As an engineering school with strong military ties through its ROTC program, Georgia Tech was swiftly enlisted for the war effort. In early 1942 the traditional nine-month semester system was replaced by a year-round trimester year, enabling students to complete their degrees a year earlier.
In addition, the Army, Navy and Marines instituted special training programs on campus to augment the regular ROTC curriculum and to develop a more technically proficient officer corps.
The largest and best known of the programs was the Navy's V-12, which officially started on July 1, 1943. Tech was one of more than 250 universities to participate in the program, which was designed to meet the burgeoning manpower requirements of the Navy and Marines.
Under the plan, students were allowed to complete their engineering degrees while on active duty. In essence, the government paid for their college education, room and board, and provided a small monthly salary. The students were in uniform and subject to military discipline. Participants typically were engineering majors in ROTC drawn from other universities.
For Tech and the other host schools, V-12 helped keep enrollment figures up for the duration of the war.
One such student was Charles E. Littlejohn, who was transferred into the V-12 program from the University of Alabama. At first, Littlejohn didn't think Tech's curriculum was as difficult as Alabama's. But as the weeks wore on, Littlejohn's view changed considerably. An excerpt from a letter to his mother dated July 21, 1943, reveals his change of heart:
"Had an aero quiz yesterday. Have a mechanics test tomorrow and a math and metallurgy quiz Friday morning. I'll know I'm in school by Friday night."
The Yellow Jacket, the campus humor magazine, suspended publication for the duration of the war. In its farewell issue of October 1943, the editors bemoaned the sudden changes that had overtaken the campus.
"Probably the first rude awakening came when we were told that there would be no vacation in the summer of 1942, and school would continue on the accelerated program 12 months a year. This was not the only shock. Many more were to follow in quick succession. Next came women invading our sacred grounds--women in night school--women in defense classes--and women working in the Robbery, a thing before unthought of."
Despite the fact that most Georgia Tech students were newcomers from other colleges, they were quick to catch on to some uniquely Tech traditions. The Nautilus, a monthly magazine for Georgia Tech V-12 trainees, reported in its August 1943 issue that a certain class on the hill changed professors after six weeks.
"New Prof calls role for first time and asks if there were any omissions. Straight-faced senior pipes out, 'G.P. Burdell--he's in the hospital.' So instructor makes out card and dear George gathers absences day by day. Just wait till the next quiz; someone's going to have to write like mad to finish two papers."
After graduating from Tech, the newly commissioned officers were usually assigned to a few more weeks of education at a Midshipman's School or specialized training. For example, many civil engineers were assigned to the Seabees, while mechanical engineers went to diesel-engine school. Electrical engineers often reported for duty at a communications or radar school.As for Charles Littlejohn, he graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering in October 1944 and was assigned to work on aircraft carriers as a power-plant specialist.
"I was excited about finally getting my commission," he said, and was looking forward to going to the Pacific. "But I ended up in Jacksonville, Fla., at the Naval Air Station for the rest of the war."
Mercer Wilson pondered his answer. A 1943 civil engineering graduate, he was one of a dozen Army soldiers with engineering degrees ordered to the University of Minnesota for further training under the Army's Specialized Training Program. The question was posed to him in February 1944 during a series of interviews and tests. Wilson was agreeable, but skeptical. In the seven months since he had graduated from Tech and gone on active duty, Wilson's Army career had consisted mostly of KP chores. But he thought this might be different, especially after a friend in Atlanta wrote to say the FBI had stopped by to ask questions about Wilson.
He was right. March, Wilson was aboard a train headed for the Special Engineering Detachment at Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Oak Ridge, which as a city did not exist a few months earlier (and, officially, still did not exist), was one of three primary sites for the Manhattan Project. The other two sites were at Los Alamos, N.M., and Hanford, Wash.
Although an Army private drawing government pay, he was assigned to a private company--the Tennessee Eastman Co.--where, in effect, he worked as a civilian.
