Autobiography of Ora Berkman Jr. * 11-9-1924 † 1975.
Born in Parker, Colorado Nov. 9, I924. Lived around this
area for two years and then moved to Goshen Indiana in I926 to be near Grandparents.
Can't remember much about Grand Parents except they were deeply religious people.
The Dutch Reform Church they attended in Goshen had services all day Sunday and
several times during the week. My grandparents had a large farm near Goshen on
which they raised vegetables and peddled them in town to make a living. It was
told to me by relatives much closer to my Grand Father that he was the only man
they ever knew who could eat peas with a knife.
Sometime during our stay in Goshen, I was either hit by or run over by a model T Ford (automobile). Can't remember which. We stayed in Goshen until I929 when my mother died at which time our Father took the children to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Home in Eaton Rapids, Michigan.
Note: VFW National Home was organized and approved by the National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars at Kansas City, Missouri in I924 for the widows and children of deceased or tot tally disabled members of the organization (more comments on this later).
In any case there we were living at the National Home which at that time consisted of one farm house, horse barn, cow barn and four cottages. These so-called cottages where two story brick homes which were paid for by the states they were named for. The four cottages were Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Indiana and New York. We children first moved into the New York Cottage with Mrs. Markle our housemother and Marge and Woody Pollat who were the first children in the National Home moving there from Illinois in I925. (At that time our father lived somewhere around the farm compound and worked as a farm hand). This is where he lived and worked for about five years before moving back to Colorado.
There were other children living in the other three cottages. I can't remember who they were or where they had come from. The manager of the Home was Mr. Charles Adams and he lived in the farm house. Later as the years went by and more enthusiasm was generated for the enlargement and support of the home the manager was given a modern home in another part of the “campus” as we used to call it.
The policy of the National Home was to teach the children how to live and get along with one another so it wasn't too long before we were moved to another cottage. I think my brothers and sisters moved too. I do remember when I wasn't too old we were playing cowboys and Indians and my older brother Don tied me too a broom stock with my hands behind me. Well, in the process of playing, I somehow lost my balance and fell forward on my face chipping my front teeth. Thus exit the tying of hands.
I cannot remember the day-to-day happenings while living at the National Home but I would like to put down some of the people and events that have a lasting impression on me. First of these was my older brother, Don, who made it his job to care for all five of us.
Anytime any of the other four were in trouble he was always there to straighten it out or exact revenge when some one beat us up. I do believe that sometimes we would purposely provoke trouble just to see him fight for us. But take care of us he did. I had a very good friend name of Oscar Champod from the state of Indiana who to this day whenever I meet someone from around Eaton Rapids I inquire to see if they know him. You see he settled down there after he grew up.
The third person that I shall never forget was our Boy Scoutleader. His name was Paul Letts. He was more than just a leader, he was a real friend to all the boys in his charge, and so was to meet him in later years as two adult people I told him then what he meant to me as I was growing up.
In order to tell of some of the events that made an impression and probably have influenced later actions in my life I will have to list them chronologically.
The New Jersey Cottage, which was one of the original buildings at the National Home, caught afire shortly after we moved there and needing a dispensary for the sick they rebuilt it into what was then our hospital. If I remember right I had my tonsils and adenoids removed in that little hospital. In later years they were to build a modern hospital to take care of the sick and injured. The hospital in Eaton Rapids wasn't big enough to handle the children at the Home too. I would say as I was growing up I probably spent my share of time in a hospital bed.
Provisions were made for the children at the Home to attend school in Eaton Rapids. This was not always an easy thing for if I remember correctly there was a certain amount of friction between the town kids and the kids from the Home. At that time there were two school buildings in Eaton Rapids, one for the elementary children and a larger one for Junior- and Senior High students. The three things I particularly remember about school was the way we were disciplined, a dog, and one family from Eaton Rapids named Gleason.
Our punishment at school for minor offences was the clubbing of knuckles with a ruler. I do believe those teachers got a fiendish satisfaction of really belting a kid wilt a ruler. For any major offence, such as smarting off to a teacher, skipping school or trying to bum down the schoolhouse the offender was smartly marched out to the rear of the school and in the accompaniment of the other kids was soundly thrashed with a rubber hose.
The rubber hose brings to mind the Gleason Family. One of their kids deviated from the straight and narrow in a major way and got punished. The family objected also in a major way and before it was all over the police were called to save life and limb because the whole Gleason clan came to school with guns.
Then we used to have a friendly dog around school that would every now and then bite someone. The dog evidently thought that was part of the game because no doubt we kids played pretty rough. Anyway, after each bite the fool dog would run off and hide for about a week. I have no idea how long this went on but one day the dog came back and the janitor and other employees were waiting for him. They caught and punished him most severely then turned him over to the police. All the kids were heart broken.
We had a sawmill near the school around were we kids would ice skate in the winter. I particularly remember this because one winter one of the kids was skating and slid into a moving blade at the mill. I believe we went to the funeral.
3. National Home.
Some of the more important memories of the Home probably are the happy times! There was the annual picnic for the families at the Home put on by members of different VFW Posts. It was a time when members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars would visit the Home. There was a circus, different rides, games and plenty of goodies for all. We kids liked this time too because it was time we could earn a little money either by helping the visitors around and many times people would just give us money. This was about the only way we smaller children ever got any money.
