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Interview on experiences in World War II

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VK: Okay we are here today with Verlyn Witthuhn and he is a World War II veteran, would you please state your name


Interview conducted by Ness City High School Audio-Video Technology Class instructor Valerie Kepple on March 23, 2007, along with American Legion Auxiliary volunteer Lynette Stenzel.

VK: Okay we're here today with Verlyn Witthuhn and he is a World War II veteran, Would you please state your name?

VW: Verlyn Witthuhn.

VK: And your date of birth?

VW: July the 19th 1921.

VK: And where were you born?

VW: Bazine, Kansas.

VK: Your parents' names?

VW: Louis H. Witthuhn, and Anna Witthuhn or Anna Molf Witthuhn.

VK: Did you have any brothers and sisters?

VW: I had three brothers and one sister.

VK: And where did you fall in that were you. . .?

VW: In the middle.

VK: The brothers were . . .?

VW: I had an older sister, she was the oldest one. Her name was Lena and then it was Milton Witthuhn older than I was, then Verlyn myself, Lois Witthuhn Junior, and Harold Witthuhn.

VK: Did you attend high school?

VW: Yes I did.

VK: At. . .?

VW: Bazine.

VK: Bazine, and what year did you graduate?

VW: 1940.

VK: 1940. So you graduated before the war officially started with us, before Pearl Harbor was bombed?

VW: Oh yeah it was just. . .well Pearl Harbor was what….?

VK: `41

VW: I went in August the 6th of `42.

VK: Yeah. Were you . . . when you got out of high school then?

VW: Yes, oh yes.

VK: What were you doing? I mean you didn't enlist?

VW: Farming.

VK: Farming.

VW: Helping my dad farm.

VK: What about your older brother was he in the war also?

VW: He was in the army before I was; he went in October of `41.

VK: Okay, so even before Pearl Harbor.

VW: At the 21 dollar base.

VK: Yeah, yeah. Do remember the announcement of Pearl Harbor?

VW: Oh you bet I do.

VK: What were you? Tell us about that.

VW: Well I really can't tell you much about it I wouldn't know what to say for sure, everybody you know thought it was terrible I guess and it was a tragedy, that it happened.

VK: Did you… I mean having an older brother already in the service, did you know that you were probably, was your older brother drafted or did he enlist?

VW: Yes

VK: He was drafted. So you probably knew that…

VW: I would be drafted too. The minute I got 21 I was drafted. I was 21 on July the 19th and I was drafted August the 6th of the same year.

VK: So you were drafted then?

VW: Yes. What 11, 12, 16 days later.

VK: Yeah, and what branch of the military were you?

VW: Army.

VK: Army. Would you tell us about, you know, after you were drafted what the process was then, where you had to go and. . .?

VW: Well it was three of us left from Bazine at the same time. One was Elmer Stoecklein, he lives in Hays at the present time and I think he is in an old folks home, Jake Gumeschiemer or George I think was his real name, but we called him Jake Gumescheimer. He lived in Bazine, and myself . . . well there was . . . we got on the train in Bazine, Kansas down at Bazine and we rode to Great Bend. But there were other fellows that were undoubtedly married or had a car or their folks took them to Great Bend and we met them down there. Some from Ransom, Beeler and I don't know where all.

VK: And then in Great Bend is that where they?

VW: We all got together there and rode the train plum to Kansas City, and then from there we rode a bus to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. That's where we were inducted in the army.

VK: And was that where they did all the physicals and those kinds of things?

VW: Oh yes. Yes, yes.

VK: How long did that take, how long were you there do you remember?

VW: No I couldn't say we were there, see we was there about 3 or 4 days or 5, I don't know. Then we came home for just a few days and then we had to be back again.

VK: And this was August you said.

VW: Yeah August the 6th when were, well when we left Bazine.

VK: Of 1942.

VW: And that's when. . . . well made let's see. . . .we were inducted on August the 6th if I remember right.

VK: And then you said you came back home?

VW: Just for a couple of… three days and then we had to be back.

VK: To Ft. Leavenworth.?

VW: Yes,

VK: Okay and then what happened, then where did you go from there?

