Wednesday, February 25, 2015

WWII Letters from The Pacific Recall the Grand Blanc, MI Buick Tank Plant

During WWII my father-in-law Herman Bekofske worked in the Grand Blanc, MI Buick "tank plant". Legally blind in one eye and supporting a wife and two boys, he was not called for service. But many of his friends at the plant were. One was Ed Lambert.

Pvt. Edward J. Lambert 36929398
661 Repl. Co., 133rd Repl. Bn
1st Repl. Depot (Prov.)
A.P.O. 238, 40 Postmaster
San Francisco, Calif.
Saturday, June 16, 1945

Dear Herman,
     I am now somewhere on Luzon Island in the Philippines. Yours was the first letter I received here and I was very glad to get it. I am glad you didn't have to go to the Army. It is not so bad but its certainly not like home. I am glad to hear Roy's brother is all right. I wrote to Roy a sort time ago. I asked at that time how his brother came out.
     I received a letter from Jack the day after I received yours. he says things are slowing down at the Tank Plant. I hope this won't mean Jack Irving will have to go to the Army.
     I am glad to hear your wife and the boys are OK. You ought to have a couple of pretty fine fellows there before long.
     We play euchre here, but since I had to teach most of the fellows I play with how to play it it is still pretty slow going.
     By the way we have some rain out here too.
     I have been into Manila. While there I bought some Jap occupation currency from some little Phlip [sic] kids at a cigarette per bill. This money is worthless now the Americans have taken over, but it makes nice souvenirs.
     I am send along one of these bills. The money here runs as follows: one, five, ten, twenty and fifty centavos, then one, two, five, etc. pesos.
     This money is (American issue which is good that is) exchange for ours at a ration of two to one. One centavo is worth one half an American penny; one pesos is worth fifty cents, etc.
     I am running a little late on time and I want to try to answer Jack's letter so will close for now.
P.S. I don't expect to see M. K. Lemon, but you never can tell.

Wednesday, June 19, 1945
Dear Herman,
     Received your swell letter of May 31st yesterday. I was a little worried how I was going to answer it. At present we have more time to ourselves than at any time since I have been in the Army. I don't think this situation will last for long though. The thing of it is I was completely out of air-mail stamps. They are pretty hard to get here at present. Fortunately I received a letter from my father with air-mail stamps enclosed. I am glad to be able to say my father seems to be doing pretty well at present. i fell pretty bad about the situation at home at times but there is damn little I can do about it except hope this thing won't last to [sic] long.
     I received your V-mail letter OK. Thanks for writing. The answer to the V-mail letter is already on the way to you. I hadn't written you before that because I didn't know how you had come out with the Army. I am sorry to hear about Don Neirgarth. It is to bad he got caught just two moths before he was thirty. I do remember him very well. Some friends of mine up North have the same name. I though Don might be related to them, but it turned out he wasn't.
     Its nice to know your boys are coming along so well, and congratulations on your fifth wedding anniversary. Don't start feeling to old. here are fellows over her who could call you son and be about right.
     So you are in the cattle raising business now. The nearest thing we have o cows here that I have seen are water buffalo. Man, are they ugly looking creatures. Well you should be doing better than hot dogs this winter. By the way we had steak for dinner the day I received your letter. I would still like to be back there eating hot dogs though. You might tell Red Cooper I haven't got any steaks for breakfast out this man's Army yet.
     I have only seen seven movies since I was home on fourlough [sic]. This isn't to bad an average expected I had seen all except one before. Then to I had to stand through most of them and for about an hour and a half before they started in order to have a place where I could see, and I still enjoyed them.
     I am sorry to say I didn't get out of camp during the very short time I was on the West Coast.
     I am still here on Luzon in the Philippine. The weather for the most part has been a lot better than we expect for which we are thankful. It still seems a funny to know I have actually seen Corregidor [sic], Batan [sic], Manila, and am half a world away from home.
     Things are pretty good here where I am at present. We get good chow, and enough cigarettes. Out beer ration never seems to be enough, though I suppose that's natural enough.
     I haven't put on any excess weight and do not want to.
     I hope you and Bill are having a better time with the obsolete stock on the M-4 than we did on the T-70.
     Glad to hear you are still interesting in going into business for yourself. That's the life being your own boss.
     We are going to have to fallout for chow in a few minutes so will close for now. Tell your wife I said hello and congratulations on putting up with you for five years. I hope you have a nice vacation and catch plenty of fish.

