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.”

**

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.”

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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.

**

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!

 

They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans is Hot Off the Press!

Wow! It’s done! My second book of World War II interviews is done!

They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans contains 34 stories of men/women who served in every branch from 1941-1946. The war ended in 1945, but many continued serving during the occupation period in Japan and Europe.

The book is available on Amazon —

BUT…

Since you’re good enough to read this post, I’ll tell you it will be offered at a sale price starting Friday, September 29 for one week only until Friday, October 6. The sale price will be listed at Amazon on Friday, September 29. This will only be available for one week so be sure to make your purchase then.

Hint: It might be wise to purchase your book on Amazon rather than at the book launch as then you can immediately begin talking to the vets. Of course, I’ll be sure to sign your book that day as well!

If you can’t find the book on Amazon, search under my name. Some of you might be surprised to find I’ve also written children’s books for traditional publishers!

I’m preparing a book launch event – dare I say party? The best part is several of the vets from the book have agreed to attend as our guests of honor! This is one who will be there — Al Lefevra served in the Navy in the Pacific. He picked up this great hula skirt along the way and loves to model it!

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Yes, something could prevent them from being able to be there, but as of today, about a dozen of them will be at the downtown public library in Ft Wayne, Indiana, on Saturday, Nov 4, from 1-3pm in Meeting Room C.

They will greet the public and sign books which will be available for purchase. These are some of our nation’s oldest vets, having served 70+ years ago. I’m proud to know each one as they are humble people who obeyed orders and loved their country and its people enough to often put their lives in danger.

A couple of vets who are deceased will have family members representing them.

I’d recommend arriving early to be sure to get an opportunity to meet with them.

This is a unique opportunity! Be sure to put it on your calendar. Bring young people to enable them to experience this once-in-a-lifetime gathering!

Vets Describe D-Day

D-Day. June 6, 1944.

Possibly only a handful of dates in our nation’s military history are more well- known other than Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941).

D-Day was a top secret event that had been planned for months. Every branch was involved in storming the beaches of Normandy France to overcome Hitler’s forces.

Here are a few comments from veterans of various branches whom I’ve interviewed about their involvement with D-Day:

Despite months of training, nothing went according to plan.

As Leo Scheer’s boat neared the shore of Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, it hit two mines, igniting it. “We were told to strip our gear and abandon ship,” he said.

The weight of life vests, layers of clothing and combat boots dragged many soldiers into the frigid waters. “Drowned bodies floated in those waters for weeks,” said Scheer. “Many washed up against the sea wall with not a scratch on them.”

Those who made it to shore were ordered to the west end. Scheer was almost killed twice from gunfire. Finally he arrived, only to find the squadron doctor missing.

Wearing the Red Cross arm band and helmet, Leo worked on injured soldiers, removing medical supplies from bodies of dead soldiers to treat the wounded. “Bandages were packaged in waterproof tins which also contained morphine shots,” he said. “It was all we had.”

The first course of action was to stop the bleeding. “We tried to prevent shock and used morphine when necessary,” he added. Artillery fire continued non-stop for days. Soldiers were treated on the sand. “We eventually got a spot in front of a house and put the casualties there,” said Scheer.

A barrage of artillery file forced Scheer to administer medical attention while lying on the ground. “Even getting on your knees was risky,” he said.

“You slept fully clothed with your helmet on,” said Scheer. “Shells came in close. I buried myself under the sand and in the morning crawled out, glad to be alive.”

Note: The photo depicts the web belt Scheer used at D-Day, now a donated item on display at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.

**

Wolfe Don-FW-Air Corps

After flying from the US to an Allied air base outside the town of Muching Green in England in spring 1944, Donald Wolfe had only two weeks of training before he flew his first combat mission, called a ‘sortie’. “During the next several weeks, I flew missions over France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany,” he said.

His 44th mission occurred on D-Day as he flew over Normandy lending support to the Allies.

**

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At Omaha Beach Andy Anderson carried penicillin, bandages, iodine and sulpha packets in his supply packet. As a medic on the battlefield he wore an arm band with a Red Cross, signifying his status. Although he didn’t carry a weapon, Anderson felt safe. “I depended on our American infantry to protect me,” he said.

