James Morgan, Melvin C. Waltman

Editor’s note: World War II officially ended Sept. 2, 1945, when the Japanese signed surrender terms. We’re honoring the war’s area veterans over the next several months with these brief profiles.

James Morgan
Date of birth: Nov. 7, 1926
Dates of service: January 1944 to April 1946
Hometown: Portales
Lives in: Portales
Theater and location of service: Pacific
Branch: Navy
Rank: Seaman 1st Class
Unit and specialty: Submarine base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, barber
Veterans organizations: Lifetime VFW member, American Legion

Initially trained as a seaman guard, Morgan says “I didn’t like that at all.” He tells that a buddy approached him one day and told him they were looking for men to serve as barbers. “We would have done anything to get out of (being) guards” so off he went to train as a barber.

At first he wasn’t given many opportunities to cut hair.

“I’d have to stand behind the barber and watch him cut. Then when some guy came in wanting it all shaved off, well, then I went to work. When I finally got good enough, they turned me loose on that chair.”

The barber shop at Pearl Harbor was large and they worked in shifts around-the-clock. “We could cut it the way they wanted” he recalls, telling that the men could have stylish hair cuts including sideburns if they chose — they just couldn’t wear it too long.

Pearl Harbor was a stopping point for many of the soldiers and sailors as they traveled the Pacific and as such, Morgan was able to visit with many of the boys from home.

“I got to see 25 to 30 Portales guys. A lot of time we could go on liberty together if I was off.”

Melvin C. Waltman
Date of birth: Oct. 6, 1917
Dates of service: March 15, 1941, to May 22, 1946
Hometown: Clovis
Lives in: Logan
Theater and location of service: South Pacific: Philippines
Branch: Army
Rank: Master sergeant
Unit and specialty: 200th Coastal Artillery; Non-commissioned officer, regimental supply sergeant

In his words: Waltman spent three and half years as a prisoner of the Japanese in the Philippines and Japan, surviving the Bataan Death March in which prisoners were forced to walk approximately 65 miles.

“We were made to understand right at first that we didn’t cross them. At first it was really dangerous — if you crossed them in anyway they just killed you. We tried our best when they were looking to do what they told us.”

Escaping wasn’t a thought for Waltman. There had been some that tried, however, “every one of those boys they recaptured and tortured and killed.”

It was safer to stay in the camp and tolerate the brutality he said. “At least we had something to eat in there. We were on an island and we stuck out like sore thumbs, there was nowhere to go. I tried to stay away (from the guards) as much as possible.”

He said the prisoners stuck together.

“We learned (camaraderie). We got together after the work day was over and we talked. They let us celebrate Christmas a little bit, we had a little bit of a program put on by chaplains that some of us got to go too. We had to find some bit of happiness in there by talking and being together.”

World War II profiles are compiled by CNJ staff writer Sharna Johnson. Contact her at 763-6991 or by e-mail:
sharna_johnson@link.freedom.com