Category Archives: Life in the Army

Commentary and vignettes from Wilber’s life in the Army

43rd Infantry Division Inducted into Federal Service 75 years Ago

News photo of 152nd Regiment officers as they prepare to leave for active duty training. My father, Capt. Wilber E. Bradt  is on the far left,  [Photo: Bangor Daily News, March 15, 1941, front page]
News photo of 152nd Regiment officers as they prepare to leave for active duty training. My father, Capt. Wilber E. Bradt is on the far left, [Photo: Bangor Daily News, March 15, 1941, front page]
The 43rd Infantry Division, with elements from four New England states, was inducted into Federal service on February 24, 1941, for one year of active duty. Europe was an Axis fortress, with only England and Russia free of German Nazi domination. The Germans would attack Russia in June and America would not enter the war until Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was attacked by the Japanese on December 7, 1941.

During early March, the men and trucks and howitzers of the 152nd Field Artillery Regiment left towns all over Maine for Camp Blanding, Florida.  The regiment would not return home until victory 4.5 years later. Capt. Wilber Bradt, my father, a 41-year old chemistry professor was on the staff of the regiment and thus helped organize the departures. He, with the regimental commander and others of the staff, would finally leave for Florida on March 15, 1941. Old movie footage shows the regiment’s departure from snowy Bangor, Maine, and their early days at Camp Blanding, Florida. (My dad appears briefly on the train platform in the background facing the camera at time 3:48 of the nine-minute clip.) In the photo above, taken just as they were departing Bangor, he is the officer on the left end.

By March 15, my mother, my sister and I had left Bangor, Maine, and were settled into an apartment on West 73rd Street in New York City. Thus, just 75 years ago, began the sagas of our World War II experiences, that of Wilber with the army in the Pacific Theater and that of my mother, Norma, in New York City.

My trilogy, Wilber’s War: An American Family’s Journey through World War II, tells the whole story. It has been reduced in price from $125 to $79 and readers of this blog can get it for 25% less than that ($59.25 plus shipping). Use discount code BLOGWW at www.wilberswar.com. It’s a most touching story of jungle combat, intense love, and human frailty. Please consider buying it and telling your friends about it.

Veterans Day op-ed

The Daily Caller published my op-ed recalling Veterans Day 1943. Wilber, had lost three forward observers (young lieutenants who spotted artillery fires from the front lines) in the previous three months of fighting in the Solomon Islands. On Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, the division gathered at Munda cemetery for a memorial service. The day before, he wrote to my mother:

Munda Cemetery, New Georgia July 8, 1944, a year after the battle began. These graves were moved to the National Cemetery in the Philippines or to the USA after the war. [Photo: U. S. Army Signal Corps, SC 526385]
Munda Cemetery, New Georgia July 8, 1944, a year after the battle began. These graves were moved to the National Cemetery in the Philippines or to the USA after the war. [Photo: U. S. Army Signal Corps, SC 526385]

“The Armistice Day will be a religious service for our dead who are in this island. It will be a sad Armistice for us for Lieutenants Payne and Malone and Heidelberger will be there in the cemetery from the 169th. However each was doing a grand job when his time came.”

A few days later he described the service to my sister: “We attended a religious and military memorial service on Armistice Day in honor of our dead comrades. We stood at salute while the firing squad fired a volley for each battalion or regiment that had one or more men killed. For us the speaker said ‘For 1st Lt —, the first to fall in the 169th, and his brave comrades that followed.’ Then the volley was fired. It was a beautiful spot that had been made into a cemetery and the service was lovely but so, so sad. I hope too many more don’t ‘follow’ in the next year.”

Thus passed Veterans Day in 1943.

Off to war today!

Wilber’s last letter before sailing off to war,  San Francisco Harbor, Oct. 1, 1942,

“Hello Beloved [Norma] — Letter No. 2 will be very short. I just want to say again that I love you more than anything else in the world. I’ll come back to you just as soon as possible.

“You know of course not to say anything about your guesses of the movements of the 43d in your letters. Censorship is on.

