John Elroy Thompson
January 4, 1924 - October 12, 2020
My life as close as I can remember it. My earliest memories were when I must have been around 5 years old. We lived in what is now called the Moody Place. Some of the things that come to mind follows:
- I had just got a new pair of shoes to start school. One evening the Hawns had come over to visits, and all us kids were outside playing. It was after dark and us kids were outside play Pump-Jump Run Away. Pump jump run away is, when you split the contestants evenly and have sides, 50 to 75 feet apart, and then someone says ‘Go’ and both sides try to get to the other side, without being touched by someone from the other side. If touched you belong to the opponent. Dad had an 15-30 International tractor, and he had changed the oil that day and left the pans sitting in yard with oil, I managed to step into it with my new shoes.
- One of the cows had a calf, quite away South of the place, so Dad decided to take the truck over to pick it up. The cow would follow the truck home. I had a brand-new sheepskin coat, for the winter, and I was in the back of the truck, with a couple of the other kids, holding the calf. I was at the back of the calf and it shit right into the pocket of my new coat.
- Dad used to have gas delivered for the tractor and truck and stored it in 50 gallon barrels. Somehow, I had discovered if I opened the barrels and breathed the fumes, coming out of one, I could really get a good high. But, one time when I came back to real-life, I was down crawling around the barrels on my hands and knees. That was the end of gas breathing.
- One of the things that really stands out in my mind is as follows: It was three miles over to the Gerhart school. In the wintertime, the older kids would pull a sled for me to ride on. On the way to the school, we had gone by the Whitmore Place and Mr. Whitmore, who was called ‘Grandpa Whitmore’, would come out on his saddle horse and pull me the rest of the way to the school. A lot of the times, I would move up on the sled, so Wava could ride also, but one time I wouldn’t let her ride with me. I don’t know why, but it sure made a mark on my brain.
- Grandma Whitmore was our teacher and she put me through first and second grade, in my first year. So, now I was in the same grade with Wava, and Grandma only had 7 grades to teach, now. The following year we moved to the Steffer Place, next to Baker Springs. This must have been about 1930. The same year Grandma Whitmore moved down Baker Springs. I probably shouldn’t admit it, but I was her favorite. There was a teacher’s house (shack), where the teachers stayed. I don’t know who furnished the wood to heat both the school and the teacher’s cottage. The school was right across our north fence, and the end of the county road. There was a small gully between the entrance to the school yard and the school and it would drift full during the winter. In the spring, when it started to melt, and we would walk quite a way north to get across and come back to the school. At the school there was us kids, the Murphy’s and the Links. The last two years we had a different teacher Edith Burbridge and the Links were gone. The Whitmore’s had a collie type dog, named George, that would go back and forth between the house and the school. This was probably seven or eight miles to the Baker Springs school from the Whitmore’s place. (The day after I came back from the service, I went out to see the Whitmore’s and that morning Grandpa had to shot George, because he could no longer even get up.)
At the Steffer Place, the house was across a small creek from the barn and corrals. There was a small pasture that was west of the buildings, that ran uphill and during lighting storms, we would see lighting run down the fence, from the corner of the fence to the barn, about a good half mile. There was also a dam across the creek between the house and the barn. If we had a cloud burst, we could hear the water coming and go over the dam. This would often take out the fence between the Steffer Place and the Campbell Place. I can remember dad coming from the fields at noon, and the work horses going right into the reservoir and laying down harness and all.
Access to the east fence was the Baker Springs wells. But Dad had his own spring, probably less then 200 feet west on the Campbell place, from the Baker Springs. I don’t know what the beef was all about, but dad and Roy Campbell were sure at odds. Roy always used mules that loved to jump the fences and dad hated them. It got so bad that Roy built a second fence, probably 12 feet from the fence line, of the properties.
- I can’t remember what year it was, but I assume it was the bank people, that came and took all the Campbells stuff, mules, machinery and everything. Within a very few days the Campbell family left, also. After they left the Ayers family used it as a cattle camp, for about one year. That was when Garnet met her husband to be, Henry. That was when we moved to the Campbell place. Most of the people today call it the Berjoice place. This made it less than a quarter mile to walk to school.
One year, while we were there, dad had a bumper crop year and had gone to town and order a new binder, but by the time he got home, a hail storm had come through and did his harvesting. I don’t remember how many years later it was, but he had another good year. He had rented the Wilson place, just west of his original homestead, and I sure can remember Bus, Freck, and myself out there on that huge field, shocking all those bundles behind the binder.
- The winter of 1935-1936, we had six weeks when the temperature never got above -20 degrees and many nights it got down to -60 degrees. You can’t believe how the snow squeaked when we walked on it going to school. Dad had a lot of hogs and about every other Saturday he butchered five or six. And, on Monday he would hook Siy (an all white gelding) and Beauty (a small black mare), to the sleigh and head for town, with the hogs. I don’t know if he sold to the two stores or to individuals. We had a lot of snow, so he tried to stay on top of the ridges. All the neighbors, along the way, had cut their fences, so he could get by. They, also, left their grocery orders from town. He would come home making deliveries on the way. It was usually late by the time he got home, as it was 34 mile round trip. If he had any room left over for the trip home, he would buy a bale of hay for his work horses. This didn’t work out to well, as he lost four or six from grasshopper’s poison in the hay.
