In this second column, Mrs. Stanley Christoff continues to share World War II memories from her father’s 1940-1945 letters. In 1944, Mrs. Christoff’s father, Pvt. Herbert Ruch, was stationed at Fort Belvoir, Va., with the 1664th Engineering Unit.
He wrote, “I am an electrician in the new unit. I also had eight weeks in plumbing. There are 40 men in this non combat unit. We work six days a week.”
Because of the war, many communities lacked craftsmen. Most were in the service. To aid communities in need, part of the engineers’ training was to sharpen their skills helping the public.
Ruch recalls, “I did repairs and put coils in heaters in 96 civilian homes in the village.”
In October, the unit was notified they would be leaving Fort Belvoir for an unidentified destination.
The engineers left the fort and boarded two pullman cars and started north. The young soldier from the village of Weaversville would embark on the journey of a lifetime. He boarded the train Oct. 5, 1944. A commercial train, they would transfer to an Army train later.
The train left Richmond, Va., Oct. 5 with stops at Cincinnati, Ohio; East St. Louis, Mo.; Kansas City, Mo.; Hutchinson, Kan.; Pueblo, Colo.; and Salt Lake City, Nev. At Salt Lake, they boarded an all-servicemen train for Pittsburg, Calif.
It reminded this writer of Willie Nelson’s song “On the Road Again.”
Pvt. Ruch wrote, “We marched right through the town of Pittsburg, Calif., which I cannot understand. They wanted to keep the movement secret but marched us straight through the main street of town. We arrived at the docks and boarded a ferryboat named Catalina. It was a 2-mile walk to the docks.”
Finally, there was the USS Zeilin. The ship was acquired by the Navy in July 1940. It was classified as a Haskell Class attack transport. The ship left Oct. 5 and passed under the majestic Golden Gate Bridge.
“The voyage across the Pacific Ocean ended at Finschhafen, New Guinea, Nov. 11, 1944. The sea was rough, and sea sickness made the passage very unpleasant for the men. When they crossed the equator, there was the traditional King Neptune festival, a rite of passage for seamen who never crossed the equator. It is a series of hazing rituals. The festivities provided a welcome break from the tedium of a long voyage. There was not much to do on the ship but read.”
On Nov. 7, 1944, they sighted land and landed at the port of Finschhafen, New Guinea. Most of the men never even heard about the country, yet it was a key battleground of World War II.
Pvt. Ruch was a prolific writer. He wrote more than 200 letters and was very surprised that all letters were censored for security issues. Did any of our readers ever see a V-Mail-Victory Mill? V-Mail letters cut the weight and volume of mail. When a serviceman or woman wrote a letter, it was censored and placed on microfilm. When the letter was received A.P.O. at San Francisco, it was transferred to thin sheets of paper and forwarded to your home, wife or friends.
We’ll be in New Guinea in two weeks.