WWII veteran recalls days in Pacific
Ryder survived illnesses, Japanese sniper
For Robert Ryder, deferment was not an option.
A graduate of Wheaton High School at 17, Ryder was born in Pioneer, a town he said was thriving at one time with a corn grinding mill. Ryder lived in St. Louis and moved to Wheaton in his junior year of high school, and his father ran a gas and oil company in the area.
Ryder received a six-month deferment from the draft to work for the oil company, as there were shortages at the time. He drove a truck, with no license, across Barry, McDonald and Newton counties, delivering product.
“People gave you a hard time if you had a deferment,” he said. “They’d call you a deserter or say you weren’t doing your job for the country, so I gave my deferment up and joined the Army.”
At 19, in 1944, Ryder went to Fort Leavenworth for boot camp.
“We had top-rate food and they drowned you in food,” he said. “You also got chewed out if you didn’t eat it all.”
After graduating, he was sent to Camp Abbot in Oregon and Fort Lewis in Washington state for engineering camp.
“I had previously driven a truck, so instead of learning to build, I went to truck driver school,” he said. “After I graduated, I went to Camp Beale in California to board a ship [for the Pacific].”
Ryder said the group he was with often changed barracks, different ones each night, to confuse anyone who may be trying to spy on the troops.
“We went to Camp Stoneman on the ocean to board, and the ship was on a bluff where you could almost reach out and touch it from the land,” Ryder said. “They started the boat up at about 1 a.m., and we went under the Golden Gate Bridge on to the ocean and to Hawaii. From there, we went to the South Sea, crossed the equator and landed in New Guinea.”
Ryder said they spent three days in the capitol while higher ups figured out what to do with the new troops.
“By the third day, everyone had what we called jungle rot,” he said. “It was a fungus on your legs that went up to your waist. It felt great if you scratched it, but you’d regret it later.”
Ryder said an English ship arrived later to take he and his 500-strong battalion to Luzon, the main island in the Phillipines.
“We worked on about 20 or 30 bridges when we got to Manilla,” Ryder said. “the river that runs there is the backbone of Luzon. We started up the river and had to shave the sides off the banks to get around the tight corners.
At every little village, we built a bridge. They were used to move soldiers around and chase the Japanese out of the area.”
When they left the villages and went into the mountains, Ryder said the troops could see the Japanese troops’ fires during the day.
“At one time, were we at this coconut plantation, and there was a gully on the side, and you could hear the Japanese troops in the gully,” Ryder said. “Our sergeant was a real go-getter, so he led a bunch of men down in the gully to capture the Japanese, but this time, one of them had a rifle and he shot the sergeant. There was hell to pay for that for a while and the Army outlawed us chasing and capturing them.”
It was near Manilla Ryder saw his largest battle.
“As they were leaving, the Japanese were killing all the water buffalo they could,” he said. “While that was going on, I came close to being killed. A sniper along the river almost got me. I heard the bullet fly by my head.”
Ryder said many of the Japanese who were killed were put in the river to be floated back out to the ocean.
“Their bodies often got lodged against the bridges we built,” he said. “We had a large pole we had to use to flip them sideways so they could get through the bridge floats.
“We had a plague of flies in that area, too. If you took a deep breath, you’d get a big, fat fly in your mouth. Eventually they came and sprayed DDT and there wasn’t a fly to be seen. That was a miracle to us.”
A few times in the Philippines, Ryder got extremely sick.
“I was in the military hospital three times with a fever,” he said. “One time I went because my arm had started to swell in the glands and I had a fever of 103. I was put in a room, my arm was raised up and they gave me penicillin. That night, the [military police] on patrol brought in two soldiers who had gotten into some poisoned Chinese liquor. They pumped their stomachs and those guys carried on all night with bad dreams. In the morning, one of them had died and the other one went blind. That was my worst night there.”
Ryder eventually made it to a town called San Pablo, where three landing ship tanks were waiting to load up the battalion and take them to another English ship and to Tokyo.
“We were in Tokyo after the bombing and in Tokyo Bay when the surrender was signed,” he said. “In Japan, I basically just drove people around. For a while, I was driving the company commander around, and that was a snap job because you didn’t really have to do any work.”
In May or June of 1946, Ryder returned home and went back to work for his father. Many of the soldiers returning home, he said, signed up for the reserves, something he did not do.
“When I was discharged in Japan, they spent about 4-5 hours with my group trying to get us to join the reserves,” he said. “I had a job already waiting, so I didn’t join, but the ones who did got called back up for the Korean War. I felt sorry for them, because some of them were from Cassville and had got married, had kids, bought houses, then had to go back to war.”
Ryder got married himself.
“When I came back from the service, I was the friend of a fella who married my wife’s sister,” Ryder said. “He was in the Navy. My wife [Marjorie Ann] and I didn’t go together very long before we got married.”
The couple have been married more than 60 years, and they have two children. Their daughter, Becky, is retired from teaching and lives in Cassville, and their son, Ronal, builds rifles in Nevada.
One thing Ryder is particularly proud of is having his name painted on the wall in the Barry County Courthouse. Kenneth Corn painted the wall after the war, Ryder said.