**

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Alfred Edwards of Fort Wayne, IN, was operating a rhino barge on June 6, 1944. Such vessels carried tanks and troops as part of the first wave of troops to approach the shore of Omaha Beach in France. “We had no protection from enemy fire as we guided it in,” he said.

When boats and troops reached the shore and put ramps down, the site was grim. “Dead GIs lay everywhere on the beach,” said Edwards. “We dodged shooting from German soldiers while searching for mines embedded in the sand that could blow us up as we neared the shore.”

Despite incredible odds, Allied forces continued to arrive at the beach for weeks, slowly pushing German forces back into France. Code name of the secret invasion: Operation Overlord, though it was more commonly known as D-Day.

**

These are excerpts of stories in my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans (available for purchase on this site) and in my soon-to-be-released book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans.

It will be released in Summer 2017. Stay tuned for more details on how to obtain a copy!

Honor a veteran today by thanking him/ her for their service to our country.

“Fear Has an Odor”

One of the strongest quotes I was ever given during an interview was by a World War II veteran was by Simeon Hain, Naval Aviator in the Pacific.

“Fear has an odor,” he said. “It permeates your clothes and stinks. After getting back from a mission, I couldn’t wait to take a shower.”

In honor of Mr. Hain’s military service and birthday, I’m presenting part of his story from my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans:

For eight months between 1944 and 1945 Hain flew 40 missions in a B-24, dropping bombs on selected locations in the Pacific. “On the day of a mission someone would wake me for patrol at 2 a.m. with a flashlight in my eyes,” he said. “He pushed a clipboard under my nose telling me to sign that I had received my orders. Then I’d be given a briefcase filled with codes for the day, maps, charts, and other items pertinent for navigation.”

Hain didn’t have a college degree, which was required at the time for aviators. In fact, he had not even ridden in a plane or driven a car. Still, he was intrigued at the thought of flying.

After enlisting in 1942, Hain made it through basic training and was admitted to the Civilian Pilots Training program. At Ball State University Teacher’s College in Muncie, IN, he attended flight school in the morning, then had flight time in the afternoon.

Training in a Piper two-seater Cub was a challenge for Hain who battled motion sickness. “I didn’t want to wash out of the program so I bought Mother Sill’s Seasick Pills,” he said. He studied math and physics to pass the academic sections of the training, then spent three months in a PBY airplane (patrol bomber aircraft) before entering flight training in Corpus Christi, Texas. He received his wings on September 25, 1943.

Believing the Germans were planning to attack the United States mainland, the Navy assigned Hain the task of patrolling the St. John’s area near Jacksonville, Florida, for submarines.

Later, he was transferred to Norfolk, Virginia, for B-24 training. The B-24 was equipped not only with bombs but also with machine guns.

By early 1944, Hain was flying combat missions in the Pacific Theater. “If we encountered enemy fire, I’d fly the plane at 200 knots (230 miles per hour), and the gunner would man the machine gun so it blazed,” he said.

Hain’s crew had a secret way of detecting the location of the enemy. “During a flight, we could hear Japanese music in our radios,” he said. “When the music went off, we knew they had us on their radar.”

One consolation of being pursued was the multitude of Chinese fishing junks in the ocean. “We knew if we crashed into the ocean, they would help us,” he said.

Later that summer, Hain flew over Port Lyautey in Morocco and the Bay of Biscay in Spain. “Our mission was to watch on radar for enemy subs and eliminate them if possible,” he said. He also flew for the Battle of the Philippines in October 1944 and across Saipan and Tinian.

Hain headshot

In December 1944 Hain flew over the Bonin Islands, 500 miles southeast of Japan. He bombed Iwo Jima during the terrible battle there in February 1945.

When Hain was discharged on November 1, 1945, he held the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade. He was presented with several medals and two Distinguished Flying crosses.

**

This is one of 28 stories in my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans. It contains stories from men/women who served in our nation’s military forces during 1941-1945. You can purchase it here at this site at a discount price of $15.00. It is also available on Amazon.

