One Man's Opinion


The Turning of the Tide.

After hearing about how the American Marines were being pushed back in the Pacific and how the British and French armies were being pushed back in Libya toward El Ale Main, Egypt, it seemed to most of us that Britain would soon be invaded and our last critical location to marshal an offensive for invading Europe would be lost to the Germans.  But Hitler made a classical mistake when he delayed organizing for an invasion of England and turned his attention toward Russia where he opened a second front.  This gave America the time to make a giant effort to turn every manufacturing company into production of war materials.  The Battle at El Ale-main was raging when the German Panzer tank and supporting vehicles under the command of General Erwin Rommel simply ran out of gas.  That was the turning point of the War in North Africa.  According to conventional wisdom, Nazi Germany boasted the most highly efficient and well-outfitted war operation of World War II, including military technology (from Tiger tanks to U-boats to rocket-powered jets) that put their armed forces leaps and bounds ahead of the Allies.  But historian James Holland challenges this generally accepted view. For all its “massively over engineered” weapons, he argues, Germany was in fact far less efficient than Britain and the United States at manufacturing and supporting its tanks, airplanes, and other wartime machinery. In his view, Germany’s operational shortcomings, including a crucial lack of resources, paved the way for its defeat nearly as soon as the conflict began.  The Germans were thought to be invincible because of their highly regarded Panzer tank designed by Ferdinand Porsche that just rolled over those of France and England.  It was thought that Germany was invincible because of their highly-sophisticated industrial and manufacturing capability.  But this was proven wrong in the battles with the U. S. Sherman Tank especially under command of General George Patton.  The Panzer, as powerful as it was, also was a slow six gear machine that had frequent breakdowns.  Germany made only 1800 of them, while America made over 46,000 of the Sherman model tank.

Here at home, I graduated from Junior High school and registered for the tenth grade at the North Hollywood High School. I took the basic curriculum, for example, Algebra II, English, History, Life Science, Spanish and Oral Arts.  I joined the baseball team as a back-up infielder.  However, I never played in one league game.  In those days, the school athletic coaches always played to win and that meant back-up team members just watched unless there was an injury.  When the baseball team boarded the bus for the 26 miles ride to play our final game against San Fernando high, the first team 3rd baseman, who had been sick and absent all week, was not on the bus.  Coach handed me a uniform and cap.  I was excited anticipating as a 10th grader to be able to play in a league game.  When we arrived at the field in San Fernando,  standing over by his folks’ car was the regular 3rd base player and even with a bad cold he played the full game although we won by 5 runs and were never really challenged.  I learned something then that in competition, the message is “Kill, Kill, kill”, i.e., never give the opposition a chance, even when you are going to win the game anyway.  If you are ahead by 5 runs play to make it 6.

In the Summer of 1944, the long-anticipated invasion of Europe by Allied forces took place on June 6th.  The weather was awful and the attack had to be postponed twice.  But this probably helped the Allies as the German high command doubted Supreme Commander, General Eisenhower, would attempt to launch the hundreds of small vessels  carrying 150,000 American, British and Canadian soldiers across the English Channel in such bad weather.  In fact, Rommel who was the senior German officer commanding the Western front and its defense strategy, had taken leave for a couple of days and wasn’t even in the expected landing zones.  Of those 150,000 troops in the armada, an estimated 4400 were killed during the first day and several times that number in subsequent allied actions until Victory.  The landing of American forces was directed to the most difficult topography among which was Omaha Beach shown above.  Picture yourself exiting a small landing craft after a grueling trip across stormy skies and high waves for 20 miles with everyone experiencing nausea and then looking out at the image above just after the front gate dropped and you had to go ashore and face the enemy perched on the high ground in front of you.  I will never forget those chilling reports and Movie-Tone displays of valor and, I hope my family never does either.  As an aside, Dottie and I visited the graves of American soldiers’ never to come home as they lay in peace under white crosses and star of David markers on Normandy Peninsula during one of our visits to France in the 1970’s. It was very emotional. In February of 1945, Germany was beaten yet not officially surrendered.  All our attention was turned on defeating the Japanese empire and winning the War in the Pacific.  The news we received each day during the Fall and Winter of 1944 was gruesome but showed progress as we swept up the Mariana chain of Islands, Guam, Tinian, Iwo Jima, and Saipan. On Iwo Jima, the Japanese defenders were fanatic and fought to the death, which required the use of the flamethrower to dig them out of caves and 11 miles of connecting tunnels, refusing to surrender when given the chance when the battle was lost. U.S. Marines were taking huge casualties.  Of the 30,000 in the first day landings, followed by 40,000 over the period of the battle, 26,000 were casualties including 6,800 dead before the island was secured on March 29th.  The Japanese defenders numbered 23,000 of which 20,000 were casualties, 19,000 dead, 300 prisoners and 2700 continuing to exist living in the tunnels and caves, coming out at night to forage for food.  The last defenders were two soldiers who surrendered in 1949 four years after the last organized action.

