Thanks to All the Veterans

Sebastian’s Story:

Yesterday I traveled to central Pennsylvania to give my dad his DNA test kit so I can use him for our DNA Geneaolgy research. While I was out there, I decided to get a picture of my grandfather’s medals, ribbons, and various other items from his service during World War II. My grandfather, John Milligan (1920-1996), was in Europe for about a month before a German sniper punched his ticket home. He was engaged in pushback operations around St. Vith, Belgium. Like many veterans, he rarely and reluctantly spoke about his service. I never saw any of these items until his funeral. As a kid I knew he had been wounded, because I could still see the scars the 8mm bullet made, but I only heard the story once. He was firing at the sniper’s position when he was hit, and the bullet entered his support arm, if you can imagine holding an M1.  It traveled down his arm, exited his arm, entered his chest and then finally exited out his back. If the sniper had shot a few inches more true, I wouldn’t be writing this. He was expected to be disabled in the use of his left arm, but he mostly recovered. Here are his ribbons, along with a picture of my grandmother and grandfather with me at my high school graduation, a few years before they both died.

RibbonsPatch PurpleHeart


Bitter’s Story:

Both of my grandfathers served in WWII, but I know relatively little about their service. One was a 1st Lieutenant in the Army and he died before I was ever born. I only know that much because it was carved on his headstone. The other, well, he’s alive, but he didn’t talk about his service much and he long ago disowned his children and grandchildren. I did write to him several months ago and asked if he would be willing to share a bit of his story since I’m now into family history and genealogy, but he has opted not to respond.


However, despite his grumpy old man ways, Sebastian has been fabulous about digging up what he can given just a few clues that my mother brought for us to scan when she visited. My grandfather served in Carrier Aircraft Service Unit 44 from its inception in Feb 1944. He was sent to Oahu, something he just called “a Pacific island” since, as a minimally educated country boy from Oklahoma, he likely didn’t know anything about our little territory of Hawaii. From there, they went to Tinian shortly after we took control.

This is where the documents stop telling the story because he was there for a several months before being shipped to Aiea Naval Hospital back on Oahu, and then to a hospital in New Orleans before being discharged honorably. If he had managed to stay on Tinian just a bit longer, he would have likely watched the Enola Gay take off on it’s mission to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Much of what I’ve learned about his service history comes from a website hosted for/by other vets he apparently served with. During her visit, we asked my grandmother to go through the many pictures on their website and see if she recognized my grandfather. Unfortunately, he doesn’t look like he was the most social of guys and isn’t in any photos they have posted. (This isn’t surprising.) It’s interesting that in digging up the papers my mom had, my grandmother started talking more about my grandfather’s post-war behavior. It’s pretty clear he had some significant issues with PTSD. Maybe one day I’ll know more about his service. One benefit to his serving in the Navy is that his records are likely still available, unlike those of my grandfather in the Army.

18 Responses to “Thanks to All the Veterans”

  1. Felix says:

    My father was in the Navy in WW II but when I tried to get his service records, all they had was one page of transfers, not much else. They said all the detail records had burned up in St Louis in 1972, I think. I hope your grandfather’s records survived.

    • Bitter says:

      The link in the last sentence of my section goes to the National Archives page on the ’73 fire. Depending on when you requested documents may depend on whether they’ve been able to piece together any more. It also gives an idea of other departments that might have records of value.

      • Felix says:

        That’s interesting. It mentions only Army and Air Force records. I’ll have to look into it again.

        Thanks for the link.

        • Bitter says:

          That’s because the fire was limited to a floor. There was also water damage in the building, but they highlight the efforts they went through to salvage everything.

          • Felix says:

            Right, but I asked for my father’s Navy records in the 90s and was told they had been burned up. Makes me wonder if there were multiple fires, or if restoration only happened since then.

  2. Andy B. says:

    Since we have started a thread of family histories, I thought I would copy over what I wrote to someone else, just this morning:

    My uncle, who is still living, (92 – 93?) was captured at Corregidor in 1942. He was in a unit that manned “Fort Drum” (not the same as in New York) that was the “concrete battleship” in Manila Bay — a virtually impregnable concrete fortress built on a big rock island in the bay in the shape of a battleship. He manned 14-inch naval guns. They killed the brother of the Jap general commanding the invasion with their fire, and paid for it. They considered defying the order to surrender, but their unit commander knew they didn’t have food or water to hold out very long, and so they surrendered. My uncle was one of only eight men from his unit of 350+ men to survive the war. He was eventually taken to Japan where he worked as a slave laborer in the Mitsubishi shipyards near Tokyo. He witnessed the fire-bombing of Tokyo from the ground, on March 10, 1945.

    The stories he has of Jap atrocities with the prisoners, especially while they were still in the Philippines, are unimaginable. Very late in life he became active with survivors’ organizations, and learned from another survivor that he (my uncle) had been on a list of 20 men to be executed. The guy who told him that, assumed that he had been. My uncle believes he was saved because his military job was lineman/wireman, so the Japs thought he would know code. Apparently he was questioned, didn’t know anything, but in the confusion of war, they never got back to wanting to execute him. At least, that is his theory.

