WWII Snapshots by Maggie Simpson - 2008

Edna and Era Bryant, Marines

There is history to this house — the smells, the furniture and the paintings on the wall. This is the house where Edna Dailey sat listening in shock to the radio broadcast that announced the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. This is the house she called home when she was stationed in California. And most importantly, this is the house where she met the love of her life, her husband, Era Bryant, on a blind date.

Edna and Era Bryant didn't meet before World War II, and they didn't know they were stationed at the same camps in two different states. They did, however, know going to the Marines was part of their patriotic duty.

"I suppose it was the 'We Want You' enlistment signs that got me," Era said. "And I thought the Marines would be better for me than the Army or Navy."

Era Matthew David Bryant received his GED from Independence (Kan.) High School in 1939. He was in Burlington, Kan. going to radio school when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. In November 1942, he sought out the Marines for a new experience. Era entered boot camp in San Diego, Calif. in 1942.

"We did a lot of drilling exercises and physical training. And boy, there was a lot of marching," Era said.

Era recalled a time at boot camp when his platoon realized Tyrone Power, a famous Hollywood actor at the time, was in a neighboring platoon.

"He was the biggest Marine that was in the Marine Corps. He was supposed to be a tough guy," Era said.

Another minor part of basic training that Era remembered was getting a haircut.

"I went to a barber shop and the guy said, 'How do you want your haircut?' and I told him how I wanted it. After he shaved it all off, I said, 'I didn't tell you to cut my hair like that,' and he just laughed. It about made me mad," Era said, laughing.

After basic training, Era was sent to Camp Miramar in California for more training. The Mojave Desert was Era's next station. Era explained how pilots of B-24s were trained to land on ships without leaving the air station.

"The ship was actually painted on the runway, so the pilot could land like it was on the ship," Era said.

From the Mojave Desert, Era embarked overseas. His squadron, VMD-254, 1st Marine Air Wing, flew to Emirau, an island in the St. Matthias Group located north of New Ireland. From Emirau, VMD-254 flew to Espiritu Santo, an island close to the Japanese-held Guadalcanal, and eventually his squadron went ashore on Guadalcanal.

"We took pictures of the South Pacific and we mapped them as reconnaissance points and of course we had some aerial combat," Era said. "During these missions, the enemy obviously did not want their picture taken so they would start shooting at us."

Fredrick Johnsen, author of "B-24 Liberator: Rugged But Right", describes the VMD-254 mission as a "planned replacement of VMD-154." When VMD-254 arrived in Espiritu Santo, they began moving north as the war progressed. VMD-254 continued to do reconnaissance flights between the islands of New Hebrides and the Solomon Islands. On March 30, 1944, VMD-254 was relocated to Guadalcanal.

Era worked as a radio mechanic tail-gunner, one of the most dangerous jobs on a crew. The job of a tail-gunner is to defend the aircraft from rear attacks. Overall, Era’s squadron flew 32 missions.

While serving in Guadalcanal, Eleanor Roosevelt visited Era's squadron.

"She said our squadron was a bunch of heathens," Era said, smiling.

Edna laughed and laid her hand on her husband's.

"Well, what were you guys doing, running around half-naked?" Edna said.

"Then she told us that when we got back, she recommended we go back to Sun Valley for rehabilitation but we didn't carry that out," Era said.

Sun Valley is a resort community located in central Idaho. During World War II, the resort was closed down and used as a hospital for the U.S. Navy.

During Era's time in the South Pacific, he was never injured during battle. However, one day he and a buddy were stringing telephone wire through the palm trees and a loud noise startled them.

"I was stringing telephone line up in the trees with a buddy of mine. There was a shot and it went through the trees. We heard the bullet hitting the tree limbs so we decided to get out of there. So, we pulled our gaffs [boot spikes used for climbing wood poles] out and I beat my buddy down to the ground and he happened to run his gaff through my right foot. It put me in the hospital for two weeks," Era said.

After completing his missions in the South Pacific, Era was discharged from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina in 1946.

When Era finished his story about his South Pacific experiences, Edna said, "I was once told the average life-span of a tail-gunner was less than 12 minutes."

She also recalled a time when Era told her about his squadron going ashore on Guadalcanal. He remembers most of it as a nightmare. Their mission was to re-take the base from the Japanese. Even though it wasn't a full battle, boats were still needed for landings.

"You see soldiers and Marines going down on either side of you and you figure it's fate; either you get shot or you don't,” Era said.

Edna then began telling her story.

Edna Marguerite Dailey grew up in Manhattan, Kan. with her parents and her brother, Charles Dailey Jr. Chuck, as the family called him, enlisted in the Army after the war and he worked in the Allied Army of Occupation in Japan.

