Friday, April 01, 2011

Clyde Fuller

Clyde Fuller was a fresh-faced Caswell County country boy when he was drafted into World War II and had his share of brushes with death. Born near Milton, Fuller was one of six children. He left the farm to become part of the war effort. As a U.S. Navy cook, he was aboard a cargo ship during the invasion of Okinawa. The ships were moving troops and equipment, always under the threat of fire from Japanese aircraft. He recalls being in a convoy of about a dozen ships when they were called to their stations after a “booger” was sighted honing in on them. “He was probably no more than 10 feet off the water. We couldn’t fire at him without hitting ships on the other side of us,” he recounts. He said they held their fire until they could see what was coming. The “booger” turned out to be a Japanese suicide pilot. “He flew right past us,” Fuller said, guessing he “could have thrown a rock” and hit the passing aircraft. “He was probably 20 to 30 feet away from me. He flew right past us.” Fuller said the pilot then made a bank to the left, circled around and slammed “into the quartermaster’s home, where they piloted the ship.” The ship exploded within seconds, blowing tons of metal into the sky. “Red hot metal fell down on board our ship” like embers from a lighted cigarette. Fuller said it was lucky his shipmates did not receive bad injuries, but he felt a deep sadness when he thought about the men on that target vessel: the dead and all the family members they left behind. He admits he was “tore up” over the disaster, as were his fellow sailors.

He was in another convoy that was attacked in the Philippines. Once again, a “booger” was sighted as it topped a mountain and bore down on them. The plane passed so close it “rattled” the ship, then dropped and released a torpedo. The torpedo slammed into the side of a ship beside his, hitting the engine room, tearing a large hole and sending the ship reeling. Because it was late in the day, the convoy continued its voyage, not stopping. Fuller, to this day, insists how lucky he and the crew were to have avoided being the target. “That was the day we were supposed to have gotten gone. God blessed us again.”

Fuller recounts another incident when he went ashore in the Philippines and saw a battleground, with scorched earth and trees cut to ribbons from gunfire. They passed a cemetery with row upon row of simple white crosses, marking the final resting place of American dead. Further on, they passed along a ditch made by a bulldozer, with a dozen or so Japanese soldiers awaiting burial in the mass grave. Further down the road, he heard the crackle of gunfire and was told the enemy soldiers were being attacked as they approached a watering hole. Fuller helped load up some gear and headed back to the ship. He admits seeing his ship after being in the dangerous interior “was the most beautiful-looking ship I ever saw.”

After traveling from the Philippines to Guam and back, he learned the ship was going to return to Guam for the invasion. Fuller was on an LST carrying bulldozers, troops, fuel and amphibious tanks. The cook’s prepared a large meal before the 6 a.m. move. Overnight, they heard an enemy air raid being mounted. The ships laid down smoke and three mortar-bearing ships were ordered out of the bay and away from detection by the enemy. By morning light, they returned and everyone pitched in to unload the ships in record time.

Fuller said he was aboard ship in Okinawa when the end of the war was announced. There was much jubilation, but the men were immediately told to get back to their stations in case the announcement was bogus and to be ready for an attack. “But about 15 minutes later, the captain came on and said the announcement was true and allowed us to light up the sky” with small arms fire and tracers. “It was one of the most outstanding fireworks I’ve ever seen,” he admits.

He continued to ply the Pacific, went through the Panama Canal and across the equator before being discharged in spring 1946. He made port and was flown from California to Norfolk and from there took a bus home. “I just wanted to see my sweet thing, Della Hill,” Fuller says with a grin. They were married shortly after the war and even though she passed away, he still retains fond memory of their life together and their three children: sons Clyde and twins Ezra and Eric. He became a barber, working about 15 years in Yanceyville, then working about the same length of time at GE in Mebane. The 87-year-old grandfather resides on Stanfield Road in Burlington.

Source: Burlington Times-News (Burlington, North Carolina), 1 April 2011.

