Chapter 1– The Beginning

Part One – The Beginning

 

Norman M. Mohar
2nd Battalion- 30th Infantry Regiment
3rd Infantry Division

 

I, Norman Matthew Mohar was born November 11th, 1922, on a small farm near Cle Elum, Washington. My father, Anton Mohar, was an immigrant from Croatia. He married a widow, Annie Bednar, born in Athens, Wisconsin on Dec. 3rd 1897. She was the youngest of a large, immigrant Slovakian family.
Our family totaled five. There was a step-sister, Ella, and a step-brother, John. I was born on November 11, 1922 (Armistice Day). Donald was born in October of 1924, and a sister Ann was born in May of 1929. We were a very poor farm family, but very self-reliant. We were in need of only a can of kerosene for the lamp now and then. Nearly all foods were grown for our own use. We had a string of milking cows, which really helped.
I was 13 years old when I entered high school in 1936. I was too young to take it seriously and in my sophomore year I dropped out. I tell everyone that my reasons for dropping out that Christmas vacation was sooo good that I took off two years!
After two years of shoveling cow shit out of the cow barn, and helping to milk a string of cows, I decided there must be a better life. So I enrolled to finish high school, this time with a purpose to actually try to learn something. I did make the “Honorable Mention” list but never the Honor Roll. I could easily have done so, but my dyslexia made reading very difficult. My mind wandered to other topics as I tried to read Shakespeare. Somehow I loved reading “Wuthering Heights”. Since my forte is Music, I took all of the courses offered in that area.

HITLER INVADES POLAND

The war in Europe was brewing. I remember especially when Hitler invaded Poland. It was a summer day. The rain was pouring down on our farmyard, lightning was striking and we could hear rumbling noises. Into our farmyard drove a neighbor boy, Elmer Pays. The new Model A was equipped with a RADIO of all things!! It was crackling with the lightning. He drove into our yard to brag about the radio and the lightning was ‘spoiling his act’. The rain subsided enough to allow Elmer Pays to open the Ford’s car doors so we could enjoy the music drifting from the miracle of radio. My Dad was so thrilled with the concept of radio “coming out of the sky”. Just then there was an interruption in the program to announce that Hitler’s troops have begun invading Poland. I will never forget what my father did and said as the news struck him like the lightning we just witnessed. He fell to his knees and with hands clasped in prayer like Mahatma Gandhi he uttered,” My boys, my boys!!” He knew that his sons would soon have to serve in the military.

 

That day was in September of 1939. Elmer Pays came on another mission–to try to coax John and me to return to high school. I hearkened to his advice. When I decided to go back to high school, I needed money to buy suitable clothes. It isn’t like today or I wouldn’t have needed new shirts and baggy pants–I had plenty of those costumes that showed evidence of being worn while working in a barn full of cow shit. In those days the dress code was quite stringent. Not even denims were allowed!

The only place I could get work happened to be within walking distance of our home. It was a mink farm, which of course raised mink for the pelts used in expensive women’s apparel. I guess everyone knows that.   The job paid one dollar a day. I worked all the summer of 90 days and saved the entire amount. Of course, I ate from the table of my folks who weren’t the type to kick me out. I did still do whatever work was required such as cleaning the barn, milking and doing the haying with my Mother and Dad. My younger brother, Donald, was recovering from a rheumatic fever condition and was not allowed to work for his health’s sake. My father also had to work away from the farm, leaving most of the daytime chores to my mother and me. John went off to the Forest Service and when Ella got married in 1936 she was out of the ‘help’ scene.

The mink farm job was a very stinky job. I was required to remove the mink shit from beneath the cages. When that stuff fermented it was very odoriferous. If that word isn’t in the dictionary, it means that the mink shit smells like hell! Often the stuff was like glue and it required scraping the cages to clean it. Then I wheeled it out to a place in the woods and dumped it so other vermin and bugs could recycle it.   It was also a butchering job. We bought old nags and mules and other animals not suitable for any purpose any longer. I rebelled at shooting the horses so the owner-operator did that chore. I didn’t like to kill a horse. I did enjoy hunting deer, elk, ducks and other game for a different reason. When the animal dropped from a shot to the head from a Remington automatic, I began the usual butchering. I don’t think that I need to go further into that story. It was a job and I was a worker with the work ethic. I learned how to sharpen knives too!   When the meat was cut into chunks it was stored in a freezer for later use. All the butchering seemed to happen in the summer on that year. I estimated I butchered about 80 horses.

After I returned to school, the mink farm owner needed someone to ‘bone’ the meat into smaller chunks so that it could be run through a grinder. He paid me 20 cents a box for taking the meat off the bones. It was good enough job and I worked as fast as I could to make it pay.

