Peace and War in the Heartland - Veterans Stories - A007


My Dad in WWII - A007

Most of the dads in the neighborhood never talked much about being in the military during the war. But, whenever my dad was about to read us a bedtime story, my siblings and I would always urge him to tell us war stories about when he was in the service. So, I knew more of my dad’s war stories than most of my friends.

The draft had been going on for most of 1941 and my dad didn’t worry too much about it. The war in Europe had been going on for two years. However, when the news came about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, his family got out their world atlas right away to see where Hawaii was. They didn’t know that we had a navy base there, but they knew that now we were all at war.

Dad went down to the Navy recruiter that very next morning and enlisted in the Navy. The recruiting office was very busy that day. That way he wouldn’t get drafted into the Army. I didn’t realize at first what difference that would make, but I found out later that whatever branch of the service you were in was always the best!

By the summer of 1942, Dad was cruising the Caribbean Sea on a surplus WWI destroyer in search of German U-boats that were taking a terrible toll on American and Allied shipping. He was still just a teenager and already had learned about torpedoes, depth charges and U-boats. He learned about alcohol, the Shore Patrol and prostitutes in Trinidad.

Before too long, he was transferred to a newer destroyer and was escorting convoys across the North Atlantic. There he learned about ocean swells that were two miles from crest to crest. Winter storms would cover every inch of the ship with tons of ice that had to be chopped away with axes so that the ship would not turn turtle and go belly up because the ice became heavier than the ship.

One of the few times I ever saw my dad cry was during a story about the North Atlantic. When the wolf packs of U-boats would torpedo a ship, the remaining crew would be forced into the frigid water that was so cold men would freeze to death within minutes. In less than five minutes, men were too frozen to hold onto any safety lines that might be thrown to them.

The only way to get them out of the roiling water was to throw grappling hooks (like big fishhooks) and hope you could snag them as you went by. He told the story about pulling on the line bringing a sailor aboard. When they got the man up to the rail, Dad could see the grappling hook protruding from the man’s chest.

Dad sobbed for several minutes crying, “I just killed that boy”! When he regained his composure, he said, “No, I didn’t kill that boy. He was already dead. At least his family was able to give him a funeral and he’s out of Davey Jones’ Locker”.

Dad really liked the people of Northern Ireland. His ship docked there after every convoy. He never got to stay very long, but often said they were the nicest people he met anywhere in the world.

After being part of the invasion of North Africa, he was part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. It was really something to see. So many ships as far as the eye could see.

He started to get angry with the Germans because their shells bracketing the ships came so close that their vortex created a vacuum that sucked his big signalman’s helmet off his head while standing watch on the bridge. He was terrified that the big steel pot would come down edge first and split his head wide open. Later on, he realized that if those shells were just a few inches lower, his head would have gone up with the helmet.

As the war in Europe started to stabilize in favor of the Allies, his ship was transferred to the Pacific. There he participated in the landings on Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Well, if you thought D-Day was a big deal, you were wrong. Those two landings in the Pacific brought together the biggest fleets the world has ever seen and likely will never see again. For four days the big navy guns bombarded Okinawa and every time the kamikazes would fly in to attack the fleet, all the smaller guns would go off too. He said the sky was so thick with black smoke from the flack that the sky got dark in the afternoon. His hearing was damaged for nearly a month after those four days of roaring guns.

Somehow, Admiral Halsey sent the fleet into one of the biggest Typhoons the western Pacific had ever seen and Dad was right there with them. Waves were so big that they would actually crash down over the bridge and several sailors were washed away. Dad would sometimes say that he was still drying out from all that water.

One day in August, they heard about some new kind of bomb that had been dropped on Japan. The next thing they knew the war was over. A few months later, they headed back through the Panama Canal with a short layover in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Guantanamo had been his ship’s homeport at the beginning of his tour and that’s where he left her.

He was finally discharged in Boston. He met my mother there and they got married. Then he brought her back to Minnesota where she helped him make my siblings and me.

Rest in Peace, Dad. I miss you.



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