Monona County

John Franklin Graybill






John Franklin Graybill was born 2 May 1912, Onawa, Iowa. He grew up in Mapleton. His siblings were Mary Frances and Ralph. He married Muriel M. Daniels, 3 December 1932, in Mapleton. Their children are Ardena, Nancy, John and Jesse.

Enlisted 25 August 1942, Sioux City, but didn’t leave for the Navy induction center in Des Moines until 18 October. After he passed the physical, he rode the train with other inductees to Camp Bradford, Norfolk, Virginia. John was honorably discharged 10 November 1945, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Son, John, has put together a book of the letters his father wrote home. Here are some excerpts:
“Every sailor who has not crossed the Equator is known as a ‘polywog’, and after, is known as a ‘shellback’. When the Equator is crossed the shellbacks have an initiation for the polywogs. Dad wrote home about this. They filled a big tank on deck with seawater, and the polywogs had to walk the plank into the tank of water, and the shellbacks armed with paddles would whack them as they tried to crawl out, and when they did get out, they were now shellbacks.

“There were headhunters and cannibals on Espiritu. Dad said that one day, he and two guys from Ohio, walked a trail way up in to the jungle.

Whenever they would come to a village they would never see any natives, because they would hide in the jungle. They went into one village and were just looking around, when they heard a noise. They all hit the deck with their rifles ready. They found out it was just a pig.

“On the island of Banika, the docks were built in a lagoon. If you laid on the dock and looked into the water, you could see thousands of big gold fish swimming around. Dad said that he and many other men went swimming off the dock a lot.

“Some of the fellows working in the jungle caught a lizard, 37 1/2 inches long. He had a tongue like a snake that flicked in and out of his mouth and claws about an inch and one-half long. He had a long slim tail about as long as his body. There are very few snakes here. The largest one I have seen was only three feet long. We have lots of birds. Lots of parrots especially, they are very colorful but not as large as the ones we see in the States. There are some that are all white. I have seen an animal that looks something like a monkey, but isn’t. There are lots of things that none of us know the names of.

“There are dozens of toads hopping around here on the ground in the tent looking for flies or bugs. They also eat cigarette butts. If you throw a lighted one out, they will grab it up right away, they really do a dance when they get those in their belly. Some of them flip over backwards a few times, but most of them just jump around and gasp for breath.

“Dad said there was a guy in the 36th that looked very young. They found out that he was only fifteen years old, so since Dad was Battalion Police Officer, he was put in Dad’s custody until he could be sent back to the states. This boy sometimes called him ‘Dad’ or ‘Oldman’. Dad was 32 at this time.

Dad said he was a tough little kid. He would tag along with the Company Commander on days when Dad was working elsewhere. He would even drive the C.O.s jeep. One day, they were just sitting around talking and he said, ‘What did you do in real life, Dad?’ and dad said, ‘This is real life kid.’ Later this kid was sitting on a 55 gallon barrel talking and was shot and killed by a sniper. Of course, dad took this very hard.

“A medical summary of first tour of duty, 1 February 1943 to 10 June 1944 - fractured left wrist, cellulitis left thumb and forearm, malaria,
dysentry, fractured right wrist (deformity), burned right leg - 2nd degree, streptococcic tonsillitis, combat fatigue, and catarral fever - acute.
“When Dad got off the train in Sioux City, he walked over to the Piggly Wiggly store where he had worked and called home and told Mom he was home and was going to catch the streetcar home. He then had to walk about four blocks to our house. Ardena, Jesse, and I were in school so just Mom and Nancy were home. Mom saw him come around the corner and Nancy and her ran to meet him. Dad grabbed Mom and was hugging and kissing her, while Nancy was trying to push him away, saying, “get away from my Mom, get away from my Mom”. It took awhile to make Nancy understand this Sailor was her dad.

“Dad called and said he would be home from 22 September to 31 October, and he wanted, fresh milk and fresh tomatoes. So Aunt Mary Frances was afraid we would have an early frost, so she picked all her tomatoes that were about ripe and wrapped them in newspaper so Dad could have his fresh tomatoes. Mary Frances is Dad’s sister and Uncle Charles is Mom’s brother.

