Pearl Harbor Navy Survivor Tells His Story

In honor of the 76th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, I’m posting an excerpt from a story in my new book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans. My husband and I also plan to attend a local Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremony.

They Did It for Honor book cover

I did this interview with Dick Girocco, a World War II Navy veteran, via skype, thanks to the help of the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor. They arranged for Dick to talk with me through one of their computers. Thanks to Mr. Girocco and every other American military veteran for their service!

This attack on an American base in the Pacific killed thousands of Americans. It is significant because it was the catalyst for the U.S. to enter World War II which had raged in Europe and Asia since the late 1930s.

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(excerpt from Dick Girocco’s story in They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans):

A cacophony of unfamiliar, horrendous noises on Ford Island caused Seaman 2nd class Richard Girocco and other seamen from his PBY squadron (‘patrol bomber’) to run outside of their aviation hangar. It was approximately 0800 hours on Sunday, December 7, 1941.

Ordinarily, the seamen would be resting on their bunks. Today, they had been ordered to prepare to move equipment from Pearl Harbor to Perth, Australia.

The sight of planes in the sky didn’t immediately alarm them. “We thought the Army Air Corps was dropping flour sacks for practice,” said Girocco.

As he and the others continued to gaze upward, they noticed with growing dismay the machine gun fire erupting from the planes. The young American seamen realized the planes were part of the Japanese Imperial forces. Their pilots were firing on Ford Island. Pearl Harbor was under attack!

Burning and damaged ships at PHa result of Jap attack, 12-7-41. L. to R. USS AZ, USS TN, USS WV

Photo Caption: Burning and damaged ships at Pearl Harbor– result of Japanese attack, 12-7-41. L. to R. USS AZ, USS TN, USS WV. National Archives.

Upon landing at the U.S. territory of Hawaii in November 1941 Dick Girocco, a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had thought he was in paradise. “There was lots of green water and sand,” he said. Note: The Republic of Hawaii became the Territory of Hawaii to the U.S. in 1898. In 1959, residents of Hawaii voted in favor of statehood, making Hawaii the 50th U.S. State.

He was assigned to a duty station aboard the USS Saratoga patrolling the Hawaiian Islands.

His first impulse on that sunny Sunday morning that his life was in danger was to run back inside the hangar. Realizing he would be exposed as a target, he chose a closer means of rescue. Several feet of pipe lay close by, part of a project the Navy had begun of transporting water from the coast to the hangars.

Dick Girocco close-up-good

Caption: Dick Girocco at Pearl Harbor 1941.

Scrambling inside a section, Girocco watched in horror as a series of bombs hit the USS Shaw. The destroyer had been sitting in the Navy yard dry dock. When the ship exploded, Girocco was sent flying, landing hard in a nearby ditch.

“I couldn’t see anything after that, but could hear the noise and feel the concussion on the ground,” he said. When Japanese bombers set off ammunition in Hangar 6, naval personnel were again in shock “It seemed all we could do was wait for instructions from anyone,” he said.

uss-arizona-burning

Photo caption: USS Arizona burning during attack on Pearl Harbor. National Archives.

Girocco later learned that prior to attacking Pearl Harbor, Japanese Imperial Navy aircraft had bombed the nearby U.S. Naval Air Station on the east coast of Oahu. As a result, 27 Catalina PBY Seaplanes – known as ‘flying boats’ — were damaged and unable to go on the attack. “This was devastating as they could have followed the attackers as a defensive maneuver,” he said.

When quiet finally descended over the area, Navy personnel quickly set to work, trying to establish order. A hangar was made into quarters and a barracks along Battle Ship Row was converted to a hospital for shrapnel wounds and other injuries.

For days the uninjured like Girocco looked for survivors in the oil-filled waters. “We did rescue flights with PBYs,” he said. “They could land on water and retrieve survivors.” Rubber rafts were used to retrieve dead bodies.

News about the unmitigated attack spread to Washington DC and other parts of the U.S., most of whom had no idea where or what Pearl Harbor was. American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, furiously declared war on the Axis powers of Japan, Italy and Germany on December 8, 1941.

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A purchase of They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans would make a great present for a history lover, military person, school or baby boomer whose parent may have served.

Please remember to thank a veteran today for his/her service, no matter the era/ branch in which they served.

Hundreds Attend Book Launch to tell WWII Vets Thanks

Many of you participated in our book launch party for They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans on Saturday, Nov 4, 2017, at the Allen County Public Library.

I think it’s safe to say, as the photo below shows, it was a smashing success! Several hundred people are estimated to have attended to meet/ greet some of our nation’s oldest veterans.

crowd

An amazing number of the 34 veterans from the book – 17 – were present. Two additional veterans were represented by family members, which meant much to me. Kurt Wallenstein whose father was Robert Wallenstein, better known in the Fort Wayne area, as WOWO Komet Hockey announcer Bob Chase wrote me these words: “Thank you for the beautiful book and celebrating the lives of all of those great men and women.”

Huffer

Someone who attended who was not related to the veterans wrote me: “Thank you for acting on the realization that veterans had a story that my/our hearts needed to hear!”

