Vet drove Burma Road
VIENNA – John Goodworth didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to his family when he was drafted into the Army on June 10, 1942, at the age of 21.
Born and raised in Vienna – at 94, he said he is the oldest living resident born and raised there – he didn’t know he was about to set out on an adventure that would take him across the country and around the world.
“I was only a young kid back then, a young punk,” he said with a chuckle. “I didn’t know where I was going, either.
”They took us up to Cleveland for a physical, and they used to send them home for 10 days, but they didn’t do that with us. Some of them had a week or two before they went, and I didn’t,” he said.
His landscape changed dramatically when he was put on a boat and shipped out to the Persian Gulf. He wouldn’t see his family or his hometown for the next 3 1/2 years.
“We didn’t leave home in those days like they do today. It was an all new experience for me,” he recalled.
Goodworth, a mechanic prior to being drafted, joined the Army as a mechanic.
After completing basic training at Camp Croft in South Carolina, he traveled from Massachusetts to California and was sent overseas.
“We didn’t know where we were going. It was all secret,” he said. Boats sailed in zigzags to avoid being spotted.
“I didn’t know what to think. Our outfit was supposed to go from New Jersey. In those days, they just canceled your plans,” he said.
He wound up on an island in the Pacific Ocean, and from there he and his fellow soldiers were sent to the Persian Gulf, where he was stationed in Iran during World War II.
The soldiers lived in tents, and the harsh weather forced them to work strictly at night.
“If it got down to 90 at night, it was cool. In the barracks we’d put the mosquito nets up and get in bed. Soak them in water. That was our AC. Hung them up on our bunks, hope we fall asleep. It didn’t last long, though,” he said.
There were no towns nearby, but that didn’t matter – the towns were off-limits to the troops, who were forced to wash their laundry and bathe in the river.
“Boy, water was scarce over there,” he said. “Everything was off-limits over there because of the way people lived. Only fresh meat we got was what we went hunting for. Wild boar or deer. I’ve had water buffalo, too. You couldn’t eat cows over there, but you could eat buffalo.”
Other than what was caught, the outfit subsisted on GI food – powdered eggs, powdered potatoes and other things that Goodworth simply called “edible.”
Still, he made the best of it.
“I went along with the flow. I knew I had to be there, so I just went with the flow,” he said.
However, some changes were hard to deal with.
“They sent us up north in the bottom of the mountain in December. Can you imagine what we were like, living in tents? It was just cold enough to freeze water,” he said.
One of the few soldiers to sport a driver’s license, Goodworth also was able to operate larger vehicles, including bulldozers.
One of his fondest memories is driving the Burma Road, a more than 70-mile mountain road so steep it had more than 20 setbacks. He drove the road to deliver supplies.
“You go up there in low gear. You had to know what you were doing. If you stalled your motor, you might as well say goodbye. We drove over it and then we flew back. We hit a storm flying back, and boy, you talk about guys gettin’ sick,” he said, recalling the reason for the large washtub in the center of the plane.
From the Golden Gate Bridge to the Statue of Liberty and the Taj Mahal, Goodworth said he has many fond memories and no regrets.
He’s seen boat rides so hot, ”you can’t even touch the side of the boat.” He’s also seen weather so cold, when area residents complain about northeast Ohio winters, he has to laugh. “I say, ‘You don’t know what that is,'” he said.
But he says he will never forget the journey he began in the summer of ’42.
“They say join the Navy and see the world. But I was around the world in the Army. I’ve had quite an experience. One I’d never get any other way,” he said.