Dad's War

I first found out that my father had been a soldier when I was a little girl watching television with him one night. The show was Combat!, a World War II drama set in the European Theatre of the war. I was in awe of the characters on that show, and learned about the Second World War through it. Dad shared he had been in that war, but in the other main area of it - the Pacific Theatre.

Later, as I was growing up, occasions came up where Dad would share a little bit more about what he did in the war. I noticed my Mom was a bit concerned about Dad talking about it, saying it might bother him. I found out when he first came home from the war, he had nightmares, sleepwalked, etc. One dream he would have, Mom said, would cause him to mutter '...no place dry to sleep', recalling time spent in foxholes during tropical rains. He'd get out of bed sometimes during those dreams and try and get into dresser drawers to sleep, as if it was a dry corner of the foxhole he had found. He'd thrash around during his sleep, waking Mom and she'd try and help him calm down. Even after many years, by the time he was talking about it to me, there were times I could see tears coming to his eyes as he recalled a friend named Alabama having his head blown off in front of his eyes.

So learning about Dad's experiences in WWII came slowly. As years passed, he would talk about them more. I interviewed him in high school when I started being more active with family geneaology (I hope to make available online his oral histories someday...) During family gatherings, he'd sometimes talk about it with my brother-in-laws, and I'd stick close by to hear what I could. Later, he recorded memories on tape and wrote many of them down on paper. I learned many of his army buddies' names - Alabama, Wassing, Sickles, Stoneroad. I met Wassing - Marv Wassing - a few times when I was a little girl. Later, when Dad and Mom had their golden wedding anniversary, I attempted to invite Marv and his wife to attend, but he was very ill. Dad and I called him on the phone and spoke with him for awhile. It was the last time they spoke - Wassing died a few weeks later.

Dad had lost contact with Stoneroad. He mentioned often how he'd love to get in touch with him again. In the late 1990's, I made it my mission to track him down. I did a lot of searching online, including military reunion groups. After a lot of research and many emails, I located someone who knew how to get in touch with him. I emailed a relative, and soon we had his current address and phone number. I passed it on to Dad, and shortly thereafter Dad called Henry Stoneroad, his old friend. Stoneroad was very surprised - but pleased - to be hearing from Dad. Tentative plans were made for them to meet as soon as they could. Ideas were tossed around. Alas, due to circumstances and Dad's decreasing health, they never were able to meet in person. They spoke a few more times on the phone, but that was all. I'm still thrilled to have been able to get them back in touch with one another...

Dad was in the 127th Infantry of the 32nd Division, or the "Red Arrow Division". When Dad was with the 127th, they were involved in the campaigns in New Guinea, Philipines, and mainland Japan (occupational forces...)

I loved my father for many reasons - he was a loving, gentle man with a quiet sense of humour and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. His humble beginnings and later life may appear unremarkable, but he was anything but. He showed me how a man should love a woman, by the loving and warm way he cared for my Mom (and it wasn't always easy...) I was very proud of him.

Not long after we lost Dad, I discovered the Veteran's History Project. I sent for their Project Kit, filled out the paperwork, and sent it in with a DVD of his voice and images, plus copies of his written memiors. They are now part of the official record in the Library of Congress...


Army Buddy

Second row from the back, third from the left, is my Dad, Gordon Short. In second row, fifth from the left, is Henry Stoneroad, his friend. In same row as Dad, two to his right, is Marvin Wassing, another good friend of his from his Army days...[Click to enlarge]
In early 1999, I was doing family history research on my father's military service in WWII.  I began wondering if a buddy of his that he would often talk warmly about was still alive.  I began researching his unit, found a website with forums for veterans of his unit, and posted about Dad and Henry, hoping against hope someone would see it.  Someone did.  Henry's nephew contacted me months later, and I called him and we talked, he explaining that his uncle was still very much alive and well.  I passed on Dad's contact information saying I know my Dad would love to hear from his uncle.

A little while later, in August 1999, my Mom called one Saturday.  She told me that Dad's buddy Henry C. Stoneroad, Sr., had called, and they had just spent the past hour talking.  They were so glad to hear from one another after over 50 years!  They planned on keeping in touch and trying to visit one another in person. Dad and "Chief" (as Henry was commonly known then) were in two training camps and overseas together.  Henry was a sergeant in the supply/transport unit Dad drove truck in for part of the time overseas.  As they talked, they remembered Henry as a leader who tried to give less chancy assignments to men with families.  He was a Oklahoma Pawnee, and worked all his life for the BIA when he got home, just retiring in 1986 around the time Dad did.

In 2000 there was a national reunion of the 127th Infantry, and ironically it was held near where my parents lived by that time (Truth or Consequences, NM) in Albuquerque, NM.  Due to poor health, Dad couldn't make it, although he would have loved to.  My nephew did on his behalf, but to our knowledge, Henry wasn't there either.  I don't think Dad or Henry were able to get to visit one another in person, but I hope they had a chance to talk again a time or two.

My parents' health began failing in late 2000, and we brought them home in early 2001.  Dad passed away that August.  I am so very thankful I was able to given him and Henry this last gift to one another...There is a level of camaraderie and friendship that people develop when in war together that the rest of us cannot know.  I can only imagine and honor it, which is why I did what I did.  I wish I could have met Henry, but I'm sure glad my Dad did...

NOTE:  Just today as I was researching this post, I came across an academic article “They Had a Chance to Talk to One Another . . .”: The Role of Incidence in Native American Code Talking, written by Dr. William C. Meadows, on the subject of Native Americans in WWII, particularly code talkers, but also others that used their native languages for war purposes.  Henry was featured in it!

