This interview of Dad by Bill was published in Military History magazine in 1996. His original interview is below. Military History magazine changed his use of the word "Japs" to "Japanese". Political correctness trumps historical correctness. Maybe they should change their name to "Politically Correct Military History".

From Corn Fields to Killing Fields

'It was a very strange feeling landing in Japan,' Herman Kleen recalled, ’We had been fighting them for two years, and we saw them there and just wanted to shoot them.'

By Bill Kleen

On December 7, 1941, 22-year-old Herman Kleen was in a drug store in the small farm town of Palmer, Iowa, when the news came over the radio that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. Later that evening, when Kleen and some of his friends were in a pool hall discussing the impending war, one of them boasted that America would whip the Japanese in 30 days. Countless times over the next 3 years Kleen would remember that prediction.

Kleen was drafted and served as a corporal in the 1st Cavalry Division. As part of that fabled outfit, he traveled to Australia, the small islands of the South Pacific, the war-torn streets of Manila, and the ruins of bombed-out Japan. Today, Herman Kleen is retired; he and his wife of 46 years live on a small farm in Gilmore City, Iowa. During a recent visit to the farm, his son Bill Kleen interviewed him for Military History about his experiences in the Pacific theater of operations.

Bill: When were you called up for service?

Dad: I was sworn in on December 14, 1942, and they gave us one week to get our affairs in order. On December 21, I was sent to Fort Des Moines, Iowa, and after two to three days, I was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Bill: What was basic training like?

Dad: Basic training was at Fort Sill. I spent 13 weeks there, and it was actually pretty nice. We learned how to fire the M-l rifle and the 105mm howitzer. It was a field artillery training camp.

Bill: To what unit were you assigned?

Dad: After basic training, I was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division's 99th Field Artillery Battalion at Fort Bliss, Texas, where we spent several more months on training and conditioning. On July 2, 1943, we left Fort Bliss and were sent to San Francisco, where we were to ship out to Australia.

Bill: Did you get any time off to go home before you were shipped overseas?

Dad: In late June, just before we left Fort Bliss, they gave us a seven-day furlough before heading overseas, I spent only three days at home. The other four were spent on the train—two days to Des Moines and two to El Paso. I couldn't get a seat on the train, and I had to stand up all the way home and all the way back to El Paso. Going home and seeing the family was really tough be cause I knew that I was going off to war and didn't know if I would come back home again. For a lot of soldiers, it was their last visit home.

Bill: Didn't you have an interesting experience during the Army physical?

Dad: In order to be shipped overseas, I had to pass a physical, including a dental exam, but it sure didn't amount to much. When the fellow in line ahead of me was examined, the dentist put a depressor in the guy's mouth and said "Four." The guy said "Four what?" The dentist told him that meant his teeth were OK, The guy said "What the hell is the matter with you doc?" Then he pulled his false teeth out of his shirt pocket. At that point, I knew that I was going to pass the physical. Back in those days, the Army wasn't too choosy about who they sent overseas.

Bill: When did you ship out?

K1een: We left San Francisco on July 4, 1943, aboard George Washington, and we arrived in Australia on July 25. I remember that almost everyone was crying as we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge. Most of us had never even left our home state before the war, and here we were, going away to a far-off country.

Bill: How was your time in Australia?

Dad: We stayed in Australia until about January 1, 1944. We were stationed outside of Brisbane at Camp Strathpine, which we built ourselves. We did a lot of drilling and a lot of training. The most time that we got off was Saturday afternoon. We didn't get any three-day passes.

Bill: Were you reassigned to a different unit while in Australia?

Dad: The Army decided to create a fourth field artillery battalion for the 1st Cavalry Division. They took men from the 82nd, 61st and 99th Field Artillery battalions to form the 271st Field Artillery Battalion. I was reassigned from the 99th to the 271st. Each of the battalions had about 800 to 1,000 men.

Bill: How was the 271st organized?