“Dear Darling Mate of Mine you will be in my arms so many times in spirit even if not in fact. You must not feel alone. I will be beside you all the time. You and Hale and Valerie and I will do many happy things together as soon as we can. Until then My Heart, My Interest, My Love is with all of you until I come back. Please be kind and gentle and considerate to each other so my wonderful home won’t be spoiled. It’s my family, you know.…”

Four days Before Sailing off to World War II

Here is a glimpse of Wilber’s thoughts four days before sailing from San Francisco to help stem the Japanese advances toward Australia after the Pearl Harbor attack. He was at Fort Ord, California. His artillery battalion was rushing to get ready for the long voyage to the Southwest Pacific. He writes to his wife, Norma,

“Sept. 27, 1942 10:15 P.M. — … I have made out “Safe arrival cards” for you …. These cards are held at this Post until our unit reports by wire that we have arrived safely less whoever fell off the boat. They don’t stop the boat for one man overboard, so if I slip I’ll grab a couple to go with me. My orderly is instructed that if I go overboard to yell, “Three men overboard.” Some of my “sarcastic” friends say the splash would justify it anyway. [Wilber was on the heavy side.]

“My baggage and roll goes [sic] out today so I’ll sleep in my size 48 overcoat.… — Your man & Husband, Wilber”

Wilber’s gallows humor regarding men falling overboard was not so funny in reality, but it perhaps helped preserve his and his correspondents’ sanity in those rather perilous circumstances.

Eight Days Before Sailing Off to World War II

In September 1942, the US Marines were in the midst of their fight with the Japanese defending their tenuous hold on the recently captured airfield on Guadalcanal, an island in the Solomon Islands of the southwest Pacific Ocean. The Japanese were determined to recapture the airfield and to drive further southeast in order to cut off communications with Australia. A US army division, the 43rd from New England, was ordered from its training camp in Mississippi to Fort Ord, California, and then overseas to the South Pacific to help stem the Japanese advances. My father, Wilber Bradt, was the second in command of an artillery battalion of the 43rd.

On this date in 1942, September 23rd, the division was in a frenzy of activity because it would be sailing off to war only 8 days hence. The tension is building, training with live ammunition has been intense, and new equipment and men have been acquired. The division has high priority for supplies and men as the army works to bring it to a full state of readiness for combat. Late on this Wednesday evening, Wilber wrote to me—I was 11— giving me a taste of their activities this day. Here is a bit from that letter:

“We have been loading freight onto boxcars all day and the men are pretty tired. They are busy cleaning rifles in their spare time too. Did I ever tell you the Army puts melted grease all over its guns whenever they are in storage? It makes each gun a big greasy glob that must all be cleaned off. It sure is a mess but it stops rust.

“Son, I am proud to have a boy like you to go to war for. I know you will do all you can to keep “the home fires burning” until I come back. I’m sorry to be away from you now but I would be sorrier and so would you if I were trying to keep from fighting for my country.”

Stay tuned for more of Wilber’s reporting in the following days.

A medal earned on Luzon

2/10/2015. The  first phase of combat on Luzon for the 43rd Infantry Division was coming to an end this date in 1945. More was to come. Wilber had just received word that he had been awarded a second Silver Star. As he put it on Feb. 12, ” Pop got decorated again. This time it was a Silver Star based on an Infantry recommendation. I’m very proud of it but my inner conscience tells me I didn’t really earn it.”

The day Lt. Mushik was awarded the DSC

2/6/15. December 27, 1943, was a proud day for the 169th Field Artillery Battalion when one of its own, Lt. Donald L. Mushik of Mandan, SD, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroic performance as a forward observer during the battle for Munda Airfield in the Solomon Islands. The presentation by General Barker, the parade in review, and a band concert were all photographed by the battalion doctor, Charles D’Avanzo, as was a gathering of the battalion officers in front of the battalion chapel. It was a festive time all around for these officers and their men who had been through three months (July–September, 1943) of intense jungle combat in the captures of Munda Airfield, Baanga Island, and Arundel Island. The battalion was at that time recuperating on nearby Ondonga Island. My sister Valerie as a young girl circled her daddy Wilber’s face with a crayon on this print. Mushik is two places to the left of Wilber, wearing his medal.