41st Division Headquarters: General Fuller and His Barber

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian, with Barber Charles Ruocco, Orderly Art Pierce and Cook Ted Senff

About 15 January 1942, Private Charles Ruocco was cutting hair of another K-186 man outside Division PX at Copalis, Wash. (The 41st then guarded Pacific beaches against a Jap invasion.) Two more K 'men waited their turn. Aged 21, Ruocco was a barber college grad with three years in San Francisco's fine Hotel Empire. He had no plans to cut Army hair until K men bought him clippers and scissors and got a box for a chair.

Suddenly General Fuller's staff car braked by Ruocco; Lieutenant Cain jumped out. "Are you a real barber, soldier?" Aide Cain asked. Ruocco saluted, "Yes sir!" Then Cain said, "The General would like a haircut now."

The K men vanished. Ruocco grabbed his equipment and rode to Fuller's quarters. Ruocco saluted the first general he'd ever seen. "Hello, son!" said Fuller. "How about giving me a haircut?"

The surprised Ruocco cut so well that after the staff car returned him to K, he was transferred to 41st Division Headquarters. When "Queen Elizabeth" left for Sydney in March 1942, Ruocco had his own civilian barber tools aboard. Fuller had sent a courier to Ruocco's home for the instruments. Later he had a chair again - a half-ton truck seat mounted on a giant tire rim.

In many months overseas, Ruocco was Fuller's barber; he both liked and respected the General. Usually every 3-4 weeks, Division Headquarters Special platoon had orders to release Ruocco from other details to barber Fuller. At Fuller's Rockhampton mansion, Ruocco found the General in suntans and boots often just having returned from riding his own Australian horses, riding crop under arm.

Usually they talked casually about everyday Army life. Fuller always asked about his men's welfare but almost never commented on military operations. At times, he was a little moody. When he was notably happy, Ruocco knew at once.

Fuller had light-brown hair graying at the temples, and behind - fine hair thinning over the forehead. He did not insist on a careful cut. For a social function, he wanted a light trim. But a request for a short short cut told Ruocco that the Division's moving out.

Like Charles Merritt, the other headquarter barber, Ruocco cut hair for many 41st "big brass." He cut for MacKechnie, Trapman, Doe, Sweeny and Maison, among other. For Fuller insisted that they all get haircuts when visiting him.

Such was Ruocco's first experience with General Fuller on the 41st's initial stay at Rocky. Orderly Art Pierce and Cook Ted Senff also joined Fuller at Rocky.

Kneeling to weed, the farm boy saw rows of vegetables planted by the former owner. Pierce had no heart to uproot them, and carefully weeded around them.

           Seeing the neat ranked rows of weeded vegetables, Fuller asked who had spared them. Stepping forward, Pierce did not know whether to expect praise or reprimand. Three days later, Fuller made him an headquarter gardener.

Sometimes Fuller gardened himself, and Pierce had a variety of duties. Pierce was a groundskeeper, readied the tennis court, did some guard duty, and once was a barkeeper.

When the 41st moved to Dobodura, Pierce grew a large garden to augment meager rations. Fuller loved radishes, but in that climate they were mostly tops. Some misguided men erected a fence that marked headquarters for Jap raids. Pierce planted cucumbers whose vines quickly climbed to hide the fence.

To get hard work from his men, Fuller never actually bullied nor pulled rank. In building the great Oro Bay Road, he might promise enlisted men a can of peaches to push the work, yet he would award the peaches anyway if the men worked hard enough. He might promise an officer a bottle of Scotch for completing a mile of road.

Once he ordered Pierce to take a bottle of Scotch to a visiting Aussie brigadier for a nightcap. Arriving at the Aussie's quarters, Pierce was to pour a drink for him, but to keep his grip always on the bottle, Then he was to slip the bottle under his coat and return it to Fuller.

Pierce was now Fuller's orderly. He cleaned Fuller's carbine - then one of the few in the division. He sent out uniforms daily to a Papuan laundryman, but shined the shoes himself.

