MEET OUR VETERANS: Bob Conner:
USCG: Merchant Marines
US Army National Guard
(WW2 and Korea War Veteran)
Born on August 26, 1927, (94) Bobby (Bob) Dudley Conner was born in Port Arthur, Texas. Bob lived there for about 17-years. He lived near the Intercoastal waterways of the Gulf of Mexico. He remembers in Junior High School when ships used to come thru the canal near his home. “I got to fish a lot growing up living near the Gulf. I have been fishing all my life and if there are fish there I will catch them.” “He liked catching perch the best,” said his son Rob Conner.
Military: Pacific at the end of WW2
U.S. Merchant Marines: June 18, 1945 thru March 24, 1947
Bob went into the United States Coast Guard as a Merchant Seaman when he was 17 years old. “I had not graduated from High School. My dad had to sign the papers to give him the permission to sign up. I had never been outside of the State of Texas. I went to Brooklyn, New York on a train.
There, I trained at a place called Sheepshead Bay, New York. I was trained as a deck hand and was trained to drive a ship. I remember being in downtown New York and a lot of our troops from Europe were returning from the war. There were thousands of people. There was a lot of cheering, boys kissing girls and congratulating each other and just a whole lot of people coming in off ships. A had a lot of friends who had gone to war and were coming home,” remembered Bob.
“I had a week’s training on how to shoot a 20mm canon and learned how to be a boat captain and drive a ship. From there I was boarded onto a Liberty Class Ship and went right down the East coast. I was a ship captains mate and was getting “On The Job,” training while we were on the boat. I was just a kid,” remembers Bob.
Bob was steering the ship from the New York harbor down to New Orleans and back to New York. “I remember the ship captain walking up and down and telling what a good job I was doing. He walked alongside of me and made sure I was doing things right. He was my teacher,” Bob said laughing.” He had never been to sea before, but said he enjoyed it. “We were going into New Orleans and up the narrow Mississippi River and remember I had to move over close to the shore to allow larger ships to pass. We were coming back down to the Gulf, It was a scary thing,” recalled Bob.
The ship went thru the Panama Canal and headed back to New York. “Going thru the canal we had to wait as each section filled with water before we could advance. There were locks all along the Panama Canal and we waited as each section would fill up before we could maneuver into the next lock. It was very slow and time consuming.” Bob made the trip to New York and once again was sent back along the Eastern Coast and eventually headed to the Pacific, and Japan. “I remember we went to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. I saw a lot of stuff there,” Bob said looking down and shaking his head.
Looking thru Bob’s military records, he was aboard several called Liberty Ships.
They included the Francois Hennebique (San Francisco to Manilla July 1946), SS (Steamship) Belvalockwood, SS James T. Fields #3061 ( October 1945 – January 1946), Army Transport ship Thistle ( Sept 3-10 Honolulu to San Francisco and the SS Glorieta which Bob recalls being made of concrete or cement.
INFO: Liberty Ships, the “Ugly Duckling” workhorses of World War II, were built in 13 states by 15 companies in 18 shipyards. The first of 2,710 Liberty ships, the SS Patrick Henry, was launched in September 1941, after 150 days of construction.
In 1941 and 1942 German U-Boats and surface raiders sank 2,963 Allied ships, while the U.S. built 863 to replace them (not many freighters were built elsewhere). As workers gained experience, the shipyards speeded up production of these “expendable” ships. At an average cost of $1.8 million, a Liberty had to make just one trip to be considered successful.
Prefabricated sections traveled on railroad flatcars from throughout the United States to be put together the same way Henry Ford assembled cars before the war. Eventually, the shipyards created a competition amongst themselves for speed in building a Liberty Ship. SOURCE: http://www.usmm.org/peary.html
“Once we left the Panama Canal the weather was perfect. There was virtually no wind or clouds and the water was very smooth and the weather was just beautiful. We went around Hawaii and just before we got into Japan. We saw some of the worst weather you could possibly see. I slept in the top bunk, the ship was rocking so back you could hardly sleep. I can’t even remember eating. The front of our ship was full of cars and when we got to Japan they bought our ship. We ended up on another ship altogether. We thought we would leave Japan but we ended up in Manila and then over to California.” Bob’s ship ported at Eniwetok, a large chain of islands known for Atomic testing in the late forties and fifties. There are still islands today under quarantine from radiation. There were a total of 43 nuclear tests on the Eniwetok Atoll.
