Reading’s Boys #4: December 1943-January 1944

Frederick John Estes Jr. (December 1943-January 1944)

Between July and the end of November 1943, Frederick had added 12 more combat missions to his previous nine, bringing his total to 23. If Frederick could just hit 25 missions flown, he would get a chance to go back home for a while. On December 15, Frederick flew mission number 24, and though the mission itself was not very successful, everyone did return to base. He was one mission away. That 25th mission finally came on December 21, an early Christmas present. And then there was another one and another one. 

Frederick’s luck finally stopped on January 7, 1944. After having to abort a mission the day before due to bad weather, the do-over was scheduled for the next day. Frederick and his fellow crew members took off from Fenton Field that morning and never came back. No one knows exactly what happened. Three search planes were sent out and reported seeing two tracer bullets in the area of the Kai Islands but the area was subsequently searched with no results. A second search party was sent out and returned with nothing. 

It was as though Frederick John Estes Jr. had simply disappeared. Now, Frederick certainly wasn’t our town’s first loss in World War II, but the circumstances of his death alone probably took quite a toll on his family. It’s possible that initially, he wasn’t even reported dead but missing. Imagine that angst of hoping beyond all sense of logic, that your son had somehow survived. That he would call home one day and you would hear his voice echo through the phone. I guess I just hope that Frederick’s death was a quick one. And I also hope he knows that he has been remembered by his town. Frederick’s life was unfairly and violently taken from him at the age of 26.

Henry Andrew Brodecki (December 1943-January 1944)

Unbeknownst to Frederick Estes Jr. and the other members of the 380th Bomb Group, in a way, every time they flew a bombing mission over Cape Gloucester to help soften up the area for the invading Marines, they were avenging Frederick’s death, for Henry Andrew Brodecki, of Malden and later, of Reading, was on Cape Gloucester. It is quite possible (and likely) that some of the bombs dropped by the 380th Bomb Group saved Henry’s life. In losing one son of Reading, we secured a future one. 

Henry Andrew Brodecki landed on Green Beach on Cape Gloucester on the morning of December 26, 1943, and encountered no opposition. It is my understanding that oddly enough, though the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment was the first to land, the 1st and 3rd Battalions saw most of the action on Cape Gloucester until around January 23 when they were all attached to the 5th Marine Regiment and began pushing their way down an abandoned Japanese trail. At one point Companies, L and K from the 3rd Battalion ran into heavy opposition but for the most part, Henry’s G Company was safe. 

I am honestly amazed by Henry Brodecki’s luck on Cape Gloucester. Perhaps one of the only units to be mostly safe from the fighting was Henry’s. I wonder if he felt any guilt about that fact. All around him, he probably saw the evidence of war and pain and suffering but did not experience it himself. He might have just felt lucky, too. 

It is hard to really know what Henry did for the rest of the war, though. On July 1, 1944, Henry was transferred to Company B, Casual Battalion at Camp Pendleton, and then from January 1, 1945, to July 31, 1945, Henry worked with the Second Service Company, Service Battalion based at Camp Lejeune. According to Marine muster rolls, he worked in a warehouse at one point and also performed clerical duties. Based on this information, it is my belief that Henry Andrew Brodecki’s war ended on Cape Gloucester. Henry was honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps on October 9, 1945, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina at the rank of Corporal. He passed away on August 26, 2006, in Stoneham. 

I will leave you with this: whenever I think of the Marine Corps, and whenever I hear about or read about a Marine passing away, I always think of the Marine Corps Hymn. And I wonder if Henry, who passed away at the age of 85, stands alongside his fellow Marines even in his new home in the sky…

“From the Halls of Montezuma
To the shores of Tripoli;
We will fight our country’s battles
On the land as on the sea;
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine
Our flag’s unfurled to every breeze
From dawn to setting sun;
We have fought in ev’ry clime and place
Where we could take a gun;
In the snow of far-off Northern lands
And in sunny tropic scenes;
You will find us always on the job
The United States Marines
Here’s health to you and to our Corps
Which we are proud to serve;
In many a strife we’ve fought for life
And never lost our nerve;
If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven’s scenes;
They will find the streets are guarded 
By United States Marines.”

Robert Colbert Rooney (December 1943-January 1944)

When we last talked about Robert Rooney, he had just assisted the 1st British Airborne Division in Italy. I can honestly say that it appears that most of Robert Rooney’s time in the service is spent surrounded by the British Army. On December 5, USS LST 209, Robert’s boat, embarked from Calcutta with 14 M3 Sherman tanks and  67 soldiers from the British 14th Army and headed for Regu Creek near Arakan, Burma. This military operation was known as Operation Ratchet and there’s literally no other information on it. They dropped off some tanks and British soldiers in Burma. No clue why, no clue what happened to them, absolutely no other information.

I wonder if Robert happened to know anything but something tells me that he probably didn’t either. The only thing I can think of that would make sense is that this was a part of the Burma campaign that ran practically from the week that the United States entered World War II up until V-J Day. But there is still no mention of the operation at all, and seeing as the Burma campaign struggled so much because of its lack of resources, I feel like 14 new tanks would have been noteworthy enough to mention. Either way, though, our Robert saw a part of the world that I would wager very few other Reading boys would ever see during World War II: Burma. 

USS LST 209, with Robert aboard, then returned to the British Isles to undergo rearmament and more training. But this wasn’t just any training, and I’d bet Robert knew that from the beginning once he realized how oddly specific their new training regimen was. This training was for the invasion of France.

William James Curran (December 1943-January 1944)

Quite a special man, William James Curran was. Enlisting in the United States Army in January 1941, William was chosen to be an officer and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on July 9, 1942. This decision was probably made a bit after he had finished his basic training, although I am not sure of that. One way or another, William Curran was assigned to the 78th Infantry Division, 311th Infantry Regiment, Company F. Actually, it is likely that William was with the 78th Division from its activation on August 15, 1942. If this is true, he would have gone through extensive training that would serve him well later on.

On December 7, 1943, after returning to Camp Butner following a series of large-scale training maneuvers, William and the rest of the 78th Infantry Division was given a final furlough. This time at home would have been William’s last time home before he would enter combat in Europe. Whether he knew that or not, I don’t know, but I’m sure he suspected it. I’d bet many men did, actually. I wonder if William thought about what his future might hold, or if he did everything he could to avoid thinking about it. There are plenty of records of men telling their family as the train taking them off to war begins to move that they don’t think they’ll come back. I wonder if that thought ever crossed William’s mind if it ever fell out of his lips.

On January 25, 1944, the 78th Infantry Division returned to duty after their leave and participated in the Second Army Tennessee Maneuvers. It would not be until October of that year that William James Curran would leave for Europe, but I’m sure that didn’t make the fear go away.

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