Herb Elfring retired from Consumers Energy in 1985 after a 35-year career in engineering.  He is also a Pearl Harbor Survivor, a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather and much, much more.  Listen as he tells the story of his 100 years of living life to the fullest. This is part two of a three-part series.

https://www.buzzsprout.com/1218548/10006163-a-life-well-lived-featuring-herb-elfring-pt-2.mp3?download=true

William Krieger 

Hello everyone and welcome to Me You Us, a wellbeing podcast. It’s another wellbeing Wednesday here in Consumers Energy. And I’m your host Bill Krieger. Today is part two in the three-part series of my interview with Herb Elfring. And as you may recall, Herb is a retiree from Consumers Energy, but he’s also an Army veteran and survivor of Pearl Harbor, as well as a father, a grandfather, and great grandfather. Today, we will pick up the story as the Japanese are bombing Pearl Harbor. So, let’s find out what happens with Herb.

Herb Elfring 

We started out in pup tents or army tents at Schofield Barracks. And then we go to Camp Alacoa, which is down the shoreline from Pearl Harbor, and build our own, our own camp out of lumber. Rough lumber. And so that was called Camp Melacoa.  And we would, we would work building the camp in the morning and maybe doing some Army exercises of some kind in the afternoon, you know? And that went along just fine until Japanese hit on December 7, 1941.

So that was a very quiet Sunday morning as you’ve heard no doubt and I could hear the bombing down toward Pearl Harbor way but didn’t think too much about it and thought the Navy must be having some kind of war exercise of some kind down there. We were down the shoreline but a little too far away to see the actual action you could definitely hear the bombing, you know. The next thing I know I was reading the bulletin board on the corner the barracks and I could hear this this plane coming and didn’t think too much about it and next thing I knew there was a line of strafing bullets that went right past them about fifteen feet away. And it went across into the next battery area. A fellow got hit in the stomach but lived. And then the word soon got out first of all the line of bullets went down I looked up and saw this plane that had a red ball on the fuselage you know. I thought my god that’s a Japanese plane, what’s it doing here, ya know? And that was the surprise attack at our camp. And then and word soon got out that we’re under attack and we all went to our designated positions which at that time was this new radar that we got in and so I was in the squad that was detailed to operate it. We got to the radar and I’ve been there just a little while had the time to get the engine started for power to power up the radar and I could hear this plane coming across the treetops they really weren’t trees, but they’re more like shrubs. And I could hear it coming, saw it coming and we all jumped on underneath the radar. And I can see I from where I was, I can see the plane coming. And it veered just a little bit as it opened up for some reason. And the line of bullets went between the radar and the powerplant and severed the power cable that’s supplied the power to the radar. That was another close call that morning.

William Krieger 

That’s two….

Herb Elfring 

So, I don’t know. I don’t know exactly how many zeros did the strafing on the camp but anyway, that was two of them.

William Krieger 

So now the radar is not going to operate because the cables….

Herb Elfring 

But it wouldn’t do any good. The purpose was not for daylight information, it was designed for picking up airplanes to be able to direct the anti-aircraft guns on the plane as we would light the search lights, pick up the target.

William Krieger 

So, what did you do from there?

Herb Elfring 

Oh, that day then it became really quiet. And real quiet for several days. After that, though, we just went on about our army job then of, of doing exercises. And along comes June of 1942. And we, we were deployed to the Fiji Islands, again, our regimental main purpose is to defend airfields actually. So, they built an airstrip on Fiji already, and they were totally expecting the Japanese to get to the Fiji Islands. So, they deployed us down there to defend the airfield. And as it turned out, the Japanese never did get there. So, we didn’t see any action on Fiji. We got there in June of 1942. And were there until I think, the fall of 1943. But as time went on, I was advanced from private to first class, Sergeant, Staff Sergeant. And there was an Infantry Regiment on the island also that needed officers. And they ran, they ran two OCS ninety-day schools there. They needed that infantry officers but for some reason they could use a few military officers. Not Military Police, just general military officers. So, another fella in our in our regiment, not our battery was, was selected to go. In the second session, I was selected to go. So, I became a Second Lieutenant in January 1943.

William Krieger 

We kind of have that in common. I was enlisted for a while and then went to OCS to get my commission as an officer. And so, you got your commission and then what happened?

Herb Elfring 

Well, then I continued in, in the radar phase of the operation. So, I became radar officer then, but for some reason we didn’t really get any updated radar equipment. So, we were we were kind of stuck with that same old radar, you know. However, I had a chance to go back up to Honolulu in about September of 43 to a month of radar school. And while I was there, I met my brother that was in the infantry, had been up in Alaska was the seventh division and was sent to the Hawaii for redeployment.

William Krieger  

How was that reunion?