Bob kept a detailed diary on his travels in the Merchant Marines and was very helpful in filling in areas Bob could not recall after 75-years. The diary stated he left port Arthur for New York on June 27th, 1945 and in New Orleans on Sept. 4, 1945, going back to New York and left for Japan on Nov. 15, 1945. His ship arrived in Manila 20, 1946 and left for Eniwetok on June 5, 1946.
This is very significant. On June 30th an Atomic test was conducted in the Marshall Islands. It was called “ABLE.” There was a second atomic bomb test on July 24, 1946, named “BAKER.”
“I remember we ported in Eniwetok and we picked up a lot of people from the island. We evacuated them. I don’t know the reason we did that,” recalled Bob.
The History books tell us the government started evacuating inhabitants of Eniwetok and other islands in preparations for “OPERATION CROSSROADS” and “atomic bomb testing” in this area. After dropping bombs on Japan on August 6 and 9th ending World War II with Japan, the U.S. Government wanted to test the effects on our naval ships from an atomic bomb. Hundreds of vessels were sent to the islands and used as bombing test sites.
In reading Bob’s diary, it states, “arrived in Eniwetok on June 20, 1946….Left Eniwetok for Honolulu on June 21, 1946 and arrived on July 6, 1946.”
Bob left the island nine days before the bombing tests began on June 30th, 1946. When I told Bob and his daughter Janet, both were happy to hear the news that Bob had left the area before the testing began.
I have spoken to a couple of veterans who were stationed in this area and have been assigned by the Veterans Administration and are referred to as “Atomic Veterans.” Many today suffer from the radiation fallout from testing done in the Marshall Islands in 1946 and into the late 50s.
“Before we made it to California the ship lost its rudder, for no reason and we were listless in the ocean. We ended up drifting back to Hawaii. Another ship finally came along and towed us back to Hawaii. I ended up on R&R, grabbed another ship and headed home.” According to his diary he arrived in Honolulu for repairs on July 17, 1946. On July 30th he left Honolulu on the “Thistle” for San Francisco where he arrived on Sept 10, 1946. From there it says he left Port Arthur on the “Glorieta” for New York on October 10, 1946.
“I ended up back in New York and was released from the Merchant Marines and headed home to Texas, on a bus. I then went back to High School to get my degree. I graduated from school when I was 20 years old, but it was important for me to graduate. I was the old guy in the class. I was working in South Texas and West Louisiana and was attending church on a regular basis. My Pastor lived about a block from our house. I remember thinking I was going to die. I went over and kneeled beside by bed and started praying. I told my parents I needed to be saved and they went over and got the Pastor at the Assembly of God Church. I went to church and was saved. I started speaking and nobody could understand what I was saying. I was speaking in tongues and I tried to stop but I couldn’t. I was praying out loud in tongues. The Pastor came and sat by me and I asked him to pray for me. He said keep praying. I was laughing and laughing. From that point on I was with the Holy Spirit and he has never left me.”
DRAFTED INTO THE ARMY:
October 11, 1950 thru September 23, 1952 (Active Duty)
September 24, 1952 thru September 19, 1956 ( National Guard Reserve Duty)
“I did not want to go into the Army, I always liked the water and the big ships,” said Bob in his interview with Thomas. “I came home and was told I was to be drafted into the Texas Army National Guard.” Bob was drafted on October 11, 1950. He went to boot camp in Texas and quickly was sent to Camp Cook in California on a train. Instead of training in Infantry, Bob went straight to the office with an MOS designation as typist. From California he boarded a ship and was sent to Japan.
Korean War (History of the 40th Division)
Sept. 1, 1950: 40th Division activated for Korea. Advance party departs for Camp Cooke (now Vandenberg Air Force Base).
April 10, 1951: 40th Division advance elements arrive in Japan. Division given mission of defending north Honshu while training.
Dec. 22, 1951: 40th Division alerted for move to Korea to relieve 24th ID.
Jan. 6, 1952: First ship departs Japan for Korea with first elements of the 40th Division.
“Peace did not last long after the end of World War II. On June 25, 1950, the North Korean People’s Army invaded the southern Republic of Korea. A month later, the 40th Infantry Division was told to begin mobilizing for Korea. The division was first sent for training
at Camp Cooke, Calif. In March 1951, the division’s Soldiers were sent to the Japanese island of Honshu. There they defended the north part of the island while continuing their preparation. In January 1952, the members of the 40th Division were sent to Pusan, South Korea, to begin relieving the 24th Division on the front lines.
