Wednesday, October 26, 2016

My Grandpa Bob

I had a conversation with my Grandpa Bob, this evening, about his time in the Navy during World War II. He was a junior in high school at the time, and he got his A-1 draft notice, so he and his friends decided to join the Navy rather than get sent off to Germany or someplace.

He got through the various stages of training camps and ended up on the coast of Louisiana I believe? He said it was terribly hot with endless mosquitoes, and then every day around 4pm, there would be sheets of heavy rain like you wouldn't believe.

Eventually, he was shipped out to Perry Island, which I believe is now Sarushima, Japan? Their luggage, however, was accidentally sent somewhere else, so they were left with just their carry bags. The island stationed people who were fleet replacements, and some of the guys had been waiting there for a year and a half, hoping a boat would come by and take them somewhere. He said it was very boring. They walked around, looked for seashells, and went swimming a lot, because there just wasn't anything to do there. It was only 14 feet above sea level, so some of the guys made jokes about tidal waves coming in and wiping them all out.

After that, he happened to make it onto a ship and went to Okinawa, Japan. The place they landed was the aftermath of a battlefield. One of the first things he saw was a couple of dead bodies that were rotting and had ribs sticking out. He said the smell of the place was unbelievable. It reminded him of a time when he was a kid and he used to walk to school. There was a farmer whose cow had died and was left lying there. So every time they walked to school, they smelled that rotting cow along the way.

There was a place there that had several tombs where the Japanese buried people. They had opened some of them up and mounted some guns in there so they could look out and shoot at the enemy. Grandpa Bob's brother-in-law was one of the men on a ship that had to fire back at them, and he said when they would fire into the tomb and there was the explosion, you could see the bodies of the Japanese people flying through the air like tiny rag dolls. The other thing my grandpa noted about the place is that there was ammunition littered all over the ground. Even live grenades. He assumes gear got too heavy so soldiers began shedding it as they went.

At one point they found a shelter that was covered in rubble and he found a Japanese bayonet that was stuck in the ground. A vehicle had come down carrying some American soldiers who had stumbled upon a booby trap and they were injured. One of the guys had some string with him, so Granpda Bob tied it to the bayonet and used that to pull it out of the ground from a distance, just in case it, too, was booby trapped. It wasn't, so he got himself a nice souvenir. He carried it for a long time until, unfortunately, his bag got x-rayed later at a checking point, and they confiscated it from him. I guess they weren't supposed to bring weapons home.

After that, they were shipped to Manila, in the Philippines. When they arrived, the town had been destroyed. The Japanese had wiped them out. The civilians there had all moved up into the hills. He said they were so hungry and the kids were all skinny with distended stomachs. He was certain they had to have parents somewhere, but the kids were all running around like they didn't belong to anybody. He said there was a civilian man who picked one of them up and pleaded in poor English grammar, something to the effect of, "Joe, please help us, you see my kids is hungry." My Grandpa Bob believed it to be some random kid, but the people were so desperate they would try anything. He said there were pesos and paper money scattered all over the ground. The Japanese had flown over and dumped them by the bundles because the Filipino economy was ruined and all the money was worthless to them now. My grandpa picked some of it up as a souvenir as well, but it, too, was lost somewhere along the way.

After that, they traveled on a flat bottom ship to the Subic Bay. Along the way, they saw a lot of monkeys and exotic animals. They had several petrified potatoes on-board the ship, so they threw them at the monkeys because... Well, because that's what young guys do, they like to throw things.

My memory is a little hazy about this part, but I believe this is when they rescued some Chinese soldiers and took them aboard the ship. There were a whole bunch of them in a ship about as expansive as a football field. Unfortunately, with its flat bottom on the wavy sea, it was so rough, that all the Chinese men got seasick and they ended up having to hose them all down and the whole floor, because there was so much vomit in there.

Eventually, they ended up sailing back home through Pearl Harbor. There were 13 of their ships sailing together in the fleet, and he said the worst part was when the storms hit. It would be daytime, but when they entered into the storm, it would be as black as night. The waves were 30 feet high, and he said it was like riding up and down hills the whole way. The worst place to be was up in the conning tower. He said you knew you were entering a storm when the ship would rock so violently that all the pots and pans in the galley would come crashing to the floor and get strewn out into the hallway, and the cook would be so mad, trying to gather them all back up.

On the topic of the ship's cook, my grandpa said it was a lousy job. They would have to be up at 4am, preparing to feed all the men. They would eat beans in the morning. He said one time, the cook had made these beans the night before, and he woke up that morning and set them out for the men when they would come in. Unfortunately, the electrician on board had messed with the wiring and somehow managed to reverse the polarity of the fan in the range hood, so rather than sucking up air through the vent, it blew it out. The cook turned it on, and it blew all the dust and debris from the vents out onto the beans and all into the kitchen. Grandpa said the cook had a temper, and he was so angry that he began punching a metal screen until his knuckles were bleeding.

Funny thing about the mess deck is, for some reason, the tables were designed to slide with the rocking of the waves. They were hooked to a spring, so they would slide over and the spring would pull them back. So the sailors would be sitting on the benches, which were fastened down, but then their table would slide out and they would have to hold onto their trays until the table came back to its position.

Over all, the war was a terrible experience at times, but he says he was fortunate that he never had to get into the heat of it. Most of the places he visited had already seen their fighting, and he only witnessed the aftermath.

This isn't a super high quality photo, but this is my Grandpa at a reunion with his shipmates. He's on the right in the navy blue polo and my Grandma Trudy is in the pink behind him.