    Ironically, he built his post war career on what the Japs had trained him to do. He started with Philadelphia Gas Works as a welder, and eventually worked into middle management. The Japs had trained him to weld, in the shipyard. (He and the other welders sabotaged the ship they were building, with bad welds, and it sank within minutes after being launched; but the Japs in their odd logic didn’t make reprisals, because Jap civilians had worked on it too, and they would have had to execute them, too. So they let it go!)

    He also joined the National Guard after the war, and retired from that in the mid-1960s as a Master Sergeant.

    It is only in very recent years I’ve learned from his sons what severe PTSD he had. Family dysfunction was just not talked about in those days. He and my aunt were divorced about 45 years ago.

    • Felix says:

      Any idea what the ship was? has a lot of history on IJN ships and it would be interesting to look up. He (or you) might want to visit their forums and add his story.

      • Andy B. says:

        No idea about the ship — even whether it was a military ship or just a transport. I’ll ask my uncle, the next time I see him. Unfortunately he is reaching the state where, he may remember that, but will forget things like, that my parents died a decade ago. He’ll ask how they’re doing.

        The prisoner welders would sabotage the welds by laying welding rods in the joints and laying a bead of weld over them, when the guards weren’t looking. That was apparently undetectable with the technology that was available at the time. So, major joints were held together by only a skin of weld material on the surface.

    • KM says:

      My uncle was one of only eight men from his unit of 350+ men to survive the war.

      That’s one tough son of a bitch. Good for him.

      My Uncle as a marine was shot in the jaw on Iwo Jima. (how it didn’t blow his brains out is sheer luck) He told my Mom that at first he thought something stung him. Then he felt “sticky” and saw the blood on his shirt.
      I wish I could relay a story about him ignoring his injury and charging on but he said he threw his rifle one way and his pack another while yelling for a corpsman. Dad was slightly wounded by japanese steel in the Philippines but never put in for a Purple Heart. He didn’t think he was anywhere near as wounded as guys who had been shot or shelled.

      • Andy B. says:

        “That’s one tough son of a bitch.”

        Yes he was. And is, despite the frailties that come with being over 90.

        As in many/most wars, more of the deaths came from disease than anything else. While still in the Philippines a large percentage of POWs died of dysentery, including men who dragged themselves to the latrine pits, fell in, and drowned. My uncle had dysentery for extended periods and survived it.

        Both my dad and he were tough and somewhat crazy street kids from South Philly. Their older brother died in prison. My dad started out to box professionally, and my uncle boxed in the CCCs and Army. Both were stopped by circumstances.

        My uncle has opined that the worst soldiers in peacetime, defiant of authority, were the best in combat and adversity. If they weren’t going to allow their own officers to get over them, they sure as hell weren’t going to allow the enemy to get over them!

        I only wish I had inherited one percent of the toughness of their generation.

  3. Bitter says:

    I often forget since it wasn’t something often discussed, but my dad was another vet who served. He was in the Navy during the very tail end of technically Vietnam-era service. However, he was largely cutting payroll checks.

  4. Merle says:

    Thanks for posting. My father was in Europe during WW 2, but wouldn’t talk about it. I don’t know if he went ashore on D-Day, or after. Since he is gone, it looks like I’ll never know. There are so many things I would liked to ask him, but it was obvious it was too painful.


  5. Robert says:

    My dad was 1st Marine division in WW2 and Korea. Was at Guadalcanal and watched the Battle of Ironbottom sound from one of the hilltops. Fought in several more island battles. In Korea was at the battle of Chosin Reservoir and subsiquent retreat (we he always referred to as “advancing to the rear”).

    His brother was in an airborne glider paratrooper in the 101st. He was sick during D-Day, so his first action was Market Garden, and also fought later at Bastogne.

    Their father fought in WW1, as part of the 81st “Wildcat” division, and was wounded at Verdun just days before the war ended.

  6. Hank Archer says:

    Here’s my Veterans’ Day Tribute to the Vets in my family and acquaintanceship:

  7. HSR47 says:

    My paternal grandfather either enlisted or was drafted for Korea, and he ended up working on missiles in NM. My maternal grandfather was 4F for WWII due to the severity of his vision and hearing impairments. All three of my maternal grandmother’s brothers served during WWII: One stateside (He apparently was discharged just before Pearl Harbor, and went back to work immediately), one as a Seebee in the Pacific theater, and one drafted to drive trucks in Europe.

    As for what they did, I know that the uncle in Europe was involved in the invasion of Normandy (what people in the family have said is that all he ever really said was that he drove onto the beach in the afternoon, and didn’t even get his feet wet), and that my paternal grandfather worked on the WAC Corporal missile.

  8. Will says:

    The didn’t always tell their family the truth about what they did in the war. Had an uncle in Korea, who told his family he worked on aircraft at the airbase. Told my father (his BIL and best friend) he was aircrew (gunner), and had photos I saw as a kid. No idea what happened to the photos.

    I’ve met others over the years who never told family (usually anti-war) they had served in Nam. Don’t know how common that sort of thing was.