W. Wingen, 93rd NCB
As a graduate of St. Mary’s High School of Salem, South Dakota in the year of 1941, I enrolled at South Dakota State College, as it was known then. I was a Freshman Agriculture student when Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941. My draft status was a college deferment, so I completed my Freshman year and the Fall quarter of 1942. I enrolled in the Winter quarter of 1943, fully expecting to continue my education. Outside pressures became excessive with the feeling that you were dodging military service, which was not the case. We were extremely patriotic and were enrolled in ROTC at SDSC.
Finally, we succumbed. Richard Parker, of Hazel, South Dakota, and I drove to Sioux Falls and volunteered for service in the United States Navy. Dick was okay physicially, but I was color blind. So, in order to get in, I arranged to memorize the color blind chart and hence, to get into the US Navy. January 15, 1943 was the date of our entrance. On January 29 we were routed through Minneapolis to the United States Naval Training Station at Farragut, Idaho. There we completed Navy boot camp as Apprentice Seamen, only to become S 2/c upon completion.
We had taken our aptitude tests for placement in the appropriate division of the Navy. Both Dick and I got high scores. Dick got Officers Training and I, with my colorblindness, got placed in the CB’s (Color Blind or Construction Battalion). They had discovered my color problem in my incoming physical…so that took care of my regular Navy plans!! So then, as I say, I was transferred into the United States Naval Construction Battalion, the Seabees, and sent to Camp Perry at Williamsburg, Virginia.
There I was assigned to the 93rd Battalion, a construction outfit of 1200 men. Four of these men were from South Dakota: Chief Petty Officer John B. Alexander, Sr. of Mitchell, Donald C. Willey of Spencer, Walter N. Dennison of Pierre and, of course, Ernest W. Wingen of Salem. We were commissioned as a battalion at Camp Perry. I had the opportunity of selecting what area of work I would like in the Seabees. I selected heavy equipment, which included operating cranes, shovels, drag lines, back hoe and clam shells. I became an oiler to begin with and worked with an outstanding operator from Mabank, Texas, Deward Bedford. As oiler, you were given the opportunity of learning to operate the machines, which I did. Eventually, I became an operator on my own.
The 93rd then was transferred to Camp Endicott, Rhode Island for additional training on May 15, 1943. Then on July 9, 1943, we, along with all of our equipment, boarded a troop train for a cross-country ride to Camp Parks, California, near Oakland, for additional physical training and field training…bivoact, rifle, etc. On August 9, 1943, we were trained to Port Hueneme, California to prepare for our overseas deployment. August 14, 1943 saw us board ships as a part of a fleet heading for the South Pacific, and, more directly, to the Russel Islands in the Southern part of the Solomons. We were made Shellbacks, an association of those crossing the equator, on October 14, 1943. We arrived at the Russels on September 12. There we went through the process of acclimatization to the South Pacific humidity and temperature. We also learned to work together and become more proficient at our jobs in the scheme of the war in the Pacific against the Japanese invaders, whom we had vowed to overcome! There I made Seaman 1/c and $79.20/month.
We moved up to the upper Solomons on February 12, 1944 to an island called Green. We invaded the island with some New Zealand troops. The island was horseshoe shaped, ½ mile wide and 18 miles around…hardly a dot. But we established ourselves and built two airstrips for fighter and bomber planes. The first bombing of Truk, a very big step in the war, evolved from our strips, which, incidently, was considered the No. 1 war zone at the time. Green did have about 50 Japanese on it, who were quickly captured. And while we were invading, we were strafed and bombed, but not very successfully. There I began operating a Model Northwest shovel, a 1 ½ to 2 yard machine, with a 160 horsepower Murphy diesel engine…what a beauty! And I was honored by getting one of the three operators on the rig.
Then came the big move! On October 25, 1944, we were part of the invasion of the Philippines, and on the way we had to make our way through the big naval battle of the Philippine Sea. And we were supposed to land on the island of Leyte, but the Japanese had taken this area, so we were diverted to the island of Samar, where we proceeded to build two airstrips and a huge naval base. We were bombed often during this time, but to my knowledge, lost only five men from our group. The main bombings were the Leyte airstrips. In November of 1944, I was promoted to Water Tender 2/c and $96/month.
The war ended for us on August 9, 1945. A week later I found out that my Dad had passed away on August 7. On August 16, I received a letter from my Mother to that effect. We then discovered two telegrams lying on the desk in the Red Cross office that should have been delivered to me earlier. I did not get home until December. I was again promoted to WT 1/c on October 1, 1945 and $114/month.
November 17, 1945 I arrived in the United States of America after over two years overseas. Believe me, passing under the Golden Gate Bridge was some thrill. And to return victorious put the frosting on the cake.
I was mustered out of the Navy on December 9, 1945 in Minneapolis and back in my old home town of Salem on December 10, 1945, to return to a better world and a better America!
Following the service, I continue my education with the help of the GI Bill. I proceeded to teach 29 years in South Dakota and an additional 6 years in Minnesota. I was married twice, my first wife died of cancer, and raised 8 children. I built a motel and operated it for 10 years before selling it and building a retirement home in Spirit Lake, Iowa. I am a life-long member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. I am a member of the South Dakota Agriculture Hall of Fame. I lived and worked in the wonderful country that I fought and worked for. Had we not been victorious in WWII, who knows what the alternative would have been. It is devastating to even think of it. Thank God for the good old United States of America!!!!!