VW: From there, there was about 15 of us boys went. . .were sent out to Ft. Bliss, Texas to join a group which was called 402nd coast artillery. Big guns. And it was for the purpose of filling up their quota. They had. . . . each battalion had to have so many men and they were . . .most of these men were already drafted in May, and they had their basic training over with and they had come back into Ft. Bliss and they were leaving and they had to fill up their number of people. And we were the 15 or 16 boys that went to fill that battalion up.

VK: So did you have to have really quick training then, I mean with those guys already done?

VW: We had real quick training. Basic training, because we were leaving here. They were leaving and I . . . one morning a man come down and he asked me, he said ``I can see by your…'' I don't know what form that was anymore, ``That you can type.'' And I said, ``Yes I can type.'' He said ``Well you come with me in the morning,'' and so I went to head quarters then and became a clerk.

VK: So you... so did the rest of those guys leave then and did you get to stay or did you have to. . .?

VW: Oh no, no no we finally left there.

VK: Well how long were you there then do you think?

VW: I wish I would have brought that book with me. Well we weren't there too long because that was in August and we went from there by a train, a troop train. We had everything with us to. . . . we landed up in Norfolk, Virginia. And we were in the eastern defense command guarding the shipyards in Norfolk, Virginia in Portsmouth and our batteries were... I was in battery C and we were foddered around town. That big town we were over in Portsmouth across the bay from where part of them were at. Each company or each battery had, oh you know so many officers, so many sergeants and so many corporals and down the line and I was a . . . went in there as an assistant to the Battery C clerk. Which made up your payrolls, you made up all their. . . we had little books we kept track of all their vaccinations and things of that nature. And transfers and it was just a . . . and finally that position was a Corporal position. That meant that's the highest you got in being a clerk. This other man then got. . .they promoted him to a Tech. 4 which would be the next grade higher and he was gone. Then I got a letter from him, about three weeks and he was over in Germany already you see. So I got that position as a company clerk, and you all know what Radar did in M*A*S*H* don't you.

VK: Sure, yes. Yeah, I've watched it.

VW: Well that was kind of my job.

VK: Yeah.

VW: We made up. . .we had to make up a monthly pay roll. And we never had duplicate machines in that day. We made them out in five carbon sheets, no mistakes,

VK: Or you started over.

VW: Or you do it over. So I kept books for 150 men. We had in our. . . in our one battery C.

VK: I was going to ask you how many men that was in there?

VW: It was pay. You made pay roll, you made sick lists, just whatever. A lot of time you had to do the work of what should have been done by somebody else. Morning reports. I signed them many a morning, just because the Captain wasn't there to do it.

VK: Now you had said when you, you know went to Great Bend and you know met up with this group, now did any of these guys that…. from Bazine or the area were they with you?

VW: No, there was one boy from Kinsley. A boy from Kinsley went on this draft down to Ft. Bliss, Texas.

VK: But otherwise everybody went . . .

VW: No, no I didn't see none of them after I was. . . after we was inducted that was it.

VK: How long were you in the Norfolk area then?

VW: Well my wife asked me that too. We were there for some time, quite a while, but then they changed this over to a field artillery unit and we went to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina for. . . for to train as field artillery instead of coast artillery.

VK: And that lasted how long?

VW: Well we was... I just can't tell you the date but then eventually they send out what they call a cadre. And this cadre made up a new unit. In other words they send out, I forget how many of us, and then I volunteered to go in that cadre. And at that time I landed up in Camp Gruber, Oklahoma after that, But back tracking a little to being a clerk. They sent me one time on detach servant, service down to Hattiesburg, Mississippi College where the clerks learned how… learned everything.

VK: And trained you there?

VW: Yeah trained. You trained. That's what they did they trained us there. That's what it was a training place. I was there for two months for that training and back to my. . .come back to my home unit.

VK: In North Carolina or Oklahoma?

VW: In Norfolk, Virginia.

VK: Oh in Virginia.

VW: In Portsmouth.

VK: So you didn't really choose this job you were just kind of assigned to it because they realized you could type?

VW: Yeah, well, yeah that's what they did yeah they seen my records you know you do this or do that. That's how the boys got in the Air Force. They was…exactly. . . unless they enlisted and then when they did that they got a choice, kind of a choice.

VK: Of which branch and stuff, yeah, okay.