Dad: The commanding officer of the 271st was Colonel Wendorff. We had a Headquarters Battery, Batteries A, B, and C, and a Service Battery. Headquarters Battery commanded where we were to fire. Batteries A, B and C did the actual firing, and Service Battery furnished the materials. Each of the firing batteries had four 105mm howitzers, so the battalion had a total of 12 guns. I was in Battery A, which was organized into four firing sections—one for each of the howitzers—and had an ammo section, a wire section, and a detail section as well. I was in the detail section of Battery A. Each of the batteries had about 150 to 200 men.

Bill: What did Battery A do?

Dad: We provided artillery support to the infantry in the division. Even though it was called a cavalry division, we had four regiments of infantry—the 5th, 7th, 8th and 12th Cavalry regiments.

Bill: What did you do in your section?

Dad: The detail section provided forward observers for the guns in the battery. The battalion was usually several miles from the front, and the battery needed someone on the front line to radio back with the results of the firing. Soldiers from my section were rotated to the front, where they acted as forward observers.

Bill: What did the forward observer do?

Dad: A forward observer's job was to watch where our artillery shells landed. He then radioed back to the firing battery whether the shell was over, under, or off to the right or left of our target. Then the battery adjusted the fire. We would always go up in teams of four, and we would stay at the front for about 10 to 14 days. All told, I was up front about 10 times.

Bill: What was a typical day at the front like for a forward observer?

Dad: It was absolute hell, since we always had someone shooting at us. We never really went to bed, since the enemy was always firing at night. We'd catch whatever sleep we could in a lull.

Bill: How did a 105mm howitzer operate?

Dad: It took nine men to operate it. We had a sergeant, a gunner corporal, and seven cannoneers. The shells held up to seven charges. They came with three charges, and we could put in one to four more, depending on how far we wanted to fire. With seven charges, we could fire up to eight miles. Under combat conditions, each gun could fire about five shells a minute.

Bill: How much did you get paid?

Dad: The first month we got paid $21a month. Out of that, Uncle Sam took $6.40 for a $10,000 life insurance policy. After the first month, I think we got a raise to $30 a month. The highest that I ever got paid was $76 a month. That included combat pay.

Bill: Do you remember your first combat?

Dad: Our first combat experience was at Oro Bay, New Guinea, in January 1944. The LST (landing ship, tank) landed us right on the beach. We weren't under enemy fire. That sure changed later on, when we landed in the Admiralties or the Philippines. New Guinea was pretty easy— all we did there was a little mopping up.

Bill: How long were you in New Guinea?

Dad: We stayed in New Guinea about six to seven weeks, and it was the hellhole of creation. It would rain every night, and at noon the sand would be blowing in your face. That was the worst place I ever stayed. While we were in New Guinea, we stayed in six-man tents. We didn't know it at the time, but that was the last place where we would have tents.

Bill: Where did you go after that?

Dad: We left New Guinea in February 1944 and participated in the invasion of the Admiralty Islands. We landed on Los Negros Island on February 29.

Bill: What was Los Negros Island like?

Dad: That was the first time we came under heavy fire, and the initial combat was really tough. As soon as we hit the beaches, we dug foxholes. We tried to take a wide enough area so that we could set up our howitzers. That was really tough to do when people were shooting at us. As soon as we got set up, we started firing our guns. I remember that there were dead Japs all around us. The Army dropped us ammunition and food from the air.

Bill: Did you have any close calls during the Admiralties campaign?

