Independence Day Tribute: Interviewing World War II Veterans

Tom Pennington

Lindsay and I got a chance to interview a few veterans at the World War II Museum during our trip to the Final Four in New Orleans. Hear some of their stories.

Forrest Villarrubia

(via Avinash Kunnath)

I went into Leyte, Philippines with General MacArthur. I was there with him for six weeks. I was a telephone lineman, I laid telephone lines, I climbed trees. I was told not to climb trees after dusk because the Army sprayed the trees with gunfire before they went to bed at night.

But I was later assigned to the South part. They were tanks passing in front, so I had to climb the trees. And it was after dusk. And I was tying the knot in the telephone line, this bullet came whizzing right by my head from my own arm. And that's what you call 'friendly fire.' And thank God, he missed me.

I was there again for six weeks. The other story I have … and we were told… not to go in the streams because they were polluted with germs. But I got tired taking the bath with my helmet. And we were behind a stream that was about four feet deep. It was clear, I could see the bottom. So I said, "I'm going to sneak in here and take a quick bath." Which I did. But I was smart. I didn't go below my neck. I didn't want to get germs.

About six months later, I'm on Guam, waiting to go to Japan. And I'm walking through the mess halls, and I vomit. Out came something at the bottom about a foot long. It was white, and it wiggled. I picked it up and brought it to sick bay. The whole outfit had to take medicine for worms. But I was the only stupid ass to go in the water and get one in the first place!

That's my story.

You know how many of us [World War II veterans] are left? Out of 16 million of us, there's 1,400,000 of us left. Now how many of us are dying every day this year? We're losing about 700 [of us] every day.

Where were you on D-Day?


Well, D-Days are D-Days. I had my D-Day. My D-Day was going into Leyte in the Philippines. By the way, D-Day doesn't mean a damn thing. Everybody has a D-Day. But the main D-Day was in Europe.

You were in Leyte?


Yes.

Was that when the naval base was taken?


Well, I was on the beach watching. It was a distance away, but I could see it. Bombs. Right after that, we left and went to Guam. So I was over there maybe a few days after that happened.

Did you see much action or was it relatively quiet?


Well I was a telephone linesman so it was quiet for me. Now my brother wasn't quiet. You see this Purple Heart here? You know how you get a Purple Heart?


How do you get a Purple Heart?


You have to be killed or wounded in battle. You can't fall off the bunk bed and get a bone broken and get a Purple Heart. It's gotta be in battle.

He was wounded. He was shot by a sniper on his 21st birthday. He lived until he died about 12 years ago. He was with the Marine Raiders. Marine Raiders back then were like SEALs of the day. There were four battalions of them. They would go behind lines and so forth. His commanding officer, by the way, was James Roosevelt, the son of President Roosevelt.

Frank Glassman

(via Avinash Kunnath)

So I'm being joined here by Frank Glassman, he was a World War II veteran. Where did you serve? When did you serve?

Well, I served in China, Burma and India. I was in all three countries. Good bit of it was in Burma, the jungles of Burma, which are the densest jungles in the world. Very, very primitive country. Conditions that were under were terrible during monsoons, torrential rain, and bad weather.

The jungles were the densest jungles in the world. You had to hack your way through it. The conditions we lived under were just intolerable. Full of leeches … Everyday we had to pull leeches off us.

It wasn't the most friendly place … very primitive country. They had headhunters there. They had people that went out …. they used poison darts …with blow guns. Very, very primitive. It was hard to believe that people could live under those conditions.

What was your mission? What were you assigned to do in Burma?


Well they assigned me. We were supposedly there to install dial telephone equipment. But they sent us to the wrong country.

Oh really?


Yeah, we should have gone to Paris. They trained 25 of us for that. And they sent us to the jungles of Burma. So, we did some telephone work there. But if you needed someone to go out and fight, they sent us out to fight.

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