Photo courtesy of The Lusk Herald
Last updated: November 15, 2010
The Lusk Herald
November 10, 2010
By Jeanne Peterson
A young wife was listening to Sunday radio when she heard the announcement the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. She knew immediately Sam Thomas (Samuel Malter "Sam" Thomas Jr.), her husband of two years, would be leaving her and their young son behind as he responded to the nation's call.
"Sam was in ROTC at the University of Wyoming," recalled Ruth Thomas Manring, "so he was still in the reserves while teaching school at Fairview School about 35 miles north of Lusk. Within six weeks he was in the infantry."
Her current husband of 27 years, Darryl Mannring didn't hear the news until the next day, Dec. 8. He was teaching at Sunflower School about 10 miles northeast of Mitchell, Nebraska. He happened to be taking his grades in to Gering, when a colleague shared the news.
By summer he was working on the air base at Alliance, Neb.; ironically the same base where Ruth's father worked. Although the two men met and had visited, they couldn't know that eventually there would be a family connection. Darryl joined the navy but attended the University of Wyoming for a year, entered the V-7 program and then the V-12 program, the latter in Minot, North Dakota. Both programs prepared him for mid-shipman training at Columbia University in New York City. He earned the rank of ensign in 1944.
When Sam left, Ruth and little Donny made their home in Harrison, Nebraska, with her parents, Anson and Nellie Johns. Ruth was able to visit him in Monterey, California, about a year later during which time he learned he would be leaving for somewhere overseas. Complete secrecy surrounded all troop movements, so when she returned home, she could only guess where he was going.
Sam was sent to the Attu Island off the coast of Alaska in 1943, where they were in a battle with the Japanese to recapture the area. It was there he was critically wounded on May 26 when a bullet pierced his chest diagonally, damaging the nerve in his right arm and severing his spinal column. He spent 18 days on a hospital ship where patients received minimal care. He was sedated during most of the trip from Attu Island to Vancouver, Washington. He told his family later that he would occasionally awaken and hear the services for those buried at sea.
About two weeks after he was wounded, Ruth received a telegram from the War Department stating that her husband had been severely wounded in action. The telegraph girl who delivered it could not bear to look Ruth in the eye so she delivered it to Ruth's father. There were no further details, but through the Red Cross, she began to receive bits and pieces of information. Authorities were only allowed to tell her what Sam wanted his family to know. So it was weeks before they learned his true condition. Eventually, he was able to dictate letters to a Red Cross "Gray Lady", a courtesy for which his wife was most grateful.
"It was a horrible thing," Ruth said. "I hate to even think about it. I had two little kids. The baby was five months old and I had two year old Donny."
"At first, he struggled with bitterness , but while hospitalized, he saw patients worse off than he, and realized that since his paraplegia would be a permanent condition, he had better make the best of what he had left," said Ruth. "Although he was hospitalize for over two years, his goal was to return home to be with his family."
During the action at Attu, so many officers were killed that Second Lieutenant Sam Thomas assumed responsibilities beyond his rank and experience. For his valor, he received the Silver Star.
Darryl became the navigator of an LST 565 (Landing Ship Tank) and sailed from New Orleans around Guantanomo through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific Theater. The amphibious navy vehicle beached on Leyte Island in the Philippine Islands on October 20, 1944, where they left behind 19 tanks.
"General Douglas McArthur, came from a cruiser to land in the bay on pontoons, but a Japanese soldier concealed under a heap of rubble came out of hiding and took a pot shot at him. A grader drove over the rubble and killed him," remembered Darryl.
He particularly admired Admiral Kincaid.
"He saved the day in Leyte. One P-58 sighted the Japanese coming through the back channel," said Darryl. "Bull Hallsey was off loosing the Princeton (a carrier off Formaosa). He wasn't where he was supposed to be. If Admiral Kincaid hadn't had his reconnaissance planes (scouting), the Japanese could have come in through the back door and destroyed the whole American fleet. We always thought a lot of him for saving our bacon."
In the meantime, Sam spent the next two years in various hospitals as doctors tried to help he and other paraplegics recover physically from their wounds and adapt themselves to new circumstances.
"At that point, the life expectancy of a paraplegic was about 10 years, but medical technology began to change all that," said Ruth.
