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Mantecas Nielson searching for fellow underage warriors
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Having enlisted in the Army at 14 in World War II Richard Nielson, of Manteca, is looking for other veterans who also enlisted before their 18th birthday some as young as 12. He is pictured with his dad Coast Guard Chief Harry Eugene Nielson who was 35 at the time in 1945. - photo by GLENN KAHL

Manteca’s Richard Nielson is just one of “America’s Young Warriors” who enlisted in the military to serve his country in World War II.

Nielson was 14 at the time and lived in Boston. He is determined to find others like himself to be brought into the fold of the Veterans of Underage Military Service Inc.

“There’s a lot of good guys out there,” he said, adding that many of them were injured and others killed in combat.  Undoubtedly numerous others still living are not aware of the organization founded for their benefit, he added.

Many in the organization today entered the service between the ages of 12 and 16.  Nielson noted that youth who made up the CCC work crews were mostly underage and taken directly into the military making them the youngest living veterans of World War II.

Nielsen was an X-ray and surgical technician in the first MASH hospital that was set up in the Korean Conflict. The unit that was nearly wiped out by the Chinese, if it had not been for Turkish soldiers who had protected them from the rear.  That MASH unit was the focus the movie “Battle Circus.”

The group was founded in 1991 by Alan C. Stover representing every level of the military from the Army to the Merchant Marines.

Nielson hopes his story will be read and motivate other underage veterans like himself to contact him for more information on joining his organization by calling 825-5650.

First joined National Guard in Massachusetts

Nielson first joined the Massachusetts National Guard and a year later joined the U.S. Army.  His father Harry E. Nielsen was in the U.S. Coast Guard at the time, having joined when he was just 15 himself.

It was October of 1945 when young Nielson entered the service and he was trying to get Seaman’s Federal Papers for the Maritime Service – which he somehow accomplished. 

He remembers landing an assignment on a small ship going to New York City.  Once there he got a slot in the Army Transport Service and wrote to the Massachusetts Guard that he would not be returning to Boston.

“I received an honorable discharge in November of 1946 and then worked for the Army Transport Service from January 1946 until March of 1947.  Because of my Seaman’s papers I was ‘18 years old’ as of March 9, 1946.  I had to get a draft card.  Also, I made my last foreign trip to France in May of 1946.  I worked on other ships around the U.S. until February 1947,” he said. 

Nielson further noted that President John F. Kennedy later ordered that those with Merchant Marine service during time of combat be recognized as U.S. military veterans.

In March of that year he enlisted in the U.S. Army for 18 months being sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey actually three days before his 16th birthday.  After 16 weeks of training he was sent to Washington State for more training and transferred to California where he reenlisted for three years and was sent to Japan with the 25th Infantry Division based near Osaki, Japan.

He got orders to attend a nearby medical school there where he learned the skills of a surgery technician and an C-ray technician all within a year’s time. 

“Because of the X-ray school I was transferred to Yokohama, Japan in the 155th Station Hospital in 1949.  In July of 1950 I became part of the MASH 60 bed mobile hospital known as the 8076th MASH Unit put together from personnel in Yokohama.  Major Van Buskirk was the commanding general who also worked as a technical advisor for the movie “Battle Circus” starring Humphrey Bogart with a plot that included a MASH unit.

The 8076th MASH Unit was sent all over Korea, he said, until a year later when the Chinese entered the conflict. 

In many instances the hospital unit assumed additional responsibilities of an evacuation hospital without loss of operational efficiency.  Between August and October of that year at Mir Yang, the unit furnished forward hospital support for the front line troops admitting nearly 6,000 patients.  In one 24-hour period it handled 244 surgical procedures, according to its combat citation.

In April of 1951 he rotated out of Korea having collected 60 wartime credit points. He was also suffering from malaria and dysentery.

Nielsen received orders back to Korea after his recovery, but while awaiting transportation out of Japan his assignment was changed and he was transferred to the 155 Station Hospital.  After three years in Japan, he was again reassigned to France where he met his wife – a marriage now going on 56 years.

Returning to the U.S. from France in 1967, he had planned to retire, but the military had other ideas expecting to send him to Vietnam for a 13-month tour.  His retirement papers came through first before his actual reassignment and he retired with more than 21 years of service in the Army.

After moving to California, Colonel Charles Drucker asked him to join the 342nd General Hospital reserve unit where he was later promoted to First Sergeant.  He left the 342nd in 1972 because of a job change that sent him to Hayward.  In April of 1977 he received an Honorable Discharge for 30 years of service.

Nielson was stated to be a Veteran of Merchant Marines for Service in Hazardous Waters during the end of World War II.  He is a life member of the Ripon Veterans of Foreign Wars.

His service included Japan for five years, Korea for one year, Germany one year, and France 11 years.  He was awarded the Army Commendation Medal twice, Good Conduct Medal six times, Korean Service Medal with two battle stars, national Defense Medal twice, the Republic of Korean War Service Medal, Army Overseas Medal five times, Army Unit Citation, Korean Presidential Citation and the Army Service Ribbon.

The Army Commendation Medal was presented for performing and processing X-rays on 7,500 patients within a 12-week period.

Before his civilian retirement at 63, Nielsen worked in Hayward as the manager of a Radiology Department in a large hospital.

Now the American veteran is working overtime at trying to find the remaining “Underage Warriors” he hopes to bring back into the fold of comrades who care about each other.