- In the 1930’s the government was buying everything along the Missouri River, for both the Fort Peck Dam and the Reservation. Mom’s brother, Delbert, had property there, that the government bought. They moved to Red Lodge where they bought a place. They had been there only a year or so, when Delbert got cancer and died. Aunt Nancy couldn’t handle the place by herself and since there was another house on the property, she convinced dad to move his family there. In the spring of 1937, he started moving up there, with the remaining horses first and then with the family, except for me. The next-door neighbor, Harry McDonald, wanted me for most of the summer. I don’t know why because about all he did was teach me how to drive. I don’t remember what was left of dad’s farm equipment, but when dad came to get it, I went back with him. I’ll surely remember the trip because it was late at night when we got there. Going up that valley at night, it looked like we’re going into a hole. Believe me this was much different than living on a flat dry land place. When they turned the irrigation water on, it wasn’t too long before we needed to make planks walkways to get to the barns, where the milk cows were. In the fields there were more rocks to pick, then you can believe.
- Wava and I were both ready for high school. It was seven miles to Red Lodge. We had to walk there, there were no buses those days. We had about one and a half miles to go and if we were lucky one of the neighbor’s kids, who had a pickup would pick us up. Otherwise, we walked it all the way. I’ll have to say, we once in a while cheated, if the weather was bad. About 2 miles away there was a couple’s place, we would stop at for the day. He was an old-time cowboy and it didn’t make any difference what the weather was, he slept out under the wagon, every night.
- Before the end of the school year, Wava got a job staying at a place in town, to care for the kids. That left me alone, but it wasn’t long before our next-door neighbor, Kirsinger, wanted me to work for him, at his place. He had between 14 and 20 cows to milk every morning and evening. I got $5 per month, half of which I gave to mom and the rest was mine. I stayed there through the summer, doing all kinds of work. I’ll have to say one thing, I learned was, you don’t feed pigs raw milk. I’ve seen them drink until their stomachs ruptured. That fall, I was on the thrashing crew. At the end of the thrashing, the whole crew went to town, me included. That was the first time I’d been in a tavern or done any drinking. It was a mistake, because that night in bed, I threw up laying flat on my back. The boss’s wife sure didn’t approve of that, and I spent the next day digging and sacking potatoes (lesson learned).
- The following year, or so, Aunt Nancy was being pursued by one of the neighbors (Bob Robinson), young men, which she approved of. Dad had found a place down between Joliet and Columbus where he moved the family. I was then staying with Nancy and Bob, and in my room, it was so bad that when it snowed there would be drifts on my bed the next morning. In the spring I went to the family. By this time dad had accumulated quite a few sheep by accepting bum lambs from the neighbors. (When twin lambs are born, one of the lambs is taken from the mom (the bum lamb) and is given away, so that the mother sheep has one lamb to care for). I was honored with the job of herding the sheep to keep the coyotes from them. That fall I decided I wasn’t so smart after all. So, dad made arrangement with Doug Percival, for me to stay with them and go to school, since their boy who was my age, had died of cancer. They also had cows to milk morning and evenings. Bus had gone into the serves and during the spring on leave he came by and I went home with him and went back to school. This is where I first really started noticing girls. Actually, she noticed me, and I couldn’t resist. The school paid me $5 a month on Saturday, if they needed me, which they seldom did. It was only 3 blocks to downtown from the school, and we would get 2 ice cream cones, at only 10 cents each, the two of us pretty much kept me broke by the end of the month.
- In the meantime, the folks had moved back to the Winifred area. In the spring I decided to go there, too. Somehow, I got money enough to get to Lewistown. It was late in the evening when I got there and started hiking to Winifred. I got a ride right to Hilger. I started from there and walked all the way to Winifred, 23 miles. One pickup passed me, but didn’t even slow down. It was 4 in the morning by the time I made it to Winifred. The next day dad took my shoes into town and had new soles put on them. At that time, Garnie and Henry were at the Bar L on Salt Creek, so, I went out there to work for them and finished the school year at Winifred. I kept working for them through the summer and harvest. I had learned how to play the guitar by then and was playing with the Jimmerson and John Brooks for dances in the area. During harvest, there was two young fellows from Minnesota, that worked for the Henrys. They needed to get back to Minnesota in time for college, to start and wanted to sell their motorbikes. Henry and I bought them. I had never ever ridden a bike, so I tried to learn to ride the bike in the stubble fields. Needless to say, I lost a lot of skin in the process, but got pretty fair at it. That is until Saturday, when I’d gone to town for a ‘few’. Going home, down the Salt Creek Hill invariably I’d hit one of those spring time ruts and lost a whole bunch of skin.
