Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dad and the 511th

Originally posted on September 13, 2007.

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.


A list of veterans in my family was posted May 28, 2007.


Carol said...

What a wonderful collection!

Anonymous said...

Becky - my father-in-law was also in the Pacific during WWII. He didn't talk about it either, but before he died back in 1988, John did have a long conversation about it and wrote down a lot of his thoughts and memories. We too have a Japanese flag with blood stains on it. There was writing all over it, and we had a Japanese friend translate it for us. She was embarrassed to tell us everything because she said it "wasn't very nice", but apparently it was a flag signed by all the employees at a Post Office in a town in Japan for one of their co-workers who was leaving for the war. Our friend said that most Japanese soldiers carried a flag into war with them signed by family and/or friends. I always enjoy your family stories. Babs