Actually we didn't really need any to carry on because everything was furnished to keep fed and warm. Then there was Christmas; this was a particular happy time because each child could have three (3) gifts for Christmas. You didn't always get what you wanted but you got three gifts. And we had the annual Christmas Party put on by the Military Order of the Cooties, the Honor Degree of the VFW.
During the first years at the National Home when they were clearing the land of trees and brush, we always had a big time burning the brush cut the previous year. lt was a well-supervised activity enjoyed by all. Of course it was hard work hauling the brush to the fire.
We had hills around the Home, which we used for sliding. As I remember we would go down the hill standing up on our sled and see who could go the furthest before the sled shot from under you. I had a Flexible Flyer. We really took care of our equipment.
Our Boy Scout Troop was a very important part of the life of the boys interested in this activity. We were always on camping trips somewhere around the National Home Property. There were a lot of woods in those days and we had a cabin, which would sleep around I5 boys and leaders. In the summer in good weather we would camp in the woods and during inclement weather and in winter what camping there was in the cabin. In later years because of my pleasant memories of the scouts I made special effort to help this scout troop. That is another part of the story.
The last thing that happened to me at the Home was when our Father decided to take the kids out of the Home and back to Colorado to live with him and our new step-mother. This was in I938. Anyway we were told we would he leaving the Home so I told the teachers at school I wouldn't be coming anymore so they checked me out. Well this was about a week too early so to occupy my time Mr. Adams, Manager of Home, put me to digging dandelions from lawns. That only lasted a week; I can understand why I am not particularly crazy about this yellow flower.
Anyway in I938 we did leave the VFW National Home after spending nine years there. I was I3 at the time.
I don't remember how we traveled to Colorado. This was the first time my brother Stanley and my sister Hazel had ever been there and I was too young when we left to remember anything about it. My brother Donald and my sister Virginia were older so they probably remember more.
Well we settled on a farm my father was leasing which was about I3 miles southeast of Englewood, Colorado in a community called Castlewood. This farm was not very productive but we managed to scrape a living from the ground plus a salary my father received from working for the WPA. If it hadn't been for the WPA many of us in that area would have gone hungry. We had about 6 or 8 cows, a team of horses, and some pigs and chickens. This was a new and entirely different kind of life because we had to he concerned where our food and clothing were to come from. Up to now this had always been furnished abundantly.
Our house was a frame white house with a kitchen, living room and bedroom down with two bedrooms up plus a screened porch where we could sleep in the summer. All five of we children slept upstairs.
We had a real deep well which water was drawn by a powerful pump engine. I believe it was over a hundred feet deep. We had a cistern in the house, which we would fill in the fall so we wouldn't have to pump water in the winter and take a chance on everything freezing up. By the time spring came again the water would be getting somewhat stale. We managed to survive though.
Our heating and cooking was done on a wood stove down stairs. We had a wood heater upstairs for the winter months. In order to get the rooms upstairs warm enough, we would really pile the wood in. The heater would get red hot and I still wonder how we ever kept from burning the house down. Our fuel was scrubbed oak as we call it. The only place you could get this wood was in the high foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Most of those small trees could be pushed or pulled over by hand because they didn't have deep roots. We had to get permission from either the government or some other property owner to clear out this wood. Let's face it we didn't have money to buy other fuel.
Besides working for the WPA and farming our father had a talent and business of making furniture out of willow saplings. Rustic Furniture we called it. It was sold for lawn furniture. We would go where there was a creek or river and carefully select a certain height and thickness of willow for this fia-niture. Then we would have to cut it a certain way so the shrub could reproduce another year. We would then take the willows home and our father with our assistance construct this furniture. Of course this was only when we could afford nails to pound them together. After making a set consisting of a settee and two chairs, we would take it to town and peddle it to the richer people.
I remember one time in particular we were making a set of furniture when I leaned a basic lesson in life. My older brother and I were helping and as boys will do we were also scuffing. And as usual being the older and larger Don was getting the best of me. Finally I lost my temper and grabbed a claw hammer and threw it at him. No sooner had the claw hammer left my hand, missing him thankfully than my father picked up one of those willow saplings and let me have it across the back of my legs with all his might. To this day I have not again thrown a hammer at anyone.
Another lesson I learned time had to do with having faith in our fellow man. When we were gathering wood for heat we would also get the stump of the trees. Well we could cut up the trees but would have to split the stamps into smaller pieces. To do this we would use steel wedges and a sledgehammer. Ordinarily you could start a wedge into the wood by tapping it with the hammer, but one day we got a hold of a stump which must have been made of iron because we just couldn't get it started. Hold the wedge my Father said, well even in those days I wasn't supposed to be that stupid, but after talking it over we decided I would hold the wedge.
Dear old Father assured me he couldn’t possibly miss. So down came the hammer with me holding the wedge--you guessed it, he missed the wedge, hit my hand and, lesson: Don’t.
When we weren't busy around our farm we boys would go to another place to work. Usually it was far enough away so we would have to stay there. This was really quite a thing for us. More than likely we would each go to a different place although I remember once when my younger brother Stan and I worked at the same place. And during grain harvesting time we would all get in a thrashing crew. Don being the oldest would get a job driving a team taking the grain from the field to the thrashing machine. Stan and I usually threw the grain from the ground onto the wagon. Of course this was all man's work and you had to work your way up through more menial tasks such as water boy, message boy etc. The nice thing about these lesser jobs was you got to ride a horse all over the country. I remember my first job, while everyone else was working in the harvest I was assigned the task of picking up rocks out of the field. I was given an old horse, wagon and 25 cents an hour and told to go to it. I don't know how many rocks I picked up but that is how I spent my first summer in Colorado at the age of I3.
