A veteran’s tale

FOLLANSBEE – Years after his service in the Pacific Theater in World War II, city resident Harry Reynard often wondered why officers kept orders so close to the vest and why the enlisted men on the Amphibious Attack Transport APA-110, or the U.S.S. Griggs, commanded by Capt. Arthur C. Woods, were frequently left in the dark.

“The captain, he didn’t talk to us,” said Reynard. “He never said where we were going or what we were doing or why we were doing it. He just paced back and forth up there by the bridge. I can still see him up there, pacing.”

Reynard never dreamed the APA-110 and its sister ships – APA-111, or U.S.S. Grundy, and APA-112, or U.S.S. Guilford – were part of a compromise between Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz over the transportation of troops in the Pacific Theater, some times called the “magic carpet.”

“MacArthur was trying to take these islands, one by one, but he needed troop ships and cargo ships – and escort ships to protect them,” said Reynard, adding Nimitz and MacArthur frequently butted heads over how to best deploy war materials and resources.

As a compromise, the APAs were built for MacArthur, although only three of a planned six were completed, because the war ended before all were built. A Windsor-class attack transport, the APA-110 could carry more than 1,400 men and was fitted with 26 gun mounts.

Reynard grew up in the Georges Run area, near Mingo Junction, and graduated from Mingo High School, enlisting immediately afterwards. He was sent to Pascagoula, Miss., where he completed boot camp. He then was assigned to Florida, where he and the crew of the APA-110 began their training. They took the ship on a “shake down” cruise, before traveling up the East Coast to Connecticut.

“We went to Iceland and back, and then we started training the crew of the 111,” he said. “When we left there, we went through the Panama Canal and went to war.”

Reynard, a signalman, said the APA-110, which had a draft of only 25 feet, frequently made its way up tributaries and made drops behind enemy lines.

“We hardly ever saw another ship, unless we were passing them on the ocean,” he said. “Then, we could take three minutes to send and get messages.”

As a signalman, Reynard frequently was dispatched on one of the ship’s Landing Craft Navigation, or LCNs, which held 50 men and a crew of five, or Landing Craft Vehicles Personnel, or LCVPs, which held 30 men. These smaller craft were frequently used to wind up smaller estuaries.

“We would get up there, and there would be a dock in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes not even that,” said Reynard. “We would drop supplies and leave.”

During one such drop, Reynard received a message commanding the small craft to return to the ship immediately, so he and the crew turned around and made their way back.

“As soon as we got out into the deep water, they started the ship up, the screw was turning,” he said.

Reynard and his companions pushed the small craft as hard as it would go, but the ship got underway, leaving them behind.

“They were leaving us!” he said. “We had to have chased them for two miles, and when we came alongside – they loaded them on a hitch on the back of the ship – we had to keep at the same speed as the ship and try to catch the hoist. We couldn’t slip back (behind the screws), or else we would have been chopped up. They started bringing us up, and, as soon as we were level with the deck, we jumped off.”

Once they got on deck, they found there hadn’t been an emergency at all.

“They just wanted to know if, a boat had to chase the ship, could it still be taken aboard while they were under way,” he said. “Only an Army guy would want to know that!”

Reynard’s service took him across the Pacific, including Manila and the Philippine Islands, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Some of Reynard’s first war experiences came in Manila.

“They had just bombed it flat,” he said. “There was nothing left, just rubble. Everything was just smashed flat. The harbor was full of sunk Japanese ships. The little kids there were hungry, running around in half a sweater and one shoe, some of them naked. Some of these boys, young boys, would come up to you and say ‘I have sister, I have sister.’ It was shocking. It disgusted me. It made me sick.”

Japanese suicide pilots were a constant danger, Reynard said.

“They would come down with that damn scarf flying,” he said. “You could hear them whistling as they got closer and closer. At night, you didn’t know if they were coming for you or for another ship. If you heard the explosion, then it was another ship. We had a smoke generator on the back of the ship, and it was supposed to make the ship ‘invisible.’ It wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, because they knew, down there in that cloud of smoke, there was a ship, so they’d dive anyway. I remember once, the PA-22 was chained up a few hundred yards away, and it went down. That was hell; they killed a lot of people that day.”

