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John Batchelder audio interview on experiences in World War II (transcript)

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This is Suzette McCord-Rogers and Peggy Stanton, and we are with John Batchelder here at the Native American Heritage Museum in Highland, Kansas. It is March 30, 2007.

Suzette: Mr. Batchelder, can you tell me when you were born?

Mr. Batchelder: January 27, 1921.

Suzette: And were you born here in Highland or..?

Mr. Batchelder: No, I was born on a farm south of Hiawatha on Highway 73.

Suzette: Did you grow up there?

Mr. Batchelder: Yes, I grew up there as you named.

Suzette: Did you go to Hiawatha High School, did you graduate from there?

Mr. Batchelder: I graduated from country school, Hiawatha High School, and Highland Junior College.

Suzette: OK, and so you had gone to college prior to the war, or during the war…?

Mr. Batchelder: Yes, yes, it was prior to the war.

Suzette: When did you graduate from college?

Mr. Batchelder: In 1941.

Suzette: 1941. And at that time did you enlist or were you drafted?

Mr. Batchelder: At that time I was farming with my father, and I was left off from the draft for farming.

Suzette: OK. Did you ever, you know, go enlist then or did…

Mr. Batchelder: Why yes, I had two brothers that were drafted and, uh, Howard and David, and when they were released after the war, actually after the German war, why they came home and the draft board said that they was ready for me. So I enlisted. I beat them about a week! Chuckling

Suzette: So you enlisted. When did you enlist?

Mr. Batchelder: It was in 1946. No, it was…well, it would actually be 1945 because it took about a month or so before I was called up.

Suzette: OK. Was it like summer or fall of 1945?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, it would be the fall because when I did finally go to the Army it was in 1946, it was in March, of 1946.

Suzette: So you enlisted in '45, and then active service in '46. Is that true?

Mr. Batchelder: Yes, yes.

Suzette: And you were in the Army?

Mr. Batchelder: Um, hum.

Suzette: And do you remember what your regiment and division was?

Mr. Batchelder: Of course, I had as everyone else took basic training, that was Camp Robinson, in Little Rock, Arkansas. Following that, I was sent to Camp Pendleton, California, and then went from there to Yokohoma and from there to Tokyo.

Suzette: Did you know what battalion..regiment you were?

Mr. Batchelder: Yes, yes. It was General Headquarters Company, 5250th Technical Intelligence Company.

Suzette: 5250th?

Mr. Batchelder: Yes. Technical Intelligence Company.

Suzette: That sounds interesting. What did you do?

Mr. Batchelder: I, uh, after I went in there, I went into the motor pool, and became the motor sergeant.

Suzette: Was that the highest rank you had, motor sergeant?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, motor sergeant is probably a kind of a technical name for a person who is in charge of the motor pool.

Suzette: OK.

Mr. Batchelder: So, since, actually course everybody goes into, well, not everyone, everyone in the enlisted men go in as private, and our company commander didn't want any privates so he made everyone in the company a private first class.

Suzette: ChucklingWhat, was that your highest rank?

Mr. Batchelder: No, being motor sergeant, which is more or less a technical term, is in charge of motor pool, I had advanced in rank finally to the rank of staff sergeant. I was staff sergeant when I was released from the service.

Suzette: And when were you released from the service?

Mr. Batchelder: It would be in 1947.

Suzette: 1947.

Mr. Batchelder: I was in the service almost two years. I enlisted for two years, and I was let out I suppose about a month early, something like that.

Suzette: When you first went to Yokohoma, is that when you got involved with the motor pool, or did you do something different?

Mr. Batchelder: No, well, as I understand it, Yokohoma has a larger bay than Tokyo, so most everyone who went to Japan left off at Yokohoma, and then they were sent to whatever post they..I went from Yokohoma to a post probably in a village near Tokyo, which is about 10 or 15 miles from the actual downtown Tokyo.

