I found an old jump drive from my college days, and while browsing through its contents I came across a piece I had done for one of my senior year journalism classes.
We were assigned to go to a nearby care facility and interview some of the residents to see what we could suss out in terms of interesting stories to craft into something that might be printed in a local newspaper. In fact, now that I think about it, it was for Community Journalism class.
For fun — and because I never had it published — I think I’ll post it here today, just to think about how far my writing has come in the past five years. So, here we have it:
17 October 2009
First Draft – Bitley Story
Bloomer native Bitley reflects on life after leaving
Waldron “Bit” Bitley was born Apr. 13, 1918 in Bloomer. He spent his entire childhood in Bloomer, before graduating from Stout Institute (modern day University of Wisconsin-Stout) in 1941. “My draft number was pulled that year,” Bit mentioned, “so I had to get a deferment in order to graduate before joining the service.” Upon graduating, Bit shipped out to Camp Wheeler near Macon, GA in July 1941 for his initial training. “It was a cool time of year,” Bit joked. After two months at Wheeler, Bit moved on to Fort Dix in Sept. “They had us all in one barracks, and we were doing guard duty. What were we guarding? Squirrels and trees, I guess,” Bit mentioned, suggesting there was little to nothing to do at that time. With nothing to do, Bit decided it might behoove him to apply for aviation cadet training. Bit reported to Phoenix for pilot training, and received good marks from his trainer. The trainer then suggested a check ride to see how Bit would do in the air. With winds gusting at above 25 miles-per-hour, Bit said “God himself couldn’t have controlled that single-engine aircraft.” It was determined that Bit’s reaction time wasn’t fast enough, and he abandoned the notion of flying as a cadet.
With his aviation dreams dashed, Bit decided in mid-1942 to apply for Officer Candidate School (O.C.S.) in Miami Beach, and graduated as a Lieutenant in Sept. He was assigned to Shreveport LA for a short time before he was sent overseas to Casablanca, North Africa with the B26 Bombers. “They sure didn’t have Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman there to greet us,” Bit joked, also adding that they landed on Christmas Eve 1942. Bit mentioned that some of the bombers went north into the Aleutian Islands, and some went south into the Ascension Islands near Africa. According to Bit, the Americans kept their base in Casablanca, while the Germans were in Tunis at this time. “We were bombing the German supply ships and the ships they had in the harbor, and with the help of the Army we gradually pushed the Germans out,” Bit said. “We pushed them from Tunis, to Sardinia and Corsica, and finally they retreated into France.”
Bit recalled that while the men were in North Africa, they would turn in their worn out clothing in for new stuff. Bit and a friend of his would pick up the salvage clothing and go to the surrounding Arab communities to trade for eggs (the Arabs called them “oofs”) to eat. “Neither side spoke a lick of the other’s language,” Bit said, “but we both understood numbers. We’d write a number (of eggs) down, and the Arab fellows would cut the number in half and demand the clothing for that number. At that, my buddy would put everything down and do a goofy Indian dance he had learned, and the price would go back up for our clothing.”
As the Germans retreated, the Americans forged on and took over the Sardinia base for themselves, Bit noted. “We had about 350 enlisted men, gunners and ground men included. We had four squadrons that each had 15 B26’s. We were a bomb group, and we had fine ground personnel.” By this time Bit was a Squadron Adjutant, and spent 10 months in Sardinia before they moved onto Corsica, another former German base. From there, they were able to push the Germans all the way back to Germany. “They took a (expletive) kicking,” Bit said, mentioning the force by which the Americans destroyed the German forces. As the Germans retreated, the Americans marched on, this time into Dijon, France, where they would remain for the balance of the war.
As World War II ended, Bit and his outfit, which he described as all the personnel and planes, were sent for retraining. “We were going to go fight the Japanese,” Bit said, “but we didn’t end up in Japan right away.” Bit’s outfit first went into Linz, Austria as ground personnel to do some disarmament work. Near there, in some caves in Switzerland, they found huge German factories. “Our orders were clear, we were to dismantle but not destroy,” Bit said. After the disarmament, Bit was granted his release and headed back to the states. He reached home in Bloomer in Nov. 1945, and received three months worth of leave pay before he re-enlisted. “I worked at the Bloomer Brewery for three months while getting my leave pay, and then I re-enlisted and was sent to Dayton, OH,” Bit said.
Bit was assigned to the air material command in Dayton, and spent a year there. He was honorably discharged as a Captain Nov. 30, 1946. The end of 1946 brought a new title for Bit, Master Sergeant, and a new location, as he was sent to Fort Dix, NJ where he would serve until Nov. 1947. Bit was then sent to Fuchu, Japan, where in the meantime he was married and his first son was born. Bit and his blooming family spent nearly three years in Japan before returning stateside. He was then commissioned back as a Captain in 1949, and was assigned to Travis Air Force Base near San Francisco in California. There Bit worked as a Slot Major in an Air Force group. He again received an honorable discharge in 1952, and was commissioned back again as a captain to serve until 1957.
In 1961, Bit and his family arrived in England first class on the Queen Mary. They stayed in East Anglia, and had to live on the economy, Bit mentioned, because there was no base housing for married military people. The first place they lived in was a half-house, in which Bit’s family lived upstairs and the owner of the house lived downstairs. “The houses were heated by fireplace, and we also had kerosene heating lamps in our bedrooms,” Bit recalled. Following his time in England, Bit and his family moved to Grand Forks, ND where Bit taught ROTC at University of North Dakota for 12 years. There he became the director of independent study in the division of continuing education.
Today Bit lives in Eagle Crest Retirement Community. He remarried in 1995 after his first wife passed away. “I was on a cruise to Alaska, and I met this wonderful woman who loved to dance just like I did. Every night we’d dance until it was real late, closing down the bar each night. I like to think we provided the heat on the ship up to Alaska,” Bit joked. She lived in Roseville, and he lived in Grand Forks still, so they had to make a long distance relationship work for the time being. Soon, however the woman would become his wife, and they now reside together at Eagle Crest.