tv Recollections from World War II CSPAN December 20, 2016 5:46am-6:32am EST
>> and amidst the shifting sands of contemporary culture and law, we have stood without apology for the sanctity of life, the importance of marriage, and the freedom of religion. >> o n 8:00, farewell speeches and tributes to several outgoing senator, including harry reid, barbara boxer, kelly ayotte, and dan coats. this week in primetime on c-span. next on american history tv, three world war ii veterans talk about their experiences as u.s. navy fighter pilots. this 45-minute talk is part of a three-day conference hosted by the american veterans center. history for your folks, with legends of world war ii. honored to have you gentlemen with us. to moderate the session i'd like to welcome to the podium owen
rogers from the veterans history project, the library of congress. we worked with him closely over the years in terms of world history and preserving the legacy of our veterans. so it's great to have you here with us, owen, and the podium is yours. please welcome owen. [ applause ] >> so good morning, everyone. my name is owen rogers. i'm a liaison specialist with the library of congress veteran history project. and that's just a really fancy name for what i believe to be the best job in the world. and to be honest, a labor of love. so what we do is we find ways for american veterans to share their story, their experiences and their wisdom with present and future generations. so far veterans history project has collected more than 100,000 veteran stories from every state, every congressional district and most of the u.s. territories. to be honest, there is more than
21 million living wartime veterans. and though this is the largest collections of veterans oral histories in the united states, that number is still just a drop in the bucket. and we could tru use your help. the pugh research center says families that have served in the military since world war ii. for the legend in your life, please take the time to sit down and record their story for the permanent collects of the library of congress. your children and your children's children will be able to hear their contributions, read their letters and look through pictures of events that now with the world war i centennial in mind are centuries past. although i spent the last six years recording, researching and drawing inspiration from oral histories, my fascination with their stories began at a young age. when i was a boy, my father was laid off. he began his own business and worked long hours, and sometimes it felt like days passed between our visits. so he started me out on fables as nighttime story, graduated up to tolkien.
didn't really take. but one day he brought home a plastic mod of the p-40 warhawk. that's one of the most iconic images of the second world war. and that night we set up a card table in the kitchen of our apartment. as i scrape and glued together my piece of history, he told me the story. when it was built and hanging from the ceiling, he brought home a mitchell. i remember him telling me the story and how army air force pilots flew off the pitching deck of a flight aircraft carrier. i like to think those stories and the bonding experience is the catalyst for me being here today. and i hope you understand why it's such a personal honor to host these three veterans. today's our experience isn't made of plastic. it's real. if i learned anything from veterans' oral histories is they tell their stories better than we ever could. our panelists are richard eko
ejoined by a naval aviator puts the two of you in a very special club. and our final panelist is jerry yellin, an army aviator who enlisted two months after the attack on pearl harbor and flew throughout the pacific war, participating in the last mission of world war ii. so i like to give this time an opportunity for each of the panelists to introduce yourselves and just tell us, you know, a little bit about yourselves and really, truly, the legendary qualities that have you sits before us today. if we could start with you, mr. coal. >> age before beauty. now did you automatically assemble? you look almost alphabetical. i suppose we go chronologically. >> my name is richard "dick"
cole 689 in january of 1942, i was assigned to the 17th bombardment group at pendleton, oregon. a few days afterwards, we got instructions that we should -- were moving to columbia, south carolina. we had up to that point in time, i had very few hours as a second lieutenant and a copilot in the 34th bomb group. any way, we moved to columbia, south carolina. and were there for two or three weeks. and the word was passed that they were looking for people to volunteer for a dangerous mission.
the pilot that i was assigned with on the trip from pendleton to columbia was a very nice gentleman, and he was a good pilot. so we teamed up and decided to go on the mission. a few days into the training for the mission, he became ill. and had to be disqualified. so i was elected by the crew to go and talk to the operations officer about the mission. we still wanted to go. the operation officer was in his office.
