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Interview with Bruce Cameron, July 10, 2001 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Bruce Cameron, July 10, 2001
July 10, 2001
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Cameron, Bruce Interviewer: Hayes, Sherman Date of Interview: 7/10/2001 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC)  

Hayes: We are today on the 2nd tape, July 10, 2001. We’re at Cameron Properties with Bruce Cameron, Adina Lack from UNCW and Sherman Hayes from UNCW.

Hayes: Bruce, when we left off, you had a joyous occasion of graduation from VMI and I was curious, did they actually have a ceremony, the whole six yards like we do today?

Cameron: Oh yeah.

Hayes: And your family came up?

Cameron: Oh sure.

Hayes: So tell us about that, what was that day like. That must have been an interesting day.

Cameron: A happy day for most of us. It’s a hell of a place to be at, and a damn good place to be from (laughter).

Hayes: So did you have to be in your dress uniform and all of that kind of thing?

Cameron: Oh yeah. We started out, my class was a little over 200 and graduated about 100, about half of them graduated.

Hayes: And people just dropped out for various reasons?

Cameron: They lose about, and still do, about 10% in the first two months. A lot of them in the first week.

Hayes: Hard work, huh? Do you remember your graduation speaker? Did you have a speaker?

Cameron: I don’t remember.

Hayes: Oh good (laughter), he’s just like me, I can’t remember.

Cameron: It’s been since 1938, it’s been several years.

Hayes: So you graduate from college….

Cameron: At the time, General Kilborn was superintendent. He won the Medal of Honor in the war of 1898, the Spanish American War.


Cameron: For three and a half years while I was there, General John Archer LeJeune was the head man, superintendent. He’s the same man that Camp LeJeune is named for. So I stood in front of him several times under adverse conditions.

Hayes: So he was the commander, part of the time when you were there.

Cameron: Three and a half years out of four, he was there.

Hayes: Wow. So he must have been a Marine in his earlier career?

Cameron: He went all the way to General, 2nd Marine Division, World War I, that famous outfit was his outfit.

Hayes: And you said that even after the war, you became close to him. I mean how did that happen?

Cameron: Three and a half years while I was a cadet.

Hayes: Did you know him after also or not?

Cameron: No.

Hayes: Oh okay.

Cameron: No, he was getting pretty old. He had retired before he ever came to VMI. This camp, Camp LeJeune, is named for him. That’s where the name came from.

Hayes: Interesting. So you get done and what were you thinking in 1938 you were going to do? What was the plan?

Cameron: Well I was coming back to Wilmington. My father was in business here and I planned, and I did, stay here and we built a new building at 3rd and Chestnut where the bank building is now, that property.

Hayes: What year did you build that building.

Cameron: In 1940.

Hayes: And you were involved in that?

Cameron: One of my first jobs, I was a civil engineer you know.

Hayes: So you really used the training on that particular building?

Cameron: Yes, to some extent.

Hayes: Now you didn’t design it, but you had to watch, make sure everything was right.

Cameron: An architect did a lot of building for Goodyear, we were pretty closely associated with them at that time, an architect from Akron, Ohio designed the building and the MacMillan and Cameron Company, they had been in business a long time and then stayed in business a long time after that. So I was in the oil business and with various other businesses that MacMillan and Cameron were in, automotive type businesses, until September 1941. They started calling the National Guard. We were not in the war. War had been going on in Europe though for two or three years. Hitler was in power and England was really catching hell. They were bombing England. England was almost in a collapsed state. America started helping them a lot with land lease and chips. People in this country didn’t want to get in that war.

Hayes: But you’re looking back partly in hindsight. What was the mood here in Wilmington 38 to 40, was there a lot of talk about it? Were they following it?

Cameron: Yeah, everybody was, I wouldn’t say complacent, but most people just didn’t want to get involved. World War I wasn’t that far behind. People just didn’t want to get in another big war if they could help it. That was the general attitude. Until Pearl Harbor happened, it was that way. In the meantime, General Marshall, the best thing Roosevelt ever did was put General Marshall in as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. Marshall started building camps. He started calling people, the Army in the United States was something like 100,000 men. It was all or nothing. Of course, they had a great number of reserve officers like I was.

Hayes: Now you were saying because you went to VMI, you would automatically go into a reserve unit or was that your choice?

