By the time John Kohout of Port Charlotte, Fla. graduated from jump school at Fort Benning, Ga. V-E Day had come and gone. Since the Germans had already surrendered he became a replacement soldier in the 11th Airborne Division sent to the Philippines as part of the occupation force.
He joined the paratroopers for the $50 per month extra jump pay like a lot of other soldiers who went airborne. That almost doubled his private’s pay.
“When I got out of jump school I thought I was going to the European Theatre, but the Germans surrendered and I was sent to the Philippines,” the 91-year-old former paratrooper explained. “They put me on a boat in San Francisco and shipped me to Manila.
“Since I had been trained in demolition work I was sent all over the Philippines to disarm unexploded ordinance,” he said. “Usually I was sent out to defuse unexploded bombs dropped by our air force.
“The easy ones were the ones I could get the detonator out of with a special wrench. On the ones I couldn’t remove the detonator I exploded with a phosphorous grenade. When these bombs went off along the side of a road it would blow a hole in the ground you wouldn’t believe.
“The funny part was that the Filipinos would move the bombs that were still armed in wheel barrows or take ropes and drag them off the side of a road.
“While I was in the Philippines I saw a lot of captured Japanese. They put them in POW camps until the war ended then they sent them home,” Kohout recalled. “A lot of the Japanese who were up in the hills never surrendered. They would come down from their mountain caves to steal milk or chickens. That’s how they survived.
“When I was still in the Philippines I was called up to a hill overlooking Manila Harbor where the Japanese had mounted a big 16-inch gun on a railroad track. This allowed them to pull the gun into a cave for protection from enemy bombs or artillery when it wasn’t being fired.
“My captain wanted me to blow the breach off the gun. I had something called Composite-C explosives. It looked like putty. I packed the barrel of the gun with Composite-C, added a detonator and a fuse and exploded it. The charge blew the breach kinda sideways.
“That wasn’t good enough for my captain. He wanted the gun disabled. The last time I saw it a bunch of Phillippinos threw it down the side of the hill.” Kohout said.
“When they dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan we had just flown in from the Philippines to Okinawa. It was to be a staging area for the 11th Airborne scheduled to jump into Japan. We were still camped out on Okinawa when the second bomb was dropped. Two days later the Japanese surrendered.
“The 11th had been scheduled to jump into Japan if the war had not ended. Not only were we happy they surrendered, but the UDT (Underwater Demolition Team) were, too. Both our units were to go into Japan at the same time.
“We flew into Schimmelpfenning Air Base north of Tokyo near the town of Sendai,” he recalled 75 years later. “When we landed in our C-47 transports and got off former American POWs who could walk boarded our planes and flew back to Okinawa and on to the Philippines on their way home.
“My first demolition job in Japan was accompany the major on an inspection of Japanese planes at the airport where we landed. All the props had to be pulled off these planes and laid on the ground in front of them. The machine-guns in these planes had to be disabled also,” Kohout said.
“We went down the line taking propellers off planes. I never saw so many fighters and bombers in my life.
“After we had removed the props on four or five of these Japanese planes the major told me they would have to be blown up. I told him I had some phorsporous grenades that would do the job. I put one of the grenades in the first plane. When it exploded the fuel in its wing tanks it blew to pieces.
“After that first explosion the major had another idea. He had the planes disassembled and junked.
“Later the major call me in and had me get rid of some silk bags of gunpowder used to fire big guns. They were hidden in a secret concrete bunker under a rice paddy. He sent me down in the tunnel to check things out. I was scared to death.
“All the gunpowder in the bunker was dry and usable. It was stored in individual silk bags. There must have been dozens of bags, I don’t know exactly how many bags there were.
“The major told me to blow them up. I rigged them to blow up and got out of there. When it went off it blew the rice paddy up in the air and blew mud all over all of us who were there,” he said.
Since Kohout was part of the occupation troops he was always looking for war souvenirs. Before he returned to the States he was able to collect a couple of Japanese dress swords, two rifles and a Japanese Navy pistol.
The problem was getting them back to the USA. Before they were allowed to board the ship home they had to empty their duffle bags so their contents could be inspected. If souvenirs were found in their bags they were usually confiscated.
He found a simple solution. Ship this war souvenirs home by U.S. Mail.
“I came home in a liberty ship with thousands of other guys. When we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco Harbor we were all glad to see it,” he recalled. “From there I took a slow train back across the country to Fort Bragg, N.C. where I was discharged.
Eventually he went to work as a lineman for what became Verizon Telephone Co. He worked for the company 37 years. When he retired in 1988 he was in charge of all pay phone operations for the firm in Virginia.
He and his wife, Frances, moved to the Port Charlotte area three years ago from Virginia. They have been married 66 years. Diane, their daughter, lives in Port Charlotte, too.
Name: John Kohout
D.O.B: 8 May 1926
Hometown: Waverly, VA
Currently: Port Charlotte, FL
Entered Service: 6 Nov 1944
Discharged: 20 Nov 1946
Unit:127th Airborne Engineer Battalion
Battles/Campaigns: Occupation in Japan post WWII
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, April 24, 2017 and is republished with permission.
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