The Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor that December day in 1941 brought the war home, Cleburne resident and World War II veteran Tom Cannon stated in his recent memoir, “American Courage and Honor: The Tom Cannon Story.”
Cannon, 16 at the time, said the battles raging across Europe and the South Pacific felt distant to him and many other Americans before Dec. 7.
Raised in Kopperl, Cannon remembers joining his siblings and friends to escape the brutal Texas summer heat at a nearby swimming hole on Harry Duvall’s property. That Cannon had scant previous knowledge of Pear Harbor muted the effect of initial reports of the attacks. Soon enough, however, Cannon learned that his brother’s friend, Paul Whitlock, was stationed and killed there. Whitlock was one of the gang frequenting Duvall’s swimming hole just a few summers earlier.
Biting at the bit to join the fight, but hampered by youth, Cannon wasted little time once the opportunity finally arrived, walking into the Johnson County Courthouse on his 18th birthday to join the Army. In Dallas, Cannon befriended Doug Borden. The two had never met, although Borden also grew up in Johnson County. Cannon later realized that Borden’s father, Jim Borden, had cut his hair for years.
Cannon’s military career began roughly, then went straight downhill. A torpedo nearly sank the ship transporting him to the South Pacific. Escaping that, Cannon and company arrived in New Caldonia just in time to suffer several days of typhoon conditions. Moving on to Auckland, New Zealand, Cannon said he and his men soon realized their role as replacement fodder for soldiers killed in earlier battles.
From there the book relays Cannon and his fellow soldiers’ brutal island campaigns battling entrenched Japanese soldiers to gain ground, gauging success often yard by hard-fought yard. Cannon recounts the horror, filth, hunger and exhaustion of war recalling near miss escapes from death and seeing fellow soldiers blown to bits mere feet away. As people tend to do in such situations, Cannon mitigated the madness of war through camaraderie and unlikely interludes of humor.
A soldier, identified simply as Stewbeto, proved one of the troop’s more popular members, Cannon said, as he could make moonshine out of anything. Another incident, during an otherwise tense ground battle, provided a few moments of comic relief. A Japanese soldier separated from his men inadvertently tumbled into a foxhole occupied by one of Cannon’s fellow soldiers, Poncho, who was asleep at the time.
“For a moment or two we were hearing an arsenic blend of broken English, Spanish and Japanese cursing all at the same time,” Cannon remembers.
Hope too runs throughout Cannon’s war memories in part through the life-sustaining letters received from family and his girlfriend, and later wife, Vivien Beth Smith. Most uplifting, however, is a passage midway through the book. Run down by the parade of death and destruction while engaged in endless setbacks and battles that appear to accomplish little or nothing, the true purpose of the fight suddenly dawns on Cannon.
At 144 pages, the book makes for a quick read. Pictures both of Cannon and company and others courtesy the National Archives illustrate the action of the story at any given time. The book needs a good edit though. Misspellings and grammatical errors abound, a fault author Ronald Sisk readily acknowledged during a recent book signing by Cannon.
Stating up front that he’s not a writer, Sisk said he, “really had little to do with it other than transcribing [Cannon’s words and memories].”
The book is actually the by-product of a planned documentary on Cannon, said Sisk, who owns American Digital Films in Keller. Sisk’s brother, Randy Sisk, shot several hours of video interviews with Cannon in 2007. Ronald Sisk compiled portions of the interviews into the book. The two said that they hope book sales will help fund the documentary.
Structure faults aside, the narrative stays on track, clipping along with a minimum of distractions. All in all, it is a good read for anyone interested in remembrances of World War II mixed with bits of local history.
Cannon’s book is $24.95 and is available at www.thetomcannonstory.com. The site includes video footage of Cannon’s interviews and archival war footage.
Cannon will be honored during the Johnson County Republican Party’s President’s Day Gala to be held at 6:45 p.m. Monday at the Cleburne Conference Center, 1501 W. Henderson St.
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson is also scheduled as keynote speaker of the gala.
Tickets cost $50 to $100 and may be purchased by calling 817-776-1300 or visiting www.jcrp.org.