Herb Elfring 

Well, that was a surprise to him. And me too, of course. I just, while I was at school one weekend I was riding the bus and I saw the soldier of the seventh division patch on his uniform and I knew that’s my brother was in. I had some previous friends before I went to Fiji. I was visiting some previous friends and he has a military connection and so he took me out to where my brother’s regiment was deployed. And so, when I called for my brother, itwas a total surprise to him of course. But we had a chance to see each other during the month that I was there. And on one weekend, we decided to call home. And we did. And we talked for 15 minutes. And the bill was $75.

William Krieger

You know, that’s a lot of money today, that had to be a lot of money then.

Herb Elfring 

That was more than a private would make in three months, I guess something like that. Anyway, we’re happy to have done that, of course. Then his regiment went on to the Philippines where he was injured and came out of it okay. But getting back to my own regiment there in Fiji. After getting my commission later in 1943 we were deployed to the Solomon Islands. And we had just built an airstrip on the island of Bougainville. And we were deployed there to defend that airstrip. And action was not very, very much because we only were alerted a couple times, you know, for, for trying to pick up Japanese planes and come over to annoy us, ya know. But the one thing that we did do there on Bougainville was we knew that the Japanese were still on the island. And well, so the G2, they get information that the Japanese were going to make a counterattack on our location there. And the Americal Division and I think the 37th divisions were both there. So apparently, they were properly alerted with information, what the Japanese were going to do, and they were going to make a night attack. And it was a cloudy night. And they asked us to prepare our search lights for shining up on what would be probably anticipated as the front line for the Japanese. There was enough light reflected back down on the ground so that the infantry regiments could see the Japanese had hackers coming in and took good care of the depth of attacking because of that.

William Krieger 

Yeah. Well, that’s interesting. So not just search lights, right, but you’re actually able to illuminate the ground where they were coming in.

Herb Elfring 

Yeah, right.

William Krieger 

That’s really advantageous that you were able to do that.

Herb Elfring 

And fortunately, the search lights didn’t get damaged because of it either.

William Krieger 

So that’s very good. So how long were you on Bougainville and what did you do after that?

Herb Elfring 

So, Bougainville, we got done there in 1944. We were still on Bougainville then until 1944. And then, in like, December of ’44, we were deployed to the Philippine Islands. The whole regiment was headed for Clark field. that was the main military airstrip on the island of Luzon. On the way we experienced a kamikaze diver and it happened to the ship next to my ship. There were several ships in the convoy. And it was an evening, when they spotted this kamikaze diver and I think every ship in the convoy was firing at him. The diver picked out his target of the ship next to mine and when he come down to his target, he missed the target and landed just behind the target very close to the stern which indicated he might have gotten a little flak on its way down or something. Anyways a plane hit the water and broke into flames and sank and no damage was done to the to his target.

William Krieger 

Sounds like a lot of near misses while you were in the army. You’re a very fortunate man.

Herb Elfring 

Well, I guess I didn’t mention about a breakfast one went on morning on Bougainville and I mentioned that they’re still Japanese on the island you know. And I suppose an Army five-inch gun or something like that or a howitzer landed right next to the breakfast that we had. And it was a dud. That was a close call.  So, anyway on the way to the Philippines we were not on a landing ship, it was a troop ship. Crawled down the rope ladder into a landing craft, we go ashore. And when it came to the shoreline, we ran into it a sandbar and the landing craft couldn’t get all the way in, so we had to wade in, and from the sandbar of course water got deeper before we made it to shore. And some was wound up with water after neck, you know, wading into shore. But we got in okay. And fortunately, because of so many guns shelling the shoreline that morning, why there was no opposition at all getting ashore.

William Krieger 

So, that’s fortunate it sounds like between the sandbar and the water, at least you didn’t have to deal with the enemy at that point.

Herb Elfring 

Right. Right. Right. So that was very fortunate.

William Krieger 

So, you were on the Philippines?

Herb Elfring 

We were there January 9, 1945. And our job there of course was to defend the Clark Field airstrip. And the air activity that the Japanese had was already pushed North so there was very little activity by the Japanese aircraft as far as bombing Luzon and so we really didn’t have a very, very little to do defending the Clark Field airstrip on Luzon. As a result, we were kind of moved on down toward Manila to do various chores down there until July of 1945. Because I’d been overseas so long, I had a lot of what they call points. I had enough points to go back to the US for reassignment, which I chose to do in July of 1945. And I got there probably late July I guess, because I was back home to Montana and on leave in August when the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. And then the second one was dropped on Nagasaki on the ninth of August 1945. I got a telegram from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to report for separation from the service already before the war was over in Japan.

William Krieger 

If you want to hear the rest of this story, you’ll need to tune in next week for the third and final episode of my interview with Herb Elfring. Thank you to the audience for listening in today. The Me You Us podcast is proudly sponsored by Consumers Energy leaving Michigan better than we found it. Remember, you can find the Me You Us podcast on all major podcasting platforms. So be sure to go out find us and subscribe. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. That’s 1-800-273-8255 If you are a veteran or know a Veteran who is in crisis, you can call one 802 73825 In press one for the Veterans Crisis Line. And remember to tune in every Wednesday as we talk about the things that impact your personal world.