and i reported in to him and told him that the crew was still wanting to go. he said, well, i'll match you up with the old man, and he can be your pilot. if you do okay, well, you got yourself a pilot. and i thought to myself maybe this wasn't such a good idea. we get to fly with an old man. in the meantime, colonel doolittle arrived. he came in the office and we
didn't get to meet him at that time, but the ops officer said, well, now you know who you're going to be hooked up with and what you're going to do. doolittle had another copilot that he was going to use. i think he was a friend of the boss. that gentleman had some kind of a misfortune and couldn't show up. so that's how we ended up with the boss. we called him several names.
he right away as he introduced himself, in about 45 minutes after that, we were on our way to lakeland, florida. we went to florida with him, and he spent the night talking with some people at the airport there. and the next morning we were on our way to wright field. >> pardon me, mr. cole. >> and he did some business there. and the next morning we were back down into the field. so he could see we were not loafing. but the people asked how we got to be on his crew.
and the answer to that was all he did was take the seat of the gentleman that we were recruited up with originally and we were the excess baggage that went along with it. >> so each of the three of you share a common bond of aviation. and so for my next question, i would love it if mr. varl, if you told me when you realized you wanted to be a pilot. >> when did i realize? >> i'd like -- because you all share that bond, i would love all you have to answer the question. but if we could start with mr. varvel and hear about when he really realized, when he looked up in the sky and realized he wanted to be a pilot. when was that a moment for you?
>> probably i was a kid and born and raised in daytona, ohio. i was very interested in navy aviation. i belonged to the airplane model of america where we made airplanes powered by rubber bands. and i used to ride from my house, which was navy -- i never measured it. but about four miles from mccook field, which is the army air corps first test base. and i could ride on my bicycle over there and sit on the levee of the miami river and watch what was going on in an
airfield. and consequently i -- that time period it was quite a bit going on. first refueling practices. >> got you. thank you. >> they dumped hose and so forth out of one plane flying above another. there were a lot of flying and so forth at that period of time. i was pretty well hooked on aviation. and made up my mind i was either going to be a army air corps pilot or a forest ranger. i tried to direct my forward speed to that.
>> so, excuse me, mr. cole. so mr. varvel, what was it like, just to be surrounded by all of those whirring engines on a flight deck? yes, you, please. i would love to hear your experience from a sailor's perspective. >> well, i was born -- my name is louis varvel. i was born january 9th, 1924. and i graduated from high school 1941 on may 27th, volunteered for the navy on june 10th. my mother wouldn't sign because i was a minor, but daddy signed. he was probably just getting rid of me. so i went through boot camp out in san diego, and then they send
me to detroit to machinist school. and we got out of that about 3rd of december of '41 and sent me over to norfolk to receiving station. and pearl harbor was on the 7th. and then i was assigned to a dive-bombing squadron, the uss hornet. and it was a new carrier, pb8 was the squadron number. it was with -- i went aboard the hornet, and we went on a shakedown cruise. and we probably were went down the gulf because we could hear dallas from the radio real well. and when we got back to norfolk, they were two b-25s setting on
the dock. and there was a big crane after the holland on the carrier. and they hoisted these b-25s up on the flight deck and took them back out to sea. to see if they could fly them off, which they did. and we stayed there in norfolk a while. and left out and went down through the panama canal and up to -- going up the coast, the pacific. i don't know where it was. the destroyer with us was something to do with the two torpedo, and the torpedo slid back out of the tube with a propeller going and it just cut a sailor's stomach out. and they brought him over to the hornet because we had a hospital.
and he died. and we buried him at sea. and put the guy in a white canvas bag, a couple of artillery shells. and had a service and dropped him off in the ocean. we got on up to san diego and got new sdb dive-bombers. the old ones we had must have come over with columbus. then from there we went up to san francisco across the bay to alameda naval air station. when we got there, had all the plane, all the cars off the streets. and they were landing these b-25s. and they came down the streets right to the dock. and we hoisted 16 of them up to the flight deck.
they had all the spaces top for them. and they had some lines pointed out on the flight deck for where they parked. well, first of all, they put some cork or something for each wheel in the front, front wheel to take off. and the ship was brand-new. and we left out of san francisco, got out to past alcatraz and the golden gate bridge. and went out to sea and they came on the loudspeaker of the ship and said this ship now is in en route to bomb tokyo. that was kind of surprising. anyhow, after about seven or eight days, we got out northwest
of hawaii. and we met up with the enterprise and some cruisers and i think there was about eight or ten ships in the bunch. two aircraft carriers and two or three cruisers and the rest of them destroyers and one oiler. and we just kept heading west. on april 18th, i finished breakfast and walked out on the flight deck. nashville was the cruiser was right off our port beam. and all of the sudden it just started shooting at something over on the horizon. the enterprise launched fighter pilots, fighter planes. you couldn't even see it was so far over there. but anyhow, we turned that away too.
