Reading’s Boys #3: October-November 1943

Fred Melvin Day (October-November 1943)

When we last touched base with Fred, he had just gotten through the Battle of New Georgia. I have also since discovered that Fred was, indeed, a member of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 148th Infantry Regiment. Now, after the hard fighting that Fred and his comrades had gone through in New Georgia, they were expecting a bit of a break. Well, they would not be getting one. Thanks to their stellar performance in combat, it was decided that they would assist with the capture of Bougainville. 

Soon after landing on Bouganville in November, the 148th Infantry Regiment was attached to the 3rd Marine Division, and Fred and the 148th Infantry Regiment would first make contact with the enemy on November 9. One of the patrols that had been sent out encountered a Japanese suicide battalion. The patrol dug in and waited for the inevitable counterattack while the 37th Reconnaissance Troop sent out some longer patrols to start mapping the area. The intelligence they gathered would prove vital for the Americans holding Hill 700. 

The 37th Infantry Division did not see much combat in November, thankfully. There were many lessons learned during this time, though. For example, island natives started to show the young GIs how they could help deal with some of the more painful bug bites they had obtained during their time in the Pacific. Many bridges were built, maps made. But for now, all was calm. Fred and his men were safe.

Willard Fielding Perkins (October-November 1943)

Of the three Perkins boys, of 75 Deering Street, Willard was the youngest when he went to war. Born in 1922, he grew up to be precisely 6 feet tall, 180 pounds, with red hair and hazel eyes. Willard enlisted in the United States Navy on November 6, 1942, and trained as a radioman. 

Willard Fielding Perkins

Sometime in June 1943, Willard boarded the USS Ranger, an aircraft carrier. What a sight to behold. Willard, coming from a family of engineers, would have probably had to stop and stare in awe for a few minutes before being able to school his features back to normal. After June 1943, it was difficult to track Willard, though. The next muster roll he appears on is dated July 31, 1944. For this reason, I will be working on the assumption that Willard was on the USS Ranger up until June-July 1944. 

The first combat operation that the USS Ranger took part in was a unique one: Operation Leader. Intelligence had reached Britain that a decent-sized German task force had departed a port in Norway and attacked Allied positions around the Norweigan port of Spitsbergen. A day after that attack, one of the German battleships that had participated in the attack had been severely wounded and would need to be repaired before going out to sea again. This was the perfect opportunity to strike.

The USS Ranger and the other participating ships departed Scapa Flow on October 2, 1943, and made their way to Bodø, Norway undetected. Around dawn on October 4, sitting 140 miles offshore, the USS Ranger was ready. At 7:08 AM, ten Avenger torpedo bombers and six Wildcats began launching from the Ranger’s deck.

Around 2:00 PM on October 4, three German reconnaissance planes approached the USS Ranger. It must have been a nerve-wracking encounter, but the German planes were taken out by friendly fighters that had launched earlier that day from the Ranger. Some hours later, Willard probably heard a loud, ominous crash. Perhaps he even saw the source of the noise, but that, I do not know. One of the planes coming in to land on the Ranger had crashed. The aircraft’s pilot was pulled from the wreckage and survived. 

After returning to Scapa Flow, the USS Ranger patrolled with the British 2nd Battle Squadron. She departed Iceland after finishing her patrol duty on November 26 and arrived in Boston on December 3, 1943. In just a few months, Willard had seen more of the world than most. He was 21 years old.

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