August 28, 2013

Plattsburgh woman shares WWII exploits


PLATTSBURGH — During World War II, Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service aviators conducted nuisance raids over Townsville, Australia. 

“They used to bomb the bay and stuff like that,” said Jacqueline “Jackie” Nisoff, an Australian native and Plattsburgh resident.

“Dad had built an air-raid shelter in the backyard, and we used to go down there if the siren went. One time, they dropped a bomb just a mile from the house. We all were sitting down there with clothespins in our mouths in the air-raid shelter. No one cried or anything else. We just sit there. We could hear the juz-z-z-z-z screaming (sound of bomb). It killed a few cows. We were fine.”

Her father, John Herbert James, a combatant in the Gallipoli Battle during World War I, brought home her future husband, David Nisoff, a Yank stationed at Garbutt Field in Townsville.

“My father was doing work at the air base. He started talking with him. David was born up here in Dickinson Center. He was in the 5th Air Force,” Nisoff said.

James mentioned that he had five daughters.

“I was the only one available because the others were too young. He (David) came out. The night he had dinner, I had a date with another guy. When I came home from my date, he was still there entertaining my father. We started visiting and all the rest of it. Finally, we started going together. Then, we got engaged, and then we got married. I got pregnant and had my little boy. David and I were very young. We were both just under 20,” she said.

At the time, brides and grooms not 21 needed parental consent to marry.

“Well, I had my parents, but he didn’t have his. That’s when I turned Catholic because he was Catholic. I had been to Catholic schools. The priest took us up for a ride on the tableland. It was a beautiful ride. He informed us that he couldn’t marry us because David was underage and didn’t have his parents’ consent,” Nisoff said.

“Well, my aunt, my father’s sister, she lived in Toowoomba. She was a staunch Catholic. She said, ‘You are getting married.’ We had sent out invitations. This was Thursday night. He (the priest) was telling us this, and we were getting married on Saturday. So, we were pretty upset. She went up to the Church of England. She talked to the minister up there. He came down and talked to my mother because ... she was an invalid. He was the same priest that had baptized me. He said, ‘We’ll have everything the same you sent out except a different church.’ We got married.”

For their honeymoon, the newlyweds traveled on train to Brisbane.

“We stayed at another sister of my father’s for a couple of days. Then, we were back up to Townsville where the war was,” Nisoff said. “My father couldn’t come to my wedding because he was locked in. They wouldn’t let any of the men away from their jobs. I was my father’s girl. It was sad.”

Then, David was stationed at Doba Dura, Papua New Guinea.

“I took care of Dad. Mom and the other kids stayed down in Toowoomba for a little longer. Then, they came back to Townsville. The war was kind of iffy at that time,” Nisoff said. “I was getting ready to come to the States. I had my little baby.”

After her firstborn, David, Nisoff birthed a daughter, Marilyn. After a 13-year break, she gave birth to John and later Heather.

Nisoff has nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. But during the war, she had her hands full with baby David.

“I went down to Brisbane from Townsville. I stayed with a cousin for about two weeks. After the two weeks, I had word to get on the ship. But there was no notice when I was leaving because it was all blackout. I did what I was told and got on the ship,” she said. 

“It was a Liberty ship, I believe. I don’t know what time we left because they left sometime in the middle of the night. Everything was blacked out, the portholes, everything.”

Nisoff spent Christmas ‘43 at sea. The ship crossed the Pacific Ocean in 21 to 23 days and docked in San Francisco. 

“They changed course every 15 minutes because they said it took a Japanese sub 15 minutes to set up a torpedo. Nice to know, huh, when you’re on a ship with a baby? We had one alert coming over. It was in the middle of the night, of course,” Nisoff said. 

“So, we got up on deck and put life jackets on and all the rest of it. I was in a cabin with another little girl. She had a little baby daughter. We both stood on deck for three hours with the babies, and this other ship would not talk back to us because they were afraid of us, too. Finally, we found out it was an American ship. They just weren’t connecting. So, everything was OK. We got to San Francisco and, of course, we didn’t know beans.”

Nisoff taxied over the Bay Bridge to Oakland.

“I was talking to the taxi driver. He said, ‘Oh, Dannemora. That’s where the prisons are.’ I think he must have been there because he charged me $12 bucks,” she said.

In Oakland, she noticed that throngs of people stood in front of big doors.

“We didn’t know what was behind the doors. So, finally when they opened them, it was all trains. In Australia, the trains come up to the platform,” Nisoff said.

Three soldiers off the ship, two of them carrying the babies, helped the young mothers navigate the station. Nisoff waited for her train from California to New York.

“I had a three- or four-hour wait,” she said. “So, I put the baby on a seat that attached to the wall. And, I put a chair up against him, and I sat in the chair, and I went to sleep, and I went into a nightmare. I started screaming. Some lady woke me up, and I was OK.”

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This is the second installment of a three-part series on Jacqueline "Jackie" Nisoff's life in Australia and the United States. Read Part III in next Wednesday's Press-Republican.