In June of 1945, a small headline in the Los Angeles Times read: “U.S. tests a bomb with 25,000 lbs. of TNT explosive power”.  The story went on to explain “this new bomb developed by scientists at Los Alamos New Mexico was several times the force of any bomb used before and could make a major difference in the outcome of the war”.  At the time, I had no knowledge of what nuclear power was all about but, we were to learn soon what an extraordinary effect it would have on the ending of the Japanese resistance in the Pacific.  It also would lead to all the major nations of the world accelerating their efforts to develop the science necessary to produce an Atomic bomb and the even more powerful Hydrogen bomb.   Plans for the creation of a uranium bomb by the Allies were established as early as 1939, when Italian emigre physicist Enrico Fermi met with U.S. Navy department officials at Columbia University to discuss the use of fissionable materials for military purposes. That same year, Albert Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt supporting the theory that an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction had great potential as a basis for a weapon of mass destruction. In February 1940, the federal government granted a total of $6,000 for research. But in early 1942, with the United States now at war with the Axis powers, and fear mounting that Germany was working on its own uranium bomb, the War Department took a more active interest, and limits on resources for the project were removed (eventually increased to $2 Billion).  The images of the damages done by one bomb changed most of the World’s civilizations to conclude, this form of warfare will be a cataclysmic consequence, not a tactical improvement.  But after the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, the Japanese did surrender and the war in which 60 Million people were killed ended, Thank God!

In the spring of 1945, while in my first year at North Hollywood High, I had a science teacher who caused my parents to consider changing my educational plan.  In open question time, this instructor gave what seemed crazy answers to many student questions of how the body worked.  I would mention this to my Mom and Dad and they shared a concern that due perhaps to the war, LA County High School District’ teachers might be reflecting the shortages of qualified personnel.  Among the things, I remember is the answer given to my question “Why does the hair on your head grow longer than the hair on your arm?”  His reply was “It is because it is closer to the bone.”  After telling my folks of the incident, I was launched on a path to enroll in“The Army and Navy Academy” in Carlsbad California the following semester.  This college preparatory school had small classes of 10-12 cadets in a military based academic environment that not only gave me the benefit of stronger challenges for learning, but a living and disciplinary environment that proved to be a solid foundation for my time in the Army’s basic training and Officer Candidate School during my years of service, 1951-1953.  At ANA, Cadets lived in cottages of four rooms, two to a room with shared bathroom facilities.  We lived by the Bugle.  Reveille: -6:30 AM, Students to Awaken and prepare for- First Call: Assemble for Roll Call. 7:00 AM, Mess Call: Students assemble in Formation March to Mess Hall. 8:15AM Assembly: Students to report to classes.  Other Bugle calls would announce afternoon duties, call to quarters, and finally Taps: Lights out. I attended the Academy from September 1945 until I graduated in June 1947.  The best and probably most underappreciated part of being a student at ANA is where the campus was located, right on one of So. California’s most beautiful beaches. During the first year, I observed how advancement in rank was determined and how discipline was rewarded so I found it relatively easy to fit in to the program and learn under a military discipline like approach.  The school granted the highest honor, an appointment as a “Silver A” Cadet, to those who had academic excellence, high grades for disciplinary behavior and those who embraced the spirit of the military model for the cadet.  I worked hard at all those qualification disciplines and at the end of my first year had been promoted to Sargent Major and designated a Silver A Cadet.  Being a small school, 200 students, this was easier than you might think but still I was proud of the accomplishment and although in my senior year, my Silver A designation was revoked for a month due to my being a principle in a discipline procedure, I was happy to graduate as a Lieutenant and Silver A student with plans for entering the University of California at Berkeley, where my sister was already an upper division student.

