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July 13, 2008

Our War: World War II electrician's mate looks back fondly on military life

A Highland man served during World War II on an Army freight and supply ship, hauling food to radio operators in hidden locations and moving the bodies of U.S. soldiers from a flooded cemetery to higher ground. Troy Huddle, 82, was an electrician's mate 3rd class in the Coast Guard and spent the war in the South Pacific.

A Highland man served during World War II on an Army freight and supply ship, hauling food to radio operators in hidden locations and moving the bodies of U.S. soldiers from a flooded cemetery to higher ground.

Troy Huddle, 82, was an electrician's mate 3rd class in the Coast Guard and spent the war in the South Pacific. He later spent time in the Naval Reserve and eventually retired from the Air Force.

He was not quite 18 when he signed up for the Coast Guard in Virginia.

"I had a brother in the Navy and one in the Army," Huddle said. "My mom told me to join something else."

He found himself on Army Freight and Supply Ship 265, a small ship designed to maneuver into small, shallow harbors to deliver cargo. The ship hauled cargo to different places in the South Pacific. In New Guinea, it dropped off pallets of food and supplies for radio operators stationed in hard-to-access locations.

"It was an interesting job, but most of the time, we didn't know what we were doing," he said. "We were just delivering stuff. We didn't learn until after the war what we were doing. They didn't tell you nothing during the war."

The ship hauled dynamite, food, supplies and at one time, 500 bodies of U.S. military personnel.

"We had to haul the bodies from Bougainville Island (in Papua, New Guinea) to Finch Haven, New Guinea," he said. "We picked up 500 bodies, in body bags, in all states of decomposition. They dug up the bodies and we had to move them because Bougainville flooded and they wanted to move them to a dry cemetery."

His crew was assigned to deliver a new generator to a radar outpost in Borneo.

"The (Japanese) bombed the radar center and only got the generator, so the guys up there had the radar, but no power," Huddle said.

His crew had to haul the generator up a mountain through 6 inches of thick, sticky mud.

"There was no power steering in those days," he laughed. "So, there were about four of us pulling on the steering wheel, trying to get through that mud to get the generator to the guys."

Huddle recalls the very last bomb dropped on his ship by a Japanese pilot.

"The (Japanese) plane came over us when we were taking the generator to Borneo and dropped a 50-pound bomb on us," Huddle said. "Turns out, that was the last bomb out of Taiwan."

Later in his military career, when he was in the Air Force and stationed in Japan, Huddle said he met the Japanese man who loaded the bomb onto that plane and befriended him. The man was working as a civilian under Huddle in a machine shop.

"We were just talking World War II with each other -- he spoke fluent English -- and we were just talking when I mentioned the (Japanese) plane that came over and dropped one bomb and turned around and left," Huddle said. "He said, yeah, because it was almost out of fuel. I loaded the bomb onto that plane."

There was never any animosity between the men, Huddle said, and they remained friends for many years.

"He was just doing his job and I was doing mine," Huddle said. "He was one of the nicest people I ever knew."

The ship was fired at and bombed from time to time during the war, but "not a lot."

"You didn't get into combat as much as people fighting the war," he said. "And a small ship like ours wasn't as much as a target as the big ones."

Daily life on the ship was dull. Personnel scrubbed their clothes in salt water with a bucket and a brush and showered in salt water. They worked four hours on, four hours off. They wore out records trying to fill the air with sound.

"You had no radio, no newspapers," Huddle said. "We had one old gramophone so you could hand-crank records and we used them so much we wore them out. We had to have something -- some noise-- something more than just the sound of water."

After he returned home, Huddle took a couple of years off before joining the Navy Reserve. He did one cruise on a submarine and decided he wanted to go back to serving in the military full time.

He decided to join the Air Force and served during the Korean and Vietnam wars.

In 1974, he was assigned to Scott Air Force Base, where he retired in July 1975. He and his wife of 45 years, Yoshiko Huddle, met and married in Japan and decided to settle down near Scott.

"I just liked the life," Huddle said of his military service. "I enjoyed the places I got to go and the things I did. I really liked it. Military service was a good life. I enjoyed it all."

Contact reporter Jennifer A. Bowen at jbowen@bnd.com or 239-2667.

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