I finally graduated to pitching bundles of grain onto the wagon when I was either I4 or I5. I think the most exciting part about that besides the wages which were a dollar and a half each day was the times we would pick up a rattle snake with a bundle and throw it upon the wagon. You would have people coming off all sides of that thing.
Rattlesnakes, we had a bountiful supply of and you really had to watch for them. I remember one time Don and I were working on the same wagon, me pitching and he driving and he was giving me a hard time. Well, I found me a snake and deliberately threw it on the load with him. Well off he came from the wagon after me with a pitchfork. I was lucky there were older men around.
Another job we who worked en the ground always got was to see a load of bundles slip and slide off the wagon. You see, those jokers the wagons were not only old but were supposed to Berkman smarter also. They would receive the bundies from us and were supposed to place them on the wagon so when you had a load it was supposed to stay there from the field where you were working to the trashing machine. Weil, if you didn't know what you were doing you would lose the whole load about the second bump. Then they would have to reload the whole mess. I never did take one of these jobs.
Up the road apiece, there was a farm owned by a fellow named Mossberg. He either came from Sweden or Norway. I am not sure which, but when we worked for him we were always sure to he served blood pudding. I don't think we liked it but somehow we managed to live through it. Of course working there we could always come home for food.
One thing I can say about working on the farm in these days, maybe the wages weren't much but you sure got fed good. Especially during harvest time.
Off and en my father would contract to build fences either for individuals or as I remember to fence in a National or State Park. We used to dig the post holes with a bar and shovel and through that rocky soil it was plain murder. Oft times when digging you would run into solid rock, as a post hole had to be near that spot where was nothing to do but break up the rock. It wasn't all that bad though
When we came to Colorado, I think I was in the seventh grade so I spent the next two years going to a two room school in our community of Castlewood. The school was about three miles from our house and we walked to and from each day. After the two years there I entered high school in Englewood which was about 10 miles away. We would go by bus or car. I don't remember at this time Don and Virginia had finished high school and Don was living with Uncle Ward and Aunt Madge in Englewood. Virginia was working at keeping house for Aunt Madge's sister and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Goff. I finished the ninth and tenth grad in Englewood, and then they changed our school district from Englewood to Littleton. I entered Littleton High School in September of I941. I had made up my mind to really settle down and finish school with flying colors. I joined the school band teaching myself how to read drum music. I managed to make the band and went on in later years as a drummer for an American Legion Drum and Bugle Corp. My mentions about school were good then three months later on December 7, I941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and threw the United States into a Global War.
That Sunday two of my friends and I had driven up to Evergreen, Colorado, to go ice skating. I believe it was in the afternoon when we heard the news of the bombing and that the United States would probably go to war. Note: In those days only Congress Could make a Declaration of War and I think it was Monday before they were able to meet and take this action. Anyway after hearing the news we three fellows decided to drive back home. We had a Model a Ford to drive. On the way back down to mountains we hit an icy patch in the road and slid into the side of the mountain. After the car stopped we got out to look around and found out if we had went the other way we would have gone hundreds of feet straight down.
These two friends were Darrell Woods and Harold Magnuson. We were the same age and from the age of 13 when we, moved to Colorado we were constant companions except when we were courting girls. We each had our own and I can't remember ever double dating. Most of our dating was at the Grand Hall when they held dances. There alt the families would go and we were suppose to he properly chaperoned. I remember one time when the folks decided to go home earlier than we fellows and gals wanted to, so we stayed and after the dance we took off for Colorado Springs which was over a hundred miles away. 'There were six of us in the car and even driving steady down and back we didn't get back home until 10 o'clock the next morning. Of course we knew we shouldn’t have done it and were prepared for the normal grounding but when I got home, even though I quickly changed into my working clothes and presented myself to my father prepared to put in a hard days work, he wouldn't speak to me. I would rather have had a beating. Not only that but I couldn’t see this girl anymore, and I didn't until I returned from overseas during the Second World War.
Due to the direction my life took after being discharged from the service I have lost all contact with those in my earlier life.
So it went--On December 7, 1941, after getting home from skating I had a long talk with my father (who was a veteran of World War I) as to what all this meant. Having patriotism instilled into my blood, I asked my father if I could go into the service. He told me if I wanted to he would sign for me because I was under 18. So the next day we went to the Navy recruiting office because you could join at 17 with parents signature. After a physical examination and a lot of forms filled out, I was told to go back home and to school and they would call me. I was terribly disappointed not to be going just then but I was in the Navy. I had to wait until May before I was finally called. So on May 18, 1942, I entered into active service with the United States Navy.