and we got over there and they had sunken this jap ship, old ship that yamamoto, the jap navy had them all stationed to catch guys like us. and we sank it. we were still about what, 150 miles east of where we were supposed to go. but we were getting in that area where japan's land planes could reach us. and we had so few carrier, they didn't want to jeopardize them. so we took everything out of the
dive -- out of the b-25s to lighten them and square five gallon cans of gas and put it in. and then we put the fire -- i get they were fire. looked like roman candles in a bundle. put some of them in. and of course they had the 500-pound bombs already on the planes. and of all the time i was in the navy, it was the roughest seas. we were taking green water over the bow of the flight deck. and admiral halsey, he had been in the navy, he said he had never seen that. of course they got all the army pilots and crew out. started launching them.
and the ship was going up and down. so they -- when the bow started down, they started these bombers down. and they started going down hill. and by the time they got out close -- by the way, it was about a 30 knot wind. i think it almost took the chalks out and probably take off by itself. but when they got up, the flight deck sort of threw them up in the air also. all of them got off. but one of them, i think it was the last second one forgot to put his flaps down. and when he got out to the end of the ship and he went all the way out of sight, when the bow come back down, there he was. you could just see him sucking up landing gear and all.
his props were almost hitting the water. >> that's an incredible memory, mr. varvel. >> what? >> that's an incredible memory. and the way you tell the story, it feels like we were there. now captain yellin, you also served in the pacific theater of operations. can you describe, first of all, your road to becoming an aviator. and some of your experiences out in the pacific. >> well, your question was when did i decide to become a pilot. >> absolutely. let's hear it. >> at 12:30 on december 7th, i went down to buy a paper the corner of maple avenue in newark, new jersey, and heard about pearl harbor. i was 17 years old. and at that moment i made up my mind i was going to fly fighter planes against the japanese.
and i went to the army and got all the papers on my 18th birthday, february 15th, 1942. i pretty much forced my mother and father to sign the papers. and i enlisted in the air corps as an aviation cadet. there aren't too many people who say they did what they wanted to do in the military. i graduated from flying school in 1943. i was sent to hawaii p-47. and then on march 7th, i landed on iwo jima, eight square miles of land in the middle of the pacific ocean where 90,000 soldiers were flying in, 67,000 marines and 23,000 japanese. but they weren't on iwo jima. they were in iwo jima. for the first 30 days until april 7th, we stayed with the marines. i think it's more important to speak about you than it is about me. when i put the uniform on of the
united states military, i made a commitment to my country. i made a commitment to the guys that i served with, and they made a commitment to me. you've made that same commitment now, you who are in uniform, or planning to be in uniform. when i was 12 years old in 1936, living in newark, new jersey, we had terrible, terrible racial problems in the united states of america. we had religious problems around the world. people were willing to kill other people for what they believe. and now it's 2016, 80 years later. we have terrible racial problems in america. we have people in other countries who are willing to kill for what they believe. but you're here serving your country, our country, my country in an age that science has
created weapons of mass destruction. the smallest weapon i understand in the american military today, the smallest nuclear weapon is a thousand times bigger than the bombs that were dropped on nagasaki, on hiroshima and nagasaki. and if these bombs ever go to war, we're going to destroy the earth's ability to sustain life. and we as americans in my opinion are the only nation in the world that can protect the world from nuclear warfare. and you've taken that job on. so it's your life that's more important than the history of what we did. i was one of 16 million of us who served. i hated the japanese all of my life until 1988 when my youngest son married the daughter of a kamikaze pilot who was sent to china, and he lived. and we became family. i have three japanese grandchildren.
