Thursday, September 13, 2007

Dad and the 511th

On February 19th 1943, just 3 weeks after his 19th birthday, Jack William Wiseman was inducted into the U. S. Army. A week later he entered active service at Toledo, Ohio.

At about that same time the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment was activated at Camp Toccoa, Georgia. A processing system was set up for screening the volunteers for Parachute duty from all over the country. Every man was interviewed and had to meet the Regiment’s high standards prior to his acceptance. Only 35% of the volunteers met those requirements. Since most of the men had come to the Regiment straight from induction, their entire training, from Basic on up, was of Airborne design. The Regiment was sent to Camp Mackall, North Carolina for 17 weeks of Basic training. Following that training, the 511th journeyed to Fort Benning, Georgia for three weeks jump training. Following Parachute School the Regiment returned to Camp Mackall for Advanced Training.

Apparently, within the upper echelons of the War Department, there was some concern about the effectiveness of and need for large Airborne units. A special test maneuver was ordered for the 11th Airborne Division and it took place for five days during the first week of December 1943. This included a nighttime parachute, glider, infantry, and artillery demonstration. The objective of the division was to capture the Knollwood Airport in North Carolina; thereafter, this exercise became known as the Knollwood Maneuvers. The success of these Maneuvers was very instrumental in the continued use of Airborne troops during the remainder of World War II.

Early in January of 1944, the Division went to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and engaged in additional maneuvers. In April, they traveled by train to Camp Stoneman, California. On May 8, 1944, the 511th departed on the SS Sea Pike with about 2,000 troopers that had been disguised as a "Straight Leg" infantry unit. The ship had been built by the Western Pipe and Steel Corp. and launched in February 1943. It was 492 feet long, with a beam of 70 feet. She drew 29 feet of water and her steam engines pushed her at 17 knots. On May 28, 1944 the Regiment arrived at Oro Bay, New Guinea.

Through October, the 511th was in strategic reserve in New Guinea. During this time they conducted airborne, jungle and amphibious training. On Nov. 7, 1944 the Regiment departed New Guinea on the USS Cavalier for the Philippines. His separation papers show that Dad was involved in campaigns in New Guinea, the South Philippines Liberation, and Luzon. The History of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment (link at bottom) provides details of the battles in which the 511th Regiment participated. Not all companies participated in all of those battles. His record shows that Dad was wounded in action on February 8, 1945 at Luzon. It was not a serious wound however.

In May 1945, the division moved into a rest and training camp near Lipa, Luzon where preparations began in earnest for the invasion of Japan. However, on August 6, 1945, the nuclear weapon "Little Boy" was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, followed by the detonation of the "Fat Man" nuclear bomb over Nagasaki on August 9th.

Two days later, the Regiment departed Luzon and was flown to Okinawa. On August 30th the 511th arrived at Atsugi Air Base near Yokohama to occupy the city and guard the docks from which the peace delegation left for the signing of the Armistice. On September 2, 1945 the Japanese formally surrendered during ceremonies onboard the battleship USS Missouri which was docked in Tokyo Bay on the island of Honshu. Two weeks later, the 511th moved to Morioka, Japan to begin the occupation of Iwate and Aomori Prefectures in Northern Honshu. Although some of the troops of the 511th remained in Japan, Dad returned to the states in December 1945 and was separated from service on January 26, 1946 at Camp Atterbury, Indiana having served 2 years 11 months and 3 days, a little more than half of that time had been foreign service.

My Dad never talked about his military service to us kids, even after we were adults. There was only one time, when I was still in high school, that he brought out his box of memorabilia. There wasn't much. A few medals, a couple of pictures, some currency that we called funny money (15 bills of varying denominations), and a small flag. It was a Japanese flag that he had picked up after a battle; it had some dark stains on it that he said was the blood of the "Jap" that he had taken it off of. After he had shown that to us he immediately put everything away again. I don't know what happened to the little flag, but I now have his medals, pictures (unidentified, of course) and papers. I do remember, when we were little, for several summers we went to the Goshen Air Show. We'd meet up with some of his "buddies" and their families. Dad also had two rifles from the war. Mom said that after a particularly rough time, he threatened to commit suicide and she made him get rid of the guns. It was at about that time that we quit going to the air shows.

In May 1977, I was transferred to the Naval Air Station at Yokusuka, Japan. I knew Dad had been in Japan and asked him about it but he still wouldn't talk about his time in the service. It wasn't until after he passed away that I found out the details, from his separation papers and some magazine articles. In 1993, he had joined the 511th Parachute Infantry Association and amongst his papers were eight issues of "Winds Aloft" which is their quarterly publication. It has some very interesting and informative articles, some written by men that were in his company. After having read some of those articles, I think I now know why he didn't want to speak of his experiences.

These pictures have seen better days. My Dad is the young man on the left in the first picture. None of his pictures are captioned so I don't know where or when they were taken.

Currency issued by the Japanese Government while they occupied the Philipines during the war. The Filipinos called it "Mickey Mouse" money due to the fact that it was similar to play money and next to worthless.

The 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment was part of the 11th Airborne Division. Decorations and Citations that Dad received included: American Theater, Asiatic-Pacific with 3 Bronze Stars, Philippine Liberation with 1 Bronze Star, Good Conduct, Purple Heart, Meritorious Unit Award, Bronze Arrowhead, and Victory Medal.

The History of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment by Leo F. Kocher
The Knollwood Manuevers
The battle for Luzon
The Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Wikipedia
Formal Surrender of Japan onboard the battleship USS Missouri
WWII Pictures of
Manila on the Island of Luzon
Philippine Pesos issued by the Japanese Government


Jasia said...

Very nice article Becky. Given that your dad didn't talk much about his days in the Army you sure came up with a lot of information. Great researching!

Janice said...


You've helped bring your Dad's military service to life (so to speak). Thank you for writing this wonderful article. More proof of the humility of our fathers, who left as boys and returned as men, and didn't want to talk about the horrors they probably experienced.


Anonymous said...

Two things strike me about your Dad's story--

1) Since he was preparing for the Japanese invasion, he's one of the myriad soldiers whose lives were saved by the decision to drop the bomb. I've studied much on the history of the bomb (I "liveblogged" the events leading to its first test and use for the 60th anniversary, on my other blog) -- of course, there's still more to study and learn. But the rationale for using "the gadget" was to avert the kind of bloodshed that a full-scale invasion of Japan would entail.

2) I don't know if it's too difficult to share, but I'm curious about the topics discussed in "Winds Aloft" -- what sort of events happened? Was it more of the Philipine events or the post-surrender events in Japan? Is there anything about the topics that you'd be willing to mention?

Becky Wiseman said...

Thank you, Jasia and Janice, for your kind remarks.

Susan - your series on the dropping of the atomic bomb is amazing. Yes, if the atomic bombs had not been used Dad, and many other soldiers, would have been part of the invasion force. And many of them would not have made it home. As far as the articles in "Winds Aloft", in the few issues that I have, they dealt mostly with events and battles in the Philippines. I'm not sure about posting some or part of the articles because of copyright issues and the fact that some of them are very graphic and somewhat disturbing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Becky,

Thank you for posting this. I would be very interested in the Winds Aloft articles. I am a writer from the Philippines working on a novel set within the experiences of the 511th, from Toccoa to the end of the war, since they fought throughout places in which I lived in as a child. I am convinced I would not be alive, and my parents perhaps never met, if your father and the 511th had not helped liberate my country from the Japanese.

Unknown said...

Came across your article Becky and was struck by the date your dad was wounded - Feb. 8, 1945. My father was wounded on the same date; he was part of the 511th, Hdqtrs Regimental Co., and your dad was in H Company. Wonder if they knew each other?

Anonymous said...

My Dad was also part of the 511th. Have you seen "Rescue at Dawn, the Los Banos Raid" from the History Channel? Colin Powell said something to the effect that the historical significance will probably never be matched.

Scott Sheaffer said...

Hi Becky,

This was an excellent post. I came across it because I was looking for information about Rod Serling (Rodman E. Serling)of Twilight Zone fame. Serling also served in the 511th. For the Twilight Zone, he wrote two episodes set in the Phillipines while the 511th was fighting there: "A Quality of Mercy," and "The Purple Testament."

Anonymous said...

I have your dads airborne knife in my collection no joke can post a photo of it if you wish named to the back

Anonymous said...

I have your fathers paratrooper knife can you please compre the hand writting to confirm it has serial number 35547939 etched and last name

Becky Wiseman said...

Anonymous - If it really is my Dad's knife I'd love to at least see a photo of it. Please contact me directly at (you could even attach a photo of it in an email).

Unknown said...

Very nice article and a tribute to your dad. My dad was also in the 511th PIR, Company H (1943-1946). Over the past recent years I have discovered many things about them I did not know, as my dad NEVER talked of his time in the service. Now I know why. But, dark times or not, this time in the 511th shaped him for the man he would be for the next 60 years. And all of that is so very positive. The training and camaraderie he got in the 511th showed him how successful he could be. I'm on a search now to find out as much of the 511th as I can. And also to learn the thoughts of the men who went through what they did. My dad passed away 10 years ago, I thought all of this info was lost, but I find that there is a lot out there. It has reconnected me with my dad. Thanks for your article.