Thursday, September 27, 2007

Interview with WWII Veteran, Howard Hatch

Found at a National Science Foundation website

(Online version here)

Interview of World War II Veteran
Howard Hatch Interview Date: 4-27-2004
b.1903- Marine, B [Baker] Company, 3rd Battalion, 9th Regiment, 3rd Division

Interviewer: John Naisbitt, Teacher Hinsdale Central High School
Recorder: Kris DuRocher Wilson, Ph.D. Candidate University of Illinois, Urbana-

Military service is a family tradition in the Hatch family, his father fought in World War I, and with the strike on Pearl Harbor, Hatch went on December 8, 1941 to enlist. The office was so busy they told him to come back a month later.

He re-enlisted a month later in Chicago, and went to boot camp in San Diego. This first camp was very temporary, they had tents instead of buildings. They were 40-50 miles from Camp Pendelton. He remained at camp training for one year.

His battalion was then shipped to Auckland, New Zealand on a tour ship (not a carrier). Fear of Japanese submarines made the trip longer, but the troops did not mind as they had better food on a navy ship then at camp! The trip was rather relaxed, the men bonded and had fun.

Upon their arrival to New Zealand they found out different cultural terms. One example was “How’s your tucker?” which meant “How’s your food?” Another term to clarify is shore leave, which means free time regardless of whether you are on a ship or on land.

In New Zealand they trained on hydroplanes, ships, and guns, and took lots of hikes and outdoor runs.

One memorable story occurred when they visited Rotorua, the capital city of Malaya. The Malaysian men welcomed them. They were dressed in fancy clothes (some wore little or no clothing) and they came out carrying bats and sticks. They would come right up to you and you thought they were going to attack you, they would get in your face and scream, and that was how they welcomed you.

For the first time, Hatch experienced hot springs. Hatch and his buddy missed their company picture one day because they were in the hot springs.

In May1942, Hatch and his battalion were sent to the Marshall Islands, specifically Guadalcanal for more training and patrol duty. The islands had many plantations, and were under Australian control until the Japanese took them over. Many of the Australian plantain owners and workers were spies for the Americans.

Before they arrived at the Marshall Islands there had been sea battles between the Americans and Japanese over the Marshall Islands. There were high causalities on both sides. One American General suffered so many casualties that he pulled his troops out. Many ships, airplanes, and lives were lost on both sides.
The troops were hassled by Japanese planes. One plane that flew over and occasionally dropped bombs was nicknamed “Sewing Machine Charlie.” Hatch remembered how some “Joy Boys” – men who had to much fun – decided that the next time Sewing Machine Charlie flew by, they would surprise him. Two would shout “Here he comes” at opposite sides of camp. The other guy would run to the ship and pound the toilet seat up and down which sounded like a machine gun. Unfortunately, the Captain of the ship was aboard when this stunt happened, and they boys were punished for 6 weeks. After the war, the Captain did not forgive them because when the men called on him for a visit he refused to let him into his house!

Shortly after this, they shipped out to Bougainville Island in order to secure it from the Japanese. Hatch was on the right flank, and most of the fighting and deaths were on the left. It was difficult to stay together and the swamp land was hard to walk through. At this point, Hatch was part of the mortar section, so they had to carry the heavy pieces of equipment through the swamp. They were successful in taking part of the island.

Then Hatch got Jungle Rot on his feet, like Trench Foot in World War I, it was a painful. It looked like a pimple on top of his ankles, and he could not walk on it. He had a high fever as well. He was flown back to Guadalcanal were Penicillin helped to clear up the infection in about 10 days. He returned to patrol duty, where he killed and skinned a cow for fresh meat. This was near the end of 1943.

In 1944 Hatch had been in the Pacific for 24 months straight. He was on reserve for the Battle of Siapan. They spent 51 straight days on the ship being held in reserve. The men played a lot of bridge (Hatch lost $2000 pretend dollars) and read War and Peace.

After this they went to Guam, a very wet and swampy island. There were 1,200 people on the right flank on high ground, but there was a gap between them and the left flank, which was filled in by sniper scouts. That night they experienced a “Bonsai attack,” where the Japanese soldiers try to literally run right over you. They shot parachute flares in the air so their troops could see. After the initial attack, a friend took Hatch to a nearby cliff where American soldiers were using machine guns to pick of the Japanese who were climbing up it.

During a lull in the action, a Japanese solider ran by. Hatch tried to tell him in Japanese to stop and surrender, but another solider shot him. Due to the large number of suicide missions carried out by Japanese soldiers, who often used grenades or bombs, this was common practice.

While they were at Guam, Eddie Edwards, who was Hatch’s best friend, was helping to get the lines in place. It was very late at night and he was one of the last lines. They decided to sleep in a crater. That night they were attacked and Edwards suffered a grenade to his head. During the fighting, Hatch heard a solider crying for his mom. Hatch never looked at Edwards body, and the two had a pact that if something happened they would talk to each other’s parents. Hatch never did and still feels guilty.

After this, Hatch was sent to camp on Guam called Coconut Grove. He tried to make a washing machine out of a jug, a propeller, and a stick. It worked enough to wash underthings and socks, at least until a new Colonel came, Colonel Randall demanded that it be thrown out during an inspection. This was the end of 1944.

The next battle took place on Iwo Jima, where the 3rd, 4th, and 5th divisions tried to take the island. The island is shaped like a triangle and the troops were successful in taking the bottom to a point, but then the Japanese retaliated. In three days, 3,000 men were killed. Eventually the Americans climbed to the top of a dormant volcanoes and raised two flags. Hatch, who was a Sargent at this time, was on a ship when this happened. The next day his men landed and tried to take the airfield.

(At this point the interview was running long, Hatch was asked to summarize the rest of his experience)

Eventually they took the island, but Hatch was injured in the process – shot in the hip and was partly paralyzed. He was flown on a plane back to Guam, where he fully recovered. After more then three years in the Pacific, he was eligible to go back to the states for a furlong. He was treated like a hero, but did not feel much like a hero. He had been scared all the time.

After his furlong, Hatch was stationed on the east coast until the war ended in the Pacific (8/13/1945) with the dropping of the bombs, which Hatch felt the Americans had no choice.

Hatch was discharged September 19, 1945.

He returned to work in the stockyards, which he did for 30 years. He now volunteers at the zoo. He is a member of the DAV, and won a purple heart, a presidential award, a citation and “other medals.”

End of Interview

Transcribed 5.1.04

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