Suzette: Was this in 1946 that you were there?

Mr. Batchelder: Yes.

Suzette: Were you part of the, this was after the war, so you were part of the …

Mr. Batchelder: Yes, yes. It was actually after they considered war time, but it was actually after the fighting.

Suzette: OK. And so do you have different stories you'd like to share with us from that period of time?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, at the time, the group we did, I went with probably the first group that went to Japan, as a matter of fact I replaced people who had been in the service for probably two years or more. And practically everything in Tokyo in Japan was off limits. The theaters were off limits, the streetcars were off limits, the restaurants were off limits which for the most part, why, the men didn't pay a whole lot of attention to that. I traveled on the street cars whenever I wanted to for free, went to the Japanese theaters free, which were usually wooden benches which was in Japanese which I didn't understand. But they were still interesting. Most of the Japanese movies that I saw were, as I gathered, would be love stories. And which weren't too hard to understand! Ha ha ha

Suzette: So it sounds like you were able to get into the Japanese culture that you kind of experienced.

Mr. Batchelder: Well, as I said, most things were off limits, except for the PXs and they had there own movies too. But I went to the …in the motor pool we had enlisted men, mechanics, I think we had 12 mechanics, and then we had the Japanese also as helpers, Japanese mechanics. And one Japanese, as I remember, his name was Honda, which is a fairly common name, he had been trained to be a pilot. And he was trained to be a kamikaze pilot, which he said his next trip would probably have been his last.

Suzette: Was he looking forward to being a kamikaze pilot?

Mr. Batchelder: Oh, yes! Oh, yes! So they were, what you might say, brainwashed. I mean, they were very loyal, the Japanese army personnel was very loyal to their country. They were willing to give their lives and that was a matter of honor to them to give their lives for their country and he was very willing.

Suzette: Did he talk to you about, since his next trip would have been his last, did he, you know, how did he see it?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, he didn't say a whole lot about it, except that he was willing to go. His plane, he was trained when they go out, they would, some ship, they would head for the tunnel and dive into it and that would be the end. As they did! That was, a lot of the ships were sunk that way!

Suzette: And so he thought that was the ultimate service to his country?

Mr. Batchelder: Oh, sure!

Suzette: And did he speak English?

Mr. Batchelder: Oh, yes, they spoke, well, we had…no we had very little problems speaking with the Japanese, because most of the Japanese we saw could speak pretty good English. And the villagers that couldn't speak English, they just didn't talk much, that's all!

Suzette: How did you find the Japanese people?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, as I said, we were some of the first to come in there, and most of the Japanese were afraid of us. And, I mean, you'd meet someone on the sidewalk, downtown, and they'd get clear off the sidewalk, so they didn't have to meet you. They would, I mean, another thing, if you had a flat tire on a jeep or something, you asked somebody come along to help you, they'd do it, glad to do it.

Suzette: OK. Did you get to travel a lot in Japan?

Mr. Batchelder: Not a whole lot. We went, I and a friend of mine went to Kyoto, and we went to another place,___I believe they called it. It was a kind of resort area, it had hot springs. Some of them did go to Fijiyama, which is the mountain there, but I didn't go, which I should have. But, no, we didn't go to a whole lot of places. Being in the motor pool, I had access to vehicles when I wanted, so I usually just stayed around Tokyo most of the time.

Suzette: What were some of your duties in the motor pool?

Mr. Batchelder: As the motor sergeant, why my duties was to see the jeeps, trucks and other vehicles were taken care of and maintained. We weren't allowed, the service didn't do major overhauls on vehicles. We did some brake jobs, we did clutch jobs, which we weren't supposed to do, but if we didn't, we'd send jeeps to the place where they did that, maybe it would be two months before we'd get it back. So we could buy some Japanese parts for clutch plate ____for the clutches, and we could get some of the parts. Mainly what we could do was change headlights and spark plugs! That was about the extent of what we was allowed to do, but we did other jobs that we could do which we had mechanics who knew what to do.


