MacArthur Honor Guard Member #1403: July 1948 – March 1950
In early July of 1947 in Shenandoah, Iowa, I enlisted in the Army. Because I wasn’t yet 17, my mom, Sylvia Mae (Fuller) Ranner Townsend, had to accompany me to sign the required parental consent form. I signed an enlistment contract of 5 years. We had moved from Colorado (where I was born) to Missouri in 1941, where my family was living in Atchison County. However, I had been working at the Mount Arbor nursery in Shenandoah, Iowa, and living with my older sister Helen, and her husband Alfred Elliot… so that’s where I enlisted.
Once the paperwork was completed we returned home, where I spent my last few days as a civilian. I boarded a train in Shenandoah, and was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Station in Chicago, Illinois, where I turned 17, just a few days after my arrival. While there, I was inducted into the Army. At some point after that, I was pulled aside and tested for several days.
(IT WAS DETERMINED THAT I WAS A SMART ASS!!)
After that, I was shipped to Fort Knox, Tennessee, where I had 13 weeks of basic training. I also underwent several additional days of testing there to ascertain my skill set and determine to which jobs within the Army I was best suited.
I was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, a unit bound for Sapporo, on the island of Hokkaido in Japan. I was sent to school for 4 weeks of advanced training for noncommissioned officers. Once this was completed, I had 3 weeks to report to Camp Stoneman in San Francisco. I made my way there on the train via Missouri, so that I could spend Christmas with my family at the Townsend family farm on Lick Fork Creek, in Daviess County, Missouri.
The farm belonged to my grandparents, Levi and Alvie Townsend, the parents of my stepfather, Walter. I was born in Hayden, in Routt County, Colorado, but after my dad Anton Joseph Ranner, died when I was 8, my mom moved us back to Missouri (where she was born) to live with her parents, Gus and Nellie Fuller on a farm 6 miles west of Polo, Missouri. My stepdad, Walter had lived on the farm on Lick Fork Creek before he and mom married. After they married, they lived in Hamilton, Missouri for a few months, and then we moved to Atchison County, Missouri close to the town of Tarkio. This is just about an hour from Shenandoah, and just over the state line. My stepdad was a farm laborer, so we moved around quite a bit. We lived up in Atchison County from the time I was 13 or so until I enlisted.
Not long after New Year’s Day of 1948, I took a train to Camp Stoneman in San Francisco. I was in only there long enough to board a trooper transport ship headed for Japan. While we endured a violent series of storms, and almost everyone on board was horribly seasick. It was still hurricane season…and we could sure feel it. The awful weather didn’t subside until just before we made it to Yokohama, the sister city of Tokyo, where we disembarked.
Although I was originally assigned to the 82nd Airborne division, at some point during the long journey to Japan a change of orders must have gone through for me, because when we landed the rest of my unit went on to Sapporo, and I ended up billeted in the Finance Building in Tokyo. While there, I spent several weeks assigned to different areas in Tokyo where men from Japan were still cleaning up after the destructive bombing there during World War II.
I was eventually transferred to the American Embassy in Tokyo, which was close to where the Emperor of Japan lived in the Imperial Palace, and the Dai Ichi Insurance Building.
The Honor Guard members were housed in both the Finance Building, and within the Embassy. If a Guard worked at the Dai Ichi building, he stayed at the Finance Building; if he was an Embassy guard, he stayed there. I was placed at the Embassy where we slept 4 to 6 to a room, and had only a foot locker for our belongings and an upright (gym) locker for our dress uniforms. It’s funny, but I have no memories of eating while we were there, but I know we must have!
General MacArthur’s General Headquarters, or GHQ, was in the Dai Ichi Building in central Tokyo. From the top floors of it you could see the Imperial Palace, the residence of the Japanese Emperor, less than a mile and only a sixteen-minute walk away. It was a smart choice, because MacArthur’s had sworn to protect Emperor Hirohito, and this kept him in close proximity at all times.
A bit of history from the history teacher:
Japan has a bicameral legislature, composed of two houses. The lower, called the House of Representatives and the upper called the House of Councillors. It also has a mixed government comprised of democracy, aristocracy and monarchy. The National Diet began first as the Imperial Diet in 1889, when the Meiji Constitution was adopted. The word “Diet” refers to a deliberative general or representative assembly of an empire.
