Herman J. Travers

Postal Worker Survived The Japanese Attack On Pearl Harbor And Received Two Bronze Stars For Heroism

November 23, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Herman J. Travers, a retired postal worker who survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and later received two Bronze Stars for heroism during the Battle of Peleiu, died of complications from Alzheimer's disease Tuesday at Genesis Loch Raven Center.

He was 89.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Canton, Mr. Travers attended Patterson High School for a year before dropping out and going to work in waterfront packing houses in Fells Point and Canton to help support his family.

During the late 1930s, Mr. Travers became an aspiring welterweight boxer under the tutelage of Lee Halfpenny, a local boxing legend.

In 1940, he joined the Army as an infantryman and was sent to Schofield Barracks on Oahu, Hawaii.

On Dec. 7, 1941, he was a private serving with the 27th Infantry Regiment when the Japanese unleashed their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

"For the thousands of soldiers on Oahu, 7 December marked their rite of passage into the art and science of war," recalled Mr. Travers in "Eyewitness to Infamy: An Oral History of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941," a series of interviews by Pearl Harbor survivors that was compiled by his son, Paul Joseph Travers, a Parkton author and historian, and published in 1991.

On the Sunday morning of the attack, the elder Mr. Travers had just picked up his breakfast at the mess hall. It was nearly 8 a.m.

"I received my breakfast and sat down at a dining table with other member of the company when the bombing sounds reached us, coming from the direction of Wheeler Field, Hickam Field, and the Pearl Harbor basin," he said.

At first dismissing the sounds as a target bombing practice, Mr. Travers and his fellow soldiers quickly changed their minds.

"About this time, someone remarked that there were some small holes in the company street, just outside the mess hall window," he said. "On going out, we saw not only what the nicks were but also their cause: the Japanese with their rising-sun emblems as big as life, strafing not only our quadrangle, but anything else that they could take advantage of while making their descent in attacking the fleet at Pearl Harbor, their ultimate objective."

Another lingering memory from across more than six decades that never left Mr. Travers was the radio that Sunday morning. Broadcasters kept repeating over and over: "This is not an alert, it is the real thing; the Japanese are attacking the island."

As a bugler played the call to arms, several soldiers from Mr. Travers' company raced to the roof of the barracks and began firing machine guns at the enemy planes, successfully bringing down one of them.

Soldiers, he said, reported to their company muster and awaited further orders from officers.

Mr. Travers was assigned to a jeep patrol to search roads for martial-law violators and possible saboteurs, while making certain that blackout orders were observed.

At night, they had to respond to calls from residents who reported that Japanese paratroopers had landed in the hills and were hiding in attics.

"Such troops never landed on Oahu," he said.

Mr. Travers returned to the U.S., where he attended officers candidate school at Fort Benning, Ga., and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1942.

He returned to the Pacific in 1944 and was assigned to the 323rd Regimental Combat Team, 81st Infantry Division.

"In October 1944, during the Battle for Peleiu, he received two Bronze Stars for heroism in combat," his son said.

"On Oct. 17, he led a volunteer team of four men and successfully rescued a wounded soldier from the battlefield during deadly mortar fire that killed one member of his team and wounded another," he said.

Thirteen days later, while on a patrol near Bloody Nose Ridge, Mr. Travers was seriously wounded while directing a counterattack after his patrol had been ambushed by enemy machine-gun fire.

Sent back to the U.S., Mr. Travers spent the next three years in military hospitals while doctors attempted to reconstruct his foot.

He was at the Valley Forge Army Hospital in Pennsylvania when he was discharged with the rank of first lieutenant in 1947.

In 1945, Mr. Travers married his wartime sweetheart, Frances M. Janiszewski, whom he had met at a Fells Point social club.

After his discharge, he returned to Baltimore.

An outdoorsman, he had hoped to secure employment as a park policeman or a state trooper, but his war injuries precluded such jobs.

After working briefly at Bethlehem Steel Corp., he went to work for the post office.

"Again, he wanted to walk a route, but his physical disability wouldn't allow him to take such a job," his son said. "So he became a postal clerk, working for 32 years at the Clifton and Hamilton stations before retiring in 1985."

The longtime Gardenville resident, who moved to Perry Hall in the 1980s, had coached youth baseball teams. He enjoyed reading, playing chess, golf and spending time with his grandchildren.

He was a member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Purple Heart Society.

Mr. Travers was modest about his wartime experiences.

"He used to say, 'I got a Bronze Star for this? Behind every medal is a long line of brave men,' " his son said.

Mr. Travers was a communicant of St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church, 4414 Frankford Ave., where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Travers is survived by another son, Mark Travers of Manassas, Va.; a daughter, Regina S. Schuch of Jarrettsville; a brother, Anthony Buenger of Gettysburg, Pa.; four sisters, Cecelia Zappie, Anna Crawford, Patricia Kropfelder and Elizabeth Keller, all of Baltimore; seven grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

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