- Age 16 – School had started again, and I had gone to work for Everett Pollard, on weekends, hauling grain. The day after Thanksgiving, we were taking a load of barley down to the P.N. And, I was holding the flap up on the stone granary, to back the truck under it. The clutch grabbed on the truck and caught me in between! Needless to say, my body couldn’t stand up to either one of them. It caught me just left of the backbone and crushed my hip and pelvis, plus cracking two vertebrae’s in my back and squirted me out, where I promptly dropped to the ground. Everett knew something had happened and came around the truck. As soon as, he found out the problem, he got one of the ranch hands and they carried me to the bunk house and put me on a bed. He, then, ran to the ranch manager’s, Hal Johnson, house to get them to take me to the hospital, in Lewistown 60 miles away. (by the way the P.N. was owned, at the time by Carstine Packing of Tacoma). Hal wasn’t there, but his wife, Caroline, was and she said, ‘let’s go’. They managed to get me into the backseat of their Packard convertible and headed to town. When they got to Winifred, they had to stop for gas and were able to call to Dr. Adax to say we were coming. He said to come by the office, when we got to Lewistown. By this time, I’m fading back and forth in consciousness. When we got to his office, he came out and looked at me and said, “give him 15 minutes more and you can take him to Creal’s the funeral home”. They then went up to the hospital. They (the hospital attendees) had been warned and were ready for us. When they started trying to get me out of the car, the pain really gave me a bad time, until I was on the gurney and crapped out, again. Again, after getting me into the hospital, they were trying to get me ready for bed. They had to remove my boots, with one nurse pulling on the boot and two more trying to hold my leg and that really brought the pain out. After, going thru that I was out all the time. During this time, they had taken x-rays and determined that there were 42 distinct pieces (breaks) of my hip and pelvis. For good reason, I guess because when I came to several hours later, that night, there was a 4-inch wide tape, from both hips down to the bottom of my feet, where it had a block of wood with a rope thru it and the rope thru a pulley at the end of the bed, with weights tied to them, then the tape ran up the inside of my legs to the groin. There was about a foot-wide canvas belt strung from bars high on the bed, both sides. alHaThis belt thing went under my hips and was holding me about 4 inches from the mattress. They had put a straight jacket on my upper body, and it was fastened to the head of the bed. When I came around, mom was in the same room, with a cot. I can remember badly wanting for something to drink, but all I could have was a small piece of ice. I can’t remember for sure, but I think mom was there for two days and nights. This was the position I was in until the middle of January. The Hospital was a nursing training facility, so thankfully, I had plenty of visitors during the whole time. One of the training nurses was from Winifred, and she was telling everyone that I would never walk again. From the window of my room I could see the military airplane training, from the other side of town.
When the doctor finally said I could sit up in the bed, it was a real heyday. That morning they were getting me unhitched from all the paraphernalia. Then in the afternoon, there must have been a dozen training nurses, plus two sisters that came to my room. They all knew what was going to happen because when the sisters said, ‘now let’s put your legs over the side of the bed and then let you sit up’. Three of the trainers got in front of me and the rest on the sides and in the back of me. Sister said, ‘Now sit up’. I could hardly move, but the nurses in the back helped me get up to a sitting position, but before I could even begin to stop and all the one’s in the front of me caught me and put me back to a sitting position, where they all held me for quite a while. It took almost a week doing this before I was able to do it myself. I still had to stay at the hospital for quite a while, because I had to learn how to get around with crutches, without using the left leg. (I was in the hospital from the day after Thanksgiving through the 2nd week in January).
When I was released from the hospital Everett came to pick me up; I stayed at his place since it was just across the street from school.
- That summer I worked for Garnie and Henry, again.
- Age 17 – That fall Jerry Jimmerson, one of the next-door neighbors, received a letter to report for the service. Since, he and I had become real good buddies, I went and volunteered to go with him. He passed his just fine, but they put me in the 4F classification, which I protested to the board. The board approved my protest so, the military approve me for limited service. We were both going into the Navy, but when we took the military exams, they took him and put me in the army. I was sent to Camp Cook, California. What is now call Vandenberg. They assigned me to the kitchen to become a cook.
Our barrack was right next to the infiltration course. This is where you crawl under barb wire for about 200 feet, with live gun fire, just over head. Every time they were having practice, I’d go out and go thru it, if I had a break from the kitchen. In about two or three months, the Captain in charge of the course said, “there is no reason you should be assigned to a kitchen” and recommend me for general duty.
- I had become close friends with the jeep drivers, of the base commander. One night, I was at the motor pool, with him, when the phone rang and he said, “answer it”. I picked up the phone and all I got was a “come and get me”. Being the smart ass, I said “What do you think this is, a cab company or what?”, because I heard his driver do it several time. The person on the other end said, “do you know who this is?” and I said “no.” “I’m your base commander” he said. I said, “Do you know who this is?’ and he said “no.” and I said “good, but your jeep is on the way.” He often commented to his driver about it, as it amused him.
- Within a short time, I was assigned to a replacement company, with a Sargent rate. As soon as we had a complete company, we were to go overseas, that didn’t take long. We were jammed on a train headed for New Jersey, two people to a bunk. It took three days and nights and the only food and water, we got was when the train would stop in a town, to let another train go by. Everybody would jump off and run to whatever store we could find. We were short several people by the time we got to New Jersey. We were there for only about a week. We did get passes, while there and several of us went up to New York, which was much different than we were used to. Then, one night they said to get ready. This meant, duffel bag and all.
We were bussed up to New York and put on the Queen Mary, two people to a bunk, along with your duffel bags, three bunks high. Image trying to sleep on a bunk with a full duffel bag, under your feet and head. All there was to eat was what we called ‘shit on a shingle’.. It would take standing line 8 to 10 hours, just to get it, even though it (the ship’s dining room) was open 24 hours a day. Each day there would be an evacuation drill, where everyone had to go up on deck. It could be so, packed you couldn’t get your hands up. So many people were sea sick, that they would be throwing up right down the neck of the person in front of them. The ship never traveled straight it would go back and forth, about every 5 minutes to avoid any torpedoes, that a submarine might have fired at us. It took us over a week to get to land, again.
