"In Memoriam"Name: Lige E. Balceszak
Place of Birth: San Antonio,TX
Home State History: Texas is one of the West South Central states of the United States. For more than 100 years,Texas was part of the Spanish Empire in America. When Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, Texas was for a while joined to Mexico. Texas was an independent Republic until it joined the Union on December 29, 1845, as the 28th state. Its single-star flag dates from its independent period and has given Texas the nickname the Lone Star State.
Place of Recruitment: New Braunfels, TX
Branch of Service: U.S. Air Force
Military Occupation: Weather Service From June 1946 To August 1949
Service History, Stateside or Abroad: Military history was uneventful as the country was between wars. After my military service went to college and was in the ROTC. The only action I witnessed was as a thirteen old at Wheeler Fried, Hawaii. I believe the first bomb of WW2 woke me up and I saw the second Japanese bomb as it fell on a hanger. If interested what happened at Wheeler Field that eventful morning, see below.
Commendations & Honors: The WWII Victory Metal as I was in the service when WW2 was declared over.
Present Location: Carrollton, TX
ACCOUNT OF A 13-YEAR OLD LIVING IN OAHU, TERRITORY OF HAWAII IN DECEMBER
LIFE AT SCHOLFIELD BARRACKS, OAHU, TERRITORY OF HAWAII, PRIOR TO THE 12/7/41 ATTACK
This segment of my life is at Scholfield Barracks where my father was First Sergeant of the Military Police. May age in December 1941 was thirteen and my sister Joan Isabel was nine. We lived in a frame house on a slight rise that overlooked Wheeler Field. At this time we had lived on the island about a year and a half. In the front of the house was a road with a low stone wall on the other side, this wall was also the border with Wheeler field which was the air division of the army. The elevation of the road was about rooftop high to the quarters below that were for the military personnel of Wheeler Air Force Base. This vantage pint gave us an unobstructed view of the first three hangers and the barracks at Wheeler. Our quarters were comfortable, but small. We lived in a two-bedroom frame house, which had a screened in front sleeping porch where I slept. Bordering one side of the house were large hibiscus bushes that bloomed all year round. In the back yard was an avocado tree whose fruit was larger than small grapefruit. I would climb the tree and pick some of the avocados and sell them in the town of Wahiawa for ten cents a pound.
Life on a military installation in prewar 1941 was really unique; it was a life with its own set of rules. One was the segregation by rank, which also applied to children even when not accompanied by their parents. The Post Theater had a free show every Saturday morning for the children of the post, which showed all the cartoons that were scheduled to be shown during the week. The upper section of the theater was for officers and their dependents and the low section was for non-commissioned officers and their dependents. Every once in awhile I would sit in the upper section and was usually challenged by an “officer’s brat” (military slang). I would tell him that my father was a Major so and so and normally this would work. The officer’s brats had the use of the only playground on the post, which was located near the main gate. This facility had a life-size replica of an early sailing boat, which I really wanted to get on and explore. But alas, military personnel guarded it to prevent the likes of me from entering it. I never brought this to the attention of my father, as I knew it would hurt him. Other activities were not so regulated, such as horseback riding lessons on polo ponies. Polo was one of the sports of the officers. The post was known for its sporting activities for the enlisted men. Baseball, football and Olympic boxing were the main contenders. One of the men in my father’s company was an excellent pitcher and had refused the rank of sergeant in order to continue playing baseball. At that time, sergeants were not allowed to engage in sports.
The Post Library was a hangout of mine as it had a special room for children, which was bordered by screened windows on three sides; its attraction was that it carried all of the current comic books. This was nice, but I also enjoyed the adult area where I looked at the “National Geographic” and “Life” magazines. My grade school was located outside the post but only a block from Carter Gate, which was close to where we lived. This was also the school for students from the town of Wahiawa. The name of the school was Leilehua. At this school the children from the post were in the minority and where know as “Howies”. To ourselves we referred to them as “Gooks”. Terminology we do not use today, but that is how it was.
The Boy Scouts were fun and I got to see a lot of the island by going on their outings. The Scout Master and the other adults in charge were drill sergeants and of course we had inspections and drilling at every meeting plus other organized activity such as the standard Boy Scout First Aid training. When I was twelve, I had a paper route in the Officer’s Residence and delivered about 100 papers every evening after school and I receive about one cent for each paper delivered. This one-dollar per day was a tidy sum considering an army private at the time only relieved twenty-one dollars per month.
I do not remember ever being either hot or cold at Scholfeild. The elevation at the Post was well over eight hundred feet. It was a place where you could start a garden at any time of the year. We did not have to mow the yard as military personnel doing prison time in the stockade were released to perform this task.