VW: Yeah.

VK: OK, So then you said you went to camp Gruber in Oklahoma.

VW: To form a new unit.

VK: Okay and how did that go?

VW: Well our problem there was when we were going to get all recruits that's what we was supposed to get. But we got men that had been serving over in Germany and on a rotation plan. So many months over there they got to come back to the states. And they got to, they assigned us men that had… were way over rated for us. . . . rank was concerned. So that was the morale situation then we had there. Because them men didn't want to do this, they didn't want to do that.

VK: Yeah they had already.

VW: Yeah they had served their time.

VK: But did you have some new recruits in that group too?

VW: Just a few but not very many. And then from camp Gruber after we got through training there they shipped us to Camp Stoneman, I believe it is. . . California and we went to the Philippine Islands.

VK: And what was the camp in California for,? Just temporary. . .?

VW: Just temporary place where they gathered you. Then to get you to load on the boat. Then to get on the boat to go over seas. We didn't go on convoy or anything like that we went, we went with the, oh what is it… oh the Coast Guard there . And we floated around for 30 days getting over to the Philippine Islands.

VK: About how many men are we talking about on this. . .?

VW: 750 some people on there, on that boat.

VK: So this was a . . .

VW: This was just one battalion that we were in.

VK: Did you know when they sent you to California that you were headed over seas?

VW: Well we knew we were headed for over seas but we didn't know where you were going until you get there.

VK: They never really . . .

VW: No, no.

VK: Told you that did they? And thirty days on that boat to go over.

VW: Yeah and we had payday on the boat too. So we had to, before we left we had to get this all made up and so we could pay the boys their money that was due by the end of the month.

VK: How was the trip . . . What was that thirty days like on that boat?

VW: Well it's been a long time ago. I know I got sick; I'll give you that, seasick. We only seen I think maybe one or two ships way off in the horizon you know at different times. Most of them went over in convoys, you know. That's how we went over was with the Coast Guard and I'll tell you, we was out about three days and there was a man by the name Lester Barriclow. He was in the Coast Guard and he went to school with me in high school. He was on that ship, one of the shipmates.

VK: How did you . . . I mean with 750 men on there how did you even run across him?

VW: Well I don't know I don't remember. But finally did three days out or something like that. I had company all of the way over there.

VK: Okay so before we talk about the Philippines, in these different camps and forts here in the United States, can you tell us about you know, your living conditions there? I mean were you in . . . some were in tents. . .?

VW: In, well in Norfolk, Virginia there was the Eastern Defense command. We had. . . we had nice living conditions. The clerk. . . the headquarters. . . I was up there most of the time and it was in the navy yard and that's where we stayed then most of the time but part of the time I was back out to my camp to take care of things there see back and forth. Pay day you had to go to the quartermaster or wherever it was to get your money and take it and pay these guys their money.

VK: But living conditions were generally ok?

VW:, Oh yes, yes; I can't complain there. But on maneuvers they weren't.

VK: And your food and . . .

VW: Well, generally speaking we had good food. We had good cooks.

VK: It's not you mother's cooking but. . .

VW: No, oh no, I can't complain about it. I have always told my high school teacher, that was my typing teacher, that of all things I learned in high school that did me more good than anything. I could have brought you a pay roll but I didn't do it. Another thing we had for Thanksgiving dinner I think it was. A big book that showed all of our names in the book, what we had for dinner.

VK: So you did, like, on holidays, there was a little special . . .

VW: Well Thanksgiving was, yes. The first one for me was I know that.

VK: They would try to do a little something special with meals or . . .?

VW: Yes.

VK: The other camps, Oklahoma, North Carolina living conditions there were. . .?

VW: They were nice they were good. Of course we slept in tents a lot of nights when we'd go on maneuvers and different things of that nature.

VK: And the living conditions on the ship then, was that pretty crowded?

VW: Well yes it was. It was a small boat to be going that far on. Because when I came back we made it in seven days from Manila. And when we got into the Philippines we were up in the northern part of the Philippines, up around San Jose where we were at, but when we got there it was just a big rice patty. So we had to. . . they come in and they filled those rice patty's with something like chaff and dirt and made us a camp. We had to get set up there. As far as we know we were on our way to Japan when . . . but the war was over with then after they dropped the bomb.

