War on Their Minds
Family   Ronald F. Brodrick
Age in 1941: 22

Interview Team: Mike Shubin and Marc Terada

Q: So what is your full name?

Mr. Brodrick: Ronald Brodrick. B-R-O-D-R-I-C-K, no "e."


Q: What was your age in 1941?

Mr. Brodrick: I was 22.


Q: What is your place of birth and where were you raised?

Mr. Brodrick: I was born in Hastings, Nebraska and I was raised on a farm near there.


Q: To what extent were you aware of the happenings in Japan, Italy, and Germany during the 1930's?

Mr. Brodrick: Well we had the radio and the newspaper, and we of course knew about Hitler. We also knew about some of the Japanese activities. They were pretty brutal over there. I wouldn't say we knew too much about Italy except that they had a dictatorship there. The newspapers didn't emphasize Italy very much I would say. I think that part of the news about Germany came from Charles Lindbergh's trip over there. Not his flight over, but he went over afterwards and was shown around some of the aircraft factories and so on and he recognized the danger of the Germans building up their military power there.


Q: How did you first become aware of the dangers in Europe?

Mr. Brodrick: Well I guess I almost (laughter, Mike interrupts and says sorry) got ahead of myself. Lindbergh was one source, and then just the knowledge that the military was building up. And obviously he, Hitler, had some intentions of taking over more area in Europe and of course we didn't know all that he was going to do. I would say we knew very little about the Holocaust at that time. That came quite a bit later before it was general knowledge. I guess that's it.


Q: What was your reaction to the war?

Mr. Brodrick: Well of course everyone was upset The thing I remember principally was the invasion of Poland, which I think was in 1939. And that was, if I'm not mistaken, the first real military action that the Germans took. This was clearly an unauthorized invasion. People in the US were disturbed about it because it violated the freedom of the people over there. And the US stood for freedom so the reaction was pretty negative.


Q: Okay, kind of to switch topics here, what were your remembrances of the attack on Pearl Harbor?

Mr. Brodrick: Well I, remember that day. Of course it was morning over there. It was afternoon here, Sunday afternoon. And, I wasn't quite sure where Pearl Harbor was. I knew it was out there in the Pacific somewhere. But, this was a big shock to think that they would attack the US. We didn't know the degree of severity at that, in the first few moments. But I remember, I was visiting my girlfriend, who turned out later to be my wife and that was the day when we first realized that we kind of liked each other. That was a big day (laughter all around). I also was in the navy, going out through flight school out in Squantum which is in Boston Harbor. We got called back right away and I remember being told to hide behind the sea wall there because the Japanese were coming in from the Atlantic. They were going to attack Boston. We didn't know any better so we spent a few hours hiding behind the sea wall.


Q: What were your feelings about the American declaration of war?

Mr. Brodrick: There was no other choice. We had been attacked, and we had to defend ourselves. There were never any questions about it.


Q: Did your feelings ever change during or after the war?

Mr. Brodrick: About the declaration of war?


Q: Yeah.

Mr. Brodrick: No. Not at all, there was, as I say there was no choice. We had to do it.


Q: Under what circumstances did you enter the armed forces? Did you volunteer or were you drafted?

Mr. Brodrick: Oh yes, I volunteered. I could see even before the war that there was a good chance we would get involved. I don't remember all my feelings, but part of it was to hope to have a choice by going in early. I had been interested in aviation so I tried for that and got in.


Q: What branch of the arms forces did you join?

Mr. Brodrick: Okay, yes, I was in the Navy, and I chose it. I probably just had a natural attachment toward it being from the Midwestern prairies I wanted to see what water looked like (laughter), and I thought I could probably do the best good in the naval aviation branch, with a chance to see the world. It was pretty clean living compared with crawling around in the mud in the Army, so I guess all of those things added up to it.


Q: What was it like saying good-bye to your loved ones, and where were you at the time, and how did you feel at the time?

Mr. Brodrick: Well that was pretty hard. I stayed in the US for several months after I got out of flight training. We got married a couple days after I graduated from flight school, and I went to flight school in Florida. And, so then I was transferred to California for advanced training and my wife was able to come out there so we didn't have to say good-bye for several months. When we did it was hard, we didn't know when or whether we'd see each other again, so it was not a happy time.


Q: What did you remember from training to be in the Navy?

