This history is based on March 1996 interviews of Richard M. Hess by his son Kenneth L. Hess. Richard made corrections based on personal notes and memories. All direct quotations are Richard’s.
Camp Benjamin Harrison, Indianapolis, IN
June 28, 1943 to June 30, 1943 (approx.)
Dad rode a bus from Ft. Wayne to Indianapolis for his induction into the Army. He received physical tests and educational tests, then everyone was sent home to get their affairs in order.
“A buddy of mine had a club foot. He was rejected and cried on the bus all the way back to Ft. Wayne. He was an excellent athlete, although he walked with a limp. He would have made an excellent soldier.”
He knew very few of the people he was inducted with. They were of all ages.
Camp Benjamin Harrison, Indianapolis, IN
July 12, 1943
This was the reception center. Dad had dental work performed and was kept busy with KP duty, picking up cigarette butts, etc.
He was assigned to the U.S. Army, Headquarters and Service Company, 248th Engineering Combat Battalion.
Camp Bowie, TX
July 24, 1943
Basic training. Dad received the basic infantry training as well as training in engineering. Engineer’s training included elementary rigging, explosives and demolition, bridge building, road building, water supply and purification, assault and pontoon boats, flame throwers, land mines, and booby traps.
About two thirds of the people were his age. 28 was “an old son of a bitch”. Dad really respected these older guys.
“They had 40′ rope climbing towers. I was the fastest guy that could go up, touch the pole, back down, and back up again. That was the only thing I ever excelled in in sports. I’ve always been very strong. Once I got in the paratroopers, there were a few guys who could beat me.”
“We went on a twenty mile hike with two quarts of water per man. It was 105 degrees and we had full gear. Plus we had 30 caliber machine guns that we had to pass man-to-man. The lieutenant got lost and it turned into a 31 mile hike. I was one of the 40% who made it without collapsing or dropping out. I had blisters on my heels. All of us who made it, went straight to the shower with our clothes on. Of course, we washed our own clothes in the shower anyway. We washed them on the shower floor with a scrub brush.”
Then they did four weeks of maneuvers in Louisiana and Mississippi. He transferred from maneuvers straight to Ft. Benning.
Dad volunteered (you had to volunteer) to be a paratrooper. It was $50 more per month, which doubled his pay. He wanted some excitement, he said “I wanted to be something special.” (It was like joining the “Special Forces” today.)
“When I asked to go into the paratroopers, Capt. Petit said, ‘You’re going to make one hell of a paratrooper.’ He didn’t want to see me go.”
Ft. Benning, GA
November 24, 1943 to January 5, 1944
Paratrooper training. Last, fifth qualifying jump on New Year’s Eve.
They awoke at 5:30 am and ran 5 miles every morning before breakfast. You had to run around the platoon while they were running if you screwed up (he never had to do that). They also liked to dish out push-ups as punishment.
He could do 70 push-ups.
Maxton Airbase, NC
January 8, 1944 to February 1944
Holding for assignment.
Camp Mackall, NC
February 27, 1944 to April 16, 1944
Holding for assignment. Maybe also spent time at Fort Bragg for a while. His brother Corliss (with new wife Betty) was also at Camp Mackall. Corliss was a glider troop who participated in the invasion at Normandy.
Camp Stoneman, Pittsburg, CA
April 21, 1944 to April 27, 1944
95% of land transportation was by passenger train, including the trip to California.
April 27, 1944 to May 18, 1944
The ship normally carried 2000 passengers, but was outfitted to carry almost 19,000 troops, not counting the ship crew and Marines to keep order.
You got only 2 meals, but could eat as much as you wanted and it was very good. The galleys worked 24 hours per day. His eating and exercise time was at night. They had one hour of calisthenics on deck at about 2:00 am to 3:00 am. Salt water was used for showers and the toilets. “Boy I hated those salt water showers.” The only thing fresh water was used for was drinking.
“The bunks were 5 high and boy was it hot.” Dad’s group was actually below the water line.
Throughout the war, Dad calculated that he was on various ships and vessels for a total of 46 days.
May 11, 1944 to May 12, 1944
They didn’t get off the boat–just took on supplies.