Dad: I had one, but that's one more than you want! On March 19—1 remember it was a Sunday morning—we went over and invaded another island, Manus. We started out with 28 men on patrol. Most of the men were from the infantry, but the patrol also had three or four forward observers from the field artillery. I was one of those. We started out up a little trail. We hadn't gone very far—less than half a mile—when we ran into two Japs machine-gun nests. Five of the patrol were killed and eight were wounded in the initial ambush. We were trying to call in the artillery, but the guys were getting hit and getting killed so fast and we were under such heavy fire that we couldn't get the radios set up. You have to remember that, back then, the radios were in two pieces, and it took some time to get one set up. The rest of the patrol was evacuating the dead and the wounded; then they took off and left me and two others sitting up there. The three of us were in a little gully alongside the trail, and the Japs were only about 200 feet away. The three of us were pinned down with bullets hitting dirt in our faces and helmets from about 9:30 a.m. to 11. That was the longest 90 minutes of my life! Finally, the Japs started getting in behind us, and one of the other two guys said, "If we don't get out of here now, we ain't getting’ out of here." We picked up our radios and took off, with machine-gun bullets hitting the ground on all sides of us. I don't know how I got out of there. I thought that I would just be listed as missing in action. It was a hell of an ordeal, I'll tell you that.

Bill: Why didn't you leave the radios?

Dad: We never left radios behind. We were told to always take our radios with us, even if it placed us in greater danger, since radios were more valuable than men. You could always get men replaced, but you couldn't always replace a radio. We were told that if we ever left a radio behind, we would be court-martialed.

Bill: What units were in the Admiralties?

Dad: The only American unit in the Admiralties was the 1st Cavalry Division. We were up against Japanese naval infantry.

Bill: Did you ever take any prisoners?

Dad: We didn't take too many prisoners in the Admiralties. I remember the first prisoner that we took. He was tied up in a coconut tree and he was calling out, "Medico, hey medico, medico." We thought that it was one of our soldiers calling for help, so we sent troops up trying to find him. He shot three soldiers before we realized that it was a trap. We then spotted him in a tree and wounded him, so he climbed down. He didn't fall down. They got a picture of him smoking a cigarette. He had just shot three of us in a sneak attack, and they gave the bastard a cigarette.

Bill: When did you take part in the invasion of the Philippine Islands?

Dad: On October 20, 1944, my division and three others landed on the island of Leyte. The first troops hit the beach at about 10 a.m. I was in the second wave, so I landed about noon. We unloaded ammunition and supplies all day and all night. At about 9 o'clock the next morning, General Douglas MacArthur waded ashore. I was very close to where he came ashore—maybe a couple of hundred feet. [Ed. note: According to William Manchester's American Caesar, General MacArthur waded ashore twice. The first time was on October 20, when he came ashore with the 24th Division at Red Beach. That was when the famous photograph was taken. He also came ashore the following day with the 1st Cavalry Division at White Beach. That was when the newsreel scene was taken.]

Bill: What were conditions like in Leyte?

Dad: The initial combat in the Philippines was very intense. The Japs weren't about to give up the Philippines without a tough fight. I remember that early on there were a lot of planes overhead. The Japs were trying to bomb us, and the American pilots were trying to shoot them down. The third or fourth day, Japan sent out a huge number of airplanes trying to bomb and strafe us. We were told that our planes shot down 183 Japanese planes that day. We could see the planes explode in midair. The Japanese planes flew very close to the ground, less than 100 feet up. Some of them were so low that we could see the pilots clearly. The weather conditions made fighting in the Philippines really tough. It was the monsoon season, so it rained every day. I slept in water for six weeks straight while I was there.

Bill: How long did you remain in Leyte?

Dad: We stayed until late January 1945, then we went to Luzon. Other troops had invaded Luzon in early January, so we landed unopposed. That was a welcome change after the Admiralties and Leyte. On February 1, 1945, part of the 1st Cavalry Division started for Manila, which was about 100 miles away. This was the famous "Dash for Manila." I was part of that group.

Bill: What was the purpose of the dash?

Dad: After Japan had invaded the Philippines in 1941, the Japs rounded up a lot of Americans, British and other Allied nationals and put them into concentration camps. Many of these prisoners were being held at Santo Tomas University in Manila. Our intelligence reports indicated that the prisoners might be killed as we approached Manila. As a result, General MacArthur ordered us to make a dash through enemy lines and to get to Santo Tomas before the prisoners could be killed. As we approached Manila, opposition stiffened. We could see that the Japs were setting fire to the buildings a few blocks ahead of us. However, we kept going because we had to get to the prison.