Mr. Brodrick: Well I started out in Squantum, as I said. At that time they were pushing the flight training pretty heavily and they didn't concentrate much on the military aspects, that is the drill and that sort of thing. We had to know about the military and all the rules and regulations, but marching and so on was pretty much soft-pedaled. So we didn't have anything corresponding to boot camp. Of course we had to do what we were told. The military is not a democracy. You have to learn to react without question, but boot camp, or whatever they called its parallel was not oppressive.


Q: What ship were you sent to after training? What was the first ship?

Mr. Brodrick: After I graduated from flight school in Jacksonville, Florida I went to San Diego to advanced training and then I was sent to a squadron which was in the South Pacific. We went by ship out there, it took about a month to get there, to the New Hebrides islands which were where our squadron was based.


Q: Did you have to use any of those, you know, special skills that you were taught during boot camp or whatever the equivalent was?

Mr. Brodrick: Well I was taught flying and which is pretty involved, I mean its not just driving an airplane that's really the easy part, with all the studies on weather and the airplane's systems, the fuel systems, and the electrical systems and all that, and learning fly instruments and of course we used all of that.


Q: How did your faith impact your thoughts of the war?

Mr. Brodrick: Well, I was always fairly broad minded about religion. I had my own and I recognized that other people all over the world had theirs too, and I didn't think it mattered particularly because they all emphasized good morals and things like that, and freedom, and I thought that we're all in that sense fighting for the same thing. The US pretty well represented freedom more that any other place in the world. There wasn't any question of what we were defending then so I guess the faith just fell in right along with that. Your faith tends to increase a little bit when you get into tight situations and you don't know how you're going to react, but you find out.


Q: If you could, could you please describe the operations or battles in which you were involved?

Mr. Brodrick: Well, I was flying what we called the big seaplanes. They don't look so big compared to a 747, but they were big in those days. We did a lot of different things. In the south pacific we did traditional things like bombing, torpedo work, and gunnery to some extent, but then we did a lot of patrol work which was looking, watching for enemy task forces and ships. We'd be stationed at a particular spot. Typically we'd go out on a straight line 800 nautical miles, then across 40, and back 800 so we'd scan that little sector. Then some other crew would be scanning the next sector so the whole fan-shaped area, 800 miles out got scanned all the time, everyday and every night. That was, 800 miles doesn't sound like much today but those were typically 12 or 14 hour rides, and we had to navigate strictly within our own facilities, we had no external facilities other than the stars in the sky… (interruption by intercom), so those were a couple of activities. And then we did rescue work. Early in the war that was kind of haphazard but if say a fighter pilot would go down in the water, we'd go to try and find him and pick him up if he landed in open water. It wasn't easy and we always damaged the airplane to some extent landing in the open ocean, but we were able to rescue quite a few people. I was in the area of the Solomon Islands and down as far as the Tongan Islands and up as far as Admiralty Islands. Then I came back and we got new airplanes and what not, and then we went out that same area again for the better part of another year. The developments in rescue work were quite dramatic over that period of time it really got organized. I won't go into all the details but they made a big effort to find people who had been shot down and get ‘em back, and it was an enormous boost for morale. That's something the Japanese didn't have. If a Jap went down he was done, forget it, nobody even bothered to try to look for him, but the US people knew that somebody was going to try to find them…(intercom interrupts again), sometimes its kind of hair raising, either because the sea conditions were bad, or because you had to go in. Many times these people would get shot down. One of the places where they had trouble was in New Britain, I've got a map if you want to get into detail on it, but New Britain had a big Japanese base, naval base, and later on in the Solomon's campaign that was one of the targets so, we'd send over several dozen fighters and bombers to attack the island and then typically us in the sea planes would circle a few miles offshore. If somebody got hit he would try to make it offshore and make a water landing his buddy would stay with him and call us and tell us where he was so then we'd go and try to pick ‘em up. Couple of times they landed right in Rabaul Harbor and we had to go in and get ‘em. They always told us we didn't have to do it, but nobody had refused yet so what're you going to do? So you go in there amongst all the enemy fire, ‘course the Japanese loved to get you. So we rescued people out of there, sometimes the plane would get damaged and it wouldn't fly very well, but we always made it. And then we also would take in the coast watchers. The coast watchers were usually New Zealanders or Australians who were familiar with the islands, the Solomon islands, and probably had lived there, maybe operated coconut plantations or something. So we'd sneak them in, and land offshore and take ‘em in in a rubber raft and they'd go way up in the mountains, some of the Solomon's have pretty high mountains, and they would live up there, and they knew the natives and they'd keep moving around and they'd be up there and they would report the enemy activities, whether planes were coming over or ships coming down what they called the slot. They had their radios and they would report this. They had to keep moving because the Japanese were always after them. These guys were real heroes. That was another thing we did. There was a lot of variety. We had anti-submarine equipment. It was pretty sophisticated even by today's standards, but I don't think we ever got a submarine. And we did a few other things, we hauled supplies when they'd get in advanced base that didn't have an airstrip. There was one island called Emirau Island which Americans had taken, and the CBs were building an airstrip on there, but before they got it finished it had to be supplied, so we would carry in food and drink and everything else in there. We had to land in the open sea then and offload it and keep them supplied. There were a lot of other things we did, so it was kind of interesting in that sense, and we did bombing. One interesting one was, there was an island in the Solomons called New Georgia Island, which is sort of the next island up from Guadalcanal. Some sharp-eyed photo interpreter noticed there was a coconut plantation there which most of the islands had. These aren't natural. They were all planted there so the trees were all in nice rows like an apple orchard, and he noticed something strange about those trees. Well it turns out that the Japanese had mounted those trees on wheels, and at nighttime they would wheel them out of the way and they were building an airstrip there. In daytime they'd wheel ‘em back in so the photo planes couldn't notice any difference, but this guy spotted it, and so we went and I was in the first plane that attacked that airstrip while it was being built, we went overnight and dropped the stuff on it. So anyway, to answer your question we had a lot of variety in our squadron, another thing we did, we took turns flying, with the Army. It was Army Air Corps then. They were flying B-17s out of there, and they didn't have the navigation training that we had, so we would take turns going over, helping these guys navigate, for some long, long over water flights with no radio or anything like that, we just had to go by what they call dead reckoning, and you would correct for the wind and all that, and if you weren't careful you'd get lost. So we took turns helping them with that. The way the navy operated, we had an eleven man crew. We had three pilots and we took turns navigating. Every third flight was your turn to be the navigator so we all kept in good practice for that. So those are the main things we did. From that point of view it was fun because you had a lot of variety doing a lot of different things, and as long as you did not get shot down or hurt it was alright.