July 26, 1945
Dear "Uncle" Herm,
     I have to start out this letter by apologizing for not having answered your last two letters (June 28th and July 3rd) until now. I really appreciate your writing very much, but I don't have much spare time any more. In fact damn little. Then to I must admit I goofed off some by going to a couple of shows on my free nights last week. One was a U.S.O. show. It was "Oklahoma." They didn't have anyone playing in it I knew, but it was a swell show. Also it was very nice to see some blondes again (women of course.) The other show was a G.d. Musical Review. It was also pretty good.
     There seem to be quite a lot of fellows leaving the Tank Pant, but that is to be expected I suppose.
     About smoking. We are issued six packs a week. The way I am going now they don't last.
     Fortunately I still have a reserve I purchased on the boat. I immagine [sic] the cigarette situation is not very hood at home.
     Nobody here plays euchre. It is all poker and pinochle. So far I haven't had the money to play either and don't think I would be to much interested if I did.
It's to bad about Bartlett being called up at this late date but I suppose it is to be expected. The fellow who have been over here two or three years are anxious to get home (can you blame them.) Now they have their chance with the point system but we will need replacements for them and there are quite a few of them.
     I am sorry to hear Bill isn't making out very well. I immagine this would make a lot of exra work for you if it weren't for things slowing down. It seems funny to hear you tell about an inventory that you had plenty of time for. Things just aren't what they used to be.
     So Red Copper's brother is on his way over here. I can immagine just about how much he likes that. Tell Mr. Copper that we are getting steaks but not for breakfast and I beginning to believe that was just so much boloney[sic].
     George Carol is out at the tank plant now. Well I have run into a fellow from Flint who has been over here twenty-seven months. His name is Walters (sorry I afraid I an't think of his first name at the moment) and he knows Mr. Carol and quite a few others I know or have heard of. Walters is my age and graduated from Central the same time I did from Northern. We've spent quite a bit of time talking together. The old home town has changed a lot since he left it.
     I am glad to hear my letters are coming through in good time. Yours do.
     I am going to finish this letter on some Japanese stationary that one of the fellows gave. I thought it might prove interesting.
     I am going to have to close if I want to get this off tonight. Thanks very much for the stamps. With yours and what my father sent me I am pretty well fixed for stamps now.
     I hope you will be able to make this [missing part] I hope to get time to write yo a decent letter in [missing] near future.
     By the way it is hot over here and its supposed to be winter season. Give your wife and kiddies my best wishes.

Pfc Edward Lambert 369929398
191 Ord. Depot Co, APO 503
c/o PM, San Francisco, Calif.
5 October, 1945, Japan

Dear Herm,
     Well I am now in Japan. I am sorry I haven't written you more often, but we were very busy equipping the Division that last month on Luzon. The ordinance may be a good deal during combat but during the rest periods while the rest of the division is taking life easy ordinance is working its ass of getting them ready for the next move. For a while we thought this was going to be a combat move. Fortunately it wan't. But the need for occupation troops was immediate. Do our preparations were cut short. I don't think I got eight hours sleep the last three days we were on Luzon. Since I reach Japan sinus has had me feeling pretty lo most of the time. It seems to rain a lot here and is quite cool. It is raining now.
     We have been moving around quite a bit. As you probably noticed by address I am in a different company. The 43rd Division went home. At least the men in it with more than 70 points did. The rest of us were transferred to other outfits. While still with the 43rd Division our ordinance outfit moved three times after arriving in Japan. The last place we were at wasn't so hot, but we worked like the devil getting set up. When we finally had everything under control and the place pretty livable we were ordered out. The 97th Division (from Europe via the States) came in and took over everything.
     This outfit I am with now is an Ordinance Supply Depot. At present we are set up in an ex-Jap truck factory just off the docks at Yokohama.
     I am running a little short of time. So will close for now. I hope you, the wife, and kids are coming along find. Thanks for writing. I will try and write again shortly and give you a few details about Japan. I will say here the damage done by bombs in the Tokoyo-Yokohama area was terrific. Everyone was supprised [sic] more than supprised-amazed. It will be nice to see a city or town again that hasn't been damaged by those bombs or shell fire.

