Gaunt recalls service in South Pacific
Editor’s note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of articles profiling those who have ever served in the U.S. military, be it overseas or stateside. Every Thursday, a new profile will be published in the T-R.
Thinking back about his military service, Le Grand native Jack Gaunt said, “I have often thought if it hadn’t been for almost everyone’s sense of humor, a lot of us would have gone nuts.”
He went on to add, “The way we treated bombs, it is a wonder we didn’t kill ourselves.”
With the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Gaunt had the idea that he was going to Des Moines the next day and joining the Marines.
“I thought I could win the war single handedly,” he remarked.
Fortunately, his mother talked him out of that idea and told him to go to Denver, Colo., where his sister lived and get a job in a defense plant. He did, securing a job with Gates Rubber Company and worked there until October of 1942. He then joined the Navy.
Boot camp was at Camp Farragut in Idaho. Gaunt said the train let them off at a place called Athole, and “of course we had a lot of fun with that name,” he laughed.
After boot camp Gaunt was stationed at Norman, Okla., where he attended Aviation Ordnance School — learning about machine guns, bombs, bomb fuses, explosives, aerial mines, handguns and all sorts of “good stuff.” Then it was on to North Island in San Diego, and then by rail car to Oakland Naval Air Station and CASU#14 (Carrier Aircraft Service Unit). The unit’s duty was to keep all aircraft flying and armed.
After a few weeks, Gaunt’s unit boarded the USS Kenmore — a converted cargo ship. Departing the San Francisco Bay there were three troop ships escorted by two destroyers and a blimp.
“I am sure that more than one of us had the same thought when going under the Golden Gate Bridge: Would we ever see it again?” Gaunt said.
In Guadalcanal, Gaunt said they had to disembark by crawling down a cargo net about 30-40 feet onto a landing craft. While there he said the camped in a coconut grove – complete with millions of mosquitos, land crabs and scorpions.
“Food was lousy. Our cooks prepared corned beef hash for the first meal ashore and it was thoroughly scorched — practically cremated,” Gaunt said.
The Japanese bombed the island every night and “Washing Machine Charley” made his appearance like clockwork just after midnight. Although he never hit anything, Gaunt said, “When anti-aircraft shell fragments began falling it did not provide for a feeling of well-being.”
On New Georgia Island and at Bougainville, Gaunt said their unit was assigned to service Marine aircraft. The downside of that was the static the men had to take from a young Marine named O’Reilley, who thought he was in charge of everything.
“It is still a wonder to me that he ever survived,” Gaunt said.
Gaunt said he never fired a shot in anger and never experienced a lot of blood and gore except for airplane crashes. He was hospitalized twice for malaria — the second time came at the time his outfit was being sent back to the states. While hospitalized in California, he met Bill Chisler, a Marine from Missouri. Together they volunteered to be part of a tropical disease research study at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.
After fully recovering, he was sent to Columbus, Ohio to a naval air facility. There he worked on the 2-20 mm cannons on Helldivers and the 6-50 caliber machine guns on Corsairs.
He received his discharge at the Great Lakes Naval Discharge Center at the end of the war.
“Honorable, believe it or not,” Gaunt said.
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