Reynard frequently slept on deck to escape the confines below decks and in hopes of a breeze during the hot Pacific nights.

“One morning, I woke up – I’d slept topside – and I was rolling up my blanket, and I heard a whistle and they were calling us to man battle stations. I looked over, and I saw one of their planes coming right at me, not more than 50 feet away. I could see the pilot sitting in the cockpit, and he was looking at me, too. I thought I could get around the radio room, but he just shot up in the air right in front of me. He looked down, he was wearing a helmet and that damn scarf, and he smiled at me, like I wasn’t going to die today. They hit the Pennsylvania instead – right in the rear. The next morning, it was down low in the water and listing.”

One day, when the APA-110 was several miles off the Japanese coast, they heard a long rumble from the island.

“It just didn’t quit,” said Reynard. “No one said anything, but the captain came out and addressed us – it was the first time he’d said anything to us – he said ‘today, we dropped a bomb on a town named Hiroshima and killed every living thing in that town.’ We didn’t see anything, we just heard it. We didn’t know what an A-bomb was. They said it killed everyone, but of course it didn’t. We didn’t know that, though.”

After the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war-weary Emperor Hirohito finally agreed to a cease-fire. Because the country’s telecommunications network had been destroyed, the emperor was flying from village to village in a small aircraft, telling his people to lay down their arms.

“The Japanese had killed so many,” Reynard said. “MacArthur wasn’t going to trust them. If he sent troops in and they were lying, they would be slaughtered. He didn’t want to take troops in, have the Japanese kill them and go ‘only kidding.'”

A small force – including the APA-110 – was sent to an area called Matsumoto. After a quick breakfast – and with no orders – it was “away all boats,” which were loaded with combat vehicles and U.S. Marines.

“Come daylight, I saw Japan for the first time,” Reynard said. “I’d been over there for years and I’d never seen Japan until I was maybe 300 yards away.”

The landing craft were lined up abreast, facing the beach, when the command to land came.

“We got the word, so we went as fast as we could,” said Reynard.

Ordinarily, the ships would provide cover fire for landing forces, but none came that day.

“We would get the Marines on the ground, and they’d take a piece of ground, and dig in, then they’d crawl forward a little more, laying down fire and taking more ground,” Reynard said.

That didn’t happen either. There were no opposing forces on the beach. As they came into the beach, the landing craft carrying Reynard struck an underwater sandbar. Reynard, who had been going forward in order to unlock the landing gate, was thrown from the ship, landing in waist-deep water on the Japanese beach.

“I was there, on the enemy beach, and didn’t even have a gun, but nothing happened,” he said. “The Marines came down, and, boy, was I glad to see them. They went 10 or 15 yards, started digging their little depressions, and that’s when we saw them – just arms being held up over their head.”

The Japanese emerged from the woods, without weapons, their hands above their heads and wearing nothing but their underclothing.

“We didn’t know what to think,” said Reynard. “The quartermaster says, ‘OK, come down,’ and they’re going ‘arigatou, arigatou,’ – I think it was ‘thank you’ in Japanese. They didn’t speak English, and we didn’t speak Japanese. They pointed to themselves, then pointed to the boats, and we realized they wanted to help unload the boats. So we sat down and let them do it. They unloaded the boats, then went back into the trees and disappeared.

“Then the town sent some of their elders and invited us to town. Our commander got on the phone and says ‘anyone who chases or hurts a woman or a child is coming back for a court martial.’

“We got to the place, and it was all old women and little kids – every woman between 5 and 80 years old was gone. They had hidden them all.

“But they were happy to see us. They were so polite to us. And MacArthur had found out what he wanted to know – the cease fire was good.”

Reynard added, years later, it occurred to him just how badly the interaction could have gone.

“What if we had shot at them?” he asked. “We weren’t given any orders – to shoot or not to shoot. And, maybe, if they had come down all at once, we would have. But who could have shot someone who was naked? It’s crazy, it’s nuts, but it’s the way it had to end. American soldiers wouldn’t do that – they wouldn’t shoot someone so helpless.

“MacArthur bet on that – and he won.”

(Wallace-Minger can be contacted at swallace@pafocus.com.)