Friday, May 21, 2010

A Salute of our Family's World War II Veterans: Part 2

"If there must be trouble let it be in my day, that my child may have peace."
– Thomas Paine

Our second account is a personal one. My great uncle, Ralph Holliman, was kind enough to take the time to write about his experience during the war. His description of life on a troop transport ship is an image I will not soon forget. - Grace

World War II: My Story
by Ralph Holliman

(photo: Ralph Holliman 1944)

First of all, I want to say that I never shot at, nor was I shot at by anyone while in the service. I am not a hero. Having said that, I will try to give a short history of my two and a half years in the service to our country.

In late January, 1943, I visited the draft board to see where my name was listed and when I might be called up. They always kept a list posted in the window. Naturally, when I found my name , I learned that I would be the very next person to be called. So in March 1943, five months short of my 19th birthday, I found myself at Fort McClellan in Anniston, AL. (On the 21st of February, Motie Chism and I were married). After a few days at Fort McClellan, I was moved to Fort McPherson in Atlanta. After a couple of weeks of physical, mental and other examinations, I was on a train to an unknown destination. To my happy surprise, I realized we were heading south and to the Tides Hotel, Miami Beach, FL. I was assigned to the Air Corps (later called Air Force).

While at Miami, we had basic training: learning how to shoot a gun, calisthenics, getting up at dawn and learning to say, "Yes, Sir" and salute. After a couple of months there, I was sent to Denver, Colorado for further training. En route to Denver, our train stopped in Birmingham but I was not allowed to get off or call Motie or Mama and Daddy. Army rules. After Denver, I was sent to Sacramento, California with the idea that I would end up in the Pacific. As it turned out, I was put on a troop train and traveled across the country to Newark, New Jersey. (If you want a thrill, spend more than a week on a troop train with no air conditioner.)

After Newark, in October, I was on a troop ship headed for Europe. One thing that I learned quickly was to not volunteer for anything in the Army. I learned this when they asked for volunteers to stand watch on the ship’s gun turrets while crossing the Atlantic, four hours on and eight hours off. With no knowledge of what to do while on duty, it was fortunate that we did not encounter a submarine. On duty during the winter at three o’clock in the morning in the North Atlantic is not my idea of a cruise.

With several thousand soldiers on board, our living standards left a lot to be desired. Our sleeping quarters were stacked four or five high. When eating, we stood at a long table, and when the ship changed directions, our trays would slide down the table and would come back to us when the ship righted. The weather and seas were not smooth and a lot of men would get sick. The line to the latrine was always long. After a visit to the latrine, you would usually get back in line because you knew that by the time you could get in you probably would need it.

Twenty-one days later, we landed at the Firth of Clyde, Scotland. After that I was stationed in Bournemouth, England on the English Channel until D-Day. On D-Day I was stationed in Oxford and later was moved to Creil, France, about thirty-five miles north of Paris. At that time I was in the 326th Ferrying Squadron of the 9th Air Force. The 9th Air Force had the fighting planes (P47 and P51) and the 8th Air Force had the heavy bombers (B17 & B24).

While at Creil, (I was a Staff Sergeant by this time), the Germans decided to make a final thrust at the Battle of the Bulge. Due to the shortage of Army infantrymen to meet this thrust, they began calling men from the Air Force who were under the rank of S/Sgt. so I missed this action. The war finally ended and I was in Paris on V-E day. You can imagine what an experience that was.

In the summer of 1945 after V-E Day, I moved about from place to place - Germany, Belgium and ended up in Marseilles, France on my way to the Philippines through the Suez Canal. President Truman authorized dropping the atomic bomb on Japan and the war was over. I came home on the ship that was scheduled for the Pacific. In October, 1945, I landed at Newport News, Virginia and received a forty-five day furlough. While at home, I had enough points to be discharged.

In 2002, Ralph (back left), his wife, Motie - the girl he married at age 18 in 1943, his sister, Virginia Holliman Cornelius and his brother, Bishop Holliman and wife, Ellen, gathered to celebrate Virginia's 80th birthday in Texas.

As I look back over that time of my life, I realize how fortunate I was to survive the experience without the suffering that so many of my fellow soldiers endured. It is my hope that someday the leaders of this world will find a better way to solve their differences than sacrificing the lives of so many people and that there will be peace in this world.

Next week, we tell the story of Ralph's brother, Bishop Holliman, my grandfather who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. - Grace

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