Just recently we had a visitor. Dr. Robert P. Harrison who is the head guy down at Lake Michigan College stopped by to visit on our back porch. Beautiful sunny morning and my Chief Accountant and I were glad to see him. His father, Robert Paul Harrison served in the China, Burma and India Theater of War, just as I did way back in ‘the Big One,’ as Archie Bunker called WWII. Here is how it came about… Col. Don Alsbro is the head of the veterans’ organization called Lest We Forget. He also teaches at Lake Michigan College. When Bob Harrison said he is planning a trip to China to see where his father served, Col. Don told him I was also over there. Thus he came to visit us, bringing a book he had put together about his dad with pictures and all. We were at some of the same places! Bob’s father, Sgt. Robert Paul Harrison went into WWII just as many of us did. He enlisted because he knew the draft was coming, as it was for all of us. Then a stroke of good fortune. He was given a regular army serial number instead of a draftee’s number. Everywhere he went thereafter it gave him a slight edge over the regular inductees. And he was sent for medical training at Selfridge Field. He wound up in a field hospital unit much like the M.A.S.H. unit of TV fame later. And he was in charge of the X ray lab, with his own generator. From California after Christmas of 1943 they left a blacked-out Los Angeles on the troopship SS Mariposa. Across the Pacific they wound their way, zigzagging to avoid Japanese submarines. Finally they landed in Bombay, India. Then across the continent on those Indian narrow-gauge railways. Now I know something about that rail system, because a good friend of mine, Loren Pawling, was running trains on India’s railways. For all I know, Bob Harrison Sr. may have been on one of Loren’s trains. Coaches were small with wooden seats along each side. When they passed through towns, little kids would run alongside, begging for candy, gum, or any of the other luxuries they knew American GIs had. From Calcutta they traveled clear up to the Assam Valley in the northeast corner of India. There they staged at one of the air fields… this was about the same time I was there. And they were all flown across the Hump in one of our transports. Again, I might have seen Bob Harrison’s dad and never knew who he was at the time. There were thousands of us and we were in an all-out effort to push the Japanese right out of China and into the ocean. Sgt. Harrison’s Medical Unit was stationed at Kunming, China, and then transferred to Yunnan-yi, half way back towards India. There they provided medical care for the AVG (American Volunteer Group). These were the famed pilots who had sharks’ teeth painted on the nose of their airplanes. We were flying in drums of 100 octane gas to fuel all of their airplanes. I think I went into Yunnan-yi airbase one time, and we flew past it every time we went to Kunming and other fields with our load of gasoline. Just west of that base there is a mountain we called Tali-fu. Its peak rears up almost to 15,000 ft. and we carefully avoided it when we were flying on instruments. There Sgt. Harrison’s unit stayed until the war was over… they never heard that hostilities had ended after we dropped the atomic bombs until three days later. They finally made it back to the States and discharge in time for Christmas, 1945. Ironic how Sgt. Harrison’s timing and mine were so close together… I got back and was transferred into the Air Force reserve about the same time. We were there at the same time and the same places, but never ran into each other. Now Bob Harrison is planning a trip to visit the places where his dad spent so much time. In some ways I envy him, getting to go on such a trip. They will fly across the ocean in a huge 747 jet. Not much like the C-54 prop driven airplane I crossed the ocean in. How well I remember looking out at the endless Atlantic… with the waves looking like gray corduroy. We sat on our back porch while Bob Harrison told us of his plans. Actually, I would not want to make that trip again. They have to sit in an airplane for about 18 hours until they reach Beijing. My Chief Accountant had some advice for Bob. She said, “On a long airplane ride, move your legs and feet to keep blood circulating!” My advice to him would be to keep his seat belt on unless he wants to get up and go to the rest room. I never flew without my belt on… I have seen the results of clear-air turbulence. Passengers and luggage can get thrown around without warning! For Bob Harrison this is going to be the trip of a lifetime! And we will be anxiously waiting to have him visit after he returns and show us pictures. Those days were so long ago. And yet it was only yesterday I was stationed on an airbase in the middle of a tea plantation in the Assam Valley. And mornings on the plain of Burma, living in tents. I shaved with water in my steel pot helmet on a stand of bamboo, with a steel mirror fixed to the post in front of me. And to the east always the forbidding peaks of the Himalayas, the highest mountains in the world. I very carefully avoided looking at the thunderstorms building on their slopes. I wish for Bob a safe and happy trip. But I have been there… done that. And now I would much rather talk about it on our back screened porch in this story book town along the Paw Paw River! Next: The only story I ever wrote about the Flying Tigers.
90 years ago – 1926
During the week of Oct. 1, 1926, Paw Paw Ave. was paved for the first time. The road improvement was completed before the winter came in. Darrel Osgood, graduate of Watervliet High School, will leave On Oct. 4, 1926 for Valparaiso, Indiana, where he plans to enter Valparaiso University. The Pere Marquette has announced they will have continuous year round $5.35 round trip passenger fare Watervliet to Chicago.
