Three sailors tell their stories

Nov 4 2011 - 2:27pm


Audrey Godfrey
Audrey Godfrey

On Nov. 11, 1984, my mother wrote in her diary, "Veterans Day. Sixty-Six years since we celebrated the end of World War I in McGill, Nevada. I was nine years old. I woke to hear whistles, bells, sirens, yelling, guns shooting. Everybody was happy the war was over. There was a makeshift parade, mostly men and women [marching]. We were treated to watching a caterpillar-tired army tank demolish several shells. We hung the Kaiser in Effigy and then burned him. It was all exciting and dramatic to my eyes."

Twenty years later her three youngest brothers. Bob, Neil and Lee joined or were drafted into the U.S. Navy one by one to serve in the Pacific Theater of World War II. A few years ago I interviewed them about their service.

The eldest of the three, Bob, drafted in May 1944 was trained in diesel engineering. He left for the Philippines and Subic Bay on an LCL 446 which moved Marines where they were needed.

Bob saw the effects of the war at Corregidor where battered cannons destroyed by the Japanese still lay in place, "But the fort was pretty blown up."

The only time he felt fear was when his craft passed through a typhoon in Iwo Jima. Though close to shore, the captain moved them out to sea knowing that incoming waves would knock docked vessels together. Bob offered some prayers and promises "like Bert Reynolds in the movies" until the typhoon passed.

When the U.S. "dropped the atomic bomb we were at Iwo Jima getting ready to invade Japan. From there we went to Shanghai to get orders to take Chiang Kai-shek's army."

Bob loved seeing new places and other races. Looking back on what he learned he said probably the greatest things were discipline and patriotism. He arrived home and was discharged in June 1946.

Drafted three months after his younger brother, Neil sailed on the battleship South Dakota and entered the fray at Okinawa, Midway and Taiwan. His ship was one of the most decorated in the U.S. fleet, being hit three times by the enemy. The ship bombarded different islands to soften them up for troops to land and take over. In one fight a Kamikaze pilot's plane was shot and the pilot jumped out and hit the side of the ship, killing him. Neil survived six battles.

One memorable event happened when Neil and Lee's ships were both at Subic Bay. Lee hitched a ride on a landing craft to Neil's ship to see him. A photo which appeared in the Standard-Examiner showed them reading mail together on deck near a large gun and looking very happy.

When Neil came on leave his parents traveled from Ogden to California and spent a day touring his ship. Neil's release came in May 1946.

The youngest of the three sailors was Lee, who enlisted in the Navy out of high school in February 1944. He sailed for Australia and New Guinea. After a 31 day trip his crew was moved to the USS Wasatch, a retired cruise ship pushed into military service. Three weeks later he was transferred to an APC17, a landing craft that carried tanks and trucks.

For two months the craft tried to get through enemy waters to the Philippines through the battle of Leyte Gulf and Samar Island. Short of men, Lee was brought from the engine room to load cannons. Attacks were constant forcing the men to sleep on their guns. "Red alert" woke them to defend the ship, and "Pepsi Cola" meant shoot.

Lee later taught new men to stand watch and help in the engine room. He was good at trading and also saved money from selling beer and cigarettes to other men. With this money and $300 he received when discharged on May 8, 1846, he bought a '41 Chevrolet to begin his civilian life.

When they all returned home, Neil expressed a feeling of gratefulness that they "all three got out alive."

I'm grateful they got out alive, too.

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