Biographies/People (84)

Sunday, 10 November 2013 06:29

This is William Mee's official photo

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The mood of the country, the mood of the Army, in World War Two was one of seriousness, commitment, and belief in the righteous of our cause.  Something, which has not been a part of our national psyche since this time.  These were children of the Great Depression that had lived through the seriousness of poverty and hunger, and had a belief that the government would help us through tough times.  They knew they would ultimately prevail through righteousness and hard work.

 

Willie Mee was a Sergeant in the war and heard the V-1 rockets screaming over London.  He said as long as they were making noise it was safe, when they became silent it meant they were dropping straight down on you (Source: William Mee, Personal Interview December, 2000) http://www.384thbg.iwarp.com/images/dBuzzBomboverLondon.JPG.  When the rocket actually hit the ground it could knock you off of your feet if you didn’t brace yourself.  When the air raid sirens sounded, civilians scattered across the street to get to the air raid shelters, the American soldiers just bravely walked to wherever they were going.  Soldiers like my dad felt that if it was their time, it would just come and there was nothing you could do to stop it.  Why waste your leave time going in and out of shelters?  This was valuable time to hit the bars or meet women.  His leave trips to London were far more dangerous than being at Grafton-Underwood Air Force Base where he was stationed.  The Germans never attacked the base by plane or rocket to his knowledge during the war.  The V-2 rocket was even more dangerous because it was bigger and more accurate.

 

But then danger was nothing to the men in his unit.  They all thought it was just a matter of time before they all died.  Everyone thought they were living on borrowed time.  Years later in the 1950’s, James Dean might have summed up their attitude best with his quote: “Live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse.” 

 

When my father got his draft notice he was really upset.  It was if he had been sentenced to death: the war had been going badly in the Philippines[i] and for the English in the Battle for Britain and North Africa.  The Germans had battled the larger U.S. equipped Russian Army to a stalemate.  All the news reports on the home front were negative and going poorly.  From this moment on, he was very emotionally tied to getting the war over as soon as possible.

 

But more than anything Willie Mee wanted to be a forest ranger.  He always felt that his dream of becoming a forest ranger in the Pacific Northwest was dashed by World War II.  Although, ironically he made it to Washington state through the military and saw the beauty of the forests he wanted to protect first hand.  He served in the U.S. Army Air Force in the 547th Squadron of the 384th Bomber Group from 1942 until September 22, 1945 (http://www.384thbg.iwarp.com/).  He had his basic training at Fort Jay, N.Y., and then went to specialty schools in: Miami; Wichita Falls, Texas; Wendover Field in Utah; and Washington state.  He even stopped along the way on a leave in Utah to take pictures of the Grand Canyon.  Then his unit embarked across the Atlantic on the unescorted Queen Elizabeth.  He served in England, North Africa and France.  This is that tale.



[i]  Ill-prepared American National Guard units, like the 200th Coastal Artillery Regiment and the 515th Costal Artillery Regiment from New Mexico, where thrown against a seasoned Japanese Army fresh from ten years of combat in China.  These American units often had older rifles and World War One surplus.  But they fought like hell.  Often time just running out of ammunition before their units were overrun.  Many men had never fired their weapons in training because of the shortage of munitions.  Most ammo boxes were labeled with stickers that said “Do not break the seal.”  Commanders took this very seriously and would not let their troops practice their marksmanship.   

 

A popular poem from the time was:

 

“We are the battling Bastards of Bataan,

No momma, no papa, no Uncle Sam,

No aunts, no cousins, no nieces,

No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces,

and nobody gives a damn !”

 

This poem represents the frustration that the men overseas had.  The poem came back in letters to the states.  Many people accused MacArthur of just throwing the National Guard units at the Japanese to buy time.  He left the islands with his famous “I shall return” speech.

 

Finally, on April 9th, 1942, Brigadier General Edward King, on the last remaining footholds of the Bataan Peninsular, surrendered his forces to the Japanese just before they were almost forced out to sea.  They had lost hundreds of square miles of the islands and only one stronghold remained and that was the fortified storage depot on Corregidor Island.

