Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Veteran Remembers: The Story of Iwo Jima and the End of WW2

1st Lt. Aubrey Farb, USMC (Ret.)
Today is Veteran's Day, on which we honor the men and women who have fought for our country and rendered a service that is incalculable. I always thank a Veteran for his/her service when I meet one, and not just on Veteran's Day. 

I believe it's important to acknowledge the fact that they put a portion of their life on hold for a period of time to uphold and maintain the principles of our nation. And at any opportunity I find, I try to sit down a learn a little about what a Veteran's personal service was.

Aubrey Farb is one of those Veterans I have met only recently. He served as a Marine--1st Lieutenant--in the Pacific Theater of World War II, towards the end of the War. His job was to interrogate Japanese prisoners of war and glean from them information that would save American lives. 

Farb was present at the invasion of Iwo Jima, and when the war's end came, was on Guam, making preparations for the invasion of Japan.

The conquest of Iwo Jima is legendary. The topography of the volcanic island was at first advantageous for the Japanese, as they had built an intricate system of concrete pill boxes and tunnels to defend the island. Those fortifications became fiery tombs as US artillery blasted away, and flamethrowers were used to eliminate the last holdouts on the island.

The US dedicated 110,000 men to assault Iwo Jima. The Japanese had 18,591 troops on the island. The 36-day battle cost 6,821 US casualties. The Japanese lost 18,375.

Aubrey Farb prepares
a map of Iwo Jima

Iwo Jima boasted two strategic airstrips from which the Japanese were able to harass American aircraft on missions to bomb their homeland. We needed the airstrips for emergency landings of damaged bombers. 

The first of those bombers to land on the island was the Dinah Might of the 9th Bomber Group, which touched down while the fighting still raged on March 4, 1945. Records reveal 2,251 B-29 landings were recorded by the end of the war, although not all of them were for dire emergencies. But 1,191 fighter escorts and 3,081 sorties against the islands of Japan were launched from Iwo Jima once it had been secured.

Lt. Farb's duties interrogating Japanese prisoners of war were mitigated somewhat by the math expressed above; he didn't have too many customers.

"We got good information from them because the Japanese taught their men that it was a sin to surrender, that you had dishonored yourself, dishonored your family, and that you no longer existed in the eyes of the Japanese," Farb told me recently at his home in Houston.  "If you teach somebody you never surrender, you don't teach them what to say when you do surrender," he chuckled. "The Japanese would tell you everything you needed to know--but you had to know how to ask it," Farb says.

It was on Iwo Jima that the US first became aware of the Japanese' plan to use Kamikaze pilots--suicide aircraft. "Some soldiers came in and said they'd found a graveyard, and wanted someone to come look at it," Farb recalled. "I went up and looked at it; didn't amount to anything.  But I saw a piece of paper--a document--on the ground, and I picked it up and took it back and I translated it." Farb says the document contained the Japanese strategy for how they were going to defend Okinawa--and the first mention of Kamikaze's.

"We were lucky at Iwo; we had no Kamikaze's," Farb says. "The Kamikaze's started at Okinawa, but we learned that the strategy at Okinawa [would be] to let our troops in without a great deal of resistance, and then they were going to use the Kamikaze's to starve us out."

Corporal Yukio Araki, holding a puppy,
with four other pilots of the
72nd Shinbu Squadron at Bansei, Kagoshima.
Araki died the following day, May 27, 1945.
Photo Credit: Wikipaedia.
Records show about 3,860 kamikaze pilots were killed during World War II. Only 19-percent of Kamikaze attacks managed to hit a ship. "I had a brother who was on a destroyer escort; his ship was hit, but it wasn't sunk," Farb recalled.

Lt. Farb also had the distinction of being among the first on the island of Guam to learn of the surrender of the Japanese, and subsequent ending of the War.  "We [had begun] training for Operation Olympic, which was to be the invasion of Japan at Nagasaki," Farb says.

One night Farb was in his tent, listening to his Radio. "I heard a broadcast in Japanese that I was sure that said they were surrendering," he says. Not wanting to make a fool of himself, he decided to look for it in English--and found it.

"I literally raced down to the Officers' Club," Farb said. There was a band made up of some of the Black troops who worked in the mess hall, playing for the officers. "I stopped the music and announced that the war was over," Farb remembers.
Nobody believed him.

"They figured I was playing some sort of game," Farb says. "In fact, an ex-football player from an organization called JASCO--Joint Assault Signal Company--he came up to me, and he grabbed me by the throat with my collar, and he said, 'Lieutenant, if this is some kind of a joke, there'll be a delegation from JASCO to see you tomorrow!'"

Vindication came 15-minutes later. "The Sargeant on duty at G-3 Operations came racing in, and found my Lieutenant Colonel, and he came up, and he said, 'Stop the music,' of course. He said, 'The Lieutenant is correct; the war is over.'"