Clyde Fuller received a Christmas gift from his son that has taken him back nearly 70 years. Although it was barely two inches wide and tall, he has been able to think of nothing else for the last three months. It was photo of a cargo ship he served upon during World War II, a photo he had given his son decades ago. The U.S. Navy veteran hopes that telling his story will “help (him) relax” his mind, especially when it fixates on a handful of major events. Fuller served from 1944-1946. His family had hoped he wouldn’t be taken from their farm, where he worked the fields after his father died. But he was drafted anyway. Aboard a cargo ship, he went from island to island near the Philippines.

Okinawa was a huge invasion. The Navy stayed busy moving troops and equipment around in dangerous waters. Most days brought air raids from Japanese planes. At one point, Fuller was on one of about a dozen ships in a convoy, on the outside column on the back end. A huge cargo ship trailed his with troops, ammunition and bombs. Usually, the U.S. troops would go onto the top decks of the ship “and watch the good ol’ world pass by.” But on this day, about 1 p.m., they were sent to their gun stations, and the PA system blasted a message: Now hear this, now hear this, booger is coming, and is coming straight down to our lane. Be prepared. ... He’s probably 10 feet off the water and we can’t fire at him because we’ll hit ships on the other side of us. So hold your fire, and we’ll take what’s coming.”

A Japanese suicide plane flew right past Fuller. “I could’ve throwed a rock at him and hit him. It was probably 20-30 feet away from me. He was looking straight ahead. He flew past us and saw the huge ship behind us, undoubtedly. He cut to the left wide, and circled back, and drove that plane right into the quartermaster’s home, where they piloted the ship.” Ten seconds later, that ship exploded. “The biggest blow up you have ever seen, blew it all to pieces, sky high. Red hot metal just fell back down on board our ship. Looked just like cigarettes fell on the main deck, red-hot bolts, red-hot sheet metal scattered everywhere. We were so lucky that didn’t anyone on our ship get hurt very bad,” said Fuller. “The first thing I thought of was all those troops who got killed, all those men dead, all their mothers, all their fathers, all their brothers and sisters and baby children. It just tore me up. All the crew went into some sadness for several days.”

Fuller was another convoy in the Philippines, again with about a dozen ships, but this time with escorts. The troops were sent to their battle stations after a booger was spotted on radar coming over the mountains right toward them. “It come right down to get our ship, but couldn’t get low enough. He pulled the throttle back and come maybe 20 feet right over, and rattled our ship. He come over my head, I was looking right at him.” The plane dropped down about 10 feet above the water and released a torpedo. “It hit the water and started spinning. I saw it spin all the way to the next ship beside us, and hit right into the engine room, and blowed out big smoke and all,” said Fuller, looking off in the distance as he recalled the horror. It was obvious he was reliving the moment that would haunt him for decades. His voice started trembling and his eyes became teary. The ship started leaning. But it was late in the day, and the convoy couldn’t stop. It kept on going. “But that torpedo was going to kill us. It had us. We‘re supposed to be gone. When [the plane] come over and dropped down, we were free of it. That was the day we were supposed to have gotten gone. God blessed us again.”

Back in the Philippines, Fuller, a ship’s cook, was off-duty one day, watching kitchen equipment get loaded onto his ship. A fellow approached him and said, “Hey sailor, come with me!” Fuller asked if it was safe, and how long it would take. He told the guard he would be back. Bulldozers had worked on the road leading from the ship, about a tenth of a mile. Then it got rough. “I saw where a battleground had been. All the trees, everything had bullet marks and was broke off. It was terrible, it was all tore to pieces.” They kept driving. “There was a cemetery, for all the soldiers who got killed with a little white cross over every soldier, and every one of the crosses was lined up, just straight and nice as could be,” said Fuller. “I told the driver, that’s nice, but it hurts me, because I know it’s a soldier laying under every one of those crosses.” The driver then took Fuller to the Japanese cemetery. “On the left was a bulldozer, with a long ditch dug, with probably 10 or 12 Japanese bodies laying there. The driver told me all those bodies would be buried before dark. They’ll push them into the ditch and cover them up.”

