day she visited the campus, Ithaca was cold and snowy, with sleet and freezing rain. She started looking south, and chose Duke to be her alma mater—a decision, she says, that she has never regretted. White lives in Chatham, New Jersey.
I was in the class of '39 with good grades, White Duchy, Phi Beta Kappa, and a member of the Kappa Alpha Omega sorority. Unfortunately, I ended up in the hospital because of an East Campus food poisoning that affected more than a hundred students. I was the only one so sick I had to leave Durham without taking any exams. Thus, I lost a semester, and when I did return, I watched my '39 class graduate with tears in my eyes.
I went to work in the Newark Public Library to earn enough for graduate school. I enjoyed working as a children's librarian, but when the war started, I joined the newly formed women's branch of the Navy—WAVES. I was sent to New York City (after three months of training at Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges) into censorship—cable, letter and telephone. The Navy taught me that I could do anything, but I hated the "graveyard" shift—midnight until 8 a.m. However, I met there the man I married some years later.
One very special memory of mine was on "Navy Day" (1945) when I had the incredible experience of meeting and escorting President Harry S. Truman and his wife and daughter as he reviewed the homecoming troops in New York. I cannot describe the pride I had in my small role in our winning effort.
I still meet with my WAVE friends on occasion, reveling in our memories.
Victor Politano M.D. '44
Politano was on an accelerated program at Duke Medical School—he was due to graduate in the spring of 1944—but in the fall of 1943, he and his classmates were called to a meeting, where they were informed that they would be graduating early and to pick a branch of military service in which to enlist. After the war, Politano went on to become a prominent pediatric urologist, retiring in 2008 at the age of 79 as chair of the University of Miami Medical School's department of urology. The following recollections are from his son, Mike Politano '68.
Dad picked the Navy and eventually landed at Galveston, Texas, and shipped out from there for the Pacific. He was in the Pacific for the rest of the war, stationed aboard an LST [landing ship, tank], which served as one of several ships to which wounded would be sent. I have seen footage of some of Dad's movie reels from that period, including a ship-to-ship transfer of a patient in a sling, moving the wounded individual from a light cruiser to the LST for treatment.
Dad was part of Operation Hailstone at Truk in February 1944, during which most of the Japanese fleet was destroyed and the island occupied. I've seen movie reels taken by Dad of caves on Truk that had contained Japanese defenders burned out by flamethrowers.
John Tropman '50 and Anna McDonough Tropman '49
The late John Tropman and Anna McDonough Tropman were among the thousands of war veterans who were able to come to Duke on the GI Bill. Their daughter, Alice Thacher, shared these recollections.
Before the war, my dad had taken some college courses, but it was never certain he would complete a degree. My mom had gone to nursing school, and was an R.N., but a degree was even less of a certainty for her.
As soon as they were discharged, they made their college plans. Dad could have gone most anywhere for a bachelor's in business, the degree he wanted. My mother, however, wanted a degree in nursing education, and at that time, not many colleges offered such a thing. They determined that, of the few colleges that met Mom's needs, Duke had the best climate. They were from Buffalo, New York.
They married in June, came down to Durham to take Duke's entrance exams as a honeymoon, and started school in the fall. Mom and Dad
lived off campus and were older than most of the undergraduates (even most of the other G.I. Bill students).They took rooms in the house of a Methodist minister, who felt bad that my dad kept beer in the common refrigerator.
Mom told me that teaching "grownups" threw some professors for a loop.She and Dad took several of the same classes—she attended on
East Campus, Dad on West. Same professor, even, just gender segregated. Not quite women's lib, though—when her French professor
asked her what she thought her grade ought to be, she told him it should be one grade lower than her husband's, even though she was more fluent.
My parents remembered their time at Duke with affection and as time well spent. It was hard work and a cultural adjustment, but they had coped with far more during the war. They were ready for Duke, and I'm glad Duke was ready for them.
Tom Lunsford '49
The experiences of having been a dive bomber are many and usually quite rewarding, but sometimes harrowing. One event left me with a very deflated ego. My squadron was scheduled to bomb a Japanese stronghold bivouacked in a small town on Luzon Island in the Philippines. We were given the privilege of choosing our own target. I chose a huge warehouse in the center of town. I rolled over in my Marine Corps 58D dive bomber. The winds were perfect, and I had no trouble trimming the rudders for the steep dive. Everything went perfectly. I even dove lower than the ideal pull-out altitude for the trail of the dropped bomb to give me a bull's eye hit. I pulled out of the dive and with great exhilaration and expectation flipped over my little bomber to survey the magnificent bull's eye. To my horror, I had missed the whole gigantic building. My bomb had exploded outside the warehouse. With a hang-dog ego, I took myself and my sweet little 58D back to air base. No joy today!