Milne Bay, New Guinea
May 18, 1944 to September 7, 1944
He joined Co. C, 161st Airborne Engineers. “Got there right in the monsoon season. It rained for three weeks straight–never stopped.” Had one training jump here.
This company had about 160 people.
They poured concrete on warehouse floors, did training on demolition flame throwers, and had rifle practice.
“I didn’t drink beer or smoke overseas. I had a great respect for taking good care of one’s health. I traded all my beer and cigarette rations for candy bars. Some of the guys thought I was crazy. I never smoked in the Army. I didn’t start until about a month before I got out of the hospital.”
Noemfoor Island, D.E. I.
September 12, 1944 to November 14, 1944
His company joined 503rd PRCT (Parachute Regimental Combat Team). They came in on LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry ships). “We were assigned to help mop up the island.” This was the first time he was in combat zone, but didn’t actually engage in any fire fights. “99% of the Japs were dead, the others were starving. Noemfoor was a real small island, but it was strategically located. The Japanese had an airport there and the Seabees came in and extended the runway. It was then used for Navy and Army fighter planes.”
“The Japanese had an entirely different attitude. They didn’t really care whether they left this world or not and most of them left this world. They didn’t think about it; they just died.”
The 503rd was composed of:
- 3 battalions of infantry (about 800 men each)
- 1 battalion of field artillery
- 1 company of engineers
- 1 headquarters battalion, service and command center
He did a practice jump with full equipment on October 18, 1944.
Dulog, Leyte, Philippines
November 18, 1944 to December 11, 1944
They went in on LCIs (after a seven day voyage). He got seasick. There were no showers, not even any cover over their heads. “Every time I got on one of those I got sick. the first two hours were OK, but you get into those big swells,… The thing I didn’t like was that you’re a sitting duck for strafing.” His LCI was fortunately never attacked.
“We relieved part of the initial invasion force.” He was set up on a perimeter for an anticipated counter invasion. The Japanese were sending in planes all day and night, bombing and strafing. Most of the Japanese on the island itself had already been taken care of.
“The Japanese attempted an airborne assault on our troops and their planes were all destroyed in the air. I remember seeing about a dozen of the Jap paratroopers washed up on the beach.”
“We were camped next to the airstrip. It was the dry season and the dust was terrible. We saw a lot of dog fights on Leyte (and later on Mindoro). One evening I was on guard duty. A P-38 was going to engage a Zero and he dropped his fuel tanks. One of the tanks dropped about a hundred feet away and scared the hell out of me. Fortunately it didn’t explode.”
He and about three other guys tried to swim out to General Kreuger’s yacht. “Some guys had swam out the day before and the sailors took them on board and treated them like royalty. But when we swam out, they moved the boat and we had to swim back without reaching it. I was pretty tired!”
Dad celebrated Thanksgiving on Leyte. “Most troops on Leyte were given a big turkey dinner on this day. It was very good. I did not have KP duty this day–just guard duty. I never liked guard duty–in fact I hated guard duty. However, the big Thanksgiving dinner made up or it.”
He transferred to H company at Leyte and was in the infantry at this time. “I wanted to be in the infantry. I wanted to be in a fighting, combat outfit. Most guys that were patriotic did. I’m not sure you understand that today… Now we’ve got a President that did everything he could to stay out of the service. People don’t give a damn.”
H Company had lost their BAR man (a BAR is a Browning Automatic Rifle, a light machine gun) in their last engagement. He was replaced by the ammo carrier, a 28 year-old NY attorney by the name of Hiram E. Wooster. “He was a really nice guy. Wooster was tired of being regimented by his father in the law firm so he didn’t want to go to OCS. He didn’t want the responsibility.” Nor did Wooster want to be the BAR man. Dad volunteered.
Dad was called into Capt. Joe Conway’s tent. Conway stayed seated behind his portable desk (he was only about 5’2″ tall). He said, “You know Private Hess, you’re pretty skinny to be a paratrooper aren’t you?” Conway was expecting a heavier guy, “Well, we really need you, I hope you can do the job.”
