Jules Verne published a book in 1872 entitled "Around the World in Eighty Days." In the story Phileas Fogg and his newly employed French valet circumnavigates the world in 80 days on a wager set by his friends.
I circumnavigated the world also in 1944-1945, but it took me much longer — 660 days. I found a map of their journey and mine was similar except for crossing Europe. I went by ship via the Mediterranean Sea on that leg. The following is my journey around the world.
The United States entered World War II on Dec. 7, 1941. I was a junior in high school in Milford. My travels up to that date were four times into Minnesota and a short journey to Omaha, Nebraska, plus traveling around Iowa to Des Moines, Iowa City, and Sioux City.
I graduated from Milford Public School in the spring of 1943 and due to the war had to register for the draft when I became 18. My birthday is June 16, so I went up to the Dickinson County Courthouse and registered. Several days after that I was given a physical, passed, and placed on the draft list. Several days later, an opportunity presented itself and I enlisted to serve in the United States Army Air Corps — aviation engineers stationed at March Field, Riverside, California. I went to Camp Dodge in July, took a physical, passed, and was sworn into the military. In early August 1943, I traveled by train to March Field and thus began my journey around the world.
Basic training was first being stationed at March Field; then Edwards Air Base, Great Bend, Kansas; back to California and late in February 1944 boarded the USS Mount Vernon at San Pedro.
The ship was a converted passenger ship and had 8,000 military personnel onboard plus the naval crew. We were packed in like sardines. Bunks were four high and I chose the bottom bunk as I calculated that hot air rises and maybe the bottom bunk might be cooler. I seldom slept there as we traveled over the equator two times and it was very warm below deck. I took a blanket and used my life vest as a pillow and slept on the upper deck. We had no idea where we were going and not only were the bunks small we also had our own personal items in a barrack bag to jam in.
We entered the ship late in the day but after chow went up on deck to observe our departure. It was exciting and very smooth until we passed the seawall and the ship started to be affected by the waves and swells. The roll of the ship never bothered me but several of my buddies were seasick the whole voyage. It was a great adventure! We cruised by Catalina Island and little did I know that that was the last piece of USA that I would see until January 1946.
We still had no idea where we were going and made wild guesses from Alaska to Australia. Life on a ship was a very routine affair. Sleep, eat, walk the decks, play cards, read, shoot the breeze and look at the ocean. I remember what one fellow said while looking at the ocean, "man that is a lot of water." The fellow next to him replied, "and we are only looking at the top." The voyage was nice, the Pacific Ocean was smooth but we were all aware the Japanese submarines were seeking us out.
One beautiful and calm evening we were on the deck listening to Tokyo Rose play American big band numbers. The music was nice but she cut into the program and announced, "Greetings to all you soldiers and sailors aboard the USS Mount Vernon sailing in the Pacific. Don't you wish you were home?"
That announcement scared us to no end and we always wondered how she knew where we were. Each day we had assembly drills and were issued life vests. With that many military personnel, any observer could figure out there were not enough lifeboats on board. Not only that, but it was a long way from our assembly deck to the water. One thing they told us was that if you have to jump, be sure your helmet strap is not fastened. The ship changed course every three minutes making it a zigzag trip.
We eventually docked at Melbourne, Australia, but most of us didn't get shore leave. We again embarked and eventually landed at Bombay, India. The date was April 1, 1944. Several days later we went by train across India to a camp near Calcutta, India — a seven day-journey. I was attached to the XX Bomber Command servicing B-29 super bombers. I won't go into all the details but the military in their wisdom shuffled me around and in early 1945 was with a quartermaster truck company driving the Ledo-Burma Road to China.
I spent the rest of the war, March to December, in China at various bases even after World War II was over in August 1945. Finally, I was headed home from China, first by C47 to Kunming, China, over "The Hump" on a C54 to a camp near Calcutta, India. In early December 1945 I boarded the troopship the USS General Brooke. It was much smaller than my early voyage as there were 3,500 men.
The accommodations were similar to my earlier voyage except for several things. We traveled in a straight line and the ship's lights were on at night. We left Calcutta and stopped for supplies and fuel at Sri Lanka, rounded the tip of India and crossed the Arabian Sea. We entered the Red Sea, Suez Canal, crossed the Mediterranean Sea through the Straights of Gibraltar, the Atlantic Ocean, and eventually docked at New York City.
We hit a terrible storm in the Atlantic and, for three days, it was really rough. It was wonderful to cruise past the Statue of Liberty, see New York City and dock. Shortly after we docked I was "volunteered" to carry baggage for officers, from the ship to the pier. Several of us carried their barracks bags down the gangplank and dumped them across the pier. After we had dropped the baggage off and started back to the gangplank a New York policeman yelled at us and said, "Hey you guys, are you in a hurry to get back on the ship?" We turned to him and said "No!" He then told us to come back with him and go over to a counter that was dispersing donuts and coffee. Wow! What a welcome back into the USA!
We were ferried to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey then by train to Camp Grant, Illinois where I received my honorable discharge and finally a train from Chicago to Spencer, then home to Milford. Wow, what a journey!