VK: When did you arrive in the Philippines what month are we in?

VW: We got there. . . we got there in, in the first part of July of `45 and then the war was over you know and then I had enough points to get out in February so I come back home then in February.

VK: Okay.

VW: And coming home on the boat we made it in seven days from Manila and I met Harvey Sekavec on the boat coming home so… I didn't know him, and we grew up with in 5, 6 miles of each other.

VK: So you were there then just several months from what July to February?

VW: Yeah about seven. . . July it would be about 8 months at the most.

VK: In the Philippines then?

VW: Yeah.

VK: Okay and that time period besides setting up the camp what was going on there, I mean just training and?

VW: Well just general training and getting equipment ready to go wherever they wanted to go.

VK: Which would probably have been Japan.

VW: Yeah no doubt about it. That was about the only place left.

VK: Where were you when the war in Europe ended, do you recall hearing that and where you were at then?

VW: Well lets see, May the 5th wasn't it something like that. No we was still in Camp Gruber yet on may the 5th, because we left in July from there to go, to go to Philippines.

VK: How was your relationship with your commanding officers you know at the different places how would you . . .?

VW: Oh I got along with them. I dealt with a lot of them with being a clerk. You had to do a lot of things that they should have been doing, but instead of what I had to do, to do everything. They wasn't there when they weren't there.

VK: Did you. . .were you with some of these men from the very beginning you know that you trained with in Texas, and Virginia, did you stay with some of the same guys then that went to the Philippines or…?

VW: Well the ones that would come on the cadre with us to Camp Gruber, yes, I don't know what each battery would have you know a cadre but probably brought maybe 20 people to set it up and get started again at the camp, I can't remember the numbers of them or what it was, but it was a field artillery, I can remember the 402nd Coast Artillery that's what I started in. But I can't. . . I'd have to get the . . . do a little digging to find out what the numbers was, cause they always changed.

VK: Did you, when you got home, did you stay in touch with some of these men that you had met or?

VW: Leslie Smith. The one that, I left, we got parted in Virginia.

VK: But you stayed in contact with him then for years and years?

VW: Yeah, Yeah he lived in Kinsley him and his wife and family. But they are both gone now, but I don't know where their kids are at for sure I can't tell you.

VK: When you heard the news about Japan I imagine you were?

VW: Very scared, when the bomb hit Hiroshima oh you bet we were.

VK: And then when you heard that they surrendered that was probably?

VW: That was . . . seen more gun fire that night than we seen anywhere.

VK: Just in celebration you mean?

VW: huh?

VK: In celebration you mean?

VW: Yeah, straight up.

VK: What about. . . we'll talk about the Philippines first, did you ever have any recreational time, were you ever, you know what did you do in your . . .?

VW: Oh we was way up north, I don't know how far it was, but we went into Manila a number of times and I run into Kenneth Timken there do you remember the name? He was a. . . well he was a Bazine school kid and he went to Topeka to teach school. He was a school teacher down there and he married a girl here from Ness City by the . . . I think her first name was Ruth. I can't tell you the last name I think her dad was the minister here maybe at one time.

VK: So how were you treated by the Filipino people and?

VW: Oh they, they were quite nice I mean they were they didn't give us no hard, hard times, because I think they was glad we was there.

VK: Well and this was after the reconquest of the Philippines right that you were there?

VW: Yeah, yeah it was. It was over the, we were down along Mindoro where they had a lot of big guns and things like that at one time but we never run into any . . . anything there that bothered us.

VK: And your, when you were here in the states as far as recreational time you probably, could you go into the towns and . . .?

VW: Oh you got off occasionally to go to town over a weekend or something like maybe a three-day pass, but other wise. . . I did get to come home see I had just got in the army in August and my dad got killed in December. So I got to come. . .I got a ten day pass a furlough to come home. But it took me three days on train to get here and worse to get back. Because we had a blizzard and the lines were all down at that time the ticker taped things and so I left LaCrosse going back about it was supposed to be midnight, about two o'clock in the morning on the Colorado Eagle that went . . . used to go through, down Missouri Pacific. It was so crowded. No seats. Everything was full if you wanted to sleep you just laid on the floor.