TWO WEEKS PRIOR TO THE ATTACK
One evening my father told us that the island was on an alert for possible Japanese attack. This was about two weeks prior to the actual attack. We all took this news very calmly, as we were accustomed to comments of a military nature by listening to my fathers’ World War One stories. At that time, people did not have TV and only listened to selected programs on the radio. Story telling was an art, which my father excelled in whether it was stories of his childhood on a farm in Michigan or events when he was with the Second Division in war torn France during WW1. May father was of the school that there would be an air attack, and if it did occur we were to go to the field behind our house and get in one of the foundation ditches that were being dug for some new buildings. Across this small field, the Third Engineers has a baseball diamond complete with cement dugouts for the teams. If possible we were to relocate to these dugouts.
A few days after our family meeting, I noticed that a machine gun nest emplacement been dug and sandbagged on the other side and across the street from the house next to us. This gun emplacement, like our house, had a clear view of one end of Wheeler Field. Behind the emplacement, they had recently constructed one of the new temporary Chapels/Churches and I believe construction was till in progress inside the building. Soldiers would man this 30-caliber machine gun nest from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. On the post, a blank round would be fired from a cannon at 5 p.m. signaling the end of the workday and the base flag would be lowered. At this time the machine gun and the ammunition would be stored in one of the rooms in the building and locked up. The gun was not manned during the weekends. It seems the alert was only on during normal duty hours.
In late November a number of children of Japanese descent had dropped out of school as their parents were moving back to Japan. My school teacher commented that she could not see why a family would want to move back to over-populated Japan. We would soon realize the significance of this.
THE SATURDAY EVENING DELIVERY
Saturday evening December 6, 1941, the family was gathered on the front steps of our quarters. My father was home that evening and we were enjoying the outdoors and the view of Wheeler Field. Quite frequently, he would be out on night patrol checking the civilian beer halls that bordered the post. I was given permission by my parents to run down to the Wheeler Field Non-commissioned Officers Club and buy tow twelve ounce bottles of RC cola. The club was only about a hundred yards away and I made the trip real fast. The four of us split the colas and were drinking them when a three wheel delivery type motorcycle drove up and a Japanese national went to the rear of the cycle and took out a large box and carried it to the house. I remember him saying, “O-so Sergeant-Christmas is early this year”. The delivery person was from one of the beer halls that bordered the northern edge of the post that my father has an influence over. My father thanked him and brought the box to the front bedroom and he took out and placed the contents on his bed. He was pleasantly surprised to see that he had been given about teen bottles of assorted liquors. We wondered why the delivery was o early in the month. Later we found out that other deliveries had been made to key officers that night, but not to any other enlisted man.
THE FIRST ATTACK
It was getting close to 8 a.m. and I was lounging on the front sleeping porch and over heard my mother say to my father that she did not hear the dawn patrol take off. Normally the P-40’s took off at 5 a.m. for their early air patrol. Then it happened; we heard and explosion from the direction of the post garbage dump, which was located about 300 yards from the Hanger Number One and in line with Wheeler Field. The only thing between the dump and the airfield was a deep gully, and at the end of the runway with a view of entrances to the hangers was a Post Exchange bean sprout building. This was a small building about ten by twenty feet with additional racks in the rear. Civilian employees, I believe of Japanese descent, ran this facility.
All the family was on the porch, fast, looking towards the field. My father said, “Don’t worry, it is probably a Navy mock attack and they are setting off explosive charges at the dump.” But that was not the case. The lead attacking plane had dropped one of its bombs too soon. Then we saw the low flying aircraft and one of the planes released a bomb. The bomb arched down right on Hanger no. One. The explosion caused a huge orange doughnut shaped ball of fire to come up and out of the roof of the hanger. I believed this hanger had all the chemicals and solvents for the old style aircraft. From what I remember, Hanger No. Two was not bombed. My father said,” This is a Japanese raid. Get to the construction ditches”.
Hanger No. Three was hit and hit bad; the explosions from the ammunition going off lasted quite a while. This hanger contained all the 50 caliber ammunition and the machine guns that had been taken off the P-40’s in preparation for the Monday morning inspection. The attacking aircraft kept their low altitude like they were coming in for a landing. There were no high flying aircraft or dive bombing during the panorama of carnage. They knew exactly what to bomb. My father made sure we were in the ditch and he took off in a run towards the quadrangle that housed his Military Police Company. The bombing stack lasted a while longer and then the Japanese planes made a pattern almost directly overhead. We could actually see the pilots. Then they left towards Pearl Harbor only eight miles a way and soon we heard explosions from that direction.
LULL BETWEEN ATTACKS
Assuming the attack was over for the present, the three of us went back to the house and filled the bathtub with water and also all the jugs and anything that looked like it would hold water. During this lull, an older Boy Scout came by and said we should go down to the Field and see if we could help. My mother was against me going, but I told her I had to go so I ran into our house and put on my Boy Scout shirt and yellow neckerchief. The First Class Scout and myself, a Tenderfoot, took off down the long slope towards the airfield.
