Today, our first speaker was Jim Helms.
He started out his talk by saying “He had a secret…he hasn’t always been this old!”
It was December 7th, 1941 and he was 16 years old. President Roosevelt declared ”this is the day that will go down in infamy.” Jim grew up in Riverside, Ca. He was in his bedroom with his ham radio set and doing Morse Code. Jim’s mom called out and told him to turn on KFI and the big news was, that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.
When one went to the theatre in “olden times” one of the extra highlights was to watch the News Reel and to see the the latest news. Jim and his friends were able to actually see what had happened at Pearl Harbor. In those days no one knew much about Pearl Harbor, or Honolulu or even Hawaii. To get there from the West Coast one would have to take the SS Lurline Cruise ship or the “China Clipper”.
Jim interjected at this point the fact that a Buck Private made $21.00 a month and this wage was eventually raised to $30.00 per month. With this money aspect not many could actually afford to go Hawaii.
Everyone, naturally, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, instantly felt that California could easily be the next target. Each home was to cover their windows with dark cloth so that the night lights could not be seen from the sea or from the air.
At that time, rationing took effect. All red meat, sugar, butter and even gas for cars were rationed. Even if you had the money to purchase, one was not permitted to buy beyond the rationing level.
Jim went into the Army and was at Camp Roberts for Basic Training. He was to graduate, of all things, on Friday the 13th. He certainly was not happy about that!
Jim was asked to write his biography. What does an 18-19 year old have to write about in an autobiography? The officer then said to Jim “you are left handed. How does a left hand person hold a a shovel?” After all this, Jim became a 2nd Lt and he was off to serve his tour of duty in Hawaii. Jim found Hawaii beautiful, tropical and not populated at all. In fact, Diamond Head was clear of homes and a most beautiful site of all.
In Hawaii, Jim was in charge of POW Camp #2. While there Jim got a Commendation for his handling of prisioners. The prisoners were well and happy. They had hot and cold showers, more food than they could eat. Doctors and dentists were always available to help if anyone needed their assistance.
Jim told many stories that were quite interesting while based at Schofield Barracks. His last story was about a prisoner who was really a U.S. Citizen, but had decided to go to Japan early in the war. Jim had this particular prisoner in his vehicle and they were driving towards Hickum Field. During their drive the man asked Jim to turned off this road and turn at the next corner. As they traveled down the road the prisoner asked him to stop. The prisoner then told him him that the Mom and Pop store where they stopped was actually owned by his own American family.
So many good stories were told to our club as Jim relived his days of joining the service, Basic Training and Hawaiian duty.
Jim retired from the Army as a Battalion Commander.
Our seond and last speaker of WWII experiences was Bruce McCallum
Bruce spoke of his Far East Cruise in 1954-55 on the USS Hornet CVA-12. This was a Carrier Operation with 3500 ship’s comlement on board and plus a 1000 pilots in the air group. On each end of the ship were the air craft.
Bruce explained that a Navy Carrier is the size of 3 plus football fields. He told how the planes took off from the carrier and returned. Also, he had excellent slides of the planes as they lifted off and also coming in, out of the sky to land. The speed in which the planes took off were one plane every 8 seconds. The planes were actually catapulted into the air.
When the planes came in to land, there was a navy man waving a while flag directing the pilot messaging with the flag whether if he was coming in too low or too high to land and if the pilot was not right on target, he would be waved off to go around and try again. The planes also had to land going 130-135 knots and there were four strong nets that were stretched across the runway to stop each plane. Also the planes had hooks to stop the planes as they landed. Today, they do not have a flag man waving a flag, of course, as everything is now computerized.
At that time, the Navy’s answer to SAC was a twin engine with a bomb. As this one plane came for a landing on the Hornet, the bomb came off and luckily went over the bow. No one was hurt in this incident.
As the USS Hornet came into port in Hiroshima, Bruce decided to take a walk into town. He was curious to how the conditions were in Hiroshima. Well, no one looked his way and no one would wait on him. He certainly got a silent response and he decided to return to his ship.
The last photo that Bruce showed was a photo of a memorial service that was being held on board for two pilots whose plane had a “flame out” (one of the two engines quit) just as it was launched. It hit the water and immediately exploded. One of the pilots, Gene Hartley, was a friend of Bruce’s. “This suprisingly hit me and the emotion of the moment overcame me.” Moments like this, cannot be helped.
Bruce had with him, and proudly showed us a souvenier casing from a 3 foot shell.
Both Jim and Bruce received the speakers gift of wheelchair to be given to persons in need.
Bruce’s last comment was, as he said with a grin…”Can I use the wheelchair now?”
Thank you Jim Helms and Bruce McCallum for your WWII experiences. These stories are truly appreciated by everyone in the club.