Local vet was in Army’s invasion of New Guinea Paul Rider served in 1st Cavalry Division in WWII.

This is one in a biweekly series about World War II veterans and their experiences.

In February 1944 Paul Rider was part of the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division, preparing to leave Australia for an invasion of New Guinea.

“New Guinea was a final staging area for the Admiralty Island invasion,” said Rider, a Fort Wayne resident.

When the invasion began a few weeks later, the Allies nearly didn’t get a foothold, according to Rider. “The Japanese almost pushed us off the first night,” he said. “Our 75-mm Howitzer was not too powerful.”

Rider was born in 1920 in Scott, Ohio, but moved with his family to Fort Wayne when he was 4 years old. Rider graduated from South Side High School in 1938. He attended two years of International Business College and worked at Kroger’s, as well as for his father at Rider’s Market at the corner of Hanna and Oxford streets. He also worked for S.F. Bowser, making pumps.

Upon being drafted into the Army in March 1942, Rider was sent to Fort Sill in Okla., for basic training. He received training of a different sort at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas, when he was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division, A Battery, 82nd Field Artillery.

As the name implies, the cavalry division was comprised of horses. Rider and other soldiers selected for the division were expected to ride them. The problem was, they didn’t know how to ride and there were no official lessons. “I had never been on a horse,” Rider said. “The Army chose you to be in the cavalry if you could stand up. We just got on the horse and tried to manage.”

Horses and soldiers participated in Louisiana Maneuvers, a series of U.S. Army exercises. “Two horses pulled a 75-mm Howitzer, while four horses pulled the Howitzer with the additional weight of ammunition,” he said.

In the hot, sticky environment Rider and other soldiers learned the horses’ needs came first. “After a day of riding, we wanted to rest but couldn’t because we had to care for our horses,” he said. They had to take off the saddle, comb, feed and water the animals, a process that usually took about an hour. The tired soldiers slept on pine needles and ticks.

Once his commander discovered he could type, Rider was transferred to an office job. Later, he transferred to Supply where he was first the assistant, then supply sergeant for his battery of 250 people for the duration of the war.

Rider’s entire division sailed on the USS George Washington to Australia in July 1943. For 25 days the troop ship zig-zagged through the waters where Japanese submarines were known to patrol. “We kept our course erratic because we were not part of a convoy,” he said.

After preparing for battle in Australia, the Allies landed along the shore of Los Negros Island, third largest of the Admiralty Islands. The island’s air strip was a focus of the planned invasion. Without the air strip Allied planes would not have a place to refuel planes for use in the Pacific.

The Japanese were dug in in bunkers. Rider and his assistant distributed necessary supplies to Allies during the battle. “I remember thinking, ‘Let’s get this done and get out of town!'” he said.

After securing the Admiralty Islands in mid-May 1944, the Allied victory enabled the construction of a major air and naval base there. This became an important launching point for the campaigns of 1944 in the Pacific.

Although Rider was not in the heat of battle, he did have a close call. “I felt a bullet whiz by my head and felt glad it was over,” he said.

On Ndrilo Island Rider’s unit found no Japanese but spent time there resting. The troops built a bamboo church, which they used for services.

An unusual story that would not be resolved for 30 years occurred when Rider and two other soldiers patrolled the jungle on nearby Manus Island. They didn’t find the enemy, but Rider discovered something else — a case lying on the ground that he suspected had been dropped by a Japanese soldier. It contained a Japanese flag with writing on it. Rider could not read it and shipped it home as a souvenir.

In 1978 he was at a Lions Club meeting in Fort Wayne that was hosting Japanese Lions Club members. He had brought the flag and one of the visitors read it. “She said the flag was probably covered with names of the soldier that had owned it and members of his unit,” he said. With Rider’s permission the Japanese visitor returned to Japan with the information from the flag and upon doing research, discovered the flag’s original owner was still alive. Rider mailed the flag to him. The News-Sentinel published a photo and story about the incident in March 4, 1978.

Rider was also part of a flying column (a small, military land unit capable of moving quickly) of 700 soldiers that battled first in Leyte, then Luzon in the Philippines. “We landed on the north shore and were under attack, but we carried M1 carbines and kept moving,” he said.

In February 1945 they helped to liberate Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila. Located on the campus of the University of Santo Tomas, it was the largest of several camps in the Philippines in which the Japanese interned enemy civilians, mostly Americans, in World War II beginning January 1942.

More than 3,000 internees suffered from poor living conditions and lack of food, including children. By the time of the liberation of the camp by the U.S. Army, many internees were near death.

“The internees looked like a bunch of bones moving around,” he said. “They lived outside on the ground, while their Japanese captors lived inside. It was a sad situation.”

In August 1945 Rider’s division was preparing to head to Japan for a major invasion when they heard about the dropping of a bomb on Hiroshima. “We didn’t know much of what was happening around the world,” he said. “Sometimes the radio would tell us something if we could pick up the signals.”

The news of Japan’s surrender was exciting and the First Cavalry boarded the USS Talladega to sail for Yokohama. They arrived in time to witness the signing of the surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, a date that would become known as ‘VJ Day’ (Victory in Japan). “Our ship moved next to the USS Missouri where the signing of the surrender took place,” he said. “I could see the Japanese officials with their top hats.”

Master Sgt. Rider remained in Yokohama with other Allied troops until Sept. 25 to maintain order. Then, due to his length of time in service and participation in battles, he was among some of the first to sail home, again on the Talladega. He was discharged on Oct. 19, 1945.

Rider worked at his father’s grocery in Fort Wayne until 1971, then at First Federal Savings and Loan on Crescent Avenue until 1986 when he retired.

He has participated in Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana. He and his wife, Patricia, have seven children. “I was glad to do what I could to serve our country,” he said. <br>

<i> Bluffton author Kayleen Reusser published the book “World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans.” Contact her at kjreusser@adamswells.com. </i>