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William Henry Todd

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War & Locale: World War II -- Pacific Theater

Date of Birth:
08-03-1923
Interviewed by:
William R. Todd-Mancillas
Military Unit:
Army

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By Katie Gibson

For William Henry Todd, enlisting in the National Guard and serving during World War II transformed him from a child to a man.

"The Army was a school for me. It taught me many things," Todd said. "When I joined the National Guard, I didn't have anything ... to call my own.

"For the first time in my life, I was standing on my own two feet.”

Todd spent the first 12 years of his life living in Arizpe, Mexico, and other towns in the Sonoma River Valley. His father was Anglo, hence his last name. His mother, Marí¬a Luisa Urtiz, was a native of Mexico; in Mexico, it's customary to take both the father and mother's last names.

Todd's parents divorced when he was five, and he lived with his mother. His older siblings, Robert and Clara, moved from the United States, where they lived with their dad, to Mexico after their father died. At the age of 7, Todd met his siblings for the first time.

His mother supported her family with a variety of jobs. His father, a self-taught man, had practiced professional dentistry, which he taught to Todd's mother. For a period, she offered her dentistry skills door-to-door. Despite their poverty and even a Christmas without toys, Todd said his mother was "very capable and always had some food to make. It wasn't always suffering."

In 1935, his mother decided to move the family to the U.S. As luck would have it, she won a racehorse in a raffle; she sold it and spent the money to move the family to Nogales, N.M.

In Nogales, 12-year-old Todd was placed in the first grade, though he'd completed the fourth grade in Mexico.

"I knew not one word in English," said Todd, who eventually picked it up by parroting his teacher's words.

By 1940, he’d completed the eighth grade. And on Feb. 28, 1940, he enlisted in the Arizona National Guard at the age of 16. He was immediately put into Company A, 158th Regimental Combat Team of the 45th Division. This group would later be called the Arizona Bushmasters after service in Panama.

In written correspondence with the Project, Todd said the National Guard paid a $2 incentive to enlistees who recruited another person, so Todd received $2 when his brother William enlisted, and gave William 25 cents.

Todd trained to be a radio operator. He and his regiment were ordered to active duty by presidential declaration of national emergency on Sept. 18, 1940, then moved to Fort Sill in Oklahoma and later to Camp Barkeley, near Abilene, Texas.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Todd remembers being out of camp on a pass at a wooden skating rink when a worker at the rink asked him, "Hey soldier, you want to hear some news?"

"I didn't even know where Pearl Harbor was," Todd said. The full impact of the news came to him hours later, when he saw kids selling newspapers with headlines screaming "WAR."

He returned to Camp Barkeley in turmoil. And in early January, he was shipped to Panama, arriving there by ship from the Port of New Orleans.

His regiment's duty was to protect strategic areas in Panama, and the locks along the Panama Canal from Japanese attacks. Todd was assigned to a rifle platoon while there, going into the jungle for days, living off peanuts and raisins.

In January of 1943, Todd found himself sailing in a barge somewhere in the Pacific. For 30 days, the ships zigzagged endlessly to avoid detection from Japanese submarines. The regiment disembarked in Brisbane, Australia, and spent a couple months training there. After a couple days, Todd contracted malaria and was sent to Townsville, Australia, to recuperate.

A month later, he returned to his unit on Kiriwina Island, in the Trobriand Islands in northern New Guinea. The regiment was moved to New Guinea’s French Fen, where the 158th Regimental Combat Team was formed. The new regiment became known as the Bushmasters.

In his first battle, the regiment was ordered to eliminate a group of Japanese across a cornfield. When they advanced, "all hell broke loose." Upon reaching the end of the field, the men came under heavy machine gun fire.

"I was very scared but nothing was going to make me weaken," Todd said. "I was very determined."

The next morning, he was an experienced combat soldier.

"We came out and nothing had happened to me," he said. "I was an experienced soldier. I felt indestructible."

After that victory, Todd's unit fought in the Battle of Lone Tree Hill, from May 26 through May 29, 1944. The unit was nearly surrounded, but they maneuvered in enough time to fool the enemy.

At the Battle of Slaughter Hill in May of 1944 in Comfier, Dutch New Guinea, his unit faced a mass suicide attack. Only one man from Todd's unit was killed, compared to 201 Japanese. When fighting ended, he was among a group assigned to count the dead. Two Japanese soldiers were captured, one named Ogata, whom Todd would come to know as a friend.

Ogata, like many Japanese soldiers, was appreciative of the American troops' medical aid and food. He assisted the American troops in talking the Japanese into surrendering peacefully and helped the Japanese understand that the U.S. troops didn’t want to kill them.

Todd believes Ogata saved his life when he prevented a Japanese man resisting capture from throwing a hand grenade at him.

"Ogata jumped on him and convinced him that we were there to help," Todd said.

Todd had Ogata's full name and address on a note, but has since lost the note. The day his regiment moved out was the last time he saw Ogata. If he could see him again, he "would want to hug him hard. I don't think there's anything I could say to him.”

"Ogata was a very educated and honorable Japanese soldier," Todd said.

When they met, Ogata said he didn't want to return to Japan because he'd dishonored his family by being captured.

"To me, he was not an enemy and was not a disgrace to his race."

On Jan. 11, 1945, they went on to assault the Philippines’ Luzon, where they were heavily engaged, fighting many battles until opposition lessened in May of 1945.

Todd was discharged May 25, 1945, three months before the war's end and after 40 months of serving overseas. The day before his discharge, he learned his brother, Robert, had been killed in action. Sgt. Robert L. Todd had served as a gunner in a B-17 in the European Theater. Todd’s brother-in-law, Robert Downing, was shot down in a B-17 over Germany and was a prisoner of war for more than a year, until he was rescued after the war.

Post-WWII life was difficult for Todd at first.

"I didn't know what to do with myself," he said. "I was a ship without a rudder."

He knew he wanted to become a mechanical engineer, so, in 1946 he enrolled at the University of Arizona, where he was among the first group of WWII veterans. He received his degree in engineering in 1957 and worked for various entities, including Douglas Aircraft Co. in Long Beach, Calif, (later known as McDonnel Douglas), Aerojet General, North American Aviation and United Electrodynamics.

Todd, married Helen Mancillas, in 1947. Together they had four children before divorcing in 1965. A second marriage, to Ana Lavin, ended in divorce in 1985.

At the time of his interview, Todd lived in Coloni¬a Industria in Magdalena de Kino, Sonora, Mexico, and still met with other Bushmasters annually. The regiment's last reunion was in 2005.

Mr. Todd was interviewed in Phoenix, Arizona, on September 11, 2001, by William R. Todd-Mancillas.

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