Dad explained to me, “Firing that BAR from the hip could move a small guy backwards. I didn’t use the bipod [front support for ground firing]. I didn’t want the extra two pounds of weight. I’d rather have two extra ammo cartridges.”
So Dad took Wooster’s place and Wooster was Dad’s ammo man.
Wooster was killed instantly by machine gun fire the day after Dad was wounded on Corregidor. He had taken the BAR job after Dad went down. He was 28 years old.
San Jose, Mindoro, Philippines
December 15, 1944 to February 16, 1945
This was an invasion by LCI. They landed at 7:30 am.
“The Navy put up a hell of a barrage before we went ashore. They had bombers and fighters strafing and bombing. They were still firing over our heads when we went ashore.”
“During the landing there was very little Japanese opposition. There weren’t many Japs on the island–only about 750. They didn’t stand and fight, they headed for the mountains. It was very unusual for the Japanese to run. And, intelligence had expected a much larger presence.”
“About one mile inland the shell fire caught the tall grass on fire. This grass is strong and about 60 inches tall. This caused havoc for a while. We moved fast to escape this inferno.”
“Two companies of the 503rd Infantry were loaded on LCIs and made a landing on the other side of the island where the Japanese troops were disposed of.”
“The main reason for Mindoro was the airfield and its strategically good location and weather. The Navy Sea Bees came in right after us and started rebuilding the airfield and making it longer. They were using road graders and bulldozers the next day. Also steel, interlocking mats were laid down on this runway. Dust from airplane propeller wind was still a problem even with the steel mats. The Navy Sea Bees were a great professional team.”
“After we were there for about a week, a large Japanese naval movement was sighted coming through the straight. We were expecting quite an invasion. With the convoy were a number of troop ships. The sky was black with U.S. planes taking off from the airfield to catch the fleet and they sunk a good part of it. B-25s and everything that would fly. The invasion never came about because of the losses from our bombing. This was a major defeat for the Japanese navy.”
We were set up on the Bugsahga River about two miles north of San Jose, Mindoro. “We heard some noise down in a dry creek bed. They got everybody ready and said ‘fire at will’. The next morning they found 10-12 caribou deader than hell.”
“At the time of the Leyte and Mindoro operations all Japanese ground troops were suicidal and considered by many to be kamikaze (like the suicide squadrons of planes and pilots). On Corregidor it was very evident that the total Japanese force was suicidal.”
Corregidor Island, Philippines
February 16, 1945 to February 17, 1945
Typically they would be told of an invasion 3-4 days in advance. Plenty of time to get nervous. Normally they didn’t know where the invasion would be until 1-2 days before. “Of course the officers knew.”
“At almost 20 years of age, I was still the third youngest soldier in the 503rd.”
“There wasn’t a whole lot of talking at breakfast. It was quiet. We bivouacked on the airfield at Mindoro next to the jump planes. They got us up at 5:30 am. We were all ready to go by 6:00 and we had to stand around waiting for what seemed like a long time. We boarded the C-47’s at about 6:30 and immediately took off heading north in formation.”
Dad was in the 3rd Battalion, H Company, 3rd Platoon, 3rd Squad. The battalion commander was Lieutenant Colonel John L. Erickson. This battalion was the first to go in.
They came across the narrow width of the island with 24 paratroopers in each C-47.
“I was in one of the first planes as they came across the island in single file. When I left the plane, I could see right ahead of me, close to the ground, the B-25 and A-20 planes strafing with their 50 caliber cannons [like gatling guns]. Before we went in they bombed and shelled Corregidor for three solid weeks. We couldn’t hold Manila harbor without taking Corregidor. The guns were on railroad cars. It was like a battleship on an island.”
The plane was at 400 feet above Topside, the drop zone. “I was the first one out the door of our plane. I only oscillated one and a half times. We had a lot of wind there. Wind steals the air from your chute and you come down faster.”
The records say the drop occurred at 8:30 am, but his watch was stopped cold at 8:20 when he landed. “It never ran again. I hit pretty hard, solid rock. I hit so hard it paralyzed me. I couldn’t move for 2-3 minutes.”
He had landed in a gully in front of the parade field on Topside.
About an hour after landing, he was hit by a piece of shrapnel (probably from a mortar). It hit his cartridge belt and barely broke his skin.
