Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

First War Casualty

THE Los Angeles City Fire Department suffered it first war casualty when Staff Sergeant John M. Randall lost his life near Shreveport, La.  The army bomber in which he was serving as bombardier-navigator, crashed while on a training flight from Barksdale Field where he was stationed.  The accident occurred the morning of April 19, 1943.

    John Randall joined the Los Angeles Fire Department May 10, 1941.   After completing his training at the department drill tower he served his probation in a number of companies in district eleven.  He served the major portion of his time with the department at Engine Company 11, at 1819 West Seventh street.

    Joining the United States Army July 29, 1942, he requested and received appointment to the Army Air Corps.  At Las Vegas, Nev., Randall received training in Gunnery School.  Upon completion there he was transferred to Carlsbad.  N.M., where he went through training of both bombardier and navigator schools.  He was then transferred to Barksdale Field,  Louisiana, and promoted to Staff Sergeant.  He was undergoing further training at the time of the crash.

    John Randall was born February 4, 1917, ironically, during the early fury of World War I.  He is survived by his father, three brothers, and there sisters, most of them living in the Middle Western states.  One sister, Mrs. Irene Taylor, lives in Los Angeles.  A brother Marvin, is a member of the Army Coast Artillery, stationed at Seattle, Wash.

    In 1934, young Randall graduated from Jennings High School and lived with his father until 1936.  In May of that year he joined the Civilian Defense Corps. spending six months in Oberlin, Kan., and six months at Salmon City, Idaho.  For about a year he worked in Denver, Colo., and then spent a time in a logging camp in Oregon. Later he migrated to Los Angeles and, after a short time, joined the Fire Department.

    Every station at which young Randall worked, the reaction of all the members to him was just the same.  In the parlance of the engine house, John was a "right guy."  Cheerful and willing, he was always ready to do even more than his share of the work around quarters.  At a fire, if there was any choice, he was always in there taking the hot, or heavy work.  With a smile that was infectious, he had a spirit that seemed to buoy anyone up that was around him.  In the short time he was with the fire service he gained many friends around the department.  They will miss him.  When war was declared, like many another, he was visibly affected.  Repeatedly he said "The least I can do is to get in there and help.  His patriotism was intense and sincere.  As many American lads already have, and as many will yet do, John Randall gave his life that America might defeat her enemies and once again bring freedom and sanity back to the world.

*  *  *

John M. Randall

My fighting days were started
On a bright December morning
When the Japanese attacked us
Without a word of warning.

When all the shooting started
I was a peaceful man;
But now I'll go down fighting,
A defender of our land.

When Uncle Sammy told us
Some Gunners he would need,
I listened to his pleading,
And to his word, took heed.

Now a Gunner has a tough job,
No glory will he get,
But a Yankee Gunner never
Has run from danger yet.

So I listened not to rumors
that said I was a fool,
For when it comes to shooting
A Yank is sure to rule.

So I became a Gunner,
Through study and hard work;
For now I had a duty
Which I had no wish to shirk.

And when it is all over,
I'll know I've done my part;
And I'll come flying home again
With peace inside my heart

By Staff Sergeant John M. Randall
474th Bomb Squadron
Barksdale Field, La.




By Don Hibbard

    JOHN RANDALL was just a new fellow on the department.  Like the other new fellows his turnout coat still was khaki-yellow and his dungarees still retained some new-blue.  He was just another "new man" to be impressed when you showed him how to take a line into a hot one;  although he could probably have done it as well.  Of course, he wouldn't have said so--new men must allow themselves to be impressed by old timers;  to get along well;  to be good fellows.  He would probably just have backed you up like a million and then without saying anything taken over the nozzle position when things got really hot;  and you needed a change-off.

    He was just a rookie, to pay into the coffee fund, and the house dues, but not to have much to say about them.  To do the upstairs housework, if that was the work you didn't want to do.  As with the other rookies, you had seniority on him.  You probably didn't overlook letting him in on that knowledge either, in a dozen little ways.  And John, a typical rookie, took it and didn't say much one way or the other;  he just humored you, although you didn't know you were being humored.

        He probably didn't add much to those world-shaping conferences you held around the floor watch bench, for if he did you probably looked down your nose at him plenty.  "What did he know about world events?  He hadn't been on the department long."  No he didn't have much to say on the subject but when the world really needed some re-shaping done, he merely went and joined up, to help out with the job.  He would likely have admitted, himself, that he didn't know much about talking the world into shape.

   Yes, John was just another rookie.  Just another one of that gang of big, new kids who are all the time awkwardly stepping on pettiness, whenever it happens to be crawling around in front of them, and by their very numbers, elbowing narrow-gauge minds off into the corners.  Yes, John was just another one of that bunch of young fellows who are unconsciously making of the fire department a far better organization.

    Just another one of the many rookies.  But to his friends, John was something more.  He had a big, healthy boyish grin that seemed to grab hold of you.  And his attitude toward life backed up that smile one hundred -per cent.  Caustic, cynical, suspicious or selfish thoughts were "feriners" to John.  Why everyone didn't like everyone else was a mystery to him, if he gave it any thought;  which he probably did not.  His healthy zest for living kept him too busy just getting along "swell" with people.

    For about a year before he went into the air corps, John lived with Bill Miller and myself and a couple of others, then bachelors.  When you eat and sleep and argue with a fellow before breakfast you really get to know him.  There was only one direction one's estimate of John could go--up.  Of course he was no angel.  A favorite stunt of his was to call up one of the fellow's new girl friends, represent himself as the fellow, make a date for the fellow for some Tuesday that he knew nothing about, and then offer sympathetic advice when trouble set in.  These proved effective retribution against the times he was victimized.

    He joined the Army Air Corps July in '42.  Like everything else, he liked it immensely. He wrote back.  "Give my another three months and I'll be dropping bombs on Tokio or Berlin.  I'm starting Bombardier School next Monday.  Will finish in a few weeks.  I suppose I'll have some advanced training some place, and then I'll be ready."

    Again he wrote.  "The promotions are coming pretty fast for me, but I hope not fast enough to make me lose sight of the primary objective--that is, becoming a good soldier and getting into a combat area as soon as possible."  And, "and another thing most people don't appreciate, is the high morale of the soldiers, at least those with whom I've come in contact.  If you ask me I think the people back home need their morale boosted much more than do the soldiers in the camps."  That was John, for you.

    April 19th, the big bomber in which "Sarge" John was navigating crashed near their field on a training flight.

    He wasn't allotted the few months necessary to get over Tokio or Berlin.  He wanted to become a good soldier and get into a combat area as soon as possible.  He was denied the latter, but he did become a good soldier;  one of the best that America produces.  When the history of this war is written John's part will not loom large in type, but will remain indelibly in the hearts of us who know him.  He will be one of the many boys who went in, just to do their bit, who fought, and died to bring sanity and fair play and the inclination to smile back to the world.


Source: The Firemen's Grapevine, June 1943

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