Zeissig

I’m so touched by the dedication the public showed by patiently standing in line, waiting for opportunities to have veterans sign their books and speak with them.

Conrad Gaylord

My goal was to have the veterans, all of whom are at least 90 years old, be glad they had made the effort to attend. As far as I could tell, they all left with smiles on their faces.

If you were able to attend, please share your thoughts/ comments/photos about the day.

Kjreusser@adamswells.com

My email newsletter contains up-to-date info about my interviews, books, speaking events, etc. There is no cost and I don’t sell your address. Contact me through my contact form here at this site or my email address above.

If you’ve read They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans, would you consider posting a review on Amazon at  http://amzn.to/2yRAbcq ?

My other book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans, contains 28 stories similar to those in They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans. You can find it & post a review at Amazon (http://amzn.to/2hJdwaW).

The reviews will help more people learn about the great people who served in World War II.

As always, I appreciate your support!

I plan to write more books in 2018 so stay tuned!

 

 

Book Review: They Did It for Honor: Stories of American World War II Veterans

I’m grateful for this thorough review of my new book by this reputable group of military historians.

IHRA

They Did It for Honor book cover

Kayleen Reusser is back with her second book of World War II veterans stories. This one, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American World War II Veterans, has an aptly chosen title. Many of the veterans are quoted as saying they were proud to serve their country and considered it an honor to do so.

As with her first book, Reusser collected stories from many units and fronts, giving the reader a well-rounded picture of life in different parts of the world during World War II. Thirty-four of them, to be precise. Not only does she include stories from the Pacific, North African and European theaters, she includes a tale from the Aleutian Islands and the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater. Some of the more fascinating stories we read were about a black veteran’s experience aboard the USS Yorktown, one man who was present at the surrender signing on September…

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Sam Hayward’s duties were to clean berths aboard the USS Yorktown

Another veteran from my book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans, who is planning to attend the book launch is Sam Hayward. This was a different type of interview for me as he was the first black veteran I had ever interviewed. I was thrilled that Sam allowed me to talk with him about his military service, but some of it was heartbreaking, mostly due to hearing about the racial discrimination in the military during the war.

Here’s an excerpt from his story:

During World War II, Sam Hayward from Charleston, SC, was assigned different duties from white seamen. “We colored people were taught to set tables and serve food to officers three times a day,” he said. “Those were our general duties aboard ship.”

Ever since he heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 7, 1941, Hayward had wanted to enlist. Hayward was assigned to the aircraft carrier, USS Yorktown CV-10.

In addition to serving as mess attendants during meals for pilots stationed to the ship, Hayward and other black stewards cleaned the pilots’ rooms. Their own sleeping berths were separate from white sailors as were their galleys.

How did Hayward react to such restrictions? “Nothing bothered me because I was used to it,” he said. “It was the 1940s. We blacks were raised to know whites came first.”

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Some of his story shocked me. Readers have relayed the same reaction. How do you feel about hearing Sam’s story?

Sam is excited about attending the book launch, which will honor him and the other 33 World War II veterans featured in the book. Copies of the book will be available for purchase of $20.00 and to be signed by Sam and the others. We’ll hope to see you there!

Purchase my book here.

WOWO’s Komet Hockey Announcer Bob Chase Decoded Messages during WWII

Most of us in northern Indiana recognize the name of Bob Chase as connected with WOWO radio. For 65 years, Bob Chase was an announcer for the Komet Hockey team on WOWO radio.

I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Chase — actually that was his radio name based on his wife’s maiden name — his real surname was Wallenstein — a few months prior to his death in November 2016. He was so friendly and hospitable. His dog (I forget its name) was in the room with us during the interview and sat at his feet. The phone rang three times. Each time he answered it calmly and I got the impression it rang a lot, due to his range of friends and family.

I knew his heritage included a father who fought in WWI and a son in Vietnam and grandsons in the Middle East. He was proud of his family’s military heritage and I was thrilled to add his story to my book.

Here is an excerpt to his story in They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans (available on Amazon):

Upon enlisting into the US Navy in 1943 at age 17 (his parents had given written permission as he was not yet 18 years old), Robert Wallenstein of Marquette, Michigan, was sent to Farragut Naval Training Station near Athol, ID, for boot camp. He passed mental aptitude tests being administered by the Navy. “They wanted to prepare pilots for flight training with courses in math and minor engineering,” he said. Wallenstein completed two semesters at Hobart College in Geneva, NY, but was dropped from the program, only to learn about yet another program in the Navy.

“They were looking for volunteers for a special project in naval intelligence,” he said. Wallenstein applied, though he was unsure what was involved. When a thorough government background check was completed on him satisfactorily, Wallenstein was sent to cryptography (working with codes) school in Washington DC.

Upon completing the course, he was assigned to a naval station on the island of Oahu. “We climbed down ladders to get inside a mountain near Wahiawa to decode messages,” he said.

Encrypted messages had extra letters and numbers at the front and rear to disguise their meanings. “When we typed messages in code, it formed five-letter groups,” he said. “We never wrote real words.”

aChase Bob new good

Photo taken in 2016.

After the war, Mr. Wallenstein participated in the Able and Baker nuclear bomb tests held at the Bikini Atoll. “We could see their eruptions from 30 miles away,” he said.

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You can meet other WWII vets with fascinating stories at my book launch on Saturday, Nov 4, 2017, at Allen County Public Library, 900 Library Plaza, in Ft Wayne IN from 1-3pm. It will be a historic, memorable day with approximately one dozen vets in attendance! We’ll hope to see you there!

 

Polly Lipscomb served as an Army Nurse in WWII

My book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans, contains five stories of female veterans who served during World War II. It’s not easy finding women veterans to interview as they were fewer in number than men. But the stories I’ve heard were all amazing. These gals were plucky to serve in ‘a man’s war’.

One of the oldest veterans I’ve ever interviewed was Mary ‘Polly’ Adelaide Woodhull Lipscomb of Fort Wayne. Polly as we called her lived in the same senior retirement home as my mother. Polly was 101-years-old at the time of our interview with two of her children present. But she was full of life and excitement at the idea of talking about her life in World War II as an Army nurse, which included being married in an old English church! The photo below shows Polly standing with her son and daughter, all of them holding items that were significant to Polly during her war years of service.

Lipscomb fam-3 good (1)

Here are excerpts from her story in my book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans:

Born in 1913 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Lipscomb earned a nursing degree from Methodist Hospital in Fort Wayne. She enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps in August 1942. With a desperate need for nurses, the Army quickly assigned First Lieutenant Lipscomb a place aboard the Queen Elizabeth, a former luxury ship converted for troops.

Taunton was located about 100 miles west of London. When Lipscomb arrived, the wards were already full of wounded British, Canadian and American soldiers.

Many patients suffered from what was termed ‘shell shock’. Since Lipscomb had worked with psychiatric patients in the States, she was assigned to that ward.

Some patients found comfort in doing simple crafts like weaving and often presented Lipscomb with their completed creations. “I treasured their gifts,” she said, including a placemat and brightly colored orange scarf.

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What made including Polly’s story in my book a clincher was the photo album she had put together during her war years and allowed me to view.

I love looking at old photos, especially when I’ve met people in them.

Polly died in 2016. I wish she could have seen this book, but at least her family members will have it to remember her by. They plan to attend my book launch on Saturday, Nov 4, 2017, from 1-3pm at Allen Co Public Library in downtown Fort Wayne, meeting room C. The public is encouraged to meet and thank these veterans who fought in the biggest conflict the world has ever known.

If you know of a World War II veteran who would like to be interviewed, please let me know via the contact page at this website.

 

A List of Names of Vets Featured in ‘They Did It for Honor’

Caption: Virgil Bixler served in the U.S. Army’s 80th Division, 905th Artillery during WWII. He fought in Battle of the Bulge and others.

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My new book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans, contains 34 stories of men/women of every branch- Army, Navy, Army Air Corps, Marines, Merchant Marines, Coast Guard.

Here is a list of the 34 veterans featured in this book and their branch of service:

  1. James ‘Andy’ Anderson – Army
  2. Virgil Bixler – Army
  3. Charlie Conrad – Navy
  4. Gaylord Conrad – Army
  5. Lorraine Davis – Coast Guard
  6. Clairus Dew – Army Air Corps
  7. Al Edwards – Navy
  8. Charlotte Eisenhart – Women’s Army Corps (WAC)
  9. Frank Garrison – Army
  10. Dick Girocco – Navy
  11. Max Graf – Merchant Marine
  12. Sam Hayward – Navy
  13. Oren Huffer – Army Air Corps
  14. Bill Jones – Army Air Corps
  15. Bob Kiester – Army Air Corps
  16. Al Lefevra – Navy
  17. Polly Lipscomb – Army Nurse Corps
  18. Jim Meyer – Coast Guard
  19. Dale Pence – army
  20. Bob Pyle – Army
  21. Ed Robbins – Navy
  22. Walter Rumple – Army
  23. Bill Sawyer – Army
  24. Rosemary Schmidt – Navy
  25. Calvin Schultz – Army
  26. Bill Shull – Army Air Corps
  27. Bob Wallenstein (Bob Chase) – Navy
  28. Hugh Wallis – Army
  29. Bill Wellman – Marines
  30. Max Whiteleather – Army
  31. James Wiegman – Navy
  32. Don Wolfe – Army Air Corps
  33. John Wrestler – Navy
  34. Eileen Zeissig – Army Nurse Corps

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Several of these veterans (around a dozen) have said they will be at our book launch party on Saturday, November 4, at downtown Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They will be there from 1-3pm. You’ll be able to meet them, thank them for their service and have them sign books on their respective pages!

Think what a priceless item that will be – autographs from some of our nation’s oldest veterans who served during the biggest military conflict the world has ever known!

They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans will be available for $20—cash or credit cards. No checks.

My first book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans, will also be available for $15.00.

Bonus: We will sell the 2 books together for $30.00!

They would make great Veteran’s Day, birthday or Christmas gifts.

We’re expecting a good turnout so my advice would be to arrive early! Hope to see you there!

Remember to tell a veteran thanks for his/ her service!