60 years ago – 1956
The city commission was informed by Watervliet Mayor Bridges that the city may shortly be confronted with the necessity of chlorinating its water supply. The removal of iron and algae from the city’s water supply might make such a move necessary. This matter was referred to the water committee with instruction to report back. Pvt. Ronald L. Ray, son of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Ray, Watervliet, recently arrived in Alaska from Fort Lewis, Washington, as part of Operation Gyroscope, the Army’s unit rotation plan. Ray is a member of the 2nd Infantry Division, which is changing stations with the 71st Infantry Division. Pvt. Lewis W. Mohler, son of Walter G. Mohler, Watervliet, was a member of the Headquarters and Service Company softball team which recently won the 499th Engineer Battalion Championship in German. Lewis, regularly assigned as a radio operator in the company, was a right fielder on the team.
30 years ago – 1986
The “Skills for Living” class was off to a great start for the 1986 school year. The class enjoyed a sharing and caring unit. This is when the students bring in an important object or symbol to the group. The students describe how they feel about the object and its significance to them. This is a very worthwhile activity in terms of helping the students get to know one another and reinforcing the idea that, in this class, students can talk about things that are important to them and receive attention and respect from others. WHS welcomed 50 new students on Sep. 19, 1986. Watervliet Student council was very proud of having so many new students in the high school.
100 years ago – 1916
Pierpont Morgan knew the value of thrift. Come in today and start an account at the State Bank of Coloma.
E. Coburn, the grocer, suffered another loss at the hands of robbers. About 9 p.m. he went to the cash drawer and found every cent had been stolen. A deal was completed whereby August Frick sold the Coloma Garage to Robert Kibler, located at the corner of Centre and Paw Paw streets.
60 years ago – 1956
State Food Inspector James Kibler suffered a broken leg at the Benton Harbor fruit market. He was pinned between two trucks and rushed to Mercy hospital. William Martin, patrolman at the corner of US12 and West Street during the school year, will receive a wage increase. He will now be getting $90 per month. Miss Homara Umphrey and Larry Hathaway, Coloma high graduates, entered the Twin City Community college. “Get Acquainted” night will be featured at the Boyer school. Mrs. Jack Crary, publicity chairman announced that membership will be discussed. Pier School has a present enrollment of 211 students. Remodeling is expected to conclude in time for occupancy.
30 years ago – 1986
Deer Forest sold for $350,000. New owner Melvyn Bill of Little Rock, Arkansas intends on opening on schedule. Sanford Walke IV, Coloma High School senior, posted a top score 238/240 in the National Merits Scholarship tests. William Goldner is this week’s Watervliet Business Associations 300 Club winner. Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Rogers and Mr. and Mrs. Ronnie Clark and children Tim, Jeff and Amy attend the W. B. Rogers family reunion. The event was held in the Atherton woods. Gladys Voit will host a meeting for the planning of CHS Class of 72’s reunion. For further information, call Ken Kraiger, Darlene Jordan or Lyn Reinhardt.
HARTFORD DAY SPRING
100 years ago – 1916
The paving of Main Street is finally completed and the entire street was opened to traffic Monday afternoon. The work was completed Friday with the exception of a small space in front of the Teitsworth & Mantle and the O.M. Smith stores, which had to be closed when the supply of asphalt used for filling the crevices between the brick became exhausted. More asphalt was received Saturday and Orange Hutchins took charge of the completion of the work on Monday.
75 years ago – 1941
The clear tones of the church bell that for years summoned worshippers to the Congregational church on South Maple Street are now to be heard from the belfry of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on East Main Street, and there the bell will carry on the service for which earlier churchmen of Hartford selected it many years ago. The Catholic Church organization has purchased the bell from Stoddard Post of the American Legion. The Legionnaires acquired the Congregational church property some time ago. The purchase of the bell by the Congregationalists nearly fifty years ago is recalled by older residents of the town as a church project attended by colorful ceremonies.
50 years ago – 1966
Neil L. Schaus, son of Mr. and Mrs. Dan L. Ekstrom Jr., was commissioned an Army second lieutenant upon graduation with honors from Engineer officer candidate school at Fort Belvoir, VA., on Aug.19. Bill Barlow of Hartford was the grand prize winner in the House of David final Chic Bell talent show held on Labor Day, Sep. 5. Barlow received $100 first prize from Jack King, producer of the show. In competition he sang, “Shadow of your Smile” and “Exodus”, accompanied by Miss Ruth Ann Davis.
This photo probably sparks a memory for many who spent time at Bill Stewart’s Miniature Golf.
Please contact the North Berrien Historical Society at 269-468-3330 if you have photos or information you would like to share about Bill Stewart’s.