In the Pacific front, Darryl was sent to Okinawa, and eventually to Nagasaki about 30 days after the atomic bomb was dropped there on August 9, 1945.
"It was an island with beautiful harbors. Thousands had been killed but we did not see the victims. The most amazing thing was that tall smoke stacks had just melted and were bent over," said Darryl.
On a lighter note, he recalled eating at a geisha house.
"The people were so short you could hardly get in the buildings, but they were building tremendously large ships. We were amazed at their skills. After the war, their large commercial ships sailed all over the world."
His group was the first in Wakayama in the Kobe area.
"The U.S.S. Colorado was laying projectiles on them (at Naha, Okininawa, the capital), but they had underground railroads and those were hard to hit," Darryl recalled. The Japanese would fire from one spot of the underground railroad, and by the time the Americans trained their sites on that spot, the Japanese, via the railroad, would be firing from another spot altogether.
"We took a group of army guys into Nakajama. We heard later they were all killed the first day. That was hard. We'd gotten acquainted with those guys. The Marines raised the flag on Iwo Jima. Taking Okinawa was a real job. The journalist Ernie Pyle was killed on Ieshima, an island about west of Okinawa. He was climbing the cone shaped mountain when he was hit," said Darryl.
He was in Taguchi Harbor when the three surrender planes flew over en route to Manilla for the formal Japanese surrender to General MacAthur and the Allies. Each plane had a cross painted on its belly. The trio was flanked by P38's, a unit of reconnaisance planes that regularly reported to Admiral Kincaid. The escort was to ensure the surrender delegation followed through with the prescribed plan.
"We shot down a Kamikaze pilot. He wasn't after us. He was after our communications ship, Darryl recalled. He and the sole other living officer from his group still keep in touch.
Sam recovered enough to return to his beloved teaching. He taught mathematics at Niobrara County High School for two years.
"Of course, in those days there was no handicap access, so getting to and from the classroom was very difficult," said Ruth. Dale Gunn and Malter Larson, whom she remembers as freshman, were two of the boys who helped him get to school and up the stairs to his classroom.
"It was too hard to manage steps," Ruth said, "but he loved teaching."
The fall of 1947, he was called to Hines, Illinois, where a program designed to train paraplegics became available.
Sam and Ruth assumed the program would last a month or two, but it lasted 15 months. Ruth was able to visit twice, once with the children and once with her sister. It was a long trip with two children on 55 miles an hour roads into dense traffic and unfamiliar surroundings.
As much as Sam loved teaching the steps to the building and inside it posed too great a problem. He became a bookkeeper for Lamb Construction. He could work at home where his environment was accessible. He enjoyed this work very much and was "Shorty" Lamb's bookkeeper for 17 years. His woodworking shop and their yard and garden became his hobbies. He spent about 10 years as a leader of 4-H woodworking.
"It was a good thing I am a morning person," said Ruth, "because it took two hours every morning to help him get ready before he could even have breakfast. It took another two hours to get him ready for bed. We just had to plan," said Ruth.
Sam's health began to deteriorate about 1960 and initially he spent two years in the Long Beach California Veterans' Hospital, which was a center for paraplegics. Ruth found a place to live nearby and visited him daily. After undergoing several surgeries, each time semi-conscious for several weeks, he began to improve and eventually was able to return to their home in Lusk.
"Fortunately, our children were both in college by that time," said Ruth. "We spent the next 15 years about half time in Lusk and half time in Long Beach."
Sam died in 1978 from complications of his condition.
After the war was over, Darryl returned to Lusk to teach summer band at Lusk High School. His band performed during the first performance of the 1946 Legend of Rawhide Pageant. He went on to teach at Peru State from 1949 - 1960 and at Illinois State University from 1962-1982. His wife passed away in 1981. When he retired, he returned to Lusk because his mother was ill.
Ruth was working at the newly constructed nursing home as activity director. Darryl's mother was a resident.
"I knew her children when they were small and she knew my mom. She's been directing my activities ever since," quipped Darryl. They were married in 1983.
Ruth identifies with the young Americans serving in combat zones around the globe, particularly with those who have been injured. She understands firsthand their sacrifices and those of their families will extend indefinitely.
"The war was never over for us," she said solemnly. "You think about all these young people today. They and their families will live with it the rest of their lives."
Their service continues.
End: Only one officer from Darryl's ship still lives and the two still keep in touch.
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