Q: What were your greatest challenges of combat?

Mr. Brodrick: I guess getting out of there alive. Navigation was critical but we never had any trouble with it. When we would encounter enemy task forces what we tried to do was get messages out. That's the only time we could use the radio. We sent coded messages out to inform the authorities where these ships were and what kind they were. We tried to keep from getting shot down. We would fly real low, maybe go off beyond the horizon and then come up and take a peek and then go back down again so they couldn't see us. They didn't have good radar or maybe none at all so we could do that fairly well, but it wasn't an everyday occurrence that was unusual that we'd run into one of those but it was critical. Some of the challenges were natural like weather. We flew regardless of what the weather was. When we had to do a flight we did it. Sometimes the weather was pretty horrible. We didn't, as far as I know ever loose anybody because of weather.


Q: Did you ever experience death on the battlefield?

Mr. Brodrick: No, not directly. When we attacked an enemy airfield or something I'm sure that there were casualties, but we didn't see them.


Q: Were there any ceremonies after someone died, like on the ship?

Mr. Brodrick: Well most of the time, early on in the very beginning of the Guadalcanal-Solomon's campaign we lost several planes and the ceremonies were pretty simple because things were pretty tense then and well we were pretty busy. We were losing the war, we didn't know who was going to win it at that time and it wasn't too cheerful. Our planes were old and worn out. We had a lot of maintenance trouble and spent time trying to keep them going. A little bit later on most of our losses were from aircraft accidents. Most were avoidable unfortunately, and we had regular formal ceremonies when somebody would get killed that way.


Q: What did you miss most about the United States?

Mr. Brodrick: My wife (laughs). US is a great place. Sometimes we forget that. You don't really appreciate the freedom and advantages you have over here until you're away from it a little while. You really appreciate getting it back so it was awful good to get back.


Q: What was your attitude towards the Japanese or Germans on a personal level?

Mr. Brodrick: Personal level, well of course we certainly did not like them. I always had the attitude that people are people all over the world no matter where you are, but the common people were pretty much alike so you don't really hate them, but the politicians and the people who get us into wars of course affect your attitude. I'd say we had a pretty negative feeling for the Japanese particularly. I was never around Germany so I didn't think that much about it, but we had a lot of bad feelings towards the Japanese when we heard about all of the atrocities they had committed in China and during the war. They had no mercy. If you were taken prisoner you had a pretty good chance of dying as a prisoner one way or another whereas in the US a prisoner was taken care of as well as he could be. They were not abused except in unusual, unauthorized circumstances.


