Red Toon (Pt. 3): Red Enlists in Navy’s College Graduates’ Officers Training Program

After resigning from the Army’s radar training program (Pt. 1), Red did his homework. He learned about the Navy’s V-7, College Graduates’ Naval Reserve Officers Training Program. It was designed to prepare large numbers of junior deck officers for action with the rapidly growing Pacific Fleet. Perhaps Red saw the poster below, which was widely posted at recruiting sites nationwide.

College Graduates'Naval Reserve Officers Training Program

McClelland Barclay, National History and Heritage Command


Red reported for duty in early 1943 at Cornell University in Ithaca New York. After 90 days he graduated a proverbial “Ninety Day Wonder.”  Next he reported to the introductory amphibious training program at Little Creek VA and later to the advanced training program at Ft. Pierce FL. Those programs were focused, deadly-serious efforts to make warriors of Red Toon, high school science teacher from Pleasant Plains IL,  and all his buddies. When he finally went to sea in March, 1944, he was Assistant Boat Group Commander under one Joseph B. McDevitt.

I believe the best way to understand the training those men received is to read letters they wrote home. Fortunately the Toon collection has a set of those letters. We have selected and will share a few of them here. They are especially informative, though we feel a bit intrusive reading Red’s correspondence with Norma Kathleen, the sweetheart of his life. But the letters tell us about the kind of man he was and about the work that young amphibians put in before going to war.

Early 1943 Ithaca NY


I hardly know how and what to write to my sweetheart. I got the telegram last night about eleven o’clock & I could hardly sleep all night. I know I didn’t drop off to sleep until nearly time to get up this morning. In spite of that I walked on air all day & am not tired yet. I had quite a time last night after I got the telegram, most of the fellows were in bed but I woke everyone on the deck & we really raised the roof here until about twelve. You would really be surprised to know how interested everyone here was in the great event!

Several fellows here have babies of their own well part theirs anyway & I wish I could remember all the advice and tales I heard last night. Needless to say I’ve been “Pop” Toon ever since. I like it. Have sure taken a lot of kidding about the big grin I’ve been carrying all day. Even the instructors noticed it!

Had two exams today, weren’t bad at all, have two tomorrow. I started packing up today.

The funniest thing I’ve seen happen around here was pulled this morning at first formation at six o’clock. The company commander had called us all to attention & was receiving reports from the section. The section leader in each case steps forward & says “Section ___ is formed, Sir” as he salutes. The last section had just reported & Ensign “Happy” Azaragian stepped forward saluted very smartly & said “There’s been a new addition to the Toon clan Sir.” Everyone froze for a minute then roared with laughter & “hurrahs”. The O.O.W. smiled and let it go. A month ago we’d all have landed in the guardhouse. You just don’t laugh while in formation at attention.

Everyone here is quite pleased with the name though I’ll admit most of the favor is for Kathleen & when I told them that was her mother’s name also they are doubly pleased. The Irish definitely have the upper hand here.

I know this sounds silly but they really are a swell bunch of guys and are serious I know in what they say.

Janice Kathleen must be a pretty big girl! Aren’t you awfully proud of yourself?

There are of course a million questions I’d like to ask you but you couldn’t answer them now & we’ll have time to talk this over soon.

                                                                                                 All My Love


After my first reading of this letter, I was struck with the clear respect the men in his unit displayed for Red. If the Navy was looking for leaders, they’d found one in Ithaca NY.

Not long after writing this letter, Red realized his dream. He graduated from the College Graduates’ Naval Reserve Officers Training Program and was commissioned an Ensign in the United States Naval Reserve. We believe he received a short leave and travelled home to see his wife and first child, Janice Kathleen Toon.

Next stop: Little Creek VA.

Toon Family Collection

Naval History and Heritage Command





Got Names! Revisiting the Leon’s Beach Medical Team Pictures

My friend Printy Arthur came through for us. He studied the pictures of Dr. William Lusk’s hospital corpsmen and helped us out with names. His best recollections of three first names follow. (Click on pictures to enlarge.)

