Private First Class Ralph Hatzenbihler was on a ship bound for Manila Bay when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.
The whole ship was on blackout, Hatzenbihler said: “You didn’t dare even light a cigarette or anything on deck.”
And when Hatzenbihler came to his final destination at the port of Kobe, Japan, where he was to be quartermaster at a food warehouse supplying the troops during World War II, there were no Japanese in sight. They were hiding in the hills, he said, and it would take some time before they came back into town.
Hatzenbihler, a Center native, was 24 years old when he was drafted. He was working on the family farm when he received his notice. He was one of 11 children — four girls and seven boys — and his brother five years younger would be drafted as well, serving in Alaska.
Hatzenbihler was given his choice of going into the Army or the Navy. He chose the Army.
“I wanted to keep one foot on the ground,” he said.
Hatzenbihler was sent to Fort Knox in Kentucky to train with the armored division, though that would not be his job when he got overseas.
When it came time to deploy, Hatzenbihler boarded the troop carrier that would be his home for 30 days with from 500 to 1,000 other men. He was seasick the first three days.
“You were doing good until you got close to the chow line, then you were running back the other way,” he said of his bout of seasickness.
From Manila Bay, Hatzenbihler boarded a train with about 30 other men. Passing Clark Air Base in the Philippines, he said he could see beat up Japanese planes on the ground.
The final leg of his journey to Kobe was on a convoy of ships. He said everything lit up, and submarine hunting vessels patrolled to prevent attacks to the convoy.
In Kobe, Hatzenbihler would help unload and stack food from semis that delivered it from the port to the 100-by-200-foot warehouse. He would inventory everything they had and he would help ration the food to the troop divisions that came in for supplies.
“The infantry got lamb,” he said. “Nobody else wanted it.”
Hatzenbihler lived in the warehouse with about 30 or 40 other soldiers. Eventually, the Japanese would come down from the hills, and many came to the warehouse looking for work. They would help load it from the warehouse into trucks for distribution to the different camps.
Kobe was not quite as large as the city of Osaka, and the people were poor, Hatzenbihler said. Many of the workers came to the warehouse with a sack and one piece of bread for lunch. Whenever there were broken rations that came in off the ship, the U.S. soldiers would toss it into the bay. The Japanese would often dive in after them.
“They would get that stuff out of the bay; then they would have a feast,” Hatzenbihler said.
Hatzenbihler returned home to the family farm after 10 months abroad, he said:
Hatzenbihler married his first wife in 1948. He would continue working on the farm until ’65 before moving to Mandan and taking a job with Farmers Union delivering gas to farms for 13 years. He and his first wife had five children before she died. He remarried, and he and his second wife have 11 children between the two of them, as well as 27 grandchildren and 34 great-grandchildren.