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News / Life / Clark County Life

Everybody Has a Story: Being with Dad during WWII

By Grant Wienker, Hough
Published: April 13, 2024, 6:00am

While growing up in the Seattle area, I always enjoyed hearing about my late father Clive Wienker’s experiences in the Army Air Force during World War II. Serving as the radio operator on a B-24 weather plane, he was based on Guam for nine months and also spent time on Iwo Jima, Okinawa and in Manila.

I loved looking at the small snapshots he had taken and thinking about the dramatic situations he had been a part of, such as a dangerous night mission flying over Tokyo, or the time a U.S. soldier was found shot a couple days after swimming beyond the marked safe zone at the beach near the base on Guam.

As the years went by, I often told Dad that I wished I could have been with him on Guam sharing all of his experiences. Since Dad was 21 at the time and had not yet even met the woman who would become Mom, I knew it was just not in the cards that I could have ever been on Guam with my father.

Eventually I became aware of a box Dad had in the back of his hobby room closet, marked “World War II letters.” I opened the box one day and was relieved to find the label was accurate. My grandmother had saved what turned out to be more than 260 letters written by Dad while in the service, sent from a series of stateside bases and then from the Pacific zone.

When my parents moved from their last home to a senior living facility, Dad entrusted the box of letters to me. I told him the letters would be the foundation of a family history book all about his activities during the war, a project I launched into post-retirement and completed last August.

Sadly, my dad wasn’t around to see this finished project, as he passed away in 2016.

Reading and organizing Dad’s many letters was exciting. He wrote an average of about one letter every three days during the 2½ years he was in the service. The letters included descriptions of surviving severe weather in the air where the plane was tossed up and down like a toy, tense moments during take-offs and landings, camaraderie among the guys in the squadron and always comments about the joy of receiving letters, newspapers and packages of cookies from home.

One mission stood out above all for Dad — a night mission over Tokyo, the day after Nagasaki was bombed. Taking off from Iwo Jima just past midnight on Aug. 10, 1945, the young crewmen were on edge as they flew alone to the heart of the Japanese Empire.

Dad gathered weather data and then nervously broke radio silence at 4 a.m. above Tokyo. He radioed his report, in the code of the day, back to Iwo Jima for the benefit of the conventional bombing runs that would go out over Tokyo later that day.

Many years later, Dad was fascinated to learn that at 2 a.m. that same Aug. 10 morning, Emperor Hirohito, in his bunker beneath the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, announced to his war cabinet that Japan would surrender and end the war.

And so, I read and read. Figures of the day such as Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Churchill and Hirohito emerged. I learned of Dad trading his allotment of beers for Cokes, of lizards and rats in the barracks, and of the guys sitting outside in the pouring rain watching Hollywood films at their “theater.”

A warm feeling and thought came to me. I was indeed on Guam with Dad during the war, with the B-24 engines roaring and Dad working the radio.

I shared the emotion of that moment, and the whole book project, with my mother, Joan. I brought the letters to her to read, explored family history with her and she helped me select photographs for the books.

Mom was delighted to receive her finished copies of the two-volume set last August, and then we lost her suddenly in November. Now Dad and Mom fly high together and forever.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.