Rossel, Donald J.
Correspondence of Donald J Rossel, of Buffalo, New York During World War Two while serving as a United States Naval Corpsman, written to family while stationed in China and Okinawa, 1943-1946

Group of 25 letters, 77 manuscript pp., (13 retained mailing envelopes), most are handwritten, two are typed, dated 22 June 1943 to 19 February 1948, the bulk dated 1945-1946 (20 letters); also includes ephemeral items, such as: Rossel’s “Notice of Separation from U.S. Naval Service” paper dated 5 August 1946; two pay stubs; receipt; and a war bonds brochure.

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Due to military censorship restrictions not all letters give an indication of Rossel’s location when he wrote. Those letters that do, show that he wrote from San Bruno, California (1); the China Sea (1); Tientsin, China (1); Okinawa (8); Tangu, China (5); Tsingtao, China (1); and one letter datelined simply: “China.” One of the letters from Tangu is incomplete. The correspondence includes great descriptions of life in Okinawa and China, his work in a surgery ward, a typhoon in Okinawa, Japanese prisoners of war and much more

Of the 25 letters, 21 were written by Corpsman Donald J. Rossel; he wrote 13 letters to his parents (mother & father), 6 letters to his mother, and 2 letters to his sister; the other 4 letters were written by a woman named Genevieve (2); a woman named “Sniffles” (1); and one letter by a naval officer, S.E. Hill, LCDR MSC USN, who wrote to Rossel requesting his (Rossel’s) transcript of his classes/grades from his time in 1945 when he attended the Hospital Corps School in San Diego, California.

Donald Joseph Rossel (1926-2011) and USS LSM-457

Donald Joseph Rossel was born 1 August 1926 in New York.  He was the son of Buffalo born printer (newspapers) Bernard J. Rossel and his wife Elizabeth R. Ohearn (1902-1992). Donald had at least one sibling, a sister, Jeanne Rossel (1929- ) who married a man by the name of Haun.

Before Rossel joined military service he appears to have worked for the steel company “Bliss & Laughlin, Inc.,” of Buffalo, New York (according to two pay stubs in this collection from May and November 1943).

Rossel enlisted at age 18 in the United States Navy in Buffalo, New York, on 20 July 1944, at the rate of HA2 V-6 USNR. He attended the United States Naval Hospital Corps School in San Diego, California. One record found on Ancestry.com shows that Rossel mustered aboard the USS LSM – 457, a medium class landing ship. One of the letterheads in this collection confirms that. He appears to have been on this ship for a short time before going to Okinawa where he was stationed as a corpsman at Fleet Hospital 112 for Sept-Oct 1945, before leaving for China where he was stationed at Tangu in November 1945, where he was assigned to a surgery ward at the hospital.

Rossel was honorably discharged on 5 August 1946 at the rate PhM3 V-6 USNR. In February 1948, Rossel wrote to the U.S. Navy requesting a transcript from the time he studied at the Navy Hospital Corps School at San Diego. They responded. A letter from the Navy, as well as a copy of his transcript is included in this collection. The transcript shows the courses he studied and his grades. Donald J. Rossel died on 29 March 2011 in Buffalo, New York.

        Sample Quotations:

“Aug 5, 1945, 7:30 P.M.

