Each of our veterans has his or her own unique story to tell about their experiences in the U.S. armed forces. We are pleased to share a few of them with you.
(LaGrange Park, IL) On June 30th of 1945 shortly after landing on Okinawa, twenty-two-year-old Army Private First Class Paul B. Watts suffered three machine gun wounds. He was traveling in the bed of a military vehicle near the front of a five truck convoy returning to base from Hentona when it was ambushed by the Japanese. Upon hearing the truck being sprayed with bullets he jumped out and was immediately wounded, once in his left leg and twice in the buttocks. After the machine gun nest was eliminated, he was attended to by a physician, who was fortunately traveling in a following truck. He was then placed in a truck, where he recalled the heat of the bed was more painful than the three wounds he suffered, which prompted him to yell out “put something under my ass.” He spent two days in what now is known as a “M.A.S.H unit” before being flown to a Naval hospital in Guam. Private Watts was subsequently awarded the Purple Heart, this nation’s oldest and most recognized and respected military medals.
Private Watts recalls two American soldiers in particular who were hospitalized along with him in Guam. One was a former prisoner of war, who was forced during his Japanese captivity to work mostly on his knees in a coal mine. During his hospitalization, this soldier, he recalls, received daily cartons of cigarettes, unlike other patients. He also preferred eating lettuce and tomatoes to steak, the latter often inducing nausea and vomiting in him after a “few bites.”
The second soldier, he recalls, suffered a leg wound from a falling 20 millimeter “dead bird” which had been shot into the air in celebration of Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945. On a more personal note, he also remembers being “doped up” for four to five weeks from prescribed medication and later listening to the 1945 World Series on the radio, incredulous that the Chicago Cubs were playing in it. Private Watts spent three months in the Guam hospital recovering from his wounds.
Prior to being wounded, Private Watts reported “what really got to me” on Okinawa was seeing the bridge of a United States battleship being hit by a kamikaze pilot. He recalls shortly thereafter learning from a Navy sailor about secondary bridges, those bridges which can be used as command centers when the main bridge is destroyed, either accidently or in an enemy attack. He also recalls just prior to being deployed to the island he required FBI supervision when he went to inventory his corps’ radar equipment or “toys”
Private Watts had enlisted in the Army in October of 1942 and was assigned to the First Signal Corp. He trained in communications, including radio, telephone and radar, at Fort Crowder in Missouri as well as the University of Kentucky and Transylvania College, where he learned the “fundamentals of radar from a priest.” As part of his training he learned the technique of triangulation to locate enemy radar stations and how to “burn out” enemy radar using second generation microwave radar technology. On Okinawa, as a member of the First Signal Corp, he was tasked with locating Japanese radar from a highest point of the Motosu Peninsula using Okinawa and Iwo Jima as two points of the location triangle.
Private Watts was discharged from the Army in January of 1946. After stopovers in Hawaii and San Francisco, he returned to Chicago and married his wife with whom he had two sons. They were married for 64 years when she passed away in 2011.
For many years, Paul worked as a sales representative, including a company which manufactured fire hydrants. In 1985 he retired at the age of 63 and now enjoys singing in barbershop choirs, playing chimes in his church, and performing in old-time radio programs.
Reflecting on his war years, Paul described himself as having been a “good soldier” and having learned personal responsibility and the importance of doing one’s best in life.
Thank you so much for your service to our country in World War II. Enjoy your well-deserved Honor Flight to see the World II Memorial honoring you and all the brave soldiers who put themselves in harm’s way to protect our country’s freedom of future generations.