Edna graduated from Manhattan High School in 1938, and went on to graduate from Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Science, now K-State, in home economics and art. She was home for the weekend while attending Bethany College at Lindsborg when she heard about Pearl Harbor.

"I was shocked and in disbelief; you just can't imagine anything like that," she said.

In the spring of 1942, Edna moved with a girlfriend to Kansas City to work in retail at Emery, Bird, Thayer, one of Kansas City's historic department stores. A few months later, she joined a government training school for sheet metal work. During this time, Edna had a boyfriend who was stationed in the South Pacific. He wrote to her how great the Marines were, and how much he loved it. Edna decided to enlist.

"The posters got pretty compelling, and I liked the uniforms the best. They were green," Edna said, laughing.

She was sent to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for basic training in 1944.

"One of my first memories of basic training camp was when I was handed unbleached muslin sheets. I thought, 'Oh, Lord what have I gotten myself into,'" Edna said.

Edna endured two months of boot camp, drilling in 126-degree heat, and ingesting salt tablets to stabilize her body's fluids.

"Men and women's training camps were different. The men were trained to go over and fight, the women were trained to take the man's place, so ours wasn't nearly as difficult," Edna said.

After training camp, Edna and some members of her platoon, 34-B A-3, were loaded up and sent by cattle car to Norman, Okla. to the Naval Air Technical Training Center. She was trained as an aviation machinist mate and was stationed there for six months. On New Year’s Day, 1945, Edna arrived in El Toro, Calif. at the Marine Corps air station, where she installed inter-office telecom boxes.

"We called them squawk boxes," she said. "We used 51 pair cables to string under and above ground to connect to all the offices so they could all communicate."

Edna recalled the time when her sergeant was going to be discharged. He did not want to leave the service, and wanted to make sure the U.S. Marines would hire him back as a civilian worker. Prior to that, one of Edna's jobs, because of her background in art, was to make charts so others could see how to use the boxes. The sergeant, "power playing a bit," as Edna put it, took all the charts when he was discharged, so he would eventually be hired back.

"Well, he didn't realize that I had made these charts and had everything memorized, so I just re-did them," she said, laughing.

During her time in California, free time was spent lying on Laguna Beach or going to the nearest riding stables with her girlfriends. Edna was able to communicate with her family during the war via telephone and letters, but she did miss them, especially during the holidays. The Christmas of 1945, which she feared would be a lonely one, actually turned out to be one of Edna's fondest memories during the war. A friend had an aunt who had a cottage in Orange, Calif. They borrowed it for the weekend and invited their whole platoon for Christmas dinner.

"We even cut poinsettias from the yard for the table decorations. And there was a big turkey; it was wonderful," she said smiling.

In 1946, Edna and Era were discharged and both returned to Manhattan. They were introduced soon after, at Edna's mother's house before a mixer at Anderson Hall.

"A girlfriend of mine had a date she didn't want to be left alone with, so they brought along someone for me, and it was Era," Edna said.

From the start, they had something special. Their past experiences in the Marine Corps gave them a common bond from the very beginning. They enrolled at Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences. Edna worked on her master's and Era began working on a college degree. They were married later that year in 1946.

Era got a job working as a patrolman for the Manhattan Police Department. In 1948, they had their first daughter, Margaret "Peg". In 1951, while Edna was pregnant with their second daughter, Katherine, Era was called back into service. He was sent East for further communication training for the Korean War. But as luck would have it, Era was never sent overseas again. His remaining service was spent as a civilian employee as a communications equipment specialist for Fort Riley. During the summers, he traveled to different camps, inspecting telephones, radar equipment and armories in Nebraska, Colorado and Missouri.

"There were three summers the family and I were able travel to Camp Ripley, which is close to the town Little Falls in Minnesota, to be with him,' Edna said. “The third summer we rented a house that had a sand box, which the kids loved.”

Shortly after, in 1956, their third daughter, Susan, was born.

The Bryants' experiences in the Marine Corps have shaped their views on today's war.

"I don’t know why they call it a war. It's not like one. You're put in there with children and civilians, and you don't know who your enemy is," Era said.

The couple resides in the same house they met in. Edna points out the spot where the radio used to be and the kitchen she was standing in when she heard the news of the Pearl Harbor attack. The paintings on the wall come from a family of artists, their three daughters each having contributed art works. Edna showed her painting room - a small nook with large windows that she worries might fade her paintings. Era followed, puffing on his pipe, smiling as Edna talked about her favorite pictures the girls have done. Then she shows her most cherished possession — the family photograph.

Edna and Era Bryant celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in 2006.

Era and Edna Bradley in the 1940s

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