Mr. Batchelder: Well, most of the mechanics had been drafted, which means they were probably from 18 to 21 years of age, which they didn't have a whole lot of experience. But they were smart enough that they'd picked it up very well. And it doesn't take a whole lot to change spark plugs.

Suzette: I think I could change spark plugs.

Peggy: You got to get the gap set. If you don't set the gap, they don't fire right.

Mr. Batchelder: Well, that's true too. We had also a parts manager in our company that would go to the depot, we called it, where we got parts, and we had, it was almost impossible to get new headlights and new batteries. That just weren't available. So one of the officers would supply us with a fifth of whiskey and he would take the whiskey and get us about anything we wanted!

Suzette: So you used that whiskey as money!

Mr. Batchelder: Oh, yeah! Well, as a gift to the other personnel in the other departments where they furnished parts.

Suzette: Was there a shortage of parts after the war?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, the parts were short, yes. And that was probably another reason it was short was cause the people in the, go where they had parts, would give `em to their friends. So if they showed up with a bottle of whiskey why you could get about anything you wanted.

Peggy: Your bottle made a good friend.

Mr. Batchelder: Made a good friend, yes.

Suzette: Oh, that's good.

Mr. Batchelder: And we had officers who, course, whiskey wasn't available to the enlisted men. Beer was, so the officers would part with a fifth of whiskey to help us out.

Suzette: Well, I supposed it helped them in the long run, also kept their vehicles running.

Mr. Batchelder: Oh, sure.

Suzette: Did you ever drive anyone?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, no, our job as the motor pool wasn't to drive any personnel, but we had, well, we had 42 jeeps to keep up. Most of the men in our company worked downtown Tokyo. So they would, the officers and other enlisted men who were working downtown would furnished vehicles to drive to downtown Tokyo. No, we didn't drive anyone personally. But we did furnish the vehicles for those who did go downtown. As the motor sergeant, I was in charge of giving drivers' licenses, well, giving the tests for drivers' licenses, and so that was one of my jobs for the people who came who weren't drivers had to be trained, and given drivers' licenses. Some of `em didn't pass too.

Suzette: Oh, they didn't!! So these were like the Japanese civilians…

Mr. Batchelder: No, no! Military personnel.

Suzette: Military personnel. And they didn't pass their driver's license?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, no. For one thing, we didn't have any automatic vehicles, no automatic drives. They were all clutch drives, which at that time in the `40s why, most vehicles were clutch operated. So it took a little training operate a jeep or a bigger truck that operates. And then in Japan, as in some countries, we all drove on the left side of the road, which you got acclimated to, but it didn't take a whole lot of training. Of course, there weren't a whole lot of vehicles on the road; most of the vehicles, the Japanese vehicles, were buses, motorcycles, and bicycles. At that time, there wasn't just a whole lot of vehicular travel.

Suzette: How big was the occupation force in the area?

Mr. Batchelder: I couldn't tell you. It was, other forces in Japan in different cities. Tokyo was, the Japanese islands were mostly north and south, and Tokyo was pretty centrally located. As I remember it, we had one snow the time I was there which lasted about three hours. Just a small snow. But it wasn't too hot either, I mean it didn't particularly bother me. But the cold didn't bother me either. The weather was pretty comfortable most of the time.

Suzette: Did you interact with other companies that were stationed there, with different duties,…?

Mr. Batchelder: No, as a matter of fact, we were stationed in a village, a place where the Japanese had made munitions, made I guess probably cannons, artilleries, and there was another company there that, I'm not sure, anyway, a very secretive company. Their personnel didn't mingle with ours at all. I mean they were told not to. So there was actually one two companies on this one post. There were very secretive; I'm not sure just what it was.

Suzette: It might have been intelligence, or something.