On the way down and near the field, a bomb had exploded in the yard of somebody’s quarters. The crater was almost as large as a small room – probably another miss that was intended for the large barracks. This was in line with our house, the barracks a Wheeler Field and perpendicular to the airstrip. Other bombs hit the barracks and one bomb hit the mess hall during breakfast. The Japanese planes had come in line with the runway and hangers, then made a left turn over the southern end of Wheeler Field to bomb and strafe. This pattern put them in line with Pearl Harbor, which they continued on to. Walking on past this house and seeing all the confusion, the next sight that caught my eye was the new one story wooden Post Exchange that had recently been constructed. One corner has a small fire going and nobody was attempting to put it out About 25 yards away, I could see the wounded that had been brought out of the barracks and laid across the sidewalk. I reflected on my father’s WW1 Stories about the acres of wounded after an attack.
The older scout and myself approached the Medical Officer who appeared to be in charge and we asked if we could help. So far I had just been a spectator, but the thought of actually helping a bloody torn up persona gave me a moment of fright. What could I do? First Aid training in the Boy Scouts and actually doing something for a seriously wounded person is something worlds apart. The Medical Officer thanked us for offering, but said they did not need our help. I was relieved, but not proud of myself for being relieved. The scream of the siren from the next ambulance cut our talk with the doctor short. We continued our walk and I noticed that the small fire in the Post Exchange had now consumed over half the building. A soldier shouted “They’re coming back!” and I looked in the direction he was pointing, which was across the runway and towards Pearl Harbor. I could see the approaching planes.
This was enough to get me excited and I start running home. Before I reached my house, the Japanese planes were overhead and firing at the barracks I had a minute ago left. When I reached our house, my mother was out front looking for me. I could tell she was angry but relieved to see me. She wanted to know where I had been and why I left. My poor mother had only been out of the hospital a few weeks and was still recovering from a hernia operation. I did not answer, as we were running towards our improvised slit trenches. The attacking planes were again flying low. We noticed that the “eight to five” machine gun nest near our house was not set up. In fact, during the whole attack in the area I only heard one machine firing and that was for only a short time.
This time there was no bombing, just strafing go Wheeler. One of the attacking patterns took the planes directly over head of use, and a few of the fired cartridges and metal clips, which I still have, from the planes’ machine guns fell about us. It appeared they were strafing the barracks and area I had just left and targets of opportunity. Shortly after the Japanese planes left, an American B-17 four engine bomber came in low over the field. The pilot banked the plane in order to get a better view of the damage. That was the last I saw of him. I believe he flew to a neighboring island. I thought to myself that those guys flew all night from the mainland to be greeted by this. It really saddened me.
The Japanese, to my knowledge, did not attack any of the military installations at Schofield Barracks and from what I heard later, many of the people in the northern part of the post did not know that an attack was occurring.
Later that morning, my father returned from his company and escorted us to the nearby Third Engineers baseball diamond and told us to get into eh players dugout. At this time we heard a shell whistle over head and explode in a large parade ground in front of the General’s quarters. My father said, “Oh God, the Japanese fleet has moved in and they are starting to shell us.” Later we found out it was an unexploded anti-aircraft shell, possibly from Pear Harbor. Mid afternoon we left the baseball diamond and returned home.
That evening we stayed indoors and occasionally we could hear the sound of rifle fire from some trigger happy guard. Later that night we were told that the dependents were to be evacuated to Honolulu because the post was considered a military target. I believe we were allowed one small suitcase each. A civilian field worker’s truck came by for us. I had four long lengthwise wooden benches and an overhead framework that was covered with canvas. My seat was up front near where the canvas came together and I was able to see out somewhat. On the road to Honolulu, we skirted Pear Harbor and I could see a ship burning, which I believe was the Arizona. In addition, the sky would be lit up with occasional anti-aircraft shells exploding plus the orange arches of tracers being fired. I believe they were firing at our own planes coming in from the States.
That evening fro the best part of a week we stayed in a school in Honolulu and then we were allowed to return to our quarters at Schofield Barracks. A month or so after the attack, a Nation Guard outfit from the States arrive. They had the new style helmets and the new vehicle” Jeep.” It seemed the National Guard got the latest in equipment first, so said my father. I continued to deliver the Honolulu Star Bulletin to the Officer Quarters, but slowly my route was cut to nothing, as the officer’s dependent were the first to be evacuated back to the States. Our turn came on Easter Sunday when we left on the English liner Aquitania, which had been launched right after the Titanic sank. The Aquitania was 5000 tons heavier and a few knots faster. Being a fast ship we crossed the Pacific in a zigzag pattern without an escort seven days and landed at Long Beach, CA. My father stayed at Schofield Barracks and later was commissioned an Officer. He later made the D-Day landing and I am happy to say he survived the war.