Cameron: No I was a reserve officer. I had not been called to active duty. Marshall saw pretty plainly regardless of what people thought that we were going to have to be involved in that war to turn things over and he started the ball rolling. He was building camps, called in the National Guard. He started making preparations so that was about a year to 15 months before Pearl Harbor. So he had that much time to get going. That’s when I was here and that was going on and they started building Camp Davis and a lot of other camps around, Camp Davis up at Holly Ridge. Quite a few military people around town here for a while and I got to know some of them. I was convinced also that there was going to be a war.

Hayes: But in that three year period as a reservist, what kind of things, did they call you once a month or every week.

Cameron: No, I’d been to camp one time. After graduation, I went down for about 4 or 5 weeks down in Columbus, Georgia, just a refresher kind of thing. That was…they were building this camp out here. I got interested and got to know some of the people and decided I would go on in. I did. I signed up down at the Post Office. That’s where the headquarters for Camp Davis were at that time. There wasn’t anything out at the camp.

Hayes: So this was in early ’41.

CAMERON: I went in on George Washington’s birthday, 1941, which was about 9 months before Pearl Harbor. Went to Camp Davis. When they got enough to go out there, I moved in. I was probably the first local person that ever served at Camp Davis.

Hayes: Now what is Camp Davis today?

Cameron: Nothing, Holly Ridge, nothing military. But it was, they had up to 40,000 troops at one time.

Hayes: And that was an Army base at that point, starting to be an army base.

CAMERON: Yeah, but there was nothing there when I went. When I joined, they had just started on it.

Hayes: And it was just a beach, right?

Cameron: There wasn’t any beach, it was just woods. You know where Holly Ridge is? Everything on the left there for about 4 to 5 miles, both sides of Holly Ridge, was eventually Camp Davis and the headquarters were right there. There’s one of the vaults still standing there. You can see it from …

Hayes: As a camp, what was its mission? It was supposed to be preparing people for…was it a basic military or a finishing camp?

Cameron: Both. It was a training camp. See the Army at that time, as I said, was maybe 100,000, maybe a little over by then. I stayed there when they moved out and the whole bunch, still no war going on. There were gathering reserve officers and they had lots and lots outside that…with not much to do really.

Hayes: Now were you using your engineering, was that why they were kind of interested in you?

Cameron: Yeah, I did some things like build a CCC camp was one of my jobs. I built a firing point for the artillery down at Fort Fisher and I put the first bulldozer in there. This was all in the summer of ’41.

Hayes: CCC was the Civilian Conservation Corps just for historic purposes. So there was a CCC camp a little further north.

Cameron: No it was right between Camp Davis and the sound on the road going down.

Hayes: So young men were coming in to…

Cameron: Well I don’t think it ever really got used much for CCC because things change so fast. In the meantime, General Crawford was the commanding officer and made me, I'm sure because I was local, made me his aide de camp. Basically, I'm sure it was because I was a local yokel and knew my way around.

Hayes: Well I'm sure it helped too, didn’t it?

Cameron: Yeah, well it’s a smart thing to have somebody that knew local people and what’s going on. That went on until Pearl Harbor and Pearl Harbor … in the meantime, General Fred Smith had come in and he was Major General. He outranked Crawford. So he was the commanding officer then when Pearl Harbor happened. But Crawford was moved to Fort Bliss a week after Pearl Harbor. I went with him when he moved from here.

Hayes: Now where is Fort Bliss at?

Cameron: El Paso, Texas.

Hayes: Oh my goodness. That’s a little bit of a change.

Cameron: We got there about the day before Christmas 1941.

Hayes: So you stayed as his aide. What was your, a first lieutenant, is that what you would have been.

Cameron: At that time, I was second lieutenant. We were the 1st Cavalry Division which later was a famous outfit, that was our base. They established an antiaircraft training center at Fort Bliss. The 1st Cavalry Division was still there when we got there. They were an all horse cavalry. They were still playing polo for several months after Pearl Harbor (laughter).

Hayes: No tanks at all?

Cameron: No tanks, no. It was a horse cavalry. They were later famous, you know, particularly during World War I and all of the wars since then.

Hayes: But later they switched to tanks (laughter).

Cameron: At UMI, I was in the cavalry, horse cavalry. That was my original commission was the horse cavalry. VMI had 200 horses, government horses, maybe a few more than that. We had a horse artillery unit ROTC and we had cavalry and one company of infantry. They had six companies, three artillery, two cavalry, one infantry.

Hayes: And you were in cavalry?