Bill: When did you reach Manila?

Dad: We arrived on the outskirts of Manila about 6 p.m. on February 3. The first thing that we did was to head to Santo Tomas. We released hundreds of prisoners that evening. Most of them had spent three years in a Japanese camp. There was nothing to them but skin and bones. They threw their arms around us and hugged us and kissed us. They were so glad that we had come to rescue them. Most of them had thought that America had abandoned them. Rescuing the prisoners at Santo Tomas was my most rewarding moment of the entire war. Seeing the look on their faces made all the suffering and hardship that I had undergone worthwhile.

Bill: Was there heavy enemy resistance?

Dad: We didn't encounter much resistance at the prison. The next day, however, we met with heavy opposition. The battle for downtown Manila was the roughest fighting that I took part in during the entire war. At one point, it took us nine days to take three city blocks. That area included Rizal Stadium and DeLasalle University. We started out with 124 men, and nine days later we had only 38 left. Some of the 38, including me, had been wounded.

Bill: How were you wounded?

Dad: On February 13, a bullet hit the sidewalk and ricocheted into my left leg. A friend of mine, Rex Billingsly, was with me. I remember yelling out, "Rex, they got me, they got me!" He crawled over, looked at me and told me that it was just a graze. The bullet had torn my pants and just nicked my leg. The medics put on a bandage and some sulfadiazine, and I kept going.

Bill: Did you get a Purple Heart?

Dad: No. I never even put in for one. It was just a graze, on my leg. That's a small deal when you've seen people with arms and legs shot off. They're the ones who deserve a Purple Heart.

Bill: What was combat like in Manila?

Dad: It was really tough house-to-house fighting. The closest that I ever came to Japanese soldiers was in downtown Manila. At one point, they were in the next building and we were all firing at each other. The bullets were flying through that house. Also, I really remember the battle for Rizal Stadium. We brought in tanks and fired point-blank into the stadium until we blasted a hole big enough to get through. When we got inside, it was loaded with dead Japs. Conditions were absolute hell. While we were trying to take Rizal, we went 38 hours without having anything to eat or drink. It was about 110 degrees out. After we took Rizal, we were relieved.

Bill: How would you describe the Japanese soldiers in combat?

Dad: The Japs were sneaky fighters. Most of the fighting was done during the night. When we got to Manila, however, we fought day and night during those nine days. We didn't sleep too much during that time. The Japs had a different philosophy of fighting. They were fighting to die for their country—that samurai code of honor thing. We were all fighting to live.

Bill: When did you last see combat?

Dad: The last time that I was in combat was in March 1945.

Bill: What did you do between then and the end of the war?

Dad: From March to August 1945, we were stationed in the Philippines. We spent that time getting equipment and getting ready for the invasion of Japan. The invasion was scheduled for November 1945.

Bill: What were conditions like during that period?

Dad: During that time, we were stationed in a small town in the Philippines. We were living in tents. After we took Luzon, the food that they served us started to improve. At that time, the war in Europe was ending so we started getting better food and equipment. Until that time we had been eating K rations or powdered milk and powdered eggs. Now, however, we were getting bacon and eggs, toast and coffee, and tomato juice. Boy, we felt like we were really living.

Bill: What did you think about the planned invasion of Japan?

Dad: We were all scared. In the Philippines, the native population had supported us. We were told that, if we invaded Japan, the entire population of the country would fight to the death. I really didn't think that I would survive the invasion.

Bill: What was your reaction when you heard about the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6?