Bart N. Stephens '43
After graduation, Stephens went through midshipman school and was assigned to be a communications officer in the amphibious force in the Pacific. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star medals for his part in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, which he describes below. He was in the American Foreign Service for thirty-four years in Europe and Asia. His last assignment was as cultural attaché in the American Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. He lives in Lynchburg, Virginia.
"Execute!" I shouted to Peterson, my signalman, who then smartly pulled the H-Hour signal flags down. At this visual command, hundreds of small boats loaded with equipment-laden Marines, moved at full speed toward the black volcanic ash beaches of Iwo Jima. It was about nine in the morning on February 19, 1945. I had been standing on the flying bridge of our flagship, a modified LCI [landing craft infantry], which was the flag of a flotilla of thirty-six rocket gunboats. Our ship and the flotilla were a thousand yards from the beach. My eyes had been glued to my binoculars, watching for a signal to advance from the distant task force command ship. I had been a small link in the chain of command, which led to the landing on Iwo Jima. From my battle station on the flying bridge, I had seen the American flag raised on Mount Suribachi.
On April 1, 1945, Easter Sunday, American forces landed on Okinawa. Our flotilla of rocket gunboats assisted and then gathered with hundreds of other ships in Buchner Bay off of Naha. The most memorable event in our part of the landing was the aftermath of a Japanese kamikaze attack. When news of the approaching suicide planes reached us, each ship cranked up its smoke machines. Soon the harbor was covered with thick smoke, and we were invisible to the incoming planes.
At this moment, another amphibious craft dragged its anchor and crashed into us, punching a hole at the water line. Water poured into the radio shack and our twelve-bunk officers' stateroom. We immediately headed for the Okinawa beach several thousand yards away. There was a terrible grinding noise. Our flat-bottomed craft had run into a hidden reef. When the tide went out in the morning, we sat there high and dry. A fleet tug, straining mightily, pulled us free after three days. Fortunately, the fighting on Okinawa had moved to the south, and we were spared gunfire in our exposed position.
Richard C. Cook M.F. '49
Pamela Cook '77 submitted her father, Richard C. Cook's M.F. '49, story:
Richard C. Cook served in the U.S. Army Air Force from 1943 to 1945 as a staff sergeant in the 451st Bomber Group, 15th Air Force. His missions in B-24 bombers left southern Italian airbases, dodging Nazi anti-aircraft guns in the Alps, to attack targets in northern Italy and southern Germany. To this day, he is sorrowful for losing a good friend during a mission over Bolzano. A vivid memory—an ME262 German Air Fighter roaring through his bomber formation at 500 mph. His group was required to wear sidearms on all missions—the rumor was that if they were forced down in Russian occupied territory (the Russians were approaching Vienna) they would not be recognized as soldiers and would be shot. He recalls helping to pick apples for the local farmers in Monte Alto during a labor shortage. His last order was to board the USS America along with thousands of other soldiers for a trip across the Atlantic from southern Italy to Newport News, Virginia.
Robert Odell '41
Odell was called up in November 1940 to the War Department general staff in Washington, D.C. His plane landed at a small airport that later became the location for the Pentagon. He began his military career as section chief of the British Empire Far East Subsection, followed by his appointment as assistant military attaché and air attaché for the American legation in Australia. Odell's grandfather, W.R. Odell, was an 1875 graduate of Trinity College and served as a university trustee for fifty years, the longest of any trustee.
At the request of Minister Retired General Patrick Hurley, I transferred to the 32nd Division, 126th Regiment, 2nd Battalion, New Guinea. I mention the battalion because we were the ones who made the trek over the Owen Stanley Mountains to Buna. The Buna campaign has been described by historian Hanson W. Baldwin as "… a narrative of stark horror and suffering, relieved only by the bitter anticlimax of a victory partaking more of a tragedy than triumph." The Papuan campaign, unknown at the time and only recently receiving attention, had 2,701 more casualties than Guadalcanal.
A footnote: My classmate and Alpha Tau Omega fraternity brother Don Mitchell ['41], a fighter pilot based at Port Moresby, was to be my best man. He didn't make it. After being shot down, rescued, and returned to base, there were his orders to Melbourne for the wedding [long since passed]..