 

The capture of the 78,000 Americans and native Filipino Soldiers at Bataan gave the Japanese a dilemma of how to move the prisoners.  All the trucks were being used in supplying ammunition to the new assault on Corregidor Island, the “Rock”; so there would be no wheeled transportation.  Because of the Samurai tradition they had, the Japanese could not understand why any soldiers would surrender, instead of retaining their honor by committing suicide.  Therefore, the Japanese treated their prisoners horribly-like sub-humans.  They force-marched the prisoners back to Prisoner of War camps located by the capital of Manila.  This action later became known as the Bataan Death March in 1942.  If someone fell down the Japanese bayoneted them as an example to the others not to be stragglers.  Many of the prisoners already had malaria and dysentery, for them, it was inevitable to fall down.  Thousands of men were killed.  Of the two thousand New Mexicans only 900 survived the war.  It is a very special part of New Mexico history.  Something we should never forget.

 

Former State Representative Murray Ryan carried his buddy from Silver City, former State Senator Tommy Foy along the trail and fed him cockroaches to keep him alive.  He even made a grasshopper soup for him and poured it down his throat as Foy got worse when they got to the camp.  Foy made a miraculous recovery, and he and Ryan worked at a Prisoner of War camp building roads for the Japanese Army.  After the war, they came back to New Mexico and served in the state legislature together (Source: William H. Mee Sr., Personal Interview December, 2000).  To this day, Foy and Ryan cannot talk to a Japanese person.  Once Foy spit on a Japanese tourist speaking Japanese on a plane.  He said he blacked out to the time when the Japanese would yell at him and then hit him in the gut for falling down in the death march.  Anytime he heard the Japanese language it would just send him off in a rage.

 

Meanwhile, after daily air raids and bombardment, and a final invasion on May 5th, Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright surrendered the island of Corregidor on May 6th, and the 15,000 men and 6,000 civilians under his command.  About 30,000 men of the American and Filipino forces were still scattered throughout the islands and were requested to disband and fight on as guerrilla groups.  Most of these did not survive the war.

 

Sunday, 10 November 2013 03:40

Major Paul Davis

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"Honoring my father, Major Paul Davis, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was called one of Iron Men of Metz.  He liberated a labor camp and was in charge of a Belgian town for over a year. 

"Rest in peace, Daddy, and thank you for your service."  Kristi Davis

Voces de Santa Fe honors your memory. Rest in peace, Mr. Davis

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Sunday, 10 November 2013 01:55

Sgt. Ramon Móntes, U.S. Army, WWII

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A little boy, who sold newspapers on the Santa Fe plaza and spoke mostly Spanish, would later cross in an ocean liner to Germany during WWII.

Ramon Móntes, an Army 78th Lightning Division heavy machine gunner, lost much of his hearing while protecting the strategic Ludendorff Bridge over the Rhine River as German forces fought desperately by ground and air to destroy the French border crossing. The capture of the bridge at Remagen would be a significant turning point in the war, saving many American soldiers and causing Hitler's army to retreat. Later, this important event was recreated in the movie, The Bridge of Remagenn

In an interview with the Albuquerque Journal, Ramon says: "For three solid days I fired that gun and the planes just kept coming," describing the 50-caliber gun that fended off Messerschmitt fighter planes. 

Ramon remembers capturing the earthen dam, a strategic victory that prevented the Germans from flooding the Rhone Valley. He remembered life on the Western front as German paratroopers descended from the sky on Christmas Day, and he recalled a dangerous post-war Europe where three young children set off a leftover German hand grenade.

He would return to his hometown, Santa Fe, in early 1946, and walk in his combat boots to the Santuario de Chimayo, carrying the rosary he wore around his neck during the war. This pilgrimage to Chimayo was done over hills as a promise he made if he would return home.  Ramon kept that rosary by the side of his bed the rest of his life. He passed away after a long and happy life on May 31, 2009, and was buried with his rosary. 
 
Voces de Santa Fe honors your memory. Rest in peace, Dad.  
 
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