Dad: I was in the Philippines when I heard about the bomb over the radio. We heard that we had some secret weapon that had killed about 150,000 people. I remember how glad we were when we heard that the war was over and that we had survived. The only thing that we could think about was that after two years of war, we would finally be going home. I was really unhappy when I found out that, instead of going home, I had to go to Japan. Anybody that had earned 80 points or more did not have to go to Japan. I had 79 points at that time. When I heard that news, I was regretting not putting in for a Purple Heart, since if I had gotten a Purple Heart, I would have had five more points and would have been going home. Looking back later, though, I was glad that I went to Japan.

Bill: When did you arrive in Japan?

Dad: We arrived in Yokohama Harbor on September 2, 1945—the day the surrender was signed. It was a Sunday morning. The sky was full of Allied airplanes, and the harbor was full of Allied ships. Later that day, we disembarked at a regular pier in Yokohama.

Bill: What was it like being in Japan?

Dad: It was a really strange feeling landing in Japan. We were marching down the street, and the Japanese soldiers were on both sides of the road. We were way outnumbered, and they still had their weapons at that point. They weren't disarmed until a day or two later. We had been fighting them for two years, and when we saw the Japanese troops there, we just wanted to shoot them. There were no incidents on either side, which was lucky for us, because if anything had happened, we wouldn't have gotten off the island alive.

Bill: Where did you go when you landed?

Dad: We marched to the Japanese army barracks in Yokohama. That was the first night I slept under a roof since I left America in July 1943. The Japanese soldiers came over and offered us tea that evening. They bowed to us and were very polite, but none of us would drink it. We thought that it might be poisoned. After two years of fighting, you don't trust the enemy.

Bill: What did you do in Japan?

Dad: I stayed in Japan for 27 days. We spent most of the time in Yokohama, but on a couple of occasions we got a pass to go to Tokyo, which was about 25 miles away. We couldn't believe the devastation. There wasn't a building standing in Tokyo for mile after mile, but the imperial palace was still standing. We had bombed right across the street from the imperial palace but not the palace. We were told that one bomb had fallen on the palace, and that bomb had been a mistake. Yokohama had been bombed also but not nearly as badly as Tokyo. I never got to Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Bill: When did you find out that you were going home?

Dad: In late September they called us during the night and told us that this was the day we had been waiting for—the day we were going home. They told us that one of the boats had some room for a few more men and that we had been selected. Some of the other fellows who had been told earlier that they were going home had to stay in Japan a little longer because they were going on another boat. On September 29, 1945,I got on the boat in Yokohama Harbor.

Bill: What ship brought you home?

Dad: I came home aboard the General Pope. We set sail for home on October 1 and arrived in San Francisco eight days later. We started out with three ships, but our ship was the fastest and we were the first to arrive in the United States.

Bill: Do you remember what it was like sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge that time?

Dad: It was a hell of a lot better than when we were going over. When we sailed under the Golden Gate this time, the west side of the bridge was foggy, and as soon as we sailed under it, the sun was shining and the gals were on the shore waving and yelling at us. There is no feeling like coming home safe from war.

Bill: Where did you go from San Francisco?

Dad: I left San Francisco by train and went to Fort Reilly, Kansas. They didn't have room for us there, so we had to sleep in a tent the first night. They then shipped us to Camp Crowder, Missouri. I was discharged from there on October 19, 1945. I took a train to Kansas City, but I couldn't get a room there, so I took the bus to Des Moines. I couldn't get a room there either, so I called my parents at about 1 a.m. and asked them to come down and get me. My dad and John Antone left right away and they drove all night to pick me up. It's about a 125-mile drive each way, and they arrived at about 6:30 that morning. I got home on October 20, 1945, which was exactly one year to the day from the time that we had invaded the Philippines. That was quite a year.

Bill: Do you have any final comments?

Dad: It was a horrible, horrible experience and a tremendous waste of good men. When we went off to war we were all young and pretty naive. Unless you have experienced combat, you can't fathom the carnage of a battlefield. Even now, 52 years later, the images of death and destruction are seared in my mind. I was also struck by the sheer arbitrariness of it all. I wonder why some died and I lived.