Q: Have you maintained contact with any people in your unit?

Mr. Brodrick: I did for quite a while, but a lot of them have died or I've lost touch with them so right now I have almost no contact with anyone in my whole unit.


Q: Why do you think the main reason was that you kept maintaining contact with them?

Mr. Brodrick: I don't know, you get a, you get an attachment, I guess when you go through some stress together you form bonds and they just never break, and they even in a sense get stronger even though you don't see these people you still have a fond feeling for them. Everybody was together pretty much helping each other, you just hang on to that.


Q: Did you lose any friends or family during the war?

Mr. Brodrick: Not through combat, friends in the military yes, but people whom I had known before I don't think I lost any, no.


Q: What was your most memorable experience of the war?

Mr. Brodrick: Well, it was an experience just to be able to travel and see some of the kind of romantic islands. Some were not so romantic especially when there was military action going on. I think probably the most memorable was coming home the first time, or second time. First time I came home we got as far as Hawaii and then they wanted to overhaul our airplanes so we could fly them back to the States, which is the longest flight we ever made. It's a long way from Hawaii to California. We lost a plane on that trip so they didn't do that anymore. The second time I came back we were on a small aircraft carrier and they had loaded our planes on the deck. We were coming in in the early morning, it was light but it was the early morning and it was real foggy. We were all up on the deck waiting to see the good old U.S.A. Over to the right, we could hear a foghorn and over to the left we could hear another foghorn so we knew we were coming to the entrance to San Francisco Bay. Pretty soon we could hear the cars going overhead on the Golden Gate Bridge, couldn't see them, but we could hear them, and then suddenly it all opened up and it was the greatest indescribable feeling in the world.


Q: Did you participate in a welcome home celebration?

Mr. Brodrick: No, just with family and so on, we didn't have a big celebration. Of course it was still wartime when I got home.


Q: What was it like to see your friends and family again?

Mr. Brodrick: Oh great, you can't imagine. The first time I came back I called up my wife and said hey meet me in New York, so she came down and met me. We didn't know where we were going to stay so we went to a place where the Navy assigned you lodging places and by golly we got the Waldorf Astoria. When I was looking through stuff this morning, I found the receipt for that night at the Waldorf Astoria. The valet service was two dollars and a half, and the room was seven dollars, so the total for a night at the Waldorf was nine dollars and fifty cents (laughs), I got a chuckle out of that. They treated us like royalty for nine bucks and a half. So that was a celebration.


Q: Were you aware of the internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans in the detention camps while at sea?

Mr. Brodrick: I think at the time I might have been vaguely aware of it. Since then I've had a very good friend with whom I worked for all my working life after the war whose parents were interned during that time, so I got his side of the story.


Q: What was your reaction to this?

Mr. Brodrick: Well, I didn't think too much about it at the time, I figured they just, they just had to do that for safety reasons because, there were not too many Japanese people in the US in those days and there was probably a little suspicion of them. Somebody made the decision to lock them up so they couldn't do any harm. The people that I know of were excellent Americans. They had come over from the old country, they were very high-class people, well-educated, hard-working, and in retrospect there was no reason in the world why they should have been interned, and they lost for it. They came out all right in the long run, but it was years out of their lives and their children's. My friend was also in the army, but he always resented that his folks had to be interned. Personally I wasn't close enough to it to really have a strong opinion at the time.


Q: What was your reaction to the German atrocities towards the Jews?

Mr. Brodrick: Well at the time of course we didn't really know much about them, but since late in the war it began to come out and how can anybody react. It's a terrible thing, just unbelievable that anybody could treat human beings like that. Of course it wasn't just the Jews it was Germans against Germans too. Anybody who disagreed with Hitler was sent to a concentration camp, if one got that far, so there were just unbelievable atrocities. I was over there a few years ago and we went to one of those camps. It just makes you cringe to think that humans could be like that, so it was one hundred percent negative.


Q: How did you view President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's leadership during the war?

Mr. Brodrick: Well I guess he did a good job. I was on the other side of the political world from him, I disagreed with some of the things he did socially, that is too much welfare and so on. Welfare is wonderful when you need it, but if you use it as a political tool it's not so good. As far as running the war I don't know, he apparently did a good job, he helped get the country going in production, that's really one of the big things that helped us win the war. We were able to build lots of ships and airplanes and everybody went to war. He kept the research going to develop radar. It wasn't invented here but it was developed here, that was a big thing in our favor during the war, good radar which we had later on. So I guess he did a good job.