The stories are designed to enhance each reader’s appreciation of what our ancestors did for us and people around the world during that terrible time of war.

Please remember to thank a veteran today!

Pearl Harbor Naval Survivor Recounts December 7, 1941 — Pt 1

 

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Today I’m posting a story from a sailor who was on the USS St Louis stationed at Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

You can hear a brief account of his experience here. Thanks to Bryan Lineberry, teacher at Bellmont High School in Decatur, IN, for inviting me to meet Mr. Garrett.

I’ll post a second account from another sailor I’ve interviewed tomorrow on December 7, to commemorate this significant day in our nation’s history.

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These are 2 of the nearly 150 interviews I’ve conducted with WWII vets.

Other World War II stories can be found in my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans. It can be purchased through this site or at Amazon. Thanks for your interest in the stories of these great men and women who served our country so well!

Thank a veteran!

**

Jack Garrett — Navy /Pearl Harbor Survivor

At 7:56 a.m. on Sunday, December 7, 1941, Jack Garrett of Rome City, Indiana, was stationed aboard the St. Louis, a light cruiser moored at the pier in the southeast lock of Pearl Harbor.

Suddenly, a message come over the base’s PA system. More than 70 years later, Garrett can recall the bone-chilling words he heard that morning. “The guy said we were being attacked and it was not a drill!” he said.

Garrett was standing on the second deck of the St. Louis. Within minutes, the crew had scrambled to their assigned battle stations (general quarters).

Later Garrett and the rest of the crew learned that other seamen aboard the St. Louis had sighted Japanese planes approaching the base minutes before the alarm sounded.

At first the St. Louis with its 100,000-horsepower engines had no power. By the time the second wave of Japanese planes came in for attack, the ship had begun moving into the channel entrance for a strategic battle position.

“As the St. Louis began to back away, other battleships pulled out to allow us to get into place,” said Garrett. “At first it took a while as we were slow and heavy, but we were the first ship to leave the harbor.”

Earlier that year, the St. Louis, moored at Berth B-21 in the Navy Yard, had sailed west with other cruisers of the Battle Force, patrolling the waters of Wake Island, Midway, Guam and Manila.

It returned to Hawaii that fall and was at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard for upkeep.

As the St. Louis moved away from the harbor, its operable anti-aircraft guns were manned and fired on the Japanese attackers. A two-man Japanese sub fired two torpedoes on the ship, but they hit the reef and did no damage to the ship.

Incensed, the crew aboard the St. Louis searched two days for the Japanese seamen inside the subs. “We never found them,” said Garrett.

As members of the ship’s crew fired 5-inch guns at Japanese enemies, the crew realized the St. Louis, while sustaining minor bullet hits, was not a principal target for attack.

Eight battleships moored next to Ford Island, nicknamed ‘battleship row’, bore the brunt of the Japanese assault. They were the USS Arizona, USS California, USS Maryland, USS Nevada, USS Oklahoma, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee, and USS West Virginia.

 Within minutes, the Japanese aircraft had sunk or heavily damaged six of the eight ships. “I could see survivors who had been aboard the damaged ships swimming to shore,” said Garrett.

The St. Louis continued out to sea where she joined the USS Detroit and Phoenix, both of which joined Garrett’s crew in searching the waters around Pearl Harbor. “We wanted to find the Japanese naval fleet,” said Garrett. After searching three days, the St. Louis’ crew was unable to locate any part of the Japanese strike force.

The ships and their frustrated crews returned to Pearl Harbor on December 10. In the days following the St. Louis escorted transports carrying casualties to San Francisco.

Garrett had never dreamed of such dramatic action when he dropped out of high school in 1939 at age 17 in northern Indiana to enlist in the US Navy. “I joined because my cousin was in the Navy and he thought I’d like it,” he said.

By 1941 he was serving aboard the USS St. Louis stationed at an island in the Pacific he had never heard of prior to joining the Navy — Pearl Harbor.

