The San Francisco Examiner     


Web Site Contains War Stories They Once Held Inside

By:  Anastasia Hendrix
Section: A10

Published  7/3/98


Bill Tom will celebrate the Fourth of July at a family reunion in his hometown of Isleton, complete with the requisite barbecue and ice-cold lemonade.

But the World War II veteran has spent the past several years at a reunion of another kind - on the Internet preserving stories of wartime horror and heroism that he has not even shared with his own children.

It's part of a virtual museum dedicated entirely to chronicling firsthand accounts of the experiences of World War II paratrooper and glider veterans such as Tom, a longtime San Francisco resident and retired pharmacist.

The site,, was created in 1996 by 28-year-old Patrick O'Donnell, who has conducted more than 400 interviews and compiled thousands of photographs, maps and other memorabilia from the World War II-era battles.

The elite missions of the 100,000 or so paratroopers and gliders have captured his imagination for as long as he can remember, said O'Donnell, of Fairfax, Va., who had relatives among their ranks.

But, said the historian, it's really about preserving memories from the "60-yard" perspective, in which the experiences of those who parachuted into dangerous terrain make a far more profound impression than a textbook can.

On the site, Tom - and other veterans from the Bay Area and across the country - share their experiences.

Harrowing battle


Santa Rosa resident Don Abbott, who served in the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team, writes about the harrowing battle on the Island of Noemfoor in July 1944.

Knocked backward by the force of gunfire, Abbott saw a hole in his chest with a small chunk of metal inside.

As blood seeped through his fatigues, he "flicked the metal with a fingertip and the whole bullet popped out from between two ribs," he said.

Two other bullet fragments are plastered into his chin, and a third piece of metal is permanently lodged in his neck.

Tom said he never suffered a gunshot wound, but stared into the face of death too many times to count.

The Delta resident recalled one night in March 1944 as he slept in the barracks soon after arriving at Camp Forrest.

"Suddenly all this yelling and screaming woke me up and when I turned my head, there were two guys coming at me with bayonets," he said. "It was frightening."

His life was spared with only seconds to spare after a sergeant intervened and disarmed the American soldiers, who had mistakenly believed that Tom - who is of Chinese descent - was a Japanese spy.



1998 The San Franciso Examiner