Dad doesn’t want to get specific about having shot anyone. “Let’s just say I did my part. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“It was a real busy place, let me tell you. There was not a moment, of anything being a soft spot. It was a beehive of activity continually. There was gunfire all the time. The enemy were like bees–they were everywhere.”
The enemy fought using banzai charges. These were suicidal charges by from one to maybe 24 Japanese, intended to inflict as much damage to life and property as possible without regard to their own personal safety. “When you heard ‘Banzai! Banzai!’ the earth shook–someone was going to die right now.”
“The Japs were in tunnels. MacArthur and his engineers built the whole system. They’d come out 2-3 at a time, a dozen at a time. They were all around us. They’d come out firing weapons and throwing hand grenades. We’d kill them and then some more would come out. They must have had hundreds of exits. Intelligence said there were only 650 Japs on the island. Actually, there were 6500 to 9000 Japanese Marines, maybe more. Even the Japanese are not sure of the actual number of troops on Corregidor. About 900 were killed the first day. Most were killed later when they committed suicide by blowing up the tunnels. They almost took out a whole company of the 503rd when they did it. Blew them right into the air.”
His squad was securing the perimeter of Topside, above Middleside when he was wounded by machine gun fire at 4:30 pm.
“My lung was collapsed, I was breathing right through my chest. That bullet entered from my back. My arm was hit from the front. In other words, we were surrounded. The first things the Japs take out are the light machine guns, the BAR, and I was the BAR.”
“The one that hit me in the arm ricocheted off a rock. Zing, splatter! They both hit me within 3 seconds of each other.”
“There was a strange feeling for about 20 minutes as my heart pounded in my chest. I could actually feel the pounding–and with each beat of the heart, blood gushed violently out of my chest. I knew this was the end and I prayed the Lord’s Prayer.”
“I couldn’t get my arm down. It was like I was saluting someone. It was an hour before I could get my arm down. I don’t know why.”
At about 5:30 pm the medics put him in the bombed out barracks on Topside which was close by. “That night I was in there they sprayed it with machine gun fire and darn near got me again. A buddy of mine got a bullet through his appendix when he came up to see me. It went through his trench knife handle, then through his appendix. They had to take the appendix out right away. The next morning they operated on me. At about 8:00 am they put my stretcher across a couple of oil drums shot full of bullet holes. I asked the doctor if I was going to live and he said, ‘Just hang in there, just hang in there trooper.’ They brought a Navy guy up from the beach and gave me a direct blood transfusion. I’d lost a lot of blood. I was going to die. I knew I was going to die. Then every hour, as I was still alive, I kept telling myself, ‘Maybe I am going to make it’ and I prayed.”
“The doctor was from Vincennes, IN. A real nice guy. He cut a circle of flesh around the wound, it was about a quarter inch wide and two feet long. He dropped it in a can. He said, ‘If you had been turned another few degrees it would have gone right through your heart. It was as close as you can get without…’ After they got it closed, I wasn’t sucking air in there anymore. I was in the hot sun the rest of the day.”
“I didn’t see how I could live, losing that much blood. Nobody cleaned me up or anything. I was covered with blood. (This was not the place for cleaning someone up and is not meant as a complaint.) The flies just drove me nuts out there in the hot sun.”
“Later in the day [actually there’s some chance it may have been the next day, but Dad doesn’t believe he spent another night there] they started working me and about seven or eight other guys down to the beach on stretchers. There was a small hospital ship about a mile off shore from the South Dock.” The trip from Topside to the evacuation point on San Jose Beach was about one half mile. “It was a long half mile.”
“Then we were attacked by machine gun fire. The medics set us down on the trail and took cover. I rolled off the stretcher into this shell hole. The medics said, ‘Trooper, are you crazy, you want to die of shock?’ After the machine gun was silenced, they helped me back to the stretcher and it was shredded with machine gun fire. I will never forget the one medic when he saw the holes in the stretcher. He said, ‘Oh my god!’ Had I stayed on that stretcher I would have been dead. That was just instinct for me. About an hour later we ran into the same damn problem. I’m laying on the stretcher and I had blood all over me and I had to use my good arm to keep the flies off of me. This one Jap saw me wiping the flies off my face. He lunges at my throat with his bayonet. One of our troops shot him and he fell across my legs. The Jap could have shot me. To this day I think he needed to reload his rifle or he figured he would make a quick kill without any noise.”