Wilson's job was to "improve the process of uranium isotope separation," he said. In effect, the task was to create a handful of pure U-235--enough for a few atomic bombs. Wilson and a small crew "had one or two production units, and we could do just about anything we wanted with them. We'd have an idea, and we'd try it. You might call it an empirical type of experimentation."
Their work paid off on July 16, 1945, when the first atomic bomb was detonated over the desert at Alamagordo, N.M. On Aug. 6, Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic blast, followed by Nagasaki three days later. Japan surrendered on Aug. 15.
A 1943 Tech co-op graduate in mechanical engineering, Willey joined the war as a wiper on a Liberty ship, "the lowest job in the engine room, and therefore the lowest job on the ship," he recalled. After one round trip to England aboard the cargo and troop transport, he moved up to the position of oiler. Two more round trips qualified him to take the exam to become a third assistant engineer.
He passed, and in March 1944 signed on with the Liberty ship Thomas Wolfe, which was part of a convoy carrying Army supplies to Barry Docks, Wales. After unloading the cargo in Wales, the ship was converted into a troop carrier and sailed into the Firth of Clyde, where it anchored downriver from Glasgow, Scotland, to await D-Day and the invasion of Europe.
"After several fake reports and rumors ran their course, we finally got under way for Southampton, England," Willey said. "We were scheduled to load and go in with the first wave, but there was a delay."
The pieces of timber called dunnage which were used to wedge the cargo in place had not been secured. Due to heavy seas off Ireland, the dunnage had been scattered all over the cargo holds, Willey said. The crew spent most of D-Day clearing the holds.
Finally, "we took a field hospital unit and some troops aboard, and sailed for Normandy at nightfall on D-Day," Willey said.
"We anchored off Utah Beach at mid-morning on June 7 and remained for several days unloading onto barges and landing-craft tanks," Willey continued. "The beachhead was a swarm of activity. Action could be seen everywhere.
"The Germans had 88 millimeter cannons set in heavy concrete pillboxes at high-tide level. In the afternoon when the sun was low and we were silhouetted against the horizon, they would open up at us. We shifted our anchorage whenever the shells began to land close."
The ship returned to England for another load of troops, trucks and tanks, this time bound for Omaha Beach. "Unlike Utah, Omaha had an extensive artificial harbor made of sunken ships and those strange-looking concrete barges called Mulberries," Willey recalled. "This harbor had been built in a matter of hours on D-Day."
From then on, it was back and forth across the channel carrying "troops, trucks, tanks, road-building equipment and who-knows-what," Willey recalled. "We also ferried General Patton's famous Red Ball Express, which gave us priority over other ships in loading and unloading."
Although the ship was attacked many times, "the closest we ever came to being hit was when our barrage balloon was shot down," he said.
"On my birthday, March 21, 1945, we were returning from what turned out to be our last cross-channel trip," Willey said. "When I came on deck at noon, I saw five Liberty ships going down. They had all been hit in the stern by acoustic mines or torpedoes set off by the sound of their propellers."
The Thomas Wolfe was headed back to the United States when word came that President Roosevelt had died on April 12. But the crew had other things on its mind. "We had been numbed by the loss of a man the night before," Willey said. "He had been washed overboard in heavy weather. It was difficult to let him go without a search, but in convoy there is no choice but to keep going. It was tough to lose a man by weather after going through so much action with no losses."
Ensign Patrick F. Henry, GE '45, was riding in a jeep on Okinawa when he spotted a soldier wearing the insignia of the 511th Army Airborne Unit, of which his brother Stan, Cls '43, was a member. Henry's last word from his brother was that the unit had been fighting in the Battle of the Philippines, so he asked the soldier if he knew Stan's whereabouts. The GI replied that he did, and offered to show Henry where the unit was camped.
