Fred Donaldson remembers that after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he and other young men gathered at Nash’s Store in Dunwoody to talk about what had happened. In June of 1942 at the age of 16, he enlisted and began a journey that would take him across the United States and across the world.
The journey began when Donaldson and friend Claude Warbington boarded the street car near Oglethorpe University, headed to Atlanta and then on to Fort McPherson. Fred Donaldson was inducted during his three weeks at Fort McPherson. His next stop was Miami Beach, where he spent five weeks, then to Augusta, Georgia for four weeks. He and another private were sent from Augusta to Barksdale Army Air Field in Shreveport, Louisiana.
A rather unusual occurrence at Barksdale was that Donaldson and the other soldier’s names were not called at roll call for a few weeks. Fred Donaldson continued showing up for roll call and drills, but the other man went home for a couple of weeks and returned without anyone ever knowing he was gone.
Once their names appeared on the roll, Mr. Donaldson began his first training in the 1034 Maintenance Group, 29th Air Service, 13th Army Air Corps, where he maintained lawn mower blades. His next training was with Bomb Squad 321, learning to diffuse bombs.
Last stop in the United States was San Francisco, where Fred Donaldson boarded a ship and recalls passing under the Golden Gate Bridge. From there he traveled to Esperitu Santo in what was then known as the New Hebrides Islands (now called Vanuatu).
At Esperitu Santo he worked three weeks with nine other men to dig up a bomb that had not exploded. Finally, after such exhausting and risky work, it was determined that the bomb was a dud. After the war ended, he and other members of Bomb Squad 321 received letters of commendation for their service.
Fred Donaldson continued working as a bomb diffuser when he transferred to Guadalcanal for twelve months. He also worked in the motor pool, keeping water trucks in good condition and ready to go at any time. He spent a couple of months working on KP duty, where he learned skills that still come in handy. While at Guadalcanal, Corporal Donaldson ran into a friend from Dunwoody, Eddie Austin. He arranged for Eddie to join him in the mess tent for supper and talk about home.
On Oct.26, 1942, Mr. Donaldson witnessed a ship sink after hitting two mines as it approached Esperitu Santo. The ship was the President Coolidge, a converted luxury liner that was transporting troops. The ship entered a large harbor to avoid enemy submarines but without knowledge of the mines. Of the over 5000 men onboard, most were able to swim or make it to rafts. Two people died when the President Coolidge sank.
While on Esperitu Santo, Mr. Donaldson contracted Dengue Fever, an illness linked to flies and mosquitos. Around the same time, he developed appendicitis and ended up in sick bay for two weeks.
On the island of Morotai, Donaldson recalls that the United States only held nine miles of the island, while the Japanese held everything else. U. S. and Australian troops went in to set up an Allied base in preparation of liberating the Philippines. It was his last stop in the Pacific Theatre.
Corporal Donaldson knows exactly how long his World War II service lasted- three years, three months, and twenty-nine days.
On the way home, he threw the winter coat he had been issued at the beginning of his service overboard. He describes it as “a big, old coat that would have been great for Alaska.” All servicemen were issued the same clothing but it wasn’t of any use on tropical islands. Mr. Donaldson had used the coat as a pillow. When his ship arrived in San Diego, California, he called his sister Avie Smith to announce his return, then boarded a train back across the USA to Fort McPherson.
Mr. Donaldson returned to his home on Vermack Road, just down the road from the home where he was born. A year later, he signed up for the Air Corps Reserves at Dobbins Air Force Base. He trained and became a licensed pilot in 1948 and has continued to fly through the years, until he had heart bypass surgery.
After the war, Donaldson worked for Sears Roebuck, getting paid $35 a week. Later, he went to work for Generator Exchange located on Techwood Drive. After he learned everything there was to learn at the company, they asked him to sign a non-compete for the surrounding seven states. He declined and started his own company, Donaldson Auto Electric, manufacturing starters and alternators.
Today, Fred Donaldson and wife Irene live in Douglasville, Ga, where his KP duty skills are used for church barbeques & Wednesday night suppers. They are looking forward to a family reunion in 2019 at the Donaldson-Bannister Farm.