Q: How did you react to the news of FDR's death?

Mr. Brodrick: Well of course it wasn't any surprise because he was very ill, and I think he should have stepped down a little earlier because he was apparently not really in condition to perform the duties of the office very well, and I think we lost because of his inability to negotiate with Stalin later on in the war. He had done well, but he was just beyond the point of being completely useful. So, from that, I mean it's sad to have anybody die, but as far as his performance as president I think he had outlived his time.


Q: What was your opinion of President Truman's wartime leadership?

Mr. Brodrick: Well he wasn't really in the position very long, just a very short time at the end of the war, and I don't know what he did other than making the decision on the atom bomb, the decision to build it and all of course had been made long before, but in fact I anticipate your next question on that, and I think he did the right thing on that, absolutely. There was, as bad as it is, if we had to go in and attack Japan it would have been just terrible, we would have lost they estimate a million of military people, not to mention the Japanese that would have been lost. And so war is not a pleasant thing. It's hard to measure values, but a lot fewer lives were lost this way, than would have been lost without it. We were awful darn glad when it happened I'll tell ya because everybody was anxious for the war to end, and it did.


Q: When the war did end did you anticipate future wars, or did it seem like all the conflicts had been settled?

Mr. Brodrick: Well I didn't really think about it too much at the time, so glad to have it over with, and not only the loss of life, but the whole country was building military stuff instead of building cars and refrigerators and all the other goodies in life, so it was great to have it end. I was born right after World War I ended and I grew up in the twenties and I can remember thinking what a great time it is because nobody surely would be stupid enough to have another war, and then in just a few years it came along, so I guess I thought the people would be too smart to have another war after World War II, but it didn't take long for the Korean War to come along, so unfortunately it seems like we always have them. As far as other means to settle conflicts, I guess we made a little bit of progress on that but who knows what the future holds. It's certainly better to avoid war by talking than by shooting each other, but you have to remember that you have to defend certain values, because that's pretty much what World War II was all about. There wasn't any argument like there was in Vietnam. It was a life and death matter for our country, and everybody was together in it, to defend, to fight for the things that US stands for. So it was a little different that some of these wars where you're really not sure what you're fighting for, and that makes a difference. And I guess the final thing is, if you can settle it by other means, wonderful, but if you're going to lose your freedom and give up too much in the settling process, then you just can't afford to do that.


Q: What do you think of today's generation of younger Americans and if you could, can you kind of compare your generation to ours?

Mr. Brodrick: Well, there are all degrees of people of all ages, and you hear so much against young people these days, the trouble they get into and all, but I have known a lot of great kids and I love working with young people, I have been in the technical business ever since World War II and I have worked with a lot of young engineers and students and a lot of them are just super. Don't let anybody tell you that the younger generation is no good.


Q: Do you have any parting advice for the youth of today?

Mr. Brodrick: I tried to think of some things on that. I think probably number one is to be open minded and analytical about situations, no matter what the situation, get the facts, don't be swayed by people yelling and ranting and giving opinions. Find out what the real truth is and then make your decision on that. That's good in politics and any aspect of life. Don't go for the pseudo-science and things like that. Try to find the real truth and even then there will be differences of opinion, but there will be a lot fewer differences if everybody sticks to the facts. The other thing is I think that we should maintain the incentive system that we have in this country, that you strive for something because there is a goal to be achieved, not just to plod along and barely be able to do enough to keep food on the table and so on. That's something to drive for. So I think, one other thing I think of is in the political arena. We have to maintain our military, sad to say because it is a non-productive effort pretty much, but if we don't somebody is going to take advantage of us and we have to commit certain portion of our goods to both offensive and defensive military. I hope that will all end someday. Sad to say, I don't think human nature has changed a whole lot in the last few thousand years.


Listen to Mr. Brodrick describe his Catalina crew's responsibilities. (Quicktime)

Mr. Brodrick's (back, 2nd from left [with necktie]) Catalina Crew

Naval Commendation Page 1

Naval Commendation Page 2

Pacific Map
Pacific Map

The Waldorf with Mrs. Broderick: Send the Bill to Uncle Sam!

South Sea
"South Sea Lore" Guide Cover

Solomon Islands Guide Cover

Xmas 1943
Christmas Menu, Fiji Islands 1943

Xmas Card
Christmas Invitation from the Beautiful South Pacific