Lack: I think your brother Dan told us he was in it too.

Hayes: But had you done any horse work before you went there?

Cameron: More than most of them had. But we had plenty of horses, you know. That was the main thing, on Sunday afternoon, Saturday afternoon, if you had nothing else to do, the lot of us did a lot of riding.

Hayes: And since then, did you ever keep that going. I mean have you….

Cameron: Oh yeah. Not in the Army. I stayed at Fort Bliss with General Crawford until about the summer of 1942. He sent me back to artillery school, but I was a cavalry officer and they sent me back to Camp Davis. They had training for the officers down there. Most all the officers, they really hadn’t had much training, most of them went to school there for about a month and went back to Fort Bliss and I decided about that time, I was still a general’s aide, and war was pretty rough, there was a lot going on. The General had been on Corrigador, the island where McArthur left from, just before he came here. It was all pretty close to him. Anyway, I decided I wanted to get into an outfit. They had what they called a cavalry for a new battalion, artillery battalion. In the meantime, I’d been, I guess I was a captain I guess by then.

Hayes: Wow. How old were you at this point cause you graduated at 20 or 21?

Cameron: I guess when I left Camp Davis I was a first lieutenant and when I left the cavalry, I was a battery commander which is a company with about 200 men. Went to Camp Davis again and then officers for the whole battalion, about 30 officers for the separate battalions, they were all at Camp Davis and trained there for about five or six weeks maybe, got to know each other and knew what the job was going to be and they sent us all to Camp Hulen in Texas.

Hayes: Now when you talk about this movement back and forth, I mean this wasn’t jumping on an airplane. How did you get back and forth that whole time.

Cameron: Trains or drive. I probably drove to Camp Hulen I'm sure because I had a car.

Hayes: But that’s a long hike.

Cameron: We got our troops at Camp Hulen. That’s where they joined us.

Hayes: And that’s in Texas?

Cameron: Yeah, near Galveston, it’s on the Gulf. There were about 700 men in a battalion and I was battery commander, five batteries in a battalion.

Hayes: And so how many, so you had 150 men?

Cameron: Yeah a couple hundred.

Hayes: And what were the weapons that you guys were responsible for for?

Cameron: Basically 40 mm antiaircraft automatic guns about that long and automatic, and 5th caliber machine guns.

Hayes: So what would it be, three men to a gun would be a normal configuration?

Cameron: About four.

Hayes: And then the machine guns were protection for those guns?

Cameron: No, antiaircraft.

Hayes: Oh they were after aircraft too.

Cameron: All groundwork basically was aircraft. So that would have been the summer of ’43 I guess.

Hayes: That late?

Cameron: In ’42…

Hayes: Time flies when you’re going back and forth to these training sessions.

Cameron: Let’s see I stayed there, when the battalion was actually formed. I left there in the summer of ’42. By the time we got to Camp Hulen, Texas, it was January ’43. We trained there until June I guess and they sent us to the desert training center in Camp Coxcomb in the California desert.

Hayes: Oh my gosh.

Cameron: Patton had just moved out of there with his Army going to Africa. We moved and got down about 5:00 in the morning on the 4th of July.

Hayes: Gosh! Now were you the only ones in that camp or was this even a bigger group that was…

Cameron: Well there were other units in that general area, but we got there about 5:00 in the morning and the colonel said get these trains unloaded. We had two trainloads, two whole trainloads of guns, trucks and everything you could think of. The temperature was really about 120 degrees. And dust, Patton had gone through, that dust was knee deep. I mean you step off and you go up to your knees in dust. That was a miserable, miserable day. The camp had to move about 75 miles up into the desert. We got up there and we had tents, didn’t have any running water. Had to haul our water at the Los Angeles Aqueduct and dip it out like a flume, open flume, carrying water to Los Angeles. We stayed there from the 4th of July until about the 1st of October.

Hayes: You had a real cool season, right? Gosh, that’s about the hottest time (laughter). Even September was probably…

Cameron: 120 in the daytime.

Hayes: And your sense at this time is that the war was moving so rapidly that your unit was going to go somewhere.

Cameron: Well we thought so. We thought, when we left, that we were going to North Africa. Otherwise there wasn’t any desert in Europe or in the Pacific and that was the only thing we could think of. With things changing so fast.

Hayes: Now tell us about some of the troops. I mean you must have been at this point, I'm trying to think, 23, 24 years old and you were probably an old man compared to most of your troops.

