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Interview with William Read, Jr. [Undated]

Charles Metzger:

Well, I'm Charlie Metzger, I'm in the 11th Grade at Suncoast High School in the IB. Program, and this is a Veterans History Project on William A. Read Jr., who was in the Pacific Theatre of World War II. So, Bill, if you wouldn't mind, would you tell me a little bit of the background about how you got involved in the War Effort?

William Read, Jr.:

Well, what started all this was... Pearl Harbor. And to fill you in on the background a little bit: that got all the Americans pretty annoyed, and Mr. Roosevelt was the President at that time, and he fired everybody up. And I was wondering whether to join the Army, Navy, or Marines, and to back up a little bit, my Dad was with General Pershing in 1918 on the Mexican Border, in the Horse Calvary, and when that ended, about the same time World War I started, and he was about to join the Army Air Corps, and he was the oldest of some other brothers, and he found his other brothers had already joined the Navy -- the air, so he joined the Navy Air, and as a matter of fact, here's a picture of my Dad (shows Charlie the picture), and three of his uncles [brothers, sic], that's his twin brother, killed in France.

Bill Metzger:

Can you turn the book around so we can see it? Hold that up. Char.

William Read, Jr.:

And, it's hard for me to see that. Anyway, There's my Uncle Bart, he won the Navy Cross, that's my Uncle Dune (shows Charlie), and here's a picture of my Dad, actually, using a Machine Gun.

Charles Metzger:

Wow.

William Read, Jr.:

And, I was Bora in 1918.

Bill Metzger:

Can I see the picture of your Dad again?

William Read, Jr.:

Sure (shows the camera). Dad after World War I kept up his reserve commission in the Navy, and he did other things, just before World War II broke out, I think Hitler started that part by invading various countries abroad. Dad was called back in the Navy, and wound up, I think at first on Admiral Towers' staff first in Washington, and then on in New Guinea. And so Dad was very helpful when I was younger, and I was about 16, I obtained a Pilot's License, and my Dad taught me how to shoot with both a rifle and a shotgun, and I, like the rest of the family, liked to hunt a little bit, and I kept my eye in over the years in skeet and trap and hunting, and I was hoping to be a Pilot, either in the Air Force or the Navy, and then I found out very soon that they weren't interested because I wore glasses, and I was thinking about going up to Canada, and I had some friends in the Canadian Air Force where I heard the Physical Exam was -- "Can you see lightning and hear thunder?" But my Dad informed me that the Navy was looking for people that knew something about guns, knew how to shoot, they were starting a Navy Aerial Gunnery Instructor's School in Pensacola, so I was able to get a waiver for my eyesight, and join the Navy, and there was a program called AVS for the young men that could go through, if they qualified, and go through Officer's Training School, and that was at Ft. Skylar, just north of New York City, right near the southern end of Long Island Sound, and I graduated from that as an ensign, and was sent to Pensacola, to the Naval Aerial Gunnery Instructor's School

Bill Metzger:

Bill, hang on a second, I want to get this thing back into... there we go,

William Read, Jr.:

And I graduated from that, and I was ordered to San Diego, so I jumped in my car and drove to San Diego, and reported in, and I was... wound up at the North Island Air Station, and they started me on the Skeet Range, which is part of the instruction for the Aerial Gunneries, and I was there for a little while, and then I was transferred to the Machine Gun Range, which was south of Coronado, and I wound up as the Range Officer there, and we had all the Navy Turrets on a Railroad, a little Railroad track, and a power car and a little train ran down the curvy track, and they shot at targets going in circles behind the Sand Dunes, and the bullets landed in the Pacific Ocean, and prior to Run, the gunners would take a roll of 100 cartridges, that were belted from the machine gun, and dip them in different color paint: Orange, Green, Yellow, and after they fired at the Target, and took the target off, which was cheese cloth on 4 posts, they could tell what their score was, and I wound up as the Range Officer and spent most of my time operating that little train all day, and we did have one problem: that part of the Pacific was a fairly good place to fish, and Fishing Trawlers would come in and cast their nets, and this practice was being hazardous to their health, and we put up a little tower on the south end of the machine gun range, and put a watchman up there, and when he spotted a fishing vessel, he'd raise a red flag, and I'd go up to the tower, and I had a single 50 caliber machine gun with a telescopic sight that I'd personally sight, and I loaded it with tracers, and if it looked like they were coming in an area where they shouldn't be, I'd aim off of their stern, and give them a pretty good burst, and they usually got the picture immediately and left at a high rate of speed as they radioed the Admiral and told him that I was trying to sink them, but the Admiral would come down to inspect the range every now and then, and he was aware that that wasn't the case, and after I'd been there for a few months, a Navy PV-4-Y-1 Squadron of Gunners came through for their weekly class at our range, and they didn't have a Gunnery Officer for the Squadron, and they asked for me, and so I went to my Commanding Officer, and told him that I had this opportunity to get a little bit of combat experience, and that some of my students had already asked, and his reply was "you're doing a great job, you are not going anywhere." But the next day, the Admiral happened to come down, and I told him about this opportunity, and he said "I agree with you, what's the number of the Squadron," and the following day I had orders from Washington to report to VPB-101, which I did, and I arrived there and it was based in one of the outlying fields from San Diego, just to the east of San Diego, and we formed up 16 B-24s, and as each new plane arrived, I'd report to the patrol plane commander, and tell him who I was, so I could take a hop and just observe how the gunners and the bombardier and everything worked, and the squadron sent me through an Air to Air Gunnery School in El Centro, California, and they also sent me through the Nordon Bomb-Sight School, and our squadron was the first Navy PVY-1 Squadron, to have the Glide Bombing attachment and the Nordon Bomb Sight. Prior to this attachment, the bombardiers took control of the plane and he had to maintain the same altitude and the same air speed to have his bombs hit on target, so when the Glide Bomb Attachment, you could be losing altitude and gaining speed, and that later on saved our plane from getting shot down. And, when I have that story that you read about, one of the planes that I almost went up in, and when everybody was pretty well trained, we flew out to Hawaii.

Bill Metzger:

Hold on one second, the plane's going over.

William Read, Jr.:

We flew out to -- you ready? We flew out to Hawaii for I think between 3 and 4 weeks, and got some practice with Fly Bombs, and then we flew to our base in the Pacific, the Southwest Pacific; let me get a map out over here. We flew via a couple of islands in between Hawaii and the Eastern end of New Guinea, here's San Diego.

Bill Metzger:

Hang on a second; let me come around there now.

William Read, Jr.:

Here's San Diego, and we flew to Hawaii, where we practiced for a couple of weeks, and we flew to Fuji [Fiji, sic], and another island, and then wound up in Mannas in the Admiralty Islands, and from the Admiral Islands, we started on patrol, daily patrols, in the shape of a piece of pie, and one plane would fly 1100 miles, and then 100 mile cross leg, and then 1100 miles back, and then other planes would fly on the adjoining sector, and wed cover the whole area every day.

Charles Metzger:

What were you looking for? You were looking for...

William Read, Jr.:

Mostly Japanese Activity, but our primary target was the Japanese fleet, and after the Marines had taken Biyak, and the CBs had completed an Airstrip, we flew to Biyak, and operated out of that for a month or so, and then we wound up after the Marines had taken Moritai, and the CBs had completed an Airstrip for us, we moved to Moritai, and we moved up, and I think it was our first operation Day out of Moritai, and by that time, I had flown quite a few missions, even though I wasn't assigned flight pay, or anything I'd had a lot of experience on the range with Machine Guns, and I was a pretty good shot, and I asked the Bow Turret Gunner if I saw an interesting mission if he'd like to have the day off, and they all said yes, and I began to acquire quite a bit of experience, air-to- ground, and I flew with the Commanding Officer, and had some pretty good luck, and he started to ask for me, so I wound up flying quite a few with Capt. Justin Miller, and...

Bill Metzger:

This is Justin Miller whom you mention in the story, right?

William Read, Jr.:

Yeah, he was the Commanding Officer, and the I think our very first mission from Moritai, was we were going to fly 1100 miles out over the South China Sea, and on our way over, we went by Palawan, and we noticed on the capitol of Palawan, on the airstrip, there were quite a few planes on it.

Charles Metzger:

And that was still under Japanese control, right?

William Read, Jr.:

Yeah, the Japanese, owned -- were in charge of all of this. And we continued, after observing the Japanese ships and planes, and, uh, we continued out to complete our sector on a hundred-mile cross leg, then we came back, and the mountain range in the Philippines was 6 or 7 thousand feet, and we dropped down under that to avoid any radar, and just skinned the top of the mountain, and came down the, uh, flew over the harbor and flew down the airstrip and shot up quite a few planes and ... I thought we should have gone home, but the Captain saw a seaplane base, and so he diverted and went in to attack the seaplane base which was a little North of- I have another map if you want to pick that one off [unfolds map]

Bill Metzger:

You've prepared a whole history lesson her, Bill; thank you.