"We drove to a bivouac near the Kadina airfield on Okinawa," Henry recalled. "The soldier pointed out a pair of paratrooper boots sticking out from under a small pup tent. I went over and kicked the boots as hard as I could. My brother popped out of there like a mad yellow jacket--only to stop suddenly in utter surprise when he saw me standing there."
The brothers returned to Henry's ship, where Stan was treated to a hot shower, clean clothes and a hot meal--served on linen tablecloths and china plates by white-jacketed stewards--in the ship's ward room. They parted company that evening, and while both were in the occupation forces of Japan, they did not see each other again until they met in Atlanta two years later.
Vacations from battle were uncommon, so when James D. Shearouse had the opportunity, he jumped at it.
Shearouse, a 1933 ME graduate, was commander of a 90 mm anti- aircraft battalion that in April 1945 was dug in along the Maas River, near the German-Netherlands border. Because the area was quiet, he lucked into an overnight pass to London.
"After seeing some sights around town and perusing some fun spots, I checked into my fifth-floor room at the Cumberland Hotel, just across from Hyde Park," he said. "At about 2 a.m., I was awakened from a deep sleep. My head and body were under terrific percussion pressure. I was accustomed to mild pressure occasionally in the battle zone from incoming artillery. But here in London?"
Suddenly there came a tremendous crash, accompanied by the sounds of falling debris and the smell of burned explosives and smoke. Shearouse quickly dressed and dashed downstairs to find that a German V-2 rocket carrying a 2,000-pound warhead had landed next to the hotel. The bomb had disintegrated on impact, leaving a tremendous crater surrounded by chunks of the hotel's facade and rubble.
"Luckily for me, my room was on the other side of the building," Shearouse said. "I checked out of the hotel before there was an estimate of casualties, but there must have been many."
One day, late in the war, the Naval Boiler and Turbine Laboratory located behind Pendergrast's lab exploded, killing its five occupants. Although the facility was an unusually high-security area, Pendergrast assumed that the explosion had been caused by an errant experimental boiler. But other people at the shipyard, including some official visitors from Washington, D.C., were raising questions. Pendergrast made some inquiries, and learned that the building in fact had been used for heavy-hydrogen fusion research.
After donning protective clothing, he decided to poke through the rubble. "On examining some fragments, I was convinced that the cause of the explosion was poor heat transfer in the heat exchangers," Pendergrast said. "Dirty water circulating through the pipes had built up coatings that were resistant to heat transfer.
"The mixture of tritium, deuterium and an alpha-particle detonator had gotten too hot to control, and it was 'Goodbye Everybody'--a little H-bomb had gone off right behind my back."
Pendergrast reported his findings to the military, but he never received a response.
"I'm glad the H-bomb researchers were working with minute quantities, and that the old Boiler and Turbine Laboratory was built with very heavy walls and a flimsy roof, which was the usual construction for explosives manufacturing," he said.
Among the flyers they rescued was a 20-year-old Navy pilot assigned to the light carrier San Jacinto. His name was George Herbert Walker Bush, the future 41st president of the United States. One of Spratlin's treasured mementos is a thank-you note Bush sent later in the war. In it he said he had a skivvy shirt and a sock with SPRAT stenciled on them, and that he would be returning them soon.
After his election as president in 1988, Bush tracked down Spratlin and the other surviving members of the Finback crew and invited them to his inauguration.
If we but live until the victory day
With blood-red sun to mark the fateful morn,
Then down with swift grace as the falcon dives
We'll come and cheer whatever world is born.
But as our foe goes down in smoke and flame
And scorches out a pathway through the sky,
We'll raise our hands, saluting to the West--
Perhaps tomorrow comes our turn to die.
Of hatred I have none for those I fight,
For those believing that their cause is true;
And yet if they must die that peace may come,
Them to their hurtling death I will pursue.
And when the trembling earth is still again,
When martial shadows break and free the sun
To light a world at peace though I'm not there,
Mourn not--the God of Freedom's will be done.