Mr. Batchelder: Well, it was an intelligence company. Why our company was called intelligence company, I don't know, because being in the motor pool didn't ____. The people that were working downtown, they did have some personnel that were occasionally assigned to our post, that one post was, several groups would, three or four these would take out a jeep and it'd been gone with information. They could dig up bodies of American personnel who had died on certain locations. They had that information, and they would dig up their bodies and send them back to wherever they would be at home, or whatever.

Suzette: This would be on the other islands?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, no, on Tokyo. And the different islands that were there. You know some of the pilots, I guess, crashed, or whatever, anyway, they'd dig up the bodies and send them home.

Suzette: Your brothers, had they been in the Army also?

Mr. Batchelder: I had two brothers that were in the Army for several years.

Suzette: Is that why you joined the Army because your brothers were in the Army?

Mr. Batchelder: No, no. I had no particular desire. I didn't want to be in the Navy. Well, there was an Air Corps, I didn't, I didn't sign up for that.

Suzette: I just wondered. You were home helping…

Mr. Batchelder: Yes, yes, I farmed with my father.

Suzette: So there were other people that were helping their fathers farm and raise crops…

Mr. Batchelder: Oh, sure, oh, yeah. There were any number of people who were deferred to farm.

Suzette: Was there any public pressure on these people? Were you seen as a vital part….

Mr. Batchelder: No, I didn't feel any pressure on me and I didn't notice anyone else who were deferred to farm. Naturally, it was the thing to do, I guess, join the service, which some did and some didn't.

Suzette: Well, but you know, growing food is pretty important too.

Mr. Batchelder: I know it. As a matter of fact, after I was released from the service, I was asked to be on the draft board, which I was, in Doniphan County. Some went to Canada so they wouldn't be drafted, and I think a lot of people did look down on some of these people that did go to Canada and other reasons. People got married and certainly that's a big circus! Chuckling

Suzette: This happened during World War II?

Mr. Batchelder: This of course was after the war.

Suzette: Oh, ok.

Mr. Batchelder: This was during the Korean war and the Vietnam war.

Suzette:…during World War II.

Mr. Batchelder: Oh, yeah, it was the thing to do, to serve your country.

Suzette: Did you form any long friendships as a result of your service in Japan with some of the people in your unit?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, I did get to be a pretty good friend with a fella from Utah. In our company, I didn't know anyone that I'd ever known before I went into the service. They were all mere acquaintances. This one fella from Ogden, Utah, that I was good friend of his, and I visited him after I got out of the service. Otherwise, people from California, anywhere from California to New York, that were in our company that I didn't really establish any long-time friendship.

Suzette: Did you remain in contact with your friend from Utah?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, yeah. I visited him several times since then. Not too much I didn't.

Suzette: How old were you when you went into the Army?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, I was 25 years old.

Suzette: 25. Were you married at the time?

Mr. Batchelder: No, no. As I say, of course I was deferred several years to help farm, and most of the people that were in basic training were draftees, quite a few of them were, and 18 to 20 years old. So I was older than most people.

Suzette: What did your dad grow? What was his…

Mr. Batchelder: Well, we raised general crops, just some corn and some livestock, dairy.

Suzette: Dairy livestock. When did you get out of the service?

Mr. Batchelder: I was in 1946 and 1947.

Suzette: So, OK, 1947 when you got out, what did you want to do with your life at that time? What did you do?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, I went back to the farm.

Suzette: So your service job in Japan didn't really affect what you wanted to do with your life. You wanted to come home.

Mr. Batchelder: Well, no, no. I had the opportunity to re-join the Army, which I was encouraged to do by some of the officers in the company, which being staff sergeant at the time I was released was a pretty good rank for the time that I was in, and I was offered advancement to re-join which I didn't think I wanted to make a career of the service. So I didn't do that.

Suzette: OK. So, you were ready to come back home…

Mr. Batchelder: Yeah, yeah, I was not married, and I was, knew how to farm, I liked to farm. So that's what I did for the rest of my life, up til now.

