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Dad’s wartime stint

March 27, 2011
By DON WILLIAMS, For The Leader-Herald

I was 9 years old when my dad, Ross F. Williams, went off to WWII and I became the "man" of the house. I was the oldest son. Dad moved us off our Adirondack farm in Giffords Valley before he left so Mom and the four children, at that time, would be safe in the village of Northville. He rented a duplex on Bridge Street just behind the school so we were convenient to everything that we needed. We could walk to the grocery stores, the dime store, the drug store, and the Star Theater, as well as school and church. With the wartime shortage of gas and tires, it was a good idea not to use a car unless necessary. We had an old DeSoto.

Our home was heated with wood stoves so every time Dad got a furlough, we borrowed a truck and picked up free slabwood from the Adirondack sawmills. We then had to chop and pile it in the back yard so I could carry it into the woodbox as needed. Part of being the responsible "man" of the house, it was important that I kept the woodbox filled with wood.

I never knew too much about Dad's military service; he never said too much about it. When his veteran friends came to visit after the war, I would sit and listen to pick up pieces of the story. Dad had joined the Seabees (C.B. - Construction Battalion) and because of the shortage of bases, he was transferred to the Marines for awhile. He once told me that he enjoyed his time in the Marines; he got to become an instructor on the rifle range because of his experience with guns while growing up.

Once the U.S. Navy Seabees got organized, Dad became part of the Philippine Asiatic Pacific/Liberation. The 30th Battalion was formed in October 1942 and he was assigned to join them. They trained at Camp Thomas, Rhode Island. His rank was MoMM1/C, a heavy equipment operator. Their job was to follow the troops and to construct air strips and living quarters.

Fortunately, my mother, Laura, gave me Dad's 375-page Navy Yearbook, THE 30TH LOG, a "battalion biography." Published in 1945, it covers the work of the Battalion from October 10, 1942 to VJ Day, September 2, 1945. The history in the 30th Log indicated that Dad was stationed on Calicoan Island, a half-mile wide by eight-miles long piece of land just below Samar in the Philippine Islands.

The story of life in the Philippines is too long to tell here, but the major problem was a shortage of drinking and cleaning water. Accommodations were limited to crowded tents and mattresses on plywood floors to keep out the jungle grasses and a variety of insects. The temperature shot up to 135 degrees, a temperature unknown to an Adirondack woodsman. Supplies were in short supply and it took some time to make their wartime home more livable. The "saltwater soap" also failed to clean clothes or bodies.

Dad kept a small "Seabee Log," recording some of the events in his WWII career. It began at Camp Peary, Virginia, and contained a list of 10 parts of the "physical drill under arms." The 15-step "grass drill" was next. In November 1944, he recorded boarding the U.S.S. NAPA and heading for Pearl Harbor-"a most discouraging trip, held in the com. Department by 'GQ' and other petty regulations."

By 1945, he was on the O.S.S. Cottle, traveling the Pacific for three months, sometimes "packed in like sardines in a can." In October, they were on the U.S.S. Rawlins to get back to the United States. His daily entries in the log were about the weather, the food and how anxious he was to get home. By Nov. 7, they reached the Golden Gate Bridge. The final trip was across the country by train and they reached Penn Station on Nov. 15. They enjoyed some coffee and doughnuts with the Red Cross at the Lido Bar. His notations ended with "so I took a shower and went to bed:" his wartime life was at an end. Now, our family could get back to our Adirondack farm and I could become a normal farm boy once again.



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