William Read, Jr.:

... here's a better map...and, uh, we came in on the seaplane base and they heard our bombs and machine gun fire from the airship, and they were all ready for us and they shot us up and set us on fire, wounded some people on board and number-three motor was on fire and the Captain turned and headed back over the Sulu Sea - yeah, there it is right there, the Sulu Sea - and, heading back homeward and - well, you read that part...

Charles Metzger:

You said you didn't think you were going to make it.

William Read, Jr.:

... so we had to, uh, ditch the plane about six miles off the coast; the plane sank ; we lost three of the crew, one of them from a bullet wound through the artery; and the bomb bay gas tank had popped up and some of us vied to tried to grab that, and we swam to, uh [unfold map again] we swam to one of the islands off the coast, just, just north of the airfield that we had bombed; it appeared to be deserted and there were 7 of the crew, 8 of the crew, rather, that made it that far, and then the next day -- that's the other story...

Charles Metzger:

Right, year, the Japanese plane...

William Read, Jr.:

Right, we lost another member of the crew. So there were 7 of our crew left, and then we lived on that island for about, uh, six weeks, living on coconuts --

Charles Metzger:

Right, yeah, which you'd learned how to crack by this time/

William Read, Jr.:

... we drank the coconut milk, and you could see it rain up in the mountains every day, but it didn't rain our way. One evening, after we'd been there a couple of weeks, we saw a northeast storm shaping up, and there were some giant clam shells, with a couple of clam shells right side up on the beach to catch any rain, and there was quite a wind blowing, at the time, and the next morning I got up to check the clam shells and there was about an inch of sand at the bottom and a half inch of water and the water tasted a little flat after the coconut milk, so we stayed with the coconut milk. And then, uh, after we'd been there several weeks, the Army Air force had moved up to Moratai with their B-24s, and they sent a squadron over to bomb this air field and we had a ringside seat and when the, uh, they turned sort of our, uh, pretty close to us to return to base, I took out my signal mirror with a little hole in it to reflect the sun to send a signal, and I started to signal 'SOS' to the nearest plane, and he started to turn out of the formation and a cloud came over and I couldn't send any more, so he went back into the formation and disappeared over the horizon. We had noticed some smoke from campfires in the early evening, a little ways up the coast from where we were.

Charles Metzger:

Yeah.

Bill Metzger:

But on a different island, right?

William Read, Jr.:

They were on the mainland...

Charles Metzger:

Right...

William Read, Jr.:

We were on a little island off the mainland...

Charles Metzger:

Off the coast... right.

William Read, Jr.:

We were one of the southern-most of a little chain of a half-a-dozen islands;

Bill Metzger:

Is that the one that's called Powdan, or something like that, on the, what you describe in your story?

William Read, Jr.:

Pandan Island; Pandan was the one we were on. I think it's Ramsey on some of the maps.

Bill Metzger:

Yeah, and that's what the other story in one of the other books calls it, it Ramsey.

William Read, Jr.:

Yeah, and uh, I felt some of us were getting some gangrene. The only medicine we had for our wounds was, uh, the ants would come on our wounds at night and I think, uh, the ants working things over at night, and our washing our wounds in salt water before it got light, I think that helped keep them healing a little bit. So, the Captain and the Co- Pilot were in the best shape and, from that Japanese plane that crashed, we recovered some parachute shroud line, two pistols, some Japanese swords, and we decided, uh, the Captain and the Co-Pilot volunteered to paddle on a raft at night to the next island north of us and try to make it to these campfires where we hoped the natives were on our side. And so, when the raft was ready, we decided on a code word, when they returned, if they were in friendly hands; and we decided on a code word, if we were still in friendly hands. And they departed and they went a couple of islands, and they'd paddle to the next island and rest during the day, and when it got dark, paddle to the next island. And one night, they were about to start to paddle and it looked like a storm was picking up, so they went back on the island, and some Japanese ship pulled in the, in between the two islands to get out of the storm a little bit, and fortunately they were able to observe them from the jungle, instead of the raft! [laughs]. And, after it would seem like about a week, they went ashore in the vicinity of where these campfires were, ran across a couple of natives who didn't really speak the language, who thought they were Germans from a German submarine. They took them to their village, where there was a doctor from Manila, and the widow of a, somebody who'd been killed by the Japanese, and they both, uh, spoke English. When the Captain and the Co-Pilot both felt that the natives were on our side, they told them about us. And, uh, one nice moonlight night, we heard, about midnight, uh, we heard our code word, coming out of the sound, and uh, we gave our code word, and these dug-out canoes appeared, and a little native jumped out of one of the dug-out canoes and grabbed some coconut husks, put 'em in a pile, took out a flint and steel - apparently they were a pretty backward tribe, in that they, uh, there was no electricity, telephone, TV, [smile]...

