No Leg to Stand On: Another Untold War Story

Posted on 03 September 2009


GI's Wearing Long Johns

Christmas 1945 dawned sweeter than Christmases past; World War II was finally behind us.  Soldiers like me who had seen active duty were immensely grateful to have survived the conflict.  While many of my fellows had returned home to gild their trees with sparkling baubles and sing carols with their loved ones, I was facing Christmas abroad, about to live through more heretofore untold stories of the war.

 

As part of the forces assigned to occupy Japan following that nation’s surrender, my company moved into an old Japanese Naval barracks outside of the city of Matsuyama.  Assigned to guard duty on December 7, 1945, I elected to take the last watch.   Rumors flew, alleging that we were going to have trouble with the Japanese army veterans returning from China.   At 4:00 AM, I was awakened by another Army man, Jack Severson, to stand guard duty.  Jack advised me that because of the perceived threat, he had pulled double duty and would stand with me.

 

En route to our post, I noticed a flurry of activity inside the supply room.  Jack explained that our fellows were cleaning weapons as a precautionary measure. Vigilantly, we patrolled the perimeter of our compound without incident.  Then, just as dawn broke, a shot rang out in the area occupied by the 3rd Engineers.   Cutting my eyes to Jack, I announced, “This is it” as we both tensed for the onslaught.  We waited and waited, but nothing happened.  Not a single shot ensued. 

 

A few weeks later, a member of our company requested a pair of long johns to keep him warm against the cold Japanese winter.  When he unfolded the long johns, he found that one of the legs had been “amputated.”   The men in our company drew odds as to what had happened to that missing leg.  Most of us had assumed that in the mad dash to find rags with which to clean the weapons, our friends had sacrificed a pair of long johns.  But we never did unearth the real truth behind this strange casualty of war.

 

Christmas and New Years Day came and went, and early in 1946, the 24th Division was ordered to the main island of Honshu to replace His Majesty’s Cameron Highlanders at Okayama.  Our stay at Okayama was quiet and uneventful, except for the day the Officer’s Quarters, which was adjacent to our mess hall, caught fire.  What had begun as a wisp of smoke ended up a blazing inferno that destroyed the two-story building and sent the officers and their personal Japanese maids fleeing.   Fearing the loss of their prized possessions, the officers then ordered some of the enlisted men to return to the inferno to save their prize possessions, which once rescued, were kept under guard, away from marauding GI’s.

 

As the blaze raged on, our water truck, which was parked near the fire, began to smolder. Suddenly someone yelled, “Look out, the truck is going to blow!”  Without a moment’s hesitation, Private Paul Bartels dashed out, leaped into the cab of the scorching truck, and drove the vehicle out of harm’s way.  For this act of heroism, he received nothing but the praise of his fellow soldiers. 





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One Response to “No Leg to Stand On: Another Untold War Story”

  1. Sharon says:

    My father is Paul Bartels, the one that drove the truck away from the fire. We never knew this story until Mr Petruzzelli Sr. told my mother. We are greatful to him for sharing these memories with us. You see, my father is now in the advanced stages of alzheimers, and does not remember much anymore. Thank You, Sharon


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