Editor's note: We requested Monselle O'Brien to share World War
II stories with our readers. Monselle is an accomplished writer and rather
than submitting to the normal interview, he has set about writing on the
subject. Here is the first of his installments.
This is the beginning of my feeble attempt to write something of World War II experiences as suggested by Jerry Morgan of the DeLeon Free Press. You who read this should be warned by the opening. I think it was General Sherman who said, "War is Hell," but after nearly four years you might want to add, "War can be boring!
Born in 1913, I was nearing 29 at the time of Pearl Harbor. I had a low draft number. I could have, and perhaps should have, claimed a deferment on account of the need to help my father look after my semi-invalid mother. I might even have been eligible for permanent exemption because of my bout with tuberculosis, which left my lungs scarred.
If any of these and other excuses to avoid military actions occurred to me, or the fact that those who stayed at home and helped provided food and fiber for the war effort also served, it did not even occur to me. All I could think was my country had been attacked. I was single and eligible to serve my country, so I caught a bus to San Antonio the days following Pearl Harbor.
I had in mind to become a pilot and live or die for my country whichever came first. Fortunately for me and perhaps for my country, it didn't take the Air Force long to decide I was too old to start pilot training and with my farming background, I would better serve my nation as an aircraft mechanic.
I did not tell them my mechanical experience consisted of using baling wire and a pair of pliers, thinking what they did not know was not going to hurt me. I also did not tell them if I needed work done I took my tractor or car to the shop or to my dealer.
I have no way of knowing how much it cost our government to teach me how to be an expert aircraft mechanic. All I learned (and I made top grades in my graduating class) at the advanced course in Burbank, California under the tutelage of Lockheed specialists, was when attaching the cables to the aircraft battery, always use a plain washer, a lock washer and finally a wing nut. Even then I could not remember whether the plain washer or the lock washer came first.
When I got on the line as crew chief on the P-38, I found out it made little difference since the P-38 generally did not outlast the battery anyhow. And, the replacement P-38 came with a battery already attached.
Having volunteered once and I am still glad that I did, I firmly resolved to "never volunteer for anything again!" So, when the Sergeant came around with the announcement, "I am informed this group of men has volunteered for latrine duty," his announcement was greeted with a chorus of moans and groans.
The Sergeant feigned total amazement and said, "Well, perhaps I have been misinformed. Tell me by a show of hands, who among you did not volunteer for latrine duty." I knew I hadn't so two more dummies and I held our hands up.
"O'Brien, you and Krasolski and Kosokiski pick up mops, brooms and buckets and follow me!" And so I learned even if you do not volunteer, you could still get drafted.
Among the things that bothered me was "hurry up and wait;" whistles were blowing at all hours. Another thing, I was used to home cooking - eggs fried but not scorched or scrambled. After period of time, I learned not to be so particular. I think I learned to eat eggs, I suspect, scrambled, shell and all. I guess my body needed the extra lime provided by the eggshell, but I never learned to enjoy it.
One of my favorite vegetables was boiled cabbage, at least the way my mother used to prepare it. My first dinner in the military was a steaming bowl of boiled cabbage. I helped my plate to a large helping and, just before I started to eat, I saw right on top, the biggest, juiciest-looking cabbage worm coiled up right on my first bite. I lost my appetite for cabbage right then and there. I have since thought that some practical joker with a distorted sense of humor had planted an artificial worm for my special benefit, but even now I am cautious about eating boiled cabbage.
This is a rambling beginning of recalling from my dimming memory of nearly four years of military service from Comanche to Wichita Falls, to Long Beach California, to New York, to Ireland to North Africa, to Sicily, to South America, Florida, San Antone and then home. Pretty dull stuff? I was safer there than I would have been at home, but I took out $10,000 in insurance, which left me $14.00 a month.
I wish I had kept that insurance. My world is much more dangerous here!
Printed in The DeLeon Free Press newspaper, February 5, 2004