28 October, '45-Japan
Dear Herm,
My last communication from Japan. I will tell you all about the place when I see you. I am on my way home. Ed.
Edward J Lambert was born on January 1, 1920 and died January 21, 1971. He enlisted in the Army on September 22, 1941 in Detroit, MI. He had four years of high school and worked as a machinist. He was 67" high and weighed 170 pounds. Ed was in the Branch Immaterial as a Warrant officer.

He appears in the 1930 Flint, MI census as seven years old living with parents Burt, 55 years old, a machinist in the auto factory, and Kitty, 45 years old. The 1940 Flint, MI census shows Burt working in bearings at the Chevrolet plant and Edward, age 17, was a metallurgist in the Buick plant. Kitty does not appear.

In 1945 the Flint City Directory shows Ed was a clerk, and in 1947 he was listed as an office worker.
My son, a WWII buff from age eight, (and who blogs about vintage genre fiction at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed and Creased) wrote this about the tanks produced at the Buick "tank" factory:

"When the United States entered World War II production of most civilian goods stopped and the country became the "Arsenal of Democracy." Automakers like Buick immediately switched over to building trucks and tanks for the war effort, and its Grand Blanc Plant is still sometimes called the Buick Tank Plant due to the sheer number of armored vehicles it produced.

Two of those would be the M-4 and T-70 that Ed mentions in his letter. The M-4 is the ubiquitous Sherman Medium Tank, the mainstay of the Allied forces fighting in North Africa, Italy, and Northwest Europe. It carried a 75mm low-velocity main gun and had 3 inches of armor plate at its thickest, and its 400-horsepower engine could carry it up to 30 miles per hour. It entered service in 1942, and over the course of the war over 42,000 were built, the design continually being upgraded. The T-70 was actually a tank destroyer, an early prototype of what in 1944 entered mass-production as the M18 Hellcat; some of the T-70 prototypes saw service in Italy, and 2,500 M-18s were used in Europe. The Hellcat carried a high-velocity, long-barreled 76mm (3-inch) main gun, designed for penetrating thick armor (though its effectiveness against heavy German panzers is questioned by historians); its armor plate was only an inch thick, but that reduced weight and allowed it to reach a road speed of 57 mph.

It may sound like semantic nitpicking, but there is a reason historians and tank buffs clarify that the M-18 Hellcat was not a tank but a tank destroyer. US Army doctrine in the '30s was based around World War I-type tactics, where tanks were slow breakthrough vehicles used to penetrate an enemy's defensive line, designed to plod along supporting the infantry, carrying lower-velocity main guns designed not to pierce enemy tank armor but to pin down enemy infantry and blow up fortifications. (Early models of the M-4 is a perfect example of this, with its tall silhouette, under-powered gun, and slow speed; if your tank goes faster than 30 mph, it may outrun the infantry it supports.) In fact, tanks weren't supposed to fight tanks at all, that's what the tank destroyers were for. Tank destroyers carried high-velocity,long-barreled anti-tank guns loaded with armor-piercing rounds; they were as lightly armored as possible, designed to rush forward and respond to breakthroughs of enemy armor, or to quickly flank enemy tanks and fire at the weaker armor at their sides and rear. Unfortunately for the Hellcat, the doctrine didn't take into consideration Italian mud or French hedgerows, which negated its greatest asset (speed) and helped highlight the inefficiencies of its armor."

For more information:
The M-4/M-24 Sherman tank power trains:

T-70 a tank destroyer "gun motor carriage"/ M-18 Hellcat:

The Flint MI auto plants during WWII:
US Auto Industry during WWII

For information about Luzon, the largest island in the Philipines, the 43rd Division, and the places Ed mentioned seeing go to:
People mentioned in Ed's letters include:
  • Don Neirgarth, who in 1938 was a supervisor in the Fisher Body Plant, and in 1954 was an insurance agent. 
  • Jack Irving who was born in 1916 in Flint, MI, the son of I. L. and Delphine Irving. In 1942 Jack was married to Mildred and was a factory worker in an auto factory.
  • M. K. Lemon, or Kenneth Lemon, who in 1938 was a bellman at the Flint Hotel at 602 E. Knickerbocker Ave. His father was Frank C. Lemon who in 1938 worked as an inspector in the Chevrolet plant and was married to Augusta. In 1942 Kenneth was a machine operator in Flint MI.
  • George Carol who in 1940 was 32 years old and worked as a production checker in the auto body Mann factory, and was married to Dorothea B.; they had a son Robert G., two years old.

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