Dear Folks,

…I just finished packing and getting ready for my trip to the beautiful islands of tropical paradise…I got a G.I. haircut. All the fellows got them. We agreed that every one would get one as it is much neater…I figure I will have plenty of time to grow hair and not time to worry about it where I am going. I am enclosing a few pictures of dames I don’t care to carry with me. I am only keeping the pictures of the cute girls. Put these in the draw so that some day I can look back and see how bad the women shortage was in some places back in ’45…I am almost positive I am going to Okinawa. They are making Okinawa a second Pearl Harbor. By this I mean it is a port of embarkation where they bring the wounded men and wrecked ships and ship out troops and supplies. Okinawa will be the port of embarkation to the invasion of Japan. I should get out there just in time. I know I am going to have a big job taking care of those wounded men. But I will be safe here and these men need attention. I assure you folks as long as I can stand up I will do my best. So, don’t worry about me. I am doing fine. Dad asked on the telephone how I felt about going. Well Dad, you get used to taking shit from the Navy and after a year it gets in your blood. I am glad I am shipping out. Its my duty to, just as it was my duty to join up in the Navy a year ago. I am glad I am going just as all the rest of the fellows here are. I wouldn’t be your son if I weren’t glad. Well that’s about all…For God sakes don’t worry about me. I went to Confession tonight and am making Communion in the morning…write soon, Don”

“Sept 19, 1945, 10:00 A.M., Okinawa

Dear Folks,

Last night we went through a typhoon. It was the largest storm I have ever been in. Yesterday morning when we awoke it was raining and blowing like mad. I got up and trudged through the mud to the chaplain’s tent where I heard mass as it was Sunday. The wind and rain kept up all day and we couldn’t leave our tents all day. Some of the corps went up to the chow hall and brought back a couple of cases of K ration, so all day we lived on K rations. By 5 o’clock the wind was up to 40 miles an hour. Half the tents blew down and the fellows dam near blew away. We had to go out and stake our tent down and dig trenches to keep the water out about ten times. By ten o’clock the wind was up to 80 miles an hour and raining like mad. The mud was over our shoes. We sat in our tent all night and prayed. Fortunately, our tent stayed up. Some of the tents were ripped to pieces. This morning it is still a bit windy, but it stopped raining. Its still just as muddy. We ate K ration and sea ration again this morning. The night before last I went to an army stage show down at the docks. We were taken down in trucks. It was a real-good show. Better than some I have seen in the States. It was one of these overseas road shows you read about. I met a fellow I went to corps school with who is from Buffalo there. Fred Ohlm. He is with Hospital 4 out here. So far, I have met about 15 guys I went through corps school or at Charleston in this island. We are allowed to go anywhere on the island we please. The Sea Bees have built roads all over the island and trucks race back and forth all day long. If you care to go any place all you do is hitchhike. There are hundreds of army, navy and marine bases on this island and plenty of ships in the harbor. There are about seven Fleet Hospitals here also. Ohlm said they got in 250 prisoners of war patients the other day at Hospital 4. They are starting to put up new tents again this morning. It looks pretty good outside now. I sure hope that’s all the typhoon I have to go through. They are sending all the fellows with 44 points home to day. The lucky guys…The old mud hound, Don”

“Okinawa, Oct 7, 1945, 7:30 P.M.

 

Dear Folks,

This being Sunday night there is no movie so I came up here to the chaplain’s tent where there is light and writing tables for our use. All day long my buddy and I bummed around the island taking in the sights. We went to famous battle grounds such as Sugar Loaf Hill, Suicide Cliff – Sherry Castle, Buckner Bay and Bloody Nose Ridge. You may have read about some of these places in the papers…Sugar Loaf Hill is a very large hill at the south end of the island. It is horseshoe shaped and has many caves in the side of it. We didn’t go to close to this hill as there are still Japs hid out in these caves. Near hear we found two jap hand grenades in a ditch. They hadn’t gone off yet so we didn’t mess with them…The capital city of Naha is all blown to hell. At one time this was a quite a large and modern city with electric street cars and automobiles. Now there is nothing left but a bunch of war torn buildings. On the road to Naha we seen about fifty Jap prisoners who were working on a road gang building roads and clearing away the ruins. They still had on their uniforms. They looked like little apes. I would have liked to have gotten off the truck then and there and give every one of those little bastards a good kick in the teeth. We road through a native gook village. All along the road leading to the village were natives carrying potatoes in two sacks fastened to a bamboo pole which they slung over their shoulder. Some carried them in straw baskets on their heads. They had just finished picking them from their gardens down the road a piece. In the village the children seemed quite friendly but the older people looked at us with hatred in their eyes. The children all yelled ‘Huba Huba’ at us and waved. ‘Huba Huba’ is G.I. slang for hello. The soldiers teach it to all the natives on all the islands in the Pacific…Don”

“Yellow Sea, Jan 14, 1945 [more likely 1946, a mistake on the writer’s part] 10:30 A.M.

