The greeting Robert Berg received when he came home from the Land of Lincoln Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., is one that Berg did not have when he returned home from the war.
He was 18 when he was drafted, and headed to Great Lakes in October 1943. He first reported to the Army, but then began running the stairs as he was shuffled to the Navy and Marines as well. He eventually wound up with the Marines.
After boot camp in San Diego, he was transferred to Camp Elliott before boarding a troop ship to Seattle. He passed under the Golden Gate Bridge twice during his military service while on board a ship. His first stop was New Caledonia near Australia before heading to Guadalcanal, which was home base for a while. He was part of the rear echelon, meaning his group’s job was to be the last to leave an area by packing up supplies and equipment. He spent time in Guam as well.
At one point while traveling in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on the way to Guam, the side of Berg’s face was swollen due to an abscessed tooth. A destroyer pulled up alongside the ship he was on and sent a “bag” over for him on line between the two vessels. It was an experience he has not forgotten.
“I know what a fish feels like,” he said as he explained that the waves between the ships dunked him in and out of the water.
After fixing the problem, two days later he got back into the bag again to rejoin his comrades.
Of course, he had an experience of being initiated after crossing the equator, too. No one on his ship had been initiated, so the skipper had to go first, Berg said. After blindfolding the men and walking them up steps, “King Neptune” asks them questions, and flips them over into what seems to them that they have fallen into the ocean. In reality, they fall into a well in the deck that men stretched canvas over to hold some water. They ask if the men are a shellback or a pollywog. If they answer incorrectly, they are dunked in the water. Next, they scoot down a slide with grease on it. They then crawl through a tunnel with water in it to get the grease off them. They are then put into wooden equipment like stocks where their heads and arms are locked and cutting a lock of hair concludes the ceremony, Berg said.
He also spent time in Okinawa on an LST and witnessed Japanese kamikazes blow up a flight deck on a ship. He also knows what it is like to be in a typhoon not far from Okinawa while heading home. The waves were so high water was getting into the smoke stacks on the boat.
Page 2 of 2 - Completing his service, he was discharged in February 1946. After returning to the Great Lakes, he took the Santa Fe train home to Chillicothe where his parents picked him up.