Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.
In 1945 this week, things were not looking up for Japan. A bizarre and gory event happened that made the Guinness Book of World Records. During the battle of Ramree Island, Burma, the British forces pushed back 1,000 Japanese into the mangrove swamps, and over the next two days 980 were killed by saltwater crocodiles.
“The survivors are reported to have told horrific tales of dozens of crocodiles attacking the soldiers en masse, and appearing out of seemingly nowhere to drag off some poor soul,” according to a story at the website AtlasObscura.com . “The nights were said to have been filled with dire screams, gunfire, and the sounds of animal attacks.”
At the same time, the U.S. 5th Fleet launched the invasion of Iwo Jima.
Flying Tiger lost, found, and lost again
For readers of The Hoisington Dispatch, news that the Allies were gaining the upper hand had to be welcome news. The paper of Thursday, Feb. 22, 1945 referred to several Barton County men who were serving, or had just returned or undergoing training in anticipation of being sent to relieve those in the field.
A regular column, With the Boys in Service, led with a report of a local man Missing in Action.
“Lt. Frank L. McCauley, son of Mrs. F.E. Decker of Great Bend and the late Dr. F.L. McCauley, who practiced medicine in Hoisington a number of years ago, is reported missing in action over China since Jan. 27. He was with the famed Flying Tigers of General Chennault’s 14th air force in India until early January when he was based in China. He operated a P-51 Mustang fighter. Lt. McCauley graduated from the Great Bend High School in 1935 and his wife was Virginia Mull of Great Bend, who is now a major in the WACS, stationed at Tampa, Fla.”
According to Karen Neuforth, researcher at the Barton County Historical Society museum, McCauley never made it home.
“1st Lt Frank Leslie McCauley, Army Serial # O689256, served with the 1st Tactical Air Command Squadron as a Pilot in the CBI (China-Burma-India) Theater with the Flying Tigers; was wounded in China 1945; went missing from Jan. 26, 1945 to March 9, 1945.
“When he went missing in Jan 1945, he was flying a P-51 as part of the 8th Fighter Squadron of the 3rd Fighter Group, 14th Air Force. He departed from Laohokow, Liangshan, as part of a “skip bombing” mission over Nanking. His plane was hit and lost coolant. He bailed out and was eventually reported to be safe with the Chinese near Nanking and returned to US hands.”
Sadly, he later died on July 28, 1945 at Kunming, China. According to the eyewitness statement by Major Thomas A. Reynolds, Jr., McCauley was hit during a skip bombing run, either by bombing debris or antiaircraft fire, and crashed. Reynolds circled several times, unable to find any sign of a parachute.
Nearly a year and a half later, on Christmas Day, 1946, his widow, then engaged to George Hayden of Asbury Park, N.J., died in Algiers from poisoning it was reported by the Associated Press. Post Mortems were requested by the United States Consulate.
“They were found dead in a room on the Boulevard Saint Saens. First reports were that Hayden died of heart cramps induced by acute indigestion and that Mrs. McCauley died of poisoning. Police have refused to divulge any information.”
Philippine invasion account
A letter home from Pfc. Leon Hergert, to his parents recounted his part in the invasion of the Philippine Islands, which had turned out to have been strategically important to the success of Iwo Jima.
“While climbing down the rope ladders from their transport to get into the assault boats, the battleships kept up an incessant bombardment and he described the concussion as terrific, but they were glad to find out that the bombardment had the Japanese on the run,” it was written. The troops secured the beachhead, and the Fillipinos swarmed the beach to greet the men.
“He says the Fillipino children tell them how the Japanese murdered their parents and the uncivilized treatment given prisoners and civilians.”
After World War II ended, Hergert returned to Great Bend where he married Eleanor Stephan in 1947. At the end of his life, they lived in Nevada, Mo. He died in 1988, the father of six children.
Movie man brings home films of Iran
A former Hoisington movie operator took his skills to Iran, and had the chance to visit his parents that week.
“Sgt. Bob Fellers, former operator at the Royal Theatre in Hoisington, is home from Iran (modern name for Persia) where his job was to show motion pictures to the soldiers there, who looked after the tremendous job of transporting supplies to the Russians.”
While he was there, he took lots of motion pictures. While he described the sky having “more stars in the sky there than any other place in the world, and the nights are beautiful,” he also described the country as “largely heat and filth with life a question of survival of the fittest.” He described children, dirty and diseased, begging in the streets.
We were unable to find more information about Fellers, but the Royal Theatre continued to operate into the 1950s, located at 109-111 Main St. in Hoisington.