Woodbury County

Walter John "Bud" Haafke






Walter John ‘Bud’ Haafke was born 27 July 1919, Rapid City, South Dakota, to William F and Anna C. Haafke.

The family moved to Bronson in about 1927. My siblings are Bill, Anita, Lauren (my twin who died). I graduated from Bronson in 1937, where I played sports and went to church. I served in WWII from 1942 – 1945, and was in the C.B.I. Theater - China, Burma, India.

I was going to enlist but my draft number came up, so I waited to be called. I was living at home with my mother and older brother, Bill, on a 160 acre farm, two miles NW of Bronson (Legal 19-48-46). I wanted to go, I believed it was the right thing to do, also, I realized my older brother was ‘using me’. I was drafted 6 March 1942. When you were drafted you went to the service they chose for you. If you volunteered, you could pick a service. I was scheduled to board a bus in Sioux City in May of 1942. My girlfriend, MaryAnn Oertel, and my mother were with me. It was not easy leaving MaryAnn and my mom, but it was what I had to do. Two of the passengers I knew – Tom and Frank Grigg of Lawton.

We went to Omaha for a physical – I noticed writing in red ink on my paper and asked if I wasn’t going to go on. They found that I had a heart murmur, but they said, “yes” we’ll put you in as non-combatant. They gave us Khaki clothes and sent our civilian clothes home.

On to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, at Fort Leavenworth, we were to learn General Orders – reveille, exercise, see movies of health, march, do KP, make beds, clean barracks, go to rifle range, guard duty, etc. I didn’t have to do much of that stuff because of being non-combatant.

I was lucky, I learned Radio from correspondence school, Chicago- DeForest. When radio personnel filled, then it was book and baker needs.

Then by train to Scott Field in St. Louis, Missouri, a big airport and tech schools, lots of barracks. Everything at the PX was cheap, so I started to smoke cigarettes. While I was at Scott Field, my brother, Bill, needed farm help so I got a Red Cross leave for a week. Corn picking time but I helped shingle a cattle shed. Scott Field was a gated airport and a variety of schools such as pilot, bombardier, navigator, mechanic, code, weather and others. I was put in “C W” at code school. In the morning we went out to take stationary exercise, then mess (eat), then school. On weekends, we’d go into St. Louis. Met Art Hensler of New Jersey. We became good friends, went to Forest Park to stage plays. Went to USO (United Service Organization), where local people brought in food, friendship and their daughters for GI’s to dance with. “GI” means government issue, that ‘s what we were. When big movie stars came to perform the sergeant would march us to the show in platoons (outside shows). I didn’t get up enough speed for code so they sent me to Colorado Springs, Peterson Field.

When first there, I was put in a Photo Reconnaissance group, and found myself in KP. The M/Sgt. of the Control Tower found me and said we don’t do KP. I was to learn Control Tower, I liked that but it became quite stressful when you’d see new P51 and P38 pilots miscue and crash. They would fly to Kingman-Albuquerque, etc. Became friends with a fellow from International Falls, Minnesota. We had fun learning how to open lobsters with tools at the Broadmoor.

From Colorado Springs, I got a pass and went to see my mom at Long Beach – much to MaryAnn’s chagrin. This was in January and just before we got to Needles, CA, the train became snow bound, it was a cold California visit.

Then I was on to Sacramento, California. I was a Corporal. I remember having trout on the train. Don’t recall much of anything there.

Then on to Riverside, CA, Embarkment Center, not far from Long Beach, where my mom and sister, Anita, were in an apartment in Huntington Park. MaryAnn was in Los Angeles and I called her home, her stepmother said she was at her dad’s drugstore, I needed to talk to her there. She said her Uncle Hoot Gibson was to be in a Sacramento Rodeo, maybe we could meet but it didn’t work out.

