Otto Glass was the first young man in his hometown of St. Mary’s, Ohio drafted in World War II. He went in the Army Air Force almost a year before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
“We were riding back to Ohio in Army trucks from maneuvers down in Louisiana when a civilian yelled to us: ‘Are you headed for Pearl Harbor to fight the Japanese?’ We knew nothing about the Japanese attack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl,” the 92-year-old Clearwater resident who was visiting his son, Bill, at his condo in Placida said.
“When we arrived in Dayton, Ohio they gave us 10 days to get our personal affairs in order before we were sent to California on a troop train. We boarded an ocean liner in San Francisco and it took us 22 days to zig-zag us to Melbourne, Australia.”
Glass was a private in the 4th Air Depot Group out of Dayton. Their job: Assemble crated P-40 “Warhawk” and F2A Brewster “Buffalo” fighter planes and later in the war, P-38s.
“When we first arrived in Australia I was a private and my job was KP, guard duty and cleaning toilets,” he said with a smile. “Later I got to work on the planes.”
The Japanese were about to invade Australia from their bases in Guam in the spring of 1942 when the American invasion force intervened. The turning point came during the Battle of the Coral Sea in May of that year after the U.S. Navy played havoc with the Imperial Japanese Air Corps.
“Just before the Battle of the Coral Sea we were issued rifles and told we would be on the front lines if the Japanese invaded Australia. Had the Japanese won the battle we might have been their prisoners.
“By that time we were stationed in Townsville, in northern Australia, and so was Gen. Mac Arthur. He arrived there after he escaped the Japanese in the Philippines and was smuggled out to safety aboard a PT Boat,” Glass explained. “He was there regrouping with his men for the invasion of the Philippines.
“Because I had been in Australia so long by then I got a pass and took a train to Melbourne. When my pass was up I went out to the local air force base and hopped a flight back to Townsville where my unit with a guy flying a B -25 bomber,” he said. “I told him I needed to get a parachute. But he said, ‘You don’t need a ‘chute because we’re flying so low.’ I sat in the co-pilots seat as he skimmed the tops of the trees on the way back to base.
“When I returned they gave me a rifle and a .45 pistol and made me a guard on a train that had a couple of flat cars with a dozen airplane engines on them. They were sending the engines to a factory in Brisbane to be rebuilt.
“I had no food with me so when the train stopped for water I jumped off and ran to get something to eat. I told the conductor I was going to get some food and he pulled out without me,” Glass recalled 65 years later. “I thought I would get court marshaled for getting off the train. So I hired a guy with a car to take me to the next town where I caught up with the train. I paid him 20 pounds, which was a lot of money back then. When I got back aboard I had a few words with the conductor.”
He went in the liquor business when he was in Townsville.
“My cousin was a buck sergeant in the same unit I was in. The mess sergeant approached him and asked if he wanted to help him sell illegal whiskey to the enlisted men. The mess sergeant bought whiskey from the Australian government for the Officers’ Club. He bought a little more to sell on the side to enlisted men to make a profit,” Glass said.
“We both agreed to help him sell his whiskey to the troops. I’d get a case of Gilbey’s Gin, 12 bottles, and hide it under the floorboards of our five-man tent. My cousin sold at night and I sold liquor during the day for 10 pounds a quart.
“This went on for about six months until our first sergeant, who knew what we were doing, came to my cousin and told him, “You guys have got to get out of the booze business or they’re gonna put you in jail.’
“We shut down the operation,” he added. “By then I had made a couple of thousand dollars selling liquor to the troops.”
The 4th Air Group Depot Unit and Glass left Australia and headed for Leyte, Philippines. They arrived shortly MacArthur returned with his Army to take the islands away from the Japanese who were running out of steam in the South Pacific.
“After we landed there a friend and I got wandering around looking for souvenirs like soldiers do. We came across a Japanese ammo dump that was left unguarded,” he said. “I picked up a live mortar shell and several unexploded artillery shells and put them in my knapsack as souvenirs.
“About that time a couple of MPs caught us in the ammo dump and told us to get out before we blew the place up. I left with my sack full of unexploded ammunition,” Glass said. “When I got back to my unit I took the detonator out of the nose of the mortar shell, pull the heads off the artillery rounds and dumped the powder out.”
Sixty-five years later he had the Japanese shells sitting in front of him on the dining room table, proud possessions of a bygone war, as he told his World War II story.
“I had been overseas so long they sent me back to the States on 45 days leave. While I was home the war in Europe ended just about the time I got married. By then I had amassed so many points I got discharged and a short time later they dropped the atomic bomb on Japan,” Glass said.
“I should have taken the G.I Bill, gone to college and made something out of myself. Instead I went to work as a welder in an Ohio factory that made trailer trucks. I worked there for eight years until I couldn’t stand it any more and went to work as a carpenter,” he said. “Because I had asthma the doctor told me to move south. We moved to Clearwater and I got my builder’s license and began building homes down here.”
Later he owned a fill dirt operation in the Pinellas County area and supplied builders with dirt for the homes they were building. He decided to retire in the 1980s, but got involved with a friend’s lapidary school that opened in mountains of northern Georgia. Glass taught there for 23 years until he retired for good and returned to Clearwater.
He and his wife, Mary, have three children: Marsha, Bill and Mary-Janet.
Name: Otto W. Glass
D.O.B: 6 Oct. 1918
Hometown: St. Mary, Ohio
Currently: Clearwater, Fla.
Entered Service: 11 March 1941
Discharged: 14 May 1945
Unit: 4th Air Depot Group, Dayton, Ohio
Commendations: Philippine Liberation Ribbon, Asiatic-Pacific Ribbon, American Service Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal
This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, August 15, 2011 and is republished with permission.
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