Cameron: One group, when they got and formed an outfit, the boys all came from up right on Canadian border and North Dakota and on back east of there. They had never seen the ocean. White as that paper most of them.

Hayes: Oh God. Probably Norweigians and Swedes.

Cameron: Most of them had never seen the ocean.

Lack: Well they had some adjustment to the weather, I'm sure.

Hayes: (Laughter) After North Dakota winters, they must have… They were young too, were they not?

Cameron: Most of them, yeah. And most of them had a high school or less education wise, but they were good kids. The major in the outfit at that time, he was a World War I man. The battalion had a lieutenant colonel as the commanding officer and what they call an executive officer, who was second in command, was a major ordinarily. This fella was what they called a retread from World War I and for some reason, he left and while I was at Camp Hulen, they made me battalion elected officer and that’s what job I had when we got to California.

Hayes: So you were the #2 man in the battalion and were you still a captain or you got a promotion?

Cameron: I was still a captain, but I had a major’s job.

Hayes: Did they ever give you the major?

Cameron: Yeah.

Hayes: Eventually, okay (laughter). We’ll get to that.

Cameron: But anyway that was a rough summer that killed a lot of time, but we didn’t know what we were going to do, or where we were going or anything. October 1st, the moved us to San Diego which was not too far, maybe 150 miles or less, over the mountains. It was like going to heaven when you came over that last mountain (laughter).

Hayes: I was curious, for those months you were in the desert, the main goal was the artillery practice then, how to get shooting and accuracy?

Cameron: Mostly maneuvering. We had the Coxcomb Mountains there. The war was really in a state of flux. England had about a million Americans, I don’t know numbers, a huge member of Americans, including people like Dan that sat there for about a year before they did anything. The African thing was going on….

Hayes: Italy…

Cameron: Quite a bit in the Pacific in small, relatively small engagements compared to the Normandy invasion where we killed a pile of people.

Hayes: And your artillery was motorized in the sense there was what? Truck pulled mainly? What were you using, a big GM truck?

Cameron: Yeah, prime movers they call them, big trucks, four wheel, six wheel drive trucks.

Hayes: And you, as the executive officer then, were really kind of logistics. Was that the biggest thing for you, managing all the troops and where to get the stuff?

Cameron: Yeah, got all the dirty work (laughter). I had a really good friend.

Hayes: What was his name?

Cameron: David Craig. He was a World War I boy. Good man. He’d was a National Guard officer. He had been superintendent of schools in Lamar, Missouri, right next to Harry Truman’s hometown. He’s been in Harry Truman’s outfit when he was a motorcycle rier for World War I.

Hayes: Isn’t that interesting? Interesting connection. So the command structure was you had the top person, and you were the executive and then was the next line the five….

Cameron: They had what they called a plant and training officer and he was the captain. They had headquarters company, they had several others. Of course, you had a doctor and you had a dentist, had the headquarters staff, maybe five officers there. I've forgotten exactly.

Hayes: And then the people who ran a unit like you used to, right?

Cameron: A battery had a captain, a first lieutenant and two second lieutenants.

Hayes: So when you got together to try to decide what to do, who was the group, it was mainly headquarters that was…or did you pull these other officers into the same decision point?

Cameron: Well separate battalion, we didn’t really report like a battalion ordinarily would be part of a regiment. There’d be two battalions maybe to a regiment, could be three. Then the regimental commander, that would be a headquarters group. They had two battalions. It would be similar to a battalion having four batteries and then they’d have a full colonel ordinarily would have been in charge of the regiment. And then could have umpteen regiments – the Army.

Hayes: So were there infantry and other folks at your camp or was this mainly…

Cameron: In training camp would ordinarily be one branch, this was antiaircraft. Field artillery, Fort Sills, Oklahoma was the old time artillery camp. Fort Bliss, where we were, at that time, it was a cavalry all the way back. Because that cavalry, when it was founded, that was it.

Hayes: So you've now gone to heaven of San Diego, so didn’t mean to divert you there cause that sounded pretty good.

Cameron: Well we went there to take LST training, landing ships, practice landing on San Clemente Island. It was off the coast there. Santa Barbara I guess, was 15-20 miles. Landing ship tank is what LST stands for. So we practiced there for about three to four weeks, making LST landings. We got through with that and they moved us up to Camp Cook beyond Santa Barbara on the coast there, Camp Cook, California which was a pretty nice camp. We sat around there training, let’s see we left San Diego, it would have been I guess November. We got to Cook maybe the 1st of December, something like that, before Christmas.