The original Diet contained both a House of Representatives and a House of Peers. The Diet Building was completed in 1936 and is where both houses of the Diet of Japan meet. Sessions of the House of Representatives take place in the left wing and sessions of the House of Councillors in the right wing. The Imperial Diet continued until 1947, when it took its current form, which provided for a parliamentary system and also guaranteed that the Emperor of Japan exercised a ceremonial role, but did not possess sovereignty. This was a huge change for the Japanese, and MacArthur chose very wisely where his office and the American forces would be placed so we were closest to the locations most instrumental to the rebuilding of Japan. The National Diet building is essentially across the street from the American Embassy. This means that the Emperor’s home was within site of MacArthur’s office, and the home of Japan’s governing bodies was within site of the Embassy, where most of the Guards were billeted.
This information is pertinent because at the end of World War II, General Douglas MacArthur was named Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP). It was at his insistence that Emperor Hirohito (posthumously referred to as Emperor Shōwa in Japan) be left as the Emperor of Japan as a symbol of continuity and stability for the Japanese people. Despite his approval of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which launched the United States into World War II, Hirohito was exonerated of any criminal charges postwar. A great deal of work therefore went into absolving the Emperor of any moral responsibility for the war.
Emperor Hirohito was born April 29, 1901, reignied from 1926 until his death in 1989. During the postwar period he was both a symbol of recovery for Japan, and hope for the future. Under his reign, Japan had grew to be the world’s second largest economy.
Members of the Honor Guard had many tasks, including ceremonial and guard duty. We worked in shift cycles of 4 hours on and then 4 hours off for 36 hours total. Then we had about a week (or a certain amount of time) during which we weren’t obligated to work. During that time, though we were still on duty, we only had ceremonial duties such as parades and reviews. If MacArthur reviewed the troops, we had to be in the review. If someone like South Korean President Sigmund Rhee or another visiting dignitary came over, it was extra duty to guard him. President Rhee was a target of North Korea and needed our protection, as he had been frequently threatened.
One day, as we were marching on top of the Finance Building, the officer in charge gave a command, and then froze. He should have followed it with “right turn” or “left turn” but didn’t. Because our marching wasn’t halted we almost pushed the Guard members in front of us off the building. There was a railing there, but it wasn’t much of a railing. Another day, I was on guard duty at the middle gate on the top of the hill, when a random bullet when buzzing by my head.
There were several areas (mostly gates) to which we were posted. Off the top of my head I recall the Front, the Main, the Middle and the Back Door and the members of the Honor Guard rotated between these locations.
Formal inspections took place on the hill between the Front Gate and the Main Gate, which were a decent distance apart, about 1/4 mile.
When General MacArthur went to work or travelled, the Honor Guard members on duty rode in Jeeps preceding and following the General’s private car, delivering him daily from the Ambassador’s house at the American Embassy to and from the Dai Ichi building, (where he usually worked during the day) and anywhere else the General traveled. The General was escorted at all times by his Aide de Camp Colonel Sidney L. Huff, who was an aide for the General from 1936-1951, and served as Aide de Camp up until MacArthur’s dismissal in 1951. (He later wrote an autobiography entitled “My Fifteen years with General MacArthur” which was published in 1964, the same year in which MacArthur passed away.)
General MacArthur would often invite us up to the “Big House” to watch movies with him in his living room. The whole time we watched a movie, we kept an eye on MacArthur to see how he was reacting; if he laughed, we laughed; if he cried, we cried. We mostly watched war movies or westerns. We also spent a lot of time at the pool, swimming and horsing around. The General’s son, Arthur used to spend a lot of time there, too.
After I had been stationed in Japan for about 6 months, I bought a Jeep from another soldier who was returning home. I would sometimes rent it out to other Honor Guard members. We often drove the Jeep all over Honshu, the main island in Japan, while exploring. One such day, several friends and I ascended a hill, and found the one lane dirt road we were on getting more and more narrow, making it impossible for us to turn around. Eventually we were able to get turned around and finally made it back to the Embassy. Another day, a few friends and I went fishing in Yokohama harbor, and failed to take into consideration that the sea would reflect the sun’s rays back up and give us horrible sunburns. Two or three of the men ended up spending a considerable amount of time in the hospital because of the severity of their burns.