They live on a farm down by Hornick. While Dad was home we all took the train to Hornick for the weekend, and Charles took us home in his car, a 1935 Ford, I think. While we were there, Dad had all the milk and tomatoes he could eat, along with all the rest of the great food Mary Frances fixed. But before we went home, Charles said, “Well John you aren’t done yet”.

He took us out to his secret watermelon patch, not even Mary Frances knew about it. It was his surprise for everyone. We just stood out there in the field and ate watermelon until the juice ran down our chins and dripped off our elbows. We ate until we could eat no more. Dad must have though he was in heaven.

“Mom said that one night while Dad was home on leave, she woke up in the middle of the night and Dad was saying, “Help, Help me, get me out of here”. She said, “Where are you?” And the said, “I’m in a foxhole”. Then Mom shook him awake and asked him what was wrong. He said, “I was just dreaming”.

“I would like very much to have a watch. If you can buy one, a good one for not more than $75.00, get it, and I’ll send you the money the next pay day. Don’t buy any metal bands just a canvas or web band is best. Make a small down payment to get it. Get a waterproof case if you can.

“Another thing I want is a package of Polident. Please send them Air Mail and don’t let anyone tell you that they can’t be sent that way because they can.

“The watch runs good and I have had an offer of $150.00 for it so I might sell it. Mom’s note: Mom bought a watch at Zales Jewely store downtown. It was a Bulova with a luminous dial, and a metal expansion wrist band. She had his name and service number engraved on the back. It cost $142.00.
“28 May 1945: At 0530 a Jap suicide plane dived into the starboard side of the S.S. Livermore wrecking the deckhouse and the rigging at number 3 and 4 hatches. Eleven members of the crew and armed guard were killed, and several wounded. The stevefore crew of the 36th was unhurt with the exception of Lt. Fitch and two men. Dad said they saw the kamikaze coming at them and they were all diving for cover and he broke his arm as a result of this action. He said they just set his arm, and he worked in the Hqs tent at night for awhile. 0530 to 1030, five Japanese planes were shot down and three American ships were damaged in Nahagusuku Bay. Over 100 Jap planes were shot down over Okinawa this day. Dad said that when the Kamikazes were coming in, you didn’t dare be on the beach because if a Jap plane came between the ship and the island the gunners on the ships would not stop firing. If you were on the beach, you could get shot.

“15 August 1945, When the Japanese surrendered, there was a big celebration on Okinawa. Every ship at sea, every shore battery and every A.A. gun on Okinawa fired tracers into the night sky. Two of Dad’s friends were killed by friendly fire that night and Dad spent the night in a foxhole.
“Mom on Dad’s coming home after his discharge: John came home to stay on Sunday, 11 November 1945. It was a good but rainy cold day. Paul, Lil and Lois were there. Lil played football in the misty cold with the kids. She kicked the ball and chipped John’s front tooth so that ended the game. After she cooked a roast pork supper and dishes were done, we settled down for the evening all wondering how many days until John would be home. We knew he was in Minnesota just waiting. John D was in the bathtub when we heard this banging on the front door. I went to see who or
what it was, there was John...such hugging, kissing, and screaming. Then John saw Paul and rushed over to shake his hand and gave him a hug then backed away saying, “You ----- civilian.” In all the excitement we forgot John D was in the tub when he came out wrapped in a towel. This was the happiest day of our life to have John and Paul both home safe and we could be together knowing they didn’t have to leave again to fight in that terrible war.”

John’s family is very fortunate to have a full collection of letters written while in the service. They are full of details and tidbits that really told the everyday life, the ups and downs, the continuing hopes for going home. He didn’t describe battles. The films do that. His drawings were a wonderful addition. We have included one of them.

John passed away 20 December 1989, in Sioux City, and is buried in Memorial Park Cemetery.

Submitted by his son, John D. Graybill.