Howard Goes To War


Excerpts from an article by Catherine Moore, based on letters from her father, Honor Guard Howard Wills 

(Jun ‘45 – Jan ‘46)

…While the 2nd Battalion is holding roadblock duty, during the first weeks of June, I am relaxing in a bunker with tree branches laid over to protect from the rain that still sweeps through the valley each day. I flip through a well-read copy of Redbook magazine and overhear a conversation in the next bunker. A Captain is interviewing a soldier. The soldier, Halliday, is being tested for a position in General MacArthur’s Honor Guard, and if he passes is to be posted immediately to Manila. Halliday did not pass the test, so I leap up out of the bunker and ask if I could give it a try.

Early in 1945, General MacArthur, having secured Manila, was planning the invasion of Japan. This involved detailed discussions with high-ranking officers of the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force, as well as key government officials from Washington. He decides that he needs a small, elite military unit to guard him, his family, the key aides and important military personnel, both where they would live and where they would work.

In May, he issues the General Order to Army combat units requesting qualified enlisted men and officers to be sent from each unit to Manila as candidates for the elite group. The Order lists the number of men required by rank and describes the individual requirements. These include excellent combat and personal records, a minimum score of 110 on the Army General Classification Test, or the AGCT and their height to be between 5’10” and 6’2”.

I pass on all counts and so does a fellow GI from the 25th Division, Thane Roberts. We gather are meager belongings, say goodbye to my buddies, hike five miles to Santa Fe and jump on a supply truck heading for Manila. I am leaving the front and hope that I might survive this war, after all.

 Manila (Jun – Aug 1945)

Arriving in Manila at General MacArthur’s residence, Casa Blanca, we are sent to a bunkhouse around the back. The Combat Information Center, or CIC, is where we check in, pick up any mail, and grab a bed. I pass out, and find myself in an Army hospital two weeks later. Dengue Fever, Malaria, and six months of continuous battle, had taken their toll.

After another round of Penicillin, I am ready for Guard Duty. We are sent to guard the Presidential Palace, the General’s Headquarters and Casa Blanca, his family’s residence. Most of my duty is at Casa Blanca guarding the General’s wife, Jean, and their eight-year-old son, Arthur.

During the course of duty, I meet Gaar, Fair, Evans, Gledhill, Brower and Lucietta. We bunk together, are on duty together and roam Manila on our days off.

News comes to us from the Division’s that are still fighting the Japanese. Most of the battles are in Northern Luzon. I learn that the rest of the 25th Division continued to battle the Japanese for another two weeks.

In mid-August a delegation from Japan arrives to negotiate terms for surrender to the Allied Forces in the Pacific. With so many of the ‘Big Brass’ around, we are all busy.

Yet, while on patrol or if I had a few days of leave, my camera is with me. I photograph the destruction of Manila. The Legislature Building and the Post Office are heaps of rubble.

The four-storied Times Theater remains intact. The movie, “It Happened Tomorrow” starring Dick Powell and Linda Darnell play to a packed house night after night.

Other entertainment includes Kay Kyser’s Orchestra. His band made the new World War II song, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” a famous tune that soldiers sang along with.

At the end of August, we pack up and head out to our next destination Tokyo, Japan. Our duty as Guards would still be the same, guarding the General and his family. The difference is that we come to a country conquered and a people, surrendered.

Six months later, Japanese Military Leaders were tried by a tribunal of American Army officers in the reception hall of the High Commissioner’s Manila residence. General Homma in 1942 and General Yamashita in 1944-45, sat through days of evidence. The courtroom was packed with Filipinos furious over the destruction of Manila and the deaths of loved ones. Second- and even third-hand hearsay was admissible as proof under the rules of the court. American propaganda films were shown as evidence. Along with other charges, Yamashita was held responsible for brutalities in Manila in September of 1944, at which time he was in command of his army in Manchuria, several thousand miles away.

Twelve American reporters that sat through the proceedings held a poll. They decided 12 to 0, not guilty, for the Japanese Generals. Yet, the tribunal found both generals guilty on the grounds that they held command responsibility. General MacArthur reviewed the evidence against them and approved the verdicts.

In the early morning hours of February 23, 1946, General Yamashita was hanged. I remember hearing of the decision and felt it was wrong. General Yamashita fought well.

Japan  (Aug 1945- Jan 1946)

Two weeks after leaving the Philippines, General MacArthur lands at Atsugi Airfield, Yokohama to take command of the occupation of Japan. Formal surrender is in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945.

I am aboard a nearby carrier to witness the surrender. As everyone cheers and a thousand planes fly overhead, I remark to a buddy, “I hope there is a clause in the treaty that states they have to pay back every penny spent on this war!” That comment is also cheered.