I was quite well known as a “banker” (AKA “loan shark”). I kept several hundred yen in my footlocker, and many soldiers came to me to borrow money. The going rate was 2:1; to borrow 5 yen they had to pay me back 10 yen. Because I never really spent any money there, I saved a lot of money while I was in Japan. Most months I sent money home to my mom and dad. I knew I wanted to farm when I got back home, so in my letters home I would tell Walter to buy a cow, or a pig. He named them all “Babe”, his nickname for his favorite sister, Cleo.
As things calmed down in the years after World War II (near the end of 1949) President Truman announced that there would be serious budget cuts for the US Military. Consequently, some members of the armed forces were released early from their full enlistment contract of 5 years. I was one of the personnel whose contract was reduced, so I got to come home early. I left Yokohama in March of 1950, and was transported via ship to Seattle. I had heard that if you ate oranges you didn’t get as seasick, so on the ship ride back to the States, I ate a ton of oranges so I wouldn’t get seasick again. I returned home to Missouri in April of 1950. I remember I received around four hundred dollars in severance pay, because while in the service I hadn’t taken any vacation days or time off.
I remember watching a news broadcast one day, and seeing several of my close friends from the Honor Guard in a clip, being deployed or walking into battle as the Korean War progressed.
While in Japan I was good friends with the barber at the American Embassy, and with another guard from Texas, with whom I used to talk about the farming we would do once we got back home. “Tex” wanted to farm black locust trees, which made wonderful fence posts, as they grew very straight and true, and were easy to cut and store.
Once back in Missouri, I returned to the Breckenridge area in Caldwell County. It was here that the photo was taken of me and my brother-in-law Gene Gebhart making ice cream, sitting on the top of the cistern. This marked the first family gathering after my return home: my “homecoming party” at the farm on Lick Fork Creek.
At some point, I was able to get my GED. I think this was in Japan, but I can’t remember for sure. When I was a kid, we moved around a lot. Between that and the fact that I’d had to work to help support our family, I hadn’t been able to attend school regularly most of the time. I think if you added it all up, I probably only attended about 1½ years of school, total. On those days, if you had a big family, and someone came home sick, the whole family got quarantined. My sister Nellie seemed to be the one who brought it all home, and I remember once the entire family was quarantined for 6 months for whooping cough. I also spent about 9 months in the children’s hospital in Kansas City, after I hurt my leg riding a bicycle when I was twelve or so, and I ended up with TB of the bone. I really loved to read though, and would read anything I could get my hands on. One day I was out walking and saw a whole set of encyclopedias someone had thrown in their trash. So I took them home and read them from cover to cover… over, and over and over. They provided my early education.
The Korean War broke out on the 25th of June in 1950, and I expected to be recalled into the military. I kept watching for the recall notice, but it never came, and I was therefore able to go on to college. I enrolled in college at Hannibal LaGrange, a Baptist college in Hannibal, Missouri for the fall semester of 1951. At that time it was a Junior College, but today it’s a university. There were only 200-odd students there at that time. While there I took general education courses. Then I went on to Missouri State College at Kirksville, which is now Northeast Missouri State University, majoring in history. The high school in Gower, Missouri had fired their history teacher in November, and because I basically had my core courses done, they hired me. One day I went to the Social Studies office, and the Dean asked me if I would be interested…so I went to Gower to teach history. I went back to Kirksville for graduation ceremonies in May or June of 1954, after I had been teaching for 6-7 months.
I taught at Gower for 4 years, where I also coached football.
After that, I gave up teaching, and sold insurance for about 6 months. I really hated that. I saw an ad in the paper for a Social Studies teacher and was hired and placed at Edison, which taught up to the 8th grade. I was there for a year when Max Coleman saw me with the kids on the playground one day. Shortly after, he called me in and said I was being sent to Central High School. I was there for 25 years. I taught history, sociology, government, and ancient and medieval history. I was also an administrator for 15 of those years, serving as a Vice Principal. I taught 4 additional years before I retired.
For the last 45 years I’ve lived on a farm outside of St. Joseph, in Buchanan County, Missouri with my wife, Barbara, who was also a school teacher and administrator.