- We landed in Ireland and the land crew were really surprised because, it had been announced that the Queen Mary had sunk while we were coming over. We were in Ireland only a few days, thank God, since the weather there was so damp, it was like it was raining all the time.
From there, we went over to Central England and setup our replacement company. This was where new troops were being sent over and we were held until combat company’s needed people to complete their ranks. We were located right where the C47 airplane, with two gliders were practicing, and where some planes were coming back from bombing runs over Germany. It was hard to believe how some of them could keep flying. You could see big holes thru wings and parts of the tail missing.
- After about three months the 1st Lieutenant, who was our company commander, found out that I was seeing the girl he had been trying to get. He gave me a choice, quit seeing her or transfer out. I chose the transfer and fortunately I went just over to the other side of the little town, from where we were. I still kept seeing her and I’ll always remember how well her parents treated me. Red meat was a real scarce item there, at that time, but if I was coming, they would somehow find some.
- While there, I had to go to London, one time to pick up a guy, who had gotten into trouble and bring him back to the compound. I had to stay overnight, in London, so that evening I went to a pub. This was during the time when the German’s were bombing London with Buzz bombs. I got to talking with a Britain and asked if he wasn’t concerned about them. His answer was ‘why worry, because they had to try to get them fired off, then across the channel, locate London, next find his neighborhood, and then his house. Now if they got all this done, I’d probably be here, at the pub, having a pint, anyways.
- It was getting close to D-Day (June 6, 1944), they were grouping us all close to the coast. One night after dark the order came. “Get your back packs on and your rifles. We’ll give you plenty of ammo, when you’re on the landing craft.” Which they did with two full bandoliers. We crossed the channel in the dark, but the sky was full of planes, gliders and bombers. As it started getting light you could hardly see the water, the landing crafts were basically side by side. Bigger ships were further back firing everything at the coast. It wasn’t long before they started opening the ramps on the landing crafts and we received the orders from our Captain ‘do not stop for the dead or wounded, your responsibility is to get to the shore’ and we started unloading. Our craft was in the third row back, so we had to move (wade) up long side the other two carrier to move forward, but there were already dead and wounded bodies, clear back that to our craft. It is impossible to describe what it was like trying to get to the shore, with the thousands of wounded and dead soldiers in the way, or to be slowly moving along when all of a sudden, the guy next to drop from sight. The cries for help are the hardest things to ever get off your mind, because you had to keep going and couldn’t stop to help! When we got to shore, it wasn’t any better, because it was covered with the dead and wounded. Fortunately, at Utah Beach (June 6, 1944), all we had was a real steep hill, we had to get up, but not by throwing ropes with hooks up the cliffs, like at some other beaches. The big ships had knocked out a lot of their protection. It was still one hell of a job, to get up to the top of the hill and keep firing at what we could. I’ll forever be thankful to those guys in the gliders for making it easier, when we got toward the top of the hill. After we had gotten up the hill and off the beach, the tanks and big equipment could start moving up. They were sure a welcomed sight. After, we got up on top, it was quite a difference, because there we have fences to separate the properties, they had mounds of rock and trees. There were usually German soldiers behind each of these mounds.
- After a week or so, we had moved into farms quite a ways and it was getting a little quieter at night, so we could rest. We were staying in a town one might and after midnight it was my turn to stand guard. I could hear steps coming up the alley and called halt, several times but they kept coming, so I fired, and it stopped. The next morning there was a big Holstein cow laying there, in the alley,
- The further we went, the fighting got rougher because we were getting closer to Germany. We were going thru a forest area one day and we were spread pretty wide. I was clear out at the end of the line and ran into a half dozen German soldiers. Being, so outnumbered I gave up. By this time even with the difference in language, we both, German and us, could pretty much, with sign and mixed language, get our messages across. I, finally, convinced them (the Germans) not to go the way we were going but to go the other way. This led them right back into our unit. I believe, that the individual soldiers had already determined, by this time, that the war had been decided (almost over). The Germany soldiers surrendered to us.
- It is amazing how, when a situation comes up, how you just respond without considering how unsafe it is. You just do it. This is how I ended up with so many medals. We were trying to advance up a hill one time and the Germans had hit us with mortar fire. Shrapnel from the mortar round had hit my gun and ruined it. We kept advancing, against machine gun fire, when they hit one of the other soldiers. I was in a little draw out of fire range, but they kept firing at the guy, who was down. Stupid me, without any thought, ran out pulling the guy into draw and used his gun to keep moving.
Another time, under intense machine gun fire, I managed to sneak under it and drop a hand grenade into their nest, which quieted thing down considerably. Anytime, enemy fire or mortar fire drew blood, you received a purple heart.
- I picked up trench foot, which is when your feet have been wet and cold for a long period of time, that the blood quits flowing there. When the field medic discovered it, he promptly ordered me to the field hospital. From there I was ordered to a hospital in England. This was on a C-47 ambulance plane. We were in bunks three high. There was no insulation, on the sides of the plane and we hit a hail storm, crossing the channel. You can’t believe how noisy it was. This was when I gained my respect for the Red Cross. The field hospital, such as it was, was real close to the front line and the Red Cross was right there with fresh donuts. Boy were they good.
