H. F. "Buck" Wilmer of Huntington, WV. who is now 84 years old (2004) served with the 55th Artillery, CAC between the wars in Hawaii. Buck had contacted me after finding my web site and seeing the page on the 55th Artillery. At the time I did not have any information on the 55th Artillery during the between the war years. He was kind enough to share several photos with me and also told me his story about what they did during those "Peace Years". The following is a composite history made from notes that Buck had shared with me from the questions I asked him of the photos that he shared.
Buck relates, "I enlisted in the Army in my home town of Lynchburg, VA on September 15, 1938. The controversy over life time Medical Care for Veterans is the one thing that I distinctly remember being told by the Recruiters. It made 3 years in the Army much more attractive. After a short stay, first at Ft. Slocum, NY then at the Brooklyn Army Base, known as the Overseas Replacement Depot, we sailed, sometime in October on the Army Transport USS Republic, down the East Coast through the Panama Canal and up the West Coast to San Francisco. We traveled to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island for another short stay. Back to our ship, the USS Republic, and on to Hawaii. No matter how hard that I try, I can't remember the exact dates of any of this. I do remember eating Thanksgiving Dinner at Ft. Kamehameha in 1938."
A View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the stern of the USS Republic as she is on the way to Hawaii in November of 1938.
Ft. Kamehameha, or Ft. Kam as they called it, was located on the right hand side of the ocean entrance to Pearl Harbor right on the Ocean. "Our Barracks were about 12 blocks from the entrance. We would walk through Hickam Air Base to the Navy Base in order to attend the FREE movies. In fact, if you were going to Ft. Kam by Bus or Auto, you had to go through Hickam Field, as Ft. Kam, Hickam Field and the Navy Base are all next to each other. When planes landed at Hickam Field they would fly right over the roof of our barracks. Across the Channel there was 16 inch gun emplacements at Barber's Point that we trained on. At Ft. Kam, "A" Battery 55th had 155mm, Anti-Aircraft Guns (3 in) and 37mm guns. We also had an Observation Post in the top of Diamond Head for the Battery of 12-inch disappearing guns pointing at the entrance to the Harbor. It was something to see the splashes from the shells at the target pulled by a Tug Boat. Anti-Aircraft guns were fired at a target ( sleeve ) pulled by a airplane. I have seen the pilot cut the target loose when the shells came too close."
"Buck" stated that during his time with Battery A, of the 55th Artillery he never left the Island of Oahu from 1938 - 1941. "When we were out on maneuvers the tents we used were the large tents. This was our normal practice except, when we went across Pearl Harbor Channel to Ft. Weaver in order to train on the 16-inch guns. At Ft. Weaver we used Pup Tents, and why I don't really know. Inadequate and out dated Weapons, that was all that I saw while in Hawaii, but, we still had to fight with what was on hand."
Anti-Aircraft batteries firing for record.
When they were out on maneuvers several battalions of 5-inch Anti-Aircraft guns would gather. All batteries would fire for record and they had plenty competition. "We would be out about two weeks, training and firing for record, and if we did well, we got a big party. In order to be eligible for the Expert Gunners Badge, and $5.00 a month bonus for a year, (if the money don't run out) we had to qualify on all of the weapons, 155mm, Anti-Aircraft, machine guns, etc. I think the 64th Artillery, C.A.C. was stationed in down town Honolulu at Ft. Shafter. Back at Ft. Kam we had the 1st. Battalion of the 15th Artillery, 41st Artillery, and the 55th Artillery. I don't have any idea of where the rest of the 55th was during this time. At various times I was a member of the Gun Crews, Cook, and Mess Sergeant. Back then we were trained to take over about any position.
This is the 64th Artillery, CAC assembled with their searchlight trucks for a review.
A foursome of 55th men on tour in a pineapple field.