On the way to the recruiting office where I was to report, my folks and younger brother and sister took a tour of the places I was familiar with including the town of Littleton and the High School. I mentioned this because that evening on the train we passed through Littleton and by the High School. I think right then I started getting homesick but didn't realize it because everything was new and exciting. Back to recruiting office. When the letter came for me to report it told us not to bring a lot of clothes because they would just be shipped back home. I believe I had a black suit, white shirt, tie, two pair of dungarees and a shirt a couple changes of underwear and socks and a pair of shoes. Except for what I had the suit, all fitted into a cardboard suitcase. At the recruiting office while waiting for the rest to be sworn in, I had been sworn on Dec. 8 of the previous year, we looked around Denver until time to go to the train. There were many fellows going off every day so we had quite, a few cars full on this day. After we got to the station, my father disappeared and we wondered where he had got to. Just before the train was ready to depart here he came with a bag full of bananas. Bananas were really rare in our family diet and how I used to love them. He couldn't have given me anything better. I think I got one out of a bagful. The rest were eaten by fellows on the train.
So after farewells on the train we pulled out for San Diego, California. Of course the train didn't go directly to California. lt stopped often picking up and letting off men for different service camps. lt took us seven days to finally reach California. I got to take a long look at that part of the country but I think what I liked best was those wonder fid orange groves in California. And too it meant we were nearing the end of our journey. By that time, I was getting tired of the train. My clothes were all dirty and I was all dirty. I can't remember which way we went or why it took us so long. Maybe it was like the early west when the wagon trains rolled only during the day.
Upon arriving in San Diego we were met by a fleet of buses, which after untangling us and our baggage from the train, transported us to the Naval Training Base. 'Then after untangling us from the buses and finally getting our own bag we had roll call for about the hundredth time after which it was too late for anything except to fall into an empty bunk. No blankets or anything. Anyway Southern California in May should be warm enough. That night was the worst; here I was 17 scared and homesick.
The next day was really a mad house,-we were bathed, shaved (head), deloused given clothes, usually too large or too small (which had to be adjusted later), given shots for everything possible (usually with a dull needle) and marched every where by some joker that had been there two weeks longer than we. All this to the jeers from people who had got there the day before. And the constantly yelling” you will Berkman sorry. Of course the next day we did the same as those before us. For the next two weeks, with sore arms (caused by shots), sore feet (caused by drill) and a spinning head caused by all other action, we completed boot camp which normally takes six weeks. They needed men for the ships in a hurry. They quickly transferred our company to communications school at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.
We were at the University from the middle of June to the first of August 1942. During this time I not only leaned visual communication but received a summary court-martial due to mistaken identity. I was permitted to remain in school while this all going on so I was able to graduate with my class even with the court-martial. The charge was dropped; we graduated and were shipped to New York City for embarkation on the USS Savannah, a light cruiser destined for England. We reported aboard about the first week in August, inexperienced and scared to death. They must have been waiting for us because we took off as soon as we were aboard. After stowing our gear in the proper section, we were told to report to our duty station. Oh yes, of the two hundred men who left boot camp for communication school three went aboard the Savannah. So after reporting to the bridge and told to go on watch I just got a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty fading into the distance. As I was watching it fade away, I must have asked myself, what the hell am I doing here?
About just outside the sight of land or so it seems we came into the midst of a very large fleet of ships which had just arrived from Charleston, SC and Norfolk VA. With those joining in New York and Boston by the time we got to Nova Scotia when British and Canadian warships joined the fleet there were over two hundreds ships. Of that number thirty five were escort vessels such as ours. The rest were troopships and auxiliary support. We were on our way to England and many of us to go onto Africa.
For a boy of 17 who less than four months prior had been living on the prairies of our nation this sight was awesome.
On the way over to England was the only time I was ever seasick and then only when I was below decks. I learned then fresh air usually could cause seasickness, at least for me. I spent most of my time on the bridge. After a couple of months hanging around England we finally took off for Africa near the last of October to land the troops at Oman on November 8, 1942. 'The next day was my 18the birthday. Nothing much exciting happened there except one time when on liberty from the ship I along with some shipmates decided to find out what one of these Arab girls looked like under their lace clothes. We must have picked the wrong one because this old Arab took out after us with his knife. Talk about running.
When the invasion was over about the only ting we did for awhile was cruise the Mediterranean from Bonn to Trobruk or over to the Isle of Malta. We were finally on Malta for protection of the fleet building up preparatory to the invasion of Sicily. While stationed at Malta we underwent 129 air raids by the Germans in a week. lt got so when they would sound General Quarters everyone would turn over and go back to sleep.
During the invasion of Sicily our ship the USS Savannah took a bomb down the forward stack. This knocked out the bridge along with the forward main deck. As our ship was not fit for further action we who were not hurt were transferred to other units. This was when I joined the United States Navy 3rd underwater Demolition Team, hereafter known as the 3 rd U.D.T. For this job we had to Berkman flown back to the States then some hurried training at Fort Meyer, Florida and Litde Creck,VA. At Little Creek we were introduced to amphibious warfare. By the time we finished at Little Creek, boarded a Liberty Ship and sailed from Norfolk VA, we were in time for the invasion of ltaly at Salerno.
At Salarno our team was assigned to clear a portion of the beach for the entry of landing craft. We cleared the beach alright but the Germans were very stubborn about letting our people ashore. Although we landed it was doubtful for several days whether the beach could be held.
The Germans really had the fire power there. But after the beach was secured we were assigned to an LCT for ferrying troops and supplies from the big ships to the beach. An LCT was a rather small ship or craft designed to carry tanks, trucks and supplies. Thus the name Landing Craft Tanks. (LCT).