Elizabeth Allin Clarke '39
When I went to Duke, 1936-39, there was no ROTC but there was rampant anti-military sentiment. My dad was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and I went home many weekends. When I returned on Sunday evenings to the Women's Campus, I went to the dining room for supper. I had to eat alone. No one would sit at the table with me, but they would come over and say to me, "How are all the killers today?"
Many of the men on campus signed a resolution that said, "We will NEVER fight for the country. There is NOTHING in the world worth fighting for."
My family moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, after my graduation where my father was put in command. Later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and hundreds of men signed up for military duty. As was the custom then, we had receptions for the new men. I was in the receiving line. It was all I could do to keep from gagging as I had to shake the hands of some of the men who had signed the resolution that they would never fight. They said, "Oh, but the Japanese bombed us."
I trained in the Motor School and the Red Cross Survivor Schools and was accredited as a Red Cross ambulance driver to rescue the men hurt on the training range. My Red Cross uniform is in the Post Museum at Fort Sill.
I am interested to learn that the students at Duke accepted ROTC during WWII. It is too bad it took a Japanese bombing to wake them up.
J. Birney Dibble '45
Born in Madras, India, to missionary parents, Dibble grew up in northern Illinois during the Depression. Upon graduation from high school in 1943, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was sent to Duke in the V-12 College Training program. On the train ride to campus, he met a fellow V-12 enlistee. The encounter, described below, turned out to be fortuitous both personally and professionally. A retired surgeon and prolific writer, Dibble lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
It was the 30th of June in 1943. I was en route to my first Navy duty station, which was to be Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. My orders were to take four semesters of college and then to be commissioned an ensign in the Navy and join the fleet as an officer and a gentleman. The train in which I was riding was jam-packed with soldiers, sailors, Marines, and a handful of civilians. Even the aisles were crowded with young men sitting on their sea bags or duffle bags.
I, too, was standing, in the far end of the car, unable to find a seat. At the other end of the car was a young man whom I was certain I knew from somewhere but couldn't place. He kept looking in my direction from time to time, so I figured he thought he knew me, too. We both got off in Lynchburg, Virginia, to change to a train going to Durham. On the station platform, we gravitated toward one another and compared notes. His name was Ralph Hudson ['45], and he was from the little town of Mount Morris, Illinois. I had lived in nearby Rochelle for my first two years of high school. So we had played against each other on the basketball court, and that's why we looked familiar to each other.
It turned out that he was also going to Duke and for the same reason I was. So we stuck together the rest of the way, checked in together, and then roomed together for almost two years. We both took premed courses, doubling up on semester hours, taking twenty-six hours each semester, so when we were sent to the fleet, we had amassed enough college credits to go to medical school. We were separated when I was assigned to the Naval Hospital at the Marine base at Camp Lejeune, Jacksonville, North Carolina, and he was assigned to a laboratory at Duke.
But when we got out of the Navy in 1945, we both went to medical school at the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois. There we roomed together for another two years, until he got married. I was best man at his wedding, and two years later, he was best man at mine.
We were separated again during our internship and surgical residency, but in 1957 we formed a surgical partnership in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and practiced together for twenty-five years. During the first couple of years while we were establishing our practice, my wife—a nurse—worked in our office, and Ralph's wife took care of all our kids.
So a chance meeting on a wartime train, headed for Duke University, set the course for both of us for the rest of our lives.
Irving Edelman '43, A.M. '47
On the very same morning that Edelman was called up through the U.S. Army Enlisted Reserve, his father died, leaving his mother with three younger daughters and no help settling the family's affairs. With help from Dean Alan K. Manchester, Edelman learned he had enough credits to receive his diploma. He was able to return home to help his mother, take his final exams orally, and still report for duty as a private. He is retired from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School system and lives in Temple Terrace, Florida.
After basic anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) training, I was sent to Fort Ord, California, a replacement training center. My commanding officer was appalled that I was a Duke grad and a private (he was a Georgia Tech grad). So, when I shipped out to New Guinea in early 1944 to join the 197th AAA Group, I was a corporal. Throughout 1944, while I was serving and fighting in New Guinea, the [Duke] alumni office kept me in touch with my Duke roommates, Harold Landesberg ['45], a Navy officer in the pacific, and Lou Bello ['47], a bombardier stationed in Italy. Late in that year, my letters to Lou began returning unopened. Again, the alumni office discovered he had been shot down over Czechoslovakia and captured. They even learned his Stalag number.