Suzette: So, when you came back, did you receive any training while you were in the Army that helped you in your farming afterwards?

Mr. Batchelder: No, I don't think so. No, well, of course, quite a bit of mechanical, since my interest was in farming there was quite a bit of mechanical involved, so my service in the motor pool didn't really add to that. I knew it before I went in the service, everything I would need to know.

Suzette: Did you meet your wife as a result of your service?

Mr. Batchelder: No. I just met her, later I moved to Highland, and I met her in Highland.

Suzette: So you went back to farming south of Hiawatha, and then…

Mr. Batchelder: Well, yes, I actually, before I went to the service, my folks moved to Denton from south of Hiawatha. And so I moved back to Denton, and then from Denton, moved to Highland, and got married in Highland.

Suzette: Have you ever taken advantage of the GI Bills that were available for training?

Mr. Batchelder: No. They did have a veterans' farm service, I guess you'd call it that. After the war, they did have a farm class that for several years. I did get advantage from that in farming.

Suzette: What kind of a farm class, do you remember?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, it was a growing crops, a nice crop, how to do that, the best way to do that.

Suzette: Did farming become more mechanized after the war?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, yes, I'm sure it did. There was a lot of changes in farming. I know when I was younger, of course, I was raised on a farm, at that time, mostly we planted with horses in two-row planters. After the war, we still planted mostly with two-row planters, and now there are people in our neighborhood that has 16-row planters. That's quite a change. Another change, that you might say that in the earlier `40s and `50s, farmers mostly plowed all the ground. Now very few farmers plow; mostly no-till farming, which the farm isn't plowed, or disked. You just go out in the corn field, and your tires are equipped to no-till plant,

Suzette: Is this for erosion?

Mr. Batchelder: Yes, quite a bit for erosion, and of course, some cost in plowing and disking, and so forth, but that's not involved when you no-till plant. It works very well. I imagine probably 95 per cent of the farmers in Doniphan County are probably no-till farming.

Suzette: That's interesting. I hadn't realized that the savings in terms of intensive______.

Mr. Batchelder: Yes, matter of fact, quite a bit of farming now is you might say tentacle farming. That the farmers spray for control of weeds, which is the main thing in raising crops, the control of the weeds, which you spray maybe more than once. And then you don't plow it, you just go out with your no-till planter which is equipped to plant that way, and you plant your corn. You spray before you plant it, and you spray after you plant it. And a lot of times that's all you do for farming, except harvesting the crops.

Suzette: Now, when you got back to the farm after being abroad, when did you get your first tractor? Do you remember?

Mr. Batchelder: Oh, well, yes, as a matter of fact I do. Of course, before I went to the service I farmed with my dad, and mostly used his equipment. But I got out of the service, I bought a tractor. At that time farm equipment was very hard to get, very scarce. I bought a tractor on the black market. I bought it, probably a new tractor, which was owned by at least two other people before I owned it before it went to the field. It was a black market tractor, which everyone who bought it made 300-400 dollars, and then that was my first tractor that I owned.

Peggy: What kind of tractor was it?

Mr. Batchelder: It was a Farmall M tractor.

Suzette: Was there a shortage then, after the war, of parts, in automobiles and tractors, as a result of the war effort?

Mr. Batchelder: Oh, yes! Yes, of course, lot of the manufacturers of cars and tractors, and so forth, manufactured guns and whatever else, tanks, for the service. Matter of fact, before I went to the service, I thought I would like to have a pickup, so I went to the local dealer and told him I'd like to have a pickup. He said, ``Yep, so would I!'' And he said I'll put your name down. And so he put my name down for a new pickup and during the time, the two years I spent in the service, I think I'd been home from the service about a month, I got a call from the dealer, said he had the pickup ready for me, which would be 1947.

Suzette: He had the list for two years.

