A World War II Soldier's Story Thomas Lodge, 198th Coast Artillery
Lewes native Thomas Lodge along with two hometown buddies could read the handwriting on the wall in 1940. “I was twenty three at the time and the other two were also, and just prime bait for being drafted, you know, twenty-three and single.” To avoid being drafted into an out- of-state unit, the three enlisted for one year in the 198th Coast Artillery, the Delaware National Guard unit that had just been federalized by the U.S. Army. Lodge knew the unit would likely transfer out of Delaware, but at least coming from a small state, “You were bound to know some of the people.” Indeed, although the 198th soon transferred to Camps in New York and Massachusetts, and began accepting draftees and recruits from all over the country, there remained a definite and comforting Delaware focus. After Lodge’s year-long tour ended he decided to re-enlist shortly regretting his decision when his two buddies mustered out and went home to Lewes. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor a few months later however, the two friends were called back to service and drafted into different outfits, while Lodge remained with his friends in the 198th. “That was better luck than management,” he admits.
Lodge sailed with the 198th in January 1942 to Bora Bora – for security reasons known by its military code “Bobcat Island”. He remembers it was an anxious undertaking at first. No one knew anything about Bora Bora, including whether the Japanese had a presence there. When the troops landed, the first to go ashore drew their weapons just in case. “It was just an experience to go ashore not knowing what you would find”.
What the 198th found were friendly people who spoke no English and had no technology, no housing for the troops, no electricity, no roads, and no refrigeration. The unit had to build everything they needed and had to unload and install heavy anti-aircraft guns by brute strength. The men ate canned and powdered food for months unless a supply ship arrived with temporary stocks of fresh rations. Lodge particularly remembers the arrival of fresh meat on a Navy ship: We even had a parade and marched down to the dock to escort the Pork Chops or whatever it was!” As Lodge also recalls, “Boredom was the main thing we had to fight, “but quickly adds how grateful the men were that “nobody was shooting at us”.
Tom Lodge would experience enemy fire before the war was done, however. In 1943 he went to Officer Training School and became one of the “Ninety-Day Wonders” of World War II. “Then you got your second lieutenant bars and you thought you were a general. It was the toughest three months I put in the service…after awhile I found myself wishing I was back in Bora Bora with the friendly natives!”
Reassigned to the 167th Anti-Aircraft Battalion in the European Theater, Lodge saw action via German bombers while defending Italian and French port cities. He ended the war with the rank of Captain, stationed in Nice France on the Riviera. He was grateful to have the war ended – and delighted to remain on the French Riviera as long as it took before receiving his orders to go home.
Interview by Annette Woolard, September 8, 1994, Delaware History pp.241-242