At the end of 1944, we were in convoy to the Lingayen Gulf (Luzon, P.I.) for the January 5th invasion, when my battery commander (an Alabama grad) and I learned that Duke and 'Bama were to play in the Sugar Bowl on January 1st. As exciting as that was for us, we did not learn the final score until February.
In July, the 197th was moved to the northern resort town of Baguio to begin shooting two target missions as part of our staging for the coming assault on the Japanese main islands. Needless to say, the atomic bomb made us all thank the Lord (or Harry Truman) for giving us a future we no longer feared for.
One last anecdote. One day in November '45, my battery commander called me in to tell me I was being shipped to Manila to run a military police company—temporarily. I was heading home because I had enough combat action and overseas service to be rotated. And so, on a dark, stormy night, I hauled my wet duffel back into an operations tent and entered to see two lieutenants waiting. I saluted. They shouted, "Welcome to Manila, Sgt. Edelman, you DOOKIE!" They knew. What a nice experience to have before leaving the islands—to escort a tank company, this time, back to Indianapolis.
In the spring of '46, it was back to Duke to arrange for grad school and rejoin my roommates going on to complete their degrees.
Robert Schwarz '41
Enduring 195 consecutive days of frontline combat with a tough infantry division, including the Battle of the Bulge from 1944 to 1945, exposed us to every kind of hell most every day. Suffering and death were routine, and we thought we had seen every kind of misery that a bloody war can provide—until we encountered a German concentration camp, an indescribable hell on earth created by the fanatical inhuman Nazi machine for torturing their political prisoners.
The sight of 5,000 corpses—[and another 1,000] in various stages of decay, half-stumbling around—was surpassed only by the overpowering stench, which was even worse—and impossible to forget.
The war went on, but this horrible glimpse of "man's inhumanity to man" makes us wonder how any living being can deny that there was ever a Holocaust.
Charles B. Tutan Jr. '50
After graduating from high school in June 1943, Tutan enlisted in the U.S. Army later that year and celebrated his nineteenth birthday on a troop ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Assigned to Company A, 397th Regiment, 100th Infantry Division, Tutan and his division were moved into combat against the German army from November 4, 1944, to May 8, 1945—VE Day in Europe.
In early April of 1945, my division fought a fierce nine-day battle in a bombed-out city named Heilbronn, Germany. My platoon leader sent me and another soldier to attempt to contact another Company A platoon that had been separated from the company. We came upon a dead German soldier lying on the ground near an open cellar. I heard German voices coming from the cellar. I threw a hand grenade in the opening. Three German soldiers came out. We took them prisoner and back to our platoon leader. Later that month, I was wounded by shrapnel from German artillery and sent to a hospital in Nancy, France.
In the fall of 1945, General George S. Patton was killed in an automobile accident near Heidelberg, Germany. I stood honor guard at the foot of his casket at his funeral.
My decorations include the Combat Infantry badge, Purple Heart, European Theater Ribbon with two Battle Stars, Presidential Unit Citation, and the French Fleur de Guerre.
Edwin Polokoff '44
Polokoff, a baseball player during his time at Duke, served on a U.S. Navy LST [Landing Ship, Tank] in the Pacific Theater. He was aware of the tensions between newly minted, college-educated officers and career Navy officers who, in Polokoff's words, "had to graduate from the school of hard knocks." He describes an incident where this tension was manifest, and its impact on his life. After the war, Polokoff became a partner in Merrill Lynch, and over his long career, dedicated himself to service in the Buffalo, New York, area where he lived. Polokoff's memoirs are published in Been There, Done That, What Now?, a selection from which appears below. He now lives in Boca Raton, Florida.
During that first invasion at Zamboanga, Mindanao, the Philippines, [Captain Allen] earned my respect. He maneuvered the LST skillfully toward the beach, avoiding incoming shells, which were being lobbed in from nearby hills at the thirty-six ships moving in formation toward the landing area.
As the bow plowed onto the sand and coral of the beach shoreline, and as the bow doors opened in preparation for the unloading of the tanks and vehicles and combat troops for the fight inland, two other shells ripped into the area of the landing. We learned that four of our men plus several soldiers assigned to unload the barrels of high-octane gasoline and stacks of ammunition were killed. Panic developed among the men at the scene, and they cowered on the nearby sand and in the interior of the LST.
