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John Travis Cantrell

T/4 in Signal Co, Special : Radio A

Military occupational specialty: 766 (radio operator, high speed, manual)


Born 1923 in IA, Died 1990

County of residence at enlistment: Polk County, IA
Other residence(s): Des Moines, IA
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Occupation before the war: sales clerks
Source: Unit Shipment 10143-D, 23d HQ, from le Havre 23 June 1945;; photo from David Cantrell, printed in the Des Moines Register, 28 Feb 2024

John Cantrell was born on November 27, 1923 in Des Moines, IA, the younger of two children. His father worked as a streetcar operator. The 1930 census reports that the family included John's Swedish grandfather, a retired coal miner.

John's father had been ill and despondent before taking his own life in March of 1942. John was still studying at East High School in Des Moines when he registered for the draft a few months later, on June 30. He was working as a salesclerk when he enlisted, on February 12, 1943. He was assigned to the Signal Company Special as a radio operator, and saw service in Europe with the unit during the war.

His son David recalls that his father never talked about his experiences overseas. "He kept a diary, but the diary was mostly boot camp in Fort Knox, Kentucky when it wasn't classified, it wasn't secret. And then, once he got into the unit, he didn't write anything in his diary."

John was discharged on October 23, 1945 with the rank of T/4 and returned to Des Moines. He moved back into the house where his mother lived (and which his father had built in 1911), went to work as a plate maker for a metal manufacturing company, and married Inez Bohanan. He and Inez became the parents of three sons: Timothy, David, and Daniel. John worked for 37 years for the Addressograph-Multigraph Corporation, retiring as a manager.

John had promised in a European foxhole that he would serve God for the rest of his life if he made it out alive, and he kept that promise, teaching Sunday School at Grandview Park Baptist Church for over 25 years.

He also kept up the radio skills he had learned during the war. He had a small office at home where he spent time as a ham operator; his son reports that he had a huge antenna that allowed him to talk to people all over the world. "He talked to a couple of . . . movie stars that were on ham radio. He talked to ships at sea. He could reach the whole world with this antenna that he had set up in our yard. That was a passion of his until the day he died." He also enjoyed photography and 8 mm filmmaking.

He was a member of the International Amateur Radio Union, the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, and the American Radio Relay League. He helped to connect families with loved ones in times of natural disasters, such as earthquakes and tornadoes. He was presented a certificate of appreciation from the state of Alaska for helping to connect Alaska to the continental US in March 1964 after a magnitude 9.2 earthquake. During the Vietnam War, he connected Iowa families with servicemen through MARS (the Military Auxiliary Radio System).

In the last few years of his life, John also enjoyed writing letters to the editor of the Des Moines Register, several of which were published.

John died on March 28, 1990 of lung disease, and is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Des Moines. According to his son, his family did not find out about his Ghost Army experience until after his death, when they found the diary he had kept in boot camp, as well as letters to and from loved ones.


1930 census

1940 census

1942 father's obituary

1942 draft card

1943 enlistment record

1949 Iowa World War 2 bonus case files

1950 census

1960 US city directory for Des Moines, IA

1987 US public records index

1990 Social Security applications and claims index

1990 Find a Grave record*5yn1a6*_gcl_au*MTkzNDY0Njk4MS4xNzA5OTQ3NDk0*_ga*NDE5MjQxNjE5LjE3MDk5NDc0OTU.*_ga_4QT8FMEX30*NzQ1YTcyMmUtNjFiOS00NGExLWE1NWMtMWZlZjZiYzg1NGU5LjEuMS4xNzA5OTQ3NTY3LjUzLjAuMA..*_ga_LMK6K2LSJH*NzQ1YTcyMmUtNjFiOS00NGExLWE1NWMtMWZlZjZiYzg1NGU5LjEuMS4xNzA5OTQ3NTY3LjAuMC4w

1989 letter to the editor in the Des Moines Register (IA)

1990 obituary in the Des Moines Register (IA)

2024 article in the Des Moines Register (IA) about his Ghost Army experience

2024 (March 11) GALP Veteran Biography Worksheet from son David Cantrell

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