News: 2nd Engineer Brigade’s past meets present
Story by Staff Sgt. Jason Epperson
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The Japanese attack against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941 changed the course of American history. This promptly pulled America into the Second World War.
With the Great Depression, citizens entered the service to provide for their families. While there were men enlisted before the Pearl Harbor attack, the reason for enlisting quickly changed. Some of the men who were already serving in the military saw a sudden influx of recruits and with it a military that was forever changed.
Jack Reed was one of these men.
The McMinnville, Ore., native joined the Army, Sept. 10, 1940, at Fort Lewis, Wash., along with a few of his friends.
"Well, I was in a CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camp with some other fellows that decided we'd go out and get into the Army,” Reed said. “We went to Tacoma and got into this recruitment office and they were asking us questions, of course, and asked this fellow that was with me what he knew about horses. So he went into a big rigmarole about how he rode horses and done this, that and everything. He turned around to me and asked me what I knew about horses and I said was, 'about all I know is you put the crupper on the back end, not the front end’. He got put in the Infantry and I got put in the cavalry. They didn't want anybody that knew about horses, they wanted us to learn the Army way. That was how I ended up in the horse cavalry. I went straight to the 11th Cavalry based out of Presidio, Monterey."
"My job there was just another cavalryman that did whatever the Army asks a cavalryman to do,” Reed said.
He spent the beginning of his enlistment shoveling manure, washing and cleaning horses. He also learned how to put shoes on them.
Reed wasn’t in the cavalry unit when he was sent overseas.
“We were sent from the Presidio, Monterey to a town named Campo, California, but we were bivouacked on Lake Morena,” Reed said. “We were there for the purpose of riding security patrol on the San Diego water lakes. We did foot patrols along the lakes and along the Mexican border and when the war broke out, they disbanded us and moved the Buffalo Soldiers from Fort Huachuca up there and we were sent to a Camp Callan. We were sent there waiting for assignments to different units. I happened to be assigned to the 2d Engineers, which was at Fort Ord at the time, so we were sent there, and from Fort Ord, of course, we went overseas."
"Second Engineer Amphibious Brigade was what we were known as then," Reed said.
Pvt. Jack Reed and his new unit, Company D of the 542nd landed in Brisbane, Australia.
“We were there a few days and then boarded narrow gauge railroad trains that headed for Rockhampton, which was a couple days trip on that narrow gauge,” he laughed.
After being in Brisbane for awhile, Reed’s unit shipped out to Rockhampton.
“We trained in Rockhampton three, maybe four months, I'm not exactly sure of the time, but took the underwater demolition training there in the Rockhampton River. We marched a million miles and ruined a man's pineapple garden. We were taking a break and a lot of the guys decided they'd like to try one of those right out of the garden. I don't know how much it cost him, but those pineapples were nowhere ready to eat."
"We paid in Dutch Guineas when we were on some of the islands, then we went into the Philippines and paid in pesos,” Reed said. “We were all over the southern Pacific.”
One day Reed and the other members of his outfit were working on building a road.
"The first sergeant came up and told me I had enough points that I could come home on a 30 day furlough and then come back with one rank higher than I went in with or I could get a discharge,” Reed said. “So, I took the discharge. I had a wife and a 2-year-old in San Diego and I wanted to get back and see them. So I didn't have to go back. That was in 1945. I discharged on the 3rd of July. I got out before the war ended."
Reed had seen his share of combat with Japanese troops in those islands, and the memories stayed with him.
“I remember my wife wanted to go to a movie in San Diego on Broadway and, of course, back then to get into the movie, if it was a good movie, you had to stand in line like everybody else. I remember we were standing in line and one of the naval airplanes came in to land on North Island and when he changed his pitch on his prop to come down, it sounded just like a Jap Betty. I hit the deck. People started laughing and saying 'what's he doing?' It sounded just like a Betty coming in ready to drop the bomb. They dropped a lot of bombs, but they would come in too low and drop them and they didn't have time to activate so the bombs would hit and bounce and never go off. We saw that lots of times. I don't know if the pilots were new or what."
There are many obvious differences between today’s Army and the Army back then besides just the uniforms, according to Reed.