Captain Allen arrived at a running pace, in a red-faced rage, brandishing a loaded pistol and waving it at the nearby troops who were lying face down in the forward part of the tank deck and on the shore a few yards away. The captain screamed, the veins in his neck protruding, his eyes gleaming fiercely, almost popping from their sockets.
"Get back to your job of getting these supplies ashore. I'll kill anyone who shirks his responsibility." The skipper meant it. And as commanding officer aboard the ship, he was in control of the life and death of every person on the vessel. He seemed like a wild man. The men jumped up and began working feverishly, officers included. The work lasted all day and into the night. Miraculously, no new shells hit this particular landing area, and the necessary unloading was completed.
Another scene of the skipper resurfaces in my mind. In a beach setting, a few yards from the invasion landing site, with a few palm trees standing in an area untouched by the chaos of war three days earlier. There were forty or fifty men bowing solemnly near a freshly dug gravesite, listening as the captain read from the Bible. On the day before, at the early morning muster with the battle won and the beachhead secure, it was discovered that one more of our men was missing. A search party ashore found the two halves of the body of our chief engineer lying in a secluded spot. A shell had gone right through his body. His wife and four children would never see him again.
There was the crusty, mean-looking skipper, acting as chaplain at the service, huge tears flowing down his weather-beaten face, sobbing uncontrollably while reading from the Good Book. I turned away from this martinet. I could not look at him as the tears welled up in my eyes, and my heart ached relentlessly.
I realized then that I did not know Captain Allen. I never knew him.
James A. Borbely '45
Jim Borbely's life changed forever one night in 1940 when, following a high school football practice, his coach singled him out for a very colorful, very conspicuous pep talk. "Borbely," the coach barked, "you're like a mackerel in the moonlight—you both shine and stink." That night, Borbely realized the gauntlet had been laid before him and proceeded to improve his skills on the field, eventually earning a full scholarship to Duke. He enlisted in the U.S. Marines V-12 program once on campus and, after completing the program, shipped out to Parris Island, South Carolina, for boot camp.
It was July, and beastly hot in South Carolina in the summertime. Ten men were in each big tent. The first night we were there, I was being eaten alive by bedbugs, and I never knew what a bedbug was coming from a strict Hungarian family. I thought they were mosquitoes, but I couldn't hear them buzzing around my head. I didn't sleep all night. That morning, I charged down to the sergeant's tent and shouted, "You've got to do something! We're being eaten alive up there!"
Well, I must have passed the test of being officer material because no one ever had the guts to charge down to the [headquarters] and demand something be done for the Marines who had serious problems with bedbugs. The sergeant and his crew had the [troops] drag the cots out of their tents, blow torch the springs in the iron beds, and kill the bedbugs that were hiding in the springs. Then, each cot would have a can of kerosene under each leg of the cot so the bed bugs would have to swim in the kerosene moat before they got to the Marines in their cots.
After boot camp, the next stop was Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The barracks were brand new, all red brick, and up-to-date, and we had more training and combat exercises. Next was Quantico, Virginia, where if you pass the grade, you get your second lieutenant bars, which I did. Next was Camp Pendleton, California, then, on to Guam and finally to Okinawa, which had just been secured by the Marines. We were preparing for the invasion of Japan.
We were watching an outdoor movie one night when they stopped the motion picture and announced that the atom bomb had just been dropped on Japan. After the second bomb was dropped and Japan surrendered, we all packed up and went to Tangku, China, to repatriate the Japanese, putting them on ships and sending them back to Japan. In Tangku, our company commander made me recreation officer for our battalion. We took over a small hotel, and that's where we lived until we were sent back to the States to be honorably discharged from the Marines.
Norman "Whitey" White '48
Norman White remembers a different side of the wartime experience—being one of the young U.S. Navy men remaining in Durham during wartime. Following the war, White managed the Moulton Ladder Company in Philadelphia, retiring in 1989.
The Saturday night dances at the [Durham] Armory erupted in some of the local girls' displeasure at the attention their boyfriends were showing toward other young ladies. So much for the combat.
[I also worked] nighttime stints as a soda jerk at the local drugstore in Durham during summer school, six nights a week from 6 to 11 p.m. It was the only way to supplement my Navy subsistence pay of $75 a month, but back then a dollar was a dollar.
And hats off to the girls at Brown House, who were very cordial to a lonely sailor sixty-two years ago.