|Home State||Civilian Occupation|
|U.S. Army||Enlisted 18097419 / Officer O-1550029|
|Mediterranean||1st Ordnance Bomb Disposal Squad (Separate)|
|Military Occupational Specialty (presumed)||Campaigns/Battles|
|9224 (bomb disposal officer)||Tunisian campaign|
Author’s note: Delaware’s World War II Fallen occasionally highlights men and women without a direct connection to the First State. I was inspired to tell his story after reading about the little-heralded Ordnance Bomb Disposal units in World War II.
Early Life & Family
John Arthur Randall was born in Mesa, Arizona, on January 24, 1906. He was the middle child of Charles Arthur Randall (1852–1942) and Ann (or Anne) Locke Randall (1871–1957). His father worked in the mining industry, while his mother was a schoolteacher. He had an older sister, Elizabeth Miner Randall (later Crutchfield, 1904–1989), and a younger brother, Nathan Avery Randall (1910– 1984). The family was recorded on the census on April 18, 1910, living at 307 Union (presumably what is now known as 307 East Union Street) in Prescott, Arizona. The family was recorded again on the census on January 15, 1920, now living at 230 South Pleasant Street in Prescott. At that time, Randall’s father was working as a secretary at a reform school.
Randall got an early start in the mining industry. In 1923, during the summer after his junior year of high school, he worked as a mucker (person who collects the rock) in an underground mine in Gleason, Arizona. After graduating from Western American High School in 1924, he worked as a mucker again before starting college at the University of Arizona that fall. During his college career, he worked at the Calumet & Arizona Mine in Bisbee and for the Inspiration Copper Company in Miami, Arizona.
After leaving college in 1928, Randall worked as a transitman for the Phelps Dodge Corporation at the Copper Queen Branch in Bisbee for a year and a half, then another six months as a miner after the mine slashed its workforce.
Randall married Leila Minerva Colvin (1906–1997) in Douglas, Arizona, on May 26, 1929. An article by Maude Williams printed the following day in The Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Arizona) described the wedding as “a quiet ceremony performed Sunday morning at nine o’clock at the home of” the bride’s parents, which
had been transformed into an enchanting bower of roses. Only relatives and intimate friends of the bride and groom were present to witness the marriage, which was performed by Rev. E. W. Simonson, of Douglas. The bride, attired in a gown of orchid silk and carrying a bouquet of roses, was given away by her father, L. S. Colvin.
The couple honeymooned at Cave Creek, Arizona. The following year, the couple was recorded on the census on April 8, 1930, living at 69 Shearer Avenue in Bisbee, Arizona. The Randalls left Bisbee later that year. During the early years of the Great Depression, Randall worked a variety of jobs and relocated frequently. His work history indicates that from 1930–1931, he did “Free lance surface surveying” in Tucson, Arizona, while also serving as a lumberyard foreman. Later, he was construction foreman at for a gold mill in Mammoth, Arizona.
In 1932, Randall moved to California, working in the Cardinal Gold Mine in Bishop. The following year, the Randalls moved to Los Angeles, and Randall wrote that he worked in “Small mines examination and operation in Nevada, Arizona, Calif., and New Mexico.” During 1934–1935, Randall was a shift boss at the Cardinal Gold Mine, then for the Val DeCamp in Oruro, Bolivia. In 1935, Randall returned to the United States and spent three months as a mine superintendent at the Ward Mine in Ely, Nevada.
Soon after returning to the U.S., Randall took a job at the Benguett Consolidated Mining Company, working as a shift boss and then as a foreman at the Balatoc Mine in the Philippine Islands. He continued to work as a mine superintendent in the Philippines for several companies until the summer of 1937. The Randalls departed Manila on August 26, 1937, arriving in Los Angeles one month later.
That same year, Randall returned to Bolivia, apparently working for the Compañía Minera Unificada del Cerro de Potosí. He worked as a foreman and then mine superintendent at the Colquiri and San José mines.