- After World War I, the French had built the Margeno Line, which was a tunnel system, with a beam with machine gun nest in it. Needless, to say it didn’t delay the Germans much, when they took off on World War II. After our unit had crossed it, we were to be relieved by another unit, for a little rest and relaxation. We were right at the top of a valley and down it was a town. We could see the people going out the other side. My platoon scout came and told me he would be back. It was probably three hours later, when he returned. He had gone down to the town and came back on bicycle, with a burlap sack over his shoulder, full of wine. Him, me and two of my squad leaders, put our shelter tents together, so we were in them head to head, since he had all this wine, we each had to have our own bottle. This was just fine as long as we stayed under our shelter halves, but when we got out and stood up, we got really drunk in a hurry. It even got to where we each put a bottle of wine in our helmet and had washed our hair. The next morning, I’m telling you, I’ve never had a hangover like that before or since.
- We were taking quite a few prisoners by this time, I had this same scout, taking the prisoners back to headquarters for processing. I finally got a request as to why my unit wasn’t taking any prisoners. I followed behind the scout, the next time we had prisoners to go back. We had gone only far enough, to get out of gun shot hearing, when the scout shot both of the prisoners. I had to turn him in as bad as I hated to, becauseI had never had another scout that was as good as he was.
- We were down by Pilsner Czech and the Pilsner brewery was making beer for us, that was 16% alcohol. It didn’t take many of those to set things off. They, also, had a liquor, we called pole juice, because if any of the groups got high on it, they would invariably try to climb the light poles.
- When the Germans decided to try for the Bulge at Bastogne, we were clear down in Czechoslovakia. But, the 317th Regiment was ordered to go there. It was in the winter time and colder than hell. They loaded us into the trucks and headed north. We picked up replacements along the way, to fill the regiment. A regiment is 3 companies of 200 individuals, plus some more for regiment headquarters. We were driving straight thru, day and night. Every time the trucks stopped, everybody jumped out and started a fire with anything available. Even our rations were frozen, but that was all we had to eat. As soon as, we got close enough to hear gun fire, the drivers stopped and wouldn’t go any further so dumped us off.
- The Germans had surrounded Baston but kept going. They had trapped the 21st Airborne Division in Baston. This is where Rummel asked them to surrender, but the Airborne Commander told him, you’re nuts. The weather had been terribly foggy and overcast, so there was no air support! They had gone as far as Belgium, when the weather broke and air support and the US Army finally got to them and the US Army finally stopped them. Our regiment took about 10 days to break thru their line and make contact with the people in Baston. This was what we got the Presidential Citation for. But, we didn’t have enough people left to make a company. We had lost more people to the cold and snow, then to the enemy. This basically ended it for Germany, since they had put almost everything they left into the Battle of the Bulge. From then on, there was very little fighting going on. Their units were more or less falling apart and those that could get to us, were coming in to surrender, even though the government hadn’t surrendered. It sure made it a lot easier controlling prisoner camps.
- When President Roosevelt died, it was the prisoners that told us. After the Armistead, we spent most of our time controlling the prisoner camps. One of the most troubling things for the time I was in the military, was shortly after the Armistead, the Russians were trying to get back, what they called the ‘white Russians’. These were people who had managed to get out of Russia, during the war. The Russians were rounding them up and putting them in camps, like our prisoner camps. And, we were to guard them. When they were going to take them back to Russia, they just used open trucks. I saw some of the ‘white Russians’ just jump out of the trucks and the Russian guards would just shoot them. I’ve even seen women throw their babies to people that were standing watching, when the trucks started moving. They would all be crying, saying they knew what would happen to them, when they got back to Russia. We were given orders to help the Russians load them. I came close to disobeying an order at that time, then anything other time, during my time in the service.
- In 1945, they started sending people back to the States, for discharge, I have no idea how they were picked, because it was by individuals, not by units. At least not for our infantry units anyways. It was in January 1946 before I was notified. I was to a town in France, I’ve forgotten the name of it, even if I knew it at the time. It took almost a week to get loaded onto a Liberty ship. There was only about 200 of us. It was pure luxury, compared to the crossing we had going over. All individual cots verses the stacked bunks, and very little in our packs. January is not a good month to be crossing the North Atlantic, in a small Liberty ship. I was fortunate because they had assigned me to be in charge of all the personnel records, for all military personnel on board. This gave me a cabin, right in the middle of the ship, where it is the smoothest. The waves were much bigger than the ship. We could go out on the back and as the ship would go over a wave, we could look straight up and there would be the waves. As it came down, it would shoot us up the next one. Our Liberty ship started leaking and with all the pumps going they were not quite keeping up. They were finally able to get some bigger pumps dropped on the deck, by helicopters from the Aircraft carrier.
- The Liberty ship went fairly close to the Statue of Liberty, so I got to see our gift from France. This was about 10 a.m. 1/22/1946 in the morning. I didn’t get out of New York until the next morning , 01/24/1946, because of all the military records I had to give to the military. The train from New York took 3 days to get to Billings, 01/27/1946, then a Gray Hound bus to Lewistown and finally a taxi to Winifred, at about 10 p.m. I stayed at Bus and Alice’s for the night and went home the next morning. It was strange, but Kathleen McDonald – Harry McDonald’s daughter – happened to be on the same bus and she thanked me and the commented about the stuff that had been in the newspaper, about me and the Silver Star, which is right below the Congressional Medal of Honor.