Our first residence in Japan is a bunkhouse that formerly housed a business with offices and a warehouse. There are showers, but no hot water. The frigid water hits my skin like icicle shards. I fashion a key that opens the warehouse. Inside are silks, swords, kimonos, and other goods. I sell the items to Naval Officers. Kimonos, cigarettes, and sake are the most popular items ‘for sale’.

My duty in Yokohama is spent at the Atsugi Airfield. I relish the days here. I have always been interested in airplanes. Years of building and flying model gliders make me curious about the types of planes landing and taking off at the airfield. I take several shots of Molmfeldt and myself guarding the Army payroll. We are told the amount varies between five and fifteen million dollars. Molmfeldt was with me in Manila, so the time passes with shared stories of our survival on Luzon.

One evening a ‘flock’ of Baltimore’s flew low over the airfield. I am able to catch the last ones as they disappear into the twilight. The Martin 187 Baltimore is a combat plane. I feel that those in the air are glad to have survived this war.

Another day I photograph a B-17 built by Boeing. The Flying Fortress saw a lot of action in the Pacific. A twin prop B-25 lands close by. I hear the rumble of a large cargo plane as it lands and taxies to the terminal. It is a C-54, built by Douglas. The Skymaster was a real workhorse during the war.

The Honor Guard unit settles into the Dai Ichi Building across from the Emperor’s Palace in Tokyo. General MacArthur sets up his headquarters in the building. From the roof, I can look over the palace’s moat and surrounding walls and see into the complex. Guard duty varies every day. The day I guard the General’s Office, I have a photograph taken with the General’s corncob pipe and helmet, relaxing in his chair. I ask Gaar if he wants a shot, but he nervously declines. Many days are spent outside the building. I have photos taken of me guarding the General’s car, along with Kraft, and one of the MacArthur sitting in the backseat as he leaves for another meeting.

We patrol the streets of Tokyo and this duty combines with sightseeing. Kraft, Roth, Lustyk, Roberts, and I take the streetcars and explore. The streetcar takes us into older areas of Tokyo. The Old Theater is interesting architecture. The American Red Cross occupies a building that formerly housed a Bankers Club. The Diet building, where both the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors meet to legislate the country, is made of all Japanese materials and designed by famous German architects. The Imperial Hotel, across from Hibiya Park is magnificent, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Roberts, Gaar, and I find some ruins on the outskirts of Tokyo. We pose at one of the many bridges expanding Tokyo’s rivers.  It is a beautiful city with many parks, temples and shrines.

In October I take a train to Gora. The train ascends into the mountains outside Tokyo. I step off into a quaint village only minutes from the bustling city. The park is a short walk down their only main street. My favorite place is a reflecting pond. Benches provide seating for young and old, the mountains surround it, and the cherry trees are even blooming. I have a photo taken of a young Japanese girl and myself by the pond. At a shrine, I can see Mount Fuji close by. I don’t have time to take the tram to the mountain, but maybe another time. Walking back to the station I am greeted by an old Frenchman. He is a teacher at St. Joseph’s college. The college moved to Gora from Yokohama when the war broke out. Taking the train back into Tokyo, I reflect on the serenity of Gora.

Hibiya Park is another favorite place to stroll through. It’s location near the Imperial Palace and across from the Dai Ichi Finance building where we stay, makes it an ideal place for walking. Several times all the Guards are gathered in Hibiya for drills and other military shows. The General’s philosophy concerning the occupation of Japan and its show of respect for the people, keep away any major incidence. Problems arise when I arrange to sell contraband on the streets of Tokyo’s Ginza District, or barter for Japanese souvenirs.

One such incident occurs during the day near Tokyo’s train depot. My flight jacket bulges with cigarette cartons that I sell to Japanese and Americans alike. Two Japanese ‘CIA’ agents come up to me and say, in broken English, “You under arrest! Come with me!” I pull a Shimbushi swivel knife and the agents jump back. I turn and run through the crowded marketplace, pushing people out of my way. I spy the movement of a train beginning to leave the station, so I sprint to catch it. I grab onto a rail, still running and feel my arms pulling out of their sockets as I hold on. With one last effort, I leap aboard eluding the agents.

Another day, back on the Ginza, I meet a beautiful girl who comes up to me speaking good English. Her name is Eiko Obata and tells me her dad owns an American/Japanese Restaurant nearby. She is buying cigarettes for him to sell in the restaurant.

Eiko and I become friends. I see her when I’m on patrol and we exchange photos when I leave.