“They finally got us down to the beach. There was the white hospital ship a mile off shore. The Japanese started machine gunning the LCI as we were about half loaded. Someone on the LCI said, ‘Hurry up, let’s go.’ I was the last guy. Someone said, ‘Let’s go, that guy’s dead.’ They were about a hundred and fifty feet away. I raised my good arm to let them know I wasn’t dead. As they got me on the LCI one medic carrying me was shot in the shoulder. It didn’t seem too severe. They raised the steel ramp in a hail of machine gun fire and you could hear those bullets hitting it. Zip, zip, zip, zip… They headed for the hospital ship which we reached at about 6:30 pm.”
“I had a lot of respect for the medics after this operation. It took a lot of courage to get me and my wounded comrades down to and on the LCI.”
He didn’t sleep for four days after being wounded and he never passed out. “For some reason I knew that I must not go to sleep. I was afraid I’d never wake up.”
“I didn’t have much pain through the whole thing. They must have given me something.”
“To this day I feel that someone was looking out for me. Angels? My life as a soldier was over, but I was still alive.”
The 503rd received a Presidential Unit Citation and Dad received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for his actions on Corregidor. “The 503rd also received the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation. These are awards that are close to my heart.”
On both hospital ships, this one and one that took him to the states, he was next to a porthole. At 9:00 every morning they would play taps, and then using catapults they would bury at sea the men who had died. They didn’t stop this practice until about 3 days out of Los Angeles.
Hollandia, New Guinea
March 1, 1945 to April 18, 1945
They cleaned up his arm wound here and put a cast on it.
Dad commented about how sorry he felt for the Navy guys who had suffered severe burns. Many of them were wrapped from head to toe in gauze. Many didn’t make it.
“I was able to go to the bathroom, but they put me on a stretcher to take me out to the wharf. I was on the wharf ready to go back to the states. I got a tremendous pain in my side. They diagnosed it as appendicitis and took me back inside. I had my appendix removed, and had to wait for the next hospital ship.”
Van Nuys, CA
May 12, 1945 to ??
Birmingham General Hospital. He was just here long enough to catch a hospital train to Ohio. He still had a cast. “The third day, I was put in a private room. Gary Cooper came into my room with a couple blonde actresses (they were twins). This was the first time I was close to or talked to a movie star. It lifted my spirits and I started to feel better. Later the doctors said I could go to the Palladium on a bus if I felt like it. I felt pretty good, but when I got there I got really sick.” It was yellow jaundice, probably from the blood transfusion. “It was the sickest I got during the whole experience.”
“I met a WAC in the hospital who was a nurses aid. She was from my home town.” After the war, he ran into her again. “I saw her at a Friday night dance in Ft. Wayne and she was very startled and surprised to see me. She had been transferred to another general hospital shortly after I arrived at Birmingham General Hospital. I can’t remember her exact words, but I thought she was about to faint.”
to November 30, 1945
Fletcher General Hospital. He had two other operations on his left arm. The bullet had shattered the big bone [the radius]. As it mended it got shorter and forced the little bone [the ulna] out of the socket, so they shortened the small bone and reinserted it in the socket. Overall, it made that arm 3/4″ shorter.
“This hospital was like heaven. Good food, good care, good everything. In fact, I never did mind the Army food. Some of the best food I ever had was in the Army. You couldn’t ask for any better care. They were just tremendous.”
They had a good leather-working shop, a shop for plastics (Plexiglas), and college books. “I took advantage of them. I thought I might go to college.”
He had studied the atom in high school physics, but “I was amazed by what I read about the atomic bomb.”
“On VJ day, we bussed into Zanesville for a big celebration.”
They sent him over to Walter Reed Hospital for a second opinion on his arm. Nothing more was done.