Charles Metzger:

Ha ha...

William Read, Jr.:

.. .or anything like that, and uh, no matches, so they used a flint and steel. He made a spark, blew on it and made a little fire, put a little kettle on it and had a cup, poured me a cup, and I took the cup, and thanked him, but it was coffee, and I don't drink coffee! [chuckles]. But he did have a banana and an orange, which tasted pretty good. And then we piled on, piled into the dug-out canoes and paddled back to the beach near their little village, which was inland from the beach a little ways - sort of an island in the middle of a swamp - and they'd gotten the word that two of us could walk; I had a compound fracture of the leg and the Navigator had two bullets in his leg, and they had a pair of Caribows - that's the Philippine water buffalo - and we rode to the edge of the swamp, and they had made a little stretcher out of bamboo, and they carried us on their shoulders, in water up over their waist, to the village, and we were assigned one of the huts as living quarters, and they served the meal, the floor was bamboo slits, you had to go up a ladder to get up there, and the meal was served on a big banana leaf on the floor, and there was a bowl of gravy and some rice, pieces of chicken, an orange and a banana, and you picked up the rice in your fingers and dipped it in the gravy and if you spilled any it would drop through the slits in the bamboo and the hogs and chickens underneath picked things up. And we were there for about a week, and ...

Bill Metzger:

How long had it been since you'd had real food?

William Read, Jr.:

Uh... about six weeks.

William Read, Jr.:

.. .onto the leg of this fighting cock, and uh, bet very heavily on the outcome of the fight, and the two owners of the birds, would, at the signal, would get in the middle of the ring, let them peck at their heads for a few seconds, and then when they got the signal they'd let them go and the birds would just drop on the ground and if you blinked, you'd miss the whole fight! [chuckles]. We eventually made it up to this area and on the last morning, we ran in, uh, we were a little late and it started to get light, and we were sitting in the dug-out canoes, paddling north, and we heard one of our planes and we could see, uh, he came right up along the shore flew over, so I could see the bow gunner lookin' down, so I was glad he didn't shoot; there was a Japanese vessel offshore and they turned and went out and attacked the Japanese vessel. We joined up with the Colonel, and while we were doing that, one of our aircraft carriers made a strike up north of us at some target, and two of our dive bombers were shot down and, while we were working our way up from the south, the two pilots and the two gunners were working their way out of the north, and we all joined up with, at the Colonel. And when he was, the Colonel was sure who we were, he radioed Australia and they radioed the Seventh Fleet, and the first suggestion was, that we were to have two fires going, a hundred yards apart, with white smoke at 10-o'clock, and a Navy P-B-Y would arrive with a P-38 fighter cover - they had just invaded Laidee, one of the other islands, and they could reach us. So we had the fires going, and when the time arrived, all we saw were Japanese 'Zeroes' flying around, and we were glad the P- B-Y didn't show up, 'cuz some of the guys are pretty good shots! Nothing happened, so we waited several days, and the message came to try it again. So we tried the two-fires- white-smoke again, and the same deal. Fortunately, nothing happened except Japanese 'Zeroes' flying around. The next message was, to be at a bearing, at a mountain, just to the west of us, and a bearing off-shore to an island, just to the north of the intersection. And light a torch for five seconds, every five minutes.

William Read, Jr.:

So, our Navigator was along, he took us to the exact spot, and we lit the torch, four or five times, and the Japanese on the island north of us started to signal, and then we saw one of the Navy blinker lights, almost, or actually just east of us, signaling us to 'keep coming', so we continued paddling east, and joined up with, uh the submarine, the gunnels. And we climbed aboard, the Captain invited the two fellow-Philippinos that had escorted us out, on board for a meal; unfortunately, one of them was sea sick and had to decline, and the Captain asked what he could give them to help, and he gave them some sneakers; some Tommie, Thompson sub-machine guns; and some ammunition; some medicine; and loaded the boat, and the boat departed, west. We started heading east, and we had to finish the War Patrol on the submarine, and it took us through the Philippine islands, the east end of the South China Sea, off to Manila, where they heard there was a convoy, and we eventually wound up back at the submarine base, which was the mother ship in Sai-Pan, the island of Sai-Pan,

Bill Metzger:

Do you remember where that is on the map? Think we can track it?