As in feature actions like the invasion at Anzio up the coast from Salarno and finally the Invasion of Normandy, our main job after clearing the beaches of obstacles was the operations of these landing craft. I served on a number of different types from the smallest which was the LCUP (this was just for personnel) to what at time was the largest, an LST which was a ship. lt was so big and bulky and slow we called them our floating coffins. The beautiful thing about them was that they would hold so very much material and men and we still were able into right into the beach.
lt was at Salerno that I took a small arms bullet in my arm. The bullet was well spent and just entered under the skin. Didn't lose anytime but 1 was awarded the Purple Heart No. 1.
After Anzio where the Navy had the fight of their lives, we were pulled out and sent back to England this was in October, 1943. When we arrived in England we landed at Falmouth. After about two weeks, we were ordered to take a small boat around Lands End to Torquay. In the process we got caught in one of those storms that gives Lands End its bad name. We almost lost the thing. We landed in Torquay which was a famous resort town in peacetime. That was sweet duty for about a month.
Our UDT was reorganized and filled out for further training and we transferred to Hammerschmit, a suburb of London. We stayed around London from January to April of 1944, taking in all the sights, bombings and etc. I lost a hat and pipe one night when the Germans bombed a dance hall where we were. To this day I swear that was the best pipe I ever owned.
In April we were transferred to Plymouth, England, on the south coast and there trained with the Army for what was later to become the invasion of Normandy. There wasn't a day to go by but what the Germans sent either bombers or Buzz-bombs to try and knock us out. Our ship was not hit at that point. Our main maneuvering area there was Slappton Sands. We were continuously carried into the beach, dropped off, and set off explosives, which was our job
The one funny thing, I remember about those maneuverings was a time one of our guys put silver star on his helmet and landed on the beach. He had all the Army saluting him because they thought him an Admiral. Those days the only distinguishing mark was your rate or rank painted on your helmet. Out in the Pacific theatre they even done away with that because the Japanese had the mistaken impression if you killed off the officers the men would give up.
During the last two weeks of May even thought we were on maneuverings off the coast we could see the tremendous build up of ships and material in the ports. When we finally got back to Plymouth, we had passed by many ports where we witnessed the massive fleet which was to invade Normandy.
Our UDT was assigned to an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) with all our gear and after one abort on June 4; we finally sailed on the evening of June 5 along with 10,000 other ships and craft to land on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Our staging area was near the battleship, Arkansas. We were transferred from our LCI into small LCUP with 6 men and equipment to a boat. At five o'clock in the morning our team left the stating area for the beach and al 15 minutes to six with shells flying over our heads we were dropped into the water to clear a path for the Landing Craft to land. With our job done we landed on Utah Beach at 6:00 with thousands of other soldiers, sailors, of many nations. The re-capture of Europe had begun. We were pretty lucky on our beach; the men on Omaha Beach were pinned down by gunfire from the cliffs.
My job on the beach was to guide by signal light the incoming ships. As this was finished we pretty much had the run of the beach until our LCT beached and we went back to work. The day was pretty normal for our craft, ferrying men and supplies from the Transports and freighters. That evening two of our sister ships were blown out of the water killing quite a few of the fellows from the UDT. We spent the night working and brooding over the loss of the men.
At about six o'clock the morning of the 7th of June while taking a load of wounded from the beach to the hospital ship our craft was hit by a mine and blown our of the water. As I was on watch at the time, I was blown into the water and after assembling my thought or something; I scrambled back aboard our sinking craft and attempted to throw life savers to those wounded in the water. It was at this time that the LCT sank beneath the waves. There is no way to describe this experience except as the ship is sinking a vacuum is created drawing everything with it. As the ship sinks deeper the pressure of the water decreases the vacuum. Thus we pop back to the surface thusly up I popped. The only difficulty was while furnishing everyone else with life preserves, I forgot to get one for myself. It was a matter of dog padding until help could arrive which it almost didn't. I was just about to submit myself to the deep when someone with a boat hook dragged me from the water. My best friend drowned 10 feet: from me because they couldn't get to him. His name was Francis Arkfeld (or Ankfeld) and he was from lowa.
A little something on Francis and his impact on my life: Francis was of the Catholic Faith and a very devout person. He really practiced his belief In as much as I had no established religious faith I used to go to church with him, but I didn't know what it was all about. I hear him talk about his God, but I figured this was his God and I would have to find my own. I did and found out it was the same God.
As I was floating in the water after our ship was hit I called out to this (my) God to save me. And as it says in the Bible, "lf you call upon my name, I will save you." I called out and he saved me. It was through this friend that my faith was established and I do believe in miracles.
Anyway, I was picked out of water by another LCT and given first aid (Brandy) and some dry clothes of one of the crew. I was put aboard the LST which the LCT was unloading. After one more load onto the LCT the LST was empty and was headed back to England. Just as she (LST) got under way she was machine gunned and bombed. On this one I got a bullet through my helmet and one in the back. I was a casualty. Before the ship sank I was transferred to another LST which was the only ship in the area with enough guts to enter the mine field. The Coast Guard was supposed to have Rescue Service but they waited on the outer perimeter until this LCT came into get us. We got safely back out of the minefield and were transferred to another England bound ship. By this time I was so dazed I don't remember which ship but about three miles off the coast of England we were caught by a German Motor Torpedo Boat and was blown out of the water by torpedoes. I came out of that all smashed up. Broken arms, broken legs, dislocated back and my teeth smashed up into my face. The next thing I know we are being canied from a train to ambulances at an army hospital somewhere in upper England. As we entered the hospital gate we were met by the Chaplain of the base and I can hear the next words to this day, "How abut a cigarette, Buddy." That started me smoking.
