The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Larry Nelson
For The Sun-Telegraph 

Veteran's History Project: Kenneth W. Mueller

 

Kenneth W. Mueller

Staff Sergeant

U. S. Army

World War II

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is one of many American Veteran accounts published in The Sidney Sun-Telegraph. The writer, who is from Sidney, is conducting the interviews as part of the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project.

Kenneth Mueller (Ken) has been a part of this community for nearly all his 92 years! He was born and raised on a farm north of Potter. He graduated high school. Right out of high school, he used the farm deferment to help his parents on their farm. The deferment was offered a second time, but he felt he was needed more in the fight.

After the wheat harvest was in he received notice to report to the military processing station in Denver. Since his swimming skills weren't that good, he felt the Army would be his best bet. He passed the physical exam with flying colors and other tests as well. Next was the issue of clothing and equipment plus a fine haircut, he was told to be ready for the train ride to Fort Riley, Kan.

He was assigned to be trained in the Cavalry (Troop I, 2nd Regiment Cavalry Replacements, Fort Riley, Kan.). He trained there for seventeen weeks. The courses of instruction included survival in combat, rifle and pistol marksmanship, the machine gun, grenade throwing, physical fitness, Army customs and courtesies, map reading, etc. The final two weeks of the training was in the field, on bivouac. There the young recruits applied what they were taught earlier.

At night, as they slept in 10-man squad tents, one of Ken's peers was a large man. He was issued a goose-down sleeping bag that was too small for him. When the man got to sleep, his legs cramped up. He kicked his feet out to minimize the cramps but broke the sleeping bag. Feathers flew everywhere. To be sure, the next day he was issued another sleeping bag...same result.

(Ken's parents had two sons, but sure wished they had a daughter to raise as well. They heard of an orphanage in Fremont that might have older girls...so they went there and brought home a very nice teen-aged girl. They welcomed her into their family.)

Ken graduated basic combat training. Since it was a 17-week program, he was already trained as an infantryman and as a member of a tank crew. The Army policy was to give the new soldiers a week at home before shipping out. Ken didn't say anything to his family about his returning home. He made the trip by train and some hitchhiking and had a great visit with all, including the young lady in the home. The two were married on the fifth day of the visit. The following Sunday, he returned to Fort Riley to await further orders. Unfortunately, the new bride had to remain behind.

The soldiers were sent by train to San Francisco, Calif. They boarded a Merchant Marine vessel. All the available U.S. Navy inventory was being used in the Atlantic and in the Pacific, doing their parts in the wars. The ship was full of men. Many were not good at being on a ship. The mess was staggering!

About the only cleansing action on the ship was in the latrines. The engineering was such that waste was swooshed away quickly by sea water. The big ships were concerned with possible u-boat attacks. The only way they could avoid contact was to head north the swing around to the south and to Guam.

Once they unloaded, the men got a chance to observe flight operations, especially the planes returning from bombing runs. Many were shot up, or had damage to the wings and/or landing gear. One completed a belly landing. The sparks that flew were usually the forerunner to an explosion. The one they watched did not blow up, luckily. Ken did mention that some of the flights coming in from the U.S. carried some contraband including adult beverages. The sellers made out well on their profit margin.

Ken was assigned to a subordinate unit of the 1st Cavalry. One of the first actions was to go onto the island of Okinawa. The Japanese forces were dug in very well. The Marines were to approach from the north of the island while the Army and Navy took the southern entrance. The fighting was heavy with infantry and armor. The Navy did its part with shelling from their heavy guns.

The battle was conducted by moving from ridge to ridge. The 30 caliber water-cooled machine guns were effective. Ken was on one of these crews. The casualties were high in this action mainly because the enemy was so well protected by its concrete fighting positions. One approach the U.S. soldiers used was to get aligned with the entrance to a bunker then launch into it with a flame thrower. Many enemy soldiers died from this offense. Ken said that there were reconnaissance photos taken of the area and their leaders briefed the men about what was coming next. It was a great tool, but there was injury and/or death just ahead.

The fighting was not easy and was further complicated by what must have been a typhoon. Heavy rain for days and men shooting at each other. The infantrymen were in foxholes. As the rain kept up, they had to use their steel pot helmets to bail out the rainwater. One of the men fighting alongside Ken was struck on the side of his helmet. The round took a hard turn and went around the man's forehead. He survived. It would be hoped that the man stayed lucky!

During one of the night time fight, flares were used to illuminate the battlefield. One was launched near Ken. The flare going off must have scared a large rat because it jumped into his foxhole! When it was raining that hard, the gunfire stopped on both sides. There was limited vision, low ammo supplies, and it was hard going.

Ken and the rest of the soldiers ate "c" rations. The canned meals in a box that one would open with a "P-38" can opener. The men found some white sweet potatoes they dug out of the ground. Eating it was different, to say the least.

As the battle moved ahead, the U.S. soldiers took many captives – fighters and civilians as well. They were rounded up and picked up by U.S. truck convoys which were driven by black men. As the U.S. forces won the fight, Ken and his buddies were loaded up on a U.S. Navy ship and taken to Sabu – the Philippines. The fighting went on there as well. When the men were able to get sleep, they headed to their squad tents for rest. One of the soldiers lay on his cot and knew something was not right. The guys found a 15-foot boa constrictor under the cot. The tent emptied out until the snake was taken care of.

At Sabu, Ken walked past a mess tent and noticed there was a "help-wanted" sign at the door. He checked on the sign and was hired immediately. He got it all worked out with the administration people and used his skills there.

As he was assigned to the 77th Infantry Division, information came to them to be ready to ship out to Japan. They sailed from the Philippines to the northwest side of Japan to the port of Sapporo. Right away the troops were assigned to barracks. Here they found out about cold and heavy snow.

Ken was reassigned to the 188th Parachute Infantry. While at Sapporo, airborne training was conducted. The training was difficult and full of macho guys. Ken went with seven other men to go through the training. He was the only one to complete the training. And as luck would have it, Ken returned to the mess section and was promoted to staff sergeant! That's a fairly big deal in Army parlance.

While on the Island of Japan, his unit was afforded the opportunity to witness the horrific destruction at Hiroshima. He said it was utterly ruined. The guys talked about it for some time.

In that the armistice as signed, men were re-deployed to the "states." The first to leave had the most points to leave early. Points were earned by date of entry into service, number of days deployed, marital status, children status, etc. Ken waited for a while. He assisted with re-partition of captured soldiers.

Finally, the day came to head back home. Enroute, the ship stopped at Hawaii where he got to see Bob Hope on the USO tour. And it was soon time to sail for California. Ken had notified his family that he was coming home. His wife borrowed his father's car. He was on land, at the depot looking out a window when he recognized the car and that it was going the wrong way on a one-way street! EEKS! It still worked out OK!

Ken received some back pay and was released. The newlyweds toured for a time. He had earned the Asiatic Pacific Medal with Battle Star, the Good Conduct Medal, the Philippine Liberation Medal, the Army of Occupation Medal, the Victory Medal, Airborn Jump Wings and the Combat Infantry Badge.

Good job Staff Sergeant Mueller! Thank you for your selfless service!

 

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