Mr. Batchelder: Yes. And so that was my first pickup and I bought it at list price.

Suzette: Isn't that incredible! Did you use the GI Bill, you'd already gone to college, did you use it to go to any more college,..

Mr. Batchelder: No, no I didn't.

Suzette: And to buy a home?

Mr. Batchelder: No,

Suzette: A loan or anything?

Mr. Batchelder: No, No.

Suzette: Were there any other GI Bill benefits available that I haven't mentioned that you knew?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, I think going to school probably be the, that a buying homes, of course, that I didn't use. I guess I didn't really qualify or need that, at that time.

Suzette: Would you say that your service was kind of a positive experience for you?

Mr. Batchelder: Yes, it was positive. Of course, the government paid for my food and my clothing and also my travel. And I might say that personally I didn't, I wouldn't encourage anyone to go to the service for that reason. But I have, a lot of the civilians, and also respect for those who did go into the service and who was,..I was never in combat zone and I have a lot of respect for those who were.

Well, that's about all I have to say that I have the respect for those who did go into the service and were in combat which I wasn't. At the time I was released from the service I was encouraged to re-enlist, I would have been in Korea, but I didn't go.

Suzette: OK. Have you used the veterans benefits for medical benefits?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, I have received a medical benefit for various reasons, mainly for medicines that I receive from the service.

Suzette: From the Veterans Administration?

Mr. Batchelder: Yes, yes.

Suzette: All right. Do you see the doctors or just the medical?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, first I went to Leavenworth to a doctor there, but I now go to a doctor in St. Joe, which is involved with the government service.

Suzette: Do you think that World War II veterans are treated differently from the Vietnam and Korean veterans?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, they were definitely treated differently than the Vietnam veterans respectfully. Vietnam veterans were probably not appreciated a great deal since they didn't appreciate that war.

Suzette: Which World War II was different?

Mr. Batchelder: Oh, yes. As a matter of fact, anytime that I was in the, during the period of time that I was in the Army, anyone in uniform had no trouble hitchhiking. People would stop and go out of their way actually to take you where you wanted to go.

Suzette: That was nice. When you got back, were the veterans organization important to you, after the war, the American Legion?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, yes, I think a lot of people that were in the Army said they were never going to get involved in anything like that again. The American Legion itself is not a veteran-organized, but it is organized of veterans. A lot of them have joined the American Legion since then.

Suzette: Did you belong to the American Legion?

Mr. Batchelder: Yes, uh, huh.

Suzette: The American Legion here in Highland, or…?

Mr. Batchelder: Yes, I belong to the American Legion in Highland.

Suzette: ____

Mr. Batchelder: Yes, I just belong to the Highland American Legion. I'm also qualified for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, of which I do not belong.

Suzette: But the American Legion, was it important to you in terms of being with other people who had served?

Mr. Batchelder: Yes, I think so. Yes.

Suzette: Did it serve a social purpose?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, it served a social purpose, mainly the American Legion is a service organization to help other veterans, but they also help nationally, I mean other ways also.

Suzette: Um, hum. How long have you been a member?

Mr. Batchelder: I've been a member 46 years.

Suzette: 46 years.

Mr. Batchelder: I believe that's right; I'm not sure. No, it hasn't been quite that long.

Suzette: Does this particular unit, when you lose one of your members, do you have an honor guard?

Mr. Batchelder: Yes, we have fairly small post in Highland; White Cloud has a larger post. Of course, Troy has a larger post. So the White Cloud post helps us out quite a bit. When they have a honor guard for someone, whether they are American Legion or veterans of any kind. You don't necessarily have to be American Legion retired, but they should be. Any veteran is eligible, retired out of the service for that.

Suzette: OK. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Mr. Batchelder: Well, not a whole lot. I appreciate the experiences I have had, being a veteran, and being a member of the service. It certainly has expanded my view of the world and that I was involved in.

Suzette: Thank you very much! We appreciate it.

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