When he registered for the draft on November 5, 1940, Randall was unemployed (though a note mentioned that he had just returned “from South America Nov 2, 1940”) and living in Willcox, Arizona. The registrar described him as standing six feet, four inches tall and weighing 212 lbs., with blond hair and brown eyes. John and Leila subsequently returned to South America and were living in Bolivia when John’s father died on February 2, 1942, aged 90.
An August 10, 1943, article in The Arizona Daily Star stated:
Randall, who majored in engineering three years at the University of Arizona, had been in many parts of the world as a mining engineer. He was in charge of a Bolivian tin mine when war was declared and immediately notified his local draft board he was ready to serve.
The draft board cabled him [that] he was more urgently needed producing tin, but he answered:
“I say honestly that I do not want to sit here on the top of the Andes mountains while someone else does my fighting for me.”
Randall and his wife boarded the S.S. Copiapo at Antofagasta, Chile, on February 27, 1942. The ship made stops in Peru and Ecuador, transited the Panama Canal, and eventually reached New York City on March 18, 1942.
Randall enlisted in the U.S. Army on April 15, 1942. Presumably, he attended O.C.S. Regardless, Randall was subsequently commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Ordnance Corps and attended at least one month of bomb disposal training at the U.S. Army’s Ordnance Bomb Disposal School at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, graduating from the 10th class held there.
In his book Nine from Aberdeen: U.S. Army Ordnance Bomb Disposal in World War II, Dr. Jeffrey M. Leatherwood wrote that the bomb disposal school had opened on February 16, 1942, with its first class beginning the following day. Early instructors included four British officers who Leatherwood described as “not only experts in their specialized field, but survivors as well.” The Battle of Britain and the German aerial offensive known as the Blitz resulted in a tremendous number of unexploded bombs (referred to as U.X.B.s for short). Leatherwood wrote that “By late 1940, Royal Engineers bomb disposal personnel had sustained 123 deaths and 67 injuries related to German bombs.”
At the time the school opened in Maryland, nine Ordnance Corps officers and noncommissioned officers led by Major Thomas J. Kane were training at Harper Barracks in the U.K., some of whom later became instructors back in the United States.
According to the August 10, 1943, article in The Arizona Daily Star, Lieutenant Randall arrived in Oran, Algeria, on March 20, 1943. Dr. Leatherwood wrote that his arrival date was actually February 23, 1943, following a request from Allied Force Headquarters:
Responding to multiple calls for bomb support, Aberdeen Proving Ground sent five officers and thirty enlisted men who were not properly organized or equipped as separate squads under T/O [table of organization] 179. The five bomb disposal officers were Lieutenants Raymond J. Narwid, John A. Randall, Julian F. Reichman, Vincent J. Sibel, and Richard R. Huges II.
Capt. DeMarr Erskine, senior bomb disposal officer at AFHQ, organized these sections into five separate squads numbered one through five. […] In late March, Capt. Erskine thoughtfully loaned his 1st Squad to Bradley’s II Corps, squaring for their final showdown in Tunisia.
In mid-April 1943, 2nd Lieutenant Randall took command of the 1st Ordnance Bomb Disposal Squad (Separate), which was attached to the 188th Ordnance Battalion. Among the most common unexploded ordnance encountered was the German SD2 antipersonnel bomb, the infamous “butterfly bomb.” Although quite small, its cluster bomb submunitions were more than capable of killing anyone in the vicinity of an explosion. The Germans dropped them in large quantities.
Dr. Leatherwood wrote that: “During El Guettar, enemy planes had scattered Butterfly bombs over Allied command posts, and one full canister had failed to detonate. Randall’s men made short work of these bombs, devising special tools to recover the sensitive fuzes.”