 

Dear Folks,

I have been aboard this repair ship which is anchored three miles off the coast of Tangu, China for the past two days now. I am awaiting assignment and transportation to a ship for duty. I could have gotten duty aboard this ship if I wanted it, but I turned down the offer as this ship will be setting here in the harbor for the next three months. As long as I must get duty aboard a ship I want one that moves around so I can at last get to see a little something. I don’t know how long it will be before I get transferred to another ship for duty but I figure it should be sometime within the next two weeks. Meanwhile I have a nice warm sack (hammock) below deck here and the chow aboard here ain’t bad. All I do is lay around reading books all day, so I guess I can’t pick. I go to the movie here in the mess hall at night. I am writing this letter here in the mess hall now. I wrote you a short letter when I first came aboard here explaining how the dispensary at Gro Pac 13 broke up and I had to pack and leave on a four-hour notice. I had just come back from a ten day leave in Teintsin when I learned that I was being shipped out. I sure did have a swell time up there in Tientsin. I went to a couple of night clubs, one of which I had never been before. It was called ‘The Horse Shoe.’ It was a very elaborate place. The seats at the bar were made like riding saddles and the whole place was designed to look like a riding academy or something. The orchestra was dressed as jockies and it really was something to see such a place away over here in China. The next day I went down the French marine barracks in Tientsin with a fellow corpsman who could speak French very well. He knew a couple of these French marines so they invited us in. They mixed us some kind of French drinks that tasted like licorice. I couldn’t make head nor tails out of what my buddy was saying or what they were talking about. Later my buddy told me what he had learned from them. They (250) have been in Tientsin without a relief or new issue of clothes for 9 years now. One fellow got his first letter from home in five years that day. Another fellow hasn’t heard from home in six years. Their clothes and equipment are all shot and worn. They expect to go home with in the next five months. They told us all about how the Japs treated them while they were there. They hate the Russians and Chinese. They said the Russians and Chinks were all for the Japs till we won the war. Now the bastards rob us for silks and stuff and pretend to be our friends just so they can make money on us. He said they don’t like any nation, they are just out after the almighty dollar. Of course, this doesn’t go for all the Chinese. This is only the merchants and Russians. The poor Chinese people are pretty good…I spent some time at the Red Cross up in Tientsin. It’s a very large place. Well that’s about it…Ding Dong Don”

“A.P.L 29, Tsingtao, China, 6/13/46 1:00 P.M.

 

Dear Mom,

 

I really don’t know how to break this bad news I have for you. We decommissioned our ship yesterday and were transferred aboard this A.P.L. to await a ship going to the states. All the men who live west of the Mississippi River leave on a transport for the states tomorrow and will arrive in the states July 15th, but all us reserves who live east of the Mississippi River have to wait two weeks for a ship which is going from here through the Panama Canal and will arrive in New York City around Aug 5th. This means I won’t get discharged till around the middle of August. I have over 24 points now and if I were in the states I would have been discharged long ago. Points don’t mean a thing now and there are guys going back to the states for discharge from here who have only been in the service five or six months. The reason we have to take a ship to New York City instead of catching a train home is because of the railroad strikes. They can’t get the trains through. Here by the time I get home I will be around 75 days or more past my discharge date. It gets me dam mad when I think of all the dam boots in the states getting out and here I am with almost two years in this outfit and I can’t get home. There isn’t a darn thing we can do about it over here either as we are too far away from home to bitch…Don”