On 27 July 1943, my birthday, we packed our belongings in a barracks bag, got on a truck and headed for the dock at Long Beach. The ship was the Hermitage, a former German 1st Class. In the center was a former ballroom, a staircase down each side, paintings on the walls and ceiling. All this was covered with bunks because the Hermitage is now a troop carrier. I was lucky my bunk was on the promenade deck. Guess worst part was seawater showers. Crossing the equator, the sailors initiated us in to King Solomon. Lots of cards played with little money. I didn’t play. Cameras were not allowed so I used to draw ports of call from the railing. We got off at Wellington and up a hill we met a milkman, we surrounded him and bought all he had. It was real good. In August, around the south island of New Zealand, Canvases were lowered on deck and we used an overcoat and blankets for sleeping. On to Melbourne, Australia, the seaman put out a net so we could go swimming. The net kept the sharks out. Back on board, to Perth or Freemantel, don’t know which (maybe both) now we get into a convoy of ships and ziz zag. I heard tell of a guy that jumped overboard. We docked at Bombay; before being released, we were advised of what to do and not to do. Three others and me headed into the city, a young girl approached and asked bakhshish (indicating hunger). She had a tiny baby, too. The older guy of our bunch (he shouldn’t have done it, but he did) gave her an ana (1/2 cent American) she handed him the baby and ran. We had to chase her to give the baby back. We were told, “Don’t kill flies, don’t do this or that yet edible cattle roamed the streets – while dead and dying humans laid in the streets”.

We went into some hotels, that’s where the Brahmans (high class) were. The trek from Long Beach to Bombay took 52 days, and we finally left the Hermitage. Now we got onto a British ship (can’t name it), port of call Karachi. Dysentery was the word, everyone got it and some died. I had it for two days. Loaded onto a narrow gage train and headed for the NE Province of Assam. The cars had benches on each side. I took my tent ---- and made a sling (hammock) in the corner of the roof, also when we stopped, I took my cup and got hot engine water and put in instant coffee to drink. We stayed quite a while in Benares where there was the Ganges River, also burning gats, while we were there, they had a harvest festival for the Goddess Durga (many arms). A friend and I went to a tent meeting (men and women were separate). On of the fellows who was able in English, said we could get on stage and have a better look at the goddess. An old man by the stage tapped our feet to take our shoes off, so we did, while on stage, the ants bit our feet so we departed. At the end of the harvest festival they paraded the Goddess Durga and took her onto a boat at night. With candles aglow and proper respect Durga was dumped in the river. At the Ganges and Brahmaputra River, the train was loaded onto a ferry, taken to the other side, reassembled and headed east. The Ganges, a holy river, had many dead that we could see floating (to Heaven?). Some said, ‘take some Ganges water with you and it can be like magic’ so, I got a bottle and took some. Burning gats were busy all the time (this because of all the dead and dying who laid in the streets. Across the plains area you could see monkeys and plowing like was done in Biblical times, oxen and crutch. We arrived in a town, Americans called Chow Bay. The Brahmaputra River comes out of the Himalayas in that area and there are several villages in the valley.

From Chow Bay, we were flown by e47 to Putao or Fort Hertz, Burma. Lt. McMahan and ten of us set up bashas, mess place, signal basha, two gas engines with electric generators, and foxholes. Burmese men brought long lengths of bamboo, which we then split them and wove mats for floors and walls, they left openings for window glass and doors. The roofing was thatched grass, the basha was constructed two feet above ground. The entire inside was lined with burlap and over our bunks we put up our mosquito nets. Lt. McMahan had one basha, the two others had four men each. Don Lander and I and two others were in our basha. The British had control of India and Burma, that’s why Putao was called Fort Hertz. Where we set up was a building, painted red, made of dimension lumber. I’m guessing 30 x 15 with a porch, a railing and steps. One room had transmitters and receivers and Harry Lomola of Grand Coullee, Washington slept there. A Master Sgt. used the other room but he didn’t stay long. The area was like a mountain plateau, jungle like, with a clearing for a small landing strip. A short distance north and down in a valley was a village. I’ll never know why – being trained for Control Tower, I was sent to this place – my job was alternating the running of the two gas engines (six cylinder) with generators running. Sometimes I did a late shift but didn’t like it.

In the basha, that was the mess hall, Burmese men built a stove for cooking out of mud, I suppose they flew in a grate for it. Now, after a few months, an elephant (maybe wild) trumpeted and ran in the mess hall, broke the door, knocked cans off the shelves, did a bushel of B M on the floor and ran out. I’ll never forget it!