"It’s like a young friend of mine told me: He said you couldn't get by in the Army today. Uneducated, don't know computer or anything like that, you know,” Reed said. Today, to get in first thing you have to have a birth certificate, which you don't have. Then you have to have a minimum of a high school diploma, and then he said if you don't know computers and things like that, you’re not much good to the Army anymore. That's the biggest difference, I believe.”
Reed mischievously smiles as he recalls some memories.
“We had a young second lieutenant join us on Biak Island,” Reed said. “He came in as a replacement officer and he insisted that whenever you met, you saluted him. He would straight crawl all over you, ‘You didn't salute me!’ Finally one of the guys hollered at him, ‘Yes Sir, we're gonna salute you from now on. We're glad you reminded us,’ and it just tickled him to death. Then this guy says, ‘Well you ought to be careful, because these Japs over here look specifically for officers. If they spot them brass bars you got, they're gonna be aiming at you.' You know he took his bars off. He asked another guy, 'Are they lying to us or do they really aim at the officers?' and the other officer told him," well they don't care about that poor Soldier. Who he takes his orders from is the one they want to shoot. After that you'd go to salute him, and they said ‘Don't do that!’ "
After the Army, Reed soon found a job to support his family.
“I did work myself up to foreman. When I retired I was a foreman crane operator at a weapons naval station up at Seal Beach, California."
People every now and then will ask Reed advice.
"Well, there's an x-ray technician that I see when I have to have x-rays and her son was going in and going to be sent right to Iraq,” Reed said. “She said 'You’re an old soldier, what could you tell him?' I said I'd tell him like I was told when I went in: 'Keep your head down and your butt up and you'll probably come home.’ "
“I talked to her maybe six weeks ago and she said he's doing just fine and he's getting ready to come home for awhile. He'd been over long enough to come home for redeployment.”
“It's pretty hard for a man that was in the service when I was to tell a man in the service today what to do or how to do it, because it's so much different,” Reed says quietly. “Best advice I could give him would be to do as their told and pay attention to their NCOs ‘cause they'll take care of them.”
In 2004 there was a reunion for the members of the 2d Engineer Special Brigade Soldiers. It was here that Jack met Mr. Edwin Leard III. Leard’s father, Edwin Leard II never knew exactly what had happened to his father during the war. Paul Lieberman, who passed away earlier this year, had contacted Edwin Leard III after seeing his grandfather’s name listed as KIA (Killed in Action) Sept. 6, 1943 in “The History of The Engineer Special Brigade” book, also known as the “Red Book” published by the Telegraph Press in 1946.
Leard III and his family have adopted Reed as a grandfather and describe him as a man of “kindness and peace.”
“In many ways Jack is unique in the way he carries himself,” Leard said. “He is my connection to an era and grandfather I never knew, but can now begin to appreciate.” Leard highly recommends a interview he personally developed and produced with Jack Reed. “It’s an interview I would recommend for all high school seniors that are without direction, which would be most, Leard said. “ A calibration of this era needs to be a reminder we can be here again.”
Leard says one of the best Jack Reed stories is when Reed talks about ‘being fortunate to have malaria’. “It’s a perspective like no other.”
Reed shares this story in the aforementioned interview. Here is an excerpt of that conversation.
“I was in a hospital,” Reed said. “They had hospital tents. They had nine men in this tent. They had five men on one side and four on the other side. I remember being in the first bed, on the five man side of the tent. The nurse came to me one morning and asked how I was and if I needed anything. I told her, ‘No, I thought I was fine.’ She went to the next bed, pulled a cover over his head. The other side covered his face. Eight people and I was the only one of the nine alive. I guess you know I got up and ran, but the nurse caught me and those other people in there had dengue fever. Those other people had dengue fever. I was fortunate, I didn’t have dengue fever, I had malaria.”
“I was very fortunate I had the malaria. I went into another tent hospital and there I contacted what they called malaria of the brain. Anyways, I was unconscious for, I don’t know, three to four days and they ‘were’ putting quinine right into the bloodstream. When we left there they carried me out on a stretcher and put me aboard a ship and told the mess sergeant to get me on my feet. We had a three day trip, and I never ate so good in all my life. “I had eggnogs, steak and eggs, because our mess sergeant would go right down with the navy steward, who was in charge of the navy cooking and they were constantly feeding me and they got me on my feet.”
Edwin Leard III also contributed to this article.
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