William Read, Jr.:

I'm going to have to look, [unfolds map] You're going to have to shut it off. {camera shuts off momentarily, then back on]. When we disembarked from the submarine, spent a night there, in the [points to places on map] uh, our crew was sent to Sidney, Australia - let me find Sidney...

Charles Metzger:

Right there.

William Read, Jr.:

Yeah...and we stopped at Townsend, Townsendville; stopped at Townsendville, refueled, and went to Sidney. At Sidney, I checked into a hospital and they operated on my leg, and a couple other operations, and I was there for awhile. And when I recovered, I got a ride back to Moratai. And they had just left, their tour of duty was up, and I rejoined them in the Hawaiian Islands [unfolds map], I rejoined them in Hawaii Islands at the Kenee-oee Naval Air Station, and we rested for a few days, and then got a ride on one of the smaller aircraft carriers, back to San Diego.

William Read, Jr.:

Yeah. Yeah! I attribute my survival to the ants, and salt water and my Guardian Angel [chuckles].. And then I was assigned to the Naval Gunnery School in San Diego, and there I met a friend of mine, who had just been assigned his own squadron of the PB- 4y-2s with the single tail and he invited me to be his gunnery officer. It was a wonderful invitation, but I really hadn't completely healed, and I declined, and I was wondering what happened to him, and I read later that he, uh, had attacked some heavily- fortified Japanese island and was hit by anti-aircraft fire and none of his crew survived. And that was the end of World War II, for me.

Bill Metzger:

Once you got back to San Diego, that was...

William Read, Jr.:

Yes, I just taught at that school there, until the war ended. I did have a very close shave driving home, nothing to do with combat. My wife joined me in San Diego and after V-J Day, we started to head back to the east coast, and we were driving in a car and we got to Phoenix or somewhere, and everything was booked up, so I said, 'Let's drive on and maybe around dawn we'll find some place and check in when everyone is leaving to continue'. And at dawn, we were driving in the desert on a two-lane road and Fm leading a line of cars, and there's a car approaching me heading west, I'm heading east, and I notice that the driver is sort of cutting over in my lane a little bit, and I noticed it looked like his head was down, and I didn't want to blow my horn, because I didn't know what he would do, so I made a quick turn and passed on my right side, his left side. We missed by about six inches, all the cars behind me swerved off in the desert, and my wife fainted, [laughs by everyone] End of World War II.

Bill Metzger:

That's great. Bill. Thank you.

Charles Metzger:

Thank you, very much.

Bill Metzger:

Charlie, do you want to ask some of your other questions?

Charles Metzger:

One last question: What's your most lasting memory of World War II; what stands out the most?

William Read, Jr.:

Well, I was lucky; I wish I'd had my gun camera working when I, I made some pretty good shots.

Charles Metzger:

Yeah, right.

William Read, Jr.:

I don't want to go anywhere; I drive a Japanese car and I have two Japanese outboards on my little boat... [chuckles]

Charles Metzger:

[laughs] ...on your boat, right!

William Read, Jr.:

Actually, I wasn't after the individual Japanese, I was after the machines of war;

Charles Metzger:

Right.

William Read, Jr.:

I knew that they were individuals like myself, and they were under orders like I was.

Charles Metzger:

Was that the attitude of most of the people you knew, of the people in your squadron, or was it...

William Read, Jr.:

I was very lucky; to be in the Navy, the squadron I was with, everybody was a volunteer, and I found them all to be intelligent, articulate, and some of the nicest guys you could ever meet; and brave, all of them.

Charles Metzger:

Thank you very much.

William Read, Jr.:

You think that covered it?

Charles Metzger:

Yes, I think that pretty much covers it.

William Read, Jr.:

Was that sort of what you expected?

Charles Metzger:

Yes, it was; thanks. [Following the formal interview, some informal conversation continues about the medals of honors awarded to William Read, such as the Navy purple heart and the gold star, the air medals. Navy shooting medals, and the Navy cross; under what conditions they are awarded; and William Read describes his wounds and his awards, then shows them to Charles Metzger and Bill Metzger in his trophy case and describes each one, including personal medals from his life, such as track medals and an Olympic shooting medal.] [Following the discussion and video coverage of medals, additional informal conversation ensues regarding drawings that could be found or made available depicting some of the scenes from William Read's war experience, including an ammunition ship that he shot and blew up.]

 
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