When the troops arrived in Korea, they were immediately put into the front line. As troops passed the war-weary veterans returning from the front lines, anxiety and apprehension were heightened. The veterans of the 24th Division looked physically tired and emotionally beat. As they pulled off the line into reserve, many of them whispered to 40th Soldiers as they passed, wishing them luck and a safe trip home next year.
Arriving in January — in the middle of winter — didn’t help matters. As advertised, the troops found the sub-zero weather bitterly cold.
Many Soldiers would recall this period in Korea as the coldest time of their lives. Artillerymen had to be careful. When they swabbed the bore of their howitzers, water would drip and freeze, which formed a miniature ice rink below the breech. That made it extremely slippery and dangerous when servicing the weapon.
The battles continued through 1952 and into 1953. By April 1953, the 40th Division was at the Ihy- on-Ni-Kalbakkumi sector, nicknamed the “Punch Bowl” because of the natural features in the area. Later, the 40th Division replaced the 45th Infantry Division in the Heartbreak Ridge-Sandbag Castle area before a truce was declared on July 27, 1953.
The fighting in the Punch Bowl was so important to the Soldiers of the 40th Division, a silver punch bowl handmade during the era remains on display at the division’s headquarters at Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base in Long Beach, Calif.”
“Sgt. 1st Class Edward Gonzales, personnel service NCO for the Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion of the 40th Infantry Division, said the history he sees at Los Alamitos each day inspires him.
The history of the 40th Infantry Division has affected me because I like to know about the men who have gone before me, Gonzales said. Here at Los Alamitos at division headquarters, we have a foyer displaying the Medal of Honor recipients during the Korean campaign, lots of pictures on the wall from Soldiers in the Second World War, and that gives me a lot of pride. I came off of active duty from the 82nd [Airborne Division]; when joining this unit, I realized that we had just as much glory and honor as the 82nd had during the Second World War.
The one big thing that stands out that I don’t think I really appreciated when I was in the 82nd is that the 40th Infantry Division is made up of citizen-Soldiers in the true sense, Gonzales said. They have an out- side life. They are civilians, and then when they are called upon, they put on the uniform and serve. Having deployed with them a couple of times now, I realize how important that is. In 30 days, you could find yourself overseas somewhere. And to think that we’ve been doing that ever since the First World War, it’s impressive how the members of this division quickly train up and take their part in history.”
Thomas James: “In the Army he was assigned to the 40th Infantry Division of the National Guard out of California. His unit was sent to Japan in December of 1950. They were part of the occupation of Japan. They were there for about 10-months. While they were in Japan, Douglas MacArthur, was working on a plan to move these Divisions without the knowledge of the Koreans. Within a couple of days, the 40th was going to relieve the 24th Infantry Division. They did this by the secrecy of night. The troops continued training on the island of Honshu and when it was time to leave, the Division left all their heavy machinery and artillery in Japan. They just moved personal and light weapons into the area of the 24th. The North Koreans never knew of this change until much later.
Bob was assigned to the 160th Infantry Regiment out of the 40th Infantry Division. He was assigned to the Headquarters Company. Instead of being a clerk typist there was a need for an assistant to the Chaplain and Bob was assigned to Captain and Chaplain John Lindvall. (Bob on far right in this picture)
Chaplain (Captain) John A. Lindvall of Stamford, Conn., 160th Regiment, 40th U.S. Infantry Division (standing center with book), leads members of the regiment in singing during religious services held in the field. He is assisted by Cpl. Doyle W. Sullens of Victoria, Mo., organist and Bobby D. Conner (standing at tree), chaplain assistants, both of Headquarters and Headquarters Co., 160th Regt., 40th Division – January 27, 1952.
“My best friend was another Chaplain by the name of Ken Berry (L). I was wanting to get to the ledge to look over into the valley. They were transporting a soldier and I followed over to the ambulance. I yelled at him and he hollered back at me. His arm was totally off except a little bit of skin. They pulled his skin away and free of the use of that hand. They took the ring off his hand and handed it to me. The soldier survived and went back to Houston where he became a preacher. We visited with each other after the war in Port Arthur and he went to church with me. He became a minister in Houston. We are still friends today.”