During the final days at ANA, while sitting with two other fellow cadets I thought: wouldn’t it be fun to drive across America during Summer vacation, see other parts of the country we loved and work at odd jobs to pay for gas and food etc.  Since many of our co-students lived in the places we wanted to visit and we each had relatives who were also located around the country, we figured we could plan our trip in such a way as require only $30-$40 each.  We could make money caddying at golf courses or doing odd jobs for people like wash their car, or run an errand. Since the War was just over and Europe and Asia were certainly not ideal travel destinations, getting out and seeing the USA seemed like a neat adventure and a lot of fun.  In my senior year, I talked my Dad into loaning me $300 so I could take $200 I had saved and buy a car.  The one we selected was a 1935 two-door sedan with a floor stick shift and bucket seats in the front and a small luggage trunk on the back.  It was black with white sidewall tires and of course over 12 years old but it was mine and served me well for several years.  I called it the B-19, a name given to one of the obsolete bombers used in the war and a plane that had many faults in design and operations.  The car was well named as it too was a bit flawed.  Two of my fellow cadets and I talked our folks into letting us drive off one day in June of 1947 (I was 16 years old) and begin what turned out to be one of the most extraordinary adventures I had ever experienced driving to Bar Harbor, New England, then down to Fort Benning Georgia and then winding back to So California with many stops in between on our 6-week journey.  We visited relatives who would feed and house us for a day or two and in some cities, we would just sleep in the car.  In Bar Harbor, Maine, we showed up unannounced at the Brewer Hardware store and I mentioned I was Merrill Brewer’s Grandson.  They were so excited to see us that they took us out for a real Maine Lobster dinner but afterwards, they just said good luck and so long.  We had nowhere to sleep but I got the idea that maybe we could go to the city jail and ask to sleep in one of the cells overnight.  That worked but the next morning when we woke up and asked to be released, a new crew was on duty and declared they knew nothing about the deal we make the night before.  It was a little rattling to think we might be kept there, but finally with a laugh and wish good luck we were released.  I can’t leave this part of our history without reporting something that was standard procedure during those times.  After spending a few days with my uncle at Fort Benning, we drove across Alabama and after working a couple of days shagging golf balls at a country club, we set out for Saint Louis where we planned to visit one of our fellow ANA Cadet’s home in Memphis, Tennessee.  We decided to drive all night trading off driving turns.  I was sleeping when my co-traveler Bill Campbell was at the wheel for his turn driving.  Bill had a weak bladder and we frequently had to stop so he could relieve himself.  After a few hours, deep in sleep, I was suddenly awakened with a start as I felt the car hit into a drainage ditch.  It was about 2:00 AM and we were stuck with the right wheel in the ditch so we couldn’t drive the car out.  Bill’s excuse was that he had to “go” and it looked like the roadside was flat.  I was furious as was my other cohort, Peter Denman.  What to do?  As we stood there I noticed a farm house back about a mile and told Bill since he created the problem, he had to run back and ask for help.  About ten minutes later, I saw a light come on in the house, then two and more.  I saw a vehicle’s headlights come on and it backed around and headed out toward us.  When it arrived at our car, I saw that it was a flatbed truck with a whole bunch of people on the back.  I was flabbergasted but for people living in these remote parts of the country, this was an adventure not to be missed.  The whole family had come out to see what was going on.  After a brief time connecting our car, the truck pulled us out and after many handshakes and thank you’ s, we were off again.  At the moment, I only had a five-single dollar bills in my pocket so I offered it to the Farmer but he refused to take it. It was what people did in those days, help their neighbor or anyone who needed a lift-up, even at 2:00 o’clock in the morning.

Next time, a Freshman at University of California at Berkeley.

One Man’s and his Wife’s Opinion

Bud Brewer and Dottie Brewer

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