Visiting the Mormon Tabernacle
For R&R "Buck" and his buddies would take a trip around the Island and go site seeing. After a while they saw it all, but they never got tired of the beauty and diversity of Oahu and Honolulu. Also for entertainment they had entertainers come to the Field House at Fort Kam. All kinds of events took place here including Basketball, and other sports. "Buck" relates; "And then they ruined it all by moving the Pacific Fleet from the West Coast to Pearl Harbor. That caused it to be crowded at the YMCA and the Black Cat Cafe on payday night in Honolulu. That, I believe was in 1940. Along about that time we were put on full alert and issued live ammunition for the first time since WWI. Also, guards were stationed all over the Island on highways, bridges,etc. So, it was obvious the big boys was expecting something."
"When I returned from Hawaii in January of 1941 I had to serve until September to finish out my 3 year enlistment, so, I was sent to Ft. Belvoir, VA. That is where I received my Military Police training. I was discharged in September of 1941 and I re-enlisted in the Army Air Force when the War started just a few months later. Since I was not out of the service more than 3 months, I received a big $ 75.00 bonus. After serving at Bolling Field in D.C. and Wright Field in Ohio in various jobs including Guard Duty, I volunteered to fill a vacancy for overseas duty. I was with the 12th Air Force in a little town just South of Naples Italy."
"Buck" in Italy south of Naples during WWII with the 12th Air Force.
Again in Italy, "Buck" is on the left and the guy on the right was named Cotton who was from Texas.
"I was one of the lucky ones, always just far enough from the front lines not to be in too much danger. The most danger came from the British firing their Anti-Aircraft guns during German air raids with the shrapnel raining down. We used to say that when the Germans come over the safe place to be is right at the target. The worst day for me was when we docked at Bari, Italy just after the Germans had sunk a large number of our ships. This German raid was called the "2nd Pearl Harbor", and the reason that we don't hear much about it is because one of the ships sunk was loaded with Mustard Gas. Another problem we had was the Mt. Vesuvius volcano eruption. It made a mess of things, including airplane engines that had to be returned to the States for Repair."
A Partial photo of Battery A, 55th Artillery, CAC in from of their barracks stationed at Ft. Kamehameha on the Island of Oahu, T.H. "Buck" Wilmer is fourth row from the front second in from the right side. He has drawn an arrow to himself.
A motorcycle and side car showing the 55th Artillery out on maneuvers.
Another view of the 55th Artillery on maneuvers. This is the Field Kitchen with a side of beef on the table.
This is a typical view of one of the usual 6 man tents that were used while in the field. This is a photo of Cpl. John A. Dickson from California.
A view of the 155mm GPF guns and also on the left can be seen water-cooled machine-guns. The 155mm GPF guns are basically the same type and model that the 55th Artillery used in France during WWI. Possibly these pieces were even in France. You can plainly see that they still have the original solid rubber tires as they were during WWI and not the modern air filled tires and rims that were common to the WWII versions.
Victor Chester Sudziarski was born on March 5, 1920 in Bridgeport, Connecticut to Laura Ardinski and Walter Sudziarski. Walter Sudziarski was born in Russia and at the time of the First World war was working as an engineer at the Caufield Rubber Company in Bridgeport. Walter and Laura had at least two boys Victor and Eugene. On June 28, 1939 Victor C. Sudziarski enlisted into the United States Army, and was placed into the Coast Artillery Corps and sent to Hawaii with the 55th Artillery, CAC. By April of 1940 Private Victor Sudziarski was serving with Battery E, stationed at Fort Ruger located on the Island of Oahu, Hawaii. Fort Ruger was built in and around Diamond Head Crater, and was the site of Battery Harlow, armed with eight 12-inch mortars. Later Sudziarski was advanced through the ranks until he made 1st Sgt. and was moved to Battery A, 55th Artillery stationed at Fort Kamehameha.
Fort Kamehameha was a U. S. Army military base that was the site of several coast artillery batteries positioned to defend Pearl Harbor Hawaii, that were built starting in 1907. Battery Selfridge, Battery Jackson, Battery Hawkins, Battery Hasbrouck, Batteries Chandler and Barri, Batteries Adair and Boyd, and Battery Closson, made up the nine batteries of Fort Kamehameha.
