Behind-the-scenes in WWII: Two men recall their experiences outside of the front lines

  • Published
  • By Angela Woolen
  • Robins Public Affairs
Although he never saw combat in World War II, Arthur Lee Adams Jr., affectionately known as Red, saw the result.

Adams was in school at the University of Georgia when his father bought him two mules and gave him a small piece of land in Webster County, Georgia so he wouldn't be eligible to be drafted. After a year of farming, Adams decided he was ready to be in the military and went to talk to the Army Air Corps draft board.

He spent 60 days in basic training in Miami, Florida before being shipped to Sebring, Florida at Hendricks Field.

"All we did was pick up cigarette butts and lay in the sun," Adams said of his training days. The field was mostly used as pilot and co-pilot training for the B-17. Since Adams was neither, he spent a long time waiting.

After a double hernia surgery, Adams was sent to Laredo, Texas to train on the 50-caliber machine gun. He then went to Fresno, California to train as a tail gunner with his B-24 crew which included four officers and six enlisted.

He was in Walla Walla, Washington when the war ended.

"About the time we finished training, the war was over," Adams said.

Although Adams couldn't remember the exact amount, he was impressed by the re-enlistment bonus to stay on. Enough so, that he re-enlisted and was sent to Japan. During a 60-day furlough, he met a woman who would 13-days later become his wife.
While he was in Japan, he kept the 50-caliber machine guns cleaned and the ends taped up with masking tape on the A-26's.

"I flew over Nagasaki, the second bombing sight. They had cleaned it up but you could tell there was nothing there," Adams said. He was in Japan for a little under a year and after he was sent home, he worked as a rural mail carrier.

William Thames, whose name is pronounced like the river in England, started working as an apprentice carpenter at age 15. Two years later, in 1944, Thames joined the U.S. Navy.

Ironically, he was stationed at the U.S. Naval Training Center in Bainbridge, Maryland which his father helped build as a carpenter. Halfway through his training, he was shipped to Rhode Island where he was attached to a Marine Corp unit.
"We worked on liberty ships," Thames said.

His unit, the 37th Special Construction Battalion, was sent to California by train. For what seemed like an eternity, Thames outfitted ships with 1/12 white pine board. He soon asked an officer when he might see some action.

"He said, 'you'll see something in a few days," Thames remembers. And a few days later, 1,500 Marines and 1,500 Seabees were on a ship to Hawaii.

On the second night out, around 1:30 in the morning, the whistle blew signaling to the men that they were to abandon ship. The engines were turned off and the ship sat idle. The ship had been spotted by a submarine but obviously determined that there was nothing there and continued on its way.

Thames still gets nightmares about that run-in with the enemy sub. He woke up one night yelling that he didn't want to go into the water.

They arrived in Pearl Harbor the next day and Thames was stationed on Red Hill. He loaded and unloaded ships for a week.

"Then we were making hand grenades out of dynamite and nails wrapped it," said Thames.

After that, Thames started making Bangalore torpedoes. His hearing was damaged after one exploded too close to him.

The U.S. dropped the atomic bomb shortly after Thames' accident and the war ended shortly after.

Thames, now 88, married Doris Youngblood and the pair have been married for 63 years.

Doris Thames had two older brothers who served in the Army during World War II.
"I remember being afraid every time they talked about it," she said.

Both husband and wife remember German POWs being held at a camp nearby.

William Thames said he used to ride past the men picking peanuts and peaches.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, there were POW camps at Fort Oglethorpe, Fort Benning, Camp Wheeler, Camp Stewart and Fort Gordon along with other smaller satellite installations in the state.

William Thames recalled hearing of a POW talk about his work at the prison camp.

"The prisoner said, 'Hitler said we were going to march on the U.S. I didn't think we'd be marching to pick peanuts.'"