They drove three miles, and started hearing rifle shots. “Bang-bang-bang, rifles shooting at each other. I said, ‘What is this?’ The driver told me there’s a whole lot of Japanese soldiers up there, and they’ve got to come down to the water hole, and we wait at night for them and pick them off one at a time.” Fuller and the driver loaded up the truck and headed back to the ship. “We had to go slow, and I got calmed off a bit. We finally got in sight of the ship, and that was the most beautiful, best-looking ship I have ever seen, I couldn’t wait to get back on board.”

The ship continued to the Philippines to unload its cargo, and was sent to Guam and within 10 days, the troops invaded another island. After returning to the Philippines, they were told they would be sent back to Guam for the Okinawa invasion. The ships lined up in the bay. Fuller’s ship,an LST - a “landing ships tank” - carried bulldozers, troops, high-octane gasoline, and amphibious tanks. Mortar shells were laid down across the whole deck. The cooks made a grand meal for the troops - steaks, hamburgers, pork chops, potatoes, and cabbage. The troops went to sleep. “There were some bunk beds, and some slept in tanks and trucks.” At 3 a.m., the meal was served. Three hours later, the amphibious tanks headed toward the rough coral beach. The officer stayed on board during that first wave. The cargo ship backed up five miles from Okinawa to join others overnight in a secure area. “That night, dark was becoming. And air raids started coming. One plane come in and flew into the hospital ship, which was a no-no for all countries. But the Japs did.” “Each ship had a smoke maker on it, so each ship cranked up their smoke maker and just laid smoke all over the bay we was in, until it got dark. You couldn’t see nothing.” But the three ships carrying mortar shells were ordered out of the bay. “So they carried us out on radar, through the darkness, out on the bay, out among the islands, and anchored us. So they couldn’t tell if we was a ship or a small island. So that’s where we stayed all night long, and we could see the Jap planes way on up, but they couldn’t see us. We couldn’t shoot at them because it would give us away.” The next morning, they were ordered back into the bay to unload the mortar shells. “Now that made us happy. It was three ships, and we didn’t wait for them to unload us, all the crew turned and helped unload the mortar shells, so we could get the H out of there.” Around lunchtime, they were headed back to Guam for more supplies. The ship visited Okinawa three to four more times.

Back in Okinawa, the PA system blared a message: Now hear this, now hear this, now hear this. The war is over! The war is over! “That’s when some shouting, singing, hugging and carrying on went on.” But then the captain made another announcement: Now hear this, now hear this, please put your life jackets on and go back to your stations, this could be a flam. It could not be true. But about 15 minutes, the captain came back on the PA system: Now hear this, the war is really over. The war is over. All of you can use your ammunition in the sky, just fill the sky full of tracer bullets, and put on fireworks til you get tired. “We were happy, and were shooting up in the air. I’ve seen fireworks at the fair and places, but that was the outstandingest fireworks I’ve ever seen. It kept lasting, all those tracer bullets lit up the sky. It was beautiful to see.” Afterwards, things returned to normal.

“I thank the Navy and thank God for the things they’ve showed us.” The troops went through the Panama Canal, across the equator, and got liberty at various islands. They went to Tai Pan, and moved supplies around. Then discharges began. Fuller’s came in April 1946. The sailors were flown to California, and then put on ships headed to the East Coast. “But if you didn’t weigh much, they would fly you back. I weighed 120 pounds, so I got to fly to Norfolk, Va. We got discharged, and took buses home. “I was happy to get home and see my sweet thing and my family and friends, and to enjoy the rest of my life. Thank God I made it, that I’m 87 years old and lived to tell about it.”

Source: The Caswell Messenger (2011).

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