“I loved the Army food. Most guys didn’t, but I thought it was great. My expectations were lower than others. Prior to entering the service, a major concern of mine was food, clothing, and shelter. The Army gave me all of these.”
“If I hadn’t been wounded, I might have stayed in the Army. I liked the Army.”
“In the hospital, they told my mother that I’d never live to see 40. She never told me that, but my sisters did (Gretchen and Pauline). That’s why I got so concerned as I reached 40.” Dad also had two close friends and colleagues at Packard Electric pass away during their 40’s, Arnie Niemi and Reggie Mahefky.
“In fact at 40 I worried some, but felt OK, felt OK at 50, and at 60. Now I’m an old man!”
“One morning they said, ‘Private Hess, we’re going to send you home.’ Two days later I was off to Ft. Wayne. I was discharged right from the hospital. I left wishing I could have done more for my country, but this was not to be.”
“All-in-all, it was a good experience. I had no complaints. It molded me in a lot of ways. I think it molded me for the good. It taught me a lot of things about life I didn’t know. I think I had an angel on my shoulder quite a few times. To this day I believe in angels. I’m not overly religious, but I still believe in angels.”
Ft. Wayne, IN
“I took a bus back to Ft. Wayne. Ft. Wayne was my home town, but I really didn’t have a home to go to. I stayed with my mother in her small apartment for two days and then moved to the YMCA. I immediately enrolled in college at Indiana Institute of Technology. The decision was easy–the task difficult.”
“Now at 71 years of age I have a lot to be thankful for.”
Jim Savio, a Friend
“Jim was in 3rd Battalion Headquarters and was a friend of mine before I entered the service. He lived next door to me on St. Mary’s Street where I roomed and boarded from 1941 to 1943. [Dad was working his way through high school at the time.] He and his brother ‘Butch’ were from a very poor family. The war was bringing his family out of poverty. In those days a person could be nice, honest, and patriotic and still be poor. Jim was a credit to his country. He died in 1993.”
Decorations and Citations
- Purple Heart
- Bronze Star Medal (for meritorious achievement in ground operations against the enemy)
- American Campaign Medal
- World War II Victory Medal
- Asiatic Pacific Theater Campaign Medal with two Bronze Stars and one Arrowhead
- Philippine Liberation Ribbon
- Combat Infantry Badge
- Good Conduct Medal
- Presidential Unit Citation
- Philippine Presidential Unit Citation
In battles: Southern Philippines, New Guinea, and Dutch East Indies
Newspaper Clippings, Ft. Wayne News & Sentinel and/or Journal-Gazette
[Summer 1944, exact date unknown]
“PVT. RICHARD M. HESS, son of Mrs. Edna B. Hess, 1128 Barthold St., has arrived safely in New Guinea, according to word received by his mother. Hess is a demolition engineer with the paratroopers. He entered the service in June, 1943, after graduation from Central High School. A brother, PVT. EUGENE E. HESS, has been transferred from Sheppard Field, Tex., to Truox Field, Wis. He was at home recently on a three-day pass. He was employed by Delco Remy in Anderson after being graduated from Rose-Poly Technical College. He entered the Army April 12, 1944. Mrs. Hess third son, CPL. CORLISS B. HESS, is stationed at Camp Mackall, N. C., with the glider infantry. He was in Iceland for 20 months. Corporal Hess attended Central High School before entering the Army Oct. 18, 1940.”
[Summer 1945, exact date unknown]
“Wounded on Corregidor”
“Wounded Feb. 16 on Corregidor, Private Hess, 20, was returned to this country May 12, and is now in Birmingham General Hospital, Van Nuys, Calif. While jumping with the 503rd Infantry Paratroop Unit he received chest and left arm wounds. Just before he was to be released from the hospital on New Guinea, an appendectomy became necessary and he was held there.”
“Private Hess entered the service June 28, 1943, and received training at Camp Bowie, Tex. and Fort Benning, Ga., where he was awarded his paratroopers’ boots and wings on New Years, 1944. Overseas since April, 1944, he also participated in the Leyte campaign.”
“He is a graduate of Central High School, and was formerly employed by Martins Nursery here.
(c) Copyright 1996, All Rights Reserved, Richard M. Hess, Kenneth L. Hess