VK: Did you make it back in time I mean with your. . .?

VW: Well we put in for an extra 5 days but with all of the lines down, no communication and when I got back, and I made it back in time yes. He said `` What are you doing here you got five days extension.'' And I said, `` Well I didn't know it,'' I hadn't gotten no notification back.

VK: And was your older brother. . . was he in the whole time you were too, or did he get out before you?

VW: He got out just about. . . well he was over in Germany, but he got back. . . he was home when I got home. I don't know exactly when he. He was home a couple of months before I did I know that or maybe more. But he had more time, he had about 9 months more time in then I did and that's the way they went to your time counted to get out.

VK: Which is why he got out.

VW: yeah.

VK: Did you say he was in the army too?

VW: yep.

VK: As far as letter writing and staying in contact with people at home?

VW: Yeah we did. Real good.

VK: So you got letters from home and you wrote letters?

VW: Yep, I don't know how long it would take them to get back and forth but it wasn't nothing like it is today.

VK: Do you remember what your service pay was?

VW: Yeah, I started out at 50 dollars a month and they take out. . . well most people. . . I made out these pay rolls I wish I should have brought one to show you. A lot of the boys took out 18 . . . 18.50 war bond which would pay you 25 dollars in, now a days ten months . . . ten years or something of that nature I forget. So you took off that 18.75 or 18.50.

VK: Every month?

VW: Yeah. And then you took off 10 dollars for insurance, then you took off a dollar and a half for laundry. So when you went up to the pay table you didn't get very much money, cash money. But you did get that 18-dollar war bond. That was yours I mean it was there when you got back, I think I had about 400 and some dollars when I got out.

But a lot of guys the problem was moving around when they . . . you'd get red lined. In other words you didn't get paid, you had to send all of that information along with this boy when he got transferred out. And then the guys that would transfer into your company too would come in maybe and hadn't been paid either, because of on account of being transferred. It didn't work out for them to be there to sign their name on that piece of paper to get their pay. So you red lined them and sent that on to the next, where they went and then they got paid there.

VK: I'm surprised they could keep track of all of that.

VW: It was a job, it was a job.

VK: Yeah. Major job. Now you said you came home on a ship?

VW: Yep. To California.

VK: Okay, that's what you said.

VW: I landed up in San Diego, and we rode a, a train to . . . wait a minute that's Camp Stoneman was in Colorado that one out there that we went to get . . . we come back to Colorado somewhere around Denver. I think Stoneman, that's where Camp Stoneman is, and we got our final pay there and had to go down town to buy us a ticket to get home.

VK: Did it, did that whole process take quite a few weeks you know once you reached the states?

VW: Oh I don't think so, not too long, I don't remember exactly how long it was. We just got off of the ship and on to a train and got on a road to . . . we didn't know where, but that's where we ended up you know. Most of them never knew until you got there where you was going.

VK: And then did you ride the train home from Colorado?

VW: Yep. I rode it back to…

VK: To Bazine?

VW: To Hays, Kansas

VW: To Hays. And your family knew you were coming?

VW: Oh yeah. Yep.

VK: So they picked you up?

VW: (nods yes)

VK: What did you do when you got home, did you go back to farming?

VW: Yes. Still farming.

VK: Did you, did you bring home any souvenirs, or photographs, or your uniform or?

VW: Very few, very few.

VK: But your uniform did you have it, did you bring home your uniform?

VW: Oh yeah, I've got it . . . My wife's got it in a trunk somewheres at home. Of course I couldn't get into it now, at all.

VK: Did you ever or did you know of any you know military reunions with these men?

VW: No I have never, I never went to a reunion. Not one. Not one.

VK: Did you ever get notified of one?

VW: No. No.

VK: Did you, were you a member of the. . .of a veterans service organization, did you join the VFW and the . . .?

VW: Oh yes I belong, I belong to the VFW and American Legion both. I was a 50-year member sometime ago in Bazine anyway.

VK: Yeah. Now I know we have talked about your older brother, did any of your younger brothers serve then?

VW: No. They stayed home after, after my dad got killed they had…they stayed home and did the farming. Well one, Harold was only about 17 I think at that time. Then my other brother was just a year behind me, but they both stayed home.