The author of several poems about his thoughts and the war, Borden was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps in 1943. He flew with the 311th Fighter Squadron, and later was a Thunderbolt pilot in New Guinea. A recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, Borden was killed in action over Mindoro, the Philippines, in 1944.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force in the Pacific, he commanded a squadron of P-38s nicknamed "Satan's Angels." During his three years in combat, Maj. McGuire became America's second-leading air ace with 38 kills--only two shy of matching the record.
On Dec. 25-26, 1944, his heroism in combat earned for him the Congressional Medal of Honor.
McGuire's squadron of 15 fighters was protecting heavy bombers in a Christmas Day attack on a Japanese airfield at Luzon in the Philippines. During the ensuing dogfight, McGuire shot down three Japanese Zeros. The next day, a similar mission brought McGuire's squad over Clark Field. One of the American bombers, damaged by heavy anti-aircraft fire, left formation and was quickly targeted by Japanese fighters. McGuire intervened and purposely exposed himself to attack, allowing the bomber to escape.
Outnumbered 4-to-1, he shot down two Zeros and out-maneuvered the others. On his way to rejoin the squadron, he shot down another Japanese fighter--his fourth of the day and his last of the war.
All of McGuire's planes were named "Pudgy," his affectionate nickname for his wife, Marilyn. After a mission in "Pudgy IV," the superstitious flyer believed he needed a new dose of luck. He asked for a new P-38 and christened it "Pudgy V." His only flight in that plane was his last.
On Jan. 7, 1945, McGuire was leading a sweep over Los Negros Island when he went to the aid of a fighter under attack. He was making a sharp turn at low altitude when his plane stalled and plunged into the jungle. McGuire's death came less than one month before his scheduled return to the United States.
McGuire's remains were discovered by an Army team in 1949, and flown to Arlington National Cemetery for burial.
His decorations include the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross with five Clusters, Air Medal with 14 Clusters and the Purple Heart with one Cluster. McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., is named in his honor.
"The peninsula comes out and then rises to a peak," he said. "Rather than try to go up that steep grade, they dropped paratroopers on top. That's something to watch--3,000 paratroopers in the air is quite a sight. Every so often a chute didn't open. And a lot of them didn't hit the land, they ended up in the water. But it was a successful landing."
Shortly afterward, Johnson was ordered to Leyte Gulf, where he was stationed aboard a barge that had been converted into a floating dormitory. Each day, he and his bunkmates motored to shore to perform "make-work," he said.
"And every day we'd pass this old rusty hulk out there, and we felt sorry for the poor guys who were on it."
That "rusty hulk" was a merchant marine ship the Navy had appropriated to shuttle supplies from the United States to forward locations in the Pacific. And it was Johnson's next assignment.
"It had been built under the emergency shipping program of the first World War--the first war. About 1930 or so, they put an experimental diesel engine in it. The experiment didn't work too well, but they kept the engine in there.
"We actually commissioned the ship. We wrote up all of the necessary procedures and commissioned the ship in the Navy as the USS Unicoi. There was nothing else like it in the Navy."
The experience was very different from his service aboard the Denver, Johnson said wryly.
"We had a captain who had been a naval aviator in the first World War," Johnson said. "You knew that something was wrong with him because he had been in the Navy over 20 years, and he'd only become a lieutenant.
"I think he had an accident in an airplane for which he was court-martialed. I had a room under his cabin, and I used to hear him pacing the deck, swearing and holding court. He also chewed his knuckles, and he had calluses all across his knuckles."
Yet, "he was a great seaman," Johnson said. "He had to be with this ship because you couldn't rely on the engine starting when you said start."
Three black balls is a Navy signal that means the ship is maneuvering with difficulty. "Whenever we got close to a port, we always had to hoist the three black balls."
To illustrate his point, Johnson cites the first time he stood as officer of the deck while under way. He gave the order to turn, but the steering engines wouldn't respond, and the ship went around in a circle.