- At that time Dad was delivering coal around town, from the train with a lumber wagon and a team of horses. The second day, I was home I spent at the tavern, and Dad would go deliver a coal load to a place and then stop at the bar and have drinks with me. By the end of the day he was getting well loaded, since he didn’t drink, usually. When he got ready to call it a day, I went home with him to make sure the horses were ok, it was dark by then. We had used a lantern to get the horses taken care of and were getting ready to go to the house. I said I’d put the lantern out and he said, “I’ll show you how to put it out.” And started ruing toward the lantern, which I quickly grabbed and got it out of his way. He won’t believe me the next day when I told him about it. That was the only time I ever seen him drink except for a beer now and then.
- It seems strange to me, but I don’t remember much about that time of my life, but I know it was during this time that Jim Evers and I became such good friends. After a year or two, one day Jim say “I’m going to South Dakota. One of the guys I was with in the Navy with is putting together a company, to start doing Rural Electrification (R.E.) and wants help. Do you want to go too?” I said “Sure.” About 2 days later, we were in Billings catching a train to South Dakota. We stayed at Aron Alts folks place, ‘til we learned what we would be doing. This is when the government was paying to put electric throughout the rural areas.
- After we got going, we both moved into Letcher S.D. to the hotel, owned by Panze and Earl Marler, that also had a restaurant. They also had two little boys (Rodney and Bobby), and two daughters (Rita of Seattle and Lois of California) that were grown and gone, and a daughter (Donna) still at home and in high school. Letcher also had six or eight young fellows about Jim’s and my age. At that time, S Dakota taverns and bars didn’t open until 10:00 a.m. on Sundays. It got to be quite a deal on Sundays, which of us guys would be at one of the bars at opening time first, because the first one there bought the first round for the day and that was all for the day. Another thing that was amazing to us was that every Wednesday and Saturday evening, if you didn’t get to town early, you would have a hard time finding a parking spot. Everybody around that area always came to town those two evenings.
- With so many companies doing the R.E. it didn’t take long until it was all completed, and we had to find different jobs. Jim got in with a guy who had trucks and also grew corn. I got a job making ditches with a single bottom plow that also had a rotating auger, that would throw dirt up the ditch bank. Believe me, it sure took a long time to get a ditch to drain some of the little lakes. When it started freezing it was corn harvest time, and I got a job at the same place where Jim was working. The pickers would pull the ears off the corn and put it into the wagons. Then the wagons would be brought to the crib for storage. The cribs were usually 8 feet wide but 10 to 12 feet high. Using an elevator, the wagons were emptied into the cribs. By the time the corn was all picked, the first cribs of corn would be cured enough to start shelling. There were enough cribs of corn to keep the shelling all winter, and the farmers always needed help.
- The woman at the hotel had a brother, Loren, in Seattle that always came to Letcher in the summertime, and he always was after me to come to Seattle and go to work for Boeing and make a lot more money than at a S Dakoda farm.
One summer, I painted buildings, another summer I ran a corn grinder all summer, because a lot of the farmers had small feed lots for hogs and cattle. That summer on Wednesday and Saturday evenings, I also ran the projectors for the movies. I had also done this work when I was in the military service in California.
S Dakota is recognized as the Chinese Pheasant capital of the world, so every fall the area would be overrun with hunters getting birds.
Letcher had a cold storage plant that was owned at that time by Winchler, a native from the Roy Montana area. During hunting time, I worked in the evening dressing birds, because the hunters would just shot them an bring them to the locker to be taken care of.
- During this time Donna and Claude were working for a rancher in Wyoming and were always telling me about all the deer that were around there. One of the young married guys, from around Letcher kept after me to go deer hunting with him. He had quite a collection of rifles. Anyways, I said it had to be short timed, but I knew where we could go. We took off real early one morning and we were in Wyoming at about noon. I don’t remember that town’s name, but it was on a good highway, and he says, “I’d like to go to a cat house.” It sure didn’t take him long to find one. I accused him of having been there before, which he denied. I was surprised by the number of girls there, and I believed that most were not of legal age. My first and only time in a house of ill refute.
Anyways, it was late by the time we got to Donna and Claude’s. Claude said “I kept some riding stock in for an early start, in the morning. The next morning, we took off early, but by late afternoon, Claude said “let’s get some rest.” We went back to the ranch. He said “we’ll wait for dark”, which we did. Then we took one of the pickups out to the hay fields, and you can’t believe the number of deer that were in the fields. The first one, I shot went down, but was soon back up, looking towards me, but this time he only one horn. After, the second shot he stayed down, and less then 300 to 400 feet away, two more bucks were just standing there, looking at the truck lights and he got one of them. We took them to the barn and dressed them out and got them onto the front fenders, for traveling. They made sure we got an early start the next morning and were home before dark. The sad thing was, dressing out my deer, Winchler got his hand into the grinder and lost 4 fingers on his left hand. I ended up giving all my deer away, most to him and the Marlers. I never got a bite of it.
