Friday, December 2, 2011

How I Began My Military Career-Ben A.

This is an account of my US Navy enlisted service from January 1943 to March 1946.  I probably traveled further in those 38 months that I did in the 30 years in the US Army.

I finished high school in Thatcher, Arizona in 1941which turned out to be a tough year for entering military service. Fortunately I graduated at age 16, not due to my natural brilliance, but the fact that the state of Virginia only had 11 years of schooling at that time. I started school in Virginia in 1930 and continued there until we moved to Arizona in 1938.

In early 1942, my father, an Army Captain, received order to go to Eritrea to serve with the British forces there. Before he left he told me NOT to enlist in the military. I was supposed to return to school and sharpen my math and other high school subjects. He wanted me to attend Virginia Polytechnic Institute and enroll in ROTC.

As soon as I was 18 I knew that my time was near for being drafted into the US Forces. I decided to enlist in the US Navy. After boot camp I was sent to Newport, RI to attend fire control school. (That is not fire fighting but fire direction. It helps the gunners hit their targets.)

As a Seaman Second Class my first ship was the USS Milwaukee. It was a light cruiser. It’s home port was Recife, Brazil. Its mission was to search for and destroy German submarines. A destroyer accompanied us. It provided the sonar to detect the enemy subs. We would sail for two weeks along the equator for to Africa and return to Recife for a day of liberty.

After approximately four months of this duty the ship was ordered to proceed to New York. The next mission was to accompany a convoy of troop ships To Belfast, Ireland. We then sailed to Edinburgh, Scotland for two days of liberty. From there we sailed North to Scapa Flow, Scotland where we joined a British convoy in route to Murmansk, Russia. When we arrived there we would transfer the Milwaukee to the Russian Navy.

The transfer required 30 days of training the Russians. During that time we lived on one half of the ship and the Russians on the other half. The name of the cruiser was changed to the Mermansk. The US flag was replaced by the Russian flag to signify the completion of the transfer.

Without a ship we were assigned to US liberty ships and British ships for our return to Scotland. Four other sailors were with me on a liberty ship for the journey. About half way back to Scotland we were attacked by two German subs off the coast of Norway. They launched two torpedoes at the “baby” aircraft carrier in the fleet, but a liberty ship took the hit. It sank immediately with the two torpedoes in her hull. Several hundred Russian sailors in the ship’s hold went down the ship. The subs proceeded ahead of the convoy and released mines that floated back into our convoy.

Upon reaching Scapa Flow we thought we would be transported back home to get a new light cruiser. No such luck! Our mission was to go to Barry, Wales and re-commission the SS President Warfield and proceed to Milford Haven, Wales and participate in the invasion of France, on June 7, 1944. Our mission, along with three other similar ships had been transferred to the British Navy in 1942.  These ships, along with other similar ships, were to go to Normandy, in case the Omaha Beach mission failed. It didn’t. We were sent anyway and remained there to provide support until replaced by a relief crew. Then it was back to Glasgow, Scotland to board the British ship the Queen Elizabeth that took us back to the US.

After taking some leave time my shipmates and I were sent to Norfolk and assigned to the battleship USS New York. We set sail after a couple of weeks. The ship sailed South to Panama, sailed West through the canal and proceeded across the Pacific Ocean to participate in the battle of Iwo Jima. We bombarded Mount Suribachi for three days. Unfortunately a blade on the starboard propeller broke off. We were then sailed (limped) South to the small  island, Manus, near New Guinea to go into a floating dry dock to replace the broken screw. It took three weeks to get the propeller replaced so that we could back into the battle.

We joined the fleet that was assembled to attack the island of Okinawa. We provided support for a Marine Division going ashore in the City of Naha. After expending expending  our 14 inch shells, we sailed to a small island off of Okinawa to rearm.  During the process I had the misfortune to my hand get in the way of a nose cone on a 14 inch round. That cost me the end of my left right thumb.

Feeling sorry for me, I was ordered to leave the ship and proceed to San Diego to attend the Navy gunnery advance course. The only proviso was that I had to “hitchhike” back. It took 30 days and six different ships to get there.

The war ended in August 1945 and I was assigned to Little Creek, VA near Norfolk to complete my Naval service in March, 1946.

But enough of my sea stories – I have sailed both oceans – from the equator to the North Pole in the Atlantic and from Iwo Jima South to the equator and New Guinea.  This amounts to a multitude of travel.

I enjoyed my service with the Navy. Much of what I learned during my Navy service I was able to use during my Army service from 1950 to 1979.  But, that is another story.

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