Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The "Wild Deuces" of the 1902 Aviation Engineers

A photo of my father, Commander of "C" Company, from the unit history of the 1902 Aviation Engineers' overseas tour in the Battle of Okinawa. 

The unit history of my father's World War II battalion arrived in the mail yesterday from Maxwell Air Force Base. It is absolutely fascinating, though difficult at times to decipher.

The reports that make up the history began life 66 years ago as monthly reports, typed up by an adjutant for the commanding officer who shot it up the chain of command to his commanding officer. Thus, they are, as is the case in almost all big organizations, reports heavy on things one would want the chief to know, and light on any details of "complications."

Once they were typed and filed and the war was over, boxes of these things were sent off to various military archives.  My father's unit history ended up in the Air Force archives, apparently because, though he was with the Corps of Engineers, his unit was an Aviation Engineer Battalion, and when the war ended and the Air Corps became the Air Force, somebody somewhere decided to file that unit under "A" for Air Force instead of "E" for Engineers.  The order of battle for Okinawa was very complicated as all the units--Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, even the British Navy--were all under the overall command of the U.S. Navy.

It appears the files were put on microfilm in the 1970s, from the paperwork I have read so far.  But my version of them came in the form of two CD-Rs. The history, in PDF form, is completely jumbled.  It begins in October of 1945 at Geiger Field, in Spokane, Washington, then skips to January 1946, when suddenly the 1902 Aviation Engineers are in Sasebo, Japan.  Somewhere along the way I saw the unit referred to as the "Wild Deuces" another factoid my father never mentioned and probably didn't find interesting in the least since all he wanted to do in this unit was get out alive and return home to my mother. Giving an engineering unit a nickname involving "wild" must have been some wise guy's idea of military humor.  The wildest activity I've read of so far in the unit history is an organized vollyball tournament.

I discovered that if I kept scrolling through the PDF files, I eventually got all the monthly reports.  They were just completely out of order, so a researcher has to be patient in reading through them.  Several of the pages were upside down, just to make things more fun.

The photographs, in most cases, are impossible to make out, as they were photocopied for the paper reports, photocopied again for the microfilm copies, and then lost another generation when they were put on CDs.  I was able to make out one photo of my father, which I put at the top of this post.  That picture was in a report that one of the officers (at bit of a yahoo it appears) put together as a sort of a "yearbook" of their "adventure" overseas, kind of like a souvenir program.  If my father ever had a copy of that, he seems to have filed that in his round file.  Anyway, he's in there, wearing a goofy smile as Commander of "C" company.  I looked through my mother's old wartime photo album and found the tiny original.

One of the unit's orders, issued as they embarked from the Port of Seattle in February 1945, said the men in the unit were to wear their uniforms until they were "in tatters."  That's a direct quote.  It appears, if you examine my father's uniform in this photo, he is just about there. I guess they had enough supply challenges without having to worry about everybody looking super spiffy as the bombs flew.

In none of the books I've read about the Battle of Okinawa has this particular source material been used. The jobs of engineers aren't very exciting and rarely make the history books. But in just one night on the island, June 23-24, twenty of the men were killed when a Japanese bomber got through the radar screen. So they faced the same dangers as the more glamorous fighting men did--which is sad to say, since there is no glamour at all in dying young.

I can't tell you how much like opening a treasure box this is--to be one of the first to review these reports in almost seven decades.

There is so much in them.  Several mysteries were cleared up, and I'll have more about that in the days ahead.


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6 comments:

Don Meuler said...

How very cool to be the one to unearth "lost" documents such as these. All you need now are an Indiana Jones fedora and a whip!

Robin Chapman said...

Since my parents spoke so little about this time in their lives, this research is a bit like archeology. Next ... the Lost Ark.

Patricia Skillman said...

My father and yours were in Japan at the same time.
Actually, my father was in the Wild Deuces, 1902 Aviation Engineer Battalion, 1st Platoon, 1st squad, He was a Tec 5 Grader operator.
He joined the unit in Washington and left it in Japan.
Pat Skillman

Robin Chapman said...

You are now the second person I've heard with whose father served with my father on Ie Shima in the 1902. The other person served as a Lt. when my father was Company Commander of "C" company. This is so terrific. Thanks for writing Patricia and keeping in touch! I'm thinking of writing a book about Dad and WW II, but I have a book about California due in a few weeks and it will have to come after that!

Willy said...

My father, William Dils also served in the Wild Deuces,1902 Aviation Engineer Battalion, Headquarters Platoon,3rd Squad.He held the rank of S/Sergeant and was a supply sergeant. Although he didn't talk much about his experiences, he did tell how his best and longest friend died in his arms, from wounds he received. Not too long before his death, he gave me a small American Flag, that still showed faded blood stains, that had been on his friend. Upon his death I placed this flag in his pocket, so that it would be buried with him. My mother also told an interesting story about how after not hearing from him in months, she received a letter. Since all letters were censored, he couldn't tell her where he was, but some how the sentence where he told her about being just over the hill from where Ernie Pyle had been killed made it past the censors.

Charles Lohry said...

My grandfather and namesake, Charles Lohry, served with the 1902nd during this period as a T/5 canvas tech in Headquarters Platoon 3rd Squad. He never spoke of the war, but I do have a silk Japanese flag that he brought home.