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Tom Engler, of Fort Dodge

FD man handled Navy airfield electronics

November 2, 2013
By BILL SHEA, , Messenger News

Tom Engler was a Navy sailor during World War II, but he did relatively little sailing.

The Fort Dodge man said he was never assigned to a ship during his three years in the service. As an electronics technician's mate, he worked on land taking care of communications and radar gear at Navy airfields.

The native of Early was a student at Iowa State University in Ames when he was drafted in 1943. The day he was drafted, he said, was apparently ''Navy day'' because every man inducted into the service that day was assigned to the Navy.

For basic training, he was sent to a sprawling complex at Farragut, Idaho. He estimated that there were 25,000 people there who were assigned to five training camps and a hospital. Engler found himself in a training unit that consisted mostly of Iowans.

After three months of boot camp, he started advanced training in electronics. At that time, advanced training in electronics consisted of studying things like cathode ray tubes. To learn that subject, the Navy first sent him to Chicago, Ill., where the sailors trained in a former high school. Then he was sent to Gulfport, Miss., for more training. Next, he was rotated back to Chicago, where he trained at Navy Pier.

His first assignment was to Treasure Island Naval Station in San Francisco, Calif., where he became part of what the Navy called an Outgoing Unit. But instead of doing electronics work, he was assigned to the shore patrol, a kind of police unit for sailors. Rounding up drunken sailors in local bars was one of the unit's major responsibilities.

''It was a mess,'' he said.

Engler was shipped to the Admiralty Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Soon after that he was sent to the Philippines.

Assigned to the island of Mindoro, he became a member of a unit called Aviation Construction Ordnance Repair Navy 19. Engler said the sailors called it ''Acorn 19.''

The airfield served mostly cargo planes, which landed on runways made of metal panels placed on the ground. Every day, Engler had to test all the electronic equipment. He lived in a tent that was raised off the ground on stilts to avoid moisture and frequent high waters from tropical rains.

Engler was later transferred to Cavite Naval Air Station near Manila, the capital of the Philippines. There, he was assigned to Aviation Construction Ordnance Repair Navy 45. He also had increased responsibilities. Engler said he was in charge of the airfield's control tower.

While he was in the Philippines, the American military began gearing up for an assault on the Japanese home islands.

''We were not looking forward to invading Japan,'' Engler said.

The atomic bomb blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 prompted Japan to surrender and averted the need for a bloody invasion.

''Harry Truman was one of my favorite guys after that,'' Engler said of the president who ordered the use of the atomic bombs.

When the war was over, Engler was moved to Subic Bay Naval Station in the Philippines to await discharge from the Navy.

To keep large numbers of troops busy until they could be shipped home, the military established the Southwest Pacific Olympics. Engler said that as part of the Olympics, he ''killed time'' playing football, baseball and basketball.

When it was finally time for him to go back to the United States in 1946, Engler was placed on a small, slow vessel known as an auxiliary refrigerator ship. He said the ship was ''like a canoe on the Pacific.''

While aboard the ship, he managed to secure some easy duty in exchange for repairing a movie projector that was a major source of entertainment for the sailors.

Four weeks after leaving the Philippines, the ship arrived in San Francisco Bay.

''There was never a sight so great as the twin towers of the Golden Gate Bridge on a foggy morning,'' Engler said.

Upon returning to civilian life, Engler earned a bachelor's degree in engineering from Iowa State University.

He was the president of Electrical Materials Co. in Fort Dodge before retiring 23 years ago.



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