Being a minister in the Korean War was not an easy job. All the soldiers Bob ministered to were from the front lines and were involved in heavy fighting. On many occasions soldiers would come to Bob in his tent to be ministered to. “I had a private tent,” said Bob. “It was cold and I had a fire in the middle and we all huddled up together to stay warm. We had a lot of cots close together. It was cold outside but it was nice and warm in there. We were a quarter of a mile from the front lines and man could I hear the bombing and gunfire. The North would come over this hill and take over and the next day we would go over and take the hill. Craziest mess I ever saw,” said Bob.
Chaplain Leo Peter Craig, O.P. (1913-1951), was killed while serving as an Army Chaplain in Korea. In this picture, taken moments before his death, Chaplain Craig is seen anointing a soldier who had been severely injured by a land mine.
“They knew I was working with the chaplain. I remember sometimes in the middle of the night, many of the soldiers would come over to me and wanted to be saved while I was there in that little tent. I had already been in the military and was older than most of those kids. A lot of them looked up to me for guidance. I would pray with each and every one of them. Boy, did we have a crowd and a lot of souls were saved. I woke up one morning and went down to speak to our soldiers. Six of them were laying there dead in front of one of their offices. One was shot in the back. The North Koreans had come down, killed them, and then left.”
Phil: Many veterans I have spoken to have “BLOCKED” out certain memories, especially from 75 years ago. During combat conditions in WW2 and Korea our veterans suffered from Trauma. During previous wartime periods these medical conditions were referred to as “Shell Shock.” Today, we refer to is as PTS, Post Traumatic Stress.
“Trigger” points are different for every PTS veteran and when talking to those who have been in combat situations, these triggers can resurface. They can cause extreme anxiety and fear within a veteran. Many of our veterans lock these “Traumatic experiences” deep within the Amygdala portion of the brain and prefer to keep them there. It is too painful to recall such events.
Chaplain Lindvall came to visit Bob in Texas. “It was awesome to me, that he would come all the way from California to visit me,” said Bob. After Korea, Chaplain Lindvall was awarded an Army Colonel in Vietnam. He was the first Colonel to reach that rank as a Chaplain. “He was a great man and the soldiers thought the world of him.”
Thomas James: Bob was in Korea for eight (8) months. At some time while Bob was in Korea he switched over to the 223rd Medical Company. Bob left Korea before the war ended. There were three (3) Medal of Honor recipients from this Company Bob was assigned to. Once Bob got back to stateside, he was transferred back to the Medical Company. The Combat Infantry Badge was for his service in and around hostile and combat conditions during the Korean Conflict. The qualifications for the Infantry Badge states, you must participate in direct action. Bob was not trained as an infantryman; however, he was on or near the front lines administering the gospel to our troops in need of spiritual direction. Bob was involved foxhole to foxhole with our troops.
The Transition from the Merchant Marines to the Army in Korea and in his “SPIRITUAL LIFE” at this time played a HUGE role in his survival and the way he carried himself in Korea. Bob desperately loved his wife, Mrs. Billie, who passed away a few years ago. Bob is 94 years old, looks good and still gets around well. Many don’t know how great a golfer he was, said Thomas. He committed his life to God and he has been blessed with his longevity and a long spiritual walk.”
Bob received a Combat Infantry Badge from his combat action in Korea. He received an Army Commendation with a pendant for meritorious service. Major Lindvall wrote the citation for Bob in commendations for his service in Korea. In that citation it was noted that Bob’s job function as a minister required him to go to the front lines to take over the Chaplain duties if the Major was not there. Bob handed out literature and gave spiritual support and helped evacuate the wounded and their medical care. “I don’t remember a lot from Korea,” Bob said on his interview with Army Veteran Thomas James with the Victory Church in Canton. Thomas was instrumental in researching the background information from Bob’s time in the military.
Bob was 26 when he got married to Billie. “She was from Dallas and worked at Sears. I went there, met here and met her at a church called the Circle. He was a good pastor. He had me on the platform and did some preaching. She and I met and I was making several trips back to Houston. She was waiting on me. Finally, she was ready to go and we married. She was the first girl I ever fell in love with. She let me know what I was supposed to do and she made me toe the line.”
NOTE: Meet other Veterans from Van Zandt County by going to the top of www.vzcm webpage and click on MEET OUR VETERANS and click one of the (5) branches of services and the veterans last name first and click to read.
“Every Veteran has a story to tell.” Phil Smith
GOD BLESS OUR VETERANS AND GOD BLESS AMERICA
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