In the Shimbashi area of Tokyo, I become friends with the Vice President of a film company. He is a hunchback, speaks good English and is friendly toward Americans. He knows that Japan’s future rests on mended relations with America. I am invited to dinner at his home. It is a beautiful place in the Tokyo hillside. I remove my shoes when I enter, as is the custom. The walls of the home are made of oilskin and the doors are wood frames covered with rice paper. I enjoy the meal and the company.

All Japanese citizens are required to get rid of any knives, sabers, or other weapons. My friend’s film company warehouse stored these weapons. Before I leave Japan, he gives me a silver-hilted saber, as well as hara-kiri knives. I send these back home to the Paris, Missouri Post Office. The saber is packaged in a long box. I can only imagine the look on my parent’s faces as they collect it from the Postmaster.

I spent a lot of time searching to buy a good camera. I want a Leica, Konica or Mamiya. Japan has taken Germany’s cameras and made excellent copies. These cameras are worth around $1,500.00 U.S. I find a man that tells me he can help me. He lets me know what to bring to the exchange. He acts as my guide and interpreter for a fee. We weave through the back alleys of Tokyo on the appointed night. I carry a pack bulging with goods to trade, cigarettes, and other contraband. We come to a steep stairway and climb up, knock, and step into a dimly lit room. There are six Japanese men sitting around a table in the center. I hand over the pack and they pour its contents onto the table muttering amongst themselves. I pick up the camera to check it out. Suddenly, one of the men speaks and gestures with great agitation. I turn to the interpreter, as he translates, “No good, not enough!”

Expecting this reaction, I pull my service revolver out and motion for them to back away from the table and with all hands visible. I indicate that they are to lie down, including the interpreter. Heart pounding, I grab the camera, turn and run down the staircase, into the alley. Sprinting non-stop through the twists and turns of Tokyo, I make my escape, one more time. I have Roberts photograph me with my prize, a Mamiya 6.

Our Guard duty included patrolling the queue outside the embassy. Every day lines form by Japanese-Americans sent back to Japan. They need to exchange dollars for yen. The rate inside the embassy is fifteen yen per dollar. I see a chance to earn a bit extra cash. Discreetly, gave twenty-five yen to every dollar. I saved up quite a bit this way.

We are allowed to send money orders home, but with a maximum of $100.00 each. I mailed out many receipts for $100.00. Back in Paris, the postmaster probably wondered about the steady supply of money orders and mysterious packages. One such package contained a 7’2” Japanese bow. I hope to sell these souvenirs when I return home. I manage to send around $5,000.00 home. With that money and the eventual sale of the contraband, I hope to enroll at the Columbia campus of the University of Missouri.

Back in my room, we gather to share our stories for the day. I take some photographs of Sully and I surrounded by Japanese flags. The flag of the Rising Sun represents Japan. The other is one the soldiers would take into battle. Many have the names and blessings of family and friends written on them. Sullivan is a good friend, a decent guy and I hope we stay in touch back home. We say goodbye to Paul Gaar and Paul Fair as both are heading home.

Christmas is celebrated with lights, trees, decorations, banners, and music. I’m sure Tokyo has never experienced such holiday extravagance. The Dai Ichi building looks grand with its lights reflecting on the waters before it. I miss home even more now that I know I’ll actually see it again.

I learn in January that Thane Roberts, Rex Roth and I are to be discharged and sent home. I have some professional photographs taken in my uniform bearing the rank of Sergeant 5th Grade at a nearby studio. My folks will be impressed.

Roberts, Roth and I take off for a sightseeing trip to famous Atami. We have heard of its luxurious hot springs, and the Sanno Hotel was famous for steaks and geishas. We leave the train station in Tokyo heading south. We pass countryside dusted with recent snowfall. The valleys are flat and divided into rice fields. Even in winter the paddies are flooded with water. We pass a fish hatchery, the water reflects the sky and I capture the beauty on film. Soon we round the corner into the bay at Atami. I lean out the window and snap a photo of the curving train cars.

We head straight to the Sanno Hotel, check in, and make a beeline for the spa. After the sauna, the geishas treat us to a wonderful massage. All this works up a big appetite and we enjoy their famous steak. All too soon we return to Tokyo.

January 1946, I am discharged from Guard duty and return home. Roth, Roberts and I enjoy a relaxing trip across the ocean. The transport ship docks in Los Angeles, California. From there, we are bussed to Camp Anza in Riverside, California.

I am more than ready to head home, but we are at Camp Anza from February through April 2, 1946 when I am formally discharged. I am puzzled by the delay but the military machine moves slowly. To pass the time we go to a rodeo at a large stadium outside the camp. It turns into a celebration of the war’s end. Military jets fly over, fanfare and bucking broncos, rodeo clowns and steer roping make an enjoyable day.