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Our veterans are living history and every soldier has a story to tell. In honor of the WWII vets we are so quickly losing, this newsletter captures a few of my Dad’s experiences in his own words. During WWII, Dad served in the Army Air Corps as a hydraulics specialist in the US and the Pacific Theatre. Dad is one of many soldiers who served our country for the common good. Thank you, Dad.
Basic Training Atlantic City
They put us in the Presidential and my only regret from basic training is that I didn’t get an ocean view. We were at the back over the playground of a school.
There was this Georgia boy, Willie from Winding. He was something. This was an old style hotel and they had that cage in the lobby, so that’s where they set up mail call for us. This old, sour- faced biddy ran it. Boy, she would bark at everybody. Willie would be standing there and she’d bark.
"What do you
" Well, what’s your name?"
" What do you need my name for? If there was mail for me, my name would already be on it."
Dad’s entire training in Atlantic City consisted of aiming a rifle from the prone position at a bull's eye thumb tacked on a post. First shot he got the thumb tack and the bull's eye blew away. His next order? “Just aim in the direction of the post and try to hit where you think the bull’s eye was.”
The rifles were old and the barrels shot, so none of us did too good at target practice, except for this one guy. He was from western PA and a hunter. He fired, noticed the trajectory and corrected his shots. I never would have thought of that. Automatic weapons training was a matter of twice pulling the trigger and allowing two short bursts of ammo. Bullets could not be wasted on basic training.
Once Private Novak got orders to go overseas, the sergeant asked him if he was qualified on weapons. Dad asked
which ones. The sergeant showed him the list.
“No Sir, I’ve never even seen anything on that list.”
“That’s right, private.”
Then the guy took his pencil and proceeded to put a check mark in front of each weapon. “Qualified, qualified, qualified….”
When I got orders to ship out, they sent me down to Okinawa. When I reported, I was told that the ship was full of Navy guys going home and since I didn’t have any pull, there was no way I was getting on it. Navy took care of Navy first and I was Army Air Corps—a nobody. Ok. So a couple days later they called me back down to Okinawa and I had passage on the Ainsworth. It was a bigger ship and nicer because it was to transport nurses and wives.
As we got out to sea, there were terrible storms in the Pacific and the captain got on the horn and announced, “Royal Oak is hove to. We are making about 7 knots toward Seattle and will continue on our way.”
When we got to Seattle I had a couple days to see the place and got to know the guys who were bringing the ships in. Asked when Royal Oak was due in.
“Can I meet her?”
So I told the guy the story about how they treated me and he said to come on down.
The day Royal Oak came in, there I was in my Class A’s and feeling great. The guys on the Royal Oak were green from sea sickness--still looking and feeling bad. There I was. “Hey, guys remember me? I’m the guy you wouldn’t let on the ship.” Oh, they didn’t like that. The guys working dock side thought it was pretty funny though.
This is the real history of war--the light moments balancing the dark and all filled with the human spirit. Veteran's Day honors people who served, real people who are far more than the icons of history.