i've learned in my 92 years that we are not what the color of our skin, we're not what we believe, we're not the language we talk, that we're all part of the earth. we're all human beings, all together. and if we don't learn that and use that knowledge, we're going to destroy the earth. and you're the ones who can protect us. that's your job. so you're more important now in the world than i ever was. and i humbly congratulate you for doing what you're doing. thank you. [ applause ] >> so with that, i would like to ask any one of you to speak up and say is there a particular message, drawing on your
experience in world war ii that you would like to leave to your grandchildren's generation and the next generation of americans? and any of you can step up and answer. >> i didn't understand. >> so is there a specific message, experience or wisdom that you think that you could leave to current generations, to your grandchildren's generation that would help them solve the problems of the 21st century? >> well, the best thing is to not ever have a war. >> amen. >> it's total loss of everything, human life and property. but no one wants a war except a few idiots who some reason who want power over everybody.
[ inaudible ] so the rest of cows have a good life. but the bible says there will be wars and rumors of wars. and it tends to be pretty much the same. so we have to be prepared. world war ii to me was better than four years of college. when i got out, i had the gi bill which was the smartest thing the united states government has ever done. poor old country boys had a chance to do what we needed to do to make a living. i look back on world war ii.
and in a way, it was one of the most exciting times of my life. i got to see things i wouldn't have seen otherwise. met some of the people i met after we launched these planes. we got all our planes back up on the flight deck and launched them. my plane landed and i was running up a catwalk the courtside of a flight deck. chalk in each hands. and admiral halsey stepped out of the admirals cabin on the catwalk and i ran over him. that was the case of the second highest naval officer in the navy in the pacific being run over by the lowest peon there ever was. he picked himself up and said
i'm sorry, son, i should watch where i'm going. so he was a buddy of mine from then on. >> on january 1, 1941, at the inauguration of the third term of president roosevelt, franklin delnor roosevelt, he spoke about the four freedoms of america. the freedom of expression, to say anything that you need to say without fear of retribution. all over the world. the freedom of worship of any god or no god for all people all over the world. the freedom from want. everyone should have food and shelter, something to do. all over the world. and the freedom from fear of being attacked by another country. that's what we served for then.
we're going to elect another president now that is going to have a hand on a nuclear war. and nuclear war scares the bedevil out of me. i fear for my grandchildren in japan, for my grandchildren in america. and you are the front line. you in this audience have a responsibility to protect our world now. that's my message. that's what i learned in my 92 years of life. i live my life today like a banker looks at my checking account. yesterday was a canceled check. can't spend that again. today's money in the bank. i can spend what i've got today. i can do something today. tomorrow is a promissory note. i don't know if i'm going get tomorrow. nor do we. but you have a responsibility, and i know you'll fulfill it well. >> that's beautiful. mr. cole?
what message would you like the leave for future generations? >> i'm sorry? >> what message would you like to leave for future generations? >> well, i -- like these gentlemen and so forth, but in my mind, as it it all boiled down -- >> it's is everything all right? okay. much better. >> it all boiled down to the fact that number one, i had achieved what i wanted to do with my life because uncle sam started what they called a civilian pilot training program. and he paid for my flying
lessons, and i was able to become a bona fide pilot. but to do that, you had to sign a commitment. if there was any kind of a transgression against the united states of america, that you would make yourself available. and when the japanese attacked pearl harbor under most of the population had no idea of it became another mystery. i figured that not knowing where japan was at the time, that they
broached the problem and the initiative and they attacked, we were going to finish it. and that was my feeling about it. >> thank you. we have time for two questions. you in the back? wait for the mic, please. >> you said that your son married a japanese woman. how did you overcome, i guess years of hatred for the japanese to, you know, accept your japanese daughter-in-law and love her as well as her family? >> i was in japan in 1987. my son had asked us to come to japan. and he told my wife and i that
he and the young lady that we met wanted to get married. and i saw the faces of the 16 guys that i flew with who were killed, 11 of them over japan, 5 of them in accidents. but i had the presence of mind to ask him what did her father say. and he said he won't meet me. and i said, will you get married if you don't get the family's permission? and he said, we haven't reached that point yet. it took seven months for them, for her and her brothers come with their father to meet my son. the father asked my son five questions. he said, how old is your father? he said 63. was he in the war? yes. what did he do? he was a pilot. what did he fly? p-51s.
where? over japan. he had three hours and a zero and was shipped to china. and he was one of 500 camkamika pilots. he was the only one who lived in a raid. he went home and told his wife, make the wedding. and she went ballistic. for 43 years you've been telling me how much you hate the americans. you never fired a bullet against them. you didn't die for your emperor. now you want our daughter to matter this guy? and he said yes. and she said why? and he said, any man who could fly a p-51 against the japanese and live must be a brave man. and i want the blood of that man to flow through the bodies of our grandchildren.
in march of 1988, the 43rd anniversary that i landed on japanese soil, i went to a wedding in japan. three days after that, mr. yamakawa and i went to the tip of the peninsula and with espoke for three hours. through a translator. and we discovered that everything about life, religion, spiritual things, education, family, was as important to americans as they were to the japanese. and we pobonded as family. that's how it came about. [ applause ] >> one more question, please? another question from the audience?
well, thank you very much, gentlemen. this has been an enlightening experience. [ applause ] thank you very much. if our next panelists will come forward. i would like to say a few words about dick cole. and the doolittle raid. i hope you've all studied some military history about world war ii. if you have, or if you don't know about it, the doolittle raiders, 80 of them, changed the history of world war ii. as was mentioned, they had to launch about -- just a minute -- had to launch about 200 miles farther out from japan than planned. they bombed their sites in japan, and then because they were low on fuel, they couldn't reach landing strips in china.
they reached the coast of china. most of them. and had to bail out in the middle of a fierce thunderstorm. dick cole said he had never parachuted out of a plane before, and he was so nervous, that when he pulled the rip cord, he gave himself a black eye. but most of them were picked up by chinese, who got them to their destination. the japanese retaliated and swept the whole area, where the raiders had been, and killed about 250,000 chinese in retaliation for helping them. colonel doolittle lost all of the aircraft, he thought he would be court-martialed. he got home to the united states and found out that they were greeted as heroes, because he had boosted the morale of the american people so much. and he got the medal of honor.
the japanese were so shaken up by this raid, didn't do very much damage, but they thought they were invincible and couldn't be reached by american forces. so they changed their whole defense strategy. they concluded they had to take the island of midway in order to prevent this kind of thing from happening again. that, of course, brought on the battle of midway which turned out to be a cat a class mick disaster for the japanese. they lost four of their aircraft carriers, and because of that, it changed the course of the pacific war. it changed at that moment in american favor. and it was all done by this group of raiders. dick is the only one left now. he's a young 102 years old. gets around to speaking engagements and all sorts of charitable events. truly one of the greatest heroes that i've ever had the pleasure to meet. as are all these gentlemen here, for that matter. let's give them all another round of applause.
the war took a lot of lives. like the north hampton, there was a cruiser with us. the japanese, 700 men went down with that ship. i was on the "uss hornet". it was built in a way where the compartments were watertight. we couldn't take it under tow anymore. we tried to sink it. the japanese put a bunch of -- finally they got the thing sunk. there was a high price paid for the freedom we have.
and i didn't think i would ever think anything of a -- but when i found out -- [ inaudible ] -- they came out of it worse than what we did. they had no natural resources to fight a war, really. and had to import everything. >> thank you very much. okay. [ applause ] >> you can get up now. "american history tv"
continues in primetime tuesday night with the focus on the civil war. our programs include a discussion on war tactics, and a look at famous the battles like the 1863 assault led by james longstreet in the battle of chickamauga. that's tuesday night on "american history tv," beginning at 8:00 eastern here on c-span3. sunday january 1st, in-depth will feature a live discussion on the presidency of barack obama. we're taking your phone calls, tweets, e-mails and facebook questions during the program. our panel includes april ryan, white house correspondent for american urban radio networks and author of the presidency in black and white. my up-close view of three presidents and race in america. professor eddie gloud author of democracy and black, how race still enslaves the american
soul. and pulitzer prize-winner, author of barack obama the story. watch in-depth live from noon to 3:00 p.m. eastern on sunday on book tv on c-span2. next, on american history tv, retired u.s. coast guard senior petty officer mary cunningham, and sergeant major angela maness of the u.s. marine corps discuss their personal experiences as women trailblazers in the united states military. this is part of a