Farb says Harry Truman is his hero. "We found out later, after the war, that the beaches at Nagasaki had been fortified with underwater concrete and steel barriers," Farb says. He's convinced that fewer people were killed by the atomic bomb "than would have been killed by our fire bombing of Nagasaki, and the Japanese soldiers who would have been killed, and certainly, our soldiers," he says.

Farb doesn't regard himself a hero. "I don't think I did anything except what I was asked to do," he says. "There were terrific sacrifices in going over to Guam; there were replacement battalions that had thirty-two 2nd Lieutenants. I think only 8 of them left Iwo. The rest were either wounded or were killed," he recalls.

"In the Marines, a 2nd Lieutenant was a Platoon leader," Farb explains. "The Platoon leader was not in the back--he was out front. It took a lot of guts to be a Marine Corps Platoon leader." Farb paused, and continued: "Anytime you found an infantryman who had a rank of higher than a 2nd Lieutenant, whose unit had been in combat, you know you had a man who was really a hero," he says.

Combat servicemen received points which accumulated towards receiving a ticket home.
"It took 60-points to go home," Farb says. "You got a point for every month you were in the service. You got two points for every month you served overseas. You got some points for every battle you were in," he says.

In the fall of 1945, Farb caught pneumonia. For a second time.
His commanding officer asked how many points Farb had amassed.
"Fifty-nine, sir," he replied.

Farb recalls, "He opened his drawer, took out a folder, and said, 'Lieutenant, here are your orders. Go home.' "

"So I obeyed orders," Farb shrugs with a wry grin.
"I landed back in San Diego on Christmas Day, 1945. And I was mustered-out at Brooklyn Navy base in February, and went back to Columbia university, and put the War behind me," he says.

And that's how most Veteran's would tell their story.
No brag, just fact, about the Greatest Generation.

Farb and his entire 3rd Marine Division Headquarters Battallion of the Headquarters Company received the Presidential Unit Citation for their part in the battle of Iwo Jima.

In honor of Veteran's Day, Aubrey Farb will address the South End Optimist Club, on Wednesday, November 12, at the Westchase Marriott, 2900 Briarpark at Westheimer, at a luncheon meeting at 12 noon. Guests are welcome but a call to (713) 706-4334 for a reservation is requested. The Marriott Hotel offers its extensive buffet for $15 with tax and tip included. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Not Every Story Makes it Into the News

Not all life-and-death stories we see in the newsroom are about people, and not all of the stories we become aware of are reported. This is one of them.

One of our anchors,  Lana Hughes, was visiting Houston's BARC this Summer to update the registrations for her adopted cats, when a man named Tyler approached her about getting a newborn kitten adopted out...the kitten he was holding in his hands. He was essentially turning the cat in.

A bundle of promise
in a cardboard box
The weeks-old kitten had yet to open its eyes. Chances of an adoption would be two-fold: Slim and none. Lana made a split-second decision that would impact the lives of a dozen people in the following weeks. She took the kitten home.

Newborns aren't supposed to be away from their mothers. We don't know the circumstances that delivered the kitten to us, but Lana became the kitten's surrogate mother, administering feedings and cleanings around the clock during the first few weeks of life.

The animal was so tiny, we couldn't even determine its gender at first. I dubbed it "Kitty Couric." Not long after, it was apparent we'd need to alter that title, and Lana and her producer, Matt Greenwood, proclaimed his name to be "Lil'-T," after the stranger who wanted to donate the cat to BARC.
In reality, it was Lil'-T who had US
eating from her hand...er, paw!

The news business is a 24-hour animal.
You have to continually feed the news machine with fresh content, around the clock. How ironic it was, then, that the feeding cycles for Lil-T would inter mesh, and the Newsroom became a bit of a nursery, with feedings upon arrival, just before news time, once during the morning block, and once more before Lana could leave for the day. We all became adoptive Aunts and Uncles for Lil-T.

Takes a lickin' and keeps on...uh, lickin
"T" was a tiger in the making.
He could down a dropper-ful of food in no time, a pace he maintained as he graduated to more substantial quantities of food. He learned to search ravenously for his dropper tip while it was being prepared. He would steady the bottle nipple with one paw slung sideways on the bottle top as he guzzled his breakfasts. And he would complain mightily as Lana and her Aunt Martha Martinez administered ritual cleanings with a moistened paper towel. Well, it was better than licking his face.

Lil'-T became the Newsroom mascot, albeit a surreptitious one: According to the employee manual, animals were not allowed on the floor of the Radio suite. So we kept Lil'-T on the Q-T. He would briefly 'mew' in his cardboard carton, but generally burrowed under a plush towel and snoozed the hours away in the Newsroom between feedings.

