Asia, Japan, New Guinea, The Admiralty Islands, The Philippines

The Sometimes Perilous, Sometimes Hilarious WWII Adventures of my Grandfather



It’s with a heavy heart that I write this, as my grandfather died yesterday and this weekend my family will say goodbye at a memorial service and burial. He died of pneumonia at UNC Hospital today at the age of 90. Despite our sadness, I can’t think of a better example of a person who deserves to have their life celebrated. He accomplished so much, and yet I never think of him in terms of his accomplishments, only in terms of his flawless sense of humor, cheerful attitude, and killer charisma. Well into his late 80s, he still spoke and joked with such a childish charm. Even when talking about the war, he found a way to focus on the positive and the funny instead of the violence and sadness.

My grandfather joined the war when he was 17. All I did at 17 was apply for college and drive my little blue Mazda around Hillsborough while gossiping with Rachel and Kelly about boys. But there he went, off to join the American troops as a radio operator in the First Cavalry Division, island hopping in the Pacific, always at a close proximity to the legendary General MacArthur.

I grew up hearing these stories from time to time. He’d share a short one over lunch one day, another while driving in the car the next. After he was hospitalized in 2014, I decided to sit down with him for a few hours and record his tales so my family could remember not only his stories, but the charismatic way in which he told them.

I’ve added them below, edited into chapters ranging from 3 minutes to 16 minutes in length. It’s neither my best video footage, audio, or editing, but I believe he makes up in content what I lack in technical and artistic skills:

Chapter One: My grandfather convinces his father to let him join the US in their WWII involvement. He is selected as a radio operator for the First Cavalry Division and trains at Fort Riley, Kansas. Some highlights include him learning how to clean his horse, and shipping out from California on a ship reported sunk.

Chapter Two: My grandfather starts in New Guinea, before moving to the Admiralty Islands, and then invading the Island of Leyte. Some of my favorite highlights include him stealing a gun and riding a sea turtle.

Chapter Three: My grandfather faints on Leyte and wakes up in Manila

Chapter Four: My grandfather takes part in the occupation in Japan. He talks about practicing English with the locals and his uncomfortable patrols of the island.

Other: Additionally, throughout our conversations, my grandfather spoke some about horses in various battles. As these thoughts came to him randomly and out of chronologically order, I added them together as a bit of an afterthought.

I also took the liberty of asking him about his father, a WWI veteran. While I never met my great-grandfather, and though the video is quite short, I thought I could gather some new information on my family history.

4 Comments

  1. Mom

    Words cannot express how much this means to me and how much your Granddaddy’s whole extended family will enjoy this tribute to him. He lives again through these videos.

    Reply
  2. Diane Dussinger McConnell

    Gwen, thank you so very much for sharing these videos. I listened to every one of them and they were fascinating. I never knew any of this about your Grandfather. How lucky you are to have these treasures of your Grandfather’s memories to keep. I have wonderful memories of spending fun times with the McArtors and the Nortons when I was growing up, as they were great friends of my parents. Your Grandfather will be greatly missed by all who knew him. My deepest sympathies to your whole family.
    Diane McConnell

    Reply
    1. admin Author

      Thank you so much. I’m very glad you enjoyed the videos. I visited my high school history a few years ago who gave me the idea to record granddaddy talking about his war experience.

      He was such a fun and spunky guy and I feel so lucky to have gotten to be his granddaughter.

      Reply
  3. Anne Norton

    Gwen,
    Your grandfather was always an awesome storyteller; this is no exception. Unbelievable treasure–both your grandfather and the videos. For you to have the foresight to create these videos and for your grandfather to have such incredible recall, will provide current and future generations of McArtor’s a vision of who their grandfather is and was. An absolutely wonderful tribute and we are all so very thankful for it. Rand and Anne Norton.

    Reply

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