World War II veteran remembers

Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Billy Berry, 1946

Billy Berry of Jonesboro, raised in Manila, is like so many other men of his era whose early memories include leaving the cotton fields and finding himself in war-torn battlefields.

Berry has been a veteran for over 65 years serving during World War II in the Philippines, Guam and Japan.

Berry was born Feb. 9, 1926, in Manila, the son of Bailous and Earle Berry. He was nine years old when his father passed away leaving his mother with four children, two girls and two boys.

Billy Berry 2011

They were raised on the farm and Berry recalls a happy childhood.

"I always knew our mother loved us would take care of us," Berry said.

Berry remembers the attack on Pearl Harbor which led to the United States entering World War II.

He was in high school and too young at the age of 15 to go to the service when war was declared. He can remember the rationing stamps people had to have to make purchases of certain items.

"Sugar, shoes and tires were rationed," he said. "We didn't have a car so we didn't need tires."

World War II continued as Berry went on to finish high school. When he was a senior, he watched the airfield north of the school where fighter pilots trained.

"One day an officer from the Air Force came to the senior class and gave all the boys a test for pilot training," he remembers.

Berry was one of two that passed the test. When he told his mother his plans to be a fighter pilot, she ended his Air Force career quickly by reminding him he was only 17 and she would not sign for him to go to the military.

Berry graduated high school at the age of 17 and it was still almost a year before he was drafted.

He turned 18 in February and was drafted in March 1944. He contacted pneumonia and was deferred for six months. He went on active duty in October 1944. He served with the 32nd Red Arrow Infantry Division.

At almost 6 feet tall and 137 pounds, it was difficult to find uniforms to fit. Berry said he had never been away from home before and he was homesick. He had 13 weeks of infantry training learning about every weapon including pistols, carbines, Tommy guns, rifles, BAR, light machine guns, heavy machine guns, mortars and flamethrowers. He made sharpshooter the first day giving him more time to learn about other weapons.

"Some of the boys from the city had never seen a rifle," Berry said.

After basic training, he got a seven-day furlough to come home before going overseas.

"We got $75 a month, which was a lot of money to me," he said.

When his seven days were up, he boarded a train in Blytheville for California.

"That was a long way off for this farm boy," Berry said. "Every town where the train stopped, another service man would get on."

He arrived at Fort O.R.D. and then on to the ship Cape Clear arriving in the Philippines April 13, 1945, with 31 days on the ship.

"A lot of boys got really seasick and couldn't even look at food," Berry said. "I was never sick to my stomach and I asked them for their meal tickets. The ship had five decks so there were five different color meal tickets. When they called any color ticket for chow I was ready."

They landed at Lingayen Gulf. He found himself going north in the jungle and mountains. All of his training had been city fighting and the soldiers had two or three days to get to know a little something about jungle style fighting.

They started up the Villa Verde trail. The BAR man sprang his ankle, and Berry took up the BAR he had learned about in basic training.

It was here Berry got the news that President Roosevelt had died.

"That was May 8 and he had died April 12," Berry said. "Then we ran into the Japs."

It was his first terrible experience of war.

"We were never in a foxhole with the same guy two nights in a row," Berry said. "Whoever you were close to when it got dark, you dug in with. One night I was with Sgt. Ott. He was 37 years old, twice my age. He talked to me on how to stay alive the next day and sure enough he did not."

He said a poncho was stretched over their foxhole and the men took turns on watch at night. They watched two hours and tried to sleep two hours. It was his turn to watch one night. Their artillery was firing over them and one landed short causing him to lose his hearing.

That was just the beginning of his experiences during World War II.

During a battle Berry hurt is back. When his fellow soldiers realized he was not with them, they came back and found him lying on his back and they thought he was dead. They discovered he was not dead but he could not use his legs. They drug him out. An ambulance took him to the field hospital. He was flown to the island of Leyte, town of Tacloban to a larger hospital.

After about six weeks, he was discharged from the hospital and sent back to his unit. They caught a freighter to Luzon and then went north.

"We would hop on a narrow gauge train, which was about half the size of ours," he said. "When we saw a bunch of airplanes we would get off the train for we knew the Air Force had good food and hot showers. We would stay a day or two and then get back on the train. Sometimes we would get off at a Philippine village and they would cook us eggs."

"We were anxious to get our mail," he said. "I think I had about 60 letters from my sister Trig, Mother, and girlfriend. While we were in the hospital, we heard they had dropped the atomic bomb and killed thousands of people. We could not believe it."

His division was loading on the ship heading for Japan when he got there.

He later moved up to the island of Honshu. He and a friend went to see the damage at Hiroshima.

"All divisions were not needed so the 32nd was broken up," Berry said. "We were put in the 25th Division. I saw on the bulletin board a radio operator was needed. I volunteered and went to school to learn code and voice."

Later he volunteered for duty at MacArthur's headquarters in Tokyo for color guard.

"We lived across the street from the palace and next door to MacArthur's headquarters. We lived on the fourth floor of an eight-story hotel," he remembered.

When his enlistment ran out, Berry was offered a bonus and a 90 day furlough home if he would re-enlist for one year. He came home and then returned to Tokyo. His enlistment lacked about four months before his discharge and he was sent to Guam.

Berry was discharged at Camp Stoneman, Calif.

He admits he had a hard time adjusting to civilian life. Like most people who have been part of war, the memories are always there.

Berry said through it all he never let it enter his mind he would be killed or would not return home.

For his service he received these medals: Sharpshooter M-1Rifle; U.S. worn on Right Lapel; Combat Infantry Badge; Crossed Rifles infantry; Philippine Liberation Medal Unit citation; Occupation of Japan; Good Conduct; Bronze Star; Philippine Liberation Medal with one battle star; WWII Victory Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Theater with two battle stars.

Berry retired from the Postal Service in Michigan in 1971. He moved back to Arkansas locating in Jonesboro. He has been retired for 40 years and has enjoyed many hours of fishing.

He was a volunteer driver for the Red Cross for 20 years logging 200,000 accident free miles.

He also was appointed as Veterans Service Officer for Craighead County after returning to Jonesboro in the late 1970s.

Berry has compiled an autobiography for his children about his life as a civilian and his military service. It is filled with photographs, certificates, maps, and his life story.

Berry is one of 16 million men and women who served in the U.S. armed services during World War II; 400,000 died, and many others were wounded.

As Veterans Day is celebrated on 11-11-11, Berry's name is among the millions of men and women who have served their country well and helped keep America free.

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