"Fortunately it was a big body of water, so we didn't run into anybody," he said. "But we had to send a crew back and manually turn the rudder."
On another occasion, the Unicoi had orders to deliver 20 tons of dry stores to troops stationed on an atoll named Green Island, located north of New Guinea among the Admiralty Islands.
An atoll is a circle of small islands that can provide a useful and safe harbor if there is a deep enough channel for passage between two of the islands, Johnson said.
The arrangement was that a group of small boats would meet the Unicoi outside the atoll, and the cargo transfer would take place there. But despite several passes in front the atoll's entrance, no one showed up to meet the freighter.
"The captain said, 'Well, our orders are to deliver these to the troops at Green Island. Therefore, we're going in since they didn't come out,'" Johnson said.
Unfortunately, Green Island was not listed in the tide tables, nor were there any markers to indicate the location of the channel. The captain headed for what he guessed was the channel, but "we went aground," Johnson said. "We got hung up on the bottom of the channel. That was very embarrassing."
It turned out that two days earlier, a storm had blown all the buoys ashore, leaving no indication of the channel.
A tug showed up and pulled the stern into safe water. The Unicoi then hauled in its tow cable, the captain gave the command for "all ahead one-third," and the engines would not answer. "We'd coast back into the mud again," Johnson said.
Again the tug was summoned and the process repeated. Once more the engines failed to start, and the Unicoi drifted aground.
On the third try, hoping that a little more time would give the engines an extra chance to start, the captain decided not to wait for the tow cable to be rewound before trying to start the engines, Johnson recalled. Of course, the engines answered right off the bat, and "we ended up winding the cable around the propeller," Johnson chuckled.
As a result of having run aground, the captain was court-martialed in Manila, Johnson said, "in spite of the extenuating circumstances.
"I think he got a letter of reprimand or something, which was too bad. He didn't deserve it."
When war broke out on Dec. 7, the Davis family waited anxiously at home in Stockbridge, Ga., for word that Joe was OK. A letter the family sent was returned as undeliverable, stamped with the military censor's seal. Across its face was another official stamp: missing in action.
For weeks the Davis family, which included his wife and young son, wrestled with the painful uncertainty of Joe's whereabouts.
Finally, in February 1942 the family received word from the Red Cross: Joe was alive but a prisoner of the Japanese.
A supply officer at Pearl Harbor, Davis had been abruptly transferred to the Naval Air Station at Wake Island on Thankgiving Day.
On Dec. 23, 1941, elements of the Japanese force that had bombed Pearl Harbor just two weeks earlier overran the American installation on Wake Island. Hundreds of Americans were captured, including Davis.
Davis was part of a group that was first sent to Yokohama, then to a P.O.W. camp in Shanghai, China, where he spent most of the war. In May 1945, he was moved to a camp at a coal mine on the Japanese mainland, near Okido.
Davis sums up his 3-1/2 year internment with bitter humor."I was robbed, beaten, humiliated, starved and almost murdered - outside of that it wasn't too bad."
On Aug. 15, 1945, the day the Japanese surrendered, Davis was, as usual, at work unloading supplies from railroad cars. "We had a strict schedule. You got 15 minutes of break during the work day, so in the morning we took seven minutes and in the afternoon we took eight."
A break in the routine hinted that something big was happening.
"We'd never go back to work until they made us," Davis recalled. But on this day, the morning respite lasted a long 20 minutes. After lunch, the prisoners were herded to one end of the camp. Nearby, a radio was set up so camp personnel could hear an address. After the speech, Davis remembered, "the men were all glum and the women were crying."
At this point, Davis and the other prisoners were still in the dark about the changes taking place. They knew the Soviet Union had entered the war against Japan, thanks to clandestine notes passed to them by other prisoners who had a shortwave radio at their camp a half-mile away. "We thought, 'Boy, those Russians have really got them going,'" Davis said.