In high school Civics classes I would openly cuss the shipping of strategic material to Japan. I remember predicting in front of the class that “they will be throwing it back at us some day”. We had been reading about the negotiations with the Japanese that were ending on sour notes. Later came December 7, 1941. Pearl Harbor Day! I remember too exactly where I was when I heard the news.  One night on December 6, I worked late and the boss offered to let me bunk there instead of walking home.

Arnold Biers, the owner, had radios planted all over the mink farm and was always singing along “Dee, Dee, Dum, and Dum” as he worked. He had a radio where I was to sleep that night. In the morning there was a bulletin stating that “The Japs” (pardon the expression) bombed Pearl Harbor. I wondered where the hell Pearl Harbor was.  I wondered how the heck they could come that close to us. I wasn’t very knowledgeable about aircraft and carriers and such military equipment. I also thought that we were impenetrable.  I soon learned much better as the news unfolded to us.  We went to the atlas!  I was amazed at our stupidity regarding having all our battleships in one harbor and the lack of intelligence to preempt a strike. The Pacific is a large ocean.  We couldn’t know everything about who was lurking about planning to strike at us.  It’s mostly forgivable I decided not to have known. FDR came under heavy negative pressure.  A Life Magazine story later printed that FDR knew in advance that the Pearl Harbor raid was going to take place.  It’s hard to believe such stories, but there is some evidence that a warning was issued by Japan. I can’t believe we ignored such a message.
“Let’s Remember Pearl Harbor as we did the Alamo” were words in a song written quite soon after the attack.  Then “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” was another song. We sang the Air Force song–“Up We Go Into The Wild Blue Yonder”.  There was also the song “As The Caissons Go Marching Along”.  Our propaganda machines went to work and it vilified the Japanese and I believed rightly so given the times.  “Tojo”–Damn him! We came to hate him-the acronym SOB was too gentle a term.  The extent of the Japanese damage on our Navy was withheld for security reasons–Sure! Why the hell tell them how much damage they did?

The war economy helped farmers to realize better incomes. It also provided jobs for those of us leaving the high school class of 1942. I was able to earn money working in a lumber mill. It was tough work. My buddy James Graves and I bunked together in the bunkhouse at the Snoqualmie Washington Sawmill. We heard that the Boilermaker’s Union was asking for welder’s helpers in the Lake Washington Shipyards with offers of triple higher pay. We told the boss flat-out that we were quitting. He cursed us as we left.

In those days the names of my school friends were being drawn steadily by the draft board. Busses were steadily hauling them to the induction center at Fort Lewis. We were hired as welder’s helpers and graduated to journeymen welders. Shipbuilding job was an important defense-related job and ordinarily would make us eligible for a long deferment. There were no guarantees. Both Jim Graves and I offered ourselves to the naval recruitment offices. I was rejected because I had misaligned teeth and Jim had a varicose vein on one leg! The Air Force somehow turned us down, too. The main reason was that recruitment in the (pardon me for saying it) “soft” services was going at a heavy pace. That situation was of some concern to the military. Everyone was trying to avoid getting into the ‘queen of battles’–being made into cannon fodder- the Infantry- where the war really is “at”. Everyone remembered Sergeant York of World War I. The movie “All Quiet on the Western Front” in those days gave us a mental picture of being a “foot soldier”. There was the romance of being a sailor with a girl in every port and the Air Force guy flying a big airplane. It didn’t take a very smart guy to realize which service would assure returning to home base. “Home Base” in my case was Cle Elum, Washington! So I tried also to get into those “soft services” to no avail. The recruitment to the “soft” services was so intense that President Roosevelt ordered that all recruits would go through the draft offices (Selective Service). There was a little deceit that went along with this ploy. I was told that if I would VOLUNTEER for the draft ahead of my name being drawn, I would have the opportunity to choose the branch of service in which I wanted to serve. I thought I’d look good in the “Navy Blues”. Jim Graves thought so too. So one day he and I went to the draft Board in Ellensburg, Washington and danged if we didn’t sign up!! Voluntarily!

 

Me & Jim  The deceit showed up quite soon. While standing in line for my physical, a sergeant in charge counted off “1, 2, 3, 4, 5”. Every fifth person was given the opportunity to choose his branch in which to serve- obviously other than the Infantry and Artillery. I was NUMERO THREE!! That was the end of my hopes to be in “Navy Blues”.

On February 13, 1943 I was drafted voluntarily. I rued that day almost immediately. Like our Division song says, They’re tearin’ me down to build me over again”. I hated hiking and I hated all the exercises and calisthenics and ‘spit and polish’. I learned in a short time just ‘who was boss’.  I learned that it was best to do your best. Try to make the best soldier you could be–get over the barricades first if you could, make the best marksman possible. Be the sharpest dresser in the bunch.

I remembered an old WW1 song. It’s also lyrics to a bugle call.

