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75 Years Ago, World War II Came To A Halt. Seguin Veteran Al Machaud Remembers That Day

Photo courtesy of Al Machaud and Jody McKee
Albert "Al" Machaud, while serving as a sergeant in the Army Air Corps.

Seventy-five years ago today, then-President Truman announced Japan's surrender and the end of World War II. The news spread quickly and celebrations erupted across the United States. Veteran Albert "Al" Machaud of Seguin was still in his teens at that time, and was working on Okinawa as an air traffic controller with the Army Air Corps.

Originally, Machaud was to be part of a group to travel to Hawaii to attend the Official Ceremony of the 75th Commemoration of the end of WWII.

But because of the COVID-19 situation, the organizers decided to limit in-person attendance. Instead, Machaud was honored virtually. The 91-year-old spoke with TPR's Carson Frame over the phone before the ceremony. 

Al Machaud: I entered World War II at the very end. I graduated from high school. I was 17.  I graduated early. My mother would not approve of my going in. I wanted so badly to get into World War Two. And one morning at 5 o'clock in the morning I very quietly got up and got my clothes on. My brother — we were very close — he was in the twin bed next to me and I wouldn't even tell him because I didn't want anything to ruin — you know — my getting out. So, I did sneak out of the house. And I went down and I had forged my mother's signature. Yeah, and left for the service. They told me to be at the bus at 6 o'clock and I was there and off we went!

Carson Frame: You mentioned that your mom wouldn’t have supported you joining the Army Air Corps. What gave you that sense?

AM: My mother and father had four children. Four boys. They lost the first two. You know, this is in the time of the big Depression. Then my brother came along and I was 11 months later, so, we were very close to each other. But I think my mother, because of losing two, she was very protective and watched over us.

CF: So, you think it was more of a protective instinct — that they'd gone through so much loss that they would have been hesitant for you to volunteer.

AM: Yeah, I think that was a lot of it. Yeah. Because believe me, there were a lot of boys that got killed in that war. You know, you could walk down the street and see a star in people's windows. You knew that was the indication that that household had received notice it was one of the boys died.

CF: I can't imagine that. I mean, it seems like, in that era, everybody knew someone. It was really a generational burden. 

AM: Well, today we live in a fast world. It's a digital world. You know people. But you don't know them like we did back in those days. When I say we knew people, we really knew them. When a red star went up, everybody took it on the chin. 

CF: Tell me about what led you to become interested in airplanes — and joining the Army Air Corps.

AM: I lived in New Bedford, Massachusetts. I grew up in those tenements up there. You know, today they call them tenements. But when I grew up, they were slums, I guess. But anyway, I would go up in the attic, and in New Bedford, they converted the airport to a naval base. And those airplanes kept circling, kept circling in their training… and I could almost wave at the pilots. They were so close that I could nearly recognize them.

CF: You were seeing this whole different life right outside your window.

AM: I wanted so bad to fly. Back in those days, you could come from high school. If you passed the test, you could go to flight school. Well, I did. I did take the test and I passed. But they temporarily closed the flight school to assess the situation at that time.

CF: When they shut down the flight school, the U.S. was sort of reevaluating its approach to the war.  You bounced around a bit starting in June 1945, to wherever you might be needed. From Johnston Island, to Kwajalein, to Guam, Iwo Jima, and then finally to Okinawa. When you arrived there, was the climate like in the Army Air Corps at that point? Were people relieved? Uncertain? Were they sort of chomping at the bit for more action? Do you remember what that felt like?

AM: It was kind of a letdown in a sense, but in a sense there was happiness. Some people were happy. A lot of them were happy because a lot of had been there a long time. And they knew then that they would be scheduled to go home fairly soon. So there was a sense of relief for a lot of people. But people like me, who were just coming in… I was somewhat naive. I was young. 17. We were poor. We didn't even have a car, so I had never been anywhere. So for me, it was all excitement. 'I'm here. I'm a part of this now. Just show me the way. Whatever you want. I'll do it.' So that was kind of my attitude.