So I was at this Army Hospital which it turned out I was the only sailor there. Somewhere back there in the English Channel, I got lost. All my possessions went down with our LCT and my clothes had either been removed by someone or blown off. So I had no identification. My dog tags were even gone. I took about three weeks to finally trace me down. When they (the Army) found out I was a sailor, I was really treated royally. Of course that only lasted a week until arrangement could he made to transfer me back to a Naval Hospital at Milford HayM Wales. I sure hated to leave all my Army buddies, especially the nurses. (Wow)
When I got to Milford Haven I took four days of unauthorized leave. It took them that long to find me. Of course, nothing happened because I was not responsible for my actions.
I stayed in the Naval Hospital until about the First of August and asked to be returned to duty. 'They sent me back to France after I threatened to go over the hill again.
On returning to France 3 other fellows and I decided to tour the occupied area. So we borrowed a jeep from the Air Force (unauthorized) and proceeded to do just that. In fact during our tour we drove into one town that wasn't yet occupied and after an exchange of gunfire with the Germans we quickly withdrew. Driving south one day we ran into a group of the Free French Forces (FFI) and in as much as we were not suppose to be in that area, we were taken into custody and held captive in a hotel in Brest for ten days until identity could be established. One thing about the FFI you never knew who they were fighting for. We couldn't complain about our treatment though. We could go anywhere in the hotel and the staff treated us good. We finally got back to Cherbourg where we were assigned to an LCT. There remained until returning to the United States in October 1944.
While awaiting shipment back to the US, my records finally caught up with me and at this time I was awarded the Silver Star, Presidential Citation, Presidential Unit Citation, and five purple hearts. Two of the purple hearts were from the Army. All this and I don't think I ever got a good conduct medal. Fortunes oh war, I guess.
We returned to the US on the Nieuw Amsterdam Dutch Liner used or pressed into service to transport troops. lt took five days to return home. And in that time I saw the motion pictures Arsenic and Old Lace, five times. Nothing else to do.
We docked in Boston, Mass., and within 3 hours were on a train headed west for 30 days leave. At that time my sister, Virginia, was in Cleveland, OH, so I stopped off there a couple of days to visit her, then on to Denver. While there I became engaged to a girl I grew up with that is from 13 years to 17 years old. The engagement lasted through the 30 days leave. Her name was Mary Jane Pearce whose brother, Bob, later married my sister Hazel. After the 30-day leave was up, I reported to Norfolk VA, to be assigned to the amphibious bases at Carnp Bradford and Little Creek, VA. lt was there while undertaking further training with the intention of going on to the Pacific War, I found out I was no longer fit for combat duty.
I spent two weeks in the hospital at Norfolk and then was transferred to the U.S. Naval Hospital at Asheville, North Carolina, for further convalescence. I was put back into a body cast to try and correct the injury to my back. lt had not mended correctly after France. I spent the months of December, 1944 to April, 1945, at Asheville. "While there I met the girl who was going to change the direction of my life and later become my wife. One day while visiting the Western Union Office to wire my father for money’ to carry on my various activities, I got acquainted with this girl who worked there and asked her for a date. I don't remember whether I had asked more than once or not. The important thing is that we finally started dating and carried on a sizzling courtship until I was transferred to California in April of 1945. lt was in California that I decided this was the girl I wanted to marry, so I wrote her and asked her to be my wife. She evidently thought the same because she accepted my proposal. So I wired my father for some money to buy the ring. (This money I keep wiring my father for was savings I had sent to him from overseas). I mailed the ring back to North Carolina and that was our engagement until I was released from the service.
I spent the months of April and May of 1945 at Treasure Island Naval Base in San Francisco. lt was there they found out I wasn't even fit for active duty let alone overseas duty. lt seems I was also shell-shocked as I found out one day. As I was walking somewhere on Treasure Island one day a squadron of Navy fighters buzzed the Island. I tried to dig a hole through the cement street with my bare hands so back to the hospital. I was transferred to the Naval Hospital at Santa Cruz, California where I was to remain until my discharge in October 1945. I was discharged from the US Navy on October 17, 1945.
The Navy gave me my mustering out pay and a train ticket to Denver, Colorado. I cashed the ticket in and went up to Sacramento, Calif. Where I caught a ride on a B-29 big bomber to Buckley Field at Denver. After spending a few days at home I took a bus to North Carolina. After an uneventful trip I met my Bride-to-be in Asheville where we took a bus to her hometown of Franklin, North Carolina about eighty miles away. lt was on this ride that we became formally engaged. I took my ring which I had carried around and put it on her finger.
When we got to Franklin and I was introduced to her parents they didn't know what to think of me. A stranger from the west who talked much faster than they and who had come all this distance just to take their eldest daughter. I wasn't good Scotch Presbyterian Stock. There were some misgivings. I stayed at their home for the two weeks it took us to decide when we would be married.
So on my 21st birthday, November 9, 1945, Catherine Ann Gray became my bride. We were married in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Cabe. Catherine's Aunt and Uncle. After the wedding and reception we took a taxi to the town of Sylva about 21 miles away where we spent our first married night. This town was chosen because it was where we had to catch the bus for our trip back to Colorado.
We arrived back in Colorado several days later where we took up residence in a little house on my father's place that had been a chicken coop. With a little fixing we managed to make it habitable. Here we stayed while I went to check on a job as a policeman in Englewood, Colorado, which had been promised me, but after I left to get married the people in charge figured 21 was too young without any previous experience. I was really disappointed because I had been telling everyone I was going to be a policeman.
I believe that is why Catherine's parents consented to our getting married. They thought I had a job. So I started looking for a job. Catherine took a job as salesperson for the May Company in Denver and we moved into Englewood so she could get to work. I took odd jobs around until around Christmas when I was taken into the May Co as a Merchandising Assistant. I was given this title because that way I could qualify for on the job training through the Gl Bil of Rights. The government paid me to take this training plus a small salary from the May Co. I was a stock clerk making $20.00 per week plus my school allowance. Catherine was making $22 per week as a salesperson. At that time and for that time we were rolling in money.
Our first place of our own (rented) was a little log cabin which was part of a tourist court. We had a bed, table, chairs, a wood bumming stove and our refrigerator was the cool air outside. When we started getting more money we moved into a room that was rented in a private home. But we were not satisfied with things and in March 1946 we took the money we had saved, quit our jobs, and moved to North Carolina.
On arriving in North Carolina we moved in with Catherine's folks into a house that had been their potato storing house. They thought we were crazy for giving up our jobs in Colorado and moving there without any jobs or place to live. Their opinion of me was not very high. After staying here a couple of weeks we moved to Asheville, where Catherine took a job with the Railways Bus Co and I took a job as a salesperson in a clothing store. My job didn't pay as much as Catherine's. Finally, I decided to go to work for the government which had a big office in Asheville. Someone had told me I would not have any trouble getting on. I didn't, I applied one day and on the next day April 25, 1946, I started my career in the government as a file clerk for the Postal Accounts Division of the General Accounting office.
Catherine and I took a room at a boarding house in Asheville. We made many good friends there and had a lot of fun. After a year though we took an apartment and had only three different apartments before we left Asheville. In 1947 I still wasn't satisfied so I took a train back to Denver to see if I couldn't take a position in an Office of the General Accounting Office. I was informed they couldn't use anyone with my limited experience so I beat it back to North Carolina before I was missed by my employer there.
I started out as a file clerk processing savings bonds. This work was very repetitious but I became very good at it so I was promoted. I was put on sorter and tabulating machines processing money orders. After doing this a year, I decided this type of work was too strenuous for my disability so I asked to be put on another job. 'The officials said there were no other jobs in my grade level and I was not eligible for promotion so I asked to he demoted to a clerical job. Well that caused all kinds of repercussions. In the first place my efficiency rating were always above satisfactory se there was no basis for demotion and secondly I was a disabled Veteran and in these days the veterans was still thought highly of. lt was finally settled by an official coming down from Washington, DC and having me sign a statement to the effect this was all voluntary en my part and not due to a decision by my superiors. So in 1949 I went back to being a file clerk.
In 1950 due to a Hoover Commission Recommendation after a two year study the Post Office Department took over the audit of their own records. This decision was one of the big turning points in our lives.
Sometime during February 1951, I was to have an impacted wisdom tooth removed hut the tooth became infected and anesthetics would not work. The dentist tried to remove it and couldn't. Due to the tooth infection I soon developed blood poison and almost died in the Veterans Hospital at Oteen, North Carolina. I was in the hospital two weeks before they were finally able to remove the tooth. lt was that same month that Catherine became pregnant and on October 19, 1951, our daughter Brenda was born.
As was the custom in those days we hired a collared Mammy to come and help with the care of the of the child. Not that we had se much money, it was just the thing to do. This collared lady would not touch the baby, she would clean, cook and wash clothes but it was up to Catherine and I to take care of Brenda. Most of the care fell on Catherine.
Then on December 27, 1951, I started out on a trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where I had been transferred as a part of the Postal Reorganization Act of 1950. Another fellow and I left in the evening of the 27th to arrive in Nashville, Tennessee, the next morning to visit my brother Don, who was stationed there in the Air Force. We arrived in Minneapolis on January 1, 1952. We must have stopped al every VFW Club between Asheville and Minneapolis. The other fellow was a member at that time. lt was 15°' below zero the day we arrived and when I called Catherine that night to tell her of our arrival I suggested we forget the whole thing, but she said our stuff had been shipped and we would try to stick it out. We must have tried pretty hard because we are still here.
I found an apartment and Catherine and Brenda arrives up here in Minneapolis on January 11, 1952. Our only apartment in Minneapolis was at 26th & Porland, with a widow named Agnes Potvin. We stayed there until April 22, 1952, when all the papers for our house had been signed and we moved to our present home. We have looked at other houses through out the years but have always come back to this one.
The years of 1953, 1954 were pretty much commonplace, nothing really exciting happened. Work, play, eat and sleep. T'he Korean War was going on but that never directly affected our lives.
