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Mom & Dad, WWII Veterans

Meet & Marry in Shanghai, China
by Sam Behling

The war is over! Wonderful words, aren't they? The loud speakers were turned on in each hangar and so we all gathered around, under and upon airplanes and listened to the official announcement. The news affected everyone so differently from what we'd expected—instead of cheering & noise, everyone had tears in their eyes, and then we all stood at attention for the Star Spangled Banner—well, it was one of the most wonderful experiences I've ever lived through. Since we received the news at 4 p.m. there was no more work that day and we all shoved off. - Dorothy Williams (Behling), El Toro Naval Air Station, August 17, 1945, from a letter addressed to her parents.


Dorothy Chloe Williams was born in the King's Daughters Hospital of Perry, Dallas County, Iowa on April 3, 1915, the only child of Arthur and Minnie (Hiney) Williams. Her ancestors include 8 of the Quaker families who founded Nantucket Island, and Roger Ludlow, the first assistant governor of CT whose ancestry has been proven back to European royalty. Her great, great grandfather, George Hiney, fought in the War of 1812 , her great grandfather, Elias Hiney, served in the Mexican-American war, and another great grandfather, George Bell fought for the Union in the Civil War.

When she was two years old, the family moved to Colorado where they homesteaded on the Great Divide before settling in the town of Craig in the remote northwest corner of the State. She graduated from Craig High School May 26, 1933. Though not Mormon, she attended Brigham Young University in Utah for one year until a bout with Scarlet Fever forced her to quit.

From 1936 to early 1941, Mom worked as a Stenographer at the Work Projects Administration in Grand Junction, Colorado. For a brief time thereafter, she was the Chief Clerk for the National Youth Administration in Denver. For the rest of 1941 through May, 1942 she was the Senior Stenographer with the National Youth Administration in Denver, and then with the U.S. involvement in World War II, a Clerk for the Board of Economic Warfare in Washington, D.C.

When the United States entered World War II, Congress enacted a law allowing women to serve in the military for the first time. Only 400,000 women signed on—society still thought women belonged at home and regarded most of the women who joined the services as "abnormal." But from 1943 through the end of WWII, Mom served in the Marine Corps Reserves as a Corporal, working as an air control tower operator at Bogue's Field and Cherry Point, North Carolina.

After the war, she joined the first organization created by the United Nations called United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, or UNRRA, whose specific purpose was to help the war-torn countries and displaced persons. She was stationed in Shanghai, China from November 1945 to April 1948 and worked as a Cable Operator in the Communications Dept. This was absolutely the best time in my mother's life, and her joy and enthusiasm of this experience are reflected in the letters she wrote from China to my grandparents over a period of 3 years, now in my possession.

James (Jim) Barton Behling, the third and youngest child of George and Laura (Delaney) Behling, was born on December 21, 1924 in Amery, Wisconsin. His ancestors include Mayflower passengers, Richard Warren and Francis Cooke; the Quaker martyr, Mary Dyer; Roger Williams, the founder of Providence, RI; and Anne Hutchinson, religious leader and founder of Portsmouth, RI whose ancestry has been proven back to European royalty. His 3rd great grandfather, Thomas Matthews, fought in the Revolutionary War, his great grandfather, Julius Porter Waite fought on the Union side during the Civil War, and his father, George Behling, served in WWI.

Shortly after Dad was born, his parents divorced and the Great Depression hit America, all of which forced the family to move in with my great grandparents. Everyone in the family worked. My great grandfather, though of retirement age, continued to work as a clerk in a feed store. My grandmother tended the sick and elderly (eventually going to work as a private duty nurse). Dad's two sisters babysat, cleaned houses, took in mending - whatever they could find. Dad, though very young, sold newspapers and helped his grandfather.

Dad graduated from Amery High School in 1942. From September 1942 to May 1943 he attended River Falls State Teachers College, in River Falls, Wisconsin. He joined the Navy and was sent to Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin for USNTU (V-12) training, to Midshipmen's School in New York, and USNTS (Communications) at Harvard University. By the time he saw active duty, WWII was nearly over.

From July 1945 though August 1946, Dad served on board the destroyer, USS Harwood in the Pacific Fleet as the Communications Officer in the rank of Lieutenant JG.

Sailing into the China Sea, Dad took his discharge from active duty there and for a month (August - September 1946) worked for the Chinese version of UNRRA (CNRRA), in their Waterways Transport division, performing the duties of a 3rd Officer on board a merchant ship called Wan Shen.

At the end of September, Dad joined UNRRA itself and remained with them until April, 1948 as the Cable Editor & Chief of Telephone Section, routing incoming and outgoing cable messages, planning and supervising provisions of telephone service for office of 1400 employees. It was in China that he met my mother, whom he married on August 1, 1948.

 


Click on mini pictures for enlargement.


Dad's Midshipman's
School Diploma


Dad's ship,
USS Harwood

Dad's Honorable
Discharge


Control Tower, Bogue Field


Mom, control tower operator

 


Mom's Control Tower
Operator Certificate

Mom with
rifle


Mom's Platoon, Boot Camp
Hunter College



Xmas bomb for Tojo

Mom's Honorable
ischarge

 

The package of cookies you sent to me arrived on the day of graduation, so I passed them around among the fellows because I didn't have any place to pack them. They all enjoyed them, and thanks a lot.

Friday night we cleaned our room well. We washed the walls and ceilings, scrubbed and waxed the floors, washed the windows, polished all the furniture, and really did a thorough job. At the inspection yesterday our room was rated "smart; shipshape and seamanlike".

Some of the fellows who have had demerits are having a rather hard time this afternoon. When we get demerits now, for not keeping our rooms clean or for doing almost anything wrong, we get extra duty. This afternoon several of the men are marching outdoors, carrying rifles, for two hours apiece. With the snow, it's kind of miserable.

It seems pretty evident what the Navy has in mind for us. They don't even teach us to recognize German ships and planes any more, just American and Japanese. It looks like they want us out in the Pacific.

Jim Behling, Lawrence College, V-12 Training, 1944, from a letter addressed to his family

Dad joined the Navy too late to participate in any serious military action. However, the USS Harwood did manage to sail into the teeth of a brutal typhoon while in the China sea. Dad, certain all were about to perish at sea, and with a slighty bent sense of humor, attempted to cheer everyone up by leading them in a song called "The Mermaid." The chorus seemed appropriate for the situation:

And the ocean waves do roll,
And the stormy winds do blow,
And we poor sailor go skipping at the top
While the landlubbers lie down below, below, below
While the landlubbers lie down below.

However, one verse first scared them all silly again:

Then up spoke the captain of our gallant ship,
And a fine old man was he.
"This fishy mermaid has warned me of our doom,
We shall sink to the bottom of the sea."

Dad was later reprimanded by his commanding officer and "The Mermaid" became one of the first songs I learned to sing.


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All photos taken by my parents and © 2003 Sam Behling. All rights reserved.