Hayes: Now you’re casually talking about training, but your day was a day of full work, right. I mean soldiers didn’t just loaf around. What was training, what did that mean?

Cameron: Anytime we were sitting, you know, we were training.

Hayes: What, taking the guns apart or…

Cameron: Yeah, and drilling, with antiaircraft you know, we had these computers at that time which would be a computer now that would track an aircraft. We did a lot of shooting.

Hayes: Did they have enough live ammunition or were you using…

Cameron: Oh yeah. We have tow targets, you’d have a plane pulling a tall sleeve maybe 100 yards, 150-200 yards in back of the plane, so there wasn’t much danger of hitting the airplane and they would actually pull the targets behind. The shells would burst, but it was live ammunition we were shooting with. But I say, along at that time, I think they had the balance of troops the way they wanted them and the kind of troops they needed was changing a lot and I think we probably lost quite a bit of time because they didn’t know what the hell to do with us.

Hayes: Cause you felt you were ready, right?

Cameron: Yeah, we’d been ready. We’d been ready to go really for shooting, when we left Camp Hulen. And then this desert training, that was mainly so you’d get used to the desert. It was sure different living there than what we’re used to. I don’t think as far as our ability to knock down airplanes, I don’t think that really changed much.

Hayes: So now we’re in late ’43?

Cameron: Yeah.

Hayes: And Africa starts to wind down, is that what happened?

Cameron: Yeah, I guess so, cause that’s when, this amphibious training, of course we could have landed, never did need that and Africa had already had bases up. Romul had been pretty well finished up, I think, by then best as I can remember. And that show was about over. At that time, we obviously intended to go to the Pacific.

Hayes: I just was curious for our listeners to have a sense of even with all the censorship, as a soldier, did you have a sense of what was going on in the rest of the war? Did you get stories and news?

Cameron: Oh yeah. We got no more really than civilians did. We didn’t have any secret information. Of course, you had a feel from what was happening to you. You’d try to read somebody’s mind, but it didn’t always make much sense. That’s not too unusual …(laughter).

Hayes: (Laughter) For the Army.

Cameron: So we stayed at Camp Cook which was a new camp, but it had been there for a year or two then.

Hayes: Let me talk about your daily life. You’d been in for quite some time now. Did you ever get leaves? Were you ever able to come back to Wilmington?

Cameron: Got a leave when we, just before we went overseas and that was about it until November of ’44.

Hayes: Wow, so you were in almost three years.

Cameron: I was in four years all together.

Hayes: But for three of it, you never even got home to…

Cameron: Well I’d been to Camp Davis…

Hayes: Of course, you’d been to Camp Davis. And when you came to Camp Davis, you had to stay there, I'm sure, during the training, but were you able ….

Cameron: 35 miles from Wilmington.

Hayes: You could come on weekends?

Cameron: Oh yes. The first time, I went back to school, Danny graduated. That would have been 1940. Dan had just graduated from VMI and I can’t remember how he happened to be in the antiaircraft unless he did it on my advice (laughter).

Hayes: I know, he was in the same…

Cameron: They had a class, all the graduating West Pointers that were in that branch of the service had just graduated, the class of ’41 West Point, 25 or 30, I don’t remember how many and Dan and I, that was a class.

Hayes: Wow, you were in some pretty high company there, right? I mean some of those people must have really…

Cameron: Kind of embarrassing to me cause I’d been out of school four years all the rest of these… and I was the only one, the rest of them had just graduated (laughter).

Hayes: Now since you were able to get back and see Wilmington, could you really see a difference in how your father’s business was changing or the workers?

Cameron: It was a madhouse around Wilmington at that time. They had 25,000 people working at the shipyard and Camp Davis by then had 35-40,000 soldiers there. By that time, Camp LeJeune had just been built, Marine base in Jacksonville. That was built after Davis and there were a pile of people there then.

Hayes: Wasn’t there an air station? Blumenthal…

Cameron: P40 base at Bleedingthal Field here and people were piled on top of each other.

Hayes: Wow, and could your…

Cameron: Dan was mayor then and he was on the main directive as far as having to handle things locally, North Carolina Shipbuilding Co., had his own businesses to tend to.

Hayes: Could he even get workers? That was what I wondered.

Cameron: Oh yeah.