On May 5, 1955, our son, James, was born which was a great day for us. The day before Catherine's brother Gene from North Carolina had stopped over to see us on his way to some meeting in Idaho and while in the process of showing him our fair city, we were over some pretty rough streets. We always say that was the cause of Jim being born on that particular day. With his birth this was what was to be our family and the start of our real friendship with Norma and Wayne Determan and their daughter, Becky. lt was while Catherine was in the hospital with Jim that they invited Brenda and I to their house for a meal or two and from that time on they and we have been a close knit family. You might say that our children practically grew up together. The same year Brenda became sick and had to go to the hospital. This was the only time while Brenda and Jim were growing up that either one had to be admitted to the hospital. There were the usual diseases, cuts, and bruises.
I joined the Fred Babcock VFW Post #555 in 195 and the, day I was sworn in I became involved. Robert Hansen then Commander, Department of Minnesota was there for the initiation of new members found out I had been raised at the National Home and immediately appointed me to the National Home Committee of which I was to become Chairman next year and so remain for the following six years. During those six years I successfully completed six different projects for the benefit of the boys and girls at the Home. lt was during this time that I again met Paul Letts, Scoutmaster of the National Home Troop. The troop was going to the National Jamboree somewhere out west and were going to pass through Minnesota at Duluth. I arranged a dinner for them on their arrival at which time I had a chance to renew acquaintance with Paul Letts. We discussed the needs of their troop and for the next two years raised enough money throughout the Department of Minnesota to buy them a new bus and re-outfit the whole troop with uniforms and gear. This, at the same time as we did an equal amount for the girls organization at the Home.
In 1957 after a visit we made to my relatives out in Colorado I went into Swedish Hospital for examination where it was found my insides were covered with growths called polyps. lt was decided to have these removed and after extensive surgery I was on my way to recovery. After about ten days in the hospital we discovered our hospitalization didn't near cover the bill so I decided I had better get out. Big mistake, the day after my discharge I was back in the hospital (by ambulance) in shock. lt took another three weeks before I was officially discharged. By that time the bill was really high and it took all our savings plus what we could beg, borrow, or steal to pay my bill. Even then I wasn't out of the woods, I had developed a fissure and suffered with that from August until December when I got myself admitted to the Veterans Administration Hospital. There the fissure was removed and that was that except I had exams every six months for the next ten years.
1958 to 1963 nothing much happened. In 1963 had an operation to remove my gall bladder. During the period from 1952 to 1963 we made our regular pilgrimages back to North Carolina. 1963 was the last time I was down because in 1964 Catherine's father died and there wasn't much use for me to go back. We went to State of Washington once sometime after 1964 but have pretty much confined my vacations to around Minnesota.
In 1969, our daughter, Brenda, graduated from High School and was admitted to St. Olaf College at Northfield, Minnesota where four years later she graduated with high honors.
On October 10, 1970, while preparing for a visit to our daughter at college for Parents Day, I was putting some things in the car when I suffered a heart attack. This kept us from going to the college but I spent the next two months in the hospital and around home. I returned to work just two days before Christmas. So in May of 1973 as I finish writing this I am waiting to attend Brenda's graduation from St. Olaf College and Jim's graduation from Richfield High School. These are proud moments for me. I hope in the future to experience many proud moments as our two children make their way in life.
Although I didn't name everyone who has had an important role in my life does not mean they are not appreciated and with this in mind I would now recognize them and their importance.
I .My father, although I didn't spend too many years with him, instilled in me a love for my country. He taught me never to take our Freedoms and Rights for granted. Many had fought and some had died so I could enjoy these things.
2. Paul Letts, Scoutmaster. He was a father image when there were none around. He taught me loyalty and honor.
3. Darreli Woods and Harold Magnuson. They were my teen-age buddies. When we moved back to Colorado they became my friends.
4. Francis Arkfeld, Red Oak, lowa. He was my best friend during the time I was in the service. He gave me the basis for my belief in God. He and I were constantly together until he was killed 10 feet from me in Normandy. My Silver Star rests in his grave there.
5. Mal and Eleanor Malett. They were friends who were courting each other when I was courting Catherine.
6. Jack and Lillie Clark. Good friends during the period 1946 to 1951.
7. Harold and Mary Watkins. Harold was a co-worker between 1946 and 1951. They had family of three daughters which we enjoyed.
8. Mrs. W. E. Reid was the owner of the boarding house where Catherine and I lived when we moved to North Carolina. She was the Mother-type and we loved her for it.
9. Wallace and Maude Chandler, owners of our first apartment. Just like parents to as.
10. Mrs. Agnes Potvin, owner of our first apartment in Minneapolis.
11. Sam and Jeanette Oltmanns. Sam was the first person I met when we started going to Knox Presbyterian Church. He was Sunday School Superintendent at the time.
12. Gary and Lila Anderson. These friends must surely have a direct line into the Councils of God because twice Gary had prayed with me and God has seen fit to grant his request.
13. Cliff and Virgina LaMar. Cliff, for about 20 years was my boss and confident. He more thee anyone has brought me along the road to where I am today. His constant friendship, counseling and supervision will always be valued.
There are many whose names are not mentioned who have had some impact on my life. Especially the friends we have now. It is with great appreciation we have them as friends.
The greatest of all of these though is my wife, Catherine, who through our married years has had to put up with conditions through sickness and such that a lesser person would have failed.
For her and my children, I am thankful.
Ora Berkman, Jr.(V.c.2.3)