As the Tunisian campaign drew to a close, 2nd Lieutenant Randall found himself quite busy. He had to perform the delicate job of rendering ordnance safe personally, because at the time only officers were trained to do so. Dr. Leatherwood wrote: “Randall’s 1st BD Squad handled all of Gen. Bradley’s battlefront calls for bomb disposal. On May 3, Lt. Randall located a downed German plane near Sidi Noir and demolished two live bombs still mounted on the wreckage.”
After Tunis and Bizerte were captured on May 7, 1943, and the remainder of the Afrika Korps surrendered within the week. However, there was still a great deal of unexploded ordnance in the area.
Leatherwood wrote that on May 11, 1943,
Randall defused 29 UXBs, and capped his day off by helping a British naval officer remove ten sea mines from Bizerte’s docks. Randall even obliged his British friends by disarming at least four UXBs for them over the course of several days. […] In June 1943, as German forces withdrew to Sicily and Italy, Randall’s 1st BD Squad ranged from Mateur to Bizerte, removing many bombs, rockets, mines, and hand grenades. Randall became adept at disarming booby-traps, even locating an “ingenious specimen” inside a refrigerator. On June 9, Randall’s squad detached from 188th Ordnance Battalion to pool resources with the 235th BD Company at Bizerte.
One of the 235th Ordnance Bomb Disposal Company’s officers was 1st Lieutenant William W. Farris, Jr., who had been a classmate of Randall’s back at Aberdeen Proving Ground. On June 21, 1943, the two men were working together. Dr. Leatherwood wrote that they “drove out to a beach outside Bizerte, where a live Italian naval mine had washed ashore.”
Naval mines were particularly hazardous because unlike the U.S. Navy’s bomb disposal personnel, the U.S. Army’s B.D. men were not trained to handle them. Though Lieutenant Randall had some experience with handling naval mines under British tutelage, the mine detonated, killing both men.
In his article “Explosive Ordnance Disposal Memorial U.S. Army,” Sergeant Major Mike R. Vining (U.S. Army, retired) wrote that “Their deaths were the first of several deaths, which resulted from U.S. Army bomb disposal technicians being called on to render safe items of underwater ordnance that they had not received any formal training[.]”
Lieutenant Randall’s remains were buried in the North African American Cemetery near Carthage, Tunisia. His wife, Leila, did not remarry. According to her obituary, printed in the Los Angeles Times on October 5, 1997, she also served in the U.S. Army during the war, and “taught physical therapy at the University of Southern California until her retirement in 1972.” She died in Los Angeles, California, aged 91.
Randall’s enlistment data card was partially garbled, but his service number—if accurate—indicates he entered the U.S. Army in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, or Texas. His name appears on a Cochise County, Arizona, casualty list, so it’s theoretically possible that he did enter the service in Arizona, but his service number was garbled on the card.
The 1st Ordnance Bomb Disposal Squad (Separate) became the 55th Ordnance Bomb Disposal Squad (Separate) in October 1943.
I was surprised to find that Randall and Farris’s deaths were considered non-battle on official casualty lists. According to Vining, even though they were killed by an enemy weapon, under the regulations in place at the time, the men were ineligible for the Purple Heart and it wasn’t until the following year that those regulations were changed. Vining told me: “Before this if an Army bomb disposal tech was injured or killed doing bomb disposal work it was treated just like a non-combat vehicle accident.”
If so, the regulation was certainly unfair. Had the two men been traveling aboard a ship that sank after striking that very same naval mine, if they had died they would unquestionably been classified as killed in action and awarded the Purple Heart.
Another E.O.D. historian, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Leiendecker, told me he was unable to confirm that regulation. However, the casualty list classification as D.N.B. would seem to have ruled out Randall and Farris being awarded the Purple Heart, whether the result of a regulation or mistake.
Curiously, “IN MEMORIAM LT. JOHN A. RANDALL 1906 ― 1943 HILL 609 MATEUR, TUNISIA” is written on Randall’s parents’ headstone. Though that would imply that Randall was killed during the Battle of Hill 609 towards the end of the Tunisian campaign, that was not the case, though his squad did operate in the area of Mateur.
