Today’s story is taken from Book 3 in my World War II Legacies series: We Gave Our Best: American WWII Veterans Tell Their Stories.
Note: The books do not have to be read in order. Each of the four books in the series are filled with dozens of stories and photos of veterans from various branches who served during the war.
“I was never on a landing where someone in our crew was not killed,” said Bill Current of Muncie, Indiana.
He served with the Navy in the Pacific on a LCS (landing craft support). It was equipped with 20-mm and .50-caliber guns. “When they were shot, you couldn’t think!” he said. “We all were afraid. But we could still function.”
After graduating from high school in Montpelier, Indiana, in 1938, Current had worked at a meat packing company prior to enlisting in the Navy in February 1942. His reason for choosing that branch? “My cousin had been in the Navy and I liked the uniform,” he said.
Recruits at Great Lakes Naval Training Center (then called Naval Reserve Air Base, Great Lakes near Chicago) normally completed training in 16 weeks. However, due to the urgency of the war, Current and other recruits were rushed through in eight weeks. Afterward, he completed courses at the University of Illinois-Champaign for signal training.
At Little Creek, Virginia, Current and other recruits practiced landing from Higgin boats. “There were no ramps so we just jumped into the water,” he said. “It was not over our heads which is a good thing since I could not swim.” The troops practiced at midnight. “It was expected we’d do night invasions.”
In August the troops boarded the USS George Clymer. The ship — an attack transport — traveled to Port Leote in North Africa and French Morocco, carrying troops and small tanks. The landings were risky. “At Casablanca we unloaded our cargo at night,” he said.
Current set up a signal station on shore to communicate with the ship. One night while on the midnight duty, he heard a zing close to his ear. “I suspected it was from a bullet fired by the enemy,” he said. “I thought the war was over for me.” He kept out of sight and heard nothing further.
At Wellington, New Zealand, the crew picked up 100 Japanese prisoners of war. “We transferred them to a LCI at another island and they were taken to a POW camp,” he said.
In April 1943 Current’s unit headed for the South Pacific. The battle at Guadalcanal was ongoing. By standing on the bridge 60 feet above the water for signals, Current could see allied ships everywhere. Still, the fleet was weak with most of the thrust of the war being directed in Europe with hopes of defeating the Axis powers – Hitler and Mussolini.
Allied air crews engaged in many dog fights with Zeros. “The small Japanese planes were faster than anything the Allies had at the time and they could outfly us,” said Current. The enemy dropped mortars; thankfully the George Clymer was never hit.
When Allied troops landed on the Solomon Islands, they took over the former Japanese-occupied airport. It was part of an island-hopping strategy to draw near to Japan for a major invasion planned there.
Several brutal battles were fought in the spring of 1945 in the Pacific. The invasion of Okinawa brought hundreds of other ships. “They were as far out in the water as I could see,” said Current. It was a difficult battle with approximately 75,682 Allied and 85,000 Japanese casualties.
In summer 1945 Allied troops prepared for the biggest invasion of the war – Japan’s mainland. “We were told to expect 60 percent casualties,” said Current. Thankfully, in September the Japanese surrendered and the war was over. “President Truman saved our lives when he dropped the two bombs in Japan,” he said.
After the war, Current served during the occupation period in China.
In November 1945 Current was discharged. At one point he had received a ‘battlefield promotion’ to 2nd Class Signalman; when the war was over, he went back to 1st class.
When offered the chance to re-enlist, Current refused. “I wanted to go home,” he said.
Current returned to Muncie to work at his former job as a meat cutter. He and his wife, Adrienne, had one daughter. A grandson joined the Air Force. “I was glad to be in the war,” he said. “I tried to do the best I could for our country.”
Bravery under fire is the trademark of that generation. Is it any surprise that Brokaw nicknamed them The Greatest!!
Absolutely! I just finished reading his book ‘Album of Memories.’ Whew! Some sad, some happy stories of wonderful, patriotic people.