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Editor’s note: Bedford Museum director Doug Cooper visited George Updike prior to his death and talked about his life in Huddleston and his service in WWII. George was well known for his frequent comment to any situation; “Everything’s gonna be OK. That interview, reprinted in part here, first appeared in a Bedford Museum newsletter in 2011. George Edward Updike, Sr., 88, of Huddleston, passed away Friday, March 8. He was a retired Supervisor of the Lane Company of Altavista and a member of Bethesda United Methodist Church. He was a World War II veteran, where he served in the Army as a medic in the Philippines.
Doug: What branch of the service were you in?
George: In the Army, Army medics. The 24th. Malaria, Philippines.
Doug: So you were one of the medics of the Malaria Unit?
George: The medics put on band aids, I mean they treated you. I went in, in 1943. I spent two years in the civic sector in New Guinea (Aitape), I went all the way to New Guinea, all the way to the Philippines and then we went to Korea.
Doug: What’s the worse battle that you remember?
George: The worst battle was a little place called “Aitape”, New Guinea. They almost beat us that time, but uh, the Navy come in there and shielded that place for two days. Marines starting coming in there and swept it out. So we went on back in and there were our vehicles, nothing but ashes. New Guinea was a rough time, living like an animal. There were no houses in New Guinea. I saw one building; it was a Missionary Building sitting along side a cliff. It was a waste land down there. You see that scar right there? I was standing out there holding my hand on a tree…just watching on guard duty, and uh I heard that shot. I thought one of them coconuts hit me…, but there wasn’t no wind. There ain’t no wind out there at all. I didn’t know that shot hit me and I didn’t even say nothing about it because if you turned it in, you were out on sick call and you would lose your outfit.
Doug: So you never got your purple heart?
George: No, I didn’t want it. That don’t mean nothing no how, it’s just the sound of it.
They’d bring the wounded down to the dining area, and we’d put them on a jeep, tie them like this you know, and right around here…but uh, that was quite an experience. But anyhow we spent most of our time in “Aitape”. We went all the way round to Bataan and Manila. We were housed in the Philippines about 14 months I believe. The Australians had one side of New Guinea, we were on the other; and we worked together you know, they taught me how to make them rings out of coins……I wish I’d of kept some of them back then. Oh yeah, we had a tent, it was about 18 x 18, there was room for two of them. So we had them things set up everywhere… let’s see that was in New Guinea. I was there about 18 months didn’t see anyone except for Francis Langford and Bob Hope. I had a pet monkey “Bobo” We put up a 50 foot clothes line, and Bobo he would run the full length of it. We taught that monkey a lot of things, he got to know us. He wouldn’t let you put your hands on him. When we went to Korea we had to leave him behind. I had to turn him loose. They eat them over there you know. The Russians were watching us too. We didn’t see any Japanese. Now there was friendly Japanese in Korea and the war was about over then. While we were living in Korea we ran the Japanese out of high places and took over and they didn’t mind a bit and you’d be surprised how friendly the Japanese are, they gave us things like swords, sabers, cameras, that type of thing. I had some of the things like that, but I lost the camera, I lost a pair of binoculars, just disappeared, all we had was them bunks you know. Well you know when the war was over; we went to Korea before the war was over. We were over there about three month’s right around about October. Our commanding officer had a radio and heard it all.
We were out there playing cards and our commander said “you boys are going home”. The next day, you’d be surprised, them Japanese they come up there and met and talked with us. In two days time we got to know them officers. We got to know them real well. Them Japanese fellas, they found some Saki, and they come out to see us. That was quite an experience.
Doug: Talk about the day you gave your daddy that silver dollar the day you left for military service.
George: It was a 1921 silver dollar that I gave daddy and told him, “you keep that silver dollar and you’ll never go broke”. Yeah, he gave it back after I got home. He said, there’s that piece of money you told me to keep. He said, you keep it, you’ll always have good luck. I have it somewhere.
Doug: So you came back in 1946.
George: Right…let’s see now, we come home into San Francisco. There were about 10,000 of us on there….because they had announced our arrival on the radio, you see…We came under that Golden Gate bridge. That boat was sitting at an angle because all of us rushed to one side of the boat to get a glimpse of San Francisco.
Doug: George, can you tell the story of your train ride home?
George: Train come from San Francisco you know…and it took quite a few days to get to Charlotte, NC. We were on that train for about a week in 1946. They told me they would give me a ticket from Ft. Bragg to Lynchburg, The only stop that they had was in Lynchburg, in Virginia. They didn’t realize they had some people between there and Danville that had to get out there. I told the conductor, you tell your boy there to slow this thing down and stop in Alta Vista, but he said no sir, we can’t stop, and they didn’t stop, but they did slow it down to about 10-15 miles an hour, he got him to do that. I took my duffle bag and dropped it out the right side at Altavista. And I jumped off at the station. I was the only one there that got off there. It was raining like cats and dogs that night and they were locking up the station. I stepped up to a taxi stand where I knew the man. He remembered me and he asked me “where in the world have you been?” I said “I have been around the world. I want you to carry me home.” He said “I can carry you home.” It had been raining for about a week and I didn’t know it. Well, I said, carry me up to there and I got out at my mailbox, raining, about 3 o’clock in the morning. In the meantime, they had worked a new road right there where we live now. And the mud was deep, but I was used to that, mud up to my knees. I was wet as a rag when I got home, about 4 o’clock in the morning. I went up to the front door, I said “daddy get up there …Ole folks used to always burn a lantern.” “He said, Oh Lord Mary, George is home.” I said, daddy go on back to bed. But my momma went in there and peeled me a pan of potatoes and she fried them up. She knew that was my favorite dish. You talk about something good. While I was overseas, every time she would fry potatoes, she would cry.
Doug: What was it like for your mother during the war?
George: It upset her. Momma walked from the house, exactly a mile, every day, six days a week, looking for a letter from me. I wrote letters but I couldn’t get them out. Momma couldn’t understand that. I didn’t know how to explain it.
Doug: Can you talk a little bit about Huddleston before the war? You remember when you told me the story about them mules running the power line through?
George: Oh yeah, I saw them when they put the first lines through there. They went from place to place to place. They didn’t use a team of horses, it was mules then. I remember the church that I attended, the Bethesda Methodist Church right there beside of my house. My mother was the first to get married in the church in 1920 or 1921. I remember when there was just as many horse and buggies as there were cars. And I remember hand-dug graves. When I was younger, people used to sit up with the dead, just before they died. I would shave them and sit up with them.
Doug: Tell them about the school bus you used to ride. Mr. Clay Dude and his old truck that he converted into a school bus?
George: When school was out, he’d lift that body off and put that old log loading gear back on it and pack wood logs all on it. That was back in the ‘40s. Most of the time I walked to school. I didn’t ride the bus till I started High School. When I walked to school I would pass this house and I look at the house and say “Man, I wished I had that house, I wouldn’t have to walk so far”. It wasn’t but a 2-3 room house back then. I thought if I lived there I wouldn’t have to walk so far and low and behold I wound up owning that house.
Doug: I understand you used to really like to shoot pool.
George: Oh Yeah, I used to make a living playing pool. Saunders had a pool room there in Bedford. I was so good nobody would play with me. Once I had a meeting or something at the Layne Co. I still had my suit on and I went to the pool room. I was shooting pool all dressed up and everything; and beating everybody just like a shark…and they thought, he must be a preacher looking at the way he was dressed in here, but then they said “naw” he had a cigarette, he ain’t a preacher. That was years and years ago, you don’t see much of that anymore. I made more money there in four or five hours than I did the whole week at my work.