Victor Sudziarski's daughter, Vicki Dougherty, related about her father; "He enlisted during prewar. Growing up he never talked about anything regarding the war other than the Golden Gate Bridge, the beaches of the Philippines, and how great 3 meals a day were especially for a depression era kid. I looked at a lot of the papers, he kept everything including the letters he sent his mother. My father's name is Victor Sudziarski, everyone called him Vick. He was born and raised in Patterson, New Jersey, he grew up in the boxing capital of the world, and he loved boxing and was friends Lou Costello growing up. My mother, age 87 (in 2017), who lives with me, said his older brothers were professional boxers. I read papers from his superiors regarding his promotion to Sgt. they all mentioned words like team Leader. I saw Buck Wilmer's name on a huge list in my father's papers of all the men in the Battery and regiment."
Sgt. Sudziarski was Honorably Discharged from the Army on October 2, 1945, and returned home. After the war Vick married Henrietta Heleb, and lived in Connecticut and later in Toms River, New Jersey. Sgt. Vick Sudziarski passed away on July 17, 2001.
A hula event at the Field House at Ft. Kam. "In order to get to Ft. Kam from the highway to Honolulu, we had to go through Hickam Field, which was adjoining Pearl Harbor and Kam. I remember walking over to Pearl Harbor to the free movies that the Navy was kind enough to let us in. I enjoyed the Sing Along that went with the movie, even though I couldn't sing."
On May 7, 1920 in Lynchburg, Virginia, when Hope Fairfield Wilmer, Jr., came into this world, his father had already left it. His mother Mary Lee Wilmer and his older siblings - a sister named Goldie and two brothers named Buster and Jack - no doubt gave him a sense of who his father had been, but still, it had to be difficult for Hope, growing up without a dad. That, and becoming a teenager during the Great Depression, no doubt instilled a toughness in the man he would eventually become.
Even so, he never complained about his childhood. In fact, it sounded like the Wilmer family always had what was needed for happiness, a deep and abiding love for one another.
Somewhere during those early years, "Hope" became "Buck" to family and friends, but he was always proud to be the bearer of his father's name.
On a school bus one morning in 1941, Eloise Lane sat next to her friend Faye Campbell. While talking about boys, as girls so often do, Faye learned about Eloise's handsome, blond, blue-eyed cousin named Buck. Shortly after that, young Faye began writing Buck who was in the Army at Bolling Field, Washington, D.C. Apparently she wrote all the right things because it wasn't long before he surprised her with a visit. As Faye tells it, "I was walking up the road from Grandma Campbell's house with Eulah on my hip when I looked up to see Buck standing there in his Army uniform. He was every bit as handsome as Eloise said he was."
Obviously, Buck thought Faye was a beautiful and charming young lady. After several years and many letters - more than one of which contained a proposal of marriage - Faye finally said, "Yes!" So on just the second time they laid eyes on one another, Faye and Buck were married. That was on September 4, 1943, in a place called Harvey town. People said it wouldn't last, but God knew better and blessed them with two children and over 66 years of caring companionship and all of the tender love they needed to weather life's many trials.
Hope Wilmer was a proud member of the Greatest Generation. His experiences in WWII, where he served with the 55th Coast Artillery in the Harbor Defenses of Pearl Harbor and with the 12th Army Air Force in Italy, gave him his great love for this country. In later years, he would often make that love known in letters to the editor. Even if they did not always agree with him, those who read his letters would never doubt his patriotism.
When he retired, Hope Wilmer was the Employment Supervisor at Houdaille Industries. Through his work there, he touched many lives. Not long ago, one such person wrote to him, "If it weren't for you, my hopes for employment would have been small, if not nonexistent. I'm sure you know of the old saying that you should give someone roses while they are still living. Well, I'm giving you roses today. May God be with you. Most appreciatively yours…"
It's said that the true measure of the man is the company he keeps. On that basis alone, with Faye always at his side, it's safe to say Hope Wilmer was a very good and kind man - someone who will be deeply missed.
It is with prayers of thanksgiving to God that Faye, Charlotte, Michael and his wife Robin, invite family and friends to join in celebrating the life of Hope Fairfield Wilmer. They rejoice in their faith that he is now free from suffering and is safe in God's care, and pray that they may one day join him, with the Lord's Blessing.
On a snowy day a wreath is placed on the grave of an American Patriot.
Bronze grave marker of Hope "Buck" Wilmer
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