“I was 18 years old and skinny as a stick. I never thought they’d take me,” said World War II veteran Arthur Weaver, who will be honored by fellow veterans at the Freeport Recreation Center on Monday, November 11. “But there I was – at 38 Whitehall Street. A man at a lectern looked down at my papers and stamped rejected, but then he changed his mind. He stamped my papers ‘accepted’ and told me to report the following day, 6 a.m. platform 17 at Penn Station.”
Like many young men, Mr. Weaver had no idea of what lay ahead. It was July 1944; the second World War was raging. In a few short months Mr. Weaver would be literally knee- deep in the dirt on the island of Leyte in the Philippines, one of many soldiers who participated in the U.S. Army’s Philippines Campaign of 1994-1945 that drove the Imperial Japanese Army out of the Philippines.
Over the next two years Mr. Weaver would overcome many travails including a near death experience and racism, but as he left the induction office that day he said he went “to the Paramount to see a movie with a friend instead of going home because my mother would have performed! I can’t remember the movie, but it was with Yvonne De Carlo,” said Mr. Weaver.
At the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Mr. Weaver took leadership training and brought two units through basic training. He was there three months before he was shipped out to the Philippines. “There were 11 ships in our convoy. We knew that the convoy was supposed to be part of the invasion of Japan. We headed to Leyte Island and then I was sent up to Clark Field.”
In January of 1945 the United States Army took control of Clark Field, 40 miles northeast of Manila. The field had been in Japanese hands since 1941.
It was in Clark Field that Mr. Weaver almost lost his life. “In the Philippines, they have this thick clay, then sand and I was in a hole working when I looked up and all this clay and sand hit me in the chest. I was buried up to my shoulders and my buddies were chopping with their shovels trying to get me out. I remember that I couldn’t breathe,” he said.
Mr.Weaver spent 29 days in a hospital and then was shipped first to Quezon City, a suburb of Manila and then to Subic Bay where there was an American Naval Base facility.
“I was in the 1964 Engineer Aviation Depot Company. It was our job to help unload the cargo,” he said.
Segregation was an accepted fact of life during World War II and Mr Weaver served in an African-American unit, separate from his white comrades.
Mr. Weaver said that while most of the white officers were “pretty good,” to the African-American soldiers under their command, he recalls one white captain who treated the African American soldiers poorly.
“The Navy guys gave us this refrigerator and we walked back to our base. We were living on dehydrated food, real slop and now we could store some real food. But our captain - O’Mara - he asked us if we stole it. He just took it from us and sold it to the Philippinos,” said Mr. Weaver.
“ A buddy of mine was real mad and when the Inspector General came around, he brought him a tray of the gray goo and said ‘this is what we eat,’ and told him what happened with the refrigerator,” he said. “That Captain was removed.”
Despite this experience, Mr.Weaver decided to join the Reserves in 1947 and was called to serve during the Korea conflict. Mr. Weaver remained in the Reserve for 32 years. “I went in as a T5 technician 5th grade and left as a Master Sergeant in 1986,” he said.
Mr. Weaver is the former President of the 369 Veterans Assocation, Queens district also known as the Harlem Hellfighters - 15th Regiment, New York Guard and when he moved to Freeport in 1968 he became involved with the American Legion.
In September, Mr. Weaver was an honoree on the honor flight from MacArthur Airport to Baltimore Washington International Airport where a waiting motor coach took Mr. Weaver and other WW II veterans to Washington D.C., and the WW II Memorial where government officials honored the vets for their service. “It was a wonderful experience,” said Mr. Weaver.
On Monday, November 11 Mr. Weaver will be honored during the Freeport American Legion’s Veteran’s Day celebration at the Freeport Recreation Center at 10 a.m. The public is encouraged to attend.