Respect your elders. This mindset always amazes me with experiences I come across on a weekly basis.
Today I met Joe a World War II veteran, 91 years young. “Thank you Joe for your service!” I said. With a huge smile back he said “Thank you and I love your mustache!”
With his veteran baseball hat on, I asked him what war he was in and where was he stationed? He placed his hands in the air and with two fingers he said “World War II”. And he was stationed in Okinawa Japan. right after the invasion. 1944 was when he entered the war, for short time he certainly exposed to a fair amount of life lessons within a short amount of time.
Joe was an electric engineer stationed on a destroyer. He began to tell me the importance and tight bond that the crew had aboard the ship. Joe was is in charge of keeping power to the destroyer. There were approximately four destroyers that protected the aircraft carrier aka “Mother”. He gave a lot of importance to the aircraft carrier, all those that protected the carrier called her the “Mother”. Without the destroyers the carrier was a sitting duck.
Joe began to describe how the cycle worked. The boys in the air would protect the boys on the ground, the fighter jets would destroy other ships. And the destroyer would in turn destroy any submarines protecting the Mother. Joe could not confirm how many Japanese submarines they took out. “Too many to tell.” he said.
When Joe entered the war he was stationed in Virginia, boarded an aircraft carrier that then traveled down along the east coast through the Panama Canal. From there they made their way to San Diego. Once in San Diego Joe boarded a destroyer ship that then took them to Hawaii.
Witnessing the carnage in Hawaii, he asked himself “how many men have died for all that blood to be in the water?” How life altering that experience must’ve been for Joe. Hearing this account truly made me feel like a special person being witness. The weight of the experiences truly shaped his life in that short amount of time was impressive.
“The experience of being down below in the destroyer feel like you were in a tin can.” Joe said The air ducks did not have air conditioning blowing out of them, instead it was straight air. When the depth chargers would implode covering more than 500 meters. The destroyer would rattle very loudly and shake all the air ducks and tons of dust would come out and blow dust in your face. With a smile and hands over his eyes as he described the experience to me; “everyone would cover their eyes when this would happen.” Joe said.
The nighttime is when the attacks would be and the destroyers would be on the offense, staging and positioning always and never without protecting the mother first. A perimeter was set around the mother, sometimes the destroyer would go out in a pack to do a reconnaissance in the area, never leaving the zone of another destroyer being nearby to protect them. Once again stressing the importance of always protecting the mother.
During the destroyers aggressive campaigns, the soldiers on the ship were promised 20 pounds of ice cream for every Japanese fighter they shut down. Joe said they would scream out “ICE CREAM!” Not quite the visual I had! Joe reiterated how close the crew was with each other.
Spending his time down below in the destroyer as an electrical engineer, he never saw anything regarding a physical battle. Several of his friends on other destroyers on the other hand had. He lost friends were stationed on other destroyers. He told me he was very thankful that nothing did happen to them.
Joe went into detail telling me of the 5 foot wide canyons that were on the destroyer and all the other artillery that was used to defend the mother. The destroy had two to engines that made it very quick and maneuverable in the ocean. The mother ship was also very quick for her size except she couldn’t turn fast at all.
Joe mentioned to me that he was stationed in Okinawa Japan, right after the invasion. While there he was tasked with assisting the nurses and removing the bodies of the US soldiers. As our talks continued you could get a sense of the pride he had describing the stories to me. I enjoyed every minute.
Just before we parted ways Joe came back to tell me - oh our ship was chosen as a guinea pig during the Adam bomb testing near Japan. Joe and I were talking about my beard and then he went on to say we weren’t allowed to shave on the boat the doctors on the boat wanted to make sure that we didn’t get any infections from cutting ourselves. The doctors would be walking around the ship checking for radiation with scanners. The was all the detail he had shared. “Crazy!”
One story was grander then the other. The scale of his experiences really was amazing.
Joe enjoyed very much telling me these experiences and I was quick to thank him for sharing and his service.
My parting question to Joe was, “do you have any life lessons to share with me?” He absolutely did. Joe said…
Embrace what you have.
Love the little things in your life.
Enjoy the small things that make up your life.
Enjoy your children, your wife, the house you live in, the car you drive. No stress.
It was a beautiful conversation!
WWII - Journals of my Elders