You’re In the Army NOW
and not behind a plow.
You’ll never get rich
you son of a bitch.
You’re in the ARMY now.

On a day in February 1943, I hopped a bus from Cle Elum to Fort Lewis, the home of “The Rock of the Marne”- the 3rd Infantry Division.  It wasn’t based here at that moment but already in combat on the shores of North Africa having made the landing on November 8, 1942. It was involved in the initial invasion and a western front for Hitler. Churchill called it the “soft underbelly of Europe”. Some under belly! Some softness!

On arrival in Fort Lewis we went through the outfitting line and were issued shoes and clothing. I had to get size 8-EE shoes. I wore about a 29-inch waist and 30-inch length pants. Woolen clothes seemed to produce an itch for me but you’d have a hell of a time bitching about that!
We were taken to many examinations.  The medical exam was an experience this innocent farm boy was surprised to learn. The doctor would say, “Bend over and spread your cheeks“. I think I was one of those who pinched my cheeks and made an artificial smile so he could see my bad teeth and then I bent over. Why? How in hell did I know he wanted to look at my asshole~ and for WHAT?  I had no idea that he meant the cheeks of my butt! I had never heard of my butt as having ‘cheeks’! They didn’t laugh much because it happened to others a lot of times.  They were hardened. The other tests, after the medical ones, were to segregate us according to our academics, IQs and expertise.

If you were an electrician they’d make a cook out of you! That’s not so far-fetched! That’s when they developed your M.O. (Military Occupation). At that time the army used punch cards. Holes were punched out for a speedier selection of personnel with a given expertise.  I mentioned that I took Photography and Music in high school. I also mentioned that I could understand the Slovak & Croatian-Slovene languages.  Later this was useful to me. I’ll tell about it later.  I had one main preference- the Army Band. I aimed at nothing else in particular.  Let fate have its way. I did score high in the radio test. Musicians were said to have the advantage of being able to discern the “dit-dit-dot-dot” of the Morse Code telegraph signal.  At any turn I was asking to be placed into the Army Band. I played trombone in the Cle Elum High School Band and violin in the orchestra.  If I had any choice at all that was it! The Army Band. But, as the old farmer expression goes, “Wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up first”. You see, my patriotism was wrapped in a thin veil. I wanted to survive this war, so I was looking for the most probable ticket home again.  Then I could brag that I was a World War Two vet. I would tell ’em that I didn’t want to talk about how tough it was like some GIs say, because I wouldn’t have anything to tell! I learned a little bit later that some of our Division Band members know what rounds of shellfire felt like at least. Anzio was one of those places where every thing was zeroed in.
My serial number is etched in my mind. At every roll call you were to answer your last name with a curt sound like “YUP!” or “HO!” That would be followed by saying your first name and middle initial -“Norman M.”- And giving your serial number.  Many names were unpronounceable by some of the sergeants or whatever officer was calling roll. It made me fume with anger when they’d holler out “MOHAIR!” Those guys you could bet were from Arkansas, Kentucky or from Texas. You know how they pronounce “oil” — they say “awl”–sometimes “earl”. We really have a dialect difference in our American English. Later I was able to tell which part of the USA a soldier came from by his drawl or accent.
On the very first day in Fort Lewis something went wrong. My obscene finger was beginning to hurt like the dickens and began swelling. The pain was so great I made a sick call after I tried every ‘back home remedy” I could think of. I had a bone felon for criminies sake-an infection in the tip of my finger. No known cause or reason. It was hurting like a boil. If you’ve had one of those you can be sympathetic. Considering the finger it was on–hmmmm –naw that can’t be.
They operated on it and put in a drain. I stayed in the hospital while the others, including Jim Graves, moved on.

At that time my brother John was an MP in Fort Lewis and he came to visit me on a regular basis. So did the girl I left behind. She came to visit daily, but I don’t want to talk more about her. She promised to ‘be true’ while I’d be gone. Like Forest Gump said, “That’s all I’ve got to say about that“.Well, there’s a bit more to say, but it can wait till later.
For just a sore finger I got a one-week’s stay in the hospital. I wondered what happened to the other recruits who came with me on the bus- Jim Graves- and there was another guy named ELMO PUGH. I was going along with whatever fate handed me. What else? I was under the control of the U.S. Army and had to do what they said. The decisions were made for me for the “duration and six months”. After the stay in the hospital I was shipped out on a troop train for parts unknown. As luck would have it, I went with a cousin from Roslyn, Washington. His name was Joseph Bozich.

Troop trains are loaded to the gills–a crammed-full Pullman car with the tiny bathrooms. I cannot remember having meals, but we must have been unloaded at some points to be fed. I think they handed out packed sandwiches. It is strange how I have forgotten that part of the trip to the training camp. I’ve a scant recollection- Just a scene of a railroad car crammed full of bodies in new, smelly ODs.