Widow’s Military Service
It’s unclear when Leila Randall joined the U.S. Army. It may have been after her husband’s death, since his obituary stated that as of August 10, 1943, she was living with John’s sister in Tucson. It’s also unclear in what capacity she served. An August 7, 1943, article described her as a nurse, while her obituary indicates she was a physical therapist (at least postwar).
Special thanks to the Randall family for the use of their photos and a valuable document. Thanks also go out to Dr. Jeffrey M. Leatherwood, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Leiendecker (U.S. Army, retired), and Sergeant Major Mike Vining (U.S. Army, retired) for their assistance during my research pertaining to U.S. Army bomb disposal operations during World War II. I originally contacted them back in the fall of 2018 while writing an article involving the disposal of dud bombs following an air raid on my grandfather’s hospital.
Arizona Birth Records. Arizona Department of Health Services. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/8703/images/d894824060158dfc6a455a76c3f2a431
Arizona Death Records. Arizona Department of Health Services. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/8704/images/c031254d402de268ea8f8c1d5adf3c8b
California Death Index, 1940–1997. State of California Department of Health Services, Center for Health Statistics. https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/6014589:5180
“Charles Randall Dies in Willcox.” The Arizona Daily Star, February 4, 1942. Pg. 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/66308877/charles-a-randall-obituary/
“Charles A Randall.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/42099247/charles-a-randall
County Marriage Records. Arizona History and Archives Division, Phoenix, Arizona. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/60873/images/40657_541936-00436
Graeme, Richard W. “The Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company 1885–1917: A History of the Company and its Employees.” The Mining History Association Journal, 1999. http://www.mininghistoryassociation.org/Journal/MHJ-v6-1999-Graeme.pdf
Headstone Inscription and Interment Records for U.S. Military Cemeteries on Foreign Soil, 1942–1949. Record Group 117, Records of the American Battle Monuments Commission, 1918–c. 1995. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/9170/images/42861_646933_0808-00143
Leatherwood, Jeffrey M. Nine from Aberdeen: U.S. Army Ordnance Bomb Disposal in World War II. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012.
“Lt. Randall Killed in Africa.” The Arizona Daily Star, August 7, 1943. Pg. 3. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/66231808/john-a-randall-killed-in-action/
Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897. Record Group 36, Records of the U.S. Customs Service. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7488/images/NYT715_6615-0007
Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at San Pedro/Wilmington/Los Angeles, California. Record Group 85, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787–2004. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7949/images/cam1764_81-0269
“RANDALL, Leila C.” Los Angeles Times, October 5, 1997. Pg. B13. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/66307866/leila-c-randall/
Randall, John A. “Experience Record.” October 11, 1941. Courtesy of the Randall family.
United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7884/images/31111_4327232-00833
United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4294348-00540
United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4532413_00708
“Two Willcox Men, One From U. of A., Killed in Africa.” The Arizona Daily Star, August 10, 1943. Pg. 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/66307975/john-a-randall-1st-ordnance-bomb/
U.S. WWII Hospital Admission Card Files, 1942–1954. Record Group 112, Records of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army), 1775–1994. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/record/702257594/u-s-wwii-hospital-admission-card-files-1942-1954-blank
Vining, Mike R. “Explosive Ordnance Disposal Memorial U.S. Army.” November 21, 2018.
Williams, Maude. “Nogales Society.” The Arizona Daily Star, May 27, 1929. Pg. 3. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/66307835/john-randall-wedding/
World War II Army Enlistment Records. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1789–2007. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://aad.archives.gov/aad/record-detail.jsp?dt=893&mtch=1&cat=all&tf=F&q=18097419&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=1570260
WWII Draft Registration Cards for Arizona, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44538_09_00007-01317
Last updated on January 17, 2022
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