Orange County resident helped rebuild Japan
Jim Brewer was 13 years old when he decided it was time to leave home and take care of himself. His first job was working for a timber estimator in his home town of Lufkin. The pay was 50 cents per day with room and board. His next job paid 75 cents a day. Then he found a better paying job; he delivered for a drug store and earned $1, plus a sandwich each day.
Brewer decided to see what the big town of Beaumont held for him so he moved there and worked as a dishwasher and soda jerk until he heard about the shipyard work available in Orange.
To work in a shipyard in Orange, one had to be at least 16 years old. Brewer was not old enough, but he found a way to get some paperwork that said he was 16 so he went to work; he was hired as an electrical helper and worked at that until he lost his wallet with all his money.
“The shipyard held back two days pay. I needed money so I quit so that they would have to pay my back pay,” Brewer said. “Then I got hired again. This time they hired me as a welder-tacker at 75 cents an hour. That was a good deal. Then I got a raise to $1 an hour. In addition, I learned to weld. I stayed with that job until my dad talked me into moving to Galveston. I moved, but did not like Galveston. I decided to join the Army.”
Brewer enlisted in 1944 and did his basic training at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas. After basic training he was sent to the Philippines. He was first assigned to an infantry unit, but because he was not yet 19 he could not go into combat. He was reassigned to a construction battalion.
“By the time we got to the Philippines most of the fighting was over,” he said. “My unit was assigned to jobs rebuilding what had been destroyed in the fighting. I did get shot at one time. My sergeant and I were sitting on a dirt pile in this dirt pit we were working in and a bullet hit between us. We bailed off of that pile and hit the ground. Later we found out that two Jap soldiers had been captured. They did not know the war was over, I guess. The people were so grateful to be liberated that they treated us like kings.”
Brewer’s next move was to Japan, to an area about thirty miles from Tokyo.
“What we saw there was really bad. There was a lot of destruction from bombing raids and not much left at all,” Brewer said. “The people had to just put together whatever they could to live in and they had no food. They would eat anything they could out of a garbage can.
“Old women would stand by our lines after we had eaten and were headed to wash our mess trays. They would have these gallon cans and wait for someone to walk by and scrape what was left on their tray into their can,” he said. “Some would go to the cans we dumped garbage in and fish out pancakes that were in there. There would be coffee and water and a lot of other stuff. They would take these pancakes and sort of wring them out and let them dry and then eat them,” said Brewer.
“I hated the Japs until I saw how these people lived. They did not start the war, we did not fight them and they had to live under really bad conditions. It was not their fault and I began to look at these people different than I had when I first got there.”
Brewer’s unit was assigned jobs rebuilding airfields. They operated rock crushers and dug dirt out of large pits to be hauled to the job. The workers in some cases had been in the Japanese military. They were taught to operate the heavy equipment and do some basic road building type construction.
“One guy that was working under me had been a kamikaze pilot; he spoke very good English, but was arrogant,” Brewer said. “This guy would decide that he did not want to work and would say that his shovel was not working right. I would climb into the cab and there would be nothing wrong.
“After he had pulled this trick a bunch of times, he did it one day and I was in the wrong mood. I had checked out his shovel and it was working well. He had climbed out of the pit and was standing on the edge. I climbed up to where he was and told him that there was nothing wrong then I hit him so hard that he rolled down into the pit. He got in the cab and went back to work and I never had another problem with him. I was afraid that I might get into trouble, but my captain told me I should have done it a long time ago.”
The majority of Brewer’s time was spent in Japan.
“Once I got to go on TDY to Kyoto,” he said. “We could check out a bicycle and tour around the area. We saw some damage and we saw some stuff that was not damaged too badly. We went to a Shinto shrine and saw a rope about 1 ½ inch thick that was made of human hair. I don’t know what it was used for.
“One time we went through an earthquake. That was a scary thing to go through. There was some bad stuff and some good stuff in Japan. I was glad when my time was up and I got to go home,” Brewer said.
After his enlistment ended he went into the Active Reserves, then into the Inactive Reserves for three years. He served time in the Naval Reserve in the Seabees, and then he rejoined the Army Reserves. His total time of military service when he retired was 37 years.
After so many years of service his country in the military, Brewer has continued his tradition of service. He joined the VFW in 1962 and has been a member of Post 2775 in Orange since that time.
Brewer has served as Post Commander three times, District Commander one time and has served on several committees as chairman. He is a Mason and a Shriner. He also coached baseball for a number of years.
Brewer is one of the men from the “Greatest Generation.” He served his country in wartime and in later periods. He has served his community well for over 40 years. He is now taking time for himself, fishing and spending time with his family. The old soldier is resting.