To Pierce, Fuller was no harsh officer-martinet; nor was he "superwarm" in personality. But Pierce respected him.

Unlike Pierce, Cook Ted Senff did not encounter Fuller dramatically. A former civilian chef, he was preparing Rocky hotels for officers and took a chance to cook for Fuller. Except when hosting other officers, Fuller liked simple foods: stews clear or brown. He enjoyed corn beef and cabbage with plain boiled potatoes. When the cooks had heated C rations in New Guinea, Fuller ate from mess gear and even washed it himself.

He hated unfair rationing. Once in New Guinea, a QM officer flew to Fuller's mess with a case of fresh eggs Surprised, Fuller lunched on deviled eggs served by Poggetti, the other cook. After lunch, he called Senff and asked about the eggs. Learning that no other mess had fresh eggs, he ordered Senff never to serve them again. The remaining eggs in the case went to a nearby field hospital.

He disliked complaints and pretense. Once a new Yank officer from Australia complained about service at the officers' mess. Fuller called him aside, braced him to attention, berated him and flew him back to Australia on the next plane.

In Papua, Red Cross men presented General Fuller with a radio and took pictures of his acceptance. Then they asked for their radio back. Fuller refused downright and donated the radio to a Division Headquarters mess hall.

Senff also drove for Fuller in New Guinea, with orders "Get there fast as you can, but safely." Once Senff unintentionally erred and delayed Fuller. When a gas-dump guard told Senff to help himself to petrol, Senff poured in a 5-gallon can of supposed gas. After lunch, Fuller drove the jeep off with another officer. Then a runner summoned Senff to bring the other jeep to Fuller. He was marooned in a big puddle in a dead jeep. Senff learned that he had filled Fuller's jeep with five gallons of water. With no comment, Fuller drove away in the other jeep. He never held the accidental error against Senff. He often complimented the cooking, and Senff rose from corporal to Tech Sergeant while under Fuller.

Like Cook Senff, Barber Ruocco remembers how Fuller cared for his men so much that he hated unfair food service. Once when cutting hair in Papua, Ruocco voiced the complaints of Division Headquarters about certain mess sergeants.

On that day, Fuller was talkative under Ruocco's clippers. Ruocco said, " The men are complaining about the food. They told me to tell you, sir."  Fuller queried, "What's that you say, son? What's that you said?" When Ruocco repeated the complaint, Fuller was visibly shaken up. He replied, "Why, you men are eating the same food as we are!" Ruocco, said, "Maybe so, sir. But it doesn't taste like yours."

"Son, tell the boys I'll do what I can about it," Fuller replied. At once, Fuller sent his personal chef of the day to the Division Headquarters mess sergeants with orders to cook all rations as the General liked them. Next time in the barber's chair, Fuller first asked,

"How's the food now, soldier?" Ruocco answered, "Just delicious." Fuller proudly smiled at him. The era of good food lasted until our next beachhead at Hollandia,

Came 1944, the great year of invasions up the Guinea shore. Soldiering in Defense Platoon, Ruocco had less contact with Fuller. While patrolling near Lake Sentani, Ruocco and two other Yanks found three moaning half-dead Japs, too helpless to lift their rifles beside them. Ruocco insisted on their carrying the two thin bodies back to headquarters perimeter. Much information came from them.

On Biak at Parai Defile, Ruocco was a runner for 41st Medic Headquarters. He had to contact front-line medics and return information on the daily toll of casualties. Once at Parai Water Hole, Jap crossfire pinned him down.

Ruocco remembers Fuller in full battle gear giving orders right and left from his jeep. After Lieutenant Cain looked inside a supposedly cleared bunker and died from a lurking Jap, Fuller profanely ordered clearance of all bunkers. This was the only time Ruocco saw him truly angry.