Hayes: If he could still get folks cause I didn’t know if they’d all been taken into the military.

Cameron: Anybody that could would probably most of them were working doing something. People didn’t know, Pearl Harbor, the people on the West Coast thought the Japs were going to land any minute. I mean for about two months after December 7th, ’41, it was touch and go. They even had antiaircraft shooting at nothing. People were just scared to death.

Hayes: There’s a legitimate concern.

Cameron: They were moving troops everywhere.

Hayes: And over here, it wasn’t very long before the U-boats started, that’s the story that we heard, that …

Cameron: Yeah one time while I was at Camp Davis, I remember you could see flames way, way offshore from Wrightsville Beach.

Hayes: Really?!

Cameron: Couldn’t have been over 25-30 miles out.

Hayes: And did you get mail regularly or was everything in pretty good shape, and you could get stuff from home?

Cameron: Where we were, it may be three weeks old.

Hayes: Now let me ask you a personal question here. You hadn’t by chance picked up a wife by this time, had you?

Cameron: Yeah (laughter).

Hayes: You had!!! Now see we missed that. We don’t want to….because you had been out…

Cameron: Four years.

Hayes: So you had married by that point?

Cameron: Yeah. Not to the same girl that I spent 40 years with (laughter).

Hayes: That’s fine, I mean…so that was…

Cameron: That didn’t last too long.

Hayes: So that had ended by the time you got into the service then? You didn’t have…

Cameron: I was not married most of the time I was in the service.

Hayes: I'm getting that because I think people forget that people at home, very hard to have their sons everywhere.

Cameron: Most of the eligible women in Wilmington were married off by that time. And also the Marine base, and Camp Davis, officer training…

Hayes: Now did you ever go to the local USO when you were here in Wilmington? Did you ever stop down to that?

Cameron: No, I don’t think, I can’t remember it even being built. But of course, it was, but I don’t remember. I've never been there.

Hayes: Just curious.

Cameron: It ran quite a while after the war.

Hayes: So anyway, you’re up in California…sorry for that diversion, but it helped us understand what it was like.

Cameron: We went from Camp Cook finally to, shipped out of Portland, Oregon. The first night out, on a Dutch freighter, they had our battalion and about 700 mean and a battalion of tanks on the same ship. So a Dutch freighter, Koda Baru.

Hayes: Was the crew Dutch?

Cameron: Oh yeah.

Hayes: Wow.

Cameron: Captain and all.

Lack: How much did you know about where you were going?

Cameron: Nothing.

Hayes: Cause you were way north if you were shipping out of Oregon.

Lack: Did you guess the Pacific?

Cameron: Oh yeah, of course Portland, Oregon, sail out of Portland and two days later, we were in Los Angeles. The Dutch freighter, they wanted Shell fuel, Dutch fuel, to put back…

Lack: Oh that’s funny, they would only accept that.

Cameron: And then 50 days later…

Hayes: 50 days on the boat?!

Cameron: All together, unescorted we went across the Pacific. We went way south of Hawaii and came into Milne Bay, New Guinea.

Lack: Now when did you ship out, do you remember the date or thereabouts?

Cameron: About February ’44.

Hayes: Now at this point, you were still the executive officer of this whole…

Cameron: I was major then, yeah.

Hayes: You were major and it was a battalion, right?

Cameron: Yes.

Hayes: What did you do to keep sanity with your troops for that long? I mean that’s a confined, hot…

Cameron: Well you cross the Equator and you cut all your hair off and that kind of thing.

Hayes: Oh good. But did you still try to do some training or classes?

Cameron: Well whatever you could do to keep occupied. Nothing productive that I can remember.

Hayes: Cause that was a long time. And did you have a stop between…

Cameron: Stayed on that ship, we went way south to keep out of submarine’s way cause we didn’t have a ______ at all, no other ships. It was a long trip. Milne Bay is in New Guinea and it must be one of the greatest harbors in the world. For some reason, we were putting another anchor down, you could hear the chains, the links were about that big. I remember seeing that old anchor, hear it go down making a heck of a racket. Kept on going, kept on going, (laughter) and started yelling that the brakes were trying to stop it and the smoke was pouring out. After a while, (laughter) the anchor, chain and all went to the bottom.

Hayes: It just broke!!!

Cameron: Just ran out (laughter). The water was so deep, the chain wasn’t long enough to hit bottom.