I hadn't been sure if Henry was still alive, but he definitely was in 2006 when this interview took place.  Dad may not have known everything Henry revealed, but I have a hunch he knew about some of it...
Although not all Indian servicemen in World War II were fluent in their native language, for many, their first or native language was their tribal language (Meadows 2002). While in basic training at Camp Roberts, Henry C. Stoneroad Sr., a Pawnee, was instructed that he could not declare English as a foreign language. “That’s what I was telling everybody and of course we always laugh about [it]. When I was in Camp Roberts they called me in and they were like, ‘How come you say that your foreign language is English?’ When he told them that he only spoke Pawnee before entering the local Indian school, they instructed him to change the form he had filled out. “And they said, ‘No, change it because you’re an American soldier...’ So that’s why I had to change that. I didn’t have any foreign language” (Stoneroad 2006b).
The following case demonstrates a recently documented example of incidental code talking among the Pawnee in World War II. This event occurred on Luzon, in the Philippines, in June or July 1945. While relieving troops near Tarloc, in a valley leading to Cabanatuan, Platoon Sergeant Henry C. Stoneroad Sr. (1st Cavalry Division, 112th Regimental Combat Team, Reconnaissance Troop) encountered Sergeant Enoch Jim (Company C, 33rd Division) as Jim’s unit was leaving the front. They greeted one another in Pawnee and visited for a few minutes. As Stoneroad described:
Yeah, we met. It was just a chance meet. In other words he was coming out, like I say he was coming out and my—our group was going in. That’s when I met him. And we saw each other and we talked, you know, “hello,” and that sort of stuff in Indian together. And we talked for a little bit there and then he had to go. They were going back and we more or less likely were relieving them and we were going up. (Stoneroad 2006b)
When their orders for the following day were issued, Stoneroad realized that his squad would be entering the same area that Jim’s unit had just left. Later that evening Stoneroad had his radio operator call Jim’s unit to see what information they could provide on the area they had just withdrawn from. Stoneroad’s operator reported that he had a “sergeant chief” on the line. When Stoneroad took the radio, he recognized Jim’s voice and the two began talking in Pawnee with one another. Jim was able to warn Stoneroad of a unit of around 150 Japanese. Stoneroad described the conversation:
That’s where, that evening is when I had an opportunity, a chance opportunity to talk to him on the radio...He was able to warn me about the number of Japanese troops that were in that area...that night we was more or less you might say waiting or getting ready to move out early [the next] morning. And that night I asked my radio operator, I said, “That bunch that just came out, why don’t we try to get a hold of them and see if we can’t get some information on [the area]” you know. That’s the first thing I thought about, how many troops was up there or where were they concentrated and that sort of stuff. We had sketches of a lot of that stuff but a lot of that stuff in the past had proven, you know, it wasn’t like they said...And the operator said, “Well let me let you talk to Sergeant Chief, he’s here.” And that’s when they said well they’ve got the sergeant there, Sergeant Chief or something like that. Well when I got the thing [phone] that was the first thing I told him in Indian—Pawnee—was our way of saying ‘Is that you?’ And when he said, “Yeah,”...you know he told me in Indian, [in] our language, that it was him. Then I ask him about the troops that were up there and if he knew. And he said, “Yeah I know,” and then he told me in Indian, he said, “Don’t say Japanese in our Indian language you know like you say slant eye.” [That’s] just how we said about the Japanese, say Germans so if anybody is listening that might decipher anything in our language they would think we were talking about Germans or something like that. So that’s the way we talked. Then I asked him how many were in there? I’d ask him in Indian if it were a lot of them or was it not too many. And he said it was a lot. And then I asked him in Indian, “How many?” And then he told me it was around about, at that area, there was about 100–150. And we were going to walk right into them if we hadn’t of gotten that information. So that’s where we made a roundabout turn and outflanked them all the way. But if it hadn’t been for me talking to him maybe a lot of us wouldn’t have made it. (Stoneroad 2006b) And that’s the way we were going. In other words we’d have walked right into it or went right into it if we didn’t go on around. So that’s my story of when I talked to him...But like I say, he saved a lot, he saved a lot of my men by doing that. And that’s my part of talking Pawnee. Now we wasn’t trained for it...But us, mine was just chance talk. But we did talk Pawnee...and I know other tribes did the same thing; they didn’t have companies or anything like that but they had a chance to talk to one another. (Stoneroad 2006a)
This information allowed the three American squads to avoid a potential ambush and to outflank the Japanese unit. As Stoneroad explained:
I think there were about three different squads and we were the ones that were going to go right square into where the enemy was the thickest. If we hadn’t of found out then we would have walked right into them. But we managed. We skirted around to the left and outflanked them from the left. The other two squads went around the same way...We bypassed them and more or less got them from the rear you might say. (Stoneroad 2006b)
While Stoneroad attributes this one instance of using Pawnee in combat to coincidence, it demonstrates how other similar situations likely occurred and that it was natural for individuals, upon establishing contact with a fellow tribesmen on the radio, to switch to their native language whether visiting socially or conveying important information. As Stoneroad remarked, “That’s the only one, the only time that I used it for war purpose. Now I had met others in different places and...you know we talked Indian. We’ve always talked Indian if we meet somebody that will talk with us, you know” (Stoneroad 2006b).


The Swing - Revisited

Oh, the stories those rings could tell...

This photo was taken (by Bill) this past weekend of the old swing tree - if you look close, you can clearly make out the iron pipe my Grandpa put there many, many years ago, which the tree has long ago grown around, and the rings still around the pipe, just waiting for someone to re-string it with some good rope and make it a swing again...