College and War

From the book Hand to Hand
John’s Road to Healing – College and War

Despite the harsh winds of fortune, the family survived well enough to let me go forth in search of an education. I followed the two previous generations of my family to Dartmouth College, by the Connecticut River in New Hampshire. Like my grandfather, I earned my way through with a job. I was a waiter in the student nurses’ dining room. This was my first and only exposure to medical and paramedical subjects, albeit in the most casual of ways, until I studied Reiki much later in life.

Like my father, when I was at Dartmouth I majored in business administration and took my senior year at the Tuck Business School where I learned to enjoy northeast winters. After college, in 1939, I returned to California, starting work with the Bank of America a year later.

At that time, World War II was brewing for the United States. By March of 1941 I was inducted into the Army. After basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, I landed in a tank battalion, which, while I was with it, operated without tanks. I became a clerk and typed away while the unit was based first at Fort Ord, California and then March Field in Southern California. While on a weekend pass in San Francisco, I met Beth Hoffman who later became my wife.

December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, disrupted many lives. We were all immediately on a war footing with no question about what must be done. I volunteered for pilot training in what was then called the Army Air Force. When I left, the Sergeant Major told me he was sorry to see me go because I was the best typist he had.

I reported to Thunderbird Field in Arizona, graduating satisfactorily from primary training. I moved on to basic pilot training at Minter Field in California. That was something else. There were too many dials in the cockpit for me to keep track of. Things were going badly. The final blow came when I lost my way on a short cross-country flight, getting back to base just before dark. I washed out and reverted to a ground position in the Air force. My application for officer training, however, was approved and I was transferred to Miami Beach, Florida. After the first semester I applied for and was accepted for Statistical Officer training. I finished up the training at Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Suddenly I was a Second Lieutenant, shopping for uniforms and bars. Sometimes I think back on that time, remembering the sense of superior status I carried within me and how a little status can go to the head and distort a person’s sense of balance, which is often alienating to others and a waste of energy.

Eventually I was assigned to a squadron in the 90th Bomb Group, which flew B-24s on missions in New Guinea. I was the guy who reported plane malfunctions and losses to the Statistical Control Unit (SCU) at 5th Air Force. As time went on, I landed a job at the SCU itself. We moved from New Guinea to the island of Leyte in the Philippines, which amazingly enough was quite close to where I had grown up. The move stirred nostalgic memories. My family had lived in Manila and in the town of Cebu on the island of Cebu nearby.

On the next move of the SCU to the island of Mindoro, closer to Manila, which was controlled by the Japanese at that time, I contracted an acute case of infectious hepatitis. I turned yellow and lost about 20 pounds while I was in the hospital. While there, I learned that I had been promoted to the rank of Captain. The fellow in the bed next to me was an enlisted man who seemed to be just as intelligent and important as me. We talked a lot and my feelings of superiority gradually disappeared.

Shortly after I recovered sufficiently and rejoined my unit, Manila fell. We passed through the city on our way to yet another new headquarters at an airfield in Pangasinan Province. I remember vividly the death stench of the more than 200 Japanese soldiers whose bodies were lying in the main plaza of Manila. I remember how one corner of the central post office building was smashed in by shellfire. I had a sense of how Filipinos must have felt, trapped between the warring Americans and Japanese.

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