Hayes: You must have been about the third highest ranking officer on the boat.

Cameron: Well the tank lieutenant had a lieutenant colonel and a major and we had the same thing.

Hayes: So who dealt with the Dutch crew then, your boss?

Cameron: Well there wasn’t much dealing to do. Princess Juliana had had a birthday and so the field grade officers were invited up to have a drink of Dutch gin and that was the only drink we got on the trip. We had plenty of gin, but they didn’t offer…

Lack: It’s better than nothing.

Hayes: That’s something. They were transporting and you were riding, that was the… Now at that point, New Guinea was…

Cameron: We were staging, I guess, MacArthur was in charge of everything in that area. They had had before we got there, they had a big, terrible fight just south of where we landed. I can’t think of the name of the area. We lost a lot of men there, lost a lot of men to malaria and that kind of stuff too. But they were staging, they had made, Hollandia was just north of where we were, without much of a fight, but at that time there was an island. I would have to get a globe to show it, but it was I guess it was east of New Guinea, probably 500 or 600 miles from where we were, maybe more, but it was Hollandia. Hollandia was reputed to have about a half a million Japs on it. I guess we were staging for that. ?Truc Island was just north of us between the Philippines and where we were and that was supposed to be a terrible fight there. Guadalcanal and all that stuff had been earlier, but we were real close to that relatively in the same vicinity.

Hayes: This is towards the end of the island hopping campaign and ready to go on to the Philippines.

Cameron: That’s right and MacArthur had the south part of Australia. He was based on Australia at that time. He moved up to Hollandia while we were there. He was north of where we were then and there wasn’t much going on. The Marines were still having to fight and I can’t remember, they were island hopping and killing a whole lot of people, theirs and otherwise. Hollandia was supposed to be a real terrible fight and MacArthur, in my opinion, is responsible for a whole lot of American boys being alive today, the way he fought the war. He didn’t fight island by island. But instead of going in there, trying to land on Hollandia, the Ellend Island, a group of islands maybe 100 miles from Hollandia, wasn’t far enough so that planes could operate, and he went in there and took enough of the islands to put an air base in. They sent the Air Force in there and they’d sink the Jap ships you know as fast as they got there. We just didn’t go to the ?Ellend Island.

Hayes: Bypassed it completely.

Cameron: Yeah, 400,000-500,000 Japs, just left them there.

Hayes: That’s good.

Cameron: In the meantime, something similar, ?Truc Island, they had a fight there, but it wasn’t anything like they’d been planning and eliminated Truc Island and that was a real tough when that Truc Island was supposed to be…and pretty well as best as I can recollect, that would clear most of the way between there and the Philippines.

Hayes: So you’re on the boat, what’s next?

Cameron: Well we landed at a place called Finnschaven is where we got off the boat, north of Manila Bay and we camped there. We stayed there as long as I was there. There was a lot of stuff that was happening at that time.

Hayes: Well that’s good.

Cameron: My father died, he died, the Normandy Invasion was June 6, 1944. Of course that happened while we were there. My father died July 17, a little over a month later and I didn’t hear about it for two to three weeks. Next thing I knew, I had orders to come home.

Hayes: Really?! You think it was because of that?

Cameron: Yeah.

Hayes: Of course you had also been in for a very long time. Did your points come around to the point where….

Cameron: No, I had no idea, wasn’t even thinking about coming home. He operated on the gasoline terminals here transported and operated barges, moving petroleum products inland. We had to have had that equipment before and he had been operating it and somebody thought it was important enough to get me out from here.

Hayes: Interesting, and do you know what happened to your unit after that?

Cameron: Yeah.

Hayes: They went to the Philippines?

Cameron: They went to the Philippines and stayed there for a while and I don’t think they ever had a casualty.

Hayes: Oh that’s good.

Cameron: And they went in same as MacArthur, that’s the one you see with MacArthur waving ashore. They went in on that invasion, didn’t lose any people there and then after that, they moved to Japan and went in the army occupation.

Hayes: So you can kind of look back and see where you were headed anyway.

Cameron: Yeah, that’s what I would have done. The colonel was promoted. If I had stayed there, I probably would have been a battalion commander I guess.

Hayes: So you get a message that says come home?

Cameron: Yeah, that’s the first I knew, got a telegram.

Hayes: And how did y ou get home? Long flight or ..?

Cameron: No, put on a ship and came back across the ocean.

Hayes: Oh no, not 50 days I hope (laughter).

