My father, James Levi Biles Jr., was born in Dalton, Ga., transplanted to West Palm Beach, Fla., and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps at the West Palm Beach Air Base, 52d Air Base Squadron in August 1941. He told me later that he had enlisted to attend “engine school.”
My brother and I pressed Dad to tell us about his wartime service, and after many dodges he finally did. One thing Dad had in spades was a sense of humor, and all but one of his stories were funny. After serving 28 years in the Army, I understand why he used humor to relate his wartime experiences to us, besides the fact that he was naturally inclined that way.
His first recollection was of his induction into the Air Corps. He said that he was herded into a building with a bunch of other guys, and they all sat around waiting for something to happen. Suddenly, a door opened and a wizened old sergeant barked, “If you can type, raise your hand.” Dad had taken typing in high school, and his job at the time was as a teller in a local bank. So he raised his hand and was immediately whisked into another room with tables, chairs, typewriters and forms. After that, he remembers typing induction papers and orders from morning to night, with only breaks for chow, and that he didn’t get his uniforms for about three months. So much for “engine school.” Sometime later, the induction station was to be closed, and the colonel in charge, who had taken a liking to Dad, told him “Biles, go ahead and cut orders assigning yourself to engine school.” He did so and graduated from a contractor-run aircraft engine school some months later.
While at engine school he performed a lot of extra duty, typing whatever needed to be done. I guess word kind of traveled with one in those days. As I remember the story, he again got on the good side of a ranking officer, and was recommended to attend Officer Candidate School. Dad was told to cut his own orders to OCS at Duke University, in North Carolina. He graduated from OCS as a finance officer in 1942, and married my mother in the chapel at Duke. His cousin, Bill Clark, was his best man. Bill later enlisted in the USAAC, and became a bomber navigator (I think). In one story, Billy told us he “bombed Dresden.” I was always amazed at the casual way these men treated their wartime service.
After OCS graduation, Dad was assigned to MacDill Field in Tampa, Fla. He met a young man in training to fly the B-26, and they became friends. At some point, Dad introduced William Nick Hollis to his sister, Doris, and they subsequently married. In the interim, Bill was assigned to a bomb group flying out of Matching Green, England. Bill flew 67 bombing missions from England and France, and flew a D-Day mission to bomb gun emplacements inland from the invasion site. He went on to fly bombers in the Korean War and Vietnam War.
Dad was reassigned from MacDill to the Philippines (we were never told any details of his Pacific assignments). In one instance, he was required to perform pay officer duties for airmen located at some distance from his regular location. He had run across a high school “chum,” Phelps Merrill, who was a master sergeant and had possession of a jeep. Dad was supposed to join a convoy for protection because Japanese forces were still fighting in his area. There were numerous delays in moving the convoy, so Dad and Phelps decided to go it alone, carrying an M-1 Carbine and 2 1911 .45’s. Dad said Phelps drove like a madman anyway, and managed to get him to his destination on schedule. After he had paid the flight crews, he heard that the convoy had been ambushed and wiped out to a man.
Sometime in this period, Dad contracted jungle rot on his feet, which he carried with him to his grave in 1995. The disease became so bad he couldn’t walk and had to perform his finance officer duties from a cot in the local dispensary. While there, he met an Infantry lieutenant who was recovering from wounds received in action. They became friends and one day the lieutenant asked Dad about the reason he was hospitalized. Dad told him “jungle rot.” “JUNGLE ROT?!” was the astounded question that came next. “I’ve been fighting the Japanese in these jungles for two years and never heard of jungle rot!” “What rank are you?” “Captain,” Dad replied. “CAPTAIN!!!?” the young man nearly screamed. “I’ve been out here two years, and have been shot four times, and am still a lieutenant!!!!” By now he was obviously very upset. His next question was about the status of Dad’s treatment, and he told the man that the medics had decided they couldn’t cure the disease in country, so they were sending him back to the States. The young man became nearly hysterical: “I’ve been shot four times and they’re sending me back to my Infantry outfit and I’ll probably be killed!!!!” he screamed, and stomped off raving about the unfairness of the situation. One night soon afterward, after lights out, Dad heard a hoarse whisper, “Biles!” He could see the lieutenant’s eyes glistening in the faint light, and realized that he had crawled on the floor to reach Dad’s bunk. Dad thought he was dead. But the Lieutenant asked, “Are they still sending you home???” “Yeah," Dad said, "the da-- stuff is just getting worse.” The lieutenant said, “They really are going to send me back to my infantry outfit. I’ve been out here for two years, and have been shot to hell. I want to go home. Will you let me rub my feet on yours to see if I can get jungle rot from you?” Dad said he almost laughed out loud. He thought about it a minute, then said, “If you’re serious go ahead, but they are really disgusting.” The lieutenant removed the bandages, rubbed his feet all over Dad’s, they fixed the bandages again, and the lieutenant crawled back to his bunk. This happened a few more times, then Dad was transferred back to the States.
Some months later, Dad’s jungle rot had been controlled, and he was entrained and on his way to a stateside assignment. Somewhere in South Carolina, the train stopped and the soldiers were taken out on the station platform for fresh air and sun. Dad was still on a litter and not allowed to walk. Suddenly he heard a familiar voice, “BILES!!! Is that you?” He turned to see the lieutenant from the Philippines on another litter. “Hey, thanks!! They sent me home! Look, I’ve got Jungle Rot! And I’m a captain! My orders finally caught up with me!” Dad said, “Glad I could help out!” He swore to my brother and me that this is a completely true story. After all those years in the Army, I believe him.
Richard A. Griffith Post 324, California