VK: And I didn't ask you but were you married when you went into the service?

VW: No, no I was single.

VK: OK. You got married after you got home.

VW: (nods yes)

VK: Okay. Is there anything else . . . I mean is there any stories or anything you would like to tell us about, things you did?

VW: I guess not.

VK: I know you said that you ran into Harvey Sekavec then on the way home.

VW: Yeah. And Lester Barricklow going over.

VK: That had to have been . . .

VW: And that was . . . when I was in Norfolk, Virginia, he was in the Coast Guard and I knew he was there and I visited with him a number of times, him and his wife in Norfolk, Virginia. And that was the coincidence we run . . . after a number of years, maybe two years here we run together out on a Coast Guard ship going to Philippine Islands.

VK: Did you get sick coming home too?

VW: Nope, I did not.

VK: It was probably a bigger ship?

VW: Oh yeah, I suppose so I don't know. It was a . . . and then they had a little better accommodations then when we went over in that little boat by far.

VK: Did you ever, did your unit ever like run short on ammunition or supplies or anything like that or do you think you were pretty well supplied?

VW: I couldn't tell you that but we were always pretty well supplied, I mean if the people knew how much stuff was piled up on the Philippine Islands in order to go on to Japan it would, it was. . . . I never seen so much stuff, but it was probably all just shoved off into the ocean after the war was over.

VK: I don't know that we actually said the date of your discharge?

VW: February the 6th of '46. Just three and a half years to the date.

VK: Had you traveled much before you had entered the service, had you . . .?

VW: No.

VK: You know traveled much around the country?

VW: No. Not before we went no.

VK: Yeah. After you . . .

VW: Missouri, Nebraska, and Colorado I would say maybe. We only . . . yeah Colorado yeah Colorado I went to Colorado before I was in the service.

VK: Have you ever in the 60 years later, have you ever gone back to any of these forts or camps or . . .?

VW: No, not a one Not a one.

VK: Was you're older brother, was he, what did he do? I mean was he . . .do you know?

VW: He played in a military band I can tell you that.

VK: Oh.

VW: But that's about all.

VK: I. . . we really appreciate you coming in and sharing with us. You know if you think of anything that you would like to tell us and we can . . .

VW: I can't, other than there was just. . . to me it was. . . being a clerk, I suppose a lot of people didn't think that that amounted too much in the army. And the same with a cook. I had a lady tell me that. She said. . .they buried him, and ``Well,'' she said, Well he was buried in a military cemetery. ``He shouldn't have been buried there, all he did was cook in the army.'' I about blew my top. See we didn't, we didn't have a . . . we didn't have a deal like they got now to serve you, bring you meals. They had their own cooks. You did KPA, or KP duty until you got enough rank on you that you didn't have to do it.

VK: Well, yeah I can't imagine the records, the keeping the records for that amount of men and especially with . . .

VW: It wasn't easy we had to, the hardest part of that was on maneuvers. They'd go out on maneuvers and not . . . as far as my algebra. . . I never could. . . I never did have much algebra. But you would go out on maneuvers. When they fired those guns, and where the bullet went, landed it would be so many, off so many degrees this way or that or this way you know and then after you got back off of them your officer, he would have to make a report to send to the next man up. And he'd bring me sheets of paper. Ten or twelve written pages you know just like this. Crossed out here and crossed out there and then around here and there, you would sit there all night and try to figure out which way was the best way to put this together. Well you would type it all up for him and get it ready and give it back to him and then here he would come back with it again and change it over and over three or four times before he was satisfied with it see. And then you had to get it typed up, probably the dead line was in the morning. You would sit there all night typing and you'd get to the bottom of the page and make a mistake. You started over.

VK: You visited with your typing teacher from high school after you got home?

VW: Oh yes, yes. Different times I met her here, yes. She had got married and moved to the . . .over around Ulysses somewheres. But she would be back for the different . . . Old Settlers Reunion or something like that I'd see her.

VK: I don't imagine at the time you were taking the typing class you realized . . .?

VW: Oh no, no. I still type today.

VK: Well that's very interesting.

VW: I still type today.

VK: Yeah. Well like I said we really appreciate you coming in.

VW: Okay well thank you.

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