From War Torn Memories to Panama City Sunshine

by Karen Custer
Photo provided by Roy Trueman Photo provided by Roy Trueman

Roy Trueman, born into The Greatest Generation, is a loyal and courageous veteran of World War II, the Vietnam War and the Korean War.

The dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan on August 6th and August 9th, 1945, probably saved Trueman’s life, as well as the life of my own father and of hundreds of thousands of other Americans.

At that time, the biggest invasion force ever known was waiting on hundreds of ships in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Alaska and Japan, and many of those troops would have died had the invasion taken place. Trueman was in basic training at the time and expected to go in as a replacement for someone who did not survive the initial invasion. His reaction to the bombings of Japan was, “Go ahead. Get ‘Em, Harry!” He was relieved to realize that he would probably not be killed in the war. Trueman went on to say that there was a tremendous amount of hatred toward the Japanese during World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on August 7th, 1941, and the resulting deaths of 2,403 U.S. personnel. Like many other young men his age, he had eagerly awaited high school graduation to be able to join the Army to go take care of the Japanese, joining for the duration of the war plus six months, as did many young patriots at the time. In his day, you were immediately sent right into a division, company or battalion after basic training and the only other training that was given was on-the-job training.

Trueman’s first tour was in Europe. He landed in the Hague, eventually ended up in Erlangen, Germany, moved to Berlin where he stayed for 6 to 8 months, then to Munich where he stayed for a year. He worked out a deal to go to Hagendorf on the Danube River, then returned to Berlin to work on the Berlin Airlift, after which he left the Army and became a reservist.

He went to school on the GI Bill for a couple of years and realized that he did not want to be an accountant, but the GI Bill would not allow a change of major to Forestry.

Trueman worked out a deal with the Army to re-enlist and to attend school for six months then work six months, being paid the entire time, as long as he promised to work for them for four years. He spent the next year in electronics training then had a tour in Fort Myers, Virginia, where he met his first wife whom he married six months later. He was working on the communications link there and when she laid eyes on him, she told her mother, “That’s the man I’m going to marry.” And he said, “Oh, yeah?” She made time for him, whatever his schedule was, since he worked nights, days, afternoons, and swing shifts, depending upon the assignment. Then he moved on to a tour in Maryland, where his first child was born.

The next tour was during the Korean War but when he was on the ship to Korea, they “kicked him off the boat” at Japan where his skills were needed more, so he spent four years there, building a communication system that tied what is now South Korea into the headquarters in Japan, and to reach the troops wherever they were. The system initially communicated with backpack radios, then moved to a different kind of radio that was multi-channeled, with a signal that would be encrypted, repeated, and carried so a guy in the trenches could talk to a general in Persian Heights. Trueman was in a place called Ozama which he said was like the Pentagon of the Pacific. FM radio was new, and he also heard the term “gigahertz” for first time, which was a microwave frequency that used wave guides to carry signals, not wires. His second child was born while he thought he was on the way to Korea. Not wanting to be separated from his family for

a year and a half while waiting for quarters, he had a Japanese contractor build a modest little framed house that sat up on blocks in the military housing area. He was the first to move into brand new quarters, about 6 miles away from the base where he worked. His third child was born in Japan.

Upon leaving Japan, he spent three months traveling around the United States using his accumulated vacation leave time, then settled for four years in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, working as the project officer, testing electronics equipment and writing formal reports to the Pentagon, recommending whether the Army should purchase, change or disregard the equipment. His fourth child was born there. They did not have quarters for his family, so they moved into a converted chicken coop around the end of the mountain and after about three or four months, moved into nice, new quarters. Then he became a warrant officer, which was a more solid job because he operated a repair facility.

The next tour was in Massachusetts where his fifth child was born. He was assigned to a staff unit in Massachusetts, which was an infantry brigade in a strategic unit, and would get 72 hours’ notice to be at the port to leave on a ship or in a theater somewhere, ready to fight. It was not uncommon to get a call at 3 am to grab his wet gear and steel helmet and go. He could never count on being at home for long.

Next, he had a tour in Vietnam followed by another tour in Virginia, as an electronics maintenance officer for the military district of Washington. When he was getting close to the end of that tour, which was also close to his planned retirement, the Office of Personnel called and said they had a job for him in Paris, if he wanted to extend. It was “a cushy job”, tied into NATO Headquarters, with shiny shoes, a scarf, dress uniform, and two secretaries, so he extended indefinitely. A month before deployment, he got a call from the Pentagon saying that instead of Paris, they had the exact same job available in Heidelburg, Germany, which he accepted because it was even better. About a week before he got on the boat with his family, he got another call saying that he had been diverted to Heilbronn, a little city on the Neckar River, not far from Heidelburg. That was not a cushy job. They didn’t even have a shop, so he had to build it and fill it up inside. They crawled under vehicles, doing inspections, and even had to build the work benches needed for work. He stayed there for almost three years.

After the tour in Germany, his wife finally said that 24 years was enough. Trueman thinks that she was afraid he would go back to Vietnam again, which didn’t bother him, but it did her. At that point, he retired.

He walked off the boat in New York, went to New Jersey and got his car, then came back and was processed after a day or two. They handed him his papers, said that he was retired and “Good-bye.” After 24 years in the Army, he walked out of that building in New York with a wife, five children, all school age, no job and no idea where he was going. His personal finances did not look good, so he decided he would file for unemployment compensation.

When Trueman went to file for unemployment compensation, they gave him a job instead. His job, the head of the electronics department for a small business that was owned by a friend who worked with him in the Army. This group of engineers designed underwater sonar equipment that was purchased by the Navy. One device he did design work on was a self-contained sonar device that would transmit and receive. It had two handles to be used by a swimmer wearing scuba gear to search underwater for dummy torpedoes that were fired during testing. After a torpedo was located, a hook would be connected, and a boat would pull it away, to be re-built and re-used. An interesting story is that one of these sonar devices was used to locate an ASTOR torpedo with a nuclear warhead that was lost 400 miles southwest of the Azores in 1968 when the nuclear-powered attack submarine, the USS Scorpion, suffered an accident and sank in the Atlantic Ocean.

Roy Trueman, born into The Greatest Generation, having faithfully served his country during World War II, the Vietnam War and the Korean War, is still living in a home that he built long ago in Panama City, Florida, with his second wife, Sue Trueman.

Ace of Faces