At the end of the afternoon break, no one told the prisoners to return to work. Finally, a guard approached Davis, who as adjutant that day served as liaison between the camp administration and the prisoners.
"He said, 'There will be no work at the mine.' I said, 'There'll be no work at the mine tomorrow?' and he replied, 'There will be no work at the mine--ever.' And he turned around and ran."
But lacking official confirmation, Davis and the others were still skeptical that their ordeal had finally ended. They had to wait one more night.
"The next day the camp commander told us the war was over," Davis recalled. "He said, 'We are at your service. What do we do?' I said, 'Get us some food.'"
Although free from the camp, Davis was stranded in Japan until the U.S. military could arrive with transportation.
"The Japanese just turned us loose," Davis said. "We'd go down to the station and catch a train, ride up a couple of stops, and walk around the town."
Help finally arrived on Sept. 10, and Davis was flown to the Navy Hospital in Charleston, S.C., for treatment of recurrent malaria, and a general physical examination. Shortly thereafter he was reunited with his family when his bus rolled into the Greyhound bus station in downtown Atlanta. It was about 4 o'clock in the morning, Davis remembered, but "no one seemed to mind the hour."
Davis remained in the Navy, retiring in 1966 as a captain.
Japanese Zeros and pieces of anti-aircraft flak were all around the plane. The chief gunner was in the top blister--the B-29's signature bubbletop turret--coordinating the firing of the other gunners. The tail gunner, who was only 18, was isolated in the back of the plane.
"The chief gunner called back to the tail gunner that a Zero had just flown under us, and should soon appear at the back of our plane," Hunter recalled. "The ensuing conversation went something like this:
Chief gunner: "Did you see the Zero?""The fact that we were in a real battle had not yet sunk in."
Tail gunner: "Yeah, I saw him."
Chief gunner: "Did you get him?"
Tail gunner: "No, I didn't even shoot at him."
Chief gunner: "Why didn't you shoot at him?"
Tail gunner: "He wasn't shooting at me!"
He was transferred to the Naval Operating Base on Guam, where as an officer with the Production Division, he supervised dry-dock work on vessels ranging in size from small craft to battleships. During his duty on Guam, Stemm encounted an unusual repair job.
"The heavy cruiser Pittsburgh had been caught in a severe typhoon," Stemm recalled. "She was rolling so badly that her bow broke off at the muzzle end of the main battery."
An alert chief petty officer saved the ship, Stemm said, "because he could feel the strain on the ship's structure, and he ordered all the watertight doors in the bow closed."
The captain put the ship's engines in reverse. The ship, crippled but afloat, backed up the several-hundred-mile journey to Guam. He steered the cruiser by alternating between the starboard and port screws, Stem said.
"We put a temporary stub bow on the ship, and she steamed back to the States so she could fight again," Stem said. Some time later, a destroyer found the Pittsburgh's bow floating at sea, and towed it to the Guam repair base.
"We had spare parts for nearly every part of a ship," Stemm laughed. "Now we had a spare bow for cruisers."
Faires and his company were in France on Jan. 24, 1945, when an explosion knocked him to the ground. He regained consciousness in a field hospital, suffering from a concussion and a ruptured right ear drum.
"I remember hearing one doctor say to another, 'Come look at the hole in this ear. You could drive a truck through it,' " Faires said.
He received the Purple Heart for the injury, which occurred on his 39th birthday.
Out of commission for several weeks, Faires kept up with news of his company as it rushed ahead of the Army to build bridges for its advance across Germany.
"I knew I had been missed," he said, "when I received word that on the first bridge my troops built in Germany they put a sign on it - Faires' Crossing."
Faires never returned to his company. He was assigned limited duty and ordered to Paris, "a dream assignment for an architect," he said.
"I was in Paris on V-E Day and witnessed one of the greatest spectacles ever--the tremendous celebration by the joyous French people."