Before Biak's West Caves were taken, Ruocco has a final great memory of Fuller. Suddenly Ruocco got orders to bring his barber tools; somebody wanted a haircut. About dusk, he came to headquarters through heavy security - MP's armed to the teeth.

Inside the tent, he saw most of our "big brass" from Division and the SWPA. He saw MacArthur, Eichelberger, Fuller, Doe, Sweeny, Coane, Maison and aide after aide after aide. Booze was abundant. Lights shone on a wall of maps.

Ruocco set up his chair at the end of the tent opposite the maps. Fuller asked, "Who wants a haircut? I got my barber here." After MacArthur said that he had just received one, Ruocco cut Eichelberger's, then Fuller's, then Chief-of-Staff Colonel Sweany's, then another general's. They all called one another by first names. They called Ruocco "soldier" and offered him whiskey also.

Ruocco knows that after he left them, the generals' meeting continued far into the night. This was the night he gave Fuller his last haircut, because Fuller left the 41st shortly afterwards. Ruocco remembers this generals' meeting as a good-by to Fuller.

            After Fuller left the 41st, Ruocco still cut hair for Division Headquarter. On our D-Day landing at Zamboanga, however, he was a battle casualty in an unusual way and had a complicated journey back to his outfit.

When his LCI lurched under near-misses from Jap shell fire on D-Day, Ruocco was climbing down a ladder into a barge. On the ladder above him, a Yank dropped a rifle on Ruocco's head" Knocked off balance, he fell 40 feet and hit the rail of the barge underneath. He passed out and came to on the deck of the LCI which he had just left. He was en route to a hospital ship, and back to New Guinea.

At 10th Evac Hospital in Hollandia, Ruocco suffered horrible pain at the base of his neck. He was temporarily paralyzed. It did not matter to him that New Guinea was not the same now, with war nurses and WAC's everywhere. After six weeks on a stiff board bed with plenty of drugs, he was released, although still wobbly. And he could not get transportation back to Division in the Philippines. He was told to find his own way.

To get started, he hopped an Army transport plane to Biak, but malaria halted him there. He was sent to 1st Evac Hospital. A Jap air raid hit the next ward and killed two patients. Released from the hospital, he emplaned on another air transport to Leyte, then to Clark Field outside Manila. No planes were leaving Clark, so he went to Manila, which MacArthur had just captured. There at Intramuros, with thousands of troops around, he was hard put to get a meal. But when mess personnel learned that he was a 41st man, he ate like a king, or as near like a king as Army cooks could serve him.

Back at Clark Field, where he slept on the ground, Ruocco learned that one plane was leaving. It was a Navy bomber heading for Australia to buy liquor. It would fuel en route at Zamboanga.

Introducing Ruocco to the gunner's blister, the Naval pilot said, "Ali guns are synchronized. If you see any Zeros, squeeze all triggers when ready. I'll notify when to put on the oxygen mask." He assured Ruocco that this was no joke and ordered him into the gunner's seat. (No doubt the pilot knew that no Jap planes were alive in the Philippines, but Ruocco never knew this until 1976).

Forty-five minutes later, Ruocco made his delayed arrival on Zambo soil and came home to his barber chair and Army details until the end of the war.

But neither Ruocco, Pierce, nor Senff ever saw Fuller again after he left Biak. He had been promoted. He was now Deputy Chief of Staff for Admiral Louis Mountbatten's Southeast Asia Command. Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger himself had wanted Fuller as a corps commander.

And these are Barber Ruocco's, Orderly Pierce's and Cook Senff's memories of the late Major General Horace Fuller, 31 years later. They remember him as an emotionally restrained and respected general who respected and understood the men under his command.

 

 CREDIT: Barber Ruocco first suggested this story at the 1975 San Francisco Reunion, he backed it with a 15-page handwritten MS that fall. Senff's letter is dated 25 July 1975; my neighbor Pierce gave oral and written data up through March, 1976. Lieutenant General Robert  Eichelberger's Dear Miss Em contains a few items that I used.