- If my memory is correct, I think it was somewhere around this time that Donna and I got married. I believe it was Dick that brought Mom and a couple others out for our wedding.
There were a lot of dad’s family, that lived around the area or close by, that we visited. Ted, also, brought Dad out one time when I was living in S Dakota, I don’t remember if it was just to visit his family or was also one of his trips to Rochester.
It was getting a little harder to find work, but fortunately Donna’s uncle, on her dad’s side called one day and said there was going to be an opening up where he worked, if I was interested. He was sure he could get it for me. He said it would be a 6 day a week. It was at a huge laundry, in Huron S Dakota. I promptly said I’d take it. All the equipment in there was run by steam. It would be my job to keep the boilers and equipment running. I found a house, halfway across town that, I rented. While looking for a place, I was watching for ways to get to the laundry and figured out a fairly easy way to get to work early every morning. I had to be there by 6:00 a.m. to make sure the steam was all through the plant by 7 a.m. We had 2, 4X12 foot washers, plus some small ones. One of the big washers was for individual’s laundry, brought in by trucks and the other one was for bedding, etc. All washers drained into an open trough underneath. I soon learned if I was a little short of money, to check the trough under the individual washer. It was always good for
$5 to $15 weekly.
The steam, for heating the bedding sheets and such, was always easy because they always wanted them about full blast. But the small pressures were a headache, because the generator always distributed different pressures. I had another guy, that came in later, that I was training, to help do all the stuff I had to accomplish.
- With Donna being pregnant, she later went back to her folk’s place until the baby was born, which was Larry, on 04/29/49. She did the same thing for Gary, which 06/19/50. Each time she would be back in a week or so.
- Then one day in late June 1951, one of the truck drivers came in and said “John, I’m going to Seattle, do you want to go too?” And, I promptly asked “Yes, how long do I have?’ he replied “Can you be ready in two days?” “I’ll sure try,” I said. Jim had gotten married to Lois, probably a little over 4 years, ahead of our marriage. They had taken over Lois’s dad’s place, as he was getting old. I promptly got a hold of Jim and he make arrangements to get Donna and the boys and anything else we had acquired, back to Letcher. I was ready in the tow days. It took us two days to get out here, because they had a small baby, also. We got here the same day the Boeing B-29 flew into the packing plant. We were just this side of the pass, when they started telling/reporting it on the car radio.
- I went to Donna’s uncle’s place. The next day we went to Seattle, where the Boeing hiring office was located. He was showing me how to use the city buses and everything. Every morning for the next nine days, I was at their (Boeing’s) door, when they unlocked it for the day. I always went to the same window. On the tenth day the hiring guy says “You really want to go to work, don’t you?” I said, “not only do I want to, but I need to.” “Ok” he said “in the morning go to this place down by the Boeing Field and they’ll take care of you.” I went and found it that same day, to make sure where it was. He said, “this is what you’ll need.” And, handed me this list. “Hell, I can’t afford all this. “ I said. He said “Now, go over to the place across from the main Boeing Plant, and he’ll take care of you.” And he did. He grabbed a new toolbox and put everything on the list, in it. “Now, in the morning, you be back over by that building, by the runway.” I was there for two more days, learning how to buck rivets. “now, leave your toolbox here and in the morning, you come back, and we’ll bus you over to Renton.” This they did and by noon we were working on a C-97 airplane. To me, this was the neatest plane Boeing ever built. It was in two halves. The bottom tube was for luggage and the top half was for passengers. You’ll notice you won’t find any of them at the museum, because they took the top half off and expanded them to make the guppy for super loads. At the joint half there were 4 rows of rivets, spread about 1 inch apart, on both sides. After a couple of months, I was upgraded to a riveter. With a good bucket, I got to where we could do one side in 4 hours.
During several months up to this time Donna was doing a lot of complaining about being sick. But if I was on swing shift[RC1] Donna and Rita would be going out at nights. I, also, knew that they often times were having guys coming to the houses. It finally got to the point where we were disagreeing most of the time, so I just moved out. About a month or so Mom and Dad had come out to visit and see the area. They stayed at Donna’s at nights. I had a car and we would all go looking around during the day. They were here 6 days and then they went over to Donna and Claude’s at Prosser. After my divorce from Donna, it was probably a couple of years before I met Darleene and another year before we go married.
This was when Boeing started making flying tankers and I moved up rapidly but had made one big mistake. As soon as I became a riveter, all the old timers were after me to join their union. Not being familiar with unions, I joined. Every 6 months the Boeing supervisor, at the time, was grading all their employees. The grades ran from a 1, which was the top, down to 9, which was the bottom. I was graded with 1, with my first grade and the old timers started picking on me. I started going to the Union meetings to try to get some relief, but the harassment continued.
Fortunately, 5 months later I got promoted to supervisor and stopped pay Union dues.
Monthly, they would call me wanting their union dues, (remember I was no longer part of the union, but part of management. And, unions were not allowed at that level) One month Darleene got the call instead of me, and I don’t know what she told them, but no more calls.
It got to the point, at one point, that I had 149 employees. Grading that many sure cost a lot of what should have been sleeping time. One thing that came out of it, was that with 149 grading, is that the guy I disliked the most, I had to grade him the highest because he really was doing the best job, I had too. After about three months of the 149 employee’s thing, I applied for the night shift on the tanker line and got it. Only about 25 crew members, now. The company had now graduated a new group of supervisors and they split my previous job into the upper labor from the lower labor, and result was two set of crews with 4 supervisors.