In our area we found a stash of vehicles used by the British. There was a motorcycle that I made run, then it took quite a while, but I made a jeep usable. Had a lot of fun with the motorcycle. Lt. McMahan took it with him to India and they confiscated it. One evening Lt. McMahan came to our basha and asked me if I’d like to join him to make bacon and eggs in his basha. We made a fire on a pan and had a good meal. Most of the guys liked to play poker in the wooden building, and they were doing that on this evening. I went back to my basha and went to sleep. After a while, Don came in and said the basha was on fire. With shorts and boots on we ran out, but I asked Don to help me get my foot locker out, so he did and because he helped me, he didn’t get any of this stuff out, and I hear that blame to this day. We thought of getting to the foxholes, but one guy had a flashlight and we could see green vipers. So when the ammunition in the bashas got hot and shells started flying, it paid to be skinny and so I hid behind a tree. We went back to India for different (used) clothes. At some point, at Fort Hertz, I developed a fever so I was flown to India and into a clinic – the diagnosis was that I had dengue fever caused by a fly bite. I didn’t have much pain but I couldn’t move a finger.

For entertainment I enjoyed riding the motorcycle and taking Jeep trips to nearby villages. One trip there was a gully and planks to cross, the jeep skipped off the planks but locals helped me get on across. Burmese houses were built four or five feet above ground. Woven bamboo – thatched roof like our bashas. In the center of the room would be a metal fire pan and a rack built above to smoke and dry fish. The fish were good. Going up a hill road one time, it was ‘paved’ with bamboo, mighty tough even for a jeep. Sometimes ‘hump’ pilots would come to our landing strip with two seat open cockpit planes and give us acrobatic and hedge hop up the rivers for fun. I was near the runway once and saw a tiger on the other side. Never did carry a gun, wasn’t issued one.

I was up for R &R (rest and relaxation), so I asked if Don could go too. The answer was “no”. A search and rescue fellow was going to Tibet to look for a downed B29, so I asked if I could go with him, again no – go or stay.

I went to India, got on a train to a town near the Bay of Bengal. Several of us got on a lorry (truck) driven by an Indian. I got in front. Up the mountain, we went to a gate, and waited for downhill traffic, then up to the next gate, wait, then up to the top. Looking over the edge of the mountain road seemed like a two mile drop. The area on top was like a plateau. A British officer told me of a family he knew there and to go visit. So I did, we had a good meal and visit. There was horse racing, but I didn’t bet because I was told that if the jockey that was to win wasn’t in the lead, the jockeys ahead would ‘fall’ off their horses, so number one could win. We had to see health movies and such but I don’t recall much of the week to ten day stay, other than that it rained every morning.

Then back to Ft. Hertz, where I found only Don Lander and another guy. After a short time I was sent back to India to be in an air to ground unit made up of ten guys and an officer for jungle training (one of four units). Our officer was Lt. John Anderson of Rolfe, IA. The way this worked, the army pushed the Japs south, then the Engineers would make a runway; we’d come in, set up our ground equipment, and then contact planes with loads of supplies. When the supply need was met there, we’d pack up and go to another designated area, land, unload air to ground equipment, call in supply planes and so on. We had to land at Mandalay because the plane’s cowling was coming off. Also while on the ‘mike’ a B25 landed, we knew that meant ‘brass’ and General Olds came by to say hello. When the Japs were out of Burma we went to Chittagong, I didn’t know what was going to be next so I made a wooden container, put my Gurkha knife, Japanese flag, Japanese sword in it, to send home. I trusted a quick acquaintance to send it, it never got home to me. It should say in the Burma Battle, we saw many downed zeros and wooden British gliders. I think the gliders were a terrible way to deliver troops. On the plane (C-47) to go to Chittagong some guy said his too box was in Mitchina so we landed there, got his tools and left. I’d never seen a runway with wrecked P40, P51’s, and P38’s on both sides and the end.

Now I go to Calcutta, for R & R again (I think) I am joined with Bridge, Whitey and Don Lander and fly to Agra (I heard Norm Freeman went to Darjeeling in Kashmir) when we landed it was 120 degrees, so no red mold underarm there. We took a horse & buggy to the Taj Mahal, after sunset the Taj was quite spectacular even though it had camouflage paint on it. We took a train to Lahore for our R & R, then back to Calcutta. I’d been in Calcutta before with someone where we’d seen a street that was off limits because there were women of all ages in ‘cages’ wanting to get out. We saw where the ‘Black Hole’ was and as we’d travel the market, a ‘Friend’ got 1- 2-3-4 tattoos on his arms – not me! I took any gold and ‘jewels’ to an upscale jeweler, then he showed me some rings and so on with inch diameter, rubies, sapphire, jade, garnet, he had made up for a Raja.

I don’t know the name of the ship we boarded to go home, 30 August 1945, I don’t know where my bunk was but I know I didn’t miss a meal at the chest high tables where you stood. At the dock at Port Said, while anchored, little bare kids would swim around the ship and submerge fast as we’d drop a coin. Hebrew soldiers were particularly active with religious interests in this area.

As we left Gibraltar a storm was fierce and it threw the ship terribly. Most all the guys got sick and didn’t get out their bunk until near New York. I withstood the pitching and yawling in good shape. I'd get grapefruit juice from the galley and give it to my bunk bound friends. I noticed some guys had a card attached to the bunk that they had been castrated. Too bad.

The Statute of Liberty caused extra heartbeats – it is a blessing. We tied up at a New York dock then ferried to New Jersey, all this was very exciting. We went to a train station and began a trip to Wichita Falls, Texas. I have yet to find the route the train took. Then I boarded a bus and went to Long Beach and Los Angeles, Ca. My friends, Don Lander and Norman R. Freeman went home. Don went to Gainesville, Fla., and Norm to Tonawanda, New York. We were to be back to Wichita Falls, Texas for discharge in November.

I remember there was always something to do, from arising early to supper time then it was ‘your time’. I thought the food was good, I really liked Spam. In Burma, the cook made dried egg pancakes (thick), when the C47 brought food supplies. I liked grapefruit slices and sometimes would stash a few cans under my bunk.

But, there was one day I became really homesick and wished I could crawl in a hole and pull the hole in too. I went through some close order drill and went to the rifle range but they didn’t care whether I hit ‘Maggies Drawers’ or not. I wasn’t issued a gun, didn’t do guard duty and just a little KP.

Being a Control Tower operator they wanted me to know what it was like to be on ‘the other side of the mike’ so I joined a crew for one trip of hauling a load of gasoline barrels ‘over the hump’ to Kunming China. I helped chase Japanese out of Burma – no causalities in our group. We were awarded 2 Bronze Battle stars.

Once I was in a library in Jarhat when an earthquake took place. Another four or five of us crossed a bamboo bridge over a fairly wide river in a jeep. I was awarded the Presidential Citation, just for being there.

I kept in contact with home by writing letters and V mail. Norm Freeman wrote to MaryAnn when he figured it wouldn’t be handy for me to do it. I didn’t feel too much pressure or stress, I used to be able to solve some disagreements. I think my early Church attendance and Youth Christian Endeavor built my Faith to good use. I didn’t see any entertainers but in India, one Easter Sunday, people from all over met for a Sunrise Service. At sunrise, the trumpets and singing were very impressive. I traveled all the way around the World during my term. I kept a personal diary but it got burned.

On the last leave, November 3, 1945, MaryAnn Oertel and I were married at Morningside Presbyterian Church in Sioux City. (Because they had an organ.) We have five children, H. Kathleen, Kristine, John, Jane, and Edyanne. After I was discharged, MaryAnn and I took the bus back to Iowa. I think Norm brought his own car and Don probably took a train. All left Wichita Falls, Texas. I got a job with Steele Siman & Co at the Sioux City Stockyards and we got an apartment in Sioux City. I had to get on the street car to get to work, worked there for a year. My brother, Bill, and his wife left our Iowa farm to farm his father-in-laws farm in Nebraska. Since the home farm became available, I figured that was what I should do – wasn’t easy, but with MaryAnn’s help we still have it. The farm became a Centennial Farm in 1979. So, MaryAnn and I went to our farm in March 1947. My brother left us some sows and that helped a lot. I went to a GI Ag class in Sloan and the money they paid me I had to give back, because I’d make money with the sale of pigs.
We’ve had a continuous relationship with Don and Betty.

Lost track of Norm and Alice till this December 2002, he found us! We are going to Florida, January 2003, and hope to have a Triple Reunion. I joined the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars but I’m not active in either one. I did go to a reunion once and that was enough. They were called a Basha unit, at the banquet, I stood up and asked if any of them had lived in a basha, and no one had.

To me what I did in service was a real education, why I was sent where I was no one knows. I think I was lucky. If I’d been in Germany, Europe, or the Pacific, I’m sure it would have been different.

Submitted by Walter ‘Bud’ Haafke.