History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Monday, April 4, 2016

Our Les Nelson endured New Guinea campaign, WWII

New Guinea was significant in WWII.
It is great seeing Les Nelson and his wife at McDonald's from time to time. These are increasingly precious moments when we can be close to a World War II veteran, a guy who was very close to danger. He was blessed getting through all of that.
I remember in the 1980s when we had the realization that the WWI veterans were leaving us. I remember covering a recognition event at the Morris Legion. Those hardy, aged souls gathered for a memorable photo that I took. A gentleman in a wheelchair was in front. Today, we have heard the meme for a long time that the WWII generation of war veterans is leaving us. I remember interviewing the national commander of a veterans organization at the Legion Club who expressed this. That was a fair number of years ago. He certainly was not wrong. However, the staggering number of people who got enlisted in the war effort, means that many of them will be with us a while longer.
I was hoping that my father, a gunnery commander in the Pacific theater, would make it to 100. We lost him at age 96. Our family monument at Summit Cemetery includes a reference to his war service: "USN WWII." Each year I make sure an American flag is stuck in the ground next to his name. I'll go out there on Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend. I'll walk because I don't know the policy for parking out there, even though I've been trying to find out. It's a one-lane road. Strange.
Hollywood has taken a different approach with WWII movies, starting with "Saving Private Ryan." When you learn about Les Nelson's war record, and the general information about the New Guinea campaign, it makes you wince (or throw up) at the tragedy of war. For some reason in the mid-20th Century, the human race devolved to where nations threw masses of troops against each other, cutting human beings down as with a scythe. The numbers are staggering as to be practically meaningless. Numbers reach a certain level where they become just numbers.
Added to that is the sheer pain and anguish so many human beings felt. It's a warning that maybe it could happen again.
Mr. Leslie Nelson served in the #1129 Military Police. So, that's what the "MP" stands for on certain helmets I've seen in movies, like for Lee Marvin's sidekick in "The Dirty Dozen." Remember that guy? Marvin was the flamboyant one while the MP just did his job in steady and sober fashion. I could see Les Nelson being like that.
Les was drafted into the service and sworn in on March 13, 1942. Then it was off to Fort Snelling and then to basic training with the Fifth Armored Division at Camp Cook CA. Nelson's unit left from San Francisco en route to Port Moresby, New Guinea. It was June of 1943. Nelson got ashore on one of the many "old tubs," i.e. landing barges. They were spread out because of uncertainty over what kind of opposition might await. Nelson was a guard on the tub. He felt resentment toward a lieutenant from North Carolina, a man who Nelson said never held a job in his life. Yet this individual had commander responsibilities.
It is easy to see the basis for that resentment. The rash lieutenant gave orders to "shoot anything you see or hear." Nelson spotted an obvious island native swimming up to the barge. The native swam underwater and then came up beside the barge. I guess you could say he looked like a photo out of National Geographic: he had bones in his ears and nose. His intent was obvious: to welcome, Nelson could see.
The lieutenant hollered for Nelson to shoot. Thank God Nelson felt his humanity brimming up inside him. He said "no" and pointed out that the swimmer was in fact a friendly native. The SOB lieutenant threatened Nelson with court martial. The native, wearing sea shells and obviously unarmed, swam back to shore underwater. Nelson was amazed he could do that. The troops got to the shore where they saw that man again. He turned to the bushes and yelled something. Other natives came out holding arrows and machetes but it was clear they intended no hostility. Rather, Nelson said "they had seen our American boat and cleared the beach by driving the Japanese back."
Nelson's comrades worked on the lieutenant to get him calmed down. It was clear that it was in the troops' interests to make friends with these natives and not to have them as enemies with the Japanese.
On another occasion, Nelson's humanity asserted itself when he refused to be a hangman even when asked. He was escorting a prisoner to the scaffold for the hanging. Nelson was offered a promotion to Master Sergeant if he did the job. He learned there were a total of 27 prisoners to be hanged. What? My God, the absolute hell of war was showing itself. The 27 were American men who had violated the law, i.e. shot someone or some like offense. Supposedly it was not an option to refuse to be a hangman. Fortunately a friend of Nelson's who was well-versed on military laws said you could request to be relieved "if we didn't think we could stand it." Nelson went this route to get relief.
Nelson recalled his training for MP duties as being very tough. He noted that doctors intervened because the training was finally judged too tough. Too many men were getting hurt. It's true that hard training prepared you for combat and instilled discipline. Remember the drill sergeant in the movie "Glory?" Nelson said "it was too hard for most of the people." Lest there be any doubt, he said some had to be put in strait jackets.
Certainly these MPs needed thick skin, and Nelson recalled the times having to guard prisoners of war who had been liberated. That experience would be too difficult to put in print, he said.
On the lighter side, Nelson recalled the time when they had to clear the runway of a Brahma bull. It was difficult solving this, Nelson recalled, but they decided to get close to the bull with a jeep, which the bull would then chase. A signal was given for the plane to land. Ole!
Nelson served for three years, eight months and 21 days in WWII. He recalled constant fear and stress. There was no entertainment. The troops adapted as best they could, seeking entertainment with crap games, rummy and poker.
The U.S. campaign on New Guinea is not as well remembered as it might be. Operations there were actually essential to the Allies' drive across the Central Pacific and to the liberation of the Philippine Islands from Japanese occupation.
Ever wonder why it's so rare to see re-runs of "McHale's Navy" on TV? They used improper terminology for the Japanese. In actual wartime, such language was a way to de-humanize the enemy, making it easier to kill them.
The Allied advance along the northern New Guinea coastline toward the Philippines forced the Japanese to divert precious ships, planes and men who might otherwise have reinforced their crumbling Central Pacific front.
The terrain was a commander's nightmare because it fragmented the deployment of large formations. There were no roads or railways, and supply lines were often native tracks, usually a dirt trail a yard or so wide tramped out over the centuries through the jungle growth.
New Guinea was strategically important because it was a major landmass to the immediate north of Australia. Its large land area provided locations for large land, air and naval bases. The combat forces paid a dear price with lives lost.
God spared Les Nelson, so today he can bring his smile and pleasant countenance to our Morris McDonald's. While some people in this town might complain about an inferior taco salad at a restaurant, Les would be the first to realize this is small potatoes, based on all he has seen and been through. We owe a debt to him.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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