- During the time, up to now, the company was real lax on safety stuff, but the military was putting more pressure on them, to make changes, all that time. So, Boeing finally established safety programs, that everybody had to go through yearly, when their names came up or were newly hired. Thank God for that. My name starting with a “T”, put me way later in the program, because the first the first hearing examiner guy, when he started testing my hearing, he stated “John, you’ve got to get out of here, because you’re going deaf.”
- Darleene was working in Finance at the time, and she told her boss about it, and his response was “I can get him out of there.” Which he did, in about a week. I lost my supervisor job in the process, but not much dollar, wise. I had to go into a different part of Finance called “cost and schedules,” because I couldn’t work in the same department as Darleene. In not too long a time, I was able to get into Engineering design.
- The Air Force would want something different and request it in written format. Our group would take what the Air Force requested and decide which Engineering groups would be needed to produce the drawings. We would then combine all the different drawing and the what for and why, then prepare a written design package (proposal) for accomplishing their request. This package would be sent to the Air Force and in a month or two, they would review it and then be ready to negotiate the cost of the project. This is when I started traveling all over the country. In each of my packages, sent to the Air Force, I would have a 10 to 15 percent over pricing, for negotiating and in all the time I negotiated, I never lost below my negotiating number, close a time or two, but never below. Another thing, I found out after I retired: The first negotiating started with the Air Force Engineering Representative at Boeing. And, he and I use to go round and round, but when the package got sent to Vanderberg, L.A., Salt Lake, Boston or where ever, the Boeing Air Force Rep. told them “Now if John tells you something, you better listen because he is probably right.”
- One thing I particularly remember, is the winter, when the central part of the country got so much snow, in October, and never saw ground, until April. I had to go to Boston and on the way, across Montana, I was able to pick out Ted’s place, by just the little black lines that were roads. I could even make out the calving/sheep shed, because the sun was shining on it.
- During the 1968-1969 time period, when the saying, here in Seattle was ‘Will the last person leaving Seattle, please shut off the lights.” I had a different job. It was my job to determine how many engineers had to be let go each month. For this I picked up the nickname of “dirty John.” Some people actually got hostile with me. I even had to change which bar I was going each evening and with whom.
- Actually, I enjoyed working for Boeing. They were a really good outfit, to work for, up until the bail out of Martin Douglas. Then Boeing started bringing some of the upper management up to the Seattle plant. This just created a lot of the same problems Martin Douglas had in L.A. I often wonder if the problem they have with the 737 MAX today, isn’t related to the Martin Douglas help.
- Retirement was treating me/us good for quite some time. I screwed up, when I designed the other house in 1980’s, by having as lease 2 steps to get in and out of the house.
- It didn’t take long, after the house was completed, for the step fall/accidents started happening. I don’t remember when, but my guess was about the middle of the 2016 one evening, that Darleene said “I tripped on the playroom steps, today,” and showed me the black and blue spots on her leg. I’d say, it was about one week later, when she said “I fell and hit the same spot.” I said “let me see” and she was right, it was the same spot and didn’t look good. The next morning, I asked to see the black and blue area, again. This time it was wet and coming from the inside. I said come on we need for the doctor to see this. Her regular doctor was busy, so she accepted seeing another. The doctor said “I want her Dr. to see this”, and went and got her. The decided to just wrap it and see her the next a.m. The next a.m. when they unwrapped her leg, there was dead material showing. They were, both, upset, and so was I. They got a couple of nurses or aids in there using tweezers, picking out the dead material. For week, I had her back there every a.m. By this time, the whole was about the size of a 50 cents coin, but most of the material was gone. The next week it was better, but her hip was acting up. Her MD made arrangements for a specialist to see Darleene up at the hospital. Jennifer took over and took Darleene up to the hospital. The specialist wanted a bone marrow sample. They were to go back the next week for the results/report. The report was that “there is not a bone in your body that doesn’t have cancer in it.” It seems Jennifer was taking her someplace (Dr, appts) every day for a couple of weeks, but she was just going down. Donelda finally came up to relieve me, because every hour or hour and a half she need something for the pain. Bill came early everyday and with Roxie helping, there would be one of us at her bedside continually all day. I usually spent most of the night at her bedside. One of the girls was right there, in the other bedroom, each night and would come if they heard her calling me, even when I would be right there. They made sure to have her medications all prepared, before they went to bed at night. Around this time Hospice moved in and took over during the day and Roxie started help at night. One of the girls were here every night. The lead hospice nurse wanted to talk one day to me, and all she said was that Darleene won’t last a week. Well, she lasted two full weeks. She usually called for me at night. Her last night, she must have been trying to get up. I’d heard her making some kind of noise, but she didn’t call, so I waited about an hour to get up and check. When I did, I knew she was gone and Roxie walked in about that time and agreed.
When we went to make funeral arrangements both girls, Bill and Jenn were with me. We not only made Darleene’s arrangements, but pretty much mine, also. As a veteran, I can have bronze on my head stone. I don’t know but somehow, he managed it for her headstone, also. So, we have one large stone across both our graves, with bronze plaques for each of us. The work they have done on Darleene’s is beautiful.
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