Lusk W Corpsmen

(left to right)

Boches (first name still unknown)

Joe Boyette

William Lusk

Donald Bjork

Bill Alexander

So we’re missing only one first name here: Corpsman Boches’. Come on, someone help us out here!!

In the full beach team picture below, Dr. Lusk and eight corpsmen, we now have five complete names.

Battalion Medical Team enhanced

Standing ( l – r)



Bill Alexander

William Lusk

Boches (first name still unknown)

Printy Arthur


Kneeling (l – r)

Joe Boyette

Donald Bjork

Printy Arthur thinks that one of the unknown men pictured above had the last name of Atsalas. Does this ring a bell anywhere out there? We know they all came home. Families…help us out!




Dr. Richard L. Pearse and the Medical Unit Aboard the USS Leon APA 48

We want to introduce you to Lt. Commander Richard L. Pearse. Pearse was graduated from Duke University and from Harvard Medical School in 1931. He joined the Navy in 1941 and was appointed a surgeon at the Navy’s medical unit in Key West, FL. Three years later he joined the crew of the Leon shortly before she embarked 1400 marines and officers from the 47th Replacement Battalion and left for duty in the Pacific.

By the time he reported aboard ship, Dr. Pearse was Lieut. Commander and Leon’s Senior Medical Officer.

Pearse 5 pics 2 (5)

Lieut. Commander Richard L. Pearse


The crew of the Leon were fortunate to have a Senior Medical Officer of Dr. Pearse’s standing, both in terms of his surgical skills and his administrative/organizational experience. In turn, Dr. Pearse was fortunate to have three other officers who were also outstanding medical professionals. All four ship’s doctors would be challenged beyond their wildest imaginations during Leon’s first operation: Operation Forager, June 1945.

We received a very special photograph from the Toon Family Album that pictures the Leon’s four-man professional medical unit. They include (left to right):

  • Lieut. Gerald S. Almond, Dental Officer, from Andrews, NC
  • Lieut. Commander Richard L. Pearse, Sr. Medical Officer, from Tidioute, PA
  • Lieut. (jg) Arnold W. Friedman, Jr. Medical Officer, from South Orange, NJ
  • Lieut. William W. Lusk, Battalion Beach Doctor, from Carlinville, IL.
Almond Pearse Friedman Lusk enhanced

Medical Unit USS Leon


We have described in an earlier post the memorable experience these officers had on D-Day, June 15, 1944. That was the amphibious assault against Saipan. At 0955 that morning the Leon’s davits lifted forty-one wounded and dead men aboard ship. With wounded stretched on litters along the main deck, the medical team had its hands full. The next day would be worse for Leon’s crew. We repeat that story from our June 21 post.

” As she anchored in the transport area on D + 1 day and began lowering her boats, the crew soon learned that the Japs had attacked in force throughout the night on the beaches. Boats arrived immediately and throughout the day carrying approximately 200 casualties from the beach and from other ships. They came so rapidly and in such numbers that it was impossible to keep records or do anything but treat the most seriously wounded.

The Leon’s Dental Officer did an excellent job supervising the receiving ward set up in the troop officers’ mess.  Ambulatory patients were directed to and treated at the forward battle dressing station. Wards for the serious patients were set up in the chief petty officers’ quarters and in the troop officers’ quarters. The ship’s…doctors labored around the clock, perspiring endlessly, wearing only their shorts, conducting surgery on the dinner tables in the troop officers’ wardrooms.

The Leon’s hands were happy to receive the ship’s beach party back aboard at 1400 on D + 2 day. The beach crew had been pinned down by mortar fire and sniper fire on the beach since D-Day. After a minimal rest, the beach party doctor and eight corpsmen turned to, making it possible to run two operating rooms simultaneously.

LST (landing ship tank) 275 pulled alongside at 1222 with more casualties, and the medical team fell further behind.

Six of the wounded aboard ship died from their wounds. But the Leon’s doctors and corpsmen stayed up day and night, and the remaining 300 survived.”


Pearse Family Album

Toon Family Album

All Came Home