On this Veterans Day (Nov. 11), I am remembering my father, Edward P.J. Corbett, (1919-1998) who enlisted in the Marine Corps on his 24th birthday in 1943.
He did his basic training at Miramar and trained as a radar technician in Chicago where he met my mother. They were married at the Marine base in Corpus Christi, Texas, Nov. 4, 1944.
Pfc. Corbett, who kept a journal during his military service, shipped out of San Diego about six months later. But not before he and his fellow Marines enjoyed some R&R in war time San Diego and Coronado.
This is an edited account from my dad’s journal of his last two weeks in San Diego, right after Germany surrendered.
After a short stint at Pearl Harbor, he was stationed in the Marshall Islands and later in Qingdao, China, after the Japanese surrendered in August 1945.
This is one young Marine’s wide-eyed look at the world of war as he leaves America for the unknown of the South Pacific.
May 7, 1945
At 0241 this morning in a red schoolhouse in the Reims (France) the German high command surrendered unconditionally to the Allied leaders.
Edward Kennedy, chief of the Associated Press staff on the western front, scooped other news agencies in this historical announcement, but for diplomatic reasons the Allies did not want the announcement to be made until tomorrow.
For his precipitous action, Kennedy was temporarily suspended. However, the news did not come as a stunning surprise. The world knew that negotiations for peace were in progress.
The news met with no demonstration of elation here at Miramar or in San Diego. We read the headline calmly, made a few jokes about applying for discharge papers, and went on with the routine of the day.
We were dressed in khaki all day because of a visiting general. Nobody saw the visiting general but were told he was making a tour of inspection.
Street car to the Del
We had a long planned dinner tonight — King, Ruthowski and I.
We took the ferry across the bay to Coronado and then took a street car to the Hotel del Coronado. This hotel is nationally famous. It is a huge, rambling, gabled, wooden structure, suggesting of the Chateaux you see in pictures of Switzerland and Germany.
The halls are big and high with flowing chandeliers and rich draperies. Sounds and voices are muffled by the heavy paddings of the walls. The huge, broad windows in the dining room provided a view of the surf sweeping up on the white sands of the beach.
King provided us with a bottle of Chablis from his father’s winery in Mission San Jose, California. We had to pay a dollar to have the wine uncorked but they provided us with wine glasses and buried the bottle in a bucket of ice.
Stopped off at the Coronado USO
I do not know when I enjoyed a meal more. When I finished I was suffused with a warm glow of contentment. The menu was roast capon (chicken). This was done to perfection. But the wine was the major event of the evening, a white dry wine that was distinctive for its smoothness, tantalizing bouquet and stimulating taste.
Although we were the only stripes among the gold-braided patricians, I am sure no one in that dining hall last night wined and dined better than we did.
Stopped off at the Coronado USO to have a look around. They have the finest library I have seen in any USO…
We visited the the C-Street USO and watched the dance. I could not muster enough courage to get out on the floor and dance. Mickey (recent bride) would not mind if I danced.
May 8, 1945 – Victory in Europe Day
Today is officially designated as VE Day. President Truman at 0600 made an official proclamation of our victory in Europe.
I would like to the see the reactions of the German prisoners in camps here in the United States. With typical arrogance and unstooping faith in the German might, they must have long persisted in the belief that the Reich would emerge victorious and they who were prisoners would be released to the lords of the land.
We are looking forward now to the dispensation of justice upon the commanders who were responsible for the atrocities committed in prison camps.
May 10 – Ascension Thursday
Ruthowski, Smith, King and I went to the Golden (unreadable ink smudge) restaurant for another wine dinner. The management was averse to us bringing in our own wine but when we offered to pay for the uncorking, they conceded. We had some excellent sherry and cabernet.
The others paid $2.50 for a steak which was hardly enough to satisfy a pigeon. I had a plentiful portion of hamburger steak.
We went to the USO where they were having a talent show. Gabby Hayes, the bearded, toothless old rascal of countless horse-operas (Westerns) was the guest star.
When the program was almost over, Ruthowski dared me to go up and give my impersonations. I was the last one on the program. I did four of my impersonations and was clapped back for an encore.
The winner was determined by applause. I won first prize. They gave me a certificate for a portrait at one of the local studios. The USO will hang it up as the “Man of the Week,” and then I will have them send it home to Mickey.
May 13 – Mother’s Day
Mickey says I might be a father. She is not sure yet. I hope I find out one way or the other before I ship out.
May 17 – Thursday
Battle of Okinawa is rushing toward a climax. A Japanese feeler for peace was reported as extended from the Nippon capital. There was a proposal of making peace through the emperor.
The USO show, offered by the San Diego USO Council, was very poor. There was no variety to the show — just sleight-of-hand tricks by a gentleman and dancing by some rather beefy girls.
May 18 – Friday
At morning muster we were told we were leaving at 1300. We made up our packs and brought them out to the black-top.
Heavily loaded down we were: a full transport pack with blankets and poncho rolled up and tied to it, gas mask, canteen, helmet, knife and Red Cross parcel. In my parcel were stationery, a book, cigarettes, razor blades, sewing kit…
The quarters are cramped, but clean and well-lighted. The chow is good, the coffee excellent. The loud-speaker system blares forth with music while you eat.
After we settled in our quarters, we carried in bedding. In the evening we went out to the prow of the ship and watched the PBMs landing and the smaller craft scooting through the water. (The Martin PBM Mariner was a patrol bomber flying boat.) Astern we could see San Diego — the ballpark directly behind us, the tall downtown buildings rearing their heads up.
So near yet so inaccessible
San Diego is so near yet so inaccessible. Maybe that’s why I yearned so much for liberty.
In our compartment there is a fellow with a mandolin and a fellow with a guitar. I joined them with my harmonica. Another fellow came along and asked to play my harmonica. He was much better on it than I was.
Lights went out at 9:00 (2100). We stumbled around in the premature darkness, trying to make up our sacks. I have the second sack in a tier of four. I was glad I laid out my blanket. It got very chilly before morning. All night you could hear the hoist groaning as it loaded the hold of the ship.
May 19 – Saturday
For about an hour I watched the civilian workers load the hold. They are very expert at it. The hoist swings the huge box over the mouth of the hold, then lowers the load into the hungry maw.
Down below, the workmen with sharp hooks and crowbars wedge boxes into a tight-fitting corner or hole.
The officers came aboard this morning…
Our quarters are very uncomfortable. There is not a comfortable place in our compartment to sit for reading or writing. I expect to be well cramped and doubled up before this trip is over…
San Diego was fading fast
It soon became obvious that we were going to shove off before sundown. The engine-room men were called in, the workmen were tying down the hatches. We shoved off about 1630 (4:30 pm). I was eating chow at the time and did not even know the ship was underway. By the time I got out on deck we were a good way out into the bay.
San Diego was fading fast. I experienced a pang of sorrow at seeing my country recede from sight. One of the last recognizable views was of El Coronado Hotel (Hotel Del Coronado). A small motor boat met the ship after we got outside the harbor, and it took off the civilian harbor pilot.
Peter Corbett, 68, of Scottsdale, Arizona is a journalist who spent 23 years at The Arizona Republic. His father served in the U.S. Marine Corps.