CF: What kind of work did you eventually settle into?

AM: I was trained in air traffic control. I was part of what they call the airway communications system. I had to learn Morse code and everything else.

Now, when I was on Okinawa they had a B-17. I think probably it was the only B-17 on Okinawa at the time. And they had a shortage of radio operators. Well, the word went out that they needed somebody to fill that position. Well, I didn't give anybody a chance. The minute the word went out, I was right there. I volunteered. So, I not only operated the control tower, but when I left there, then we would get into the B-17. And our mission — I never was involved in any fighting. Never. So whatever you think of me, I was not involved in any fighting — our mission was reconnaissance. We went up, you know, we were looking for Japanese activity. Any activity that we could report back.

CF: At that point, what had you heard about the atomic bomb, the weapon that would essentially end the war?

AM: Well the truth is, at that time, the atomic bomb had never been mentioned. These days they talk about this tremendous bomb they dropped on Hiroshima. Incidentally, I've been lucky enough to have gone through Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I've been in both towns, both cities.

But, you know, at that time, we were just reading about it. It was absolutely foreign. Now, anybody who says ‘Oh, he knew about it’ or something? I think they'd be lying to you. Because that was such a well-kept secret. You never saw anything in the paper about it… Atoms, atomic bomb or anything. That was just out of the blue. It was an eye opener for all of the GIs, for the whole world for that matter.

You know, attitudes change over time. Now our attitude back in those days… you know, we lost a lot of our people, our airmen. If they ever caught one of our airmen, chopping off the head was not unusual. You know, there was a lot of hate against Japanese. And I'll be honest with you. My attitude was, 'Let me at ‘em,' you know? So today, we tend to think back 'Oh, we hurt a lot of people, we killed a lot of people, we shouldn't have done that.' Well, hey, maybe that's the thinking today. But at that time, we had lost… you can't imagine how many guys, how many people, that had been killed. And all because of two or three countries that wanted to take over the world. There was a lot of hate. Yeah, so it was our attitudes were different. We were very patriotic toward the United States.

CF: When the war was actually over, your headquarters was transferred to Tokyo, and you transitioned from World War II into the occupation forces under General MacArthur. Tell me about landing there.

AM: I remember flying in there at night. I don't even remember what field or anything but I had my duffel bag on my shoulder, and I'm walking down the street. The odor...  I could smell greasy smoke from all of the frying of fish, and the smell of urine. Because they had no — they were a very devastated country when I arrived there.

I remember walking down the street, and I could I looked over at the railroad station and there were nothing but walls. Just everything has been bombed out, burned out. Nobody… there was no… Everybody has a little hibachi in their home. And the only thing they could do is just take fish with the head and everything and put it on the hibachi. That's why the air just smelled of that grease. You could just feel it in your nose. Yeah, it was an eye opener when I arrived there.

CF: Given all of what you’ve seen and all the places you’ve been, do you have any sort of reflections about the climate in the US, either socially or politically?

AM: You know, everybody hates everybody. I used to take pride in the fact that our children grew up, and we were war free. But if you look, now, we've been at war so long, you know, that our kids have grown up and they don't know of a world without a war. 

Now, what kind of upbringing is that?

Here in the United States, here in America, however, if the truth be known, we are undergoing a silent revolution right now. Because all these... it's the young crowd, they just feel like they've been left out, and to a certain extent they have.

CF: After the war, you headed back to the U.S. and enrolled at UT Austin with the GI Bill, then met your wife Dee and had a family. Then you went on to work in the oil industry. How would you describe your post-war life?

AM: I'm so fortunate. I've got to be the lucky person alive…I can honestly tell you that. But I left home and came to Texas and really enjoyed that some of my best years of my life.

CF: Thank you so much for sharing your memories of that time, Al.

AM: Carson, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.

Carson Frame can be reached at Carson@TPR.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame.

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Carson Frame can be reached carson@tpr.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame