Brother at war in 1943 told of his experiences
PLAINVIEW, Texas — In 1943, Paul Rodgers of Plainview asked his brother, First Sgt. Finas A. Rodgers of the field artillery, to give an account of some of his experiences in action against the enemy. Sgt Rodgers complied. The non-commissioned officer was the son of Mr. and Mrs. E.J. Rodgers of Plainview and this wife lived in Dallas. Written from Hawaii on Dec. 2, 1943, excerpts of the letter, telling of the capture of Attu, were published in the Dec. 28, 1943, edition of the Herald.
Will try to answer your letter this afternoon. Have been pretty busy this afternoon but have got most of my work done so will see what I can think of to write.
Say Bud, you will never guess how glad I was to get a letter from you. I am very proud of you for the work you are doing in school. And I think the job you boys are doing in school. And I think the job you boys are doing with your paper is great. I only wish some of the grown people of our country would try to do as much as you are doing, I am sure that you have a lot of fun with it as well as work.
You ask me for a story for your paper. Well I am not much at telling stories but will try to tell you a little about our battle of Attu.
You know when we left so I will start with the ride on the ship. Censorship rules will not let me tell you the name of the ship. We were very crowded and were plenty excited.
As you probably know none of us had ever been in combat and we were wondering what was going to happen. About the first seven days were not too bad. But after that we were in the northwestern waters and they are plenty rough. We picked up fuel at Cold Harbor, Alaska.
After leaving there we headed almost straight west. And I will have to say that the farther west we got, the rougher the water got. On about the 10th day out we hit a storm and boy I mean a storm. Most of the boys got pretty sick. Some of them stayed sick for days, but most of them were alright in about two days.
By that time we were well informed as to where we were going and we were not too well pleased.
We were trained for desert fighting and the snow covered islands didn’t look very pleasant to us. The date of attack was set for the 7th of May, but another storm hit us on the 3rd and delayed us four days. For four long days we just drifted around in the Bering Sea. It was very cold and foggy, and was raining most of the time.
After so long a time the sea got quiet and the fog came in worse than ever, but they decided for us to land at any cost. So about noon on the 11th of May I unloaded from the ship into the landing barge with 27 of my men. By about 3 in the afternoon the boat was loaded with the supplies that we were to take with us and at that time we pulled away from the big ship.
The fog was so heavy that we had to stay very close to the ship to keep from getting lost. We drifted around until 9 p.m. waiting for the other boats to get loaded. At that time we started for the shore. We knew that we were pretty close to the beach but we were not sure just how close we were because it was impossible to see as much as 100 yards. You will understand this better if I stop long enough to tell you about the days up there. There are about 5 hours of darkness at that time of the year. It gets dark about 11 at night and is daylight again around 3:30 or 4 in the morning.
So with a light destroyer leading us, we were on the right course. We had to stop now and then to get the compass reading and to be sure that we were going in the right direction. By 11:15 we were near enough to see the Navy pilot lights from the beach that were supposed to guide the barges in.
At this time the light destroyer pulled back to sea and we were left to go on to the beach on our own. We were plenty excited and some of the boys were wondering if they would ever see their home again, or was it their time to die. I don’t think I was afraid but I wasn’t feeling too brave either. I know that the thought passed through my mind just like lightning. A vision of my home and all the fun I had as a boy, and all the wonderful times that my wife and I had together. While we were waiting for the destroyer to get out of the way, the sailors were getting the boat ready for the landing. We didn’t hear any firing from the beach so we didn’t know what to expect. They unlocked the dogs on the ramp so all they would have to do to lower the ramp would be to release the brake. And some way the brake was knocked loose and the ramp fell.
Usually the boat will float even when the ramp is down, but the rough waves came up in the front of the boat so it went down, throwing us in the cold water and I mean the water was cold. It tested 36 degrees and that is plenty cold when you are trying to swim. Part of us were in the water about 20 minutes and I will admit that at that time I thought my number had been called.
The other barges had gathered around and were pulling us in as fast as they could, but that seemed pretty slow to us. At that time the blood had stopped in my legs and I was beginning to feel dead all over. I could still use my arms pretty good because it had kept me busy trying to stay on top of the water with my pack still on my back. I couldn’t get the pack off because my hands were so numb I couldn’t feel anything.
I was the last one out of the water and I was thankful to see that all the other boys had either been pulled out or had gone down because the pain caused by that cold water was almost more than I could take. And I thought we had suffered enough for that time. I knew that some of the boys had not come out of the water because some of them were pretty poor swimmers and I was very anxious to get to the beach and see how many of them I could find.
We were picked up by several different boats so I had no way of knowing just how many I had lost. As soon as they got us to the beach they took us to an aid station. Thank God there were no Japs on the beach or we would have died from the cold in a very short time. As soon as the boys with me were being cared for, I left to see how many of them had been landed at some other place on the beach.
I was so cold I had trouble making my legs do as I wanted them to but thought it would get better after I had walked for awhile. After about 30 minutes of walking and asking everybody at the other aid stations about my men, I had to give up. I got so cold I couldn’t talk, so I was put to bed and given a rubdown.
The most painful thing I have ever had was when the circulation started again in my feet and legs. We were kept in the aid station for 48 hours and I was getting anxious to get to the rest of my outfit. I was wondering how many of my men had been killed.
By that time I had found out how many had been lost in the boat and was really worried about the rest of them. I was very weak from my bath in the cold water, but was willing to try to get to my outfit anyhow. I got to the command post about dark on the evening of the 13th and found everything going fine. They told me that the battle was going in our favor in a big way so I began to feel better.
Up on the front lines the doughboys were having a hard time. The Japs had been on that island for about a year and they were ready for the worst. They were dug in to the point that the only way our boys could get them was to dig them out with hand grenades, and when you get close enough to a Jap to throw a grenade then you are too close for comfort.
To make things worse for us and the Japs, we had three days of sunshine during the 21 days of the battle. We were told on the ship that we would take the island in 36 hours. And it seemed reasonable because the island is small, but they didn’t give the Japs credit for being fighters. That is where a lot of people make their last mistake.
The Japs are not only good fighters, they are savages. They still think it an honor to die on the battlefield. Or if they can’t take you with them they will take their own life before they will let the enemy kill them.
For 21 long days that went on, wading mud, sleeping in the mud when you had a chance to sleep which wasn’t often, eating when you could find time to eat. Nothing to eat but cold rations, getting wet, nothing to burn to dry your clothes, thinking of home and wondering if you would be lucky enough to live through that one and going into another one. Not caring too much if you did or didn’t.
We were so cold, so hungry, so sleepy it didn’t really make much difference if we lived or not. The only thing that kept us going was the American determination to win. To pay them back for the things they had done, to give them what they asked for when they bombed Pearl Harbor.
Well, Bud, the next good news we got was when they sent word out that all the enemy had been knocked out. I can truthfully say that we were the happiest bunch of boys that ever walked. We had had a hard time and we were ready for some rest. After the battle was over we did nothing but eat and sleep for one week. After that we all became restless so they put us to work, getting ready to defend the island in case the Japs decided they wanted it back. And thank God they didn’t try to take it back while we were there.