Reading’s Boys #6: April-May 1944

Willard Fielding Perkins (April-May 1944)

After Willard’s participation in Operation Leader off the coast of Norway aboard the aircraft carrier called the USS Ranger, he was probably – well – exhausted. When the Ranger finally did make it back to U.S. waters in January 1944, it was probably quite a relief for Willard to learn that the USS Ranger was to become a training carrier. Until April 20, 1944, that was. Orders were received informing the crew of the Ranger to prepare for a transatlantic voyage to Casablanca carrying 76 Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter planes along with Army, Navy, and French Army personnel. This journey would be the last transatlantic voyage for the USS Ranger: she would soon be transferred to the Pacific Fleet. 

The destination was Casablanca, and she left the U.S. on April 24 and arrived at the destination on May 4. Nothing special happened. Just your average supply mission. She did embark quite a good amount of Army personnel for the return trip to New York City but other than that, nothing of note really occurred. At least, nothing of note in regard to combat. But I do think there is some value in telling this story because I imagine this could have been a turning point in Willard’s life. In July 1944, there was a Navy muster roll showing Willard as being a part of the crew at a Naval Air Facility in New York City. I’m not exactly sure when he got transferred, though it is likely that upon the USS Ranger’s return to New York City, Willard would, for the last time in his life, set foot on the deck of an active-duty aircraft carrier. 

I can almost picture him now, out on the deck of the Ranger in the darkness of night looking up at the stars in the sky, listening and watching the waves, and coming to understand just how vast our world really is. He might have known that this was perhaps his last time aboard a ship like this one. 

John Francis Beaudoin (April-May 1944)

Last issue, we heard about John Beaudoin’s ongoing struggle with malaria. When he was released from the hospital in April, he had been lucky. He had completely missed the battle the 182nd Infantry Regiment had fought for Hill 260 on the island of Bougainville. By March 28, the hill had been declared secure. I imagine when John returned to his unit he probably felt like a bit of an outsider, for lack of a better word. All these men had been in the thick of it for the past two weeks while John laid in the hospital fighting a different kind of battle.

As April began, the commanding officer of the 182nd Infantry Regiment decided that regular patrols through the jungles nearby would be a good idea. This ensured that any Japanese movement would be spotted before it reached any position that could actually pose a threat. Our John was chosen for one of those patrols in April. It would not have been a lot of men, maybe a platoon or two. They would have probably had a slightly different route every time. I don’t know the context or the details of the patrol that John Beaudoin went on. All I know is that he took a bullet from a machine gun through his arm. I have no way of knowing if anything happened to the other men on the patrol with him.

Whether John crawled back, dragging his bleeding arm with him, or if John was able to get up off the ground using his good arm, pick up his rifle and run, if John continued fighting if he was so shocked to see his own blood flowing so freely from his body that he couldn’t move, if John’s buddies came up behind him and hoisted him up and they hobbled back together with wide eyes and thumping hearts, I do not know. I do know that when he made it to the aid station, they discovered that he was still suffering from a bout of malaria. It almost seems to me like he had hidden his symptoms so that he could rejoin his unit when he did in early April.

Either way, it would seem that John Francis Beaudoin’s war would end here in April 1944. Though it’s very possible he saw bits of combat here and there, between his struggles with malaria, and the fact that a hospital admission record dated February 1945 places him at Fort Dix, New Jersey, it is very unlikely that there is much more to John’s story that I know of. John would return home after the war and start a family here in Reading, eventually rising all the way up to the position of Reading Chief of Police. On July 30, 2012, John Beaudoin passed away and left a grateful town behind.

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