A firm grip on reality--and his bottle

Lil'-T matriculated to being a stay-at-home cat after a couple of months, and Lana was able to leave him at home in the mornings. The newsroom lost just a little of the morning buzz when it was no loner necessary to time our work load to his feeding cycle. As Lana noted, like most animals, Lil'-T brought out the best in all of us as we watched him flourish and grow.

Today Lil'-T is a cocky cat with a bit of an attitude and a nose for trouble--or is that just news--probably because he was rubbing shoulders (and ears) with some of the greats in Houston Radio. Lana has added to his name--the T is now short for Taz...as in a certain Tasmanian cartoon character.

Lil' T at 2-1/2 Months
Photo Credit: Lana Hughes

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fireman Bauer's Bayonet

Fireman 1st Class
Maurice Bauer, USN, Ret
Soldiers returning stateside from the Pacific Theater in the Autumn of 1945 weren't supposed to bring weapons home with them. Pistols, rifles, bayonets--none were allowed on the USS Texas (BB-35) as she transited from Hawaii to California as part of the "Magic Carpet Ride," a flotilla of warships enlisted to bring as many men back home from the war as quickly as possible. But there it was, a contraband bayonet left on a hatch cover as Fireman 1st Class Maurice Bauer was making his rounds.

How it got there, he didn't know. And didn't care--it would make a swell souvenir of the war, he thought. And so he secreted it away in a closet compartment near his berth on the battleship below deck.

Warships are quirky vessels.
They've got personalities, and they've got mysteries, and somehow, that bayonet didn't stay hidden in Fireman Bauer's closet for long. The ship claimed it, and it fell through a void into the engine compartment below. The engine compartment where Bauer served as Fireman 1st Class, "running around the engine, just making sure it was all running right," he described.

Port-side Steam Engine controls, Battleship "Texas" (BB-35)
Photo Credit: Brent Clanton
The steam engines on the "Texas" are massive, mechanical wonders. They're the only ones of their type still in existence, and on a vessel that's still floating in the water. The pair of triple-expansion reciprocating steam engines of the "Texas" sit side by side in the mechanical space of the warship, below the waterline, aft of the boilers. Spinning her twin screws at 120-rpm, the "Texas" could make 22-knots of speed on her first day in the water...and on her last.

Cylinder-heads of Battleship "Texas" Port-side steam engine
Photo Credit: Brent Clanton
Fireman 1st Class Bauer tended those engines with all the love and care any seasoned Navy man would, and on her final day as a commissioned warship in the US Navy, it was Bauer who pumped her engine cylinders full of cosmoline grease to preserve them against the ravages of time.

Nearly 70-years later, as the "Texas" was undergoing major repairs to her structural members, including the supports for those massive steam engines, Fireman 1st Class Bauer's contraband bayonet was discovered by engineers with Taylor Marine working to disassemble the vast network of pipes and tubing that fed the machines. Only it was no longer contraband--the bayonet was now an historical artifact.

"We found your bayonet," Ship's Manager Andy Smith said to Maurice Bauer in a recent phone call.
"Can I have it back?" Bauer asked.
"Nope," Smith replied. "It belongs on the Battleship as a piece of her history," he explained.
And so Bauer figured he'd never get to see that souvenir again.

Maurice Bauer's family woke him early on Saturday and said, "Get up and shave and shower. We have a surprise for you today."
"I have to do both?" he complained.
"Yes, it's something pretty special," they said.

The Battleship Texas is tied to twin floating moorings that allow her rise and fall with the tides and the wake of passing freight vessels twice her size. On the gangway to the Quarterdeck, Fireman 1st Class Bauer received a replica bayonet, identical to the one he'd hidden away so many years ago.

(L-R:) 1st Texas Volunteer, Ed Curry; Ship's Manager, Andy Smith;
Maurice Bauer; Julius Taylor, Taylor Marine
 "The real thing still belongs in the museum," explained Smith gently. It will be displayed along with other historical artifacts from the Battleship's rich legacy of service from two world wars. Julius Taylor, CEO of Taylor Marine, extended the bayonet to Fireman 1st Class Bauer, who cupped it in his hooks. Because, you see, Bauer has no hands now. They were lost in an accident after the war.

The Bauer Bunch tours the mechanical space of Battleship "Texas"
Bauer's family descended to the engine room to view for themselves where their father and grandfather had labored during the war. They were astounded at the sheer size of the engines.  "They were pretty quiet, really," Bauer said. "The loudest sound down there was a fan for ventilation," he recalls. "I could speak to the next guy at the other end of the engine in a normal voice," he said.

But it was too loud to hear that falling bayonet as it slipped from Bauer's closet to the floor of the engine room, seven decades ago.

Brent Clanton serves with the 1st Texas Volunteers, an organization dedication to the restoration and preservation of the only surviving Dreadnought Battleship, the USS Texas (BB-35). The group also conducts guided "hard-hat" tours to spaces on the warship that are generally off-limits to the general public. To book a hard-hat tour, visit the Battleship Texas Foundation website