Cameron: (Laughter) No. That was the prettiest sight I ever saw was that bridge in San Francisco, the Golden Gate.

Lack: Is that where you landed?

Hayes: By this time, we’re talking…

Cameron: I had four years.

Hayes: Four years, that’s a long time.

Cameron: By the time my so-called leave was up, it was an even four years.

Hayes: You did your duty, that’s for sure.

Cameron: Well, I did the best I could. They had a clear shot at me for four years (laughter). I was disappointed you know that you stay with an outfit like that and can’t help but see what you did.

Hayes: And did you maintain friendships with many of those people?

Cameron: Some of them, one or two in particular. The colonel and I were close friends, but of course he’s been dead a long time. I had one friend in Los Angeles that had been my first lieutenant when I was captain and we were close friends. A lot of them, you know, some of them you liked and some of them you didn’t think were worth a damn. You couldn’t do anything about it.

Hayes: It sounded like a good group though.

Cameron: Yeah.

Hayes: Just to survive 50 days going across the ocean sounds to me like ….

Cameron: All of them didn’t like me too well. I always felt you know you had a bunch of kids and I was damn near one, but you felt like you were responsible for them and the best way to protect them was to try to train them to know what they’re doing. Not goof off.

Hayes: Well it’s dangerous business. Those guns were extremely dangerous to work around, were they not?

Cameron: Well I wouldn’t think so. In the Air Force, they pretty well at the time we got there, the Japs didn’t have much Air Force. By the time they left the Philippines, of course, they didn’t even have…

Lack: When was it that you came back to the US. Around what date was it that you came back?

Cameron: I got here some time in October ’44.

Lack: That’s pretty good.

Hayes: To get from San Francisco clear back to Wilmington, what was that, a train ride and a half?

Cameron: I'm sure it was train. I can’t, I remember one trip. I was coming home from Fort Bliss, it was a real coincidence, my grandmother had been to visit my sister in New Orleans. Her husband, he was a major in the Army and was stationed in New Orleans in charge of boats. My sister Hilda Eckles, he was a major, Dan was a captain and I was a major. We were the only three males in our family that were eligible. But anyway I had a plane ticket, I guess to Atlanta, I don’t remember where, but they canceled out somewhere in Louisiana. I can’t remember the town. That was it. There weren’t any other planes that go, they just don’t. And so I just got somewhere on a train and got to New Orleans. That was another go-round. You had to try to get another train and you didn’t have any reservations anywhere. So I was at the railroad station in New Orleans and all of a sudden, there’s my grandmother (laughter) who was going home. It was the last person in the world.

Hayes: You’re kidding!!!

Cameron: (Laughter) So we rode home to Wilmington together.

Hayes: Isn’t that amazing?

Cameron: Just happened to see her, didn’t have any idea that she was…

Lack: What was she doing down there?

Cameron: She’d been visiting my sister who was stationed there in New Orleans.

Hayes: Isn’t that something. Now did you…

Cameron: She’s the lady I named the building out here, Cape Fear Academy, Cameron Hall Building there, Rachel Trask, that was Rachel Trask.

Hayes: Well we’re about done with this odyssey.

Cameron: I'm sorry I couldn’t give you more exciting…

Hayes: Oh no, no, no, that’s fine. Excitement isn’t what we’re after. We’re just after history so that’s…and everybody served in a different way. But if some grandson or grand-daughter looked at you and said what did you learn from this experience, what kinds of things would you say to them. I mean for this time in the war that you served. What did you gain from it?

Cameron: I don’t know, if anything. It had its good points you know. It was an experience and at that age, I think most any good part of the male members and a lot of the female members would hate to have missed it. I would have hated to have it gone by and had spent my time at the shipyard or a drafting firm of some kind. I think that is something you would think about the rest of your life and wish you had done something different.

Hayes: Seems to me that you were actually doing very executive business management type things at a very young age.

Cameron: Well, there wasn’t anybody else. Of course as far as the Army goes, there’s lots of young men that were officers. Some of these Air Corps boys would be colonels at 25 because some of the casualty rates were running real high.

Hayes: And the question always is if you had to do it again, you think you would have done it the same way?

Cameron: Well yeah, I was disappointed that, you know, that this damn fool thing, we had a little bit different experience, but I really didn’t have a thing to do with it.

Hayes: Okay, thank you, that’s wonderful, perfect timing, 57 minutes.

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