“It was a two-ocean war,” Garrett said. “At the beginning of the war our naval fleet was too small to accommodate the demands. Those in charge decided to fight Europe first. We tried to make the Japanese think we were all over the Pacific when in reality we had few ships there.”

The St. Louis was involved in other battles during the war, including the Battle of Dutch Harbor in June 1942. Fought on Amaknak Island in Unalaska, Alaska, it was one of the few sites on American territory, besides the attack on Pearl Harbor, to be bombed by the Japanese during World War II.

In mid-1942 the crew sailed to the Solomon Islands and fought a ferocious battle on the island of Guadalcanal that waged until 1943. “The Japanese brought ships in through the night,” said Garrett. “We had seven ships as part of a convoy. The USS Helena was our sister ship.”

USS Helena (CL-50), a light cruiser, was damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbor. She continued to fight in several battles in the Pacific War before being sunk by three surface-fired torpedoes at the Battle of Kula Gulf in 1943. Garrett recalled the sinking.

“When we contacted the crew of the Helena, we got no answer,” he said. “We shone the spotlight in her direction and saw the bow had been struck. We saw the ‘50’ and knew it was Helena. We found out later torpedoes had gotten it.”

In fall 1942 the St. Louis sailed to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska which was still a territory. The enemy had overtaken the island of Attu in June 1942 but American Navy won it back after a two-week battle in May 1943.

In July 1944, Garrett was on the St. Louis as it patrolled near Surigao Strait and was attacked by kamikazes. The Japanese planes bombed and rammed into the ship, causing it to list to port. By the time the cruiser was back on an even keel with all major fires out, dozens of crewmen were wounded, killed, or missing.

The crew managed to sail to Mare Island Navy Yard in San Francisco for repairs. They thought they would have a couple of weeks to wait for the ship’s new bow to be built. Half of the crew got a 10-day leave and the other half was scheduled to go after the first group returned.

Garrett was selected with the first half. “I took a train to Chicago, then Fort Wayne for a visit home,” he said. “It took 2.5 days to go each way so I had five days at home.”

By the time he returned, the bow was in place and the ship was ready to go. The other half of the ship’s personnel was forced to forgo their leave.

By the time the war ended, the St. Louis had participated in 11 sea battles. “Our nickname was ‘Lucky Lou’,” he said. Even Tokyo Rose, the infamous Japanese propagandist who gave radio talks designed to deaden the morale of Allied troops, talked about the St. Louis. “She said the St. Louis had been sunk three times,” said Garrett, who only returned to the US once during his four years of military service.

Another interesting experience happened to Garrett prior to his leaving the ship. A PT (Patrol Torpedo) boat approached the side of the St. Louis. “It was protocol for the boat’s officer to approach the quarter deck to ask permission to come aboard,” said Garrett. “He asked to see Lieutenant White and an orderly took him to Lieutenant White’s state room.”

After the visit concluded, the PT officer asked Garrett and others aboard the St. Louis if they’d like to ride in the PT boat. “I had always wanted to ride in one so I got permission,” said Garrett. “We rode for 30 minutes and went about 60 miles per hour. It was fun.”

Garrett never forgot the PT boat or its number – 109. The number would later become famous as would its commander – future US President John F. Kennedy. As a Lieutenant in the US Navy in August 1943, Kennedy commandeered his boat’s crew through a hazardous rescue after their boat was attacked by a Japanese destroyer.

After the war, Garrett worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. He retired in 1984. A grandson has served in the Air Force. Garrett has participated in Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana.

In the 1980s Garrett and others tried to save the St. Louis from the scrap yard to no avail. Today, all that’s left of the ship, which traveled a quarter of a million miles around the world and fired 38,000 rounds of ammunition, is its wheel which hangs in a museum in the city of St. Louis, Missouri.

The End

**

 

WWII Seaman Al LeFevra Served Aboard USS Gemsbok in South Pacific

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“From everyday small feats to undeniably heroic efforts, the accomplishments and achievements of America’s Navy are vast and significant. Since its birth on October 13, 1775, the Navy has been involved with more than ten major wars and countless battles in the effort to bring security, democracy and prosperity to the American people and to the international community.” from US Navy Ball website.

**

I didn’t know sailors could wear facial hair until my interview with Al LeFevra. When he showed me a photo of himself dancing in a hula skirt and wearing a beard, I could hardly believe my eyes! Here is Al’s story as published in the News-Sentinel on Oct 12, 2015. All of these photo materials are printed with permission from the newspaper and the veteran.

 

They were provided by Al LeFevra from his collection of war mementos.

HEADLINE: Dad’s advice, hula skirt, asbestos helped make Navy life bearable

Believing his son Al would soon be drafted during WWII, Rene LeFevra, a WWI veteran, shared information about his own time in the Army with his son. “He told me how he lived in fox holes, had little to eat and bathed rarely,” said Al. “He thought it would be an advantage for me to be in the Navy because I’d have good food and a clean place to sleep. That was all he needed to say!”

Al LeFevra was born in Woodburn in 1922. After graduating from Central High School in Fort Wayne in May 1942, he enlisted in the Navy in Indianapolis in November.

After completing basic training at Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago, he was sent to Treasure Island Naval Base in CA. LeFevra signed up for sea duty and was assigned to the USS Gemsbok (means ‘African antelope’).

The Gemsbok, which held a crew of approximately 100, was a supply ship converted to a tanker. “The conversion was to fool the Japanese,” he said. “During combat, they dropped bombs on tankers to destroy fuel. Many of our tankers carrying oil were getting sunk. Regular fuel ships measured approximately 900 feet in length and held about 100,000 barrels of fuel. Supply ships were half that length and carried half the fuel.”

On January 12, 1944, LeFevra’s ship received orders to head for Hawaii and then the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific. There they would join the US fighting fleet under the Vice Admiral William Halsey.

Although a destroyer escort surrounded the Gemsbok for protection, LeFevra was not afraid of the enemy. He had more to deal with. “The water between the US and Hawaii was rough so many of us were seasick,” he said. Crackers helped LeFevra’s stomach.

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At Pearl Harbor LeFevra saw sunken ships from Japan’s December 7, 1941, invasion. He also grew a beard, which was allowed in the Navy, and paraded in a hula skirt he purchased when not on watch. Al still has this skirt today and uses it during talks at schools about the war. He said kids love it! Please excuse the photo’s quality which has deteriorated over the years.

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Notice how this bill is stamped ‘Hawaii’ on the right. It was issued by the US government after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

At the Marshall Islands the crew had permission to go ashore. It was LeFevra’s first experience on a beach. “Other sailors from battleships, airplane carriers, destroyers and escorts had landed and cleared the area of Japanese soldiers,” he said.

Two months later the crew of the Gemsbok received orders to go to the island of Eniwetok. It was also deserted and served as the crew’s home base. “During our six months at Eniwetok, we furnished oil for fighting ships from Mariana, Majuro and Kwajalein islands,” said LeFevra.

A passing British ship appreciated when the crew of the Gemsbok shared fuel and food. One sailor pointed out his ship’s ‘head’ (toilet). “It overhung the water off the fantail (stern/back) of the ship,” said LeFevra. “It looked like an outhouse. I suppose that way they didn’t require a flushing system.”

The chief of the Gemsbok’s engine room was transferred and LeFevra tested for the position of water tender first class petty officer. He passed the exam and being the next highest sailor on board to a chief, LeFevra became acting chief of the fire and engine room.

He no longer had to stand watch and could eat in the chow room separate from the rest of the crew, but he had to be available in case of emergency. “I had to see all of the men under me did their job and report to the executive officer daily,” he said.

Fresh water was in short supply until LeFevra devised a solution. The Navy had a unit that processed salt water into drinkable water, though the water tasted salty. LeFevra took loose asbestos, mixed it with water and pressed it around a jug. After the solution dried, it formed an insulation. “We poured cold water from our ship into it and it stayed fairly cool with no salty aftertaste. When others found out about my water, they drank all of it. I made no more fresh water!”

In their spare time the sailors played sports. LeFevra was good at boxing, having learned it in high school. “When other sailors challenged me, we didn’t try to knock the other out, but had fun,” he said. “No one came out of it too bruised.”

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Al LeFevra served on the USS Gemsbok during WWII.

In July 1944 the crew received orders to head for Saipan and Tinian. “As we anchored off Saipan, we saw fighting on Tinian four miles away as Japanese soldiers hid in caves.” The Marines bulldozed rocks and tons of dirt to fill in caves. When no one wanted a Japanese rifle that had been found, LeFevra claimed it. “I was told not to load it with our ammunition because our ammunition was too powerful for that gun,” he said.

A new officer came on board who had seen much action in fighting. When planes flew over the Gemsbok, he hit the deck. “I learned this officer had seen stress conditions,” said LeFevra. Two weeks later the officer was transferred to a hospital in Hawaii.

In January 1945 the crew received word that Admiral Chester Nimitz was the new commander of the fleet. In the following days, B29 bombers flew toward Tinian, which was now secured and provided air support for B29s. “We didn’t know until much later that the atomic bomb used to bomb Nagasaki and Hiroshima called Little Boy was unloaded there in July 1945,” said LeFevra.

Soon the Philippines were liberated and the Gemsbok sailed to Leyte Gulf and was there with many other ships in September 1945 when the war finally ended.

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“Ships shot flares into the air like a Fourth of July celebration,” said LeFevra. When the celebration was over, the Gemsbok headed to Guam but ran into a hurricane that lasted three days and four nights. No one was allowed on deck. “Surprisingly, I didn’t get seasick, probably due to the excitement,” said LeFevra. Eating utensils had disappeared so the sailors ate sandwiches for four days.

At Kure Bay the crew went ashore to see the destruction to the city from the Allies’ recent bombing. “Everything was destroyed, so it was surprising how friendly the people were,” said LeFevra.

After the treaty of surrender was signed by the Japanese emperor and the Allies, the Gemsbok sailed for Hawaii. LeFevra had earned enough points to be discharged, but when his skipper asked him to stay aboard until the ship sailed to Alabama where it would be decommissioned, he agreed.

They sailed through the Panama Canal, then through the Gulf of Mexico to Mobile. On April 30, 1946, the sailors of the USS Gemsbok were called to order on deck under the US flag and the ship’s pennant. Each US Navy ship flies a pennant at the top of the US flag.

As they stood at attention and saluted, the US flag was lowered. The pennant was twisted, so LeFevra climbed a rope 12 feet to retrieve it.

The Captain presented it to him. “I was the only original sailor remaining from the ship’s commissioning,” said LeFevra. “He said I was one of the most honest men who had ever worked for him and gave me a letter of commendation.” LeFevra still has the pennant today.

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LeFevra takes his military mementos to schools for talks to students about his part in WWII.

When LeFevra was discharged, he held the rank of First Class Water Tender earning $100/month. He took home his Japanese rifle, camera, and ship’s log (diary) among other items.

After arriving in Fort Wayne, LeFevra was thrilled to see his brother Don, who had enlisted in the Navy with parental permission at age 16, to serve aboard a submarine tender, USS Prairie.

Al LeFevra worked at General Electric as a sand blaster. Adept at math, he attended Purdue University in Fort Wayne for drafting and later worked as a Senior Designer at BAE in Fort Wayne. He retired in 1987.

In 1947 LeFevra married Betty Elizabeth Willey from Marion. She and a son are deceased.

In 2013 LeFevra accompanied the Honor Flight for Northeast Indiana to Washington DC. “I feel everything went good for me while I was in the Navy,” he said.  “People from our church wrote to us and people sent cookies. We put them on the table and shared them. That meant a lot to us. We didn’t have much time to be homesick. Dad was right.”

The End

**

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More than two dozen stories like these are available in my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans. It features stories based on personal interviews from men/women in nearly every branch about their military service.

This would make a unique gift for a history, military lover or a person who loves America! It is written in easy-to-understand language so non-military people can understand, include students in middle/ high school. It would be a great addition to a school library.

The book can be purchased at this Amazon link.

**

Remember to thank a veteran today for his/ her service!