A Yank Down Under: From America’s Heartland to Australia’s Outback, by Ray A. Wyatt, Sunflower University Press, Manhattan, Kan., 1999, $22.95.
This is one of those niche books, useful because it fills in a corner of World War II history that has been overlooked or dominated by larger events and personalities. Ray Wyatt was a Kansas native on the front line in Darwin, Australia, in 1942, when the Japanese were threatening to invade that continent. Although the enemy never made good that threat, Wyatt as well as everyone else in Darwin endured months of regular bombing attacks as Japanese aircraft continued to attack the city. He relates these life-and-death experiences in a matter of fact manner that belies the heavy toll they exacted.
Coming from a horse-powered farm economy just crawling out of the Depression, Wyatt was properly awed by the pace and volume of the industrial and technological developments brought on by the war. In his own field of communications, the speed of change in the types and capabilities of equipment was nearly overpowering. He was taught how to communicate using Morse code and a hand key at the U.S. Army communications school at Fort Monmouth, N.J., in early 1942. By early 1945, shortly before he made the long trip back to the States, he was in charge of communications facilities in which as many as 20 teletype machines were operating simultaneously.
All the pressures of war and the vast changes that came about during the conflict were bound to affect those enduring them, and Wyatt was no exception. He came home to Kansas with no physical injuries but suffering from battle fatigue. Fortunately, the Winter Veterans Hospital in Topeka was able to help Wyatt go on to a successful career and family life.
Ray Wyatt’s story is typical of